Dante's Inferno Test  

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!

Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)Very High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)High

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

(via VirusHead

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I say Atheist, you say Agnostic  

Trevor Burrus at Symbolic Order has an article up titled In The Beginning Was the Word: Separating the Atheists from the Agnostics - Rescuing the Agnostics from the Theists where he points out the misconceptions of the words "agnostic" and "atheist."

“Agnosticism” has been greatly misunderstood by modern audiences. The original meaning of the term has essentially been completely lost. Originally coined by Darwin’s attack-dog Thomas Huxley to describe himself as one who did not believe that God’s existence was knowable, agnosticism has been converted to mean one who does not know. The two definitions are worlds apart. The former is a claim on the epistemological status of a belief, the latter is a reluctance to accept a claim. Somehow we moved from the belief that God’s existence is something that humans cannot be sure about to not being sure about God’s existence.

He goes on to talk about how atheists are the most mistrusted group of people in America and how agnostics often claim the term agnostic out of a desire to not be part of the atheist group. He also talks about how some Christians can't understand atheism, using Ray Comfort as an example.

But it's how he defines atheism that I find most interesting.

Comfort’s argument rests on his confusion - a confusion that is now a pandemic - about the meanings of the terms “agnosticism” and “atheism.” The argument only makes sense, if it makes sense at all, if his definition of atheism is the one stated earlier in this essay; that atheism is “belief in no God.” In fact, atheism is properly understood as “no belief in God.” The difference is subtle yet very important. The distinction can be pointed out by this question: “Do you believe that FDR did not eat any oranges during the week following Pearl Harbor?” Assuming that we are all ignorant of this claim it would be absurd to answer in the affirmative to this question. The proper course is not to believe that FDR did not eat any oranges during that week but rather to take the position that you have no belief that he did. Sufficient reason has not been given to believe the proposition.

Other, non-religious, conceptions of God – the scientists’ Gods, the prime mover, first cause, “higher powers,” God as essence rather than God as being – are pushed towards irrelevance. As scientists continue to explain more about the universe the burden of proof continues to be placed in the lap of the theist – particularly with regards to teleological “arguments from design.” Cosmologically, however, the question of “why is there something instead of nothing?” will always be insoluble. If you choose God to be your answer to such an abstruse question so be it. But, for any characteristics you wish to instill in that God beyond “first cause” – i.e. personal, interested, omnipotent, good etc. – the burden of proof will once again lie in your lap. These anthropomorphic characteristics are the ones that the majority of theists care the most about – whether God knows, cares, acts, desires, is angry etc. However, they are also the hardest to justify. Despite the many nuanced and opaque philosophical debates to be had about the status of identifying and clarifying who has the burden of proof and why, I am quite sure that miracle working, resurrected god-men, floods and floating arks, multi-armed androgynous deities, and mountain-moving prophets are not close to the gray-area of these difficult distinctions. Whatever else it may be, the burden of proof at least rests in the hands of those who claim the magnificent.

But don't take the purpose of the article to bash agnostics because the point is to unite atheists and agnostics together in a common understanding of each other and show that they're not really that different.

But, it may be time for many agnostics to step up to the plate. Perhaps this essay will convince some that a name-change is in order. The broader purpose of this essay is to clarify terms and unite sides because, in reality, the agnostic and the atheist are on the same side. Both believe the Christian (Muslim, Hindu et. al.) hasn’t made their case. Either way, it is certainly time for both theists and atheists to stop equivocating their definitions and clarify what is meant by “atheist” and “agnostic.” Yes, they may be just words. But remember, in the beginning was the word.

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911 Nuts  

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Yes, yes, buildings are built the same way you build a file folder tower. Everyone knows that! Why would anyone doubt the evidence presented in this movie?

I'm surprised no one has tried to prove a 911 conspiracy yet with Jenga.

(via denialism blog)

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Review: America: Freedom to Fascism (2006)  

I watched this movie over the weekend. At first it seemed an interesting idea, but the interviews were choppy and I got the feeling that they had been manipulated heavily. I had serious reservations about the quote from Woodrow Wilson in the movie and it turns out that it's been altered and cobbled together from quotes that may or may not have been made by Wilson.

The main contention of the movie is that there isn't a law requiring income tax on most people. Throughout the movie the filmakers are asking for the IRS, judges, etc to show them the law. The law is never produced.

So you would think that it was surprising that I was able to find the law on the IRS website within 15 minutes of searching for it on the internet. Not only that, but I was able to find an entire page dedicated to refuting the movie written by a law professor at The George Washington University Law School. Reading through is page I was pretty much convinced that the movie is bunk.

But what about the other claims in the movie? I know one of the strong implications is that the government plans to implant the RFID, which is on current US Passports and may go on the national ID if it ever happens, in people. I just don't see it happening, but people have called me crazy before.

Other concerns he brought up may be well founded (illegal wiretapping, computerized voting, etc). I honestly can't remember them all. I had lost interest by the time he got to them. And after his crazy spiel about the income tax law and the federal reserve, I really can't take anything he says seriously. He would have done better to focus on real issues.

My opinion is that unless you like crazy conspiracy theories, don't bother. However, since my husband got a good nap during the movie, it might be good for insomniacs.

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Book Adoption  

Monday, May 28, 2007

I have a lot of books. But really, until today I had not just a lot of books I loved, but also a lot of books that I didn't want. A few of them were fiction, but the vast majority were metaphysical books back from the days when I believed in all that stuff.

I boxed them up this morning and took them to Half Price Books to sell. I felt vaguely guilty about selling the metaphysical books, so before I left I wrote little notes in them about the subject matter. Yes, it's a little obnoxious, but they are used books. Part of the fun of buying used books is finding something that lets you know about the person who used to own them. At least I think so anyway. And well, the bookstore didn't seem to mind.

I made $27.00 from my book sale, which wasn't a lot really, but much better than nothing, since otherwise I would have just thrown them away. And throwing away a book, even a bad book, just seems like a bad thing to do.

I saved a few extra copies of fiction books that I do love (or haven't had a chance to read yet) to set free via Book Crossing.com.

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Carnival of the Godless #67  

The latest installment of The Carnival of the Godless, a list of links to posts about atheism, is up at Letters from a broad.

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Review: Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris (2006)  

I really enjoyed this book. It was short, only 91 pages, and yet the arguments in it were laid out clearly and organized well. It only took me a few days while waiting here or there to read and as slowly as I've been reading lately, even a small book is an accomplishment.

Harris lays out several arguments against faith, many which have been used before. But Harris takes the stance of writing specifically to American Christians, rather than to fellow atheists.

The best arguments were the cherry picking of the Bible in order to find laws and commandments that are acceptable in today's culture, the morality of religion, the morality of atheists compared to those who are religious, the goodness of God, prophecy, the clash between science and religion, and the effects of religion on society.

Some of the best quotes from the book are below and do a good job of summing up what the book is about.

