Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Miniature Solar System

It's so cool when scientists get things right. Take, for example, the (admittedly broad) theory of planet formation from a dust disc around a central star. This theory has been tossed around for decades. It's the accepted theory to go with for planet formation.

And then along comes Spitzer, with evidence to back that theory up. This is the beauty of a good scientific theory. It makes predictions and explains data. Of course, no one ever conceived of a planetary system actually forming around a brown dwarf, like the one the Spitzer 'scope found, but there's nothing in the planetary formation dust disc theory that says it can't happen. A brown dwarf, with several times the mass of Jupiter, could easily hold onto a bunch of gas and dust long enough for protoplanets to form. And from there, it's all downhill (pardon the gravity well joke).

I love science.

Dover Panda Trial Transcripts

Here is a link to TalkOrigins very nicely laid out set transcripts from the Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District trial.

Dover Panda Trial transcripts.

Some of it's good reading. Enjoy.

Family Issues

I'm glad I'm not the only blogger out there who's pretty sure their family will never read what's written.

Check out It's all good.

650,000 Years On Ice

SciAm has a nifty little article detailing preliminary findings from a 2-mile long ice core retrieved from Antartica. What does it show? Surprise, surprise! Humans are increasing CO2 levels eight times faster than is normal for the earth.

But remember, folks, climate change is a natural process only minimally impacted by humanity, and the US is doing more to halt global warming than most other countries in the a pig's eye!

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

Heh. I would have ritually sacrificed for this set when I was a kid:

Cthulego (4 MB .mov file)

R'lyeh! R'lyeh! Fhtagn R'lyeh!

(via Pharyngula)

Exhibitionism + Free Market = Window Shopping?


Check out these spellbinding ladies:

I like it. I wonder if we could get more people to read if we put hot women and hunky guys in bookstore windows.

Hot Dog Joke

Here's a good hot dog joke over the Hot Dog Spot.

Check it out.

High School Newspaper Chicanery

High School newspaper censorship is an issue near and dear to my heart, since I was the student editor of my high school's newspaper. And this Tennessee idiot principal at Oak Ridge High School is driving me nuts!

Modern birth control is half a century old. Birth control techniques have existed for, literally, millenia. Why can't this be talked about in a school newspaper, if the facts are correct? Who is this principal really trying to protect? The fourteen year old boys and girls who are going to have sex, come hell or high water? Or her own hide, when those fourteen year olds do it and DON'T get pregnant, but do get caught by their otherwise inattentive parents?

School systems, principals and teachers should not be responsible for parenting the children in their care. They should not have to instill civilized manners. They should enforce the behaviors that the parents, at home, require from their children. Knowledge about birth control should not be taboo.

Margaret Sanger is spinning in her grave.

Where's Pat Robertson When You Need Him?

Wow, the Supreme Court is set to become much more conservative while chunks of marble start falling off the building and the conservative heartland of America is being whipsawed by blizzards and tornadoes. Where's Pat Robertson pointing out the wrath of God being wreaked upon these people? Why isn't he foaming at the mouth and shaking his little squinty-eyed bobble-head at these people the way he finger-wagged at Dover and enthused at the destruction in New Orleans?

Pat, where have you gone? You're letting conservative America down. They need your guidance. Otherwise, God wouldn't be sending these evil things to them, right?

Those Crazy Catholics Are At It Again

The Vatican, in its infinite wisdom, has issued a training document that all but forbids gay men from entering the priesthood. And your response would be a big yawn, right? Well, so would mine, except for the quirky nature of what the document says. For details, see this CNN article.

In essence, it says that if you are an unabashedly gay man, you can't become a priest. But if your "gayness" was temporary in nature, and you have somehow moved past your gayness for over three years, then you CAN become a priest. Now, the only part of being gay that I know of that's different from being a heterosexual is the fact that you are physically and emotionally attracted to members of the same gender. But since you can't discern a man's attractions from the outside, the only way to determine if he has, in the words of the Vatican, "clearly overcome" his homosexual tendencies is to see if he has had sex with another man within the last three years.

But wait! If you're trying to become a priest, aren't you supposed to be abstaining from sex anyway? I know that to achieve diaconate ordination (the step on the path to priesthood that is denied to homosexuals by this document), you have to take a vow of celibacy, so what's the big deal? I understand that the Catholic Church believes that homosexuality is a psychological problem, a so-called psychosexual disorder, but still, this seems kind of silly to me.

Zicam Is Homeopathic?

I have seen Zicam being promoted pretty heavily this cold & flu season, and I happened to mention it to my lab partner, since she's suffering through a cold herself right now. She told me that she had a friend who had used it and lost his sense of smell! I thought to myself, this can't be right. If this stuff really did that, it would be recalled.

So, I did some digging (I love Google). It turns out that Zicam is homeopathic. I never knew this. I thought it was a drug marketed by a major drug company, not some snake oil cooked up to fools the rubes. But here's a link telling you all about it: Zicam Bad.

In short, Zicam uses zinc gluconate, and intranasal zinc can cause anosmia, or the TOTAL LOSS OF SMELL!

Yup, my lab partner was right. Using Zicam can cause you to completely lose your sense of smell. And how, you may ask, does the manufacturer get away with this? Simple. Because of idiotic lawmakers who believe in all that woo-woo homeopathic crap, the FDA does not have to test Zicam and its ilk for safety or efficacy, so individuals affected have to sue the company directly, with no federal support.

So much for the FDA protecting us from harmful drugs.

Word Choice Matters

I work for a global company. The upper levels of management are in the process of setting up career ladders for the various functions within the company (I just found out today that, for some inexplicable reason, I'm in the Engineering Ladder) and so set up international teams to wrangle the details out.

We were fortunate enough to have a couple of people from our site on those teams, and they each had the same thing to say about the process. The most time taken up in the whole process had to do with the names of each rung on the ladder. That's right, the biggest wrangling sessions had more to do with what to name my level of expertise, and less with how to define it in terms of knowledge, skills and attributes.

For example, the term "director" in parts of Europe and Asia means that you sit on the Board of Directors of a company, and no amount of redefining is going to change that. It's a cultural issue, as well as a linguistic one. And this isn't just a corporate thing. One of the most commonly known examples, from an American standpoint, would be the fact that what the British call "chips" we would call "fries", British "biscuits" are US "cookies", etc. It's a trivial example, but getting a Londoner to call a biscuit a cookie would take some work. He might agree that it can be called that, and even agree to call it that when talking about it, but he's still going to think of it as a biscuit. A Japanese executive is going to think of a director as a member of the Board of Directors, no matter how much you try to redefine the issue.

Word choice matters.

Look at the evolution/creation debate. The average American uses the term "theory" to mean something quite a bit different from the scientific definition. This lets people who are trying to play silly-buggers with science get in cheap shots, by playing to Joe Six-pack's terminology, and using science's jargon against it.

But the place where I see that this hits home the most right now, though, is in politics. Republicans may have one of the worst platforms in recent memory, but it doesn't matter, because they know how to use soccer moms' and Nascar dads' vocabularies against them. The inheritance tax is called the death tax. Believing that women don't have a right to choose what happens with their own bodies is being "pro-life" or supporting "the culture of life", as opposed to being "pro-choice". This casts choicers as being "anti-life". That's fallacious, to say the least. I don't think very many people are "pro-death".

As to the "culture of life", well, the Republicans stole that term from Pope John Paul II, who was the first to use it. When he said it, he meant he was anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, anti-death penalty, anti-war. Republicans quickly co-opted the term for their own use, since it flows off the tongue, and makes a good soundbite. Of course, if you look at the Republican political platform, it only applies to about half of what they support. But it doesn't matter, because it sounds good.

In a perfect world, my meaning would be apparent, despite my word choice. In a perfect world, I could convey everything I'm thinking and feeling without having to quibble over "director vs. team leader" kinds of issues. But in the cultural mish-mash that the civilized world has become, I have to be more and more careful about how I speak, and more importantly, what I speak.

I suppose I should take Edgar Allan Poe's advice: "The true genius shudders at incompleteness - and usually prefers silence to saying something which is not everything it should be. " I'm no genius, but I should strive to say things that are everything they should be. And so should you.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Machine Surgery

I performed surgery today on a $50,000 piece of equipment. It took most of the morning, as I had never performed this particular procedure. It involved removing some coverings (or "skin"), removing an insulation box (or "muscle"), removing a 1 mL chemically inert copper tube (or "intestine", replacing it with a 3 mL chemically inert copper tube, replacing the insulation box, replacing the coverings and recalibrating everything (or "retraining"). So far, so good. Nothing blew up in my face. There were no pops, cracks, bangs or whistles. There were no suspicious smoky smells. I have high hopes for an increase in productivity (or "complete recovery with corrected problem").

As with so many surgeries, though, I found another problem. In recalibrating everything, I found that some of the methods stored in the machine's operating system were flawed ("damaged DNA"). I had to go in and manually check and fix all the different methods we currently use ("targeted retroviruses"). I'm still in the process of recalibrating with the corrected methods, but all seems to be going well.

