Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dragon*Con: Days 3 & 4

I was too tired to post last night after dodging Atlanta's thriving downtown hobo community. (Why do they always ask me where I'm going when they obviously don't intend to follow me there and rape/murder me? Seems like a tease, that's all.) Yesterday's festivities included a live recording of "Point of Inquiry" which somehow morphed into a panel on science podcasting. I made an unintentional pun involving penis length in front of a crowd of my friends and heroes. Good times. The highlight of Saturday had to be the skeptics vs. believers debate. James Randi, who was accused by Graham Watkins, a paranormal investigator and part-time Muppet, of being a fraud was able to directly confront his accuser in an exciting display of reason-based incredulity and hilariously feeble exercises in making excuses. In other words, Watkins directly refused Randi's million dollar challenge for reasons that really amounted to nothing more than "I don't wanna." More good times. There are pictures, which will be posted here at some point. Though I don't know if anyone captured on (digital) film Randi's fumbling with the microphone as he struggled to bring it down to gnome height. The rest of Saturday included missing a panel on "Firefly" due to a line so long it became a Mobius strip and suffering through a two-hour "Star Trek" fan film that can only be described as eye-gouging. Plus, Ben Radford took us on a tour of his paranormal investigations, and Phil Plait and Kevin Grazier explained bad science in science fiction.

Today I interviewed Richard Saunders from the TANK Vodcast (soon to be re-named) about Australian skepticism and his wacky suspenders. Look for that soon. I also attended a live recording of "The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe", whereupon facial tics were placed to disembodied voices. Who knew Evan was so good at a double take? Also, Ben Radford examined the claims of psychic detectives and was later murdered for his trouble. I'm receiving a vision of his body somewhere near water. In a wooded area. Plus, Randi, Alison Smith, and Jeff Wagg from the JREF conducted a live million dollar challenge demonstration on dousing with the help of TV paranormal investigator Patrick Burns. The whole presentation was recorded, and you'll hear the highlights as soon as I can edit them for you. A psychic-loving Randi-hater showed up at the very end, and the results were priceless. Later, Jeff Wagg led a discussion on the differences between science and dogma, and the evening closed with a panel that was supposed to be Alison Smith talking about faulty ghost hunts but instead turned into a group discussion about the nature of ghosts with both Alison and the aforementioned Patrick Burns. Burns, by the way, proved himself to be a really great guy who just happens to be more willing to believe silly things than some others. He's exactly what the paranormal investigation field should strive to be. For the most part. I still think my rebuttal of his EVP explanation was pretty airtight. You hear that, Burns! Airtight! (I'm assuming Mr. Burns is reading this post instead of, for instance, enjoying time with his family. Maybe that's not a fair assumption.)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dragon*Con: Day 2

The Skeptrack kicked off last night with a panel called Skepticism 101, wherein hundreds of people crowded into a room to doubt everything each other said. Or something like that. Frankly, I'm not really sure what went on, since I was still reeling from the walk to the Hilton. Dragon*Con, like any gathering of socially awkward cosplayers and people who own dice pouches, is a phenomenal display of mostly-exposed breasts. Whether they're choking themselves over the rim of a too-tight leather corset, exploding from the plushy insides of an anthropomorphic cat costume, or stuffed into stretched spandex and painted over with superhero colors, you can't walk two feet without bumping into at least six pairs. Yes, my face, upper back, and the insides of my thighs are covered in breast bruises, and I only paid for a few of them. Never in any other context is the ratio of exposed breasts to hopeless asthmatic virgins so utterly equal. Anyway, James Randi, D.J. Grothe, Jeff Wagg, Ben Radford, Richard Saunders, and Phil Plait were all on the opening panel, where they counseled a reformed cult member and made fun of a girl's pink hair. Ah, the memories begin. After that, Randi and D.J. did a panel on magic and skepticism that's notable or many reasons, though the only one I can think of right now is that moments before the panel I finally met Randi in person and forced him to sign my antique psychic training card. You know the ones with shapes--a triangle, a square, a circle, squiggly lines. He signed my squiggly lines, and did a couple of card tricks with it to boot. Still no progress on the beard touching, however. We also saw Michael Shermer speak and met a few skeptical friends, but the action really starts today, Saturday, as the con has just started to pick up. On the geeky celebrity front, we've so far had close encounters with Walter Koenig (short), George Takei (bassy), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo-y), and Avery Brooks, who, when I told him he was the best captain ever, shot me the pistol finger and let out a heartfelt "Heyyyy." Awesome. I'm told that the kid who played Capt. Sisco's son Jake on "Deep Space Nine" was following closely behind Brooks, though, like most casting agents these days, I was unable to see him.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dragon*Con: Day 1

After seven and a half hours on the road scarfing down novelty Chex Mix flavors and narrowly avoiding high-speed solicitation citations, we're finally at Dragon*Con central in Atlanta, safely nestled in the bosoms of the crack whores outside our hotel and the undercover cop in the lobby who watches them whenever he wakes from one of his many naps. In a word, paradise. In another, sheer terror. Of course, the full horrors haven't yet begun. Today was just for pre-registration badge pickup, and, as such, everyone's flying at half ass. Even the furries looked at their freshly unfolded fox costumes, said "fuck it", and just slapped on the tail. We're looking forward to the kickoff of the Skeptrack tomorrow, where I'll finally, hopefully, touch and/or sniff James Randi's beard. We may or may not snap a candid photo of Michael Shermer's bicycle-toned posterior. Depends on how freaky we're feeling. But for now, it's time to slowly digest the hummus and beer we consumed at the Skepchick meetup down the street. Tonight, we shall dream of our skeptical heroes, our sense of community, and all those barely restrained breasts that grace each and every geek con.

Fishy Love

by Richard Peacock

Sex change. Admit it, we've all thought about it: what would it be like to have our genitals surgically mutilated and sewn back together in the approximation of another gender's? Maybe we even have friends or family members who have gone through the expensive and painful surgery. But, unlike my uncle Samuel (or as she's now known, Samuelie), there are some species of coral reef fish which can change sex spontaneously, and without the disfiguring scars that alert guys you meet on the Internet to your recent past as a man.

You see, dear reader, Mother Nature is one freaky bitch. She wants her animals to get it on all the time, regardless of what's dangling between their ventral fins. To satisfy her unnatural cravings, she has come up with some pretty clever techniques to thwart God's laws of decency.

Take the cleaner wrasse for example. This fish typically lives in small groups of one male and several females, known as a harem (seriously). If the male dies or is otherwise removed from the group, the largest female will spontaneously change sex, become larger, change colors, and start shaving.

This happens because the presence of the male was actually suppressing the natural inclination of the females to change sex. Let me repeat that: the females want to change sex, and if removed from the presence of a male, they will.

But what about in the case of my aunt Samuelie, where a male animal becomes female? The most famous example of this is the friendly clownfish. You may remember him as the dad, Marlin, in the movie Finding Nemo. In the movie, Marlin's wife is killed, along with most of their eggs. He is then left to raise the one surviving egg, Nemo, all alone.

But if the plot of Finding Nemo happened in real life, Nemo's dad would have simply changed sex and started catting around with the other bachelor clown fish, leaving little Nemo to raise himself. Who's going to teach him about girls? Who's going to play catch with him using a pearl as a baseball? No one, that's who. No one.

But Mother Nature doesn't care about Nemo. And she doesn't care about the standards of decency that all civilized people agree upon. She only wants to you have crazy, absurd sex all the time, around the clock. And so do I.

