Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Toss a Couple More Planets on the Mnemonic

With the dubious inclusion of two new dwarf planets to our solar system's classic starting lineup of nine, the mnemonic for remembering their names just got a whole lot cooler. The new planet order (according to National Geographic Children's Books) is Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and Eris. Ceres, Pluto, and Eris are considered dwarf planets, though they prefer to be called "little planets". And fourth-grader Maryn Smith has won a contest to come up with a new mnemonic for them: "My Very Exciting Magic Carpet Just Sailed Under Nine Palace Elephants". Sounds like a lost song from Sgt. Pepper, but I like it. In addition to being included in a new National Geographic book, the mnemonic will also be recorded as a song by pop sensation Lisa Loeb, who, despite widespread rumors, did not die in 1996. More details here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The Amateur Scientist is a blog and podcast created by Brian Thompson, a gentleman who has been able to read and write for over seventeen years. Brian and his team of unpaid contributors, sex slaves, and interns provide semi-daily commentary on news relating to science, politics, religion, conspiracy theory, UFOs, mass hysteria, robots, genitals, and robot genitals.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

I See Hallucinations

A team of scientists at University College of London (officially the most generic name for an academic institution ever) have conducted new research into the way the human mind tricks itself into seeing ghosts and monsters in the darkness. Read the whole article for a more detailed explanation, but the nutshell here is that in darkness we're more prone to fill out bits and pieces of visual information that we don't really have. In other words, your mind wants to see something complete even if you can't really see anything at all. Which explains why goblins and spooks only tend to hang out in the most dimly-lit rooms. Either that, or they're all fans of the Cure. More details here.

Losing the Faith

CNN has an unusually interesting analysis of a recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that shows a growing number of American adults are switching religions to something other than the one they were raised with (or, more grammatically correctly, "the one with which they were reared") or abandoning religion altogether. Of course this is great news. It means that more of us are starting to weigh our options and think for ourselves. It's no wonder that those with a college education are more skeptical of religion, and the same can be said for a generation that's grown up in a world of truly global mass communication. Chances are good that the average American these days has not only been exposed to many ideas about religions via the Internet, but that they have also seen these heretics totally get hit in the nuts while trying to nail a flipkick. More details here.


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Friday, February 22, 2008

Super Rubber

Ludwik Leibler and a team of scientists at the Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Education Institution in Paris have created a new kind of self-healing rubber. The material, made from fatty acids and urea, stretches like your old fashioned mom and pop rubber, but when it snaps, it can fuse itself back together using hydrogen bonds. The applications for such a material are myriad. Not only could it be used in breakable toys or as an adhesive, but it would also make for an invincible superweapon in the arsenal of any elementary school bully. Also, it could be used to make an alternately safe and terribly unsafe brand of condom. More details here.

God Hates Israel

Who knew Pastor Fred Phelps moonlights as an MP in the Israeli parliament? Sure he may go by an alias (Shlomo Benizri), but could anyone mistake his piercing logic? Phelps (a.k.a. Shlomo) recently told an Israeli parliament committee that the country's two earthquakes late last year were a warning from God that they need to stop being so nice to gays. Israel decriminalized homosexuality in 1988 (which was a lot sooner than Texas, by the way), and they've passed a few gay rights laws here and there since then. The committee to which Fred/Shlomo was speaking met to discuss emergency preparedness procedures in case of another quake. Benizri/Phelps' plan? Be a complete douche. More details here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Rhymes with "Deloris"

Sure they may be a creepy cult organized around a crazy man who believes he's in contact with extraterrestrial species, but you've got to give the Raelians credit where credit's due. Claude Vorilhon (a.k.a. "Rael") sees female genital mutilation as a true crime against humanity across the African continent and beyond. And he's right! Plus, he's going to do something about it. Lest you think this is just another P.R. lie like his claim to have produced the first human clone, you should know that he's hired the world's foremost sexual reassignment surgeon to reconstruct women's clitorises in the new hospital he's building in West Africa. He's even formed a company, Clitoraid (the best energy drink name ever), to oversee the operation of the facility. So kudos to the nutjob Raelians. The next time you see one, why not give him the thumbs up? More details here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mensa: Idiots

Which is more annoying; the fact that Mensa exists as an organization or the fact that Mensa members always want to tell you how they belong to a select group of people whose standardized test skills are matched only by their crippling social inadequacies? How about this: Jim Werdell, chairman of Mensa International, has horrible taste in television. Following in the list-fetishizing footsteps of VH1 and E!, Werdell has released a list of the top ten smartest television shows of all time. Don't get your hopes up for the inclusion of actually intelligent shows such as Gilmore Girls, which managed to seamlessly reference both Nick Cave and Marcel Proust in a single scene. Instead, Werdell's brain tells him that both CSI (it has science content!) and Mad About You (a personal favorite of his) deserve recognition for their braininess. Perhaps Werdell is too busy measuring the circumference of his head to notice, but there's nothing particularly smart about a sitcom starring a married couple who spar, engage in hijinks, and have a baby when their ratings start to dip. More details here.

Goodbye, Castro

Hooray! The embargo finally worked! Frustrated over the fact that U.S. citizens are not allowed to legally taste the sweet pleasures of his proud country's cigars, Fidel Castro has resigned as president and military commander of Cuba. Also, it may have had something to do with the fact that death's bony fingers are currently finding their way through his beard and around his neck. But as President Bush said this morning, we could be witnessing the beginning of a "democratic transition" for Cuba. Except for the imminent crowning of Fidel's brother Raul (a.k.a. Castro 2.0), the continued incarceration of political prisoners, the continued power of the ruling party, and the fact that Raul has no plans for any democratic transition. Viva le revolucion! More details here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sewer Zombie

British towns have been known to pay self-proclaimed psychic exorcists public funds to cleanse houses of evil spirits, so I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising to learn that a sewage treatment plant in Eastbourne, East Sussex has hired "parapsychologist" Michael Kingscote to investigate what workers there describe as a zombie that stalks the facility's tunnels. Also, there may be ghosts. Mark Wey, the worker who hired Kingscote, says: "Michael instantly detected someone standing there and he was suspicious there was something quite unusual there. The conclusion is, we can't prove it is haunted because of strong electromagnetic fields, which can cause the illusion of being haunted, the feeling of being touched or watched, but there is definitely paranormal activity." In other words: "I have no understanding of how electromagnetic energy works. Also, we can't prove anything. Also, it's definitely a zombie ghost." See how dumb this all sounds when you cut out the bullshit? One commentator on this story suggests that it might be more reasonable to assume some homeless vagrant is terrorizing the plant. Maybe. Or maybe there are for worse things to worry about in a dark, sewage-encrusted tunnel than imaginary creatures. More details here.

Hello, Kosovo

It's always nice to welcome a new independent, democratic, and secular state onto the world stage. Sometimes it feels pretty lonely out here. And we couldn't have asked for a more deserving new companion than Kosovo, whose parliament declared its independence from Serbia over the weekend. For those who only remember the '90s as a hazy stream of grungy music and even grungier people, Kosovo's majority population of secular Muslim ethnic Albanians recently endured an organized campaign of genocide under the reign of Serbian president Slobodon Milosevic, who unfortunately died before he could be properly punished for war crimes. Tired of the sideways glances they've received from the Serbian government and their genocide-tolerating allies in Russia and China, the ethnic Albanians finally decided to take the law into their own hands and drafted a declaration of independence on some nice parchment paper. Let's hope the new nation of Kosovo makes good on its promise to remain secular and respectful of the rights of its Christian Serbian minority--the same kind of respect denied them under Serbia's rule. More details here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Texas Safe for Sex Toys

If you're a Texan, you can happily unlock that chest under your bed, search the house for a pair of working AAs, and enjoy the fruits of autoerotic technology without fear of reprisal. A federal appeals court has thrown out Texas' law banning the sale of sex toys. This is a victory on many fronts. For one thing, the government has no right to intrude into your sex life--whether or not you're having sex with a vibrating plastic and metal automaton. Also, this is a victory of reason over religious intrusion upon the law. After all, there was no basis for this law other than the religious and cultural prudishness of Texas' once powerful yokel class. Next stop: Mississippi and Alabama, where it's still against the law to go into your local mom and pop sex shop and purchase yourself a diesel-powered device capable of stimulating all your pleasure zones at once. More details here.

Murder in Saudi Arabia

It's not been a good month for Saudi Arabia. Because of their ludicrous adherence to Islam's arcane and oppressive Sharia law, they've already banned the color red and arrested a woman for being in the same Starbucks as a man who wasn't her husband. And now they've upheld a death sentence for Fawza Falih, an illiterate woman accused of witchcraft. She was forced to sign a false confession saying that she had bewitched several men in her village--leaving one of them impotent. The insecurity of Saudi Arabia's religious police couldn't be more evident here; they can't help but blame their tiny, non-functioning penises on the dark arts. The fact that New York's Human Rights Watch has issued a statement of protest to the Saudi government while the governments of the free world have remained silent might (and should) interrupt your sleep tonight. Of course, you could always take comfort in knowing that the death sentence has been upheld to "protect the creed, souls, and propery of [Saudi Arabia]," according to the Saudi court. More details here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Parking Lot UFO

This is supposed to be a UFO photographed by amateur photographer Hab Rahman. He claims he was just taking a picture of a lonely parking lot on a foggy evening, and he didn't notice the UFO in the photo until he transfered it to his computer. Before you go screaming that it's brighter than anything else in the sky and couldn't possibly have gone unnoticed by anyone who isn't legally blind, let me postulate that the UFO probably didn't exist until after Rahman uploaded the picture and manipulated it in Photoshop. However, self-described UFO expert Hilary Porter of the British Earth and Aerial Mysteries Society (NAMBLA) is totally convinced that this is a genuine photo. "It would be very difficult to fake that photo," she said, "and the UFO is at a tilt, which is the way they normally fly." Yes, it would be almost impossible to fake a mysteriously stereotypical flying saucer with outlandishly conspicuous lighting into a photograph. And, of course, tilting it slightly is outside the reaches of modern technology. Perhaps Rahman manipulated the picture using...ALIEN TECHNOLOGY? More details here.

Danes Grow a Pair

While reporting on the arrest of three people for plotting to kill the cartoonist who drew this caricature of Muhammad, Denmark's leading newspapers all reprinted the cartoon in a show of solidarity behind the right of free speech. Kudos to them for that, but one can't help but remember the worldwide chickening out demonstrated by themselves and nearly every other media outlet when it came to the same cartoon two years ago. Disguising their cowardice as a concern for the safety of their employees, no major newspaper or magazine would reprint the cartoon. Only the secular humanist Free Inquiry had the integrity to stand up to Islamic bullying and print every cartoon that had sent Muslims rioting in the streets. For their efforts, Borders book stores refused to carry the April-May 2006 issue of the magazine. One more reason not to shop at Borders. More details here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Darwin Day

Today marks the 199th anniversary of the births of two great emancipators: Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. What do you buy someone for their 199th? We're well past the golden years here. Adamantium maybe? Anyway, the point is this: let's put Lincoln aside for a little while. Don't get me wrong; this is a better world without slavery, and you just can't beat those President's Day sales down at the Auto-Mart. You can use your tax refund as a down payment for Christ's sake! And Lincoln's strength and wisdom during this country's most terrible time should never cease to be celebrated. But even though his second inaugural address is one of the most lyrical speeches ever written, it still drapes the cloak of slavery around the Christian god. Lincoln said that the north and south worshiped the same god: the god who had once allowed slavery as a necessary evil and who now wanted humanity to set it aside. While this sentiment of solidarity no doubt offered comfort to those families torn apart by war, Darwin's contribution to society was infinitely more profound. Not only were the north and south a single family united by religion, but they were also a single species united by millions of years of common ancestry. It wasn't God who put a stop to slavery. It was the struggle of a group of people united by an ideal that placed humanism above scripture and morality above superstition. Darwin closed the door on God as the guiding force of human progress, allowing us to assume responsibility for ourselves. Our failures are our own, but so are our successes. So today let's celebrate Lincoln as one of our most important mammals and nothing more. Let's attribute Darwin with helping to end the silly practice of deification. There are no gods. There's just us. And we're better.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Olympic Gag Order

The British Olympic Association has banned its country's athletes from criticizing China's totalitarian regime before or during this year's Olympic Games in Beijing. The BOA's chief executive, Simon Clegg (pictured here looking forlorn), says that the British athletes are like ambassadors and shouldn't be allowed to speak out about China's human rights violations. Clegg obviously has no idea what an ambassador from a free democracy is supposed to do. And lest you think this is just simple British politeness run rampant, you should know that the prince of Wales--that bat-eared water brain with a penchant for stupid religions and matronly blondes--has refused to attend the games because of the same atrocities the Olympic athletes aren't allowed to criticize. Clegg says this policy is just an extension of previous bans on political demonstrations and that athletes will be allowed to answer direct questions that ask for their opinions. "There is a difference between giving an honest answer," he says, "to actually going out to make a specific political point." No, you idiot, there isn't. More details here.

Barack Obama: Marked Man?

What do British Nobel literature laureate Doris Lessing and American rapper Half Dollar (a.k.a. Fiddy Sint) have in common? Both of them support Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign because they think Barack Obama will be assassinated. Look, I know better than most people that the race problem in this country is far from solved, but we're no longer living in black and white footage from '60s Alabama. Not only do black people share our lunch counters these days, but we don't even have lunch counters. All races have joined in an admittedly uneasy alliance to lament the fact that our local Burger Kings have discontinued the Whopper solely to film our outraged reactions. Also, grow the hell up. If you really think a roving band of racists will murder any dark-skinned president, why not throw a popularly elected black man right in their faces. Why cower to them? Why settle for someone less simply out of fear? And has rapid inflation lowered the value on Fiddy Sint to a paltry Thirdy-Five Sint? More details here.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chelsea Clinton: Pimped

Will the Clinton campaign never cease its hyperbole and nonsense? MSNBC's David Shuster has been suspended by his network and lambasted by Sen. Clinton for saying that it seems like the campaign is "pimping" Chelsea to the Democratic Party in order to garner sympathy votes. Guess what? They are. While still maintaining that Chelsea is off-limits for media criticism (as if she were still the awkward pre-teen of the 1992 campaign), her parents have had her on the phone with Democratic super delegates and made sure to plaster her face on television. As Shuster rightly pointed out, the Clinton campaign is treating Chelsea like their secret plaything. You know, kind of whorey. Sen. Clinton's idiotic assertion that Shuster's comment was sexist assumes that only women are called whores, which is simply ridiculous considering that Bill Clinton is one of the worst whores to occupy the White House in my lifetime. And it's fitting that Chelsea would follow in the footsteps of her mother, who's been whoring herself to the health insurance industry for years. More details here.

Turkey, Turkey, Turkey...

After all the posts this past week lamenting the horror that is Islamic law, it's time to swing the other direction a bit. Turkey's parliament is moving to lift the ban on Islamic head scarves at the country's universities. The ban was put in place to secure universities as a fully secular environment, and supporters of the ban are protesting parliament's decision in the name of secularism. It's true that a predominantly Muslim country like Turkey especially needs to maintain secularism in its government and on its school's campuses, but lifting a ban on head scarves is a long way from state-sponsored religion. Allowing Muslim women to wear what they want is actually secularist. It's the good kind of multiculturalism. Now if they were forced to wear the scarves, then you'd be heading into crazy town. More details here.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ask an Amateur Scientist: Transcendental Meditation

I blogged about the death of Transcendental Meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi earlier this week, but in the latest edition of my PinkRaygun.com column Ask an Amateur Scientist, I go a little deeper into the ridiculousness that is the TM movement. Also, I provide a stunningly insightful analysis of the Beatles' relationship with the Beach Boys and how this led to the downfall of both Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. Let's hope those Rolling Stone editors take notice. Read it here.

Starbucks Sharia

Speaking of Sharia law, a 37-year-old American businesswoman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was arrested, strip searched, and forced to sign a false confession for sitting in a Starbucks with a coworker. The power had gone out in the woman's office, so she'd gone to the Starbucks to wait it out. That's when agents of Saudi Arabia's Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (NAMBLA) apprehended her. Apparently it's immoral for a woman to sit with a man who is not her husband, but Allah smiles upon those men who would take it upon themselves to kidnap her and strip her naked. By the way, Islam is a religion of peace. More details here.

Archbishop of Canterbury: Idiot

It's stories like this that just make me sad. Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, has called for the U.K. to adopt Sharia law, the oppressive codes of conduct dictated by fundamentalist Islam, into their legal system. While he's careful to state that the more woman-hating and violent aspects of Sharia should be ignored, he thinks that allowing Sharia law to govern civil matters such as divorce would help Muslims integrate into British society. Multiculturalism has its place in a country with as large an immigrant Muslim population as Great Britain's, but there is a line to be drawn in any free society. Williams' assertion that there shouldn't be one set of laws for everyone living in a democracy is idiotic. Religion and government are incompatible, and allowing the two to intermingle--especially in the context of the barbarism that is Sharia law--will literally lead to the downfall of British society. Of course, one should expect that kind of lunacy from a man whose position in life hasn't held any relevance since the time of Chaucer. More details here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Haggard Still a Homo

Remember Ted Haggard? He was that charismatically creepy head pastor of the gigantic Colorado Springs New Life Church. (You can always recognize a megachurch if it looks like a Costco and the preacher wears a head-mounted microphone like Hannah Montana.) Anyway, if you remember Ted, chances are you also remember how he left the church after it was discovered he'd been doing meth and various other deeds with a male prostitute. Good times. Although Haggard was supposedly "cured" of his homosexuality by his church's three-week intensive gay cleansing ritual (I've heard a big part of the course is having to look at life-sized photographs of a naked Don Rickles), it looks like he wasn't quite cured enough. The new head pastor has issued a letter explaining that Ted isn't fully "restored" and will have to sit out returning to his old job for a while. Looks like the members of the New Life Church are as skeptical of the gay cleansing program as every other person in the world who possesses a functioning brain. More details here.

Bonus: Check out Haggard's awkward confrontation with biologist Richard Dawkins from Dawkins' excellent documentary The Root of All Evil?. It's dripping with disgust and condescension:

Yogi Buried

Mystical guru and founder of transcendental meditation Mahesh Srivastava (better known as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) is dead at 91. Credited both with introducing the Beatles to the sitar and the rest of the world to utter bullshit, Srivastava declared himself a "great seer" and turned his new age nonsense into a global business worth millions. Followers of TM may trumpet its powers to unleash the psyche and open up the mind, but it was also a cash cow for Srivatava, who refused to eat actual cow. Aside from introducing the kind of misunderstood scientific jargon mixed with mystical mumbo-jumbo that people like Deepak Chopra (a Yogi-phile himself) have used to make their fortunes, Srivastava also generously used his riches solely to spread the word of his own personality-based merchandising. He famously fell out of favor with John Lennon over his lecherous advances toward Hollywood hottie Mia Farrow, he lied about being able to teach people to fly using TM, and he stupidly led an initiative to end world peace by eating vegetables and thinking happy thoughts. My sympathies extend to his blah blah and so on and so forth. More details here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Vote, Damn You!

If you've been watching the news or answering unsolicited phone calls lately, you may have realized that today, Tuesday, is somewhat "super". No, this isn't the annual celebration of Christopher Reeve's rising from the grave, so put down that chocolate egg. This Tuesday is super because of the awesome might of primary voting. My state doesn't vote until Saturday (we are in no way super, apparently) but if you live in a state that is voting and you're a registered Democrat or Republican, you could do worse than use the time of a few plucky volunteers down at the local polling place. I'm not going to tell you who you should vote for, but you should really vote for either Barack Obama or John McCain. Obama is the only Democratic candidate who is not a lying, racist sociopath in the pockets of the same industry he supposedly tried to destroy in the early '90s. And McCain is the only Republican candidate who isn't batshit crazy. Also, he can't lift his arms over his head, which should garner your sympathy vote.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Navy to P0wn Enemies

Taking a cue from the doodlings of hormone-crazed preteen boys and the minds of violent video game developers, the U.S. Navy has built and successfully tested an electromagnetically powered railgun capable of firing a projectile 230 miles at Mach 7. Instead of using traditional explosive propellants, the gun's magnet-based technology allows for more destructive and less dangerous to handle ammunition. And if it's anything like the railgun in Quake, it'll be like totally badass. Of course, those lame laws of motion would probably prevent a hand-held version of the gun from being produced, as the kick would send a soldier flying backward across a battlefield. On second thought, that would look wicked cool in an online game of Halo. More details here.

And on a more personal note, I'd like to take issue with LiveScience's careless typographical error of calling Battlestar Galactica "Battlestar Galactic". "Battlestar Galactic" is a ridiculous title undeserving of such a great show. And I am a nerd.

Iranians in Space

Iran's state-run television news agency announced that the country has made its first steps in developing a space program by testing a rocket capable of carrying satellites into space. While the rocket, called Explorer-1, did not deploy a satellite (and there's really no evidence it even reached the edge of space), President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touted this as a major achievement for Iran. Skeptics and rational thinkers the world over are suspicious that Iran's space program could be a cover for the development of ballistic missiles. But this is probably just as innocent as Iran's recent "Everybody Carry an Oddly Large Suitcase Day", their week-long "Household Uranium Celebration", and their "Why Would We Start a Nuclear Program?" program. According to Muslim tradition, there are no physical laws governing the universe, and every movement is solely due to the will of Allah. In which case, why build a thrust-based rocket when you could just pray to have your satellites lifted into space? More details here.

The Devil Made Me Do It

This is either evidence that no one should perform an exorcism without the proper training or that paranoid schizophrenics really shouldn't mix their craziness with religion. 60-year-old Texan Jan David Clark claims that the devil entered his body while he was attempting to exorcise a demon from his wife Susan and forced him to kill her. Police found her body wrapped in a white sheet with a cross and sword on top. There seems to be a rash of exorcism-related deaths in the past few months. Is this kind of nonsense becoming a trendy new hobby? Or is the inherent insanity of believing in demonic possession finally catching up with people? Or is this all real? In which case, how does this murder stack up in the ongoing competition between "God told me to do it" and "the devil made me do it"? More details here.

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