Now, if only I could find that darn wrench that I lost somewhere.....

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Atom Feed

Hey, folks. I just added an Atom site feed to my sidebar. You can find it just above the logo. Or, just copy this url into your news aggregator:

I like to use SharpReader, myself.

Old Men And Inventions

While spending time with the outlaws over Thanksgiving, I heard my wife's grandfather, a man of 82 years, utter something I never thought I'd actually hear someone say. The two of us were sitting in his living room, and my wife had just unplugged her digital camera from the TV and taken it to another room. He looked at me, shook his head and asked, "What do you think they'll come up with next?" Now, this isn't the shocking part. Before I could answer, he went on, "I think they've invented just about everything that's going to be invented."

When I heard this, I was floored. As I said, this man is 82 years old. He lived through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, both Iraq wars and a plethora of other military dustups. He has seen the invention of the quartz crystal watch, bubble gum, Scotch tape, FM radio, the helicopter, the computer, silly putty, the microwave oven, holography, Velcro, the credit card, Kevlar, LCD screens, Post-It notes, the Internet, Viagra, the birth control patch and translucent concrete, among other things. How could someone who has seen this ever-expanding pool of stuff really believe that there's an already-reached limit to what humanity is going to come up with?

Now, I know that he's from a semi-rural area of West Virginia, and to be honest, technological penetration lags behind in places like that, so maybe he's never heard of translucent concrete. Big whoop! I would think the bubble gum-to-Viagra continuum would be enough to show that we upright apes are good tool users and good tool innovators. He has a wood-working shop himself where he spent years looking at nifty little toys and gadgets that could be made with a few simple tools. He showed me some carved wooden chains, that he had made himself, cut from a solid block of wood. How can someone who does that kind of thing for fun not realize that the plethora of modern tools available to researchers and technologists will continue to spew out new things?

Is it an age thing? Or is it a lack of imagination? Has he just seen so much that he can't envision anything else? I don't have an answer. I didn't want to offend him by asking.

Plus, he's hard of hearing, and I didn't think shouting at an old man about new technology the day after Thanksgiving was a good way to endear myself to my wife's family.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Nipple Switch

Welcome to the first ever installment of My Wife's Crazy Dreams starring the dreams of L., my lovely wife of six years. Today's dream: Nipple Switch.

While on Thanksgiving vacation at my outlaws, ummm, I mean inlaws, I awoke earlier than my wife. Since I don't usually have a lot of time to actually watch my wife sleep, I took the opportunity to watch her snooze. As she started to stir, I started to rub my hand over her back, her side, her leg, not really in a sexy-sexy way, but just touching her because I love to touch her. As she rolled over onto her back, I started rubbing my hand over her stomach, flirting my fingers up under the halter top she'd slept in the night before.

My wife's response to this was to immediately slap my hand away and sit bolt-upright in bed. Why, you ask, did she do this if I wasn't actually trying anything hanky-panky-ish? I must have had a look that asked the same thing, because she immediately told me.

She had been dreaming. Dreaming that I was twisting her nipple in an effort to turn off the light.

That's right, folks. My wife slapped my hand because she thought, in her dream-fogged way, that I had been trying to use one of her naughty bits, which I had not even touched, as a nipple light switch.

Welcome to my world.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Secret To World Peace

Two words: Tryptophan comas.

Tryptophan, for those of you not up on your biochemistry, is an amino acid that encourages the production of serotonin and melatonin in the brain. These chemicals, in moderate amounts, create feelings of calm and sleepiness respectively. It is naturally occurring in a plethora of foodstuffs, but is unusually high in turkey.

So, lay a nice big spread of turkey dinner before all the world leaders, and let 'em work out their differences before nodding off.

Oh, come on! It'd work! :)

Thanksgiving 2005 - Day One

Well, it’s Thanksgiving time again, and we are tripping up to my in-laws’ this November. Day one was fun. I had hoped to get on the road by 10:30 AM or so, since that would get us there pretty early and I wouldn’t have to do much driving after dark. I’m getting nearsighted and driving unfamiliar roads in the dark is not my idea of fun.

So, since I had laundry to do the night before, I was up until almost 2:30 AM. Yeah, not a bedtime conducive to midmorning roadtripping. Once we got everything packed up and in the car, we realized that we were going to have to go to WallyWorld (Walmart) for this and that before leaving. All told, we didn’t leave town until after 12:30. With a typical trip being about five hours and holiday traffic adding time, I was figuring that we would get to the inlaws by around 6:00 PM. That’s a little later than I was hoping for, but hey, I can hack it. I’ve driven these roads off and on for years. I shouldn’t have had any problems.

Around hour two of the drive north, about fifteen miles south of Wytheville on I-77, traffic slowed down. And then it slowed down some more. And then it almost stopped for a few minutes. And then we rounded a curve and I saw a line of traffic at least two hours long. I promptly began cursing. My wife, who felt responsible for us being so late, started to sink down in her seat. I (figuratively) bit my tongue and stopped cursing, causing my blood pressure to shoot up about 100 points. I felt the headache start right about then.

Well, once we got into Wytheville, where I-77 and I-81 meet, traffic sped up, since we had passed the bottleneck. A white truck was on its side, facing the wrong direction by the road and the cops had one lane of the interstate blocked off. Now, if you’ve ever been on I-77 heading north into Wytheville, you know that the interstate actually narrows down to one lane there in a sort of on ramp to the combined interstates as they run through town. The police had about two feet of road blocked off AFTER the road had narrowed to one lane. When I actually got up to the blockage, I had no trouble getting past it. Hell, big rigs shouldn’t have had any trouble. So, the best guess I have is that those fifteen miles of slowed traffic was caused by pure rubbernecking. And the wreck, despite the obvious violence of it, didn’t LOOK particularly gruesome, so I guess people were taking a little extra time to try and see something icky.

So, smooth sailing from here on out, right? Wrong. Right after we hit Wytheville, the snow started. Now, I grew up in West Virginia, so a few snow flurries were actually a welcome sight to me. I love snow, as long as I don’t have to drive on two inches of it compacted into solid ice. Since we don’t get much snow without ice in NC, and we don’t get home for Christmas much, I was actually kind of excited. As I said, a few snow flurries were welcome.

Now, there are two tunnels on that stretch of interstate, where they just bored through the mountain instead of cutting a notch. By the time we reached the first one the flurries had kicked up to actual snow, although light snow. There was some mild accumulation along the roadside, but the road itself was actually still dry. We hit the first tunnel and I saw something I’d never seen before. It was snowing IN THE TUNNEL! Now, I know that what was actually happening was that the wind was just blowing snow into the tunnel, but it continued for quite a bit, and it looked like it was snowing in the tunnel. It was pretty cool.

By the time we hit the second tunnel, the one that starts in Virginia and ends in West Virginia, the roads were wet and the accumulation by the roadside was starting to actually pile up. But we got the same snow-in-the-tunnel phenomenon. I’ve never seen that before, and I still think it’s pretty neat. But with the temperatures dropping, the day’s light starting to fade and the snow getting heavier, I was starting to worry. The rest of our trip would be in West Virginia, and I knew the state would treat the roads early, unlike the wonks in NC that wait until the last minute. So, I wasn’t particularly worried about the road conditions. The worst I would have to deal with would be some occasional slush and maybe some slick bridges. After all, brine works down to about minus 20°C or so. It was nowhere near that cold. But I knew that visibility would get worse as it got darker, and we had a few hours of driving left.

And I was right. It continued to get worse for a couple of hours, and never really let up at all. By the time we got off the highway and onto the secondary roads leading to my inlaws place, my eyes were starting to play tricks on me, making the road look like it was jumping a little. I loved every red light we hit, since it gave me a chance to close my eyes for a bit and rest them. I wasn’t particularly physically tired, but my eye-strain was getting pretty severe. I really shouldn’t have been driving for that last forty-five minutes or so, but with L’s eyes doing their funky after-dark thing, there really wasn’t an option. Especially since the snow was still blowing and cutting visibility.

During the entire snowy part of the trip, my visibility would go from a half-mile to 100 feet or so and then back to a quarter-mile, then down to 200 feet, then back up to a half-mile and so on. By the time we got home, all I wanted was a nice little dark corner to rest my eyes. I packed some stuff into the house, said my greetings and then went to find a dark room. I promptly fell asleep, was awakened for some of my father-in-law’s 3-alarm chili, ate, promptly fell back asleep, was awakened to go to bed, and woke up at 3:30 am the next day. I’ve been up, except for some light dozing, ever since.

I love Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

100th Post!!!

Well, for my 100th post, I thought I'd take a quick look back and see just what I've been talking about these last few months. This should say the least.

I started with a post about a blow-up with my family. Then from there, I got into politics really quickly. Then, a quick dip into introspection, followed by some apologies that will never be read by the people who should read them. Then I talked about my wife a little. And that's cool, because she's amazing.