Further Insight: Physiology of Sex-Change in Reef Fish

Science Rocks is written by Richard Peacock, inventor of the communication satellite. He now lives in Sri Lanka where he ponders the riddles of this, and other worlds. Email him at richard@amateurscientist.org.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bang, Zoom

You like that title? It's a moon reference. It's also a reference to domestic violence (Ralph Kramden was literally threatening to punch his wife so hard that she flew into space), but we'll overlook that for now. Turns out NASA plans to have a moon base ready to receive any battered wives who might crash into the lunar surface. And what do they want to use this base for? No, it won't be some kind of lawless sex den. Instead, Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center, sees the moon base as an international training and research facility similar to the stations set up around Antarctica. The goal would be to use it as a launch pad for further solar system exploration. Worden rightly extols the virtues of the current international push to land on the moon once again. For the first time in history, several countries are expressing an interest in their own moonshots, and they have the resources to make it happen. Considering the International Space Station has fostered so much cooperation between countries already, it's not hard to imagine several nations working together to put an outpost on the moon. However, the one sticking point seems to be the fact that NASA's space plans appear to be in complete shambles. The Space Shuttle program is clunking to a long overdue halt and its replacement has been pushed back further than Doc Brown ever traveled in his DeLorian. And instead of funneling money into NASA to hurry the development of new space vehicles, congress seems only willing to duct tape the Shuttle back together a few more times and tiredly fling it into orbit. Considering the success-to-failure ratio of the Shuttle, this seems to be asking for another national catastrophe. Frustration. Much frustration. More details here.

Gay Clergyman to be Exhumed

When Cardinal John Henry Newman died in 1890, his last request was to be buried next to his beloved Ambrose St. John. When St. John died, Newman described his grief as that of a husband losing a wife or a wife losing a husband. And he's been laid to rest beside his domestic partner for over a century now. But the Vatican's putting a stop to all that, as they're planning on digging up Newman's corpse. Gay rights groups have chastised the Vatican for attempting to cover up Newman's homosexuality, but the official reasoning is that exhumation is a normal step on the road to beatification. Apparently, any wannabe saint has to have his or her carcass fawned over by pilgrims before entering into one of the world's oldest social clubs. Seems perfectly reasonable to me. Also, as I understand it, the Church doesn't have a problem with homosexuality in and of itself, only with homosexual acts. So the church shouldn't have a problem with Newman's and St. John's eternal sleeping arrangements unless they were found to have carved glory holes in their caskets. More details here.


A team of researchers from some countries whose swimmers were more than likely trounced by Michael Phelps these past two weeks (U-S-A! U-S-A!) have been studying satellite images of cows at rest in pastures across the world and have noticed that about two thirds of them align to magnetic north. Before we jump to conclusions here, it should be noted that the phenomenon is simply a correlation and requires further study before a true cause can be known. For instance, the cows could just position themselves so the sun warms a particular side, or they could be influenced by the orientation of the fences around them. However, the researchers say they've ruled out weather and sunlight-related causes, since the images they studied were taken under varying conditions. If it's eventually found that cattle have some kind of magnetic sense, this would only confirm my long-held suspicion that cows are privy to powers known not to man. I don't want to sound like a bigot here, but I think maybe before they use their magnetic powers for evil, we should probably herd them into detention "farms", slaughter them for their meat, and harvest their skins to make things like designer jackets and handbags. Just saying. More details here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pink Raygun Roundup

Did you know I write a weekly science column for PinkRaygun.com? Well, now you do. Why not click over to read my stunning wisdom about firewalking, the Roswell Rock, Paul McCartney death conspiracy, the Montauk Monster, Edgar Mitchell, and palmistry? You'll be glad you did. Tell the friendly PinkRaygun.com proprietors that the Amateur Scientist sent you, and you'll be entered in a drawing for a free lack of response. Hurry now while supplies last!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Diebold Admits Machines Lose Votes

The electronic voting company Premier Election Systems (also known as DieboldBigDick22 when it goes into adult chat rooms) has admitted that their Ohio machines maybe, kinda, sorta, erase votes under "certain circumstances." They originally claimed that it was an anti-virus problem that caused a recent Ohio election to lose votes. But they now admit that it is strictly their error which will sometimes cause the machines to discard votes if the workers upload the memory cards in a certain way. By the way, these same machines will indeed be used by half of Ohio in the upcoming presidential election. Looks like a sure win for 404 ERROR PAGE NOT FOUND. 404 More Years! 404 More Years! Read more here.

Get to Know a Hominid: Part 1 - Homo habilis

by Richard Peacock

Greetings science fans! This is your old pal, Richard Peacock. You may remember me from such educational science poems as O Platypus! My Platypus! and, Sentencing the Heretic. But today I'd like to take a more serious, less rhyming look at the cool world of science in a new series I'm calling Science Rocks. And this week is a double-first: the first part of my multipart sub-series, Get to Know a Hominid. Enjoy!

Get to Know a Hominid - Part I - Homo habilis

Whether you believe that man evolved from apes, or that the giant flying ape god Bananas deposited humans on this planet nearly 300 years ago, there's no denying that Homo habilis was our coolest hominid ancestor.

H. habilis lived around 2 million years ago in what is now East Africa. He was shorter than us, had disproportionately long arms, and probably couldn't grasp our sophisticated sense of humor. In short, dear reader, he was a dumb-dumb. Or at least, he would certainly be classified as such by our standards, seeing that his brain was only half the size of ours.

And yet, H. habilis was the first hominid to make and use stone tools, hence his Latin name, "Handy Man," and his college nickname, "The Dudestir." But even though The Dudestir could make crude stone weapons (mostly out of flint stone... hey... The Flintstones... I just got it!), he was by no means a master hunter, and instead used his tools for scavenging and making crafts to sell at county fairs.

It has long been believed that H. habilis is a direct ancestor of H. erectus, which in turn is a direct ancestor of us. But findings in 2007 suggested that H. erectus instead shares a common link with H. habilis, and there is not a direct lineage. In fact, the two species co-existed for a time, and might have even fucked!*

Homo habilis may have been an ape-like dumb-dumb, but he was our ape-like dumb-dumb. So the next time you are at the zoo, and you happen to wander past the ape exhibit, don't just throw rocks and laugh. Instead, remember that our link with these gentle creatures is far stronger than you may have previously thought. Then throw the rocks. Science rocks.

Further insight: Wikipedia

*(But probably not)

Science Rocks is written by Richard Peacock, inventor of the communication satellite. He now lives in Sri Lanka where he ponders the riddles of this, and other worlds. Email him at richard@amateurscientist.org.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Demon-Crazed Sluts

Father Jeremy Davies, a priest in the Westminster diocese of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, is claiming that sexual promiscuity makes a person more vulnerable to demonic possession. In his new book Exorcism: Understanding Exorcism in Scripture and Practice, Davies says that sex is a holy activity that should only be pursued within the confines of marriage. Open your bed (or back seat, or empty elevator) to just any old somebody, and you're also opening your soul to a wandering demon. Homosexuality, he says, can be caused by a contagious form of demonic possession. I'm not sure by what mechanism this theory works--whether, for instance, the devil spirits enter your mouth during orgasm--but I'm sure there's some kind of scientific explanation for it. After all, Davies' book is published by the Catholic Truth Society, which is on the cutting edge of both rationality and oxymoronic naming. More details here.

Life Finds a Way on eBay

I try to stay away from eBay lest I spend all my hard-earned income trying to complete my Weebles collection. But those of you with more controlled spending habits might want to browse the auctions for some major scientific discoveries. An entomologist named Dr. Richard Harrington bought a piece of amber with an insect trapped inside not thinking it would be anything more than a fancy paperweight or something to slip in someone's cocktail as a party prank. But he discovered that the insect is actually a previously unknown species of aphid. Congratulations, Dr. Harrington! Now all we need to do is extract its DNA, fire up the Clone-o-Matic and get to work building an elaborate theme park which will ultimately destroy itself in an action-packed warning against scientific hubris. More details here.

Where's the Flood?

You may have noticed that we aren't currently living in a post-diluvial waterworld full of pirates and gill-men. I know, I'm disappointed, too. Especially since the reports out of the National Snow and Ice Data Center earlier this year predicted that the Arctic ice caps might completely melt by the end of this summer. I quickly lashed together a catamaran made of old tires and gourds, but there it is on my lawn now, driving my yard man crazy every time I make him edge around it. Turns out the NSIDC was way wrong, as data from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and others shows that our northern ice cap is healthy as ever, and we're only five weeks away from the beginning of Arctic winter. Something strange is going on here. Conspiracy to keep Al Gore in food money? Or just faulty science? I don't know, but I'm off to Home Depot to pick up a "catamaran for sale" sign. More details here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Pity for the Evolution Podcast

by Karl Mamer

What the hell is this?

