Monday, June 30, 2008

Dragon*Con Ho!

Labor Day weekend is fast approaching, and that means this year's Dragon*Con is just around the corner. For four days, downtown Atlanta, Georgia will be overrun with sweaty roleplayers, cosplayers, and soothsayers. In addition to the traditional orgasmic geekfests, there is also a skeptics' programming track this year. All of your favorite naysayers will be there, inlcuding James Randi, Michael Shermer, Phil Plait, and the crew from the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe Podcast, among many others. The staff of this very website will be attending as well, so if you finally want to see/smell/seduce us in person, this is your chance. Here's the link to Dragon*Con's official site, and here's where you can find more info on the skeptics' track. And for travel arrangements, I suggest using Kayak.com. I found a downtown Atlanta hotel room that's even cheaper than the whores who work around it.

Pink Raygun Roundup

It's that time of year again. Every Thursday I write a skeptical science column called "Ask an Amateur Scientist" for my friends at Pink Raygun. Here's a rundown of the topics covered in the last several weeks: Bigfoot, 2012 prophecy, the Phoenix Lights, and vitamin supplements. Feel free to browse around the rest of the site as well. It's chock full of goodness. Kind of like a Snickers.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Isn't it Gayronic?

So gays are now allowed to marry in California, and the world is in flames. As soon as the first same-sex couple exchanged their vows, the firmament was ripped asunder and our first-born sons began bleeding from the eyes. In an effort to stem the tide of this horrible destruction, our wonderful Congress has decided to re-introduce the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would modify our Constitution to ban the undeniably destructive practice of allowing to penises/vaginae to touch in holy matrimony. Of course this will never pass. America loves watching chicks kiss the bride too much to let this happen. But the best part of this story is the fact that the bill was re-introduced by Larry Craig and David Vitter. One senator likes to masturbate strangers in bathrooms, and the other loves the smell of a fresh whore in the morning. Mind you, there's nothing wrong with either proclivity, but it's curious when you consider the only heterosexual marriages they aren't interested in "protecting" are their own. More details here.

Louisiana: Fucked

My wonderful faith healing, exorcising, chemically castrating governor has just signed the first-in-the-nation "academic freedom" bill into Louisiana law. Now public school science teachers across the state will be allowed to "supplement" their lesson plans for topics such as evolution, cloning, and global warming with "outside materials" that may contradict science's views of those topics. In other words, Louisiana's children are now legally allowed to be taught non-fact in school. The law contains a clause saying that no religious doctrine shall be taught, but this is just the front of creationism mongers like the Discovery Institute, who like to disguise good old fashioned "God did it" idiocy in the pseudoscience of "Intelligent Design". And it's this kind of coy dishonesty about idiotic religious beliefs that makes them all the more dangerous. Here's hoping Gov. Bobby Jindal gets abducted by John McCain's presidential campaign so our state can take a much needed rest without him. More details here.

Texas Supreme Court: Exorcisms Protected Under Free Speech

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a church that was being sued after its members injured a teenager during an exorcism, stating that exorcisms are protected under the First Amendment. The young woman, who was 17 at the time, claims she was cut and bruised by zealous church members trying to cast out her demons. She originally sued the church and won $300,000, but the Texas Supreme Court overturned that ruling. Justice David Medina wrote that "the imposition of tort liability for engaging in religious activity to which the church members adhere would have an unconstitutional 'chilling effect' by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs." Yes, we don't want to ask anyone to abandon their core principles/ritual child abuse. That would have a chilling effect. The girl claims that after the event she suffered hallucinations and psychological stress for years. Interestingly, the church's lawyers told the court that the young woman's psychological problems were caused by traumatic events she witnessed when her father was a missionary, and that she simply "freaked out." What about the demons? Read more reasons not to mess with Texas here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

UFO Mistake

Last week, there was quite a stink raised by one of those ubiquitous British taboids about a police helicopter battling a UFO. It was clear from reading the original article (titled "Invasion of the bobby snatchers") that something wasn't quite right here, as the narrative account of an Independence Day-esque extraterrestrial dogfight didn't at all match the description of the event given by the South Wales Police, which simply said that a helicopter pilot had seen an unusual aircraft. Now it turns out newlyweds Lucy and Lyn Thomas are to blame. They released several beautiful floating lanterns into the sky for their wedding, and irresponsibly figured the British media wouldn't report that their lanterns were attacking alien spacecraft. Let this be a lesson to all of us. Never underestimate the blithering idiocy of the fine journalists at The Daily Mail. More details here.

Psychic Profiteer

Newsweek has a depressingly hilarious profile on Laura Day, a self-proclaimed psychic who charges gullible executives $10,000 a month to steer their companies in the right direction. The article by Tony Dokoupil is light on reporting any hard facts about Day's services. She apparently warned a film executive to pass on an animated movie that tanked at the box office. Of course, we're not told who this executive was or the title of the movie. The rest of her success stories are equally vague and unimpressive. She told hardware manufacturer Seagate that their corporate departments weren't communicating effectively, and she advised a money manager to pull out of an investment before it went south. Of course, if a company is hiring a psychic to restructure its organization, there's a good chance the bosses in charge weren't running a very tight ship in the first place. The best part is near the end of the article, which quotes a survey on psychic belief from Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things. I guess the reporter was in too much of a hurry to mention that the rest of that book points out how people like Laura Day become successful at selling nothing. More details here.

Fossilized Four-Footer

The earliest known fossil of a four-footed animal has been uncovered in Latvia. The 365 million-year-old Ventastega curonica was an evolutionary dead-end, but this trend setter showed that once you go tetrapod, you never go back(trapod). Although it's still unclear why fish ever evolved limbs, it's theorized that Ventastega curonica used his stubby limbs to walk through shallow water. Although modern quadrupeds didn't evolve from this particular species, the fossil shows us how life made the leap from sea to land. But best of all, its discovery inches Kirk Cameron one step closer to a complete emotional breakdown over his own creationist absurdity. Here's hoping it happens on the set of the next Growing Pains reunion movie. More details here.

Bobby Jindal: Ball Ruiner

In just a few short months, Bobby Jindal, the new governor of my home state of Louisiana, has made a name for himself as a hotshot young Republican, a front-runner for second billing on the GOP presidential ticket, an exorcist/faith healer, and a complete moron. Now he's signed into law a bill that will allow for the chemical castration of all the state's sex offenders. He was disappointed that the Supreme Court ruled you can't kill a person for rape, so this is the next best thing. The only problem here is that the law doesn't make it clear what kinds of sex offenders would be subject to chemical castration. If you're an 18-year-old kid popped for having sex with your 16-year-old classmate, can the state now eliminate the use of your testicles? Also, and most importantly, chemical castration won't stop rape. As any social scientist could tell you, rape is not a sexual act; it's an act of power and aggression. Eliminating a rapist's ability to produce semen does nothing to protect the public. It's petty, it's useless, and it's treating human beings as political tools. Look for this law to be challenged in the Supreme Court in the near future. More details here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ode to the Eye

by Richard Peacock

Proponents of Intelligent Design use a lot of supercilious arguments against evolution, stating that, obviously, some adaptations are so complex that a supernatural being's design is the only explanation for its existence. This concept is referred to as "irreducible complexity" by ID-hero Michael Behe. One of his most commonly cited examples is the evolution of the eye, which, he claims, could have never evolved naturally because it's so complex. Of course, scientists know how the eye evolved, so I decided to detail it in this week's poem. Enjoy!

"Ode to the Eye"

Eye's evolution first begins in the Cambrian Explosion,
Though it was simply molecules which barely sensed effulgence.
Single-celled organisms used these proteins to detect
The surface of the ocean, for which direction to predilect.

When life became multi-celled, and continued to evolve,
The primitive proto-eye, too, developed right along.
The photosensitive proteins collected into light-detecting cells
Allowing basic shape discernment from the ocean's many perils.

Suddenly predators had a huge advantage when hunting for their prey,
So the prey were pressured to evolve an even better light-detecting way.
In biology, this scenario is termed an "evolutionary arms race"
As it speeds development of adaptations to many times its normal pace.

Very quickly true eyes evolved from these light-detecting cells,
Once they recessed into a pit to make them directional as well.
A clear covering over the top would one day become the lens,
But at the time it only served to keep precious fluids in.

The opening narrowed to a point, just like a pin-hole camera,
To project an image through the eye to what now we call the retina.
This gave prey the fine details of the dangers of their surroundings,
And predators the ability to hunt from distances astounding.

Some animals developed compound lenses to see in many directions,
While others moved their eyes with muscles to perform their inspections.
Spiders have eight simple eyes to solve the multi-directional problem,
While snail eyes sit on bending stalks to sense only basic movement.

The modern human eye's complexity leaves every scientist impressed,
But that doesn't mean it couldn't evolve through incremental steps.
And despite ID-proponents' claims that its complexity we cannot reduce,
Its evolution is easily traced from single-celled life to you.

The Multiverse is written by Richard Peacock, who generally doesn't know what he's talking about, and will gladly sacrifice scientific accuracy for the sake of a rhyme. Send rhyming complaints to richard@amateurscientist.org

So long, George Carlin

There goes another voice of reason. Read more about Carlin's death here.

God Popped

God Lucky Howard was arrested in Tampa, Florida over the weekend for selling cocaine. No word on whether this is the biblical God, though no one other than a certain few Jewish mystics know God's middle or surname. However, it is an established fact that God's son's name is Jesus Howard Christ. Could the "Christ" part just be a show business invention? No one knows for sure. But since God Howard sold cocaine to undercover police officers within 1,000 feet of a school, public housing, and a church, his charges will be increased. More details here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Science" Teacher Fired For Burning Crosses Into Students' Arms

An Ohio middle school science teacher named John Freshwater has been fired from his job after burning the image of a cross into several students' arms. Freshwater used his position as science teacher to inform his class that evolution wasn't true, that carbon dating was wrong, and that homosexuality was a sin, of course. Can't forget about homosexuality when you're giving a lecture about carbon dating fossils. He apparently used a device called a "high frequency generator" to burn images of a Christian cross into students' skin. A friend of his defended him, saying, "With the exception of the cross-burning episode, ... I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district." Yes. If it weren't for that pesky cross-burning episode, I'm sure all the parents would be behind him. Read more reasons not to give Christian science teachers "high frequency generators" here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

So Long, Stan Winston

This story has little to do with science or skepticism, but chances are you've enjoyed the work of Stan Winston sometime in your life. It's been criminally unreported in the major news outlets, but Winston died this past weekend. He was a genius of film makeup and practical effects. Included in his long list of amazing achievements are the Predator costume, the Xenomorphs in Aliens, the Terminator's endoskeleton, and the animatronic dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. Just recently, he was responsible for the Iron Man suit and was working up until he died. More details courtesy of my friends at CHUD here.

Bobby Jindal: Epic Idiot

Lest you needed more proof that the governor of my home state, Louisiana's own Bobby Jindal, is both a Rhodes Scholar and an utter imbecile, look no further than this clip of him on CBS' Face the Nation this past Sunday. While it would be interesting enough to have on a governor who claims to have cured cancer by performing an exorcism, CBS most likely featured Jindal because he's supposedly a front-runner for the dubious task of being John McCain's running mate. Here, you can watch him bolster his credentials as a brainless automaton as he explains that creationism is "the very best science."

Google the Moon

Google (who kindly hosts this very site and controls the world with a brightly colored, magnanimous fist) is offering a $20 million prize to the first team of independent space explorers to land a rover on the moon by the end of 2012. To meet all the qualifications, the rover also has to be able to move at least 500 meters and send back data, photos, and video. There's a smaller prize for those who complete the mission past the deadline. The program, called the Google Lunar X Prize hopes to develop cheaper and more efficient methods of space exploration and travel than what can be achieved under a government-funded system. Anything that can get me to the anarchistic and sexually limitless adventures of a lunar pleasure dome for under $1,500 is worth it in my book. More details here.

Mars on the Rocks

Several days ago, NASA's Phoenix lander on Mars dug up some mysterious white clumps. Personally, I like to stray away from any strange white substance I find on the ground, but that's why I'm only an amateur scientist. It was hypothesized that the material may be salt, but that idea has fallen away now that the stuff has vanished. It's looking very likely that this was sub-surface ice that vaporized after being exposed to the open air. This is a good thing, as NASA chose this particular landing site because it was suspected to contain a layer of ice underground. They have a big party coming up, and no one has the time to make an ice run to the convenience store. More details here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pre-emptive Detoxing: Not Just a Waste of Money

by Christian Walters

It's time for my car to get some major service. I'm sitting at the maintenance place right now, waiting for them to finish their inspections. I just know they are going to ask me why I have a dead barn owl taped to my oil pan, and I have no explanation that will satisfy them.

Most of what they are doing is replacing filters and fluids, since a car engine is known for accumulating gunk that hinders its performance. Everyone knows that, too. So it's not a surprise to me that doing the same thing to our own bodies holds some appeal. There are things in each of us more disgusting than dirty transmission fluid could ever be.

Being modern people (that is, idiots), we go about it the wrong way. Let's take a look at what we're doing to ourselves, and why we don't do analogous things to our rides. I'm not going to do the reverse (for example, shoving an air filter up your nose), because if people are too proud to think they share anything with chimpanzees, they're going to hate sharing things with Volvos.

Detox Foot Pads

Look like foot girdles, don't they?

These things, made by Kinoki and a few others, make all kinds of plausible-sounding claims:

1. They may remove toxins and heavy metals from your body, which naturally collect in your feet because, you know, gravity. But you wear those things while you sleep. Shouldn't you strap those pads on your butt? And I've never worn them -- by now, I should have so many toxins in my feet that my legs should have dissolved.

2. They may improve your sleep quality.

3. They may assist in the natural cleansing of the lymphatic system. If you don't believe this one, take a look at your lymph nodes and see how shiny they are.

4. They may keep your PC from getting a virus.

5. They may assist in lowering a testicle, unless you're a male.

6. They may ensure that your favorite sports team wins the next Stanley Cup, which will be cool if your favorite team plays baseball.

I could cynically point out that the word "may" effectively turns all those claims into non-lies. Some companies can afford either R&D or legal advice on how to prevent fraud, but not both.

Would you do this to your car? No, I would not wrap a mysterious substance around my tires overnight and expect it to clean my spark plugs or change my oil. I don't believe that car gunk settles into my tires just because those are what touch the ground. This is more of a prank for gullible friends. I would much rather sit at the mechanics for three hours and pay several hundr--- ...Maybe I should rethink this.

Car Update!

They finished their inspections! Turns out I have dirty power steering fluid as well, and a buildup of carbon-related goop in a hose. Damn. Dead owls are supposed to prevent exactly that sort of thing. Guess what pseudoscientific avian myth is hitting the grill tonight? I told them to replace the fluid (I like steering), but I'm using the stuff in the hose to eventually make a diamond.

But as long as we're talking about dirty hoses...

Colon Hydrotherapy Cleansing

I can understand how someone would think this would work, but I'm not going to volunteer myself. I would happily volunteer someone else if they were an obnoxious drunk at a party and fell asleep on my floor. (If you're reading this, Mona... yes, but it wasn't my idea.)

I first learned of this on an episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! Turns out it's exactly what you think it is: shoving a wet/dry vac into your anus, set it to "deep shag," and hope for the best. This has "fetishist" written all over it. And also "popular in California." When this process extracts something nasty, it's easy to say that it was a success. When it rinses out something that looks like a pool noodle, it's easier to say you need more bran. To me, if it didn't wash something out, I'd be worried.

Be careful if you Google this process. There are some truly gross pictures of the end result, so to speak. Let's find a friendlier analogy. Think about this instead:

Would you do this to your car? Not bloody likely. There may be some benefit in flushing out parts of my car (the cup holder, for example -- I had a Frappuccino Malfunction recently), but I'm not running a hose into my tailpipe to flush out the crud that will eventually get expelled through my tailpipe. Patience, people!


Neither of these things will do any good. In fact, they might do you some bad. The discoloration on the foot pad is a reaction from the iron in the pad to the sweat on your foot. So when you wake up, you have basically strapped your feet to a pile of rust. And this is supposed to remove heavy metals? Don't put these on open sores, folks.

And flushing your large intestine will remove a lot of the stuff that's in there, but why would you do that? The large intestine is already moving that stuff out. When you're reading your Entertainment Weekly in the bathroom, it's a success story for your colon. Rinsing all that out prematurely will also remove some bacteria that aids digestion. If you can't handle the idea of having proto-poop in you, check into getting an android body.

But is it all about the physical? For many of us, there's more to living than just the body. Is prayer a way to detox your soul? Wash away your sins? Do sins accumulate in your feet, too? When I'm old and having my last-second deathbed conversion, should I have my feet amputated, just in case? Will your sins go away if left alone, like your body, or does it need regular maintenance, like your car? Does wearing a religious icon work as well as strapping a dead owl to your engine? (My guess: yes.)

Either way, you do need to take care of your bodies, people. Eat the right things, get in some exercise every day, and get your eight hours of sleep. Most of what comes back out of you will be taken care of. Don't worry about the DIY stuff unless your doctor tells you otherwise. You do not want to be found dead with a water funnel in your pooper and rusty panty liners on your toes.

The car's done! I need some donuts...

Christian Walters lives, loves, and drives in the Atlanta area. He's a technical writer by training, and a Rock Band Adonis by nature. He has honed his reviewing skills on bad movies, which are as rare as pollen grains these days. He has always been a fan of science, and has studied it as much as he could by flinging a Frisbee around campus while getting a liberal arts degree.

Trick Your Kids

When your child bumps her head or scrapes her knees, and she just won't give up on the pain until she shoves a pill-shaped object in her mouth, here comes Obecalp to the rescue! Obecalp ("placebo" spelled backward) is a cherry-flavored sugar pill that provides all the helpful benefits of a clinically tested pharmaceutical without all those pesky effects. It was "invented" by mother-of-three Jennifer Buettner (pictured here practicing her glamor shot at the mall), who claims it can stimulate "'the body's ability to repair itself and the miracle power of the brain." It's already gone on sale in the U.S., and its manufacturers are hoping to launch it in the U.K. soon. Critics complain that Obecalp could encourage children to develop a dependency on unnecessary medicines to soothe all their minor problems. Others claim that Obecalp might discourage parents from seeking the help of actual medicine when necessary. Still more say that kids these days just need to learn to suck it up, walk it off, and quit their damn crying or they'll give them something to cry about. But what do critics know? I'm going to go program my Roomba to feed my baby Obecalp and canned food while I'm on vacation in Aruba. More details here.

Gay Brains

According to a new study by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, the differences between gay and straight people extend beyond the sexual and into the structure of the brain itself. Among straight men, the right half of the brain is slightly larger than the left. In women, the two halves are roughly equal. But it turns out that gay men have a brain structure more similar to straight women's, and the opposite is true of gay women. The differences aren't as clear-cut as that abstract picture suggests. For instance, a gay man's brain, while similar to a straight woman's, still retains several masculine traits. Unless, of course, you're talking about Little Richard. And this research also doesn't explain why I, a straight man, still want to have sex with Eric Bana. More details here.

Boob Parade

Topless crusader Jen Moss plans on going topless for Ashland, Oregon's upcoming Fourth of July parade, and she'll be damned if you try and stop her. She moved to Ashland from California because of the town's comparatively lax public nudity laws. In Ashland, one only has to cover his or her genitals while on city property. This makes perfect sense, as there's no reason why men should be allowed to show their nipples in public and women shouldn't. Still, the city says Moss' breasts would violate their order that all those participating in the parade offer a family-friendly experience. They don't cotton to Moss' plan, which is to lead a pack of in-line skaters wearing only a hemp g-string and blowing into a conch shell. No, I didn't make that up. She has some local government support, however. Says city councilman Eric Navickas: "[it would be] an interesting commentary on our society that we're willing to tolerate dead bodies through our aggressive foreign policy from the war, but not healthy, naked bodies." Oh, Oregon. You're just precious. More details here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hooray for Gays

Today marks the official beginning of what will hopefully be many happy lives as gays across California will finally be able to trot down to the courthouse, pick up a marriage license, and squabble about taking out the garbage until they divorce/die. No word yet on whether the Earth has cracked open and swallowed all these Godless sodomites in an orgy of divine wrath, but I think I heard Jerry Falwell turning in his grave. Of course, that could have just been all those reptiles and insects chewing on his substantial femurs. More details here.

Catholic Craziness

The U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference convened last week and after all the salutary butt-pats and beanie compliments, they got down to business. Their business? Condemning the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research. They claim stem cell research is the first step on a slippery slope to a total disregard for all human life. Except they fail to explain how an amorphous embryo could be considered human life. Of course, they also believe that every sperm is a sacred soul-carrier. If this is true, to paraphrase Bill Hicks, entire civilizations have perished in old gray gym socks. Also on the agenda? Kiddie rape. No, not raping kids. Investigating the rape of kids. The bishops' investigation revealed that amongst all known cases of priests raping children, those children's parents were told about the rape less than a third of the time. How's that for respecting all life? More details here.

Bumper Sticker Rage

People with bumper stickers on their cars should be slapped in the jaw. Not content to shout their opinions at you face-to-face, they choose to also shout them from their rears while driving. On top of being obnoxious, it turns out bumper sticker aficionados may also be dangerous. According to a study by social psychologist William Szlemko of Colorado State University, drivers with bumper stickers, window decals, and personalized license plates are more likely to use their vehicles to express rage. This makes sense considering these people are already self-centered and oblivious enough to think their opinions matter. More details here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bobby Jindal: Demon Hunter

With all the attention John McCain is focusing on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as a possible vice presidential candidate (McCain apparently believes running alongside a brown man will make him seem less like the flake-faced Caucazoid zombie he is), it's no wonder that Jindal's batshit insane past is coming to light. As a resident of Louisiana, I've known about Jindal's participation in the allegedly cancer-curing exorcism of a college friend for years. He wrote about the bizarre ritual in an essay for the New Oxford Review in 1994. You may be wondering why this kind of barbaric psychosis wasn't an issue in Jindal's congressional campaign, but if you are, then you've probably never lived in Louisiana. Jindal's craziness should have knocked him out of the running for governor, however, if Hurricane Katrina hadn't apparently washed away most Louisianans with critical thinking skills. Now that Jindal's ugly past is being splayed out on a national stage, I'm surprised that none of the stories I've read about his demon-conquering adventures speculate on what I've long suspected--that Jindal made the whole story up as a sort of road to Damascus revelation in his life. After all, Jindal was a Hindu until he converted to Catholicism as a teenager. And there's nothing the right-wing Christians of my great state hate more than a religion different from (yet equally absurd as) their own. More details here.

LOFAR is a Longshot

Depending on your level of paranoia and/or connection to reality, the new Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), a system of 25,000 antennae being built in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, France, and the U.K., will strike you as either a new tool in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence or a new tool in the Illuminati's quest to infiltrate your mind. Either way, LOFAR seems kind of exciting. It would be the first instrument specifically designed to look for low frequency signals (the kind used by terrestrial TV broadcasts) from the great beyond. But SETI astronomer Seth Shostak (who will appear on Inside the Amateur Scientist Studio this Saturday, you should know) thinks this is all a waste of time. He rightly points out that LOFAR would have to be less than a light year away from Earth's low frequency signals to pick them up, so unless there's a TV antenna on the moon, we probably won't be hearing anything extraterrestrial. Also, why the hell would aliens still be broadcasting? Haven't they ever heard of iTunes? More details here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

That's so Religulous

First of all, Bill Maher is not funny. He's a thoughtless blowhard whose smugness is almost as off-putting as his inability to tell a joke without laughing at himself. However, he did masterfully eject a gaggle of 9/11 conspiracy theorists from his audience. And his upcoming documentary, Religulous, might be worth a look. It's about the insanity of religious belief, and it may just be saved from Maher's epic mediocrity by the direction of a genius named Larry Charles. Watch the trailer and decide for yourself:

Egypt Saves the Clits

Sure, this should have already been a given, but Egypt deserves at least a nice pat on the ass for finally banning the barbaric practice of female circumcision. It's a sad but true fact that many fundamentalist Muslim parents choose to mutilate their daughters' genitals in order to stunt any sexual pleasure they may ever feel. Egypt's health minister had already stopped all doctors in the country from performing female circumcisions, but this new law sets the ban in stone. However, the penalties seem a bit lax. Three months to two years in jail or a fine between $190 and $940. As opposed to, say, public flaying. More details here.

Dick on Defense

There's a new bill before the House of Representatives that would extend secret service protection to former vice presidents for up to six months after they leave office. Looks like Mr. Cheney might be feeling a little exposed now that his reign of terror is coming to an end. I'm not saying anyone should try to physically harm the vice president (good luck getting through that man-sized safe, anyway), but I am against spending an extra $4 million a year making sure no one forks his yard or TPs his wife. (Yes, I am suggesting that you should toilet paper Dick Cheney's wife. Eat me, Secret Service.) This also seems especially unnecessary considering the only way to kill Dick Cheney is to sever his head from his body and absorb his quickening. More details here.

Space Seeds

Leave it to China to come up with creative solutions to any problem. No roof on the Olympic stadium? Let's try and control the weather! A thick blanket of choking pollution clogging the lungs of your citizens? Let's turn off the factories for a few days. People asking too many questions? Shoot them in the brain! These amazing innovators have a new outside-the-box solution to their food shortage problems. Don't grow more food; grow giant food! Turns out, seeds grown in space produce super-sized crops. After a few generations of careful selection, you've got yourself a viable supply of 210-pound pumpkins and 2-foot-long cucumbers. (Careful where you stick those.) Supposedly no one knows why space seeds produce giant plants, but I'm sure there's a logical explanation. Regardless, cucumbers! More details here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Our resident expert in Totally Overlapping Magisteria, Christian Walters, brings you this important announcement:

TOMA Headquarters interrupts your regularly scheduling living of your lives to warn you that the world is about to end! Nuclear war is going to break out on June 12, 2008. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Look on the bright side: all of you who play that celebrity dead pool game will tie for first. ABC News (motto: Of course we'll put you on television) brings us an interview with Yisrayl "Buffalo Bill" Hawkins, leader of the second House of Yahweh in Abilene, Texas. I don't know if a nickname like that adds to his credibility, but he's had a lot of experience in predicting the End. This is the third time since 2006, in fact. (Buffalo Bill embarrassed a whole bunch of Kenyans last time, who went into hiding, only to sheepishly come out when the bombs didn't drop.) He's vague on the details. But if earnestly believing counts for anything (which it does, according to Pentecostals), Bill really means it this time. Plus, he's in Abilene. A great aunt of mine used to live in Abilene, and they're very nice people. Apropos of nothing, Bill also got charged last month with bigamy. Dude has 30 wives. It's good to be the gibbering idiot cult leader. So we're doomed. Take preventative action. Hide in the fridge. Paint yourself white to deflect the blast. Repent. Rub a dead chicken. See you on the other side! Or Friday, whichever comes first.

Monday, June 9, 2008

IBM Builds Military Super Computer

A little Mom & Pop company called "International Business Machines" has constructed a new super computer for the US Military. The computer, known as Road Runner, is now the fastest computing device on the planet, capable of 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second (about 1 million calculations per nanosecond). Put in other terms, it is almost fast enough to run Windows Vista without crashing. The computer uses thousands of "Cell" chips, originally designed for use in the PlayStation 3. The military plans to use the computer to determine what happens in the first few moments of a nuclear blast. They will do this by exploding a nuclear bomb directly under the $133 million dollar machine. Such a waste. Read more about it here.

Does Race Really Exist?

by Richard Peacock

Lately I've been thinking more and more about the concept of race. You know, that cute little notion that human beings of one color are intrinsically different from human beings of another color. It's an idea that's been used to justify some pretty horrible things the world over for most of human history. But what is it? Does "race" have any scientific basis whatsoever? Perhaps a poem will solve this riddle...

"Does Race Really Exist?"

We all know the science
Of our DNA,
How the molecule is passed
From our parents one day.
In the form of a sperm
Or egg it may be,
If you're talking about Dad's
Or mom's haploid gametes.

So it kind of makes sense
In a logical way
That our race should be found
In our genes, or let's say
At least in our features.
So we can agree
That those I resemble
Are the same race as me.

And yet some will tell you
Race doesn't exist.
We're all the same species,
Say biologists,
And our perception of race
Is shaped with aplomb
By society's beliefs about
Which tribe we're from.

Skin color, it seems,
Is a response to the Sun,
To the ultra-violet light
And the harm that is done.
If it enters too deeply
Inside of our skin,
It denatures DNA,
Causing cancer within.

Yet it's required
For vitamin-D production,
Something we need
For our bodies to function,
And that takes place
Just under the skin,
So we need to allow
A little UV in.

Finding this balance
Can be very tough,
To block most UV light
Yet make sure it's enough
For the production of vitamins
That our bodies need.
So evolution found a way
To ensure we succeed.

Our skin color varies
Vertically on the globe
Based on how far
From the equator we go.
This is the balance
Of how much UV we block
Based on the average
Sunlight we stock.

Less sunlight reaches
The surface of Earth
In the South hemisphere
And also the North,
So skin must be lighter
To let UV in,
Or else they can't make
The "D" vitamin.

But at the equator,
Sunlight falls quite direct
And if skin wasn't darker,
Too much UV would be let
Into the cells of the
Inhabitants' skin.
So the saving trait there
Is dark melanin.

So, gentle readers,
I hope I've informed
On why it doesn't matter
With which color you're born.
Race doesn't exist
From a science POV,
It's just a construct
Of our society.
And the relative worth of a man
Can't be scored
By the phenotypic display
Of the pigment he's stored.

The Multiverse is written by Richard Peacock, who generally doesn't know what he's talking about, and will gladly sacrifice scientific accuracy for the sake of a rhyme. Send rhyming complaints to richard@amateurscientist.org

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cold Fusion Strikes Back

It's been derided as a far-fetched myth, but a recent demonstration of cold fusion in Japan has proven...not much, really. For those who don't know, cold fusion is the idea that it's possible to create nuclear fusion at room temperature, producing massive amounts of energy with almost no waste. Japanese physicist Yoshiaki Arata of Osaka University claims to have demonstrated it. The process he used is very involved and technical, but the results were rather underwhelming. It's possible that the cold fusion case has been cracked, but you have to wonder why Yoshiaki chose to introduce his groundbreaking discovery at a cheesy photo-op instead of publishing his results in a peer reviewed journal. Other scientists will try and duplicate the experiment, but I wouldn't hold out hope for this just yet. Now perpetual motion, on the other hand--that's some promising pseudoscience! More details here.

Sexy Swallows

Male New Jersey barn swallows with darker breast feathers are more sexually attractive to females of the same species. It's a sad but true fact illustrated in the popular saying "Once you go brown, you never fly around (because you're too busy having bird sex)." You know that saying. Anyway, scientists from Arizona State University wanted to know if sexual attractiveness could increase a male animal's testosterone levels. So they grabbed a few ugly, light-feathered barn swallows and scribbled on them with a black marker. The result? The newly darkened birds became sexual Adonises, and their testosterone production went up within a week. Might this explain why so many good looking guys are complete douchebags? Or as a permanently scarred triple amputee, am I just biased against them? More details here.

Spontaneous Combustion

No, the body can't suddenly burst into flames for no reason, despite what your junior high Strange Stories and Amazing Facts books will tell you. However, your body can burst into flames if you aren't careful where you walk. A young boy from Colorado Springs found this out the hard way when we strolled over a patch of coal waste from a nearby mine. Coal continually oxidizes, but out in the open, the heat is usually carried away by wind. No such luck in this case. The patch of quicksand-like coal dust had reached 800 degrees and ignited when the boy's feet disturbed it, badly burning him. Thankfully, the kid survived. Now how long do you think it'll be before the spontaneous human combustion crowd claims this as a hit? More details here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It's the End of the World and We Know It

by Christian Walters

I was talking politics with the guy at the security desk at my office. A stupid thing to do on my part, since he was armed. But it was going well, since we agreed the place had gone to Hell in a handbasket since Jennifer Connelly got married.

Then he said something that pretty much wrapped the conversation up: "I shouldn't be surprised, since we're living in the End Times. None of this will matter soon."

Dude. Harsh.

One off-putting thing about Christianity and some other religions is that it adds a silver lining to the end of the world. I tend to view the death of the entire human race, not to mention all the puppies, as a bad thing. I know it'll finally kill all the spiders, but I'd rather just stomp them than be martyred to the spider-killing cause. Still, if you think that Jesus' return trip heralds an endless trip to Six Flags Over Eternity, you can find the upside in your new lawn tractor becoming rapidly cooling particles. The grass doesn't get too long in Heaven anyway.

And, like my security guard friend implies, believing all this is happening soon doesn't encourage you to take the long view for things like dependency on foreign oil, global warming, the Israel-Palestine conflict, more Ben Affleck movies, etc. Sorry Dr. Gould, but there's nothing non-overlapping about those magisteria.

Typically, there are people who take it too far. In this case, those people coalesce into "doomsday cults." We're going to talk about one of them: Aum Shinrikyo. Aum Shinrikyo was part of the subset of doomsday cults that likes killing other people, as opposed to the pro-suicide cults like Heaven's Gate. Aum Shinrikyo is more Charles Mansony than Jim Jonesy.

Aum Shinrikyo is a Japanese group that cobbled together a hodgepodge of Christianity and Buddhism (to the dismay of Christians and Buddhists everywhere), smeared on a creamy yoga center. They are probably best known as the benevolent ministers of truth behind the Sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subways in 1995, the city of Matsumoto in 1994, and at least half a dozen others, giving a bunch of people the chance to not wait any longer for doomsday, and sending thousands more to the hospital.

Anyway, this group's leader was Shoko Asahara (or, as he was known to his followers, "Christ"). Shoko cribbed heavily from Revelations and, oddly, Nostradamus. He preached that the end of the world was pretty friggin' NIGH. The love for Sarin comes because Shoko claimed to have traveled forward in time to 2006 (this was in the late 80s) and spoke to survivors of World War III. Those survivors convinced him to go back and start attacking Japan's enemies, including the United States. How Shoko decided that Japan's enemies all hung out in the Tokyo subway is anyone's guess.

However, this story has a happy ending. After the subway debacle earned the group some international scrutiny, things went downhill fast for them.

* World War III hasn't broken out, except in the minds of the more colorful conspiracy theorists.

* The group's membership, once estimated to between 20-40k, has shrunk to the 1-2k range. That's not enough for a low-budget martial arts movie.

* The group re-branded itself with the Aleph label and spends about half of its website pointing out the apologies made to its victims. The other half is an exercise routine. (Notice that the Research Center section doesn't actually have a link. Interesting.)

* Shoko went to trial and lost, and was denied an appeal. He has since taken a sort of vow of silence and spends all his time meditating. I guess he could still be the Christ, but he's a Christ without a contingency plan. He was sentenced to death in 2006, but it hasn't happened yet. Things were more swift and certain with the first Christ.

The new Aleph is a more warm Hello Kitty sort of group, compared to its Fritz the Cat predecessor. Apparently, they still believe Shoko is Christ and that we're living in the End Times. But they've turned away from biological weapons, or at least run out of them. They are under constant surveillance, since they still revere a condemned murderer.

So, rest easy in the knowledge that, if you've made it this long, you aren't going to be killed by Aum Shinrikyo any more than you are going to be eviscerated by the Manson Family. Aum Shinrikyo put all their homicidal eggs into one lunatic basket and even the most ravening of them has seen that their basic premise was flawed. When the people who brought us Hentai porn and Pokémon have decided you're full of crap, you have to know your Christ-picking skills are substandard. Gamera is more likely to be Christ than Shoko.

One last note: among the revered writings of this group were Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy. Isaac would have been annoyed. In addition to his other faults, Shoko doesn't read dust jackets.

Christian Walters lives, loves, and drives in the Atlanta area. He's a technical writer by training, and a Rock Band Adonis by nature. He has honed his reviewing skills on bad movies, which are as rare as pollen grains these days. He has always been a fan of science, and has studied it as much as he could by flinging a Frisbee around campus while getting a liberal arts degree.

    Transformer Terror

    Speaking of Europe's hilariously madcap relationship with free speech, a London man was recently threatened with arrest for wearing a Transformers t-shirt in Heathrow airport. The shirt, which depicts a giant robot and object of emotionally stunted power fantasies called Megatron, who has a gun for an arm. Or maybe he's just holding a gun. You never can tell with these damn robots in disguise. Regardless, the police and other passengers at the airport considered the shirt offensive, though no one can really explain why anyone should give a shit. If the guy had been hassled by the fashion police, it would have been one thing, but do the British really have to pander to their countrymen's fears about giant robots? Those things never set foot in Europe. They've only been known to strike Tokyo, New York City, and 14-year-old boys' Trapper Keepers. More details here.

    Bardot Convicted

    A while back, I wrote about French actress Brigitte Bardot's current hate speech trial under the heading "Bardot in Bondage." I also included a shot from one of her sexier photo shoots as a young head-turner. Since then, it's probably been the most popular post in the history of this site. As such, I won't link back to it or include another sexy pic this time, since I don't want this blog to become some kind of SFW spank file. But I will inform you that Bardot has been convicted on charges of inciting hatred toward Muslims and will be facing a $23,000 fine plus $1,300 in damages to French anti-racism group MRAP. She's been repeatedly charged under these draconian laws before, but this most recent infraction had to do with a letter she sent to President Nicolas Sarkozy decrying the Muslim feast of Aid el-Kebir for its ritual slaughter of sheep. Seems like there are several more important issues to raise about fundamentalist Muslim culture, though I'm assuming Bardot still owns her clitoris and is, therefore, unconcerned. Still, we Americans have one more reason to cherish our First Amendment. More details here.

    Disappearing Delyagin

    Vladimir Putin isn't just a shady, house elf-looking dictator in the making. He's also, apparently, a magician. How else to explain the mysterious disappearance of one of his critics, Mikhail Delyagin, from a Russian talk show? Unless, of course, you believe the Kremlin digitally erased him from the broadcast. Which would actually go a long way toward explaining why Delyagin's disembodied legs still appear in one shot. Turns out Putin's government is keeping a "stop list" of people it doesn't like and, therefore, bans from appearing on all state-run television, which, in Russia, is just called "television." I'm sure nothing bad will come of this. Nothing bad at all. More details here.

    Obama Snatches Victory from Clinton's Jaws

    How the hell did this happen? Hillary Clinton seemed to have everything going for her: racist rednecks, unchecked narcissism, an adulterous husband with shady financial dealings. And now she's nothing. A nobody. But at least Obama's going to give her the VP slot. I mean, he has to, right? How else is he going to win over the ill-informed, hate-fueled Democratic base in important states like West Virginia? Hold on, are you telling me he doesn't have to give her a goddamn thing? Are you saying that her shameless attacks and race-baiting innuendos from the primary trail are going to come back to bite her in the ass? What's the matter with you? Where are you going? Fine, walk away. Enjoy your "hope" and your "level-headed campaign." Did you hear Obama's wife eats white people? She eats them right up! Asshole! More details here.

    Monday, June 2, 2008


    by Richard Peacock

    Greetings Multiverse lovers (i.e., people who accidentally noticed this post)! Who doesn't love a dirty, filthy, bathroom-stall quality limerick? Okay, now how many of those people also love nerdy, vague, and hard-to-rhyme computer science themed limericks? If you fall into this narrow subset, then read on!

    My first limerick is about Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science. Among is many contributions, he devised the "Turing Test," which tests whether or not a computer A.I. can fool a person into thinking he is chatting with a human being through a remote terminal.

    "Alan Turing"

    A mathematician named Turing professed:
    "We should put computer AI to the test!
    We'll have it converse
    In diction (quite terse),
    And ask, 'Was computer or human the best?'"

    My second limerick remembers everyone's favorite ancient computer, the ENIAC (pronounced In-EE-Ack). It filled several rooms, used thousands of vacuum tubes, and took over 150,000 watts of electricity to run.


    There once was a computer named ENIAC,
    With stats that would give you a heart attack.
    It took up 600 square feet,
    But was Turing-Complete,
    And programming required a brainiac.

    Finally, a limerick about our little friend, the transistor. It's a super-cheap, super-fast, and super-small electronic component that replaced vacuum tubes in the 1950's. Your average modern computer has about 230 million of the little buggers on the CPU alone.

    "The Transistor"

    Vacuum tubes were all well and good,
    But didn't switch as fast as they should,
    So Bell Labs designed the transistor
    (Vacuum tube's solid-state sister)
    And made them as cheap as they could.

    The Multiverse is written by Richard Peacock, who generally doesn't know what he's talking about, and will gladly sacrifice scientific accuracy for the sake of a rhyme. Send rhyming complaints to richard@amateurscientist.org

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