Anywho, then I got back into introspection, commenting on how well, or how poorly, we know our best friends. Then I ranted about religious nuts. That theme gets repeated a lot. When Katrina struck, I was almost speechless, and very pissed. That's just how I deal with stress, I guess. I get pissed.

I've talked a lot about politics, and a lot about science, and a little about skepticism. I've posted a bunch of memes (1920s name still rocks!) and I've talked a little about (other people's) suicide.

I've talked about my father, and his mother. I've posted quite a few random thoughts (flibbertygibbet, heh) and a lot of Things You Hear, mostly about a two year I love very much, even if he's not my kid.

I talked quite a bit about the Dover Panda Trial, and posted a few pictures from Halloween. I've talked about my emotional disorder and I've laid into a nationally famous cartoonist over some really stupid things he's said.

I've posted links to nifty little things I've found, and that others have sent to me. I've talked about coworkers who believe in demons and I've mentioned Bertrand Russell more often than is probably wise. I've changed my "Favorite Quote" a dozen times and played with my template in other ways. I'm now obsessed with, since I get a real kick out of watching my hitcounts and pageviews continue to rise.

I started this blog to say things I felt needed saying. It's a forum where I can craft what I say just so, and say exactly what I mean. I never dreamed that it would turn into this much fun, along the way.

I'm looking forward to my next 100 posts. I hope you are, too.

Monday, November 21, 2005

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard

Heh. I may have found a new favorite webcomic, Xoverboard.

God As Court Judge

I had another talk my coworker who believes in demons and he sent yet another shiver up my spine. We were talking about the death penalty and he said that he was a strong supporter of the death penalty because we needed a strong deterrant to crime.

I asked him what he thought about potentially killing an innocent person. His response?

"God will judge us all in the end anyway."


He also said that if there IS an innocent person put to death, then the people who did it were either carrying out God's will or would call God's wrath upon them if they had lied.

*shiver* *shiver*

I then asked him if he felt that by supporting the death penalty for such religious reasons, he was forcing others to abide by his religious beliefs. His response?

"What do you mean?"

Now, I'm not saying that that's accurate. I don't actually think that supporting something for religious reasons is "forcing" anyone else to abide by your beliefs. But he is so steeped in the rightness of his faith that he can't even wrap his head around the concept of someone having valid, non-religious reasons to think something's wrong.

I'm not getting into the rightness or wrongness of the death penalty. Personally, I think the system is too flawed to use to kill a man, but I've never been a victim, either, so I can't really say how I'd feel. I am just amazed that an otherwise reasonable person, with a college education, can put others lives in the hands of a capricious God.

During the same converation, he also admitted that he thought it was okay to pray for God to send his wrath against someone who had wronged him! So much for turning the other cheek!

But to him, it's okay, because it's God's wrath, and not his own. So, apparently divine proxy cures all ills. And people wonder why Evil Uncle Chuckles is still around.

A Sparrow Falls

Just when you think that it's only the US that's doing weird stuff, here's a story from Amsterdam that restores your faith in the silliness of humanity all over the globe.

Now, it's not the fact that someone had set up 4.1 million dominoes. That's an attempt at a world record, and frankly, we as humans have a drive to break records. Dominoes is probably a silly record to break, but hey, it's like Everest. It's there.

No, the silliness comes from the fact that everyone got all worked up because the sparrow died!

More than 5,000 people signed a condolence register on an impromptu Web site set up to honor the bird...

Wha...huh? A condolence register for a house sparrow? It's not like it was the last Northern Spotted Owl in existence. I mean, yeah, it's on the Netherlands' endangered species list, but it's still the second most common breeding bird in the Netherlands. It's considered endangered there because it's population is decreasing due to better building practices. That just means that it's population is going back to pre-human-house-building norms! It's all over Europe.

Like I said, silliness abounds.

Young Women Do Strange Things To Old (And Not So Old) Men

What is it about an energetic young woman who is NOT sexually aggressive that brings out the shark in a man?

We have a new co-worker in the laboratory, and she’s a lively young woman, married with a one year+ old child. She’s friendly, physically fit, attractive in a Slavic kind of way and completely asexual in her attitude towards everyone at work. My lab partner of several months and employee for a couple of years now, Thug Girl, is a lively young woman, single with no children, friendly, physically fit, attractive in a Beyonce kind of way and very aware of her sexuality. Guess who gets all the attention?

That’s right, the new kid on the block. Now, I’ll admit that part of that is probably her very newness, but there’s more to it than that. I talked to Thug Girl about this and she says that the men here never reacted to her the way they are to the new hire. Now, I’m a born flirt. Always have been. I flirt with my wife, my female co-workers (when appropriate) and even my friends, married or otherwise. It’s part of how I approach and deal with my relationships with women. But, except where my wife is concerned, I always try to get across that I’m harmless, and mean nothing by it. If I flirt, it’s because I like and respect you, not because I’m a lascivious toad. (Heck, I can barely keep up with my wife. I don’t need to go looking elsewhere for anything.) But some of the guys at work, especially the older ones, seem like moths drawn to a flame with this woman. And I would just put it down to pre-, post- or active mid-life crisis, except that it’s not JUST the older men who are responding this way.

I have seen young men, some of them newly married men who should still be feeling the blush of post-nuptial euphoria, changing before my very eyes. A few days time spent with our new lab geek puts a sloppy smile on faces and has people pulling pranks when they never pranked before. The shenanigans going on here are starting to get down-right silly. It’s like they crave her attention in a way they don’t crave the attention of their own loved ones. I could understand wanting a taste of something new, even if it subconsciously, but these guys still HAVE something new.

It’s like throwing away a half-finished candy bar to eat a piece of chocolate cake. And the worst part is that it’s a cake that’s not even being offered to you!

I don’t understand it. Maybe I’m just wired differently. Is it the very fact that she DOESN’T act in a sexually aggressive manner that draws these men, young and old? That seems kind of strange to me. Is it the “Daddy Factor”? Does she seem virginal to them? That’s ridiculous, if you talk to her. She’s a mother!

Personally, if I were looking for something different, I’d be going after the one flaunting it, not the one keeping it private. I hope these goobers either get over it, grow out of it or get slapped down because of it soon.

Friday, November 18, 2005

My First Friday Ten

Here's my inaugural Friday Ten:

1. Louie, Louie - John Belushi
2. Take It On The Run - REO Speedwagon
3. The Big Chair - DaVinci's Notebook
4. River Of Dreams - Billy Joel
5. My Immortal - Evanescence
6. Why Can't This Be Love - Van Halen
7. Bruxaria - Kat Bjelland, Miho Hatori, etc. (Songs of the Witchblade!)
8. Mr. Brightside - The Killers
9. Who Are You - The Who
10. The Red - Chevelle

Now, I did mine a bit differently than some. I ran my top rated list, not my total mp3 list. It comes up way to much country from the old days to get a feel for what I'm really listening to these days. The list above is much more representative.

Happy Friday.

The Two Faces Of American Conservative Politics

Let me preface this with saying that I'm a pretty hard-core liberal, especially on social issues. If you read this blog at all, you already know that. I also think that an unbridled free market leads to oppression just as much as no free market does. To steal a phrase from Joel Rosenberg's Dwarves: "Moderation in all things. Including moderation." (Hmmm...maybe I should be a moderate centrist instead....nahhh.) So, I don't claim to have a deep understanding of the inner workings of the Republican Party.

But, as this article (from Ranson, again) in the Union Leader points out, the Republican Party has, since the mid-1970s or so, had two strings to it's bow. The first would be the so-called small-government conservatives. The second would be the social conservatives. And this is causing some serious problems, especially since the neocons have taken control. They are abandoning the small-government thinking of pre-70s Republicans and focusing on social issues and an aggressive foreign policy.

So, what does this mean for the Republican Party? Well, it means that the neocons, with first Ronald Reagan and then George W. Bush at the helm, have embroiled the US in several conflicts which both liberals and "old-school" Republicans think we should have stayed out of, with Iraq being but the most recent example. It also means that the social conservatitivism side has swallowed up much of the domestic policy effort. Efforts to limit abortion, gay marriage and even inter-racial relations are all hallmarks of the neocon conservative attitude. And while these neocons are a relatively small part of the Republicans, they are strongly in control. Why?

Well, part of the problem is platform creep. A lot of people are strong party voters, voting straight ticket, or nearly straight ticket, which puts party members in office without much "issues" talk being necessary. This is especially true at the lower levels of government, where ballot manipulation is easier to accomplish. But when the neocons started moving into leadership roles in the RP, no one really noticed, partly because they had good rhetoric to cover their more extreme views. So, by the time anyone noticed that the Republican Party had slowly but drastically changed, it was too late. The neocons held most of the party's leadership positions, and the average Republican voter was left out in the cold, although they didn't know it for quite some time. Their only options now, on a national level, are to vote for people who are essentially spreading intolerance or vote for their traditional opposition. And as long as the intolerance isn't directed at them, the voters aren't going to have much trouble getting behind someone who's trying to suppress someone else. Homosexuals or women wanting an abortion just don't have the pathos, yet, of African Americans in the 60s. Homosexuals may get it eventually, but it's going to get a lot worse for them before it gets any better, I'm afraid.