Welcome to the first installment of Podcasting without Pity. This blog feature will survey True Believer podcasts on iTunes. We skeptics spend so much time listening to our skeptical podcasts that we forget the True Believers are cranking the woo out their WiFi. So, a couple times a month, here in Podcasting without Pity, I'm going to review and summarize what I believe is a representative episode of a True Believer podcast. By representative I mean the easiest ep to make fun of. Many people confuse skepticism with cynicism and Podcasting without Pity will do nothing to clear up that confusion. You'll find no pity here. Dig?

The No Pity Party Begins

First up we have the Evolution podcast. This is not to be confused with the very excellent Evolution 101 podcast by Dr. Zach. This Evolution podcast is by "SermonAudio.com". I guess "AudioSermon.com" was already taken and they decided to reverse the adjective/noun. Like no one was going to notice. Anyway, you know any podcast about evolution hosted by a concern called "SermonAudio.com" is going to be just chock full of logic and science. Why would you doubt otherwise?

Perusing SermonAudio.com's Evolution iTunes page, you notice a few things. First the "Listeners Also Subscribed To" section links only to other informative podcasts by SermonAudio.com. Good to know fans of this podcast represent a really diverse range of iTunes users. I suspect maybe all of five people actually subscribe to this podcast (i.e., the two hosts, their wives, and probably me). Now might I suggest, gentle readers, we could have some good fun if everyone reading this subscribed to not only this podcast but also the Big Gay Sex Show.

Wouldn't it be high fun if these intrepid religious podcasters were exposed to, ummm, alternative views. Now I'll grant you the Big Gay Sex Show might not be work friendly, if you use iTunes at work. So alternatively let me suggest subscribing to this podcast and Dr. Zach's Evolution 101.

Keep reading...

Perusing the show titles offered by the Evolution podcast, I see impressive topics like gene duplication, homology, molecular vestiges, cladistics, radiological dating… no actually I'm fucking with you. We have topics like Creator: Understanding Your World, God's Questions II, and Creation Vs. Evolution Part 3. God's Questions I and Creation Vs. Evolution Part 1 and Part 2 are no where to be found in the RSS feed. I'm guessing they took their title writing tips from the writers of Leonard Part 6.

Anyway, I don't want to feel like I'm coming to the party late, so I decide to download and review the standalone and rather luridly titled episode The Twisted Mind of an Evolutionist.

Ohhh. A twisted Evolutionist! A whole podcast about Trofim Lysenko maybe? This is gonna be good!

Introductions, sort of

But before we find out (and you find out) who this twisted evolutionist is, we have to listen to the intro stuff. The intro tells us the Evolution podcast is hosted by Kevin Swanson (no relation to the TV dinner people, I'll assume) and he's executive director for a group called Christian Home Educators. I'm not sure why they have to put "Christian" before "Home Educators" as are there any other kind of home educators? Isn't it a given? He's also a pastor (really?) and, as the hosts of the Big Gay Podcast might say, he's a breeder. He makes a big point of telling people he's a father. You got motile sperm! Announcing that on your podcast always contributes to your credibility.

But first some news

Swansong starts the show by telling us evolutionists are up 'n' arms and "going ape" (har har!) about a law that has been passed in Louisiana that introduces fundamental Christian religion into the science class. Hey, at least he calls us evolutionists and not Darwinists. Swansong explains that the bill is not about teaching religion in science class but just about, you know, teaching critical thinking and objective inquiry. Like, if a teacher wants to tell his kids he doubts evolution, gravity, or the germ theory of disease, or all the water on earth came from Krishna's tears, he shouldn't risk being fired for not teaching the curriculum he is paid to teach. Oh wait. If he started teaching kids Hari Krishna mythology as scientific fact I somehow suspect this law won't protect his ass.

Comedy gold

Swansong then goes on to rant a bit about evolution being a religion and protected by an orthodoxy. A yet-to-be-identified co-host pipes up that this law has the potential to "make a monkey out of evolutionists". Folks, we're 1 minute 46 seconds into this podcast and twice now they've made hilarious monkey jokes. These guys should be on a stage. The first one out of town. *rim shot* They're real cards. And need to be dealt with. Hiyo!

Swansong notes with some surprise that this bill has been opposed by every scientific society in the nation. Hmmm. Odd that. Reading from a news story, Swansong rants the reporter called the Discovery Institute (those whacky "intelligent design" proponents) a "religious organization". Swansong takes some umbrage at that label. I guess Swansong didn't notice a federal judge in Dover ruled intelligent design as put forward by the DI is religion. It's important not to give your listeners the full story, of course. Swansong continues his rant by noting people also make the mistake of calling Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis a religious organization, not a scientific organization. Errr. Answers. In. Genesis. We should not assume. This. Is. A. Religious. Organization? I'm guessing Swansong's goalpost for when you can legitimately call a religious organization a religious organization is when they actually take the name "We're Not A Science Organization But A Religious Organization". Even then he might have some doubts.

Swansong stresses the DI and AIG simply have a different metaphysical view of things. So I guess if Swansong took his car to a mechanic and the mechanic suggested carburetor demons were keeping his car from starting and some Shinto prayers will fix it up, Swansong would sympathize with this man's metaphysical view of engine repair and pay his bill anyway.

Swansong complains science has all the money. After "the sun comes up in the morning" one can make no truer statement than the claim science is well funded in America. Why just ask any scientist applying for a grant. One merely needs to tell Big Science where to bring the dump truck of money. Until now I never realized the religious right view themselves as poor and penniless.

He then breaks the opposition to this bill down into a logical proposition:

All scientists would oppose this bill.

Therefore all those who would oppose this bill are scientists.

Yep. And all cats have tails. Rover has a tail. Therefore Rover is a cat.

His still yet-to-be-named co-host, who I'm starting to pictures as wearing a Pulp Fiction gimp outfit, is silent for a second while he tries to work through his master's logic, gives up, and issues a subservient "right!"

Swansong then reads an American Association for the Advancement of Science statement about this bill. Swansong of course doesn't read the huggy feely position papers by the AAAS about how science and religion are not at odds and can happily coexist. Again, don't give your audience the full story. Anyway, the AAAS views it as important not to water down science in the classroom as it will leave students unprepared for the high tech workforce. I noticed Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan didn't climb to the top of the IC, automotive, consumer electronics, and ship building industries teaching their kids the world was created in six literal days. Imagine how much more ahead of the economic game East Asia could be if the kiddies went on to university understanding Einstein was just spreading deceitful Jewish science.

Swansong decides, when it comes down to brass Jesus nails, the AAAS is saying a belief in evolution and global warming are important for the workers of tomorrow and then he proceeds to demolish this straw man, showing us what an intellectual giant he is. And I'm not sure where he got the whole global warming thing. Clearly another bug up his ass.

Oh, and I was worried?

The gimp, I guess tired of being relegated to simply cheering on his dom, pipes up that science fears this bill because it might prompt budding creationists to start doing scientific experiments to establish their metaphysical view of the world. Errr. You mean this bill, after a hundred years of scientists saying "well, if you think creationism is a better explanation then start a research program and publish your data", might actually prompt creationists to subject their religious beliefs to empirical testing? It might actually get them to adopt the scientific method and lay out what it would take to falsify their beliefs? Fuck. Write this sucker right into the constitution then.

Swansong returns to his rant about money bags science not wanting to risk their five trillion dollar propaganda campaign. Wow. Five trillion? That's over 1/3 of the USA's GDP. Someone in the scientific orthodoxy is sure flying first class a lot, as this five trillion isn't trickling down much.

