Wednesday, December 19, 2007

holy crap

I was searching for sperm-and-egg pictures because I think they're pretty, for example



When I happened across the most sexist thing I have EVER SEEN:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

FUCKABEE!



Since the separation of church and state has become a cliche now, I decided to not even bother writing anything about Huckabee's new TV ad. Instead, I will simply post the reactions of a completely random sampling of American citizens.

I hope he dies. I hope he dies in a fire.
Shannon M.

What a fucking cocksucker. Fuck that fucking motherfucker.
Roy W.

Fuck you. Fucking Huckabee. What a fucking piece of shit. What about the Jews? THE JEWS!?!?!?!?
Derekh F.

I hate Jesus.
Charlie P.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Get it?! Fruit Flies??! Ohhh!

Here we have it: the perfect illustration of the scary implications of the disconnect between science and the public.

Scientists have figured out how to turn homosexuality (or, you could say, heterosexuality) "on" and "off" in fruit flies by giving them a drug that changes the way their brains register pheromones.



“It was amazing,” Dr. Featherstone said. “I never thought we’d be able to do that sort of thing, because sexual orientation is supposed to be hard-wired.”

Uh, did you hear that? Scientists are so convinced of the fact that sexual orientation is hard-wired that they are now amazed to have stumbled across the possibility of altering it. Meanwhile, something like 40% of the American population is still convinced that homosexuality is a choice.

Not that a fruit fly brain is the same as a human brain or anything, but make no mistake: this is Big News. Dr. Featherstone then went on to say that he thinks that it's theoretically possible to develop a drug that will let people choose their sexual orientations. He then goes on to drop some Dr. Ian Malcolm wisdom, suggesting that the important question is not "can we," but "should we."

So wait! We are in for a real treat! Science says that homosexuality is not a choice now, but it MIGHT ACTUALLY BECOME A FUCKING CHOICE in the future. And when it does, that 40% that we're so blessed to share our country with will have completely missed that pretty important step in the middle and will, I can only expect, begin demanding the right to make the choice for us. Mandatory de-programming! How will they justify this logically, I wonder? Oh wait, silly me.

God, I can't wait to be gay.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Who speaks for Earth?

Here is an article in Seed Magazine that reveals a debate about the implications of seeking contact with extraterrestrial life. This Russian scientist is sending out messages into outer space, and some other people are like "Excuse me, sir, but who are you to make this decision for the entire Earth? The aliens you seek could be total douchebags."

This debate just boggles my mind. I start thinking about trying to get the entire world to agree on something, and it's like something short-circuits in my brain and I'm upended by a barrage of frenetic thoughts:

We can't get a global energy policy together
We can't get global human rights principles enforced
We can't stop thousands of children from starving to death every day
We can't even get everyone in our country, let alone the entire world, to read the fucking constitution
We can't get people to stop buying poisonous sweatshop toys for their spoiled brat kids for christmas


But YES, let's align ourselves around whether or not to contact aliens.

I am not trying to be critical of the debate, because I think that the points are all valid. But I just cannot CANNOT give a shit. I can't make my brain do it. I can't worry about being attacked by aliens when the entire world is already being conquered by the Big Mac. PLEASE, RUSSIAN GUY. CALL THE FUCKING ALIENS. I don't think they could do anything worse to us than what we're doing to ourselves.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

You called my children animals!

Like Mike, if I could be like Mike, I wanna be, I wanna be like Huckabee!



Chuck Norris Fact #128: This Video

Remember the funny Chuck Norris Facts website? Well Chuck Norris has apparently sold his soul to politics. Apparently Huckabee has a sense of humor. I give him that. Not that this spot is funny, but it's trying!

Once again, the wisdom of the commentors soothes my aching wounds.

Utuber709: ohhh myyyy goddd america's days are over.

spicEYOfeLiAEe: wow this video is boring as shit!
If anyone wants some real entertainment
Check out my Boobs on my channel!
Unless your gay that is...

Esialpha: Did you guys know that Huckabee doesn't believe in evolution? Does that concern anybody?

Burntrice192:it doesnt matter, what chuck norris says is law.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

And on the eighth day, god created mica

A new hypothesis that the first biomolecules on Earth originated as proteins contained between primordial sheets of mica has been developed by Helen Hansma (chick!), a research scientist at UC Santa Barbara and a program director at the National Science Foundation.

This hypothesis is only slightly more compelling than the Jar of Peanut Butter hypothesis presented by leading scientists just a few years ago:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

MAN-Power

As if we weren't already convinced that sperm powers the universe...I'm gonna become a mad-scientist-engineer and design a fuckin flux capacitor that's powered by my vagina, so there.

Energy Supply That Drives Sperm Could Power 'Nanobot'

Monday, December 3, 2007

My better life would include dinosaurs

This 16 year old kid in North Dakota found this mummified dinosaur with like tons of tissue intact. That's it. My childhood memories are all ruined, forever tinged with the bitter glow of not having found a mummified dinosaur.

The cool part about finding a mummified dinosaur as opposed to just a fossilized one is that scientists can calculate muscle mass and density. Also they found that the vertebrae were further apart than previously assumed--there's some kind of spacer tissue in between them. They figured out that this dinosaur (and perhaps a lot of other dinosaurs) are quite a bit bigger than we thought. That means our estimation of their running speeds changes, which starts to change the way we think about predator/prey dynamics. I kind of wish I was a paleontologist or other kind of Dinosaur Scientist. It's like you make one new discovery and the whole world changes. Think of all the imagining they get to do.

Also, this month's National Geographic has a whole thing on dinosaurs. There's a free poster and it's awesome. Sometimes I fantasize about decorating my entire apartment with dinosaur posters. To shit with having nice fancy grownup things.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

mmmm Fractals

Because I work around a bunch of living systems people, I keep bumping into fractals. I've always liked the concept of fractals. The way they were explained to me was very simple: in nature, a fractal is a pattern that you can find underlying chaos. Nature follows the simplest and most efficient path. Therefore, you have the same pattern over and over, expressed in iterations and sort of nested within one another. For example, a piece of broccoli or cauliflower is these tiny florets within florets within florets, all of which were shaped by the same material flows and thus have the same pattern. Here's a broccoli-cauliflower hybrid, which is a nice example:



So anyway, that's how I understand fractals, which is sort of a simplistic natural systems view. There is this whole fractal geometry thing that I don't get, though, because I'm bad at math. But basically, fractal geometry corresponds to actual stuff in the real world, whereas euclidian geometry is all about abstract shapes like triangles and squares. This is cool: someone was recently telling me about this law of fractal geometry which is basically when you're measuring the perimeter of something, that as your instruments become more and more calibrated your measurement will grow closer and closer to infinity. The example that was used was measuring a coastline--imagine walking along the coast with a measuring tape, which would give you one measurement. Then, imagine walking around with a string and measuring around each individual grain of sand. Your measurement would be much higher even though it was the same coastline.

So anyway, that got me thinking and googling. I was reading this thing on Mandelbrot, which was interesting, and kind of lifts up some stuff about fractal geometry vs. euclidian geometry, so I thought I'd pass it along. What frustrates me is that when they're teaching younger people math, they teach them euclidian geometry, which seems much more abstract and boring. I mean, I'm not saying you shouldn't teach euclidian geometry, because obviously it's very very difficult to get through life if you don't know how to calculate the area of an isosceles triangle. But if they were teaching kids in high school fractal geometry then I'd think that they would be much more interested, right? Because you can just run outside and find some shit to play with. Plus, it would help prepare these kids to make the most of their first acid trip. Goddammit our education system is failing us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Missing Links. HYPER-Links! Ah ha ha, um, (cough) hee . . . mmmm . . .