Heck, there are large chunks of voters out there that are barely aware of the party's current platform. All the average voter gets is the talking points on CNN, Fox, MSNBC or their local news channel. That's why the President can get away with saying such blatantly false, and sometimes stupid, things. The average voter doesn't have the time or energy to put into astute, year-long political analysis. And George W. Bush is a fairly photogenic man, putting people at ease. I'm not saying that the average voter is an idiot. Far from it. But people have built-in biases, what Francis Bacon called the The Four Idols, and a friendly face makes people feel more trusting of that face. Bush works that like a past master. It's really amazing to watch. (I hate what he's done as President, but I could probably still pass a pleasant hour in conversation with him without working at it.) I'm not saying people are sheep, but most people sure aren't wolves.

The integration of Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) into the Republican Party in the late 60s and early 70s also has a lot to do with the changes we've seen in the GOP in the last few decades. These were people who defected from the base Democratic Party due to it's support of the Civil Rights movement. Thus, when Republicans brag about voting for the Civil Rights Act, it's disingenuous at best. The bill had riders that pushed their own pet projects, and they didn't have to contend with the Dixiecrats, who flocked to the GOP after it took effect. Those Dixiecrats have been slowly changing the Republican Party ever since.

That's actually one of the quirkier moments in American politics. Democrats voted against the Civil Rights Act, partly in an effort to protest the rider that would remove benefits from thousands of federal workers and partly in an effort to appease the Dixiecrats. Republicans voted for it, partly because it was the right thing to do, partly because it had the rider on it. After it passed, the Southern Democrats left the Democratic Party in droves, because they had supported the Civil Rights Movement, even if they did vote against the Act itself. Democrats really shot themselves in the foot there. It's been hurting them ever since, and it didn't even work.

There are other stressors acting on the GOP, as well. As the Union Leader commentary article points out, up until relatively lately the GOP has been the little guy trying to get into power. Now that it's there, and the Democrats are being so ineffective as an Opposition party, all the pressure to hang together is easing. And that could lead the different factions of the Republican Party to hang separately, so to speak.

Now, personally, I don't mind the small-government side of the Republican party. I'm a fiscal moderate, usually. I think the marketplace can be used to redress grievances, but only to a certain extent. Companies exist to make money, not make people's lives better. That's a fact of life, whether we liberals want to admit it or not. So, within reason, I can see some of the benefits of small government. But the neocons, with their extremist social conservative attitude and their "My Country Can Kick You're Country's Ass" foreign policy, have to go. They've spent all the international political capital and goodwill that George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton spent over a decade building up for the USA.

So, I guess you can say that I'd like to see the Republican Party stop being two-faced. Heh.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Scientists Otter Know Better

Biologists in California have been trying to take the pressure off some commercial endeavors by relocating the native sea otter population. It seems they like to feed on the shellfish that some commercial divers are also after. They would move them from Santa Barbara to Moneterey. Then the otters would wind up back in Santa Barbara a couple of weeks later.

Biologist Greg Sanders (presumably not of CSI fame):

"This concept of taking animals and putting them in one place and expecting them to stay where we want them ... wasn't really working," said Sanders, 44, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.
All I can think of is, "Well, duh."

Here is the CNN article, in it's entirety.

It's Official. The Catholic League Is Insane.

Okay, here's the story. Somebody at Wal-Mart got snarky with a customer over their policy of having greeters say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". Here's what said Wal-Mart employee sent out:

“Walmart is a world wide organization and must remain conscious of this. The majority of the world still has different practices other than ‘christmas’ which is an ancient tradition that has its roots in Siberian shamanism. The colors associated with ‘christmas’ red and white are actually a representation of of the aminita mascera mushroom. Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal. It is a wide wide world.”

Now, there's nothing in there that's terribly inaccurate. I know. I know. You can quibble over bits and pieces here and there, but the essence of the story is that the traditions related to the Christian Christmas holiday are anything but Christian in origin. Christianity has a long history of "re-purposing" local traditions to ease the conversion of the locals. It's not a big deal. So, a Wal-Mart employee who's actually taken a Comparative Religion class decides to point this out to a customer, trying to spread a little enlightenment.

Boy, was that a mistake! The Catholic League freaked! And, of course, Wal-Mart rolled over and fired the person, since the CL has its fingers in a lot of pies. How very Christian of the Wal-Mart and the Catholic League to see to it that someone is fired right before the holidays. Gotta love it.

Did the Catholic League ever stop to think that maybe a greeter isn't Christian, and would find it against his or her religion to wish someone "Merry Chistmas"? No, but then, they cover themselves there, because:

Wal-Mart says it is not going to change its policy of encouraging employees to say ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’ This is dumb, but it was never part of the Catholic League’s complaint. We only trigger boycotts when we’ve been grossly offended.

That's right. They call this policy dumb. They frequently call things insane and dumb in the relevant news releases. And these people have influence with "126 religious organizations".


See these three posts for the Catholic League's original three news releases.




And Speaking Of Music

Have you heard the cover of Genesis' hit "Land Of Confusion" by Disturbed? It rocks!

I know. I know. That sounds silly, but it's true.

I blame this on Korn. They had to go and do "Word Up", and now it's gonna be all kinds of bizarre covers. Next year should be interesting.

Just When You Thought Goth Was Stupid

I know that most people not into Goth think Goth is terminally moronic/silly/Satanic. And while I'll admit that there is a certain portion of Goth that is kinda goofy, put I think it's starting to produce a few gems here and there.

Here's one of the best so far:

Voltaire has a great sense of humor, but he still manages to hit all the "traditional" Goth points along the way. He's also a real polymath, being a singer, songwriter, animator, comic book artist, and toy designer.

The best part about his site, to me, is the free mp3 downloads from several of his albums. The Star Trek riffs from Banned On Vulcan are particularly funny to me, considering my own Trek nerdiness, but it's all good, baby.

Old Favorites

I was cleaning up my Favorites list and found this little chestnut:

It's a good cause. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Ray Of Hope

Ranson sent me this link. It's worth reading, but be warned that the pictures might be disturbing. The essay is at the bottom, and it's both a ray of hope and refreshing breeze of sanity. I may not agree with the existance of Deity, but if there is one, this is the take I would like to see espoused more often.

More Funnies From the Thug Girl

Direct from an email to my Thug Girl work partner:

It's worth a look.

Random Thought

Saying that you believe adaptation occurs but that you don't believe in evolution is like saying that you believe stuff will fall if you drop it but that you don't believe in gravity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dilbert-boy Does It Again.

I'm sorry. I just had to have another go at Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame. He's just making more of an ass out of himself. Indented portions below are his, in case you didn't already know.

Intelligent Design Part 2

You should of just left it alone, Scott.

Oh man, oh man. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed stirring up $#!T until I wrote about evolution and Intelligent Design. Many of your comments are fascinating, but the good stuff came in direct e-mails to me. I think my inbox actually burst into flames a few times.
So you freely admit that you’re just doing this to stir up $#!T? I thought you wanted “credible” people to enter into a debate that would inform the public. Instead, I find out that you’re just muckraking. Classy.

As you might recall, my earlier post on this topic made the following point:
Both sides misrepresent the others’ position (either intentionally or because they don’t know better or because of bias) and then attack the misrepresentation. Therefore, neither side is credible (to me).
And I said earlier, the big name scientists in the evolution-related fields don’t engage in straw-man arguments. Read Dawkins, for goodness sake!

I was waiting to see how many people fell into the irony trap and misrepresented my blog entry and then attacked it. The best and funniest case of this can be found on an entire web page dedicated to just that:
It would be kind of hard to misrepresent your blog, Scott. The parts that aren’t incomprehensible are pretty obviously wrong.

This blogger, who calls himself PZ, is evidently a highly educated scientist, extremely informed on the topic of evolution, and quite passionate. But for reasons that fascinate the trained hypnotist in me, that brilliance doesn’t extend to comprehending The Dilbert Blog.
Dr. PZ Myer IS a highly educated scientists, extremely informed on the topic of evolution, not to mention ID, and it quite passionately against the idiocy that is Intelligent Design. If you had spent more than a few minutes poking around his site, you’d realize how well he understands Behe and company. As to “comprehending The Dilbert Blog”, well, I think we all comprehend the first part of THIS entry, so see my comment above about muckraking.

(The curious reader might want to Google cognitive dissonance to understand how something like that can happen.)
The Wikipedia has this, among other things, to say about cognitive dissonance:

In brief, the theory of cognitive dissonance holds that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the human mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to minimize the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.

How does cognitive dissonance have anything to do with PZ supposedly not comprehending your blog? Admit it, you’re just throwing big words around, trying to sound smart, right?

That makes him the poster child for my point that the average person (me) has no credible source of information on the topic of evolution.
Again, I say, pick up a book. Not getting your blog doesn’t make him not credible. It means YOU failed to connect with HIM. The onus is on the artist, not the viewer, to make his or her statement clearly. That’s Art Appreciation 101, isn’t it?