The gimp (at this point I'm hoping we don't get his name as I like calling him the gimp) floats the old canard that evolution says since we're related to bacteria and it's okay to kill bacteria then it's okay to kill humans. Christianity, on the other hand, says we come from God and therefore all true Scotsmen, I mean Christians, reasonably conclude killing each other is a bad thing. And then they never do this. And how's that belief been working for you Christians?

Bring out the Gimp

Swansong decides to throw the gimp a bone and lets the gimp know he's right for a change. And Swansong also, finally, after 5 minutes into this travesty, lets us know the gimp is named "Dave". Well, he's still the gimp to me. Swansong runs with the gimp's slippery slope and tells us evolution leads to a world without ethics and then, of course, Hitler. His use of the future tense seems to imply we're waiting for some prophesized Hitler guy to rise up just as soon as we do away with those ethics. Then you just wait. This mysterious Hitler character is really going to go to town on humanity. Whatever could Hitler have planned for us? Swansong quickly answers that question. It's preparing us for euthanasia! Massive bloody purges! Again, he sort of speaks of these things as if these are new concepts unheard of before Origin of Species.

All this will happen, Swansong notes, because evolution tells us Little Green Men brought life to earth. Errr. Really? And to make this silly idea seem even sillier, Swansong says evolutionists believe in the space alien hypothesis even though we don't have any transitional fossils. I'm not sure what transitional fossils we would need to confirm space aliens seeded life on earth but that's what he says. Of course he probably just means there simply are no transitional fossils to support any facet of evolution. Of course there are loads. But it's pretty easy to say there are no transitional fossils if you simply label all transitional fossils "not transitional" without scientific support.

Break for commercial

Before we go to a commercial break, Swansong leaves us with the thought that evolution has destroyed science as we know it today. I guess since evolution is at the core of modern biology these days, modern biology must be in total shambles. All those crazy Nobel prizes in medicine they've been awarding for the last five decades have just been for breakthroughs in tongue depressor design.

We're played out into the commercial break with a bouncy little tune that sounds suspiciously like the theme to that 1980s NBC TV show Taxi.

The commercial break turns out not to be, as I hoped, a Christian themed Bud Light Real Men of Genius ad ("Here's to you, oncologist man, curing cancer by understanding the mechanism of evolutionary biology"). No, it's Swansong promoting something called a "Malachite IV revival". What's a Malachite IV revival? Much to my disappointment it doesn't involve a cage match ("Two go in, one comes out born again"). I guess it's some father/son retreat. This has the makings of the world's lamest tailgate party. Swansong then rattles off a series of noted speakers who will be at Malachite IV. Each speaker's name sounds like something you'd see on a shoulder patch worn by guys in a NASCAR pit crew: Richard "Little Bear" Wheeler, Jeff Bodkin, and Ricky "Suds" McGee. This Swansong could not be more of a redneck hick stereotype if he started reading us his favorite recipe for a squirrel barbeque sauce.

After this small break we're back to the Taxi theme and then Swansong repeats again he's a father. This dude is really proud his boys can swim. I'm suspecting trouble at home. Damn that Madonna and her video sex for destroying the family!

Nasty Stereotypes All Around

Swansong notes he was trained as an engineer and knows something about science. Again, he has no clue. He's only reinforcing another stereotype about creationists. As the stereotype goes, not only are all creationists redneck southern hicks but if they do have any scientific training, they're more then likely to be engineers. Swansong also notes the gimp has an "engineering background". Sanitary engineer? Domestic engineer? That's pretty vague. But when the Bible is your ultimate authority, you don't have to establish your scientific credentials.

Finally, with the show 1/3 over, Swansong reveals the twisted evolutionist. Why it's none other than John Rennie, editor of Scientific American. Oh. Not an evolutionary scientist per se. But I guess if you believe in descent with modification you can call yourself an evolutionist, just as if you believe Jesus was the son of god you can call yourself Christian, unless you're Mormon or Catholic or Episcopalian, or a fundy who believes in a post-tribulation rapture.

Finally, unmasked

Alright, so this isn't a show about Lysenko, but maybe we get to find out underneath all of Rennie's good humor he really has a twisted, twisted mind. So what did he do to make himself so twisted? Pull the wings off of flies? Something involving newborn kittens and latex paint? No. I guess he wrote an article for Scientific American called "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense".

Doesn't seem so twisted to me. But let's give Swansong a chance to explain himself. You know, as skeptics we read these articles about why the other side's arguments are just plain stupid ("15 snappy answers to stupid moon hoax questions: Why are there no stars in the moon photos? Because they sent astronauts to the moon, not Bobby Darin and Sal Mineo.") and we kind of think "well, once those creationists/Face on Mars nuts/Moon Hoax whack jobs/9-11 troofers read the logical facts, they'll realize how wrong they are!" But of course we never get to read the whack job rebuttal. So this should be good 'n' educational.

It's just a theory

Rennie's first answer is to the creationist claim that evolution is a theory and not a fact. Creationists like to imply a theory is akin to a "guess" and theory is not a fact. Rennie explains many established, uncontroversial theories, like Relativity, are established by indirect evidence and inference. We can't see subatomic particles but we have a nice theory of physics that works quite well based on indirect evidence of their existence.

Swansong's rebuttal of Rennie's rebuttal (heretofore simply known as Swansong's woo) is Relativity is not the same as a theory of gravity. Rennie, of course, never made this claim, so this is a non sequitur and I struggle to understand his point.

Swansong then ignores what Rennie says about a theory not being a definitive statement about what is true and goes on to create another straw man that scientists come out of the lab and proclaim truth.

The gimp pipes up that scientists never question the probability that their suppositions are wrong. Although, they actually do. The gimp uses an example of a fossil in a rock. Science dates the fossilized bones by dating the rock the fossil is found in. The gimp claims science doesn't first ask "hey, could another process have put the bone there?" His point is the bone could be much younger but just sitting in a layer of old rock. The two did not form together, but some process, I dunno, like a great flood, put the bones there. But of course, scientists do question that supposition. Since they've found no process that could account for bones to get buried in solid rock, it's a safe assumption that the two formed together. So, it's easy to say they don't question their assumptions if you simply wave your hand and say they don't. But of course, science questions assumptions all the time. That's why we have things like Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. If we didn't question assumptions, even core ones like cause and effect or time is a constant, we'd not have these theories that have real world applications, like GPS and computers.

Swansong then notes finding a bone in a rock isn't like experiments with subatomic particles. While both are indirect evidence, the subatomic particle experiment can be repeated and one can show cause and effect. Ergo, Rennie can't compare indirect fossil evidence to indirect evidence in physics. First, this is like saying since we can never repeat the exact murder, all the evidence found at the scene of a crime doesn't constitute good inferential evidence. Second, Swansong's unstated premise is evolution rests only on the fossil evidence. Fossil evidence was but one example of indirect evidence Rennie gave. Clearly, Creationists really haven't kept up with what's been going on in evolution, notably genetics, and still seem to think evolution has not advanced since the 19th century. Put simple, there are many repeatable "cause and effect" experiments one can run in evolution. For example, scientists recently ran a "cause and effect" experiment on how a mouse limb could transition into a bat wing.

Evolution is not testable

Swansong skips over Rennie's second rebuttal, not even mentioning it, and proceeds to his third rebuttal, although Swansong calls it Rennie's second point. Creationists like to claim evolution is not scientific because it is not testable and not falsifiable. Rennie points out evolution is testable. We can see it in a lab. Creationists like to point out that's micro evolution, not macro evolution (change above the species level). For macro evolution we have to return to Rennie's first point about inference. We can't see stars, galaxies, or planets form, but we can infer from observation and testing mechanisms how they form. We can't see iron and uranium being created but we can infer from experiments in nuclear reactors and atom smashers that a similar process is going on in stars and supernovas and forming these elements.

And Creationists seem to think evolution is un-falsifiable because it always seems to have an answer for whatever clever refutation creationist cook up. That a theory stands the test of criticism doesn't mean it can't be falsified. Of course, evolution could be falsified tomorrow if they found an undeniable bed of horse fossils in the Cambrian layer.