Really though, we've added a new feature to Human on Human: our suggested links listing!

There is so much good news out there, and I feel there's so much I should be posting, but feel like a hack writing posts that just regurgitate what someone has already written better. So right over there on the left, above our post history, is now a list of what Shannon and I have found online.

Want some teasers to the links that are there now?

Rock of Ages, Ages of Rock : Forget Intelligent Design. Let's bring this shit back old school with Creationism, and not only Creationism that attacks Biology, but Geology as well. Meet the real scientists who believe the Earth is only like 6 thousand years old. "Granite deposit: Where were you the night of Novemeber 27th, 10 billion years B.C.?"

My Genome, Myself: People want freedom, and yet they keep finding smart new ways to talk about how unfree they are! I think my genes wrote this sentence.

Who's Afraid Of "Soulless Scientism?": George Bush created a bioethics committee in 2001, and its first president thinks that science should be a humble science that doesn't ask questions. A really interesting read. This topic will be back. I promise you, yes, YOU!

Judgment Day: The 2-hour Nova special all about the Dover School case several years ago all about teaching ID along side Evolution in science class. Really, I got emotional at the end. You can watch the whole thing for free online. Also, I feel this single Nova episode preemptively debunks anything that the Ben Stein diatribe coming out soon can say about Evolution.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

...which is why I'm such a slut.

Scientists have done a study on pigs (whose reproductive systems are very similar to that of humans) that provides:

possible biochemical proof that the reproductive system of female mammals can "sense" the presence of sperm and react to it by changing the uterine environment.

And evidence for:

a detection and selection system that alerts females to the presence of different kinds of sperm and then triggers mechanisms in the oviducts that control sperm transport, binding and activation for fertilization.

So what does that translate to, in the natural world?

"We know sperm selection exists in nature, especially in promiscuous species, when females mate with several males," Fazeli said. "Baboons are a good example. During one reproductive cycle, if the female mates with several males, most of the time the offspring belong to one of the males -- not a spread between all of them... We are now seeing what can be the molecular basis for this effect."

So let me just re-capture the awesomeness for you, in case you missed it. This study suggests that after sex, my vagina observes what kind of sperm she got, and then she decides whether she wants to make it easier or harder for that sperm to fertilize her eggs by altering the uterine environment. We are well-aware that women select mates based on their fitness, by evaluating things like strength, status, facial symmetry and pheremone content. What this study suggests is that after a woman has sex with a potential mate, her body goes through another evaluation process based upon sperm quality. And that, pure and simple, means that it is biologically advantageous for women to be promiscuous. BAM.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The pressure to be thin (sad!)

I hope you find the time to read this article about how models keep dropping dead from not eating enough.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And don't forget that teenage girls see this warped image of how women are "supposed to look" and they get really really confused about their bodies! They get eating disorders! They get low self esteem! The fashion industry is totally evil, and all I can say is that I'm really really glad that I am secure enough in my femininity to keep a healthy perspective on this as I shop for this season's skinny jeans and scoop-neck tunics. If it weren't for women like me staying grounded, we'd never have a shot at overcoming the patriarchy.

Shoes.

I feel like, in Life, I have graduated past being upset by this. Sure when I was fifteen and chubby and getting oriented to feminism I was outraged by the fashion industry and its many transgressions against Womankind. But I am over it. You know why? Because if you as a human being are willing to let the fashion industry affect your judgment so much that you stop ingesting the nutrients necessary for your survival, then fucking good. Now you're fucking dead, and your weird, neurotic, insecure, self-absorbed children will never be born. Jesus Christ I love natural selection.

Anyway, while the Feminist Lite view is that the fashion industry is evil or bad or wrong, I think it's worth noting that this is an industry full of people that have evolved the ability to kill themselves with clothes. I think the problem is not any kind of genuine malevolence but just the natural output of a system being run by a bunch of shallow idiots. I mean, look at the fashion photographer (in the article) speaking out against the industry. Go ahead, sweetheart, fight the good fight. Those models are dying, goddammit! Let me know when we start losing rocket scientists and I'll start caring. K?

Oh, by the way, this video is still funny after approximately 700 viewings.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Terror



When I was little I used to have nightmares about The Bomb. They were pure figments of my imagination...I'm really glad I never saw these photos (French nuclear test, August 24, 1970).

(via my friend Shane Amaya)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Political Science, or, Amateur Human Nature Theorists and Practitioners (Politicians)


“It’s interesting that that question would even be asked of someone running for president. I’m not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth grade science book. I’m asking for the opportunity to be President of the United States.”

This was the beginning of Senator Mike Huckabee’s response to the question, “You’re on record saying you don’t believe in Evolution, but if not, then what? Is it the story of creation as described in Genesis?” Huckabee goes on to state that yes, he does believe the story of Genesis, and that the particulars of the method and duration of this creation he doesn’t know.

Yes, Huckabee isn’t planning on writing the curriculum to a science class, but he is volunteering to be a primary decision-maker in a scientific experiment with irreversible consequences.

I was thinking about what the essence of politics was the other day, and when you strip away all the jargon politics (and government) is just the practice and theory of how to manage and control human beings. Every time a politician opens his or her mouth, he/she is stating their preferences in government, but digging deeper, they are saying what they think motivates and influences the actions of human beings, and how government can harness, inhibit, encourage, or snuff this behavior.

What makes human beings tick?

Are we creatures that were created to love and serve our creator, creatures that each house a struggle between spiritual godliness, and ‘animalistic,’ desires of the flesh that include greed and lust? Or are we animals that, like every other animal, operate under an evolved nature that promotes behavior resulting in the largest amount of children? Somewhere in between?

Mike isn’t writing a science class book, but he is aspiring to manage and control a vast community of these creatures about whom he has theories (scientific we could say) on how they operate. What if Mike is wrong about his science? What if his theories about what makes humans tick isn’t correct? What’s at stake?

There is one big reason why Huckabee, or any other brave amateur ‘human nature theorist’ (politician) should be concerned about science today: the continuation of our species on this planet. Paul MacCready puts it perfectly in this quote: “Over billions of years on a unique sphere chance has painted a thin layer of life, complex, improbable, wonderful and fragile. Suddenly we humans, a recently arrived species, no longer subject to the inherent check and balances present in nature, have grown in population, technology, and intelligence to a position of terrible power. We now wield the paint brush.” Science informs us of our world, and if we don’t understand how our world works how are we to make informed decisions on how to interact with it? (See Dan Dennett's speech as it relates to MacCready's quote here.)

Global warming and nuclear war at the hands of terrorists (or nations led by men who don’t understand the ramifications of their actions); these are the two big political questions in America today that have everything to do with science. On the most powerful country in the world, in an unprecedented period of population and technology, having the proper information about how our planet, and how we as an animal work and relate to one another is important. This president doesn’t have to be a scientist to properly rule this country, but this president should at least have the respect and understanding of science to realize that in this age, science is synonymous with power, and whoever wields this power will be able to do or undo everything our species, and life in general, has worked so hard to achieve.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Millennial fury

