Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Google Ghost Hoax

Earlier this week, people with few critical thinking skills were all aflutter over what they were sure was an image of a Victorian ghost captured on Google's Street View camera. While it's admittedly strange to see a person dressed in froofy 19th century garb walking around the streets of Cardiff (unless, of course, they're a Doctor Who extra), it seems like "ghost" should be well down the list of possible explanations. Especially since costume shops are far more prevalent than, say, hard evidence that ghosts actually exist at all. But apparently all the idiocy was enough to tip Google's hand, as they revealed that the figure was part of a series of little jokes they've sprinkled throughout their British Street View images. In Cardiff, they had a woman dress as Mary Poppins and cross the road, but they've also photographed Paddington Bear in London and Sherlock Holmes in Oxford. Before you get too excited, those characters aren't real either. More details here.

Wiccans on the Wise

The same recent survey that revealed a decline in evangelical Christianity across the U.S. also showed that so-called "new religions" like Wicca are on the rise. And while Wiccans aren't nearly as worrisome as fundamentalist Christians (they aren't trying to shoehorn creationism into public school science classes, for instance), that doesn't mean they're any less annoying. Which is why I'm a little uncomfortable with this news. I'd love to drive around town without seeing some asshole with a sandwich board covered in abortion photos, but I'd also like to go to the movies without sitting behind an overweight couple wearing black afghans and stinking of candle wax. Still, I suppose this is good economic news, as a rise in Wiccans will undoubtedly be a boon to the struggling tacky polished rock jewelry industry. More details here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

PETA Holocaust Ads Officially Offensive

Germany's supreme court has ruled that a series of PETA ads comparing factory farming to the Holocaust are "an offense against human dignity" and not protected speech. The ads show pictures of concentration camps next to pictures of animal farms and bear the slogan "The Holocaust on your plate". I actually have a couple of problems with this ruling. Most importantly, no court should be able to limit free speech based on its "offensiveness". The word "offensive" is just so uselessly vague. These ads aren't offensive, they're simply idiotic, cruel, naive, and wrongheaded. Also, submitting them for government censorship just focuses more unnecessary attention on them. These ads have been around for a while, and most of us had forgotten about them. Why go out of your way to render legal rulings against PETA's insanity when that insanity does a much better job of lampooning the organization all by themselves? More details here. And on another note, does anyone else find it infuriating that PETA has stolen the Star Trek font for these ads? Gene Roddenberry must be rolling in his weightless vacuum.

Earth Hour: Success?

Did you turn out your lights in recognition of Earth Hour last Saturday? Personally, I was at a birthday dinner, and the restaurant seemed to think lighting was somehow necessary to conduct their business. I tried to prove them wrong by assembling my fajita with my eyes closed, but I just ended up with third degree burns on my fingers. So it goes. But the organizers of the very first Earth Hour are convinced it was a smashing success, even going so far as to claim the world now has a mandate from the people to stem climate change. While I'm not normally in the business of shitting on people's parades (unless it's a Sons of Confederate Veterans parade, of course), I can't help but wonder how anyone arrived at the "hundreds of millions" participation rate people are claiming. Earth Hour sure had plenty of play on the Internet (note to Twitterers: tweeting about how you're turning your lights out probably consumes more electricity than just leaving those lights on), I'm not sure how much traction it had in the real world. Internet-based excitement doesn't necessarily translate into any kind of offline impact, as the box office returns for Watchmen and Hellboy II sort of prove. Regardless, I hope Earth Hour doesn't become just another useless bit of Facebook-style quasi-activism that's forgotten within a wee-- HEY LOOK! A SHINY THING!

Rep. John Shimkus: Idiot

While talking with a fellow global warming denier, Illinois representative John Shimkus recently argued that increased man-made carbon emissions can only be a good thing, since they provide food for plants. This is sort of true, in that plants do indeed consume carbon dioxide. But it's more than a little misleading, since fried chicken, while a delicious food for humans, is also something none of us would probably like to be buried in on a daily basis. Still, this isn't a new argument. Oil companies have jumped on board with TV ads about how carbon feeds the planet and is therefore "Earth-friendly". But as others have pointed out, it's not like plants were starving to death before the industrial revolution. More details here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Balloons to Venus

NASA is looking for its next flagship planetary mission after 2020's mission to Jupiter and its moons, and it looks like Venus might be the best candidate. An advisory team has released plans for a multi-billion-dollar mission to send balloons, landers, and an orbiter to Venus within the next fifteen years. The balloons would be designed to hover high in the planet's atmosphere, collecting data that might tell us why Venus turned from what was believed to once be a water-rich planet into the sulfuric nightmare it is today. In addition to telling us more about our solar system, Venus' similarity to Earth in terms of size and distance from the sun makes it a potential analogue for what might happen to us after a cataclysmic impact or whatever it was that ripped away most of Venus' atmosphere. And while three to four billion dollars might sound expensive in this current economic apocalypse, keep in mind that that's the revenue of just a few Rock Band games. More details here.

New Hampshire House Votes for Gay Marriage

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has passed a bill which would allow same sex couples to marry one another, blame their partners for the death of their dreams, and live a depressed life based only on the occasional affectionate look and a psychotic devotion to solitary hobbies. In other words, holy matrimony. Now this bill goes on to the state senate, where its fate is uncertain. New Hampshire's governor officially opposes gay marriage, but he also won't commit to vetoing the bill if it passes the state legislature. Opponents, of course, have no real leg to stand on. Like always, they're slobbering about "cheapening" the "sacred" institution of marriage. Just like, I'm assuming, gay people have "cheapened" the dilapidated communities they've moved into and revitalized throughout the United States. Oh wait... More details here.