Further, if you examine the 29+ evidences for Macro Evolution overview, you clearly see each line of evidence comes with what it would take to falsify that line of evidence. Knock 'em all down, Swansong, and you got your falsification. It's pretty easy to claim something can't be falsified if you don't ever bother to even ask a scientist what would it take to falsify his/her evidence.

Swansong's woo response is Rennie's magazine article does not, in a succinct paragraph, tell us how macro evolution happens, and therefore Swansong dismisses it. Err. People need to get Ph.D.s to get a grasp on one small aspect of how macro evolution happens, and Swansong has a problem that Rennie can't summarize a dozen plus mechanisms of evolution in one short paragraph? That's his basis for dismissal?

The gimp, seeking approval from his dom, offers yet another straw man of evolution. "Once upon a time there was a rock and it turned into a frog and it turned into a prince." Well, technically, once upon a time organic molecules became self replicating and eventually led to man and all other species. I've never heard anyone researching the origins of life claiming rocks evolved into anything.

Swansong rages that Rennie merely assumes micro evolution given enough time leads to macro evolution. He repeats, that's an assumption. Errr. No, that's a hypothesis, one that is then subjected to rigorous scientific testing. Thank you for pointing out the very question science is trying to answer piece by piece. Given all the evidence micro evolution can lead to macro evolution, maybe Swansong would like to present evidence that this can't happen, that there is some natural barrier that prevents it.

The gimp jumps in with some non sequitur about Archaeopteryx being a lizard with bird-like features. Which is the very definition of a transitional fossil so I'm not sure how this is helping his case. I think the gimp realizes he's about to score on his own goal and then asserts the only thing we can say about a fossil of a lizard with bird-like features or a bird with lizard-like features is that really it's just a rock. How insightful. I know why the gimp is the catcher in this relationship.

Swansong then claims evolution doesn't make testable predictions. Oh, I thought that was a weakness of Intelligent Design. Since real science, like physics, makes testable predictions and evolution doesn't, then it's not science. But of course evolution does make testable predictions. Evolution predicts as species diverge from a common ancestor we should see a similar divergence in genetic errors. And we do. Evolution predicts a similar pattern in amino acids that make up Cytochrome c. Humans and chimps should have a more similar amino acid coding and humans and rats less so. But humans and rats should have a more similar coding than humans and fish. These are all tested and verified predictions of evolution.

A theory in crisis

Swansong then moves onto Rennie's next point, which Swansong labels point 3, although it's actually point 4. The creationists like to claim evolution is a theory in crisis. Scientists increasingly doubt evolution. Rennie points out scientific journals are filled with papers on evolution and there are very few papers that oppose evolution.

Swansong's woo is citing Expelled. Wow, that movie really convinced America there's a vast conspiracy of Big Science to silence dissent. Didn't it?

Swansong intimates there are no such papers opposing evolution because scientists won't let them publish those papers. Creationists always like to bring this up. They tried to float that claim in the famous McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education trial. Creationists can't get their papers published because of a conspiracy to reject their papers. The judge considered this claim back in 1982 and found:

Creation science as defined in Section 4(a), not only fails to follow the canons of dealing with scientific theory, it also fails to fit the more general descriptions of "what scientists think" and "what scientists do." The scientific community consists of individuals and groups, nationally and internationally, who work independently in such varied fields as biology, paleontology, geology, and astronomy. Their work is published and subject to review and testing by their peers. The journals for publication are both numerous and varied. There is, however, not one recognized scientific journal which has published an article espousing the creation science theory described in Section 4(a). Some of the State's witnesses suggested that the scientific community was "close-minded" on the subject of creationism and that explained the lack of acceptance of the creation science arguments. Yet no witness produced a scientific article for which publication has been refused. Perhaps some members of the scientific community are resistant to new ideas. It is, however, inconceivable that such a loose knit group of independent thinkers in all the varied fields of science could, or would, so effectively censor new scientific thought.

Now wouldn't you think an important court case would be the place to really show the world the Big Science conspiracy? I mean, there must be piles of evidence. You can depose people, you can force them to testify, and yet… the creationists brought no evidence to back this claim? Maybe because there is none?

Sadly, this claim by creationists about a conspiracy to silence them was given a fair hearing and refuted a quarter century ago but they just keep on claiming it.

Swansong notes Answers in Genesis has a peer reviewed journal now, but scientists won't accept this journal. Well, anyone can publish a journal and put it out there. There's no acceptance or rejection system. If a journal offers good science, scientists will look. And actually, scientists do look at AIG's journal. And they've found the arguments unconvincing. Shitty science is shitty science. Sorry.

Your gaps are showing!

Swansong then skips over another one of Rennie's rebuttals and proceeds to Rennie's seventh rebuttal "Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on earth". Again, this is another canard creationists like to float. Evolution is, of course, a theory about the origin of species, not the origin of life. As chemistry presupposes the existence of the elements, evolution largely assumes the existence of life. Rennie delves a bit into hypotheses about the origin of life, one being organic molecules came to earth on comets. This is the source, apparently, of Swansong's earlier claim evolution was started by Little Green Men. Oddly, earlier the gimp was claiming evolution says life evolved from a rock. Of course, evolution does not say life itself was seeded by comets. Complex organic compounds, the LegoTM of life, have been found in abundant quantities in space. It's not hard to imagine them getting on earth via comets.

The gimp makes an un-signaled jump to Rennie's eighth rebuttal where creationists claim the mathematical odds of amino acids forming into complex proteins is such an amazing long shot that it could never happen during the life of the universe. Of course, no one in science says proteins form by taking a bunch of amino acids, shaking them up, and hoping something useful comes out of the mix. A couple amino acids come together under very likely circumstances and do something useful. Another gets added and does something else useful and so on. Eventually you have a very complex structure. Creationists, to wit, like to claim life came about in a card game where we kept getting one royal flush after another. Evolution, however, is a game where you start with a hand that's very much unlike a royal flush but is still good enough to be the winning hand. But each new round of this poker game, you get to keep winning cards that will get you closer to a royal flush and throw back cards that don't get you closer to a royal flush. And the cards you throw back you get to replace with new cards. You can then keep new cards that get you closer to a royal flush and toss back the ones that don't. And so on. It might take a while, but you'll surely get a royal flush by this process.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Swansong and the gimp start to wrap up, having either now run out of time or they simply can't pick apart Rennie's other ten arguments. Of course, maybe they just wanted to concentrate on their strongest rebuttals, but as we've seen, their rebuttals amount to the same old "God of the gaps" and straw men every creationist has been using without change for the last century.

Swansong bemoans that modern man can no longer imagine a god and has substituted science. Oddly this claim flies in the face of surveys where 80% of Americans believe in a personal god, and more than half of Americans believe in creationism. So who is he referring to exactly? A minority of Americans? And he's troubled by this?

Swansong continues to preach about the glory of god and putting god in the science classroom and is finally played out by the now familiar Taxi theme. Swansong does take a moment to remind you who he is but forgets to thank the contributions of the gimp. Swansong must be a great guy to work for.

Karl Mamer is host of The Conspiracy Skeptic podcast, a 12 part look at conspiracies of today and the not too distant past. Karl is also the world's greatest living proponent of Franglais. He also likes to bait Nigerian Bank Scammers and hosted his own podcast about teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Karl lives in Toronto, Canada and works as a senior technical writer to pay the bills.

Dr. God, M.D.