"Many Christians believe that Jesus did away with all this barbarism in the clearest terms imaginable and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration. He didn't. In fact, at several points in the New Testament, Jesus can be read to endorse the entiret of the Old Testament law.
For truly, I saw to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass frmo the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (p 10)"

"One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering. Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not--that is, when they have nothing to do with suffering or its alleviation. [...] And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Sarharan African while millions die from AIDS there each year.


You believe that your religious concerns about sex, in all their tiresome immensity, have something to do with morality. And yet, your efforts to constrain the sexual behavior of consenting adults--and even to discourage your own sons and daughters from having premarital sex--are almost never geared toward the relief of human suffering. In fact, relieving suffering seems to rank rather low on your list of priorities. your principal concern appears to be that the creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery." (p 25-26)

"We decide what is good in the Good Book. We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses. And then we come across another of God's teachings on morality: if a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father's doorstep (Deuteronomy 23:13-21). If we are civilized, we will reject this as the vilest lunacy imaginable. Doing so requires that we exercise our own moral intuitions. The belief that the Bible is the word of God is of no help to us whatsoever." (p 49-50)

"But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events. You would expect it to contain a passage such as 'In the latter half of the twentieth century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers--the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus--and this system shall be called the Internet.' The Bible contains nothing like this. In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. This should trouble you." (p 60)

"And yet, while the religious divisions in our world are self-evident, many people still imagine that religious conflict is always caused by a lack of education, by poverty, or by politics. Most nonbelievers, liberals, and moderates apparently think that no one ever really sacrifices his life, or the lives of others, on account of his religious beliefs. Such people simply do not know what it is like to be certain of Paradise. It is worth remembering that the September 11 hijackers were college-educated, middle-class people who had no discernible experience of political oppression. They did, however, spend a remarkable amount of time at their local mosque talking about the depravity of the infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise. How many more architects and engineers must hit the wall at four hundred miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is this: in the year 2006, a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get seventy-two virgins in Paradise. Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this. The cause of their confusion is simple: they don't know what it is like to really believe in God." (p 82-83)

I am going to be "releasing" this book "into the wild" tomorrow using BookCrossing.com. If you're in the KC area and you'd like to read this book for free, visit the website for information where I'll be leaving it.

Update: You can listen to Sam Harris at the end of this presentation of Intelligent Design and the History of Science by Neil DeGrasse Tyson (via Red State Rabble).

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The Creation Museum Carnival  

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I preparation for Ken Ham's Creation Museum tomorrow, PZ Myers put together a Creation Museum Carnival over at Pharyngula.

The blogosphere has actually done a better job than most media in addressing the scientific flaws in Ken Ham's creationism, which if you think about it, is a rather nasty indictment of the reportage in itself: a bunch of disorganized amateurs have created more coherent criticisms of the bad science than the professionals, who are supposed to inform the public, have done. Rarely do the newspapers report any of the claims that Ken Ham makes about science, and even more rarely do they explain why they are wrong. Almost all of the blog entries on this museum refer to the fact that creationism contradicts well-established scientific principles, even the ones that have as their main intent mocking the "museum"—others put considerable effort into summarizing the science that Ken Ham either does not understand or cynically neglects.

A lot of people in the blogsphere contributed to the effort, including me. Thanks to everyone that's been stopping by!

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Religious Intentions  

Friday, May 25, 2007

Jonathan Rowe over at Positive Liberty posted a follow-up to the discussion on religion and rationalism that gets back to his point in his original article.

And it includes links to many of the articles in the discussion, including mine, which makes me unnaturally giddy. Go take a look, and don't forget to read more articles on the site. It really is a good place.

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State of OG  

It's been a while since I've written a personal post. That used to be all I used to write about. Those of you that have been reading my blog for a while have seen some changes and I hope that it's made coming here more interesting.

Not a whole lot has been going on in my life really. I started a new job right near the end of the year and it's going pretty well. They prohibit blogging about work, so I've steered clear of talking about it at all. But as in any job, it has its ups and downs, good days, bad days, rash of politics, and good people.

Matt was out of town for a couple of weeks on business recently. We're an odd couple because we pretty much spend all of our free time together. I don't get tired of seeing him. He says he doesn't get tired of seeing me. :)

We don't really have hobbies apart, except for my reading, the fact that we play different video games, and my occasional tries at being crafty (as in making stuff with crafts), or gardening.

Anyway, I filled the time with reading and catching up on shows like Planet Earth. I amazingly finished one book this month, though I'm getting close to finishing 2-3 more. I realized why I enjoy fiction more than non-fiction -- a story can be so much more absorbing.

My parents are going to be in town in a couple of weeks. It's a visit I'm both looking forward to and dreading. The last time they visited it didn't go so well. I miss them, but planning anything is just about impossible. This time I guess I'll just go with the flow. That's the idea anyway.

Our house is still for sale and we still haven't had an offer. It's only been a little over a month, so I suppose it's not that bad. I'd just love to get it sold and move on.

It's still Spring and the weather has been nice. I've been outdoors a lot. When Summer comes I'll be back in hibernation mode. I hate the heat more than the cold, even though I find it hard to believe in the middle of Winter.

But mostly things are just good. I'm content. How about you?

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Reverend X - The Cursing Preacher  

***Warning NSFW***

(use headphones)

You know, I've been a skeptic. I've been an unbeliever. But Reverend X has shown me the way. He can show you too.

(via From Hoosier to Hoser)

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61st Skeptics Circle  

The 61st Skeptic's Circle is at Memoirs of a Skepchick. Go read it! Don't miss the only white guy in Arabia.

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Lions, tigers, and bears.. oh my!  

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Watch this amazing video of lions on the hunt (be patient, the best part is near the end). Warning to those who don't like violence, this is a video of lions hunting, but if you hang on to the end, I think you'll be happy you saw it.

(HT venjanz)

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Religious Compromise  

PZ Myers at Pharyngula has an article up about Do-nothing atheists and re-igniting the Enlightenment as a response to Jonathan Rowe's While Europe Slept and Chris Ho-Stuart's Should we promote tolerant religion?

(How's that for some links.)

Rowe talks about government's role not in stating which religion is true or false, but in promoting the "right" kind of religion, or religion "compatible with liberal democratic, secular, pluralistic norms."

Ho-Stuart advocates a tolerant approach to religion to encourage religions to come up to speed to the 21st century. With the encouragement of "a more 'reasonable' religion, in the sense of one that is reconciled with the findings of science," he hopes to erode the more radical aspects of religion.

Myers agrees with both to some extent, "we need to change it to accommodate the modern world," but he also disagrees with them.