Shannon: i am both flattered and offended by this
Derekh: millennials?
Derekh: is that us?
Shannon: apparently
Derekh: huh
Derekh: what is the purpose of this article?
Shannon: it makes me feel stereotyped
Shannon: but also, feared
Shannon: so it's kind of a wash
Derekh: i just don't understand what the point of categorizing this group is
Derekh: so you know how to interact with us?
Derekh: so you know what to talk about?
Derekh: i mean, i don't get it
Shannon: i dont' get it either
Derekh: oh well
Shannon: i hate America
Shannon: oh shit
Shannon: watch this 60 minutes thing
Shannon: "Come now as our reporter walks a mile in their flip-flops"
Shannon: ok that's it
Shannon: fuck these people
Derekh: wait what?
Derekh: it says that?
Derekh: i love 60 minutes
Derekh: so much
Shannon: they're making us look like a bunch of snotty idiots
Shannon: who only understand the internet
Shannon: or like
Shannon: we're a bunch of slackers that are going to take over the world through no other virtue than that we are internet savvy
Shannon: or something
Shannon: i don't know
Shannon: also, note the link to that mr. rogers thing
Derekh: well
Derekh: that is true
Derekh: oh my god, is that the thing that blames mr. rogers?
Shannon: yes.
Shannon: fucking yes.
Shannon: these fucking people better watch it, because in 20 years we'll all be holding public office and we can implement policy measures for euthanizing old people
Derekh: nice
Derekh: ok, watching this millenial vid
Derekh: i hate this woman
Derekh: who is judging us
Shannon: lol
Derekh: 'rolling in with their ipods and flip flops around noon'
Shannon: omg
Derekh: fuck these people
Derekh: fuck these dinosaurs who feel that by labeling us they are somehow controlling us, something they know in their heart of hearts, they can't fucking do, ever
Derekh: because when they die, we inherit the earth
Shannon: there it is!
Shannon: i was trying to unlock your anger
Shannon: finally
Derekh: i feel labeled
Derekh: i don't like it
Shannon: yes!
Shannon: me too!
Derekh: this woman is a bitch
Shannon: it's infuriating!
Derekh: who doesn't know shit
Shannon: these people are totally threatened by us
Derekh: like we're that different from her
Shannon: it's so retarded
Derekh: they should be
Derekh: our WPM typing skills are unbridled
Shannon: lol
Derekh: you know what i'm going to do?
Shannon: what
Derekh: throw away my flip-flops and give my ipod to a baby boomer
Derekh: i'll show them
Shannon: lol
Derekh: i'm going to start writing checks
Derekh: WRITING CHECKS FOR THINGS LIKE GROCERIES
Shannon: hahaha
Derekh: never use my check card again
Derekh: i'm also going to not use tivo or cable, but just use reception from an antennae
Shannon: and then slowly entering the purchase into your check register with a shaky, arthritic hand while people impatiently tap their feet behind you in line
Shannon: use radio
Derekh: tape my favorite shows using a timer on a VCR
Derekh: exactly
Shannon: vhs? or BETA.
Derekh: beta
Derekh: man
Derekh: i don't know
Shannon: lol
Derekh: i've never used consumer betamax
Shannon: that's like the going vegan of acting old
Derekh: nice
Derekh: oh well
Derekh: i do hate the internet
Derekh: (i don't)
Shannon: i do too (me neither)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Spamku

I was cleaning out my spam folder and realized that some of these lines are perfectly suited for the haiku form.

the ladies will say
gosh! your penis is unique!
with megadik pills

at last your new life
your sexual dreams come true
real man, real penis!

"oh it's so tiny!"
did it make you feel so sad?
feel the action, man!

disappointing babes?
new special medication
now, attract sweet chicks!

girls giggle at you?
real sexual formula
bigger than "average"!

give her real pleasure!
be proud in public toilets!
make order today!

momma nature

25 weird animals for you to love

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Does your name start with an R? Because you are Retarded!

I would like to please draw your attention to a new study that sheds light on that wacky, wacky human nature by applying two well-known statistical principles for rigorous study: 1. Blowing Your Results Out of Proportion, and 2. Ignoring Obvious and Simple Explanations for Your Data. Yay, science! (Note: italics denote extreme sarcasm).

The authors of the study have found that people tend to express preferences for things that begin with the same letter as their name--i.e., Tom likes Toyotas. I would like to first point out that it is in fact highly likely that this obviously definitely is the case within a certain sub-population of homo sapiens that science refers to as Losers. So obviously these Losers are skewing your results. But okay.

But wait! The researchers say. We have found that statistically, people express this preference for things that are NOT desirable--which means that it is an unconscoius preference. One of their examples of these undesirables is a strikeout in baseball (which is recorded on the scorecard with the letter K). Behold:

Based on data from 1913 through 2006, for the 6,397 players with at least 100 plate appearances, “batters whose names began with K struck out at a higher rate (in 18.8% of their plate appearances) than the remaining batters (17.2%),” the researchers find...Granted, 18.8% vs. 17.2% is not a huge difference, but it was statistically significant—that is, not likely to be due to chance."

Oh my god, there were 1.6% more strikeouts by people whose names began with K. You're right, that is not likely due to chance. But with 6,397 players and 26 letters in the alphabet, about 500 of them will have K as one of their initials (K is probably one of those averagely common letters, yeah?). So basically it could have been like one fucking guy who is accounting for this entire "statistically significant" difference. Like maybe in Little League mean kids called him Kenny Strikeout or something. Or whatever, maybe I'm exaggerating and it's more like five guys--either way, a 1.6-percent difference manifesting within a sample size of five hundred people seems pretty tenuous to me. I'm not even going to get into how the word "strikeout" actually begins with a fucking S--whatever. So that's Blowing Your Results Out of Proportion. Moving on.

The other shocking trend they found: People whose names begin with A and B get higher grades than people whose names begin with C and D--in fact, the Cs and Ds on average get lower grades than people with neutral initials (M, W, etc.). Again, this could be a sub-population of weirdos skewing the results, but just for fun let's pretend it isn't. Let's pretend it's actually true across the entire population. How do the researchers explain this?

The [students with initials of either C or D] had such “an unconscious fondness for these letters, [they] were slightly less successful at achieving their conscious academic goals than were students with other initials,” write the researchers.

I would just like to point out that half of these people are qualified here by their last initial, and that teachers often alphabetize their students by their last names. People with the initials A and B are probably frequently the first to get called in attendance, sit at the front of the class, and get graded on a test by a teacher. People with the initials C or D are probably frequently near the top but never first. This might very well have a psychological impact on both students and teachers. An analogy would be a race, say a marathon--The guy who finishes first is the happiest, the guys who finished second and third are the least happy (so close!), and everyone else is just happy to have finished at all. So that's Ignoring Obvious and Simple Explanations For Your Data.

So thanks Leif Nelson of the Univ. of California and Joseph Simmons of Yale. Oh that's funny. Your initials have nothing in common with what school you went to. Oh what's that? Leif? You own a Lawnmower?! Oh my god that's so amazing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dude, dude!

I was reading this article, which is about how cigarettes are bad (groundbreaking) and marijuana is good. At least, if you believe the Swiss. They are neutral. We can trust them.

Instead of reading the whole article, because obviously you're at work and supposed to be working, allow me to supply the pertinent quote:

"In contrast to those who shunned both substances, the pot-only crowd was more likely to be male (71.6 to 47.7 percent); have a good relationship with friends (87 versus 83.2 percent); and play sports (85.5 versus 76.6 percent)...they do not seem to have great personal, family or academic problems."

The study also pointed out that potsmokers were less likely to have good relationships with their parents, but I think that we can pretty safely attribute that to the taboo.

I don't really partake in pot any more, but it's more because I'm too lazy to go find some than due to any real aversion. In fact, side note, I don't know if you know this, but marijuana binds to the receptor for a naturally occurring ligand called anandamide. That's the chemical that's thought to be released during runner's high, and also interestingly enough has a whole lot to do with pregnancy: it plays a role in getting the egg into the womb and is a key chemical communicator between a mother and her embryo.

So to recap: smoking pot will make you more likely to have good friendships, and the high is like your very first experience of your mother's love. Good thing that shit's illegal!

Is the existence of suffering in the world the reason why you don't believe in God?

That's a good reason, as discussed in this New York Times article, but I like this commenter's reason too!

