Blog Archives

Back to the search terms.

December hasn’t been a good  month for this blog. The windstorm knocked out my internet, the new version of Thunderbird broke the nice Google Calendar integration I had working which pestered me with reminders to blog every day, and a lot of general busyness & exhausted ennui made writing seem like far more trouble than usual.

But it’s the 15th, and that means search engine stats. I couldn’t skip that! As usual, search terms are bold, while my commentary is italtic. Read the rest of this entry

New feels old, old feels new.

I got a new old laptop today, which is pretty cool by itself. After wiping its hard disk, I fooled around a bit before settling on Xubuntu for the new OS.

Holy crap. It’s like the Gnome version of Ubuntu used to be back when I liked it! Guess I should have listened to Dan when I was whining about Unity back in October.

The only reason I’m writing this right now instead of migrating this machine is a little hesitation about Dropbox. You know, the cloud service? In Linux, it only works with Nautilus, the Gnome file manager. Read the rest of this entry

The Dangers of Feminist Marriage!

Wow, this is a special kind of crazy. From Manboobz we find this post from David Usher of the Center for Marriage Policy explaining the latest reason you should fight against the evil tyranny of same-sex marriage: It’s a Trojan horse to allow “Feminist Marriage” which will destroy America! Read the rest of this entry

Evolution Quiz II: Electric Boogaloo

And we’re back! The second half of this silly test gets increasingly surreal, to the point where I’m thinking more and more that this is just a joke and not a serious argument for creationism. Of course, Poe’s Law tells me that I can’t ever know for sure.

Let’s do this.

8. List any of the millions of creatures in just five stages of its evolution showing the progression of a new organ of any kind. When you have done this, you can collect the millions of dollars in rewards offered for proof of evolution!

What on Earth is a “stage” of evolution? I wasn’t aware this was graduated somehow. I suppose you could call a single generation a “stage”, which means that they’re asking for a new organ between, say, you and your great-great-great-grandfather. For extra fun, “organ” probably isn’t as simple to define as, say, gaining a spleen.

Why five? Another apparently arbitrary number, though this is is extra weird because it asks for five of something that isn’t sufficiently defined.

Go back and rewrite the question.

9. Why is it that the very things that would prove Evolution (transitional forms) are still missing?

Welcome to the 21st century. I know, I know, you’re really looking for a crocoduck, aren’t you? Except chimeras like that aren’t predicted by evolution, hell they’d be a pretty solid blow against modern evolutionary theory. Evolution is a very gradual process, and every individual critter is a complete animal in its own right, regardless of its ancestry, or whatever its descendents may turn out to be.

10. Explain why something as complex as human life could happen by chance, but something as simple as a coin must have a creator. (Show your math solution.)

Math solution? Do you really think “more complex” means “more likely built by a creative intelligence”? The first thing we humans do when we want to build something is remove as much complexity as we can. Take your coin example. When we want to make things out of metal, let’s say copper, where do we start? If your answer is “We go to the store and buy some copper”, you aren’t thinking things through. First we need to extract the copper from the earth.

Copper isn’t found in nice, pure lumps. Perhaps the closest we can find to that is the green stone malachite, with is a complex chemical compound that contains lots of copper in it. We can extract the copper from it using a reduction kiln, removing all that complexity so that we can stamp coins in nice pure copper discs.

The complexity of living things is a point in evolution’s favor, unless you want to argue that the creator is a complete moron. (What sadistic lunatic would build the human knee the way it is intentionally?) Living things are not merely complex, they’re unnecessarily so. Making a design weaker than it could be in order to make it more complicated is not a sign of intelligence.

11. Why aren’t any fossils or coal or oil being formed today?

Who says they aren’t? I don’t understand this, would you like us to set up a webcam so you can watch the process? Are you suggesting that the clearly eroded surfaces of, say, the Sphinx in Egypt are no longer being eroded because you can’t see the stone wearing away? Good heavens take a cave tour and look at stalagmites that have grown upward over centuries from calcium particles in drops of water!

If I recall correctly the energy in gasoline that moves your car around was first captured from the Sun by plants living four hundred million years ago. That’s not just older than the dinosaurs, it’s farther away from the dinosaurs than the dinosaurs are from us. I think it’s safe to say that fossil fuels are being used faster than they’re being made.

12. List 50 vestigial or useless organs or appendages in the human body.

No. That’s simply absurd, especially given the apparently arbitrary numbers. You only allow five “stages” for a whole new organ, but you won’t be satisfied with less than 50 vestigial bits? Fuck you.

But I won’t leave you empty handed. Here’s a link to endogenous retroviruses, bits of our bodies that started as viral infections. We’ve adapted to them so well that now they’re a normal part of us.

13. Why hasn’t anyone collected the millions of dollars in rewards for proof of evolution?

I think “millions” is likely hyperbole there. I did find a few sites claiming such prizes exist, the largest cash sum was over a million, but on a site that hadn’t updated since 2002. The only one I was able to find any real information about was Kent Hovind’s $250,000 prize ” to anyone who can give any empirical evidence (scientific proof) for evolution.*”

Kent is currently serving a prison term for tax fraud, but his son Eric might be willing to honor this challenge. Except look at the definition used for this challenge:

“* NOTE: When I use the word evolution, I am not referring to the minor variations found in all of the various life forms (microevolution). I am referring to the general theory of evolution which believes these five major events took place without God:
1. Time, space, and matter came into existence by themselves.
2. Planets and stars formed from space dust.
3. Matter created life by itself.
4. Early life-forms learned to reproduce themselves.
5. Major changes occurred between these diverse life forms (i.e., fish changed to amphibians, amphibians changed to reptiles, and reptiles changed to birds or mammals).”

Of these, only parts 4 & 5 are relevant to the theory of evolution. Hell, 1 & 2 aren’t even in the field of biology, and 3 is the realm of abiogenesis, which is probably more chemistry than biology. No single example of evidence could demonstrate all that, heck number 1 isn’t even a meaningful statement under the current big bang models as I understand them. (Which is to say, not very well.) It looks like what Kent really wants is to go back to college.

If this is typical of your “millions of dollars in rewards for proof of evolution” it’s frankly not worth it. No point playing if it’s clear that the game is rigged.

14. If life began hundreds of millions of years ago, why is the earth still under populated?

Under populated?! Right, you’re clearly just pulling my leg now. By what bizarre definition is the world under populated? There is life in every crevice of this planet, we have found life in places we didn’t think it was possible for anything to live. Living things have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere on this world, all that oxygen wasn’t there until the plants got to work. There are creatures living in the bottom of the ocean who do not even get their energy from the Sun.

The coldest tundra, there is life. The driest desert, there is life. Down in the deeps where no light reaches and the pressure is a thousand times the atmosphere we live in, we still find life. There is a lake in Antarctica that is frozen over the year round, and yet life survives within.

Oh right, you think everything’s about humans. Well, there are seven billion of us, how many do you think there are supposed to be?

15. Why hasn’t evolution duplicated all species on all continents?

Son of a… I’ve wasted all this time answering a troll, haven’t I!

Well, at least I got some writing out of it. See you next time!

Evolution quiz! Written by someone who does not understand evolution. Or quizzes.

In my search for something to blog about I probably would have thought of this ridiculous test eventually, I’ve seen it before at FSTDT. But PZ posted it today, so I’m jumping on it. (Also, check out PZ’s link to see the evolutionary penis-man!)

So here’s my layman’s understanding of this thing. I’ll take it bit by bit, starting with the introduction.

Students, give this test to your teachers. When they fail it, ask them why they are teaching this nonsense!

I think the real purpose of this thing is right there. Cause trouble in classrooms, because teachers are overworked already and school districts tend to shy away from controversy. Make teaching evolution a hassle and maybe nobody will bother. For some reason creationists always seem to think that if there’s any weakness in evolution that they win by default. And for people who have The Truth!™ they sure seem to think it’s vital that nobody gets a good look at the science.

Teachers, give this test to your students if you really want them to know the truth about evolution!

I’m puzzled what they think anyone can learn from this. Even if evolution were nonsense this test does nothing to demonstrate that, it merely asks a bunch of smug questions in bad faith and assumes you’ll jump over to their side once you can’t answer them satisfactorily. Well, let’s get to the actual questions.

1. Which evolved first, male or female?

So you think that men and women are literally different species? Is that where you’re going with this? I don’t suppose it’s occurred to you that maybe more than one thing can happen at a time?

2. How many millions of years elapsed between the first male and first female?

Zero. Get used to “How many millions of years” questions.

3. List at least 9 of the false assumptions made with radioactive dating methods.

Wait, which side am I supposed to be arguing for again? Actually I think the most common false assumption I’ve seen about radiometric dating is that it’s all carbon dating. I’ve also seen the assumption that we can carbon date fossils or other things without any carbon in them, that radiometric dating is the only way scientists determine age, that scientists believe they can never get an incorrect age from radiometric dating, that underwater snails & similar critters that reuse carbon (and thus date at much older than they are) prove carbon dating doesn’t work. I’ve seen truly bizarre claims that if a single artifact is dated incorrectly then the whole system must be useless, that the possibility of human error means it can’t be trusted, that the lack of human interpretation means it can’t be trusted, and of course Ken Hamm’s insistence that if it disagrees with the Bible it must be wrong, period.

By far my favorite is when they use the Carbon14 test to date something much older than 50,000 years and claim that the result of 50,000 years demonstrates that all radiometric dating is useless. 50,000 years is the upper limit of the Carbon14 test, this is like having a speedometer that only goes up to 65 and insisting that your car can’t go any faster than that. (“No really officer, I was going the speed limit! Your radar gun must be broken…”)

Why 9? This is our first request for an arbitrary number, it will not be the last.

4. Why hasn’t any extinct creature re-evolved after millions of years?

Why in the world do you think one should? Honestly if you think this is likely to happen, you either really don’t understand this theory, or you have a very small-minded view of environmental pressures. Or possibly both, I suppose.

Darwin’s finches went from beaks of many sizes to all big beaks in just a few generations because their environment changed so that big beaks were a serious advantage to getting food. This wasn’t a case of birds magically transforming with sparkly special effects so that they all had big beaks, it was a case of birds without big beaks starving to death.

Now, let’s assume that things change back to the way they were before, where beak size is no longer a significant factor in a bird’s ability to eat. It’s certainly possible that over several generations, the finches would once again have a wide variety of beak sizes, but they wouldn’t be the same as they were before because things are still different. Even if the environment changed back, the birds can’t because they’re not the same birds anymore. The old small beaked birds are gone, their genetic legacy is extinct, so any new small beaked finches would be descended from the big beaked ones that were able to survive before.Whatever varieties they may have, and over time that can get significant, it will not be the same varieties as there once were.

This example is not nearly the same as the question, though, because these finches are all the same species. Expecting a whole species to return of its own accord is simply laughable.

5. Which came first:
…the eye,
…the eyelid,
…the eyebrow,
…the eye sockets,
…the eye muscles,
…the eye lashes,
…the tear ducts,
…the brain’s interpretation of light?

Those are all very complex structures. Probably the beginning of vision was a patch of light-sensitive cells on the skin of sea creatures that probably didn’t have an interpretation of light beyond the simplest sensory input. It certainly wasn’t vision as we know it. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t have brains as we think of them.

6. How many millions of years between each in question 5?

Sigh, once again, more than one thing can happen at a time. You seem to think of evolution as a serial operation, where it works on one thing until it’s “finished” and then moves on to another. Have you noticed that not all animals have all those things? Probably not, these questions are so anthro-centric the author would probably be shocked to learn that cats have three eyelids, or that owls cannot move their eyes to look around but must move their whole heads, or that reptiles have neither eyebrows nor eyelashes.

7. If we all evolved from a common ancestor, why can’t all the different species mate with one another and produce fertile offspring?

Because they’re different species. That’s actually one of the definitions of “species”, that they cannot produce fertile offspring with other species. What, you think DNA is like Lego blocks that can be stuck together in different ways even if you’re combining a Pirate set with a Star Wars one? (Space pirates!)

This is getting really long and I’m only halfway through. Also, stomach’s starting to growl, so I’m going to post this half and go get something to eat. Second half should be up late tonight or early tomorrow, see you next time!

Back in the Saddle

Well, I knew I was going to be a little behind and have to play catch-up, but I certainly didn’t expect to take a whole week off! By my count I need six posts to get back up to the line, so I’ll try to manage two or three a day until I’m all caught up. Let’s start easy with a Daily Post subject:

Topic #328:

Would you rather have $50 million or live for an extra 50 years?

Naturally, I have to answer the question with a bunch of questions. What quality of life are we talking about for those 50 extra years? Are we talking 50 active, healthy years, or are you going to take me at the end of my natural life, when I’m bedridden and barely hanging on, and stretch that out for another half century?

Also, what’s with that exchange rate? A million dollars a year seems awfully cheap, I’d have priced a year of life at a hundred million at least in today’s economy. Makes me suspicious of the quality of life thing above.

Am I the only one who gets this choice? Am I looking at 50 years past when everyone else has died? I’m not very good at making new friends, that could get awfully lonely.

Have you noticed that I enjoy dissecting the question more than answering it? not sure what that says about me. Well, unless it really is 50 years in a hospital bed I’d probably take the extra life. I mean, time is the one thing we can’t buy, and we live in such interesting times. I can only wonder what I’ll see in my lifetime already, imagine if I had another half century to see what comes next…

Technological limitations

Yesterday the winds came. They blew down fences, trees, power lines, and my internet. Today I made lasagne in bulk. In fact, I think the only practical thing I did today that wasn’t lasagne was shopping for more stuff to make lasagne. I’m not even confident it’s going to be good lasagne, I tried a new technique a little old lady told me about and frankly I’m not sure there was enough cheese.

But I should still try to make up for the missed post yesterday. Just because it was physically impossible for me to post anything is no excuse to not catch up. And I think at least one of the Daily Post blogs was a decent idea for something to write about, so I can go back and write about it.

That’s going to have to wait another day or two, though, because I’m surprisingly busy all of a sudden. It’s good news for me, but bad news for my blog. Well, seems like everything’s a trade-off.

I promise you four posts in the next three days, even if that’s four on Monday. For now though I’m going to sleep, it’s been crazy today.

My thoughts on #OccupyLA’s eviction.

I watched it through Twitter and Ustream, switching around between five different video streams. Had a slow, sleepy day because of it, but I think it was worth the missed sleep. From what I could see both cops and demonstrators worked to keep it peaceful, but I really couldn’t see much. Read the rest of this entry

Random software review

An interesting program I’ve been using for the last few weeks (months? When did I install that thing, anyway?) is the Zim Desktop Wiki, which works pretty much like a cross between a notepad program and a, well, wiki. Making new pages is as simple as linking to ones that don’t exist yet. Linking to a page can be as easy as placing your cursor within a word, pressing ctrl-L, and hitting “enter” twice. (Though usually it takes a little more than that.)

I love it. It’s a little awkward at first, but once you learn the keyboard shortcuts it’s fairly smooth sailing. I used it to keep track of my wanderings through the SubNet Exploration Experience and soon had an in-depth, cross-referenced database of everything I’d found in there.

It even supports tags, which I love in ways that are probably illegal in some states.

I found it in the Ubuntu software repositories when I was looking for pretty much exactly that kind of program, but it also has Mac & even Windows versions for people who use, you know, those sorts of operating systems.

As yet, it has not tried to conquer the Earth. That I’ve noticed, at least.

The Burzynski Clinic: Probably frauds, certainly assholes.

The odds are very good that if you’re reading this, someone you know has or has had some form of cancer, maybe even yourself. About 1,500 people die every day in the United States alone of cancer or cancer-related illness. More than half a million a year. It’s a boundless wellspring of human suffering that scientists have been working to understand better for over a hundred years. So far the best treatments we’ve got are still pretty crude, but all over the world researchers are working tirelessly to find new ways to improve the lives of cancer patients.

So when someone’s charging hundreds of thousands of dollars for a treatment they claim can cure cancer, I tend to think the worst of them. When their response to criticism is angry, weak legal threats that clearly weren’t made by a lawyer, well, that doesn’t really make me think any better of them. Read the rest of this entry

Insomnia for fun and profit!

Haven’t been able to sleep at all tonight (last night?) so this might be a little more surreal than usual. But I’m looking forward to shutting off the blog reminder the very first time I see it today.

First, this article by Joshua Holland responding to the Naomi Wolf Guardian piece I linked yesterday. I can’t do this subject justice right now, I don’t know enough off the top off my head and I’m too tired to trust myself researching both articles. I may post more about this later, but for now I wanted to put this opposing viewpoint link there in case I totally forget about this after I see a shiny object or something.

So let’s turn to something else. Stephen Fry tweets this link about a Catholic exorcist who says that Harry Potter and yoga are evil. Seriously. Read the rest of this entry

Sam Brownback: #HeBlowsALot

From here, via Wil Wheaton. This sounds like a sketch comedy bit. Emma Sullivan, an 18-year old high school senior tweeted, well, this:

Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback apparently has staff watching Twitter for comments about him. I guess that makes sense, it’s probably a good way to judge public opinion. When they saw that one, they passed it on, and eventually Sullivan wound up in the principles office. Read the rest of this entry

Free and brave

So, Congress wants to know why everyone hates them. Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but the reason I hate you, Congress, is because every time I turn around you assholes are doing something like this. (Incidentally, what’s up with the links on that page?)

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), have apparently decided that what’s wrong with America is that we’re not enough like a fascist dictatorship. I wasn’t surprised to see McCain’s name on that, he introduced similar legislation in ’09 or ’10 which would give the President power to declare anyone an unperson without trial or charge, and specifically denied the option of judicial review. Seriously, the man introduced a bill to give the President, and any future president, the power to declare anyone (I think the term used was) an “unlawful enemy combatant”, who could then by held indefinitely without being charged with a crime, or given a trial, or even allowed to petition a judge to review the justice or legality of the detention.

In no free country should any one person have that kind of power. Certainly not one that has the Bill of Rights in it’s highest legal document.

Well, now McCain’s teamed up with another enemy of freedom and found a new approach. They should both be ashamed of themselves. Hell, I’m ashamed that they weren’t booed off the floor, this is my country and these are my countrymen, how could they consider that for even a moment?

The “detainees” taken in this alleged war on terror are a real sticking point with me, no matter which way you go they illustrate the criminal truth about the whole awful enterprise. If we’re at war, then those detainees are prisoners of war and subject to the rules and protections of the Geneva Convention. It we’re not at war, then these detainees are criminal suspects and subject to the rules and protections of Due Process. The term “Unlawful Enemy Combatant” suggests both while claiming neither, as if these people are somehow war criminals without ever being either criminals or soldiers.

I understand that this is a sticky situation where it’s often not clear, but changing the law to broadly strip (more) protections away from everywhere is not the answer here. The law isn’t about making the government’s job easier, it’s about protecting people.

So I was already in a cynical and angry state of mind when I saw this Guardian article about the crackdowns on the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Here is what Naomi Wolf of the Guardian learned when she started asking OWS activists what they wanted.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

Haven’t heard much about that in the U.S. press. In fact most of the news I get about OWS comes from Europe. Maybe the money in the government is in the media, too.

Maybe that’s why Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are sneaking in this obscene rape of the Constitution, it’s a way to protect the money. Or hell, I don’t know, maybe they’re so frightened of the threat of terrorism that they’re willing to take the chance that some president might declare them enemy combatants and have them detained indefinitely, and possibly tortured.

Were I president, and handed that sort of power, the first thing I would do is send troops to detain Congress. Because while Al Qaida may or may not be the biggest threat to our lives, it’s been made abundantly clear that the biggest threat to our freedoms, Congress, is you.

Hey, they noticed!

Congress apparently finally noticed that they’re pissing everyone off.

Sorry, that’s all you get today. If I’m feeling better tomorrow I’ll actually say something for myself.

Rights and citizenship

Not doing well with the writing today. Here’s a link to a transcript of yet another Republican debate. Reading this, I wonder why they bother. It strikes me as nothing but empty pageantry, mere spectacle to get people applauding, not a debate in any sense that I’m familiar with. But there’s some weird stuff going on in there, and one bit of weirdness jumped out at me.

Here’s a quote from Michele Bachmann:

This is one thing we know about Barack Obama. He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He has outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.

When the bomber — or the attempted bomber over Detroit, the underwear bomber was intercepted, he was given Miranda warnings within 45 minutes. He was not an American citizen. We don’t give Miranda warnings to terrorists, and we don’t read them their rights. They don’t have any.

It would be unfair to suggest that this is typical for a Republican candidate, Bachmann is out there by anyone’s standards. The idea that the ACLU controls interrogations… I haven’t the slightest idea what she’s saying there. “They aren’t letting us torture suspects anymore”, perhaps? But there’s some stuff in there that’s pretty common thinking and I want to address it. Read the rest of this entry

Blah

Not feeling good tonight. Angry, too, I caught a glimpse of the TV news. Saw a sheriff talking about “Occupy” people, he said, (in that usual thug voice, you know the one) “Stop breaking the law, you’ll stop getting arrested”.

Unless you’re rich enough, of course. Then getting arrested is never on the cards no matter what you do.

How long must Xmas last?

Every year people make the same tired jokes about Christmas starting early, myself included. But I’m really starting to wonder about that, I can sort of understand how stores would want to start getting their hooks in early, but surely there must be a point where it’s counterproductive. I mean, eventually they’re not getting anyone else fired up about whatever dumb toy they’re trying to convince everyone they can’t live without and further efforts are just wasting resources and annoying people, right?

The deeper cultural implications of the holiday, including the laughable “War on Xmas” bullshit, I’ll save for another day when I’m up to writing a longer post.

We’re up to slightly more than a sixth of the year for xmas, which is clearly too damn long for me. Like summer, the issue isn’t that I don’t like it, it’s simple fatigue. I get sick of the damn thing dragging on and on and just want it to end already. I remember reading a book when I was a kid, and a character was shocked that his dad was thinking about Christmas so early, when they were still eating Thanksgiving leftovers, and even then that seemed like a joke to me.

It especially seems cruel to small children to stretch Christmas hype out for months. When you’re five, a month is a very, very long time.

This post brought to you by the realization that by the time December starts I’m already tired of Christmas music.

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