Obama Against Legalizing Marijuana Just Cuz

President Obama took part in a webcast town hall meeting today, where he fielded questions submitted and voted upon by average citizens who still have jobs paying them enough to afford Internet access. Predictably, most of the questions were of the "how can you be so great" variety, but kudos to Obama for going out of his way to answer a question of actual substance: Wouldn't legalizing marijuana cut down on expensive federal litigation and add a new industry to our struggling economy? While most administrations would probably just brush the question off, Obama interrupted his emcee to make sure he addressed it. Unfortunately, his answer was ridiculously weak. In short, he just said no. I understand you're short on time, Mr. President, but would you mind explaining such a ludicrous policy decision with something like reasoning and fact? It's probably too much to hope for the president to come out in support of marijuana legalization, but I'd at least like to see some effort put into bullshitting our way through more violent, economically devastating prohibition. More details here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Teens Prune Their Synapses

While everyone knows that those damn pesky teenagers are getting dumber and dumber over the years, did you also know that their brains actually cut down on synaptic connections when they sleep? In early childhood, the brain is an overactive mass that absorbs all sorts of information and makes various mental connections. As it develops, some of those connections are used less and less, and the brain becomes more of a specialized machine able to process complex thoughts and focus more attention on one thing at a time. In our teen years, our brains cut off the more useless connections in a process called synaptic pruning. Neuroscientists have just proved that this happens by recording a 66% drop in brainwave activity in the 1-4 Hz frequency range between ages 11 and 16.5. I don't know what any of that means, but I just wish teens would prune the synaptic connections that inspire them to lounge around on my damn lawn. More details here.

Plan B Now a Viable Plan

A federal judge has ordered the FDA to make the Plan B morning-after pill available without a prescription to women as young as seventeen. In his ruling, the judge went on to say that the FDA improperly bowed to political pressure from the Bush administration, which not only lobbied for restricting the sale of the pill to anyone under eighteen, but also to keep the pill behind the pharmacist's counter, where kids can't see it and get sexy thoughts. Plan B (which is actually two pills, but whatever) must be taken within seventy-two hours of conception, so it's hard even for crazy pro-lifers to argue that the resulting flush of microscopic cells is anything like an abortion. Also, the side effects are minimal. So why were so many people opposed to selling the drug to teens? Because these assholes see pregnancy as punishment for being a slut. Which seems pretty callous and absurd until you realize that most of them also have shriveled, pox-ridden genitals that render all sexual activity a painful exercise in God-ordained procreation. More details here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Religious Cling to Life

According to a study recently published in JAMA, religious people are nearly three times as likely as the non-religious to cling desperately to life when they have terminal illnesses. Godless heathens are less interested in aggressive, expensive treatments that do nothing but prolong their doomed existences, and they're more likely than the faithful to plan for death with things like living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders. At first, this seems like a counterintuitive statistic. Aren't the religious supposed to be more sure of a heavenly afterlife and thus more comfortable with death? But while it's easy to look at this and think that maybe religious convictions aren't as strong as people would like to think, it's also possible that the religious are just desperate to evangelize as long as they possibly can. Or they're willing to prolong their suffering just in case God changes His mind about that whole miraculous recovery thing. More details here.

Idaholy Shit, This is Stupid

So, the Idaho state House has passed a bill that would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or other medications they find objectionable for moral, ethical, or religious reasons. Or, to be more specific and reality-based about this, the bill would allow pharmacists to try and punish women they think are slutty because Jesus told them to. The state already offers legal protection to doctors and hospitals who think contraception is icky, which is sort of mindblowing in and of itself. You'd think pharmacists would have been given that freedom before doctors. Still, this is obviously an absurd bill. And while I'm all for business rights, this could easily lead to a situation where a small town pharmacy with a monopoly on drug distribution could seriously affect the well-being of the people who choose to live there. Perhaps it would be a good idea for women who live in Idaho to keep a public list of every pharmacist who chooses not to sell them contraception. If I owned a vagina, I'd want to know if my money was going to a douchebag or not. And I'd also spend a lot of time masturbating in front of a mirror, but that's obvious. More details here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Canadian Science Minister Gary Goodyear: Idiot

Due to a budget shortfall, many of Canada's leading scientists are facing funding cuts, and the man responsible is the country's Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear. Understandably, Canada's reality-based community is upset with Goodyear, and he's only making it worse by refusing to admit the scientific validity of evolution. He says he's a Christian, and he refuses to go any further on the subject. Well, except when he went further on the subject by saying that just because we can't see something under a microscope, it doesn't mean that thing doesn't exists. Of course, he's talking about God, and he went on to add that maybe we just don't have good enough microscopes. While I can't disagree with the premise of his argument, nor can I say God isn't a sub-microscopic being who surfs on top of neutrinos, this seems like an odd interpretation of the Christian deity. And while I also don't think it's necessarily appropriate to harangue a politician about his religion, it is worth knowing whether a minister of science has any understanding of such a bedrock scientific principle as evolution, especially when he's the one responsible for handing out research money. To top it all off, Goodyear is a chiropractor, and as I've written about before, those people tend not to have the firmest grip on reality. Your spine? Yes. Reality? Not often. More details here.

Spineless Hedgehog Won't be Cured by Woo

Spud the spineless hedgehog is