'” I came to the point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge.” “The problem of suffering,” he recalls, “became for me the problem of faith.””

I’m a much more simple man. My problem of faith was talking snakes.

— Posted by jambo'

Snakes get a really bad rap, n'est pas? It's species-profiling. Do you know how many snakes are wrongfully accused each year of eating babies, hypnotizing children, and offering forbidden produce to women who don't see the big problem with grazing between meals? My grandma was a snake, dude.

Can you identify all these 'bad' snakes from popular culture?



What's that? You don't recognize the third snake down on the left? Oh, that's because HE DOESN'T EXIST. I just drew him up to prove a point; no where in media are snakes represented as benevolent, friendly creatures. As far as Hollywood is concerned (and let's be honest, global consciousness) snakes are lower than the dirt they slide on.

I still think the best writing on how you reconcile a suffering world with the existence of loving god comes from C.S. Lewis's 'The Problem of Pain.' It's short, it's smart, super-duper smart, and it does an excellently intelligent job of addressing the issue. I just found some quotes online from it.

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

"We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it's there for emergencies but he hopes he'll never have to use it."

Monday, November 5, 2007

And me without my colander helmet and spatula sword...

NASA has a bunch of recordings up of sounds on Saturn. So what does Saturn sound like? Well, first of all, it sounds awesome. That aside, Saturn sounds exactly like we expected it to sound like: like Outer Space.

No seriously. We all watched enough MST3K to know what Outer Space sounds like. Every cheesy sci-fi movie ever made makes Outer Space sound the same way. It goes something like weeoo weeoo weeoo glub glub wzzzle wzzzle weeoo blzzle bvwooOOooOOooOOoot! Which, it turns out, is 100 percent scientifically accurate. Did we already have Outer Space recorded and I just didn't hear about it? Or should I start piecing together a major conspiracy theory involving Area 51, mutants, the inventor of the synthesizer, and the Directors Guild of America....

Sunday, November 4, 2007

"The Golden Compass" Debated on Fox News



The priest gets the last word, out of respect, because anyone who doesn't believe in Judeo-Christian concepts deserves less respect obviously.

So much to say . . .

Bored online? Have you checked your email five times while reading this headline? Find religious debates online!




Who loves reading the comments posted on movie reviews, opinion articles, or YouTube videos online? Do you love reading pedantic arguments that try to find that perfect balance of intelligent argumentation and 'Yo Moma's SO FAT-style' disses? Are your friends tired of you going on lengthy drunken diatribes about what the real purpose of life is, and what's wrong with religion, and what you REALLY think about God?

What's that? You answer 'Yes' to all three of those?

WELP, this New York Times Article "God and Man on YouTube" points out several religious video superhits that have elicited mountains of debate in the form of comments. There is also is apparently a website called GodTube (broadcast him).

OMG, I just very briefly glanced at the GodTube page for the first time, and the first video on there is talking about the "Golden Compass" movie and is asking if it promotes atheist to kids!

Ok, I gotta go join the fun!!!!!

See you on the message boards!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Barack Obama Is Way Smarter Than You

Okay, so I'm sure everyone knows the deal. Obama was all "I need to make sure Hillary doesn't win the black heartland vote so I'm gonna go on a gospel tour" and then someone was all "Wait a minute Obama, isn't that guy Reverend McClurkin that you're touring with a giant homophobe who has said fucked up things about gay people?" and then a bunch of people were all "Obama we are appalled and we demand that you kick this guy off your gospel tour immediately" and then Obama was all "I'm not gonna do that but what I will do is add an openly gay minister to the same tour so that everyone's views are fairly represented" and a bunch of gay rights people were all "Noooooo that's not goooood enough, you have betrayed us and WE ARE NOT VOTING FOR YOU!" and then Dan Savage was all "I am feeling reactive today."

Ok, people, here's the deal. There are a lot of fucking people in this country that do not agree with us (that would be you, me, and Barack Obama) that gay rights are important and should be upheld. There are a lot of fucking people in this country that think that being gay is just plain wrong. Is it fucked up to think that? Yes, in my opinion it is. So I think that we can all agree that the most important thing that we can work towards is getting the people who are intolerant of homosexuality to become increasingly tolerant of homosexuality, so that, ultimately, these people will support gay rights. Homophobic people do not need to be defeated--they need to be educated.

Let's quickly run through an alternate scenario. Let's say Obama did kick McClurkin off the gospel tour. Now imagine all the people who are fans of McClurkin and likely not huge fans of homosexuality. They'd be all "Hey, how come McClurkin's not on the tour anymore? I really like that guy." And then someone would be all "Because the gay rights people demanded that he be kicked off."

Pop quiz: which response do you think would be most prevalent?

A: "Well gee, I've never really cared much for homosexuality seeing as how my religion condemns it and all...but now that gay rights advocates have ruined my gospel tour I think that maybe I will be more open-minded in the future."

or

B: "FUCK those gay people! (Only we mean that figuratively because we are not into sex with gay people, and also not at all because we do not say the F-word.)"

Here's a clue for those that desperately need it: Bringing together McClurkin fans and fans of the gay minister in the same crowd to watch an inspiriting gospel show that is tolerant not only of different lifestyles but also of different beliefs about those lifestyles is perhaps the single most progressive thing that a politician or public figure could have done in that situation to advance the gay rights movement in America today. It reeks of sheer, unadulterated brilliance. In fact, I think that this whole debacle is a fucking blessing--and the only reason it turned out that way is because Barack Obama is smart enough to know that when you take sides with one constituency, everyone loses.

I am not going to try to say it better than the letter released today by Obama's campaign from 16 supporters in both the African American and LGBT communities:

"We believe that Barack Obama is constructing a tent big enough for LGBT Americans who know that their sexual orientation is an innate and treasured part of their being, and for African American ministers and citizens who believe that their religion prevents them from fully embracing their gay brothers and sisters. And if we are to confront our shared challenges we have to join together, build on common ground, and engage in a civil dialogue even when we disagree.

We also ask Senator Obama’s critics to consider the alternatives. Would we prefer a candidate who ignores the realities in the African American community and cuts off millions of Blacks who believe things offensive to many Americans? Or a panderer who tells African Americans what they want to hear, at the expense of our gay brothers and sisters? Or would we rather stand with Barack Obama, who speaks truth in love to both sides, pulling no punches but foreclosing no opportunities to engage?"

If You Think Science is Bullshit, I Will Rip You To Shreds: Installment 1 (with more to come no doubt)


This morning I was linked to a graphic design blog, where this graphic design blogger was noting the overlap between science and graphic design, and the importance of recognizing that science does overlap into the humanities. A good call to arms.

Now, the thing that got me all self-righteous and heated up was a comment someone left on this posting. The comment is a perfect example of someone who gets the functioning and importance of science all wrong. Let's go bit by bit, to extract every ounce of misunderstanding from this nincompoop.

(WARNING: MEAN-SPIRITED WRITING ALERT)

"Why do designers need to apply their skills to this arena? What signals out science for preferential treatment? Why not politics, psychoanlysis, art? When did science become the mandate of all that is true and worthy?"

Why don't designers apply their skills to art? Really? Why don't designers (and here I believe the writer is using the word designers to mean in particular graphic designers), and apply their skills in visual communication toward a medium that is primarily visual communication? Why don't scientists apply their skills to science while we're at it. Brilliant observation.

"When did science become the mandate of all that is true and worthy?"

Um . . . because Science (capital S Science), as a mode of thinking, is the only system of knowing reality that works, BY DEFINITION. Maybe we could try having a world with politics but without science. Great idea. Maybe this chode works for the Bush administration.