Let me say very clearly here that I’m not denying the EXISTENCE of slam-dunk credible evidence for evolution. What I’m denying is the existence of credible PEOPLE to inform me of this evidence.
How could you deny the existence of credible evidence for evolution? You’ve never looked into it yourself enough to know one way or the other. If you had, you’d realize that there are literally thousands of scientists willing to explain evolution to you in words small enough for you to understand. And most of them don’t give a flying fig about ID. The bulk of them haven’t given it a moment’s though. Why not? Because it’s not science, and they are scientists. That seems pretty simple to me.

Oh, and by the way, what’s your definition of credible? has this definition:
1. Capable of being believed; plausible. See Synonyms at plausible.
2. Worthy of confidence; reliable.

What about PZ, or any scientist who disagrees with ID, makes them not believable? And don’t trot out the straw-man argument thing. PZ doesn’t misrepresent the Intelligent Design movement. Behe and company are dumb enough to make themselves look like idiots without any help from the scientific community at large.
The people who purport to have evidence of evolution do a spectacular job of making themselves non-credible. And since I don’t have any relevant scientific knowledge myself, nor direct access to the data, everything I know has to come from non-credible types. To me, it’s like hiring a serial cannibal as a babysitter based on the fact that he PROMISES not to eat your kids despite having eaten all the other kids on the block. It might be a fact that he’s telling the truth. The problem is that he’s not credible. (The other problem is that he eats your kids.)

If you don’t have any relevant scientific knowledge yourself, then how are you able to determine someone’s scientific credibility? It seems to me that you’re complaining because evolution isn’t transparent enough. That you can’t lay your hands on 150 years of evidence and thought. That you don’t understand evolution, and that’s the fault of the scientists who study it. You don’t hire a serial cannibal to be your babysitter, because he’s a serial cannibal. Period. You don’t call ID a scientific theory, because it’s not one. Period.

When people misrepresent the views of their opposition, and attack the misrepresentation, they lose all credibility with me. Both sides in the evolution debate do that with gusto. Why would I believe people who prove to me they are either dishonest or biased or worse?
Please give me one example of an otherwise credible scientist setting up a straw-man argument against ID. Please.

PZ’s misrepresentations of my views are incredibly clever. (He’s a smart guy.) And he uses quotes from my writing to make it seem impossible that he’s misinterpreting me. Here are just a few examples.
I said it’s POSSIBLE for scientists to have herd mentality. PZ interprets that as if I’m saying scientists DO. Then he attacks the misrepresentation. (How much credibility can you have if you argue it’s not POSSIBLE for scientists to have herd instinct on this issue?)
No, you didn’t say it was possible for scientists to have herd mentality. You said, “In other words, the scientists are in a weird peer pressure, herd mentality loop where they think that the other guy must have the “good stuff.”

I know you’re only a simple cartoonist, but the words “scientists are in” are different from the words “scientists may be in”. Stop misquoting yourself. Or at least edit your first entry so that it doesn’t say that anymore. Oh, wait, that wouldn’t be very credible, now would it?

I said I DON’T believe in Intelligent Design and PZ attacks me because I "blindly accepted the claims of the Designists." Then he attacks Intelligent Design as if it were my view.
Of course you’re accepting the claims of the designists. They’re the only ones complaining about the stuff you’re complaining about. You bought into the whole “bones in a box” thing, dude. What the heck did you expect any of us to say?

PZ declares that no one has EVER argued against the young earth argument to refute ID, except for uninformed people. My very POINT was that that argument comes from uninformed people, by definition. And I’ve heard it three times in the past month. If he’s wrong about this, and completely certain of his rightness, how can I trust his certainty on any other topic even when he IS right?
I can’t access Pharyngula at the moment, since it’s inexplicably down, but I don’t seem to remember it being said quite that way. All I can say to this is that scientists don’t refute ID because of the young earth argument all that often. They refute young earth creationists on the young earth argument quite often. And since you yourself claim that ID and creationism are different, then this argument goes out the window, now, doesn’t it?

I said that Intelligent Design proponents allege that experts in various science fields are not convinced that their own field supports Darwin’s version of evolution. PZ turns that into MY opinion (not the Intelligent Design people’s allegation as I clearly state) and then refutes it.
What does it matter if it’s your opinion or one that the ID crowd allege? It’s still wrong.

I mention, unwisely and without the benefit of actual knowledge, that all of the human-like fossils ever found can fit into a small box.
This kind of sums up your entire article, doesn’t it? Unwise and without the benefit of actual knowledge.

PZ cleverly misinterprets my point as if I was referring to all of the INDIVIDUAL human-like fossils ever found, which of course would be thousands. Then he attacks that misinterpretation. I didn’t make my point this clearly in the blog, but it should be obvious to anyone that I meant the RELEVANT fossils. If you find 50 Homo Erectus skeletons, it’s still only one relevant one as far as demonstrating human evolution. The others are somewhat extra from an argument standpoint. PZ mentions four “bunches” of relevant ones that have been found. Call it an even dozen. Unless they have extra large heads, I could put all 12 of them in a small box. I might have to crush them first, but that could be fun too.
One, why should it be obvious? If you write unclearly, own up to it. Don’t put the onus on the “silly, non-credible reader”. If you’re a mush-mouth, it’s not the listener’s fault that he doesn’t understand you. It’s yours for being a mumbler.

Two, argument that INDIVIDUAL bones aren’t RELEVANT just shows how little you know about this field. Period. Again, pick up a book. The Ancestor’s Tale by Dawkins is really entertaining.

Well, I could go on. But my point is that every argument I have heard in favor of Darwin’s version of evolution or in favor of Intelligent Design all come from people who have the same credibility problem wonderfully demonstrated by PZ.
You obviously haven’t put much effort into this, then. Go ask a decent high school biology teacher. Maybe they can explain it to you simply enough.

For the record, if you put a gun to my head and make me choose, I’ll pick Darwin’s version over Intelligent Design, although I am rooting for the alien seedling theory most of all. But I can’t base my opinion on credible evidence or on credible people. I just don’t have access to either. To me, the lack of credible PEOPLE is the most fascinating aspect of this debate.
All jokes aside (alien seedlings indeed), you’re right about not being able to base your opinion on credible evidence or on credible people, because you haven’t put much effort into finding any. There is plenty of access. You just haven’t looked for it. As to the lack of credible PEOPLE, well, I think you’re wrong, obviously. There are plenty of credible people who work their entire lives to explain little bits of evolutionary theory. They don’t care about ID.

Now here’s the fun part. When PZ hears of this blog entry, will he accuse me of misrepresenting his views and attacking the misrepresentation? I hope so, because then I can pretty much rest my case.
I guess your case can’t rest, since he just sums up what you say. Quite concisely, too.

You should be ashamed of yourself. You are a public figure, actively engaged in muckraking, over an issue that is of vital importance. If you really do think that evolutionary theory is accurate, why not use your powers for good instead and weigh on the side of the scientists, instead of attacking them?

My 1920's Name

Your 1920's Name is:

Adolphus Washington
Gotta love it!

People Are Funny

Here's a new entry in the Things You Hear category. This one can be filed under Things You Hear When Hanging With A Thug Girl.

My lab partner at work: "Don't you have a list of people who's mommas' should have used their mouths?"
Me: "So you have a Better Off Swallowed list?"
Her: "Yup."

Posted at Thug Girl's request.

The Disappointing Scott Adams

Scott Adams has always struck me as a witty satirist with an acute insight into corporate America. He has never, until now, struck me as someone who can’t do research worth a damn. I saw over on Pharyngula that Scott Adams had done a write-up on his blog about ID, and PZ’s response. After reading the entire article, I don’t think PZ went far enough. This dreck is unexcusable, especially from someone who’s made a career of pointing up the stupidity of others.

Intelligent Design, Part 1
First off, since this is Part 1, that means there’s going to be at least a Part 2, which implies that he as actually done some sort of research.

To me, the most fascinating aspect of the debate over Darwinism versus Intelligent Design is that neither side understands the other side’s argument. Better yet, no one seems to understand their own side’s argument. But that doesn’t stop anyone from having a passionate opinion.
First off, what debate over Darwinism versus Intelligent Design? Is he talking about the scuffle between the ID pushing Discovery Institute and their ilk versus Theory of Evolution-supporting scientists everywhere? Darwinism is a term that dropped out of use in the scientific community many years ago, because it implies that scientists still accept everything Darwin said as accurate. That’s not right, because, as PZ pointed out, Darwin got inheritance wrong. What Darwin did was lay the groundwork for a century and a half of scientists to build on. Calling Evolution Darwinism is like calling physics Newtonism. Newton may have been influential, but he is hardly the be-all, end-all of physics.

And I object to the idea that we don’t understand the different sides of the argument. It’s pretty obvious that ID proponents have an agenda. One visit to the Discover Institute’s website will tell anyone that. And they make no bones about their agenda. “Evolution is wrong, therefore we must be right.” Look at the testimony of Discovery Institute Fellows Behe and Dembski at the Dover Panda Trial. Behe admits that to make Intelligent Design a science, you’d have to change the definition of science to such an extent that it would include astrology!