Here's the lead from the AP article posted on CNN.com: "When it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans." This according to a telephone survey conducted for the Archives of Surgery, which found that 57% of respondents believe that God can intervene to cure a family member if doctors say treatment is futile. This isn't too surprising, mostly because anyone with a sick family member will understandably hold out any hope he can, including the false kind. Many people just don't understand that simply wishing something were true doesn't make it so. If our wishes came true, my carpal tunnel syndrome would have been caused by repeatedly cupping Helen Mirren's breasts instead of, you know, the other thing. But the real eye-opener of this survey should be the fact that only 20% of doctors surveyed believe that God can reverse a hopeless situation. That means that 80% of doctors know for a fact, from repeated observations, that last-minute, supernatural healings just don't happen. And the other 20%? They're still holding out hope. Of course, even if God did heal some people, shouldn't we wonder why that picky bastard doesn't heal all of them? More details here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sentencing the Heretic

by Richard Peacock

In 1633, the astronomer Galileo was ordered to stand trial before Pope Urban VIII on formal charges of heresy. His crime was proposing that the Earth moved around the Sun, and not the other way around. Since the Bible taught that the Earth was stationary and not in motion at all, this enraged the Church, which promptly convicted Galileo and sentenced him to house arrest. And, if the world was like a musical, this is just what his sentencing hearing might have sounded like.

Sentencing the Heretic

The year is 1633,
And you are Galileo Galilei,
You've been brought here by Church decree
To answer for your heresy!

Mad man! Devil! That's what we'll call you
Unless you change your tune.
How dare you scare us with these letters
Which spell the Church's doom?

This little idea of yours,
Where the Earth goes round the Sun,
Can't you see the fallacy?
Don't you see your argument's done?

For if this wan hypothesis
Were ever really proved,
Then the Bible would be wrong in Psalms,
Where "the Earth cannot be moved."

I will denote your telescope
Is quite a clever machine,
You've seen the moons of Jupiter
And even Saturn's rings*.

But despite that brilliant tinker toy,
You've incurred the Church's wrath.
For who are you to dare declare
That nature is based on Math?

How I pity you, Galilei,
You could have been our best.
But as you insist on your beliefs,
I must place you in house arrest.

Guards! Take away this stumbling block!
Banish him from these lands!
He has not in mind the thoughts of God,
But just the reasoning of man.

*Though Galileo was the first to observe Saturn's rings with his
rudimentary telescope, he believed they were moons rather than
planetary rings.

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.

Launch Lie

One of several advantages with prerecording The Amateur Scientist Podcast every week is that I have ample time to edit out all those disturbing Freudian slips. But there are also some disadvantages, like when a topic discussed during Sunday's recording session is updated before the show posts on Wednesday. But just such a thing has happened now that the U.S. says Iran did not successfully launch a two-stage rocket capable of placing a satellite in orbit. This is really no surprise, as Iran's military and space programs seem to be based on nothing more than bold assertions and Photoshop skills, but it'll make for a conspicuous omission come Wednesday morning. Oh well. In the meantime, you can look forward to some humorously vociferous denials from Iran's state-run media, who are as sure as the Holocaust never happened that their rocket worked like a charm. More details here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Royal Douche

That blue-blooded tax burden known as Prince Charles is spouting off about the alleged dangers of genetically modified crops. This comes after he loudly defended the practice and implementation of homeopathy, an imaginary "science" that claims water can cure diseases if you wish hard enough (I'm paraphrasing). In an interview with the Daily Telegraph (which should really update its name to incorporate technology that's still in use), His Royal Idiocy claims that cultivating GM foods would destroy small farmers, place the world's food supply in the evil hands of giant corporations, and lead to the worst environmental disaster known to history. All of these claims would be cause for alarm if they weren't the exact opposite of truth. First of all, small farmers who use GM crops will actually make more money, as they'll have higher yields with less work. Also, pest and disease-resistant GM crops require less toxic pesticides and herbicides, protecting the ground water supply. Plus, the increased efficiency means less land has to be cultivated for farming. It's also telling that GM crops have been most readily adopted and most successfully grown in poor developing countries who aren't privy to the kind of paranoid nonsense spouted by a walking, ear-flapping anachronism like Charles. You can read the interview here, and enjoy some insightful commentary on reason magazine's Hit & Run blog here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rat Brain Cells Control Robot Body From Mars!

Well, it isn't so much from Mars as it is from England. The University of Reading, to be exact. That is where scientists have been able to use 300,000 neurons from a rat's brain to control a small robotic vehicle. After separating the neurons from each other and transplanting them into what I assume was an old jug filled with brain food, the researchers found the neurons were forming new connections with each other. They then connected the brain cells to sensors on a robot and presto changeo, the rat brian cells were able to help direct the robot to avoid obstacles. Don't believe me? Check out this handy-dandy video from New Scientist:

Read more about the coming ratbot Armageddon here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The War on Digital Drugs

As if parents didn't have enough to worry about. Most strangers want to kidnap and rape your children, and the rest want to hook them on crack, according to no studies. We all know the Internet has provided plenty of new avenues for kiddie diddlers to reach your spawn's shorts, but now the WWW can also get your kid high. According to ABC News, thousands of children are downloading so-called "idozers", binaural audio files meant to be listened to via headphones, where they wiggle their way into the brain and change the way your mind works. The article in question claims that many of these sound files are meant to increase powers of ESP and psychokenesis, or help with relaxation, meditation, and weight loss. Sounds like good science to me, although I should say I barely know how to read. But the "problem" arises when these files claim to mimic the effects of alcohol and marijuana, two substances known to loosen up shy kids at prom and increase their coolness quotients by a factor of ten. Sinister. Read the whole ridiculous thing here.

Endangered Bush

I don't really understand why President George W. Bush is doing anything involving the government these days. He's the lamest of lame ducks, and we currently have a congress ruled (ineffectively maybe) by the opposition party. He should really stick to hugging scantily clad Olympians and dancing awkwardly along to tribal beats in Africa. You know, the fun stuff. But he's pushing to change the rules of the Endangered Species Act to make sure it isn't used as a way to regulate greenhouse emissions. The new rules would reduce the number of reviews new industry have to pass before building on land that's home to protected animals. Obviously, this is a preemptive move before we start clear cutting Alaska and drinking its milkshake. But I'm curious how successful the Endangered Species Act has been in securing a future for actual endangered species. If anyone has a perspective on how much good this legislation has actually done over the years, drop a line in the comments. More details here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Dog Cloner/Mormon Rapist Update

Well, there's finally some much needed closure in the case of Joyce McKinney, the woman who paid $50,000 to clone her beloved dead pit bull Booger and was later suspected of being a fugitive convicted of kidnapping and raping a teenage Mormon missionary 31 years ago. She initially denied the charges but has now admitted that she is indeed the fugitive in question. Suspicions were raised when photos of her snuggling with her new clones circulated on the news. She called herself Bernann McKinney at the time, but when she told reporters at the cloning company press conference in South Korea that she was a Hollywood screenwriter, things just didn't add up. The address on her business card didn't exist, and her social security number matched that of the convicted Joyce McKinney. Also, Joyce's middle name is "Bernann". McKinney is a former beauty queen who attended Brigham Young University, where she met the object of her stalking affection, a 19-year-old missionary in training who she followed to England, kidnapped, and handcuffed to a bed in a secluded cottage. She raped him and begged him to marry her. When he relented, she loosened his shackles, and he escaped. After her conviction, she was released on bond and fled Great Britain with a fake passport, posing as a deaf-mute actress on flights through Canada and back into the U.S., where she disappeared. She turned up again in 1984, when she was arrested for stalking the workplace of her Mormon kidnapping victim. Police found rope, handcuffs, and a notebook detailing the man's every move in her car. She disappeared just before she was due in court, and the case was dismissed. The charges against her in England have also been dropped. McKinney, however, still maintains her innocence, telling the AP, "I didn't rape no 300-pound man." She says her victim was a willing sex partner and that the charges against her are false. "I don't want that garbage in the puppy story," she said. McKinney may not be off the hook completely, though. Turns out there are some recent charges against her in her hometown of Newland, North Carolina. There's an active warrant for her arrest stemming from a threat she made toward a woman in 2003. She's also charged with passing bad checks, assaulting public officials, and cruelty to animals. (That last one accused her of not properly caring for a horse, and was later dropped.) James Stamey, the husband of the woman McKinney is accused of threatening, recognized the pictures of the former beauty queen with her puppy clones. "That's our Joy," he said. "She's ugly as sin now. But, sure enough, that's her." More details here.