Onward (and please note, the spelling mistakes here the author's):

"The DNA code of which you noted is an intersting discovery, but we should be wary of laying down our critical faculties in awe of such revelations. All knowledge is created within the sphere of social values and thus requires constant assesment of its intent and purpose. Immediately we can see that this information has dramatically shifted the perception we have of ourselves, our expectations and limitations. Our value is increasingly judged on this inherited set of bio-chemical data. In a scene reminiscent of the most horrific book burnings, our socio-historical narratives fade ever faster in the glorification of numerical order. We have been reduced to code. The ramifications on our social realm have yet to fully play out, but already we can see the discussion turn towards categorising, segregation, and elimination."

I agree that all knowledge is GAINED (not created) within a sphere of social values and therefore can fall into the ideologies of the society. But good Science, the only Science that deserves the title is the Science that stands the test of time.

"Our value is increasingly judged on this inherited set of bio-chemical data."

Wow. See now I'm starting to think this writer is just some junior high liberal. We're all numbers, man. It's like, we're just chemicals and there's no such thing as love. Strawberry fields. Nothing is real.

"We have been reduced to code."

I'll reduce you.

I have a real conflict with actually wanting to argue with this person. On one hand I feel some of these postulations are so ill-formed that they don't deserve comment, but on the other these are real thoughts and feelings. So, why is discovering DNA reducing us to code? It explains how life works, but where in there does that reduce us? You would maybe rather us not discover DNA and continue to think we are made of bile, blood, mucus, earth, wind, and fire?

"Indeed a much more profound insight on the decoding of the human genome is the fact that the information itself has been incarcerated in intellectual isolation. This information that builds our physicality has been stolen from us all and turned into a profit potential for a few. We have been infiltrated, examined, calculated and summarised in the good name of science and understanding only to be hoodwinked by the concerns of another. In short our beings have been propertised."

No one wants to buy your DNA. Sorry junior high liberal. Again though, yes, the decoding of the genome is a scary idea, in that can someone copyright your DNA? If anything malicious is done it's not Science doing it. It's people.

"How can designers work against such imposed immaturity? By taking part in the arena which determines all others, namely the political. Not the bounded ham acting of party politics, but the politics of relations between justice and truth-both private and public, local and global. We should therefore ask how and why science, creativity, and thinking in general, are being driven in such directions. What is the motivation? Who is it that is benefiting? Who amongst us is being forgotten, who has been lost? Who decides this is a price worth paying? Why do we accept so much and question so little? Why do we wish to find comfort rather than resistance? When did we lose our sense of the social, the common, and the shared, to become the docile, domestic, easy to manage statistical objects so beloved of commerce?"

Shut up. Go read Marx, listen to your Bob Marley and smoke a bowl.

"Why do we accept so much and question so little?"

What are those guys called in the white lab coats who question things for a living? Like, they spend all day long questioning things . . . and like, trying to find answers, and even once they've found answers they keep questioning those too? Fuck. I wish I could remember.


"These are some of the crucial concerns for us today, all of which demand the retrieval of our politicised identities, over and above the concerns of any scientific ones."

What is a scientific identity? Does he mean REALITY? As in, the proven fact that we are animals made of DNA and proteins?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Drugs.



This was sent to me by my friend Shane, who said "i don't know if this is genius or retarded...like if the makers of teletubbies did a daytime soap about three subversive lesbians and something about a lakehouse."

I've watched it twice and, like...it's weird because it reminds me of total garbage, but in actuality I think it may be completely amazing. The thing that impresses me the most about it is that while watching it, it's impossible to form a complete thought. I'm serious. Try.

Also, it gave Roy a flashback. Just a warning.

A Belief in Evolution without a Higher Power leads to Genocide, and other tidbits about the 'Expelled' Movie

"He said he also believed the theory of evolution leads to racism and ultimately genocide, an idea common among creationist thinkers. If it were up to him, he said, the film would be called ''From Darwin to Hitler.''"

This is a quote from Ben Stein from a New York Times article about his new movie
EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED

(That is the real fucking title of this movie. Grown adults who want to make a documentary about censorship in the scientific community want the subtitle to be 'No Intelligence Allowed.')



Also, here is the THREE PAGE article in the New York Times investigating how this production company misled scientists like Dawkins to be interviewed for the doc, without their knowing its ideological objectives.

I got in a heated discussion with my friend Mike a few weeks ago when I sent him this quote from Ben Stein. I personally disagree with Stein's comment, but Mike saw some truth in it. I think that the dialogue that it opens up is an interesting one, in that it seems that a lot of people do think that if you believe solely in a scientific explanation of evolution and life, that it will lead you to concepts like social Darwinism. These misunderstandings I feel need to be addressed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ben Stein on Bill O'Reilly (that's all you have to say)

...
Derekh: that would be a weird society
Shannon: forget that
Shannon: we've got bigger problems
9:55 PM
Derekh: hahaha
Derekh: like what?
Derekh: global warming?
Shannon:

Shannon: like the two biggest douches on the planet together in one room
Derekh: OH YES
Derekh: WATCHING
Shannon: i think that planet earth is about to melt
Derekh: oh my god
Derekh: lighting striking a puddle
Shannon: I KNOW
Shannon: fuck
Shannon: i will wait for you to finish before i launch
10:00 PM
Derekh: wow
Derekh: ben stein
Derekh: total idiot
Derekh: who knew?
Shannon: holy fucking shit right?
Shannon: omg
Shannon: how are these people claiming the first amendment??
Derekh: these people just don't understand the issue at all
Shannon: HOW DID THAT HAPPEN
Derekh: i know, that's a brilliant tactic
Derekh: actually
Shannon: it boggles the mind
Derekh: total red herring
Shannon: AAAAGH
Shannon: i love how bill oreilly said
Shannon: "they (xtopher hitchens and bill maher, et al) would say you don't have the right to talk about a higher power"
Shannon: and stein like
Shannon: i mean it's a wiffle ball
Shannon: goes into first amendment from there
Shannon: like
Shannon: WTF
Derekh: yeah, really insane
Shannon: would bill maher EVER SAY
Shannon: you don't have the right
Shannon: to do anything?
Shannon: NO
Derekh: of course not
Shannon: he would literally NEVER SAY THAT
Shannon: jesus
Derekh: it's all this assumed passive aggressive bullshit
Derekh: dan dennett even says
Derekh: religion should be taught in schools
Shannon: in religion class
Shannon: lol
Derekh: which of course these guys won't bring that up
Derekh: exactly!
Shannon: hahaha
Derekh: in a religion class
Derekh: but NO
Derekh: a religion class is like too limiting
Shannon: i just think it's amazing that they're framing this as a first amendment issue when it's clearly an educator competence issue
Derekh: for these people
Shannon: people are losign their jobs because they are NOT teachign science
Shannon: in SCIENCE CLASS
Shannon: wtf
Derekh: i can't wait to see this movie
Shannon: it woudl be like firing a teacher who told her kids that like unicorns were real
Derekh: i mean, i just don't know
Shannon: and then saying "ooooh first amendment, she can say wahtever she wants"
Derekh: totally
Derekh: exactly
Shannon: well yes she can but taht doesn't mean i can't fire her fucking ass
Shannon: jesus
Derekh: what doodoo heads
Shannon: god i hope i can pirate this fucking movie off the internet
Shannon: i really don't want to give these fucks my money
Derekh: yeah, me neither
Derekh: you will be able too
Derekh: to
Shannon: lol
Shannon: ok ok ok
Shannon: *breathing*
Derekh: relax

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Evil plan alert

Check out this article about how a team of scientists from the University of Florida and the Museum of Natural History in Berlin have discovered that amber resin from trees in swamps may have trapped and preserved a bunch of prehistoric insects and swamp critters.