Their goal is to avoid conflict, ignore differences, and just get along, and hope that by avoiding confrontation the great theistic mob will just generally drift into friendship with them and eventually align themselves more and more with that great bunch of guys and gals. It's nice. It's even going to work — with some people. I'll also admit that most of us are "do-nothing atheists" most of the time. When I talk to some Christian fellow at the coffee house, we'll talk about the weather, the news, what's happening around town, and I'm not interested in sparking a confrontation over an issue that isn't relevant to the interaction at hand (remember, we're all tolerant atheists together here, and despite all rumors to the contrary, I do not think my fellow citizens are idiots if they go to church).


The complement to the do-nothing atheist is, naturally enough, the activist atheist. The difference isn't that we're intolerant, or even that we have different beliefs about god and religion—it's that we'll unfurl a bold banner and stand uncompromisingly beneath it, state our differences loudly, and dare the others to contend with us. We do not aim to get along. Our goal is to strengthen others in our shared skepticism about religion and our positive affirmation of the power of reason and the sufficiency of the natural world, to challenge the long-held domination of supernatural and authoritarian thinking, and to change minds. Not to passively hope that others will eventually see the light, but to light that fire ourselves. Not to glimmer optimistically, but to incandesce ferociously. Where some hope the world will follow, some have to lead.

While it's not the position I'd naturally choose to be in, I agree with Myers. You can see it in the general apathy within America. As long as people are comfortable, they won't do anything to change. It takes a little bit of uncomfortable-ness for people to take a look around them.

Everyone has the right to believe however they want to believe, that's true. And none of the above writers are advocating anything different. But kowtowing to an irrational belief is something very different. Beliefs that contradict basic human rights and liberties do not deserve respect, just as beliefs that shamefully seek to bury scientific knowledge in order to eliminate any thought that doesn't line up with their religions point of view don't deserve respect.

It's not the rational people that need changing, it's the irrational. And the only compromise the irrational accept is complete abdication.

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Distant Relatives: Paddlefish  

Carl Zimmer has an article up titled Old Hands and New Fins at The Loom. In it he explains how humans are more closely related to an odd fish than was previously thought.

Back 400 million years ago, our ancestors swan with fins. The descendants of those early fish split off into two main branches. One became the ray-finned fishes--a group that makes up the vast majority of fish alive today. The other, sometimes called the lobefins, produced many species, but only three lineages of lobefins survive today. One is the coelacanths, which survive in a few isolated spots in the Indian Ocean. One is the lungfishes, which struggle against extinction in rivers and ponds in Australia, Africa and South America. The third lineage is by far the most successful: the fish with feet, or also known as the tetrapods. Tetrapods include amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. We belong to their ranks.

In that way, paddlefish branched off ray-finned fish. Scientists studying the fins of paddlefish have found that their limbs have the same pattern expressed in the late stages as humans. While their limbs continue growing into fins, the bones resemble a stage between fish fins and the limbs of land-dwelling animals.

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Presidential Directive  

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive was released on May 9th. I didn't hear about it until today. It's disturbing to me, not just because of the content, but because the press has totally ignored it.

The directive states as its purpose:

This directive establishes a comprehensive national policy on the continuity of Federal Government structures and operations and a single National Continuity Coordinator responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of Federal continuity policies. This policy establishes "National Essential Functions," prescribes continuity requirements for all executive departments and agencies, and provides guidance for State, local, territorial, and tribal governments, and private sector organizations in order to ensure a comprehensive and integrated national continuity program that will enhance the credibility of our national security posture and enable a more rapid and effective response to and recovery from a national emergency.

A catastrophic emergency is defined as:

"Catastrophic Emergency" means any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions

That definition is so vague, it could be used for many events. Could the war in Iraq be covered if soldiers are considered a "U.S. population"?

I'm not sure what the intent of this new directive is. I know that Bush received a lot of criticism over Katrina, and this may be a response to that criticism. I think this directive is going overboard. The President and appointed cabinet members would be in charge of the country if this ever was enacted without any say from Congress. To me, that seems unconstitutional.

Does it bother anyone else to have the President give himself powers like this?

This directive is to replace the Presidential Decision Directive 67 of October 21, 1998 ("Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations"), which I've never seen. How much difference is there between the two? I don't know if Directive 67 was ever published publicly.

(HT to venjanz)

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Ziggurat Con  

Soldiers stationed in Iraq have organized a gaming con to be held on June 9th.

When President Bush ordered troops to Iraq, he probably never imagined that he would be ultimately be responsible for what very well could be the very first D&D convention/game day ever held in a war zone. Ziggurat Con, being held June 9 from 1200 to 2100 hours at Camp Adder/Tallil Airbase, is open to all allied military personnel and civilian contractors in Iraq.

(via Jantis)

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The Moon and Venus  

Mike Hollingshed over at Extreme Instability captured some gorgeous photos of the moon and venus this weekend. You can look at the images at Mikes Moon and Venus page. (HT venjanz)

Also, the Astronomy Picture of the Day for today is on the same subject matter (below).

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7 Es of Evidence - Creation Museum Myth Buster  

Monday, May 21, 2007

The 7 E's of Evidence is derived from a reference to the 7 C's of History on Ken Ham's Creation Museum website. Their seemingly unrelated (except through a loose religion reference) C's are Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation.

I'm making my own list, but instead of using "C" for creation, I'll use "E" for evolution. My E's are related by all being evidence of evolution and they're simple enough that this could have been written by a middle school student. (That's more of a comment on my writing than on the intelligence of a sixth grader.)

The 7 E's are Earth Science, Evolutionary Biology, Evolution of the Eye, Evolution of the Horse, Evidence from Geographical Distribution, Evidence from Speciation, and Evidence from Antibiotic Resistance.

Earth Science is divided into many different topics, one of which includes Geochronology, the science of determining the age of rocks, fossils, and sediments. Using dating methods such as the radiometric age dating of zircons, scientists have approximated the age of the earth to be around 4.567 billion years. This is much older than the 6,000 years that the Creation Museum claims.

Many years after the earth formed life on earth began. Evolutionary biology is the study of the origin and descent of species, as well as their change, multiplication, and diversity over time. Scientists have found evidence that all organisms on earth descended from a common ancestor. This evidence is found in the common biochemical organization in all creatures and the nearly identical genetic code shared by all living things.1 The Creation Museum claims that humans were created by God within one day.

Many creationists point to complex systems as evidence that evolution isn't possible. One of the most popular creationist arguments is the evolution of the eye. But evolutionary biologists have shown how evolution of the eye occurred through a step-by-step process.2

Based on fossil records zoologists have been able to trace the evolution of the horse from a fox-like creature that lived in the forest to the modern horse.3 Of course, creationists will tell you that the horse was on Noah's Ark and hasn't changed significantly since it was created 6,000 years ago.

In fact, creationists claim all surviving non-marine creatures were on the Noah's Ark. They also claim that species cannot evolve into new species. Yet, today we have over a million species that have been named and described and scientists are still discovering new species. If animals from the ark repopulated the planet, why then do we have different species of animals in the same ecological niche? The evidence from geographical distribution points to the evolution of species over a much longer time than Creationists can account for4.