DMV Surrenders to Crazies

A South Carolina high school physics teacher and other members of his esoteric Christian denomination will be allowed to keep their digital portraits off of their state drivers' licenses after reaching an agreement with the DMV. Phil Hudok believes that ID cards bearing digital photos are the "mark of the beast", so the state has agreed to allow him and others of his faith to have their pictures taken and stored in a central database without printing them on their licenses. South Carolina, along with several other states, is preparing to comply with the federal Real ID act, which would require states to share drivers' license data with each other. Also as part of the Real ID act, this data will be used to track down U.S. citizens, break into their homes in the middle of the night, and implant New World Order tracking devices/high explosives into their rectums. One of the previous sentences is false. More details here.

Animal Rights Activists Unconcerned with Human Rights

Animal rights activists have firebombed the homes of two UC Santa Cruz scientists who work in animal research. This is just the latest attack in a widespread surge in violence against scientists across University of California campuses in particular. No one was hurt, but one of the bombings caused a scientist and his family to flee their home from a second-story window. Of course, it's hard to fully condemn these homicidal maniacs. After all, anyone who would result to firebombing human beings to save the lives of animals demonstrates the kind of limiting reasoning capabilities of a lower order mammal. They're only trying to protect their own. Although throwing feces might be a more intellectually robust and slightly less despicable form of protest. More details here.

Penis-crushing Bicycles

Those of you who ride bicycles and own penises (including my tofu-munching, tree-hugging, bunker-dwelling podcast co-host) may have noticed some ill effects from all that peddling. Erectile dysfunction and groin numbness have been known to plague bike riders the world over. But scientists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have experimented with nose-less bicycle saddles, and participants in the study report more raging erections and more sensitive junk. Perhaps a change in men's bicycle design is in order? Personally, I don't think I'll receive any benefit from a nose-less saddle. Mostly because I don't ride a bike, but also because I'm afraid my loose-hanging genitals might get caught in the chain. More details here.

Cloaking Device On!

This is simultaneously awesome and horrifying. Scientists at UC Berkeley will publish experiments in the journals Nature and Science showing that hey have successfully made three-dimensional objects invisible using light-bending metamaterials composed of metal and composites. This is the first step in creating a kind of invisibility suit that prevents light from reflecting off of a person. The military applications are self-evident. Soon countries the world over will be greeting us as liberators...but they have to find us first! More details here.

Priestly Dos and Don'ts

Everyone agrees that the child rape epidemic in the Catholic clergy is a bad thing. But how's a pedophilic priest supposed to know what kind of behavior is or isn't appropriate with children? Thankfully, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has written up a handy guide. For starters, there are just some activities that shouldn't be considered. Kissing, tickling, and wrestling children is simply forbidden. The Decree on Child Protection also puts the kibosh on bear hugs, lap-sitting, and piggyback rides. No word yet on how this affected the Piggyback Sacrament, wherein the faithful ride on the backs of their priests just as Jesus rode on the back of a donkey. But the Decree isn't just a bunch of finger wagging. No, there are still some completely appropriate interactions between clergy and their younger congregation. Hand shakes, pats on the back, and high fives are still a-okay. Thank goodness. What kind of man would I have become if I couldn't high five my priest? More details here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

CERN Scientists Are Cooler Than You

With CERN's Large Hadron Collider set to come online on September 10th, and possibly help you download porn at the speed of light, you may be wondering just what it does and how it works. Luckily for you, CERN created a rap video to explain it. And yes, it's just as cool as it sounds.

The Invisible (White) Man

The AP has an odd little article about the role a potential Obama administration will play in the "minds" of the country's white supremacists. Specifically, the article muses, honkey-lovers are looking forward to the prospect that President Obama would incite a backlash among whites, leading to some kind of cream-colored revolution. This doesn't seem very likely, particularly because Obama's election would represent the will of the majority of voters, and also because most American's aren't batshit insane. Still, former Klan leader and congressman from my lovely home state of Louisiana David Duke is quoted as saying Obama would be a "visual aid" for the impending destruction of the white race and heritage. While there's no denying that white people have fallen from their once lofty positions in American life and are now struggling to survive hand-to-mouth on the desolate streets... Wait, there's totally denying that. What the hell is this guy talking about? More details here.

Sort of Free Speech

When Ezra Levant, publisher of the now defunct Canadian libertarian magazine Western Standard, reprinted the Danish Muhammad cartoons that enraged the world's homicidally insane Muslims a few years ago, the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities filed a human rights complaint with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission. Their argument was that the cartoons, despite their context, incited racial hatred toward Muslims. Levant's counter argument went something like this: Canada is a free country, so fuck you. Good news for freedom, then, since the AHRCC has declined to hear the case, effectively killing the complaint. But the sad reality here is that more and more Western nations without true freedom of speech protection have been riddled with attempts to stifle the free expression of ideas in the name of protecting the fragile feelings of thin-skinned idiots. Levant himself issued a statement about why he's none too happy with the ultimately favorable outcome of this case: "[AHRCC Southern Director Pardeep Gundara's] decision is not that I have freedom of speech. His decision is that I have his approval. I'm not interested in his approval. The only test of free speech is if I can write what he disapproves of with impunity. That's what freedom of speech is, to piss off some second-rate bureaucrat like Pardeep Gundara and know that you have the right to do so, because you're in Canada, not Saudi Arabia." Well said. Though I'd replace "because you're in Canada, not Saudi Arabia" with "because you're a human being." More details here.

Ohio Sues Diebold Over Missing Votes

The state of Ohio is suing Diebold (now known by their porn alias, Premiere Election Systems) over their faulty electronic voting machines. In a recent state-wide election, votes were "dropped" from 11 different counties when the individual machines' memory cards were uploaded to a central server. Chris Riggal, a spokesman for the company, explained that this happened because of a conflict with the server's anti-virus software. I am assuming this is because Diebold views Democracy as virus to be wiped out. Riggal further defended the machines, saying that the errors were caught due to the system's features, which include a paper audit trail. While it's true that a paper trail is a great, albeit obvious, "feature" to include in a voting system, an even better feature would be a system that is at least as reliable as my university's web-based Homecoming Queen election. Read more here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dog Cloner May be Kidnapping Rapist

What a difference a day can make! Yesterday, I wrote about Bernann McKinney, the woman who made the seemingly insane decision to pay a South Korean company $50,000 to make five clones of her dead pit bull Booger. Now it turns out she may very well be insane. When the Booger clone story broke, some intrepid journalists couldn't help but notice an eerie similarity between Bernann McKinney, who claims to live in California, and Joyce McKinney, a woman who fled England after kidnapping and raping a young Mormon missionary. Holy cow! After allegedly enjoying a brief affair with 19-year-old Mormon Kirk Anderson, the 28-year-old McKinney followed him to England, where he'd been posted to ride his ridiculous bicycle and harass people into believing in lunacy. You know, missionary work. With a friend's help (Anderson weighed 17 stone, or about 230 pounds in non-fairy tale measurements), McKinney kidnapped the young man and chained him to a bed in a secluded cottage, where she begged him to marry her and, barring that, forced him to have sex with her. When Anderson finally agreed to marry her, she loosened his chains and he broke free, ultimately ending in McKinney's arrest. In court, she's alleged to have said, "I loved him so much that I would ski naked down Mount Everest with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to." Apparently, the only thing she wasn't willing to do at his request was unchain him and stop all the rape. After three months in prison, McKinney was released on bail due to her insanity (what?) and fled to America with a fake passport, where she disguised herself as a nun and disappeared into the Appalachians. She turned up a while later when she posed topless for a nudie magazine, but Britain never attempted to extradite her. It was later revealed that when Anderson was kidnapped via chloroform, he was wearing a Mormon chastity belt (huh?), and that he suffered McKinney's readings from religious scripture and playing of romantic music before she raped him. That poor bastard. For her part, "Bernann" McKinney denies the whole thing, saying, "If that is what you want to talk about then I don't want to talk to you. If you print that rot I will sue you." I don't want to deal with a lawsuit, but take a look at those pictures (that's "Bernann" on top and Joyce at the bottom) and tell me something doesn't smell. More details here.

Muslim Chicken Holiday

The workers' union at the Tyson chicken plant in Shelbyville, Tennessee has negotiated a contract that swaps Labor Day for the Muslim holy day Id al-Fitr as a paid vacation. A large number of the workers at the plant are Muslim Somali immigrants, and they didn't want to trade Id al-Fitr with any other paid holiday. Also, most plant workers have previously been required to work Labor Day with a pay bonus, so it's not like this decision changes anything. However, the country's mush-brained flag fappers have come out in full force against the decision, even though they don't work at this particular plant. Some have even driven to the local Walmart and purchased writing utensils to scratch out such harsh missives as this letter to the union: "You are a union that is proud of achieving a Muslim holiday and prayer room?" Yes, the plant also has a prayer room. "A union in the U.S.A., a country based on Christianity. You call yourselves Americans? Have you forgotten 9/11?" While it's true that Islam is a silly religion with a disturbing penchant for degrading women, that doesn't mean that all Muslims are silly woman-haters. Also, America isn't "based on" Christianity, these Somali immigrants had nothing to do with 9/11, and whoever wrote this letter plays with his own asshole in the shower and cries about it. I'm assuming. More details here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What the Hell is That?

Over the past year, 150,000 amateur astronomers have peeled themselves off the cots in their parents' basements and joined the Galaxy Zoo project, pouring over archival pictures of the universe to help classify galaxies. Hanny van Arkel, a Dutch school teacher, is one of those amateur astronomers, and he's discovered something mysterious hiding in the galactic archives. It's a green, gaseous blob with what appears to be a hole in the center, and no one's really sure why it's there. Hanny's Voorwerp, as it's embarrassingly come to be known, is near galaxy IC 2497, and is illuminated by the remaining light from a now-extinct quasar. The Hubble space telescope will soon be trained on the object to get a closer look, though it's never too early to start a Hanny's Gate suicide cult. I think I heard a remote viewer on Coast to Coast AM say there's a UFO following behind it. More details here.

Life (or Death) on Mars

I thought about writing this up yesterday, but it was clear that all the facts weren't in. They still aren't, but at least we have an official comment from NASA. The Internet was set in a twitter by the rumor that the Phoenix Mars lander had discovered the toxic chemical perchlorate in the Martian soil. If this were the case, so went yesterday's writeups, then the possibility of life being sustainable anywhere near the surface would be slim to none. However, perchlorate was only found during one test and not found during any others. Also, it's a component of rocket fuel, so it's possible that even if it's there, it could be a result of contamination by the lander itself. Plus, its presence doesn't rule out the possibility of life anyway, since perchlorate, in addition to being toxic, is a potential energy source. NASA is still working on the problem, I'm assuming, while wearing their sweat-stained shirtsleeves rolled to mid-forearm, chain smoking, and rubbing their crew cuts in frustration. Everything I know about NASA I learned from watching silent Apollo footage from mission control. More details here.

Resurrect Your Pets

Bernann McKinney loved her pit bull Booger. When she was being attacked by a gang of dogs (don't ask why) Booger came to her rescue. And in return for saving her life, she gave a South Korean laboratory $50,000 to return his. Times five. Yes, a company called RNL Bio arranged to have five clones of Booger created by scientists at Seoul National University, and they can do the same for your dead pet. McKinney, for her part, couldn't be happier. "Booger was my partner and my friend," she said. "They are perfectly the same as their daddy. I am in heaven here." Of course, Booger wasn't these clones' "daddy" so much as their "gene template", but the point is well taken. RNL Bio's CEO, Ra Jeong-Chan says he wants to branch out into cloning camels for rich people in the middle east. Because, for some reason, he apparently believes camels are the only animals middle easterners keep as pets. More details here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

God Hates Fag Haters

Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas hates fags. Everyone knows that. But he doesn't cotton to people hating him. Or, more specifically, he doesn't cotton to people expressing their hatred of him through arson. In a letter to his Attorney General's office, Phelps asked that a recent suspicious fire at his church be investigated as a hate crime, saying, "There is evidence that hatred of our religion was the motivation." The fire started in two outdoor trash cans and spread to a garage and a fence, allegedly causing $20,000 to $30,000 in damages. Some might say Phelps' hiding behind hate crime laws is hypocritical coming from someone whose entire existence revolves around his hatred of people with similar genitals enjoying each other physically. But that kind of easy criticism falls apart when you consider the fact that Phelps, horrible though he is, has always operated inside the law. However, it is hypocritical for someone to hide behind hate crime legislation when he once dressed like a cowboy-themed stripper and held up a sign opposing them. Actually, I can agree with his first position. Hate crime laws are absurd and redundant. What's the point of outlawing "hate" when things like "arson", "murder", and "assault" are already illegal? More details here. And listen to my interview with Phelps' son, who also hates fags, here.

The da Vinci Court

The Spanish Knights Templar are suing the Vatican for stripping them of their assets and tarnishing their good name. 700 years ago. Supposedly, Pope Clement V and King Philip IV of France conspired to destroy the Templars and steal their massive wealth in order to make up for the horrible financial losses suffered during the Crusades. But, of course, we all know that they really wanted to suppress the Templars' secret information about the extraterrestrial nature of Christ's blood, which they stored in a magentic ark under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. According to sources. The Spanish Templars are asking for a hundred billion euros in restitution, which, at current exchange rates, equates to about 746 trillion U.S. dollars. More details here.

Creature on Vacation

41-year-old Floridian Lloyd Deneau was vacationing in Lake Tahoe when he snapped a picture of what appears to be an amorphous blob of pixels, though it's also being called an alien, a leprechaun, and a baby bigfoot. None of these suggestions seems very likely. I admit that Lake Tahoe has some excellent destination spas, but why would an alien vacation there when it presumably has the whole wonders of the galaxy to explore. If I had a spaceship and wanted a relaxing time away from the day-to-day, I'd rent a cabin on the shores of the Horsehead Nebula. The leprechaun option doesn't make sense, since we all know they only leave Ireland to avoid being hunted by starving potato farmers. And baby bigfoot? Please. Zoologists have known for years that baby bigfeet don't leave their mothers' pouches until reaching adulthood. It's a little-known fact, but bigfeet are marsupials. See the picture yourself here.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Scotty Tries to Give Her More Power, Explodes

The private rocket, Falcon, exploded Saturday night on its way into space, destroying three experimental satellites and wasting millions of dollars. But more importantly, it also blew up Scotty's ashes. You heard me. James Doohan's ashes were aboard the rocket, destined to enter orbit and remain there for all of eternity, gently circling our tiny globe, ever observant as we sail the rivers of time, our mast pointed to the future. But now they're fused into a hunk of metal at the bottom of the ocean, most likely being shat upon by whales and giant squid. The rocket was the latest experiment by the privately funded company known as SpaceX, which was started by Elon Musk, the Internet millionaire who created the web site PayPal.com. The company has actually lost several rockets in the past couple years, and plans to keep sending more up until they finally get one into orbit. Here's hoping this new interest in private space businesses pans out. Read more here.

In Russia, There's no Such Thing as Sexual Harassment

A 22-year-old Russian woman has lost her case to become only the third woman in the history of the country to win a sexual harassment suit against a male employer after the judge ruled that "If we had no sexual harassment, we would have no children." According to the court, the woman's boss, who "demanded that female workers signalled to him with their eyes that they desperately wanted to be laid on the boardroom table as soon as he gave the word", was simply ensuring the survival of the human species through sexual reproduction. According to a recent survey, 100% of female Russian professionals say they've been sexually harassed by their bosses. Yes, that's all of them. Of course, when the office cooler is filled with vodka, weird things can happen in the workplace. More details here.

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