A direct quote (my italics):

"Studying organisms that were trapped for millions of years in amber may help scientists to recreate prehistoric water ecosystems and learn how these life forms changed over time, [paleo-botanist David Dilcher] said. While no one is claiming that the entombed bugs will be brought back to life through genetic splicing, the discovery may give clues about the evolution of microorganisms, he said."

This assurance is a bit out of place, as nowhere in the article is there any suggestion that anyone would want to bring prehistoric bugs back to life. Is this a poorly-contextualized Jurassic Park reference, or an accidental slip that reveals the secret evil plans of a team of evil evildoers posing as scientists?

We're just going to try to find some bugs is all. Nobody's saying we're going to create a super race of face-eating zombie insects. We're just, you know, studying evolution...definitely NOT for the purpose of genetically splicing these bugs into a new and terrifying species that will take over the world. Muahahaha. I mean, ahem.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Aren't we amazing

About five years ago I caught one of my coworkers gazing out the window and when I asked him what he was staring at he pointed at an airplane flying overhead and said "don't you think that it's amazing that man designed his own wings and learned to fly?" (I'm serious, that's actually what he said. He was kind of a nerd.)

"No," I said.

I wasn't trying to be a jerk. I just don't think it's all that amazing. Or rather, it's not the kind of thing that amazes me.

I think that we as a human race tend to have a very expansive view of what is incredible or amazing. We glorify technology and fantasize about building space ships and colonies on other planets and like a robot police force made out of nanomachines...it's weird but I don't really get excited about that. I remember when I was a kid I liked Star Wars as much as the next person but the thing that really would enrapture me was hearing about how in the deep deep ocean there were organisms that we haven't even found yet, there are a ton of ancient life forms right under our noses and we don't even know that they exist or what they could possibly be like. I guess I tend to have a more concentrated view--to me the coolest thing is not how far you can go or what you can build but how deeply you can see into something that's always been there, something that we might not even find to be particularly interesting.

So all of that is just a long-winded way of explaining why this video gave me a total Science Erection.

This is a super-awesome animation of what goes on inside a cell. Like, one of the billion trillion or whatever cells that you have in your body right now. I mean I know we all learned about this stuff in school but this video is just nuts--it's like there's a whole fucking universe in there, and it's cooler than any universe I've ever seen in any science fiction film. I've posted the music video version because it's kind of cool and beautiful, but if you'd rather watch the full-length educational version (watch out, it'll make you feel stupid) then you can watch it here.



Created by XVIVO science animation studio (how cool would that job be)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How do the machines know what Tasty Wheat tasted like?

Like a lot of people, I am pretty obsessed with consciousness. Ever since I was like 20 years old and I used to get high and stay up all night drawing (completely inaccurate) schematics of how the human brain must process information and emotion, it's been very easy for me to accidentally slip into this fantasy world of trying to "figure it out," with no formal training or expertise whatsoever.

So in the Pinker + Goldstein interview I posted, Steven Pinker reminded me of David Chalmers' work. Pinker said:

"I'm also sympathetic to Chalmers' view. It might not be the actual stuff of the brain that makes us conscious so much as it is the information processing. I don't think Chalmers' view would give much support to a traditional religious view about the existence of a soul. He says that consciousness resides in information. So a computer could be conscious and a thermostat could have a teensy bit of consciousness as well. Still, the information content requires some kind of physical medium to support the distinctions that make up the information. And the Cartesian idea that there are two kinds of stuff in the universe -- mind and matter -- doesn't find a comfortable home in current views of consciousness, even those of Chalmers."

Which is as good a synopsis of Chalmers' work as I think you'll ever get.

Anyway, I was thinking about that all night and for most of yesterday. I was thinking about how yes, obviously there is no one material place in the brain where consciousness "lives" (a concept illustrated beautifully in Dan Dennett's book Consciousness Explained, which I never finished reading but still recommend), but it is rather an emergent phenomenon. I was thinking about how consciousness is really the interaction of the mind and the body, because as we know from Candace Pert's work (which I'm not sure is mainstream yet, but is definitely groundbreaking and should be fucking paid attention to), "emotions" are not all in your head. They take place in your body at the molecular level, as neurotransmitters and hormones (like seratonin and testosterone) are not acting simply in the brain but being dispatched to all parts of the body (which is why when you feel that happy love feeling, your heart gets warm--happy juice is binding to receptors on the cells in your heart).

It's interesting to think of drives and desires from this perspective. Think of your body as a machine. So you've got the evolution juices--oxytocin, seratonin, dopamine, adrenaline, testosterone, endorphins, all the other ones...the ones that are designed to keep you alive and breeding. And then you've got a body that's designed to receive those juices to achieve particular states, and then a brain that's designed to document information about what situations lead to what states, and strategize about which states are desirable and which states are to be avoided. So when you consider Chalmers' "information" to include the concept of drives and desire that your body/mind feels, as well as memories and conceptualizations that your brain tissue is storing, then that's a pretty explosive theory of consciousness. It makes you think well no wonder people feel like they have a soul--there is information pouring out of every cell in your body and organizing itself into a coherent strategy for existence--and part of that strategy btw is that your brain tells you a narrative about the whole thing.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Obviously none of this makes any sense here as I'm babbling about it, but it made sense in my head. I have terrible habit of reading just tiny bits of people's work and then sloppily ripping off their theories (I like to entertain the illusion that I can figure all this stuff out for myself). ANYWAY, after thinking about this stuff for the better part of a day I went on TED and, for some relief, decided to watch a talk on robots. Well THERE IS NO RELIEF, because these fucking robots are conscious. Or, approaching consciousness. By introducing desire (through reward mechanisms) into robot design, this Hod Lipson guy and whoever he works with has created robots that learn and evolve. It's fucking cool and also terrifying in that potential-Matrix-style-apocalypse sort of way. Watch--it's only 6 minutes.

Hod Lipson: Robots that are "self-aware"

Monday, October 15, 2007

This Is It

The interview I have been waiting for. The interview that is so amazing, I would never have even dared to hope that it would actually happen. The interview full of questions and answers so perfect, I will have the entire thing fucking memorized into my DNA because after I have read it seven billion times I will burn it and inject the ashes into my bloodstream. Like, seriously, when I saw it I almost fainted.

It's Steven Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein on their relationship, the mind, religion, and what it's like to be awesome.

I totally believe in true love right now. I will find my Steven Pinker and we will have a billion and five amazing brilliant genius babies, and it's gonna be fuckin sweet.

Seriously, if you only read one interview for the rest of your life, read this fucking interview. Please please please please please.

Women's Studies

Yesterday I ran across this study about ovulation and strippers. (Excuse me, I believe the scientific term is lap dancers.) This study is actually really interesting: they compared the ovulation cycles and tip earnings of 18 lap dancers and found that ovulating women made about $70/hour, compared to $50 per hour for non-ovulating women and $35 for bloated cranky menstruating women. The study claims to be "the first direct economic evidence for the existence of estrus in contemporary human females." (Kinda lofty for a paper-clipped stack of 18 questionnaires turned in to an anonymous drop box).

I don't know exactly how well-researched this field of study is, but there is sort of an already established debate out there about why, in the process of human evolution, estrus was dumped in favor of menstruation. The main behavioral difference between the two is that estrus females are generally only interested in sex while they are fertile (you know, like cats in heat), whereas human females that ovulate are down to bang out whenever. There are all sorts of hypotheses about why this evolved, most of which annoy me. Regardless, there are a lot of implications in there for things like monogamous behavior, societal power distribution, etc.

What bothers me about this is that the paper claims that this economic evidence suggests that men can detect when a woman is ovulating and will thus be more attracted to her (or at least spend more money to see her in a sexual context). This may very well be true, but it feels pretty limited in its perspective. Stripping is a performance art, and while I've never been a stripper I think that any woman who is in touch with her body would agree that you feel a lot sexier--both actively and receptively--when you're ovulating. Some would say downright horny. So wouldn't that play a factor? I mean you've got all kinds of baby-making shit going on up in your uterus, you'd think you'd be a little bit more enthusiastic about waving your vajay around. I don't think it matters whether the women are actually attracted to their patrons--it's a state-of-mind thing. I bet if they did a study about how often single women masturbate they'd find that that increases with ovulation, too. This is of course not an official hypothesis, but I am a single woman, so I think you can count that as data.

The study's authors didn't not think of this, they just found it irrelevant. They say that because previous studies have never resulted in lap dancers' reporting that they noticed menstrual cycle effects on tip earnings, that it is more likely that it is their "attractiveness" to men rather than their own increase in sexual receptivity and proceptivity (i.e. horniness) that plays a role. I don't get this logic at all--just because you don't notice your influence on something doesn't mean that the influence doesn't exist. They also say that the female's increase in sexual receptivity might lead to a bias toward certain men with good genes, but that it was "unclear how this bias would lead to greater tip earnings." To me this also sounds like bullshit--stripping is not the same as choosing a mate. Just because something (ovulatory horniness) evolved in one context (the evolutionary context in which it would be advantageous choose a mate with good genes) doesn't mean that it will play out the same way (only being directed toward potential mates with good genes) in a completely different context (a strip club, where not to disappoint you or anything but the strippers are not there to find men to mate with).

I do agree with the study's general point that whether or not a woman is ovulating plays a role in the chemistry between two members of the opposite sex. The thing that bothers me--about this study and about previous studies that this data challenges--is when people try to form these discrete cause-and-effect hypotheses about complex phenomena by discarding those aspects of the phenomena that they could not find a way to measure. Obviously things like how horny a woman feels and how attractive a man finds her do not lend themselves to causal explanations as they are blurred by lines of feedback. To me, conclusions like that will always be pretty useless and easily challenged by different interpretations of what is essentially the same observation.

The Catholic League denouces 'The Golden Compass' Movie, to which you may say 'Big F'in Surprise' . . .


. . . but you know, it's just the beginning of the joy that will be the epic culture clash that hits America when the movie is released. If you're not familiar with 'The Golden Compass' or the trilogy from which it is the first, here's what The Catholic League of extraordinary gentlemen have to say about both:

"The trilogy, His Dark Materials, was written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism. The target audience is children and adolescents. Each book becomes progressively more aggressive in its denigration of Christianity and promotion of atheism: The Subtle Knife is more provocative than The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass is the most in-your-face assault on Christian sensibilities of the three volumes."

Read the rest here. 'The Golden Compass' movie comes out this winter.

The thing is, the Catholic league is exactly accurate in their assessment of the goal of the books. It's not like Harry Potter, where godless themes can be perhaps subtly alluded to (Time Magazine article 'Who Dies in Harry Potter? God.'). In His Dark Materials we aren't even talking about godless themes woven into the literal world of the book. The world of the books is anti-god.

As long as we're on Philip Pullman's books, let's check out what kind of man writes atheist fantasy books for kids. British men. Obviously.



Pullman is right in step with other British atheist smarty-pantses like Dick Dawkins and Chris Hitchens, in that he's kind of a prick. Here are some great quotes from Pullman's website:

Q: What inspires you?

A: Three things. (1) Money. I do this for a living. If I don't write well, I won't earn enough money to pay the bills. (2) The desire to make some sort of mark on the world - to make my name known. To leave something behind that will last a little longer than I do. (3) The sheer pleasure of craftsmanship: the endlessly absorbing delight of making things - in my case, stories - and of gradually learning more about how they work, and how to make them better.

Q: Who do you write for - children or adults?

A: Myself. No-one else. If the story I write turns out to be the sort of thing that children enjoy reading, then well and good. But I don't write for children: I write books that children read. Some clever adults read them too.

Money is his inspiration, as is his desire to make his mark on the world, and he only writes for himself!?

Ayn Rand would love Philip Pullman.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I once didn't believe in evolution either, and the misconceptions about the 'March of Progress' gives clues as to why


A great little article from ID Magazine about the famous 'March of Progress' image, and why it misrepresents what evolution actually is. Even the title is misleading; 'March of Progress' implies that evolution has some kind of end-result in mind, when in reality the only end result is to not die, and anything that doesn't die the most successful is the only progressive thing there is. Taking that into consideration, an earthworm is just as progressively equal to a human being considering we're both all alive today. By this same token, we could argue that earthworms are more successful than Homo Erectus, or any other proto Homo Sapien.

The article also has some amazing pictures, a few of which I've posted here.

Poop on Sam Harris

A Response to Sam Harris' Talk at the Atheist Alliance

This so-called atheist movement is pushing me further and further into the fringes of society. I used to call myself an atheist, thinking that the term “atheist” referred to a simple lack of belief in a higher power. I used to comfort myself on lonely godless nights by telling myself that there were other wonderful and caring atheists out there, waiting for me to join their joyous, science-loving brethren. But then I was forced into a shocking realization: to be an atheist, you have to be a total fucking asshole.

Or that is what Sam Harris and his legions would have the world believe.

I think that we godless folk can all admit that we have succumb to the temptation of mocking the religions of the world, even at times making unfair generalizations about the devout themselves. Religious beliefs are unscientific and illogical, which makes them an easy target. But so are most human ideals—think of true love or world peace. Our beloved science tells us that religious belief is a byproduct of evolution—a natural phenomenon among human beings. Are we really so foolish as to believe that we can magically (to use the word that Harris so snottily wields on the faithful) undo a natural phenomenon by arguing with people and calling them stupid?

Frankly, I find it appalling that a group of such undeniably brilliant men and women as those at the forefront of the burgeoning atheist movement have devoted so much time, thought and energy to an effort that amounts to little more than militant cheerleading. While there is a real and valid need to create a society that values inquiry and the free exchange of ideas, those working to do so do not seem privy to the commonly held wisdom that the best possible way to firmly entrench a person in their opinions—however illogical they may be—is to attack and insult them.

The justification for this attack on decent people is endlessly fueled by Harris’ assertion that religion is a fundamentally destructive force that is responsible for violence, torture, war and countless other atrocities. Well, I am going to point-blank disagree with that. The most destructive force in society—in all societies—is polarization. The polarization and exploitation of the ideology of the masses has been the true underlying phenomenon driving every war, every violent crusade, every transgression that we can point our finger at and shout “religion”—and many that we can’t. Because religion exists pervasively throughout human societies, it is often exploited. But there is a difference between something’s source and its vehicle—and it is an important difference.

I doubt that this is any revelation to Harris. I propose that the reason why Harris is able to find such penetrating insights into the effects of the exploitation of religion is that he himself is an exploiter. He is using the tremendous power of human ideology to further his own interests and his own notoriety, all while exacerbating the conflict that he claims to be trying to fix. If Harris wins his war we will not have a reconciled society, but rather a larger and more vicious divide than ever before. Don’t believe me? Look at how many commenters were eager to jump up and commend Harris for comparing religious belief to racism (specifically, lynching). Faced with rhetoric like that, those reasonable and tolerant religious people who have not yet declared us their enemies are surely running out of good reasons not to.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sam Harris Sucks

A Response to Sam Harris' Talk at the Atheist Alliance

I don’t understand Harris’s greater motivation for wasting so much time philosophizing about what would be an appropriate thing for Atheists to call themselves. If his goal is to minimize the individuals who believe in a God then I can’t imagine a much more ostracizing act than his continual belittlement of their most important values. I understand that his need to criticize as acidly as he does is because so many are too polite to critique one’s own value system, but Harris’s problem isn’t what he’s saying, but how he’s saying it. His choice of language when speaking about religion is so laced with negative rhetoric and ideological slants it’s comical someone like him would consider himself an objective and scientific thinker. His arguments are clearly focused toward the disgust of the caricatures of the religious that he’s built up in his mind. He is attacking a people, and not an idea.

Harris’s proposal to have all atheists not refer to themselves by any title is outrageously self-centered and na├»ve. Every minority group has always been labeled from the outside more so than the inside. It has nothing to do with the spreading of rational thinking, but seems to just be another way Harris can feel that it is him versus the world.

Harris needs to give up his scapegoating of Islamic terrorism as a violent mindset propagated only by the ethos of the religion. This is a perfect case of chicken and egg thinking: are the poor and oppressed people of the Middle East militant primarily because they believe in Islam (making Islam the cause of this immorality)? Or does a specific homegrown militant version of Islam thrive in the Middle East because the people are poor and oppressed, those conditions themselves being the cause for the immorality and Islam itself being a red herring result?

I am embarrassed to have someone like Harris representing such a smart and generally open group of people. In a time where we need to bridge the gaps that separate people, and increase our understanding of one another, Harris does nothing but aggravate already tender lesions.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

One of the most powerful brain systems on Earth...


I Love this quote from Helen Fisher (attached as an audio file to get the full effect), and if you like it, check out the whole podcast, via those crazy TED Conference peeps.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

the most infuriating thing i've seen in forever

so animal rights groups have come up with a "humane" way of solving the pidgeon overpopulation problem in hollywood.

so this is great. really. let's put contraceptives in birdseed all over the city. fantastic. so when the birds poop all over the place, or when it rains and the water rinses the birdseed, where does that contraceptive go? um, everywhere. it'll go where water runoff goes, the path of least resistance. it'll end up in the ocean and in the parks and probably in the drinking water depending on the nature of the city's water treatment system. so you're threatening the reproductive capability of every species that interfaces with water (read: all of them) throughout the entire watershed. it's not unforseeable that humans could be affected by this as well, as we eat fish caught in the ocean, swim in the ocean, etc.

it's a known fact that human use of oral contraceptives has had severe unforseen ecological ramifications. when a woman on birth control pees, it gets flushed into a sewage system that is then often treated and released into an ocean or bay. fish, salamanders, and other species have suffered extreme gender imbalances and reproductive stress from being exposed as eggs and little babies to hormone-disrupting compounds. there are lots of things that we could do about this--we could, for instance, find a better way of treating sewage than to dump it into an ocean containing an innocent ecosystem. but i'm not complaing about that--that's an innocent mistake, the product of two seemingly unconnected things interacting in a way that it was no one industry's responsibility to predict. but putting CONTRACEPTIVES IN BIRDSEED is just stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, STUPID. and fairly endemic to the typical short-sightedness of those lobbying desperately for the rights of a single constituency (i.e. animals, or pidgeons) without looking at the network of interactions it's a part of. Great job, PETA.

now you may be feeling all conflicted. "whatever will we do? it's a paradox! there's no solution!" well, i have a solution. fucking DEAL WITH IT. lots of bird poop, WAH. the fucking pidgeons wouldn't even be there if it weren't for urban development anyway. it comes with the territory. and if you positively cannot stand them, then i will go officially on record with this advice: kill the fucking pidgeons. they're an invasive non-native species. PETA, stop bitching about the sanctity of life. living things die all the fucking time. if you want to protect life, you should think about the bigger picture.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Best Political Speech I've Heard In A Long Time

It's no secret that religion, and in particular our own American home-grown version of Christianity, has been a major source of division within American politics for the past 7 years or so. The rise in the Christianification of American politics has resulted in the aggressive counter movement of outspoken and outraged atheists and agnostics, giving birth to books like 'The God Delusion' and 'Letters to a Christian Nation,' which has then birthed the counter-counter Christian movements embodied by pundits like Ann Coulter, and her book 'Godless: The Church of Liberalism.'

It's a total culture war, where each side does very little to try and understand, let alone even tolerate, the other. But in a healthy democracy, isn't it a given that not everyone will share the same beliefs as you? and you accept that, live and let live, and do your best to increase the common good by way of discourse and conversation. Both secular and religious people have demonized their opponents, making each unable to listen to the perspectives of the other, resulting in two angry, brooding, militant, judgmental, self-righteous sides.

Considering this, I was inspired after I watched this speech by Barack Obama (himself a Christian), who is addressing a group of America's Evangelicals on what else, but the subject of the religious potency in American politics. To listen to Obama speak about religion in such a calming, intelligent, and pensive way is such a contrast to George Bush's thoughts that I can't believe Bush ever became a poster-child for a Christian in politics. If anything, the leader of a democracy has to recognize that he is governing a diverse body of people, and be able to bring people together despite their differences, instead of divide. Barack appears to be a reconciler.

Here's the speech. I got it off Barack's website. I don't know enough about the guy yet to fully endorse him for president, but it's nice to come away from a politician feeling lifted and refreshed.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

‘Evolution and Politics’ is the new ‘Paris Hilton Goes to Jail’

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So just a week or so ago I posted this video of three of the Republican presidential nominees giving their two cents on evolution, them being (in order of appearance), Huckabee, Brownback, and McCain. Then back in late May, before these debates, Brownback wrote an opinion article for the NY Times (that bastion of liberal New Yorky nonsense) entitled ‘What I Think About Evolution,’ (which could’ve also been titled ‘What I Think About Evolution, Even Though I Don’t Think That Much About Evolution’).

Now this week The Times has released a whole Science Times section which could be titled ‘What Scientists Think About Evolution.’ How interesting it was to find a reference in one of the articles, ‘Science of the Soul? ‘I Think, Therefore I Am’ Is Losing Force,’ not only to Brownback’s comments at the Republican debate, but to his opinion article that had run in The Times just months before. Ahem, and I quote:

“Nevertheless, the idea of a divinely inspired soul will not be put aside. To cite just one example, when 10 Republican presidential candidates were asked at a debate last month if there was anyone among them who did not believe in evolution, 3 raised their hands. One of them, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, explained later in an op-ed article in this newspaper that he did not reject all evolutionary theory. But he added, “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order.’”

Anyhoo, aside from the politics of it all, the ‘Science of the Soul’ asks a lot of questions about what a soul even is, like, maybe it doesn’t have to just be your spirit. Does it have to be something separate from the physical brain? If not, then does anything with a brain have a soul? Can all our physical brain functions and machinery end up creating our soul, thus being more than the sum of its parts? As philosopher Dan Dennett playfully puts it, “Yes, we have a soul, but it’s made of lots of tiny robots.”

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wanna fight?

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It’s official; the meek shall inherit the Earth, but only after they fight everyone else and win.

Steven Pinker has some great thoughts on the decline of violence in the western world in this month’s The New Republic. It’s nice to cut past the reactionary screaming of Midwestern mothers lamenting about how violent and uncaring ‘the media’ has made their sons and the friends of their sons. There were times when mothers were cheering for their sons to be the deadliest killers out of all their peers, and those boys who couldn’t hang were ridiculed at best, or killed eventually at worst. (God knows I wouldn’t last long. I felt remorse after the first and only time I boiled a lobster.)

Here’s an except:

“The decline of violent behavior has been paralleled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence, and often the attitudes are in the lead. As deplorable as they are, the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the lethal injections of a few murderers in Texas are mild by the standards of atrocities in human history. But, from a contemporary vantage point, we see them as signs of how low our behavior can sink, not of how high our standards have risen.”

A History of Violence