There is also evidence that species are diverging in the case of the Hawthorn fly. After apples were introduced in North America, a distinct population of the Hawthorn fly has emerged that feeds only on apples. Other populations feed on native fruits. Scientists have observed differences in the amino acid sequence of these apple-eating flies and a shorter time to mature than their non-apple eating brethren. This evidence of diverging species is an example of evolution in progress5.

Bacteria develop a resistances to antibiotics through gene transfer and mutation. Creationists like to point out the gene transfer part of the equation, but not the mutation. Or, if they point to mutation, they state that the mutation will lead to the extinction of the species, therefore "proving" that mutation cannot lead to evolution. Yet bacteria that have adapted to antibiotics can flourish and become something different than their original form6. Evidence from antibiotic resistance clearly points to evolution within a species.

Creationists blindly ignore the evidence of the world around us in order to make it fit into a paradigm. They spend an inordinate amount of time and money on trying to prove hypothesis that do not stand up to scientific tests. They are in the process of raising $25 million dollars* in order to open the museum debt free. $25 million dollars on a farce of a museum that claims that the dinosaurs lived in the time of humans.

My opinion is that the museum is an ego piece to the Creationists. The money could be much better spent on just about any charitable venture.

1 Evidence for Common Descent

2 Evolution of the Eye

3 Evolution of the Horse

4 The Distribution of Species

5 Evidence from Speciation

6 Antibiotics, Creationism, and Evolution

*The actual amount raised was $27 million. Appalling!

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Common climate myths and misconceptions  

New Scientist has an article up titled Climate change: A guide for the perplexed which contains mini-articles about 26 most common climate myths and misconceptions including:

- We can't do anything about climate change
- Global warming is down to the Sun, not humans
- Many leading scientists question climate change
- It's all a conspiracy

(Via onegoodmove)

Mark Hoofnagle has also published an article about global warming denialists at denialism blog

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Science News  

R. Ford Denison at This Week in Evolution has an article up about the evolution of beneficial infections.

"This week's twins were both published in PLoS Biology, so both are freely available on-line. Both have new data on bacteria that infect insects. Both help us understand the conditions under which infecting bacteria evolve to be beneficial, rather than harmful. Finally, both disprove the popular idea that any evolutionary change big enough to matter (except antibiotic resistance, which a creationist commenter once claimed always involves "horizontal transfer" of genes among bacteria, even though resistance often evolves in bacteria in a closed container all descended from a single cell) always involves lots of genes and takes millions of years."

Follow the link to his article to read more.

Also, Greg Laden has a link up about a new study that found herpes my be symbiotic, causing a resistance to the plague and food poisoning.

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Jerry Falwell's God  

by Roy Zimmerman

I thought this was a fitting tribute.

(via onegoodmove)

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Review: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)  

Saturday, May 19, 2007

This movie was 98% fluff. Nothing happened throughout most of the movie. Seriously, the story could have been condensed into 10 minutes and nothing would have been lost. And it still would have felt like fluff. It was pretty, but eye candy can only take you so far. It's a shame because the story in the game was so good. It made sense. But I guess coming up with 101 minutes of material was too much for the writers.

I didn't expect much going into this movie and I was still disappointed. Unless you're obsessed with seeing a few minutes of the cast of FF VII on the screen, don't bother.

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Which science fiction writer are you?  

Friday, May 18, 2007

I am:
Isaac Asimov
One of the most prolific writers in history, on any imaginable subject. Cared little for art but created lasting and memorable tales.

Which science fiction writer are you?

(via Sylvene)

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Review: The Last Colony by John Scalzi (2007)  

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I just finished reading The Last Colony literally ten minutes ago. And since I'm waiting up for my husband to come home from a business trip, I thought it would be a great time to write a review.

The Last Colony is the third book in the series. If you haven't read the other two, Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades, then I urge you to get your hands on them and read them. The Ghost Brigades was probably my favorite of the series, but really, all of the books, including the novelette, The Sagan Diaries, are good and contribute to the overall story arc.

As of this moment, I think this may be the weakest book of the three, but don't take that as a criticism. I often find it takes me a little while after reading a story to fully appreciate it. By writing this review right away I'm being unfair. I haven't had time to appreciate the subtleties.

I'm amazed by how well Scalzi was able to surprise me with the story. Yet, he somehow, comfortingly, allowed me to predict a few things. I like that combination.

The story progressed at a good pace, constantly keeping me entertained, unlike Excession, where I felt bogged down for days and weeks suffering through what seemed like mindless background to get to the good stuff. In the end Excession paid off, but I didn't have to wait until the ending twist for The Last Colony to pay off.

*** Spoilers Below ***

Even though I feel all glowy about the book, I do have a few complaints. I didn't feel much for the new characters. When Hiram Yoder is killed it should be a poignant scene, but it isn't. Yes, I feel a loss of someone important to the colony, but not to the story. Even Savitri, who is an interesting character to be sure, lacks the depth that gives me any feeling for her. Hickory and Dickory are the only new characters that I really felt a sense of attachment.

I felt much more for the characters introduced in the other two novels: John, Jane, Jared, Harry, even Szilard and Boutin.

I'm also a little disappointed that the werewolves disappeared after a critical scene. What happened between them and the colony? Was it possible to negotiate? I know it would have needlessly extended the book to go into those details, but I still wonder.

Overall though, it's an excellent end to the series. Scalzi wrapped up the plot and the series in a happy ending without making it sappy or unbelievable. In the afterward he said he wouldn't be coming back to these characters. Although I'll miss them, I'm glad. As I get older my patience for long series grows short. Even though each book he's written so far can stand alone, I don't think I could stand another 10 year series.

He hasn't left out the possibility of returning to the world again one day and I look forward to new stories from this world.

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Just Rest  

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Yesterday Jerry Falwell died. I think Timothy Sandefur sums it up best in Jerry Falwell Rest In.. Whatever, Just Rest at Positive Liberty.

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Review: 28 Weeks Later (2007)  

I was a little worried when I read part of this review (Warning Spoilers) on MSNBC that the movie would not be very good.

The new sequel, “28 Weeks Later,” will likely be only a blot on the careers of everyone involved. It’s a chaotic movie about chaos, full of sound and fury and signifying very little.

Whereas Alex Garland’s script for “28 Days Later” held together and made quite a bit of narrative sense — especially for a zombie movie set in modern London — the sequel can’t seem to decide who’s the hero (or villain), what the threat is, and why anyone should care about who gets blown away.

I found the review to be misleading.

This movie was more of a horror than the first and more consistently steady. My opinion is that the first one fell apart after the first half, after the "Dad Scene", as I like to call it without giving away too many details. Although I like the first movie better, mostly due to better characterization, I think the second succeeds in delivering more steady pacing and smoother transitions.

*** Spoilers Below ***

The most poignant scenes are between Don and Alice, a couple that hides out in the country when the infected begins to spread. We see them in the opening scene, worrying about their children and stealing a kiss when they have a brief moment of privacy. The action becomes frenetic, aided by quick, jumpy camera work as the infected attack. When Alice is trapped upstairs, with an infected between her and Don, Don panics and shuts the door, trapping her inside. He runs from the house, turning back to watch as she is pulled away from the window. It's a gut-wrenching scene. He escapes, grief-stricken and guilty.

Later in the movie when Alice returns, infected and yet not zombie-fied, Don sneaks into her room and begs her forgiveness. The only thing she says is, "I love you." Don kisses her, only to become infected (and zombie-fied himself). At first I thought maybe it was her way of seeking revenge, but I think she honestly didn't realize that she'd infect Don. When he later attacks her, she is genuinely scared and confused. If she had been seeking his death and hers, I think she would have been more accepting of her fate.

The movie is filled with many "don't do that" moments that were thankfully avoided through most of the first movie. And at times it's ridiculous, like when Don and Alice's children sneak past American soldiers occupying London to help with the rebuilding, so that they can visit their old house. They're so sure that all of the zombies are dead that they are unprepared when Alice is discovered. Yes, American soldiers are occupying London and there are real-life parallels that can't be ignored, another weak point of the movie.

In the end, the children make it out alive, but not before facing down and killing their own father. They survive to carry the infection out of the island and to the mainland of Europe. The movie ends as darkly as it starts. There only hope expressed in the movie, a genetic resistance, ultimately becomes humanity's doom.

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Political interference in science  

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

From the website:

In recent years, scientists who work for and advise the federal government have seen their work manipulated, suppressed, distorted, while agencies have systematically limited public and policy maker access to critical scientific information. To document this abuse, the Union of Concerned Scientists has created the The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science.

Here are a sample if you feel overwhelmed by the amount of material at the website:

- Press “Minders” Required at Scientists’ Interviews
- NASA Reaches for Muzzle as Renowned Climate Scientist Speaks Out
- National Nuclear Security Administration Panel Dismissed
- Litmus Test for Appointees at the National Institute on Drug Abuse

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Wasteland of Wonders  

Adrian Barnett has a good page up that is billed as Evolution for Creationists filled with refutations to common arguments.

His arguments though have caused many people to pray for him and he keeps a page that displays all the comments he's received over the years from people who are indeed praying for him. I must say, I'm almost jealous.

(via Pharynugla)

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Movie trailers you must see  

Monday, May 14, 2007

By now you've probably all seen 10 Things I Hate About Commandments

...but have you seen these two gems as well?

Must Love Jaws

Glen & Gary & Glen & Ross - NSFW (Vulgar Language)

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Encyclopedia of Life  

I'm a little late reporting on this, so you may have already seen it.

Leading scientific institutions have launched a new project to catalog an Encyclopedia of Life online. The project is ambitious, but the results will be spectacular if they pull it off.

(via many blogs)

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Carnival of the Godless #66  

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Carnival of the Godless #66 is up at The Atheist Experience.

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What we need here is a bias in favour of truth  

The Vancouver Sun has a piece out on what we need here is a bias in favour of truth and Larry from Sandwalk has a good post up about it.

I agree with his assessment. The media is obviously not unbiased and in some matters I don't believe they should be. If someone is a hack, the journalist should feel free to point it out, not just in opinion articles, but in news pieces. I can make the determination on whether or not I believe the journalist or not. But, if a journalist is writing a story on psuedoscience then she should do her research and come out with some reasonable critiques. Otherwise skip the piece.

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Christianity's sins against science  

Saturday, May 12, 2007

PZ Meyers has a good post up about Christianity's sins against science at Pharyngula.

In it he lists twelves since that religion is guilty of commiting against science.

1. Theft
2. Literalism
3. Authoritarianism
4. Hierarchies
5. Dominion
6. Predestination
7. Miracles
8. Credulity
9. Inflexibility
10. Blasphemy
11. Supernaturalism
12. Faith

I encourage you to go over to Pharyngula and read his explanations yourself. His preamble is especially good. Also, don't forget to read the comments for even more.

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Happy Mother's Day!  

My husband was out of town on business last week. At his hotel he picked up this flyer of a nearby restaurant hosting a Mother's Day meal.

That's all nice and well, but guess what was on the other side of the flyer?

Yep, that's right. Not only can you find a nice place to treat your mother for Mother's Day, but you can also find out about the latest local cage fight, all from the same flyer. Now that's multitasking!

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Bible Fight!  

Have you ever wanted to recreate the epic battle between Jesus and Satan or maybe see Eve kick some Moses butt?

Go check out Bible Fight at Cartoon Network. You know you want to.

(via God Has Wheels)

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60th Skeptic's Circle  

Friday, May 11, 2007

The 60th Skeptic's Circle, a collection of posts written by skeptics, is up at Infophilia.

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Review: Speaking Science 2.0: The Road to 2008 & Beyond  

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I was a few minutes late arriving, but I was able to get an excellent parking spot right out front. I have never been to Stowers Institute before. It's a beautiful building situated within (or near, I'm not sure of the association) UMKC Medical Park. I'm glad I heard about the talk, if just to find out about others that are being given at Stowers and other affiliated sites. Scanning the list of talks given recently I'm sorry to have missed some of them. I wish they were in the evenings or on weekends.

The presentation started out with a power outage and it took a few minutes for everything to get underway, which gave me a little time to settle in.

Mooney started the talk by stating that they were taking a new approach to science communication. As background he discussed his book The Republican War on Science and how when he used to give talks from material in this book he'd hear a lot of outrage from the scientific community.

From the reaction to his presentations, he started thinking of ways to solve the political-science disconnect. He outlined three ways that I noted:

1) Science education
2) Criticism of the media
3) Translating knowledge to policy and public acceptance

This presentation would cover #3, translating knowledge into policy and public acceptance. As a side note he compared scientific debate to boxing, media coverage to kickboxing, and public debate as UFC fighting. [I personally prefer 1 and 3 from an entertainment standpoint.]

Nisbet then took over to talk about Popular Science vs. Reality. He put up a slide of Carl Sagan as an example for how scientists attempt to communicate on science. He compared the Bush campaign to the Kerry campaign in '04. Bush, he said, ran on a campaign of a likable person, who could relate to the common man. Kerry ran on the issues.

Then he pointed out how people have too many choices in the media today. So they usually tailor the news they listen to based on their individual or community beliefs and very rarely look outside that spectrum. And, even though more scientific information is available now than ever, people are less knowledgeable about science.

He suggested that frames can be used to organize a central idea on an issue to communicate to the general public, to policy makers, and to the media. He equated framing to nuclear energy being used for both good and bad purposes.

Below is a slide with several frames that they'll use in their discussions. I apologize for the blurriness. I didn't have the flash on and I'm really a poor photographer. You can expand it to see a larger size.

During the questions after the discussion Mooney and Nisbet were asked what frames they liked the most. Nisbet chose Social Progress and Economic Development. Mooney chose "the middle way", which I'm assuming is Third Way/Alternate Path in the slide.

Mooney took over and went on to discuss Defending Evolutionary Science as a failed example of framing. He said the way evolution has been framed is to criticize Intelligent Design and focus on the facts of evolution. The IDists framed ID using the Third Way/Alternate Path frame with the catch phrase of "teach the controversy." They also claimed the elite were suppressing their views.

Scientists responded with scientific fact, which the public found too technical and off-putting for the public. And the disagreements within the scientific community only reinforced the idea of scientific uncertainty, which the IDists took up with zeal.

I haven't seen the movie, but he cited one example from "Flock of Dodos" [which I'm looking forward to seeing this month on Showtime]. Supposedly in the movie there is a scene where a group is playing poker and one person dismisses the IDists with a comment like "you're an idiot." The PR image that came out of that scene [I didn't think many people had seen it] was of angry scientists. [I may not be representing Chris completely here. I was a little confused since I haven't seen the movie.]

Then he quickly talked about Dawkins and how his message of science vs. religion is off-putting.

Chris suggested a better frame to use is the Third Way/Alternate Path - religion and science can co-exist. And in response to the elitism frame of IDists, a small group pushed its narrow views on a diverse group.

[I disagree with this approach, but I've stated it before and I'm not going to go over old ground for this post.]

Nisbet then gave an example where framing by the scientific community had been successful in Stem Cells. He had several graphs of polls he and others had taken, but he moved too quickly through them for me to look at them closely and take notes. I do remember one on changing opinion before the Proposition 71 vote in California and how correct framing had been responsible for that change.

His argument was that pro-stem cell proponents used two frames very effectively - Social Progress and Economic Development. The anti-stem cell research proponents used the morality and ethics frame [which I didn't see on their frame slide] to some effect, but it couldn't beat out the other frames. He also pointed out two strategies just before the vote. Celebrities speaking out about the benefits of stem cell research and placing it in a positive light and at the same time scientists releasing a joint statement about the benefits of stem cell research.

The things scientists did not do were attack religious and moral beliefs, using the Conflict frame, or try to increase public knowledge.

Next Nisbet talked on Global Warming as an example of an issue where framing was once poor but was being turned around. Conservatives used the Scientific Uncertainty frame to convince people that the scientific debate is still open. They point to the unfair economic burden that people will face if we try to deal with global warming meaningfully. And also that the people behind the movement are just Liberal Hollywood activists and celebrities trying to scare people.

Nisbet pointed out that the liberal frame was Pandora's Box through Al Gore's message, which caused the conservatives to respond that it was just alarmism.

A new frame that is being used is the one illustrated below. Get religion on board by positively identifying religious figures and communities with advocacy of environmentalism.

[I have to disagree here. I live in a red state an I know many conservatives, mostly non-religious conservatives, that probably make up as large a voting block as religious conservatives. They don't have any qualms with evolution. But they do have problems with global warming. And much of the reason they have a problem with global warming is because of Al Gore. I think he polarized the issue as much as Dawkins has polarized the evolution issue, but along conservative political instead of religious evangelical lines.

There needs to be evidence presented in order to convince people that global warming is caused by human factors and the more that evidence that is presented in non-biased terms, the better job it will do in convincing people. Al Gore is seen as an alarmist by these people and what he says is dismissed and outright criticized. A scientist would be a much better speaker in this sense than a politician. Use beneficial frames on the social or economic impacts, sure. But celebrities and politicians only seem to be hurting the cause.]

Nisbet or Mooney, I can't remember who [I think Mooney] at this point, continued with Hurricanes and Global Warming by pointing out what the hurricane season in 2005 did for sparking the global warming debate. Suddenly the news was paying attention. And it continued to be a hot topic in 2006. The speaker pointed out that a study published right before hurricane Wilma that associated strong hurricanes to global warming was timed perfectly and that Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth cover was a powerful image associating to hurricanes.

Scientists were also able to frame the debate using the Third Way/Alternate Path by pointing out the amount of destruction that could be caused now as a result of the build up of infrastructure on the coast.

They finished up with a few New Directions in Science Communications. They went through these points so fast I hardly had a chance to write them down. I'm not sure if they were pressed for time, but as the talk went on they went faster and faster.

1) Framing is important to science communication.
2) Choose good leaders including regular lay people and church leaders to share information about new scientific reports.

[He mentioned bringing up the scientific reports to co-workers. In my office I know it'd just get me branded as obnoxious. Politics, religion, and even social issues are not discussed at work except with co-workers that you consider friends, and that only happens outside of work for the most part. Blogs of diverse topics presenting scientific links and information was a better example. But I think most likely people that don't want to hear about the issue are just going to go elsewhere.]

3) Scientists & local news

[I took this down from the slide, but I don't remember it being discussed.]

4) Using film to engage media and target audiences

[Fine if it's not preachy. Preachy tends to turn people off or they won't go see it in the first place. I think most people I know would prefer facts in this kind of format, which have been largely discouraged by Chris & Matthew. But then maybe I'm not part of the average demographic.]

5) Engage editors so that they will have a more positive view of science/scientists
6) Educate journalists
7) Go beyond the "tyranny of the news peg"

[I think this was about scientific releases showing consensus and releasing studies that show the benefits of the issue being advocated.]

8) Change culture and produce incentives

[I didn't get a good picture of how this will be accomplished.]

The questions were diverse, but mostly elaborated on subjects they've covered before. I didn't ask a question. I was still trying to gather my thoughts from the talk and I didn't want to get into the arguments on Dawkins and atheism.

All-in-all I think they made some valuable points, but I didn't find a lot that was revolutionary. And there were several things that I disagreed with, as noted. I think their strategy will work as an alternate path to how scientific issues are communicated today, but I don't see it as the only path.

[Note: The bolded items were topics of discussion from the slides. Also, apologies for any spelling and grammar mistakes in advance. My husband came home from a business trip tonight and I'm more focused on him than this post at the moment. Not that I don't make plenty of spelling and grammar mistakes anyway.

Also a quick acknowledgement to Keith who told me about the presentation.]

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Guess the Theme Song  

Your Final Score Was 35%

You did well but I think you need to study your TV theme songs a little more. Do some research, try again and I'm sure you will do better.

Guess the Theme Song
Take More Quizzes

Not bad for guessing on all of them except #23, which was the only song I could remember. I know Carli would have done better.

(via Greg Laden)

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Reminder: Framing Science talk is today  

Just a reminder, I will be attending the “Framing Science: The Road to 2008 and Beyond” talk given by Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet today at Stowers Institute for Medical Research. If anyone else in the KC area is attending and would like to meet, let me know. Comment and I can give you more info on contacting me.

I'll be taking notes and I hope to post a bit about it tomorrow if things aren't too busy. I'm not really expecting much from this talk, but maybe it'll be informal enough to get a good discussion going.

The details:

Thursday, May 10, 4:00 p.m.
“Framing Science: The Road to 2008 and Beyond”
Chris Mooney, Seed and American Prospect
Matthew Nisbet, American University

Stowers Institute for Medical Research
1000 East 50th St., Kansas City, Missouri
(816) 926-4000

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Nature vs. Nurture - What of Nurture?  

Prospect Magazine as an article about Why home doesn't matter (available free) which explains why parents aren't as much of an influence on their children's behaviors as everyone has assumed.

Throughout the article Judith Rich Harris describes a BBC documentary series titled "Child of Our Time", which follows the lives of 25 children for the first 20 years of their lives. She compares the findings of the documentary to her own and outlines three systems that have a greater impact on children throughout their lives.

The explanation I came up with rests on a discovery made by neurobiologists and evolutionary psychologists. The human brain, it seems, is not a unitary organ: it is instead a toolbox of various devices, each designed by evolution to perform a specific function. Each "module," as these devices are called, works according to its own rules. Each responds to a specific type of information provided by the environment; each uses the information in a particular way.

This modularity of the mind can explain some of the mysteries of development. In No Two Alike, I propose that the human mind contains three different modules for collecting and responding to information from the social environment. I call them the socialisation system, the status system and the relationship system. These systems sometimes issue contradictory orders, as vividly illustrated by the Child of Our Time episode mentioned above, "Fitting In and Standing Out." The socialisation system makes us want to fit in—to conform to our peers. The status system makes us want to stand out—to be better than our peers. We can see these motivations in people of all ages.

In describing how these systems may work she gives the example of a set of identical twins from the series. The two boys have the same genetics and at home their parents say they treat them the same. Yet one of the boys' peer group is mostly other little boys, the other plays with girls. When they are led into a room separately with a doll, the first throws the doll in the trash while the other carefully puts a diaper on it. The parents were mystified. The boys were tested for their levels of the hormone testosterone, but the results showed the same levels.

She brings up developmental differences, which she says can have an impact, but states her premise of the three systems have more of an impact.

The purpose of the socialisation system is to adapt the child to his or her culture. This involves acquiring the local language and accent, the appropriate behaviours and customs, and the prevailing attitudes and beliefs. Acquiring the appropriate behaviours is tricky, because people within a culture do not all behave alike. Around the world, males behave differently from females and children behave differently from adults. A child who imitated his same-sex parent and behaved like an adult (other than in the context of a game) would be seen as impertinent or weird. So the child's first job is to figure out what sort of person he is—child or adult, male or female, serf's son or princeling. Then he has to figure out how the other people in his social category behave and adjust his behaviour accordingly. This is why children acquire the accent of their peers rather than that of their parents. This is why (in the Child of Our Time episode on gender stereotyping) the kids growing up in modern households, with both parents sharing the childcare chores, nonetheless take a traditional view of gender roles: the woman belongs at home, the man at work. Such attitudes come from the children's culture, not from the home, but in most cases you can't see the difference because the home and the culture agree.


The purpose of the status system is to enable children to compete successfully with their peers. In order to do this, they must acquire self-knowledge. Children have to discover how they compare with other children along a variety of dimensions. Am I tall or short, strong or weak, pretty or plain, smart or dull? Without answers to these questions, they would have no way of deciding whether to try to dominate others or yield without a fight, to make suggestions or follow the suggestions of others, to turn down potential mates in hopes of doing better or take whatever comes along. Based on their understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, of the options offered by their environment, and of the particular set of other children with whom they must compete, children work out their own individual strategy of behaviour. "I'm not good in maths," James (the boy whose mother is a poor disciplinarian) admits. But he's popular with his peers. Every child has to find out what he is good at and place his bets on the things that are most likely to pay off. Even identical twins will find different niches to occupy.


The relationship system motivates us to form new relationships, to maintain existing ones if they're going well, and to find out as much as we can about new people we meet. The urge to learn new words and new facts gradually declines as we get older, but we never lose our curiosity about people. Gossip is a popular sport even in the old people's home. It is the relationship system that fuels our hunger for biographies and novels, and makes us want to look at photos of movie actors and sports stars. The appeal of a series like Child of Our Time, which focuses on specific children whom, little by little, we get to know, comes from the relationship system.

Which all seemed to make sense to me. I perform these kinds of actions daily. And it explains why even though I grew up in a very socially conservative household, I picked up very liberal attitudes early in life. It also explains why religious conservatives want to shelter their children from the world. Unconsciously they know that the predominant culture is going to end up having a bigger impact on their children than they will in the end. It's only through sheltering their children or changing the culture can they keep their beliefs from dying out.

(via onegoodmove)

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Review: The Descent (2005)  

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I didn't like this movie when I first saw it a few weeks ago. In fact, I didn't even find it interesting until the movie was at least halfway through. And it wasn't until it was over and I had a few days to think on it that I realized that I liked it. I think my opinion of this movie was so low by the middle that I was surprised by the ending. I didn't reconcile the ending until much later. I don't mean to imply that this is a deep movie, but as I watched it I was disturbed by a few of the scenes.

The movie is a typical survival horror, ending in suspenseful, action-packed scenes. The cast is sparse, and of the six women, only two of them are really memorable - Juno and Sarah. What made this movie work for me were the interactions between Sarah and Juno.

*** Spoilers Below ***

One year after a tragic car accident where Sarah loses her husband and daughter, six friends get together to go on a caving expedition. The group learns that Juno led them to an unexplored cave instead of the cave they had planned to explore after a cave-in blocks their exit. Knowing that no one will know to come look for them, the group continues on, hoping to find another exit.

Typical to a survival horror, members of the group run ahead, even after being cautioned to not split up. The suspense is compounded by Sarah, who keeps seeing something in the caves and who also has been having dreams and hallucinations of her dead daughter.

The movie finally gains momentum about halfway through in one scene where we finally learn whether Sarah is really seeing something, a strange gollum-esque creature that attacks one of the girls. In the chaos, several run off and into the caves, but Juno stays behind to help her friend that the strange creature is attempting to drag off.

As the women struggle to survive, Sarah finds out what I knew all along - Juno was having an affair with her husband before he died. When Sarah also suspects Juno of killing one of their friends she goes on a rampage, killing many of the creatures, and ultimately all of them.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

How evil are you?

I went back and selected AOL as my browser and it changed to Twisted. So close to the crooked path...

(via Pharyngula)

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The science framing debate  

Friday, May 04, 2007

I'm thinking about asking for a couple of hours off next week to attend this:

Thursday, May 10, 4:00 p.m.
“Framing Science: The Road to 2008 and Beyond”
Chris Mooney, Seed and American Prospect
Matthew Nisbet, American University

Stowers Institute for Medical Research
1000 East 50th St., Kansas City, Missouri
(816) 926-4000

(via Red State Rabble)

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What is your wold view?  

Materialist: 100%
Existentialist: 94%
Modernist: 63%
Postmodernist: 38%
Fundamentalist: 25%
Romanticist: 25%
Cultural Creative: 25%
Idealist: 13%

You scored as Materialist. Materialism stresses the essence of fundamental particles. Everything that exists is purely physical matter and there is no special force that holds life together. You believe that anything can be explained by breaking it up into its pieces. i.e. the big picture can be understood by its smaller elements.

What is Your World View?
created with QuizFarm.com

(via Sandwalk)

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New pill to treat genetic diseases  

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A recent article in the Times Online talks about a pill that treats genetic disease. The pill, called PTC124, targets genetic mutations that are caused by a faulty transcription from a normal codon to a stop codon, causing the protein chain to end abnormally.

Orac has a very interesting article up explaining the science behind the discovery in more detail.

Basically, this drug works against what are called nonsense mutations. DNA provides the information necessary to produce proteins. It is made up of individual building blocks called nucleotides, while protein is made up of individual building blocks known as amino acids. The way that the genetic code in DNA is translated into proteins, which form enzymes, structural proteins, and proteins that carry out virtually every function necessary for life, is through large protein complexes called ribosomes. Ribosomes "read" the DNA, whose code is based on three-nucleotide sequences called codons, each of which codes for a different amino acid. Given four nucleotides and triplets, there are 64 possible codon combinations for 20 amino acids, which means that the genetic code is "degenerate"; i.e., most amino acids are coded for by more than one codon. There is a set of three codons, however, that do not code for any amino acid. They are known as stop codons, because when the ribosome encounters them it interprets it as a signal that the protein chain should end. When a mutation causes a codon to change from a normal codon that codes for an amino acid to a stop codon, it is known as a nonsense mutation, and it results in the termination of the protein chain wherever the mutation occurs.

The pill contains a compound that allows the faulty stop codon to be ignored during transcription, reversing the effect. PTC124 is still in clinical trials and set to finish a Phase II study soon. So far the results show minimal side effects and haven't shown that normal stop codons are ignored, only the nonsense mutations. It's still too early to say how safe or effective it will be in practice, but so far it looks promising.

I didn't think in my lifetime I'd see medical advances so promising in treating genetic diseases, and I certainly didn't think it would be a pill. It's exciting to see the results that a better understanding of our world are yielding.

(via Orac)

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Plants do not emit methane  

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I originally read about this study on The Loom last week and I've wanted to write an article on it, but I've been pressed for time. He has a wonderful article up, so feel free to go read his. I'm going to summarize a lot of the same points.

Back in early 2006 a group of scientists published a study that claimed that plants release large amounts of methane.

Here we demonstrate using stable carbon isotopes that methane is readily formed in situ in terrestrial plants under oxic conditions by a hitherto unrecognized process. Significant methane emissions from both intact plants and detached leaves were observed during incubation experiments in the laboratory and in the field.


We suggest that this newly identified source may have important implications for the global methane budget and may call for a reconsideration of the role of natural methane sources in past climate change.

I don't have a subscription and so I can't read the full article, but I do remember the media attention it received. There were jokes and even some serious calls to cut down trees to solve the threat of global warming climate change.

Even after the science foundation who published the story issued a press release clarifying that plants were not responsible for global warming, the media reports continued, almost as a joke.

Last week a group of scientists released a new study available for free here with a press release here after re-examining the data of the original study. They concluded that methane emissions from plants are negligible. For a better look at what they mean by "negligible", less than the amount of CO2 an insect emits. Read the press release for a very clear synopsis of the study.

So far there has been very little buzz from the media. Carl at the Loom pointed out this may be due to many factors including the fact that it's not new information, simply a refutation of an earlier study, and also that the refutation was published in a more specialized journal, thus was read by fewer scientists and media in general.

Still, it negatively reflects on the media. Whether politics plays into it isn't as relevant as media's drive towards revenue by publishing only controversial or hot topic stories about science. (Although, to me, this seems like it would be a hot topic after the stir last year.)

Update: After I posted this I saw Carl's follow-up that Nature published an article about the refutation in their news section.

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Book list for May  

Someone posted a few weeks ago asking if I kept a book list. Well, unofficially I usually keep a list of a few books in my head that I want to read much with another list of books on the horizon that are coming out soon and must be read.

But I've recently started using a nifty little program called Book Collector that lets me organize my books. Due to having a small apartment and a lot of books, I've been forced to reorganize them so that I can actually get to the books that I want to read. From that I've started to come up with more of an official "book list."

I usually read more than one book at a time. This is usually due to the temptation of really wanting to read a book while in the midst of another and also the practical need of picking up a book to read when the book I'm currently reading isn't available. I'm afraid I'm not very good at book commitment.

Right now I'm reading three books all at for different practical reasons.

The Planets - Edited by Byron Preiss: This was the next book up on my unofficial list, but it's a largish hardback with a really pretty dust cover and I wanted to keep it nice, so it's ended up being my nightstand book. I read a bit of it most nights before going to sleep.

The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins: I decided to try tackling this book and it became my "purse book", which is the book I carry around with me in case I'm waiting at the doctor, going to lunch by myself, ect. However, it's a weighty book and that became impractical. It's difficult to read a few paragraphs, put it down, and still keep the thread of thought going for the next reading. It's now mostly in limbo as I haven't picked it up in a couple of weeks. I'm not very far into it and I'm sure eventually it'll become my "nightstand book."

How Do You Know It's True - Hy Ruchlis: I bought this to give away, but then I started reading it. It's small and perfect for a "purse book."

And then there's the list of books to read. I have more than I could read this year, much less this month, but here's a list I'll take a stab at and hope to maybe get 1/3 of the way through before May is over.

The Last Colony - John Scalzi
Lost Languages - Andrew Robinson
War of Flowers - Tad Williams
Darwin's Ghost - Steve Jones
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill
Seasons - Robert Frost
A History of the End of the World - Jonathan Kirsch
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea - Carl Zimmer

Maybe I'll start writing some decent reviews for this blog. I've written reviews in the past, but nothing more than a paragraph or two. I'd like to take the time to write something more in-depth though in the future.

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Let the bodies hit the floor  

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ok, I think just about everyone can agree that this guy is a total kook. Oh, except for the people in the video (and maybe even some of them now).

But I just found this video hillarious. It completely points out the absurdity of this man's claim. This is exactly the sort of thing that I used to believe in, that I used to enable by playing along with it, when I was a child. I wasn't supposed to question these sort of thing, but accept them as normal acts of a man under God's influence.

I'm thinking I saw something like it recently. Hmmm...

Oh yeah, that was it. Another person being enabled by people faking, but he gets hurt as a result. I can't feel too bad for him though.

(via Pharyngula)

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