Hey, Scott, here’s a simple explanation of both sides. ID proponents want to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the universe with “Deity did it”, and you can decide for yourself what Deity they mean, be it the Raelians extraterrestrials or the Southern Baptists God. But ID is not science, never has been science, and never will be science. It makes no predicitions, etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum. Theory of Evolution proponents use the Theory of Evolution to explain the world around them and to make (usually accurate) predictions about that world. No deities need apply. There is no real argument here. ID wants some attention, and scientists refuse to give it to them, because they’re hawking thinly disguised religion.

Can you refute that, Mr. Adams?

I’ve been doing lots of reading on the subject, trying to gather comic fodder. I fully expected to validate my preconceived notion that the Darwinists had a mountain of credible evidence and the Intelligent Design folks were creationist kooks disguising themselves as scientists. That’s the way the media paints it. I had no reason to believe otherwise. The truth is a lot more interesting. Allow me to set you straight. (Note: I’m not a believer in Intelligent Design, Creationism, Darwinism, free will, non-monetary compensation, or anything else I can’t eat if I try hard enough.)
Prove you’ve been doing research. Quote one Discover Institute article on ID. Give me one example of Richard Dawkins’ take on the idiocy of Michael Behe. From the depth of this article, it looks like you’re idea of research is watching Evolution Schmevolution week on The Daily Show.

As to your preconceived notions, well, Darwinists don’t have a mountain of evidence, but modern evolutionary biologists do, as do paleontologists, molecular biologists, etc. etc. The list is huge. To lump all those people under the heading of “Darwinist” is criminal. But at least your notion of ID kooks being creationists in disguise was pretty much accurate. And the “media” doesn’t paint this argument that way, at all. CNN bends over backwards to give the ID people their due. Fox News is, I’m sure, even worse, although I refuse to give Fox News the time of day. I have yet to see a “media” outlet that wasn’t science-based (i.e. SciAm or Nature) bash them.

The rest of this paragraph is just laughable. Please take a moment to laugh at the silly cartoon man. That’s what he wants, after all. To claim that he has “the truth” of the ID vs Evolution debate is hilarious. And to think that he can set us straight, when some of us have been following this issue for, literally, years, while he’s done a little light reading looking for comic fodder is insulting.

First of all, you’d be hard pressed to find a useful debate about Darwinism and Intelligent Design, of the sort that you could use to form your own opinion. I can’t find one, and I’ve looked. What you have instead is each side misrepresenting the other’s position and then making a good argument for why the misrepresentation is wrong. (If you don’t believe me, just watch the comments I get to this post.)
Umm, I thought he said earlier that there was a debate between Darwinism and ID? Anyway, I don’t use debates to form opinions. I look at facts. And if he can’t find any facts about ID and Evolution, then I would suggest he spends ten minutes on a website called They have all kinds of amazing things, called books, that have mountains of information. I would suggest that Scotty-boy pick a couple up and actually learn something about the two sides of this issue.

As to the allegation that there are straw-man arguments being made by both sides, well, I refer you back to the fact that in the Dover Panda Trial, Dr. Michael Behe, a Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture Fellow, said that for ID to be considered science, the definition of science would have to be changed and expanded so that astrology would be considered science. Attacking that statement is no straw-man argument. That’s what I call a slam dunk.

To make things more complicated, both sides have good and bad arguments lumped into them. If you make a good argument on your side, I respond by attacking your bad argument instead. If it were a debate contest, both sides would lose.
What good argument has been put forth by ID proponents? Name one. I’ll admit that there have been times in the history of Evolution when hoaxes and frauds were perpetrated. But the nifty thing about those is that we have caught them. The review process makes it very hard to slip this kind of stuff by the scientific community any more. It happens, but it’s remarkably rare. As to the “if you make a good argument on your side”, well, that’s almost as bad as “We’re fighting the war over there so that we don’t have to fight it over here.” And if this were a debate contest, ID would be thrown out for not properly addressing the issue. ID isn’t science.

For example, Darwinists often argue that Intelligent Design can’t be true because we know the earth is over 10,000 years old. That would be a great argument, supported by every relevant branch of science, except that it has nothing to do with Intelligent Design.
Intelligent Design accepts an old earth and even accepts the fact that species probably evolved. They only question the “how.” Creationists have jumped on that bandwagon as a way to poke holes in Darwinism. The Creationists and the Intelligent Design folks have the same target (Darwin), but they don’t have the same argument. The average person who has a strong opinion on this topic doesn’t understand that distinction because the political agenda of the creationists makes things murky.

“Darwinists” might argue this. Scientists don’t argue it at all. Scientists say that ID has no predictive power and is not based on any evidence. That makes it bad science, or no science at all. As to the Creationists jumping on the bandwagon, well, I think the transcripts of the Dover Panda Trial do a pretty good job of showing how ID is really creationism warmed over. Of Pandas and People had a nice little rewrite in the mid-80’s replacing creationist lingo with ID language. That happened right after it was ruled that creationism can’t be taught in a science classroom. And the average person doesn’t have a strong opinion on this topic at all, because the average person hasn’t looked into it enough, much like Scott Adams himself. Also, if you don’t think the ID boys have a political agenda, then you’re living on the moon, man. Just look over at, and you’ll see what I mean.

On the other side, Intelligent Design advocates point out a number of flaws in the textbooks that teach Darwinism. Apparently both sides of the debate acknowledge that the evidence for evolution is sometimes overstated or distorted in the service of making it simpler to teach. If you add to that the outright errors (acknowledged by both sides), the history of fossil frauds, the subjectivity of classifying fossils, and the fact that all of the human-like fossils ever found can fit inside a small box, you have lots of easy targets for the opponents. (Relax. I’m not saying Darwinism is wrong. I’m saying both sides have lots of easy targets.)
I don’t what the hell he’s talking about in the part about overstatement and distortion of evidence here. I can’t find a citation or anything, after much googling. There are errors in textbooks and there is some subjectivitiy in classifying fossils. But textbook errors get corrected, usually in the next edition. And Cladism has made some serious inroads into the classification problem.

As to the hominid fossils fitting inside small box, well, PZ handles that one well on the statistics side. I’d just like to add that this little propaganda talking point would never make it into any kind of rational argument against evolution, and I don’t understand how someone who has “been doing lots of reading on the subject” could fall for it, unless his reading is a bit one-sided.

And for the last time, Darwinism IS wrong. Evolution, however, is not. And an easy target doesn’t make it a wrong target.

The other problem for people like me is that the “good” arguments on both sides are too complicated for me to understand. My fallback position in situations like this has always been to trust the experts – the scientists – of which more than 90%+ are sure that Darwin got it right.
I’d like to know what he calls a “good” argument from ID, which, I’d like to reiterate, ranks up there with astrology! “Trust the experts” is okay, if you’re too lazy to put the time and skull sweat into understanding an argument, though. Of course, if he doesn’t know enough about evolution to make a reasoned assessment, then what the hell is he doing writing this load of crap?

The Intelligent Design people have a not-so-kooky argument against the idea of trusting 90%+ of scientists. They point out that evolution is supported by different branches of science (paleontologists, microbiologists, etc.) and those folks are specialists who only understand their own field. That’s no problem, you think, because each scientist validates Darwinism from his or her own specialty, then they all compare notes, and everything fits. Right?
This is utter bullshit. PZ handles this well, too, but I have something to add. This paragraph shows how much different the corporate world is from the science world. In order to function in the science world, you have to understand things that are not, technically, part of your field. To be a good biologist, you have to understand the basics of chemistry, physics, geology, etc. To be a good paper-pusher, you just need to know how to push paper. Adams is equating the departments of a company to the fields of science. It’s bullshit and doesn’t work.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Intelligent Design people allege that some experts within each narrow field are NOT convinced that the evidence within their specialty is a slam-dunk support of Darwin. Each branch of science, they say, has pro-Darwinists who acknowledge that while they assume the other branches of science have more solid evidence for Darwinism, their own branch is lacking in that high level of certainty. In other words, the scientists are in a weird peer pressure, herd mentality loop where they think that the other guy must have the “good stuff.”
ID people do allege that. But allegations are not facts. Rumor is not truth. The truth is that most every field of science that touches on science does feel it has solid supporting evidence for evolution. The peer-review process alone would shoot this little conspiracy theory-esque bit of nonsense down. Read The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins. He’s not the least bit unsure. And neither are his peer-reviewed fellow scientists. It’s all “good stuff”.

Is that possible? I have no way of knowing.
You could ask, Scott.

But let me give you a little analogy. One time in my corporate career I was assigned to lead a project to build a 10 million dollar technology laboratory. The project was based on the fact that “hundreds of our customers” wanted a place to test our technology before buying our products. I interviewed several managers who told me the same thing. Months into the project, I discovered that there was in fact only one customer who had once asked for that service, and he had been satisfied with another solution. The story of that one customer had been told and retold until everyone believed that someone else had direct knowledge of the hundreds of customers in need. If you guessed that we immediately stopped the project, you’ve never worked in a big company. We just changed our “reasons” and continued until funding got cut for unrelated budget reasons.
I’d be surprised if 90%+ of scientists are wrong about the evidence for Darwinism. But if you think it’s impossible, you’ve lived a sheltered life.
Once again, he compares science to the corporate world, and while there are some overlaps, his comparison is so full of holes it makes Swiss cheese look well-insulated. I leave it to the reader to find them for him or herself. You’re smart. I’m sure you can do it.

As to the idea that “90%+ of scientists” being wrong about evolution, well, sure it’s possible. That idea is built into the very fabric of scientific endeavor. That’s part of the problem with ID in general. It can’t be wrong, because once something is declared “Designed”, then there’s nowhere to go with it. Scientific dead end.

Scott Adams has seriously disappointed me in this. Apparently, a quick wit and writing talent doesn’t equate to being able to do serious research on a topic and come to a decent conclusion. But then, that’s not really surprising. I really hope he doesn’t embarrass himself further by writing “Intelligent Design Part 2”.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

God And The Psychic Friends Network

Back in the day, there was a joke that floated around about the Psychic Friends Network. It went something along the lines of

"If the people in the Psychic Friends Network are really psychic and really your friends, then wouldn't they know when you needed to talk and call you?"

Well, I was talking to my work partner the other day, and a similar question occured to me. If the Christian God is an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God, then shouldn't he know what you need before you need it and arrange for you to have it when the time comes? Seems to me that that's the case, and if it is, then prayer to said omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God is sorta like calling the Psychic Friends Network, isn't it? Pointless.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Being A Liberal Is Hard

Conservatives now control the White House, both houses of Congress and, probably the most frightening in the long run, the Supreme Court. It's hard to be a liberal in that kind of political atmosphere, especially here in the South, where conservativism has been going nonstop since the Civil War.

Conservatives call us the "Hate America First" crowd, because we are critical of what America is doing. I have to echo Bill Maher's sentiments when I hear this: I don't have America. I love America. And I want it back from the yahoos who are running it into the ground. It fills me with sorrow to hear about some of the things that are coming out now about what the US has been doing lately. Allegations are just allegations, I know, but there is truth to at least some of the things that are being said. Systematic torture is unacceptable and unAmerican. Yet we are engaging in it every day, from Abu Ghraib to Gitmo to the Eastern European "black facilities" run by the CIA. And George W. Bush wants an exception for the CIA in proposed anti-torture legislation coming before Congress right now. Why? If, as he claims, we do not torture, then why does the CIA need an exception in legislation that makes it illegal for us as a country to torture? And that's not all.

I won't go into the morality/immorality of the war in Iraq. I think it was dishonestly sold to the US people, but Machiavelli was right when he said that, in essence, people are sheep who need to be led. But I can't help but feel that there was at least a slight case of payback involved here. Saddam did hire assassins to attack George H. W. Bush after he left office, after all, and it's only natural for a son to want to defend his father. But to use the power of the Presidency to do it cheapens both the office and the man who did it. Not that Georgie Porgie is all that classy a guy anway. I can't prove that that was W's prime motivation, but since we're dealing with a self-proclaimed cowboy here, I can't discount it, either.

You can argue all day long about whether torture is necessary and whether the war in Iraq is a good thing, but ultimately, those are such long-term issues that we'll have to have twenty or more years perspective before we can say what was necessary and what wasn't. My gut feeling is that this is a black time in American history, but I'm a pessimist, so maybe I'm wrong. Maybe everything in the foreign affairs arena will turn out okay. But that still leaves a lot of ground to cover. The environmental mismanagement that is currently going on in the conservative halls of power is even more depressing.

Congress recently approved drilling for oil in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. Why can't conservatives see that this is a huge mistake? I'm no environmentalist wacko who screams over saving one little spotted owl at the expense of hundreds of jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the AWR is not just a single bird. It's thousands of species and millions of individual animals whose homeland is going to be disrupted by oil rigs and all the associated support structures, like roads, administrative buildings, worker housing, truck depots, etc. And why? So that domestic oil companies who are already posting record profits at the expense of gullible Americans can get even cheaper oil into their refineries and continue to charge exorbitant prices that will lead to even higher record profits next year. And the really bad part about all of this is that the oil companies are trying to turn it around and blame the consumers for sucking up the gas.

I'm sorry, but that's just ridiculous. The gasoline consumption of the entire US car-owning population doesn't even begin to equal the amount of petroleum used around the world in non-gasoline functions. I'm not just talking about commercial shipping concerns, who mostly use diesel. I also mean all the raw materials that go into plastics, glues and rubbers around the world. China's blossoming industrial capacity is eating into world-wide supplies of all kinds of chemical raw materials. I know for a fact that the US chemical industry is having trouble keeping a ready of supply of acrylates for domestic use available. And it's no surprise that crude oil prices spike when this brand-spanking new market for petroleum-based products opens up. So, to blame the spike in US gas prices on Katrina, Rita and the greediness of the American consumer is both disingenous and vicious. It's a price-gouging money grab, and everyone knows it. The problem is that American conservatives don't care and American liberals don't have the knowledge or the power to do anything about it.

Now, I'll be the first to agree that Americans are gas guzzlers. I love my little S10 pickup truck, but it barely gets 20 miles per gallon. I feel guilty about that. I am seriously considering the switch to a hybrid, or maybe a dual fuel system diesel. The thing is that I was doing that before the $3.50/gallon gas prices hit. And the recent easing of those prices is not taking any real pressure off. But a realistic world-view allows one to realize that a jump of over 30% in gas prices, over night, has nothing to do with the temporary damage of one area of petroleum supply. The problem is that conservatives are willing to turn a blind eye to the facts in an effort to bolster profits, which in turn help their own portfolios. I can't honestly say that liberals would have done any better, but that doesn't excuse the fact that conservatives were the ones on watch when this happened.

On the social side, the one half of the liberal position is simple. What you do in your home is your business as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. Gay marriage? Doesn't hurt me. Bisexualism? Not a big deal. Polygamy/polyandry? Who cares? I don't. But the busy-body Mrs. Grundy-esque conservatives just gotta stick their noses in where it doesn't belong. I don't care what your little 2000 year old book says, two guys kissing doesn't hurt me in the least. Communal orgies would only bother me if I wasn't invited.

Marriage as financial arrangement is understandable. Stop freaking out about the implications for altering or expanding those financial arrangements. Ultimately, it's not going to matter. Since there are roughly as many gay men as there are gay women in America, it doesn't change the financial situation at all. They cancel each other out, from a financial perspective. And stop wonking about the societal ills bullshit. Homosexuality is not a societal ill. It's part of the human experience. Learn to deal.

The other half of the liberal position is even more simple. Help those in need. That, at least, should be palatable to the conservatives. After all, their book says we're supposed to be charitable, right? Somehow, that seems to keep slipping the minds of the Religious Right. I don't hear Pat Robertson calling on the government to help out the poor people in Darfur who are being slaughtered daily. I hear him wailing and gnashing his teeth about Warren Beatty. Where in the nine hells of Dante does this guy think he's coming from? We, as the most powerful single polity in the world, have a responsibility to help those less fortunate, be they poor people in New Orleans who's homes are destroyed, or the poor people in Africa who are dying of AIDS and genocide. Bush said we'd be greeted as liberators by the Iraqis. He was right about being greeted as liberators, but he got the country wrong. Roll on out to Sudan and stop the killing. You'd be amazed at the number of people who would , figuratively speaking, fall down at the feet of American soldiers in thanks. But, sadly, that's not going to happen any time soon.

The last thing that makes being a liberal so hard is the attitude towards science that conservatives have. The scientific suppression by conservatives in the name of their deity is ming-boggling. I know that I've harped on this from different angles before, but how far behind does the US have to get in the scientific arena before someone realizes that our current science policy, and the lack of real leadership where American scientific endeavors are concerned, is doing more harm than good? How useful is it to have a nation full of scientifically illiterate country bumpkins who can quote the Bible backwards and forwards, but can't explain the basic principles of how a light bulb works? "God did it" doesn't cut it. I realize that there are serious ethical issues that need to be mulled over before we continue with stem cell research and experimental human cloning. But the truth is that if we don't make some kind of progess in these areas, someone else will. And when that happens, when we fall so far behind in cutting edge science that we can't even see the edge anymore, we're done for.

Technological superiority comes from scientific excellence, and this country is only as strong as its technological superiority. I know that the heart of the average soldier is pure as the new-driven snow, and that our marines would take on tanks with their bare hands, but when it gets down to brass tacks, the guy with the better stick wins. And the US is in danger of losing the better stick within a generation. But conservatives seem to think that you can reject the parts of scientific inquiry that conflict with their own worldviews and keep the "good parts". That's not how science works. Biology does not work in isolation. It moves in lock-step with chemistry, which moves in lock-step with physics. Cosmology and geology also move in lock-step with physics. So, there's a sort of scientific Six Degrees of Separation principle at work. And once you deny part of it, you deny all of it, because you can't really separate any of it.

This is probably the most personal part of my problems with the conservatives. Stem cell research and therapeutic human cloning probably hold the keys to saving the life of someone I love dearly. And the idiots in power won't even consider the possibility of letting the necessary research be done. And by the time we can throw the idiots out of power, it may be too late. I think that's where my deep and abiding hatred for the monkey masquerading as a man who sits in the Oval Office comes from.

Now, a lot of the things I'm complaining about may have happened under a liberal regime, as well. I don't know that a Democrat would have handled Katrina better. But he or she sure couldn't have done any worse. I don't know that a Democrat would do anything different concerning Darfur. Or stem cell research. Or gay marriage. But I get depressed every time I look at the liberal side of American politics right now and see no leadership, because that means that we are stuck with the conservative goofballs that are making a hash of it right now. Richard Nixon, for all his faults, had a better record than the current administration on almost everything I've mentioned in this article. He ended the war in Viet Nam, he ended the draft, he started a broad environmental protection program, he strengthened diplomatic ties with the rest of the world, he was pro-education and was President when Armstrong landed on the Moon. Current conservative policy is unrecognizable when compared with that. Hell, I'm a flaming atheist and a staunch liberal and I'd vote for Nixon right now. He'd be better than what we have, Watergate and all.

Conservatives, by definition, don't like change. That means that any change in American policy is going to have to come about by a regime change. Liberals are going to have to throw the bums out of office, and we're going to have to do it soon if we want to inherit offices that still mean something.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Despondency In The Bible Belt

I had an interesting conversation this weekend with a coworker. He is a real True Believer, lock, stock and two smoking Bibles. Let's take a quick look at this coworker and the interesting thing we talked about.

Here is a grown man, apparently in possession of all his faculties, who is not in the least stupid. He does, however, believe that demons exist and possess people. And he believes this because he's seen it happen. He and his friend were out drinking and his friend was also smoking a little pot when his friend's eyes started fluttering and his head moved back (he tried to mimic these actions to show me what it looked like). Soon afterward, his friend, who claims to be a Christian, started "speaking against God" and "speaking in what sounded like some other language." Then my coworker, who says he believes he gets smarter when he drinks but is not normally good at expressing himself, says he felt God's Spirit move him to rebuke the things his friend was saying, going toe to toe with what was coming out of his friend's mouth with Scriptural citations. After a while, his friend stopped talking, then he did the eye-flickering, head move thing again and the incident was over. The friend claims to have no memory of what happened during this time.

Now, except for my coworker's unusual eloquence, everything in this entire little story sounds like epilepsy or some other type of seizure to me, up to and including the amnesia. And my coworker's eloquence? Well, alcohol can loosen the most stubborn lips.

But my coworker firmly believes that it was demonic possession and his deity's spirit acting on him and his friend. He'll freely admit that it does sound like seizures and alcohol but that it wasn't. Why? Because he "felt" like it wasn't.

He had a "deep feeling" that it was demonic and deific, respectively. And you hear this time and time again from the True Believers. Their feelings trump science every time. Their connection to their deity gives them a discernment that goes beyond measurement. Yet they can feel it. They can measure it. They are special.

That's especially true of this True Believer, since he's apparently a Calvinist who believes in predestination and "God's Elect". And I'll admit that not all True Believers are this adamant about their beliefs. But you have to admit that the Calvinists are one end-point of the logical progession of Christian religious belief. Much as it may repulse some of the Christians of America, Pat Robertson is one of the logical culminations of Christian history, too.

What's sad is that down here in the Bible Belt, most Christians don't even think about the fact that he's a nut. They look at good ol' Patty R. and think "What a brave man." I look at him and think "What a psycho." And I look at these fringe group, usually charismatic or fundamentalist, churches and think "How crazy and uninformed can you get?" But here in the Bible Belt, people just go, "Eh, they have faith." Meanwhile, they disparage the Catholic Church at a time when it's trying to go more mainstream concerning scientific inquiry and a naturalistic worldview.

In the Bible Belt, it boils down to this:

Preacher = Good, Scientist = Bad.

But boy, do they ever run to the doctor when there's a problem. But that's an article for another time.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Mysteries Of The Universe

I'm doing laundry as we speak, and it has got me to pondering one of the deep mysteries of the universe.

How does the Downey ball know when to open?

I know there has to be an explanation for this. Can someone explain it to me?

I Hate It When Lightbulbs Go Off In My Head

Last night, I was talking to my lovely wife when a light went off in my head. At first, I thought I was having an epileptic seizure, but I wasn't shaking. Then I thought that maybe I was having a stroke, but I could still talk okay, so that wasn't it, either. Then I realized that a lightbulb had just gone off in my head, because an idea came to me so full-force that I was amazed. This doesn't happen very often, but I'm an intuitive processor of information, so occasionally my brain likes to give me these little surprises. Gee, thanks, brain.

Anyway, here's what hit me like a glowing ton of bricks last night. You might want to sit down. It's mind-blowing. Seriously, sit down. I mean it.

Are you braced? Okay, here goes.

Religious people are intellectually lazy!

I know. I know. That's nothing I haven't said before, here and in other venues. But I finally understand how and why they are intellectually lazy. I finally get it. You see, I have acquaintances that are very religious and not drooling idiots, and I've never been able to understand how they could be both at the same time, even though I was once a True Believer myself. I just never understood them. And they never understood me. I know of at least one of these acquaintances who has said, "You're a smart guy. I don't understand why you can't see why Christianity is the right way." (That's a paraphrase. I can't remember the exact wording because I was laughing too hard on the inside and trying not to insult this person.)

I never understood before how these religious people could stand there, be rational in every way except the biggest one, believing in something that is completely irrational, i.e. supernatural beings with amazing powers.

But last night I finally put it all together. You see, I think this is how it works. A skeptic tries to apply rational thought to every fact that he comes across, look at it through the filter of reason, then mold his opinions around the facts of which he is aware. As time goes by, these opinions are reinforced or discarded, depending on new facts or better explanations of things. So, a skeptic builds up a mountain of opinion that is supported by facts and other opinions, but all of those things are vetted by reason and rationality. Of course, that's an idealized view. No skeptic is completely skeptical. Reason and rationality are goals that we strive towards and work hard to achieve, not innate things that we are born with. So even skeptics fail at this process sometimes.

But the religious, be they Christians, Wiccans, Muslims, Astrau, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists or Hindus (etc. etc. etc.), go through life using a different process. They view every fact they come across through the filmy haze of their own opinions, and then force their reason to accomodate the new facts to those opinions. So, the religious person takes a fact and looks for a way to make it fit into their world-view. If it doesn't, they reject the fact. But they don't change the world-view. It's akin to a two year old trying to force a square peg into a round hole. If it doesn't fit, he bangs on it for a while, and if it still doesn't fit, he throws it away.

This is where a lot of the really weird religious ideas come from. Some religious person, or group of people, have banged on a fact for so long in their attempts to make it fit the spaces in their world views that the fact itself is well-nigh unrecognizable. Thus, young earth creationists believe God either created the universe with photons en route to earth or else the speed of light is wrong. That's the only way the observed facts can fit in with their world views. Thus, Intelligent Design proponents claim that complexity is a sign of a designer, because otherwise, there's no need for a designer. Evolutionary theory makes one obsolete in the biological world. And it denies humanity's special place in the world. ID is no more than the modern day equivalent of the geocentric model of the universe. It's an attempt to make us special again.

Of course, all this doesn't mean that the religious can't change their world-views. Obviously, they do. But the religious do it for emotional reasons, not rational ones. I stopped being a True Believer because it didn't seem right to me to discard data just because I believed something that contradicted it. So I became a skeptic and an atheist not because of reason, but for emotional reasons. I just got lucky and changed my world-view to one that slowly evolved into a skeptical, reasonable, rational one.

It's ironic in a way. An emotional response led to a lifetime of reasoned response.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Back From The Holiday

Alrighty, folks. Halloween's over, so now it's time to catch up on what's going on in the world.

First off, about the Dover Panda Trial.....WAH! Bonsell is quite the loon, I know, but when you PISS THE JUDGE OFF this bad, it's gotta be going poorly for your side. This just goes to show that I was right when I said the School Board's side was imploding. And come on, there is just no way you can justify what they did without bring Jay-Zuz into it, even obliquely. It's a pretty open and shut case, and has been from the beginning. I just wish more pro-ID, pro-creationist people would look at what the people on THEIR SIDE of the debate are willing to do to push forward their agenda. Lie, cheat, lie, impugn the honor of parents, teachers and former co-workers, lie, quasi-legally raise school funds, lie and did I mention that they are some of the most wriggly, jiggly, dancing and prancing -est sumbitch liars I have ever seen. And they know it.

I guess getting Jay-Zuz back in the school is so important that you can break your own moral code to do it. Thou shalt not bear false ass.


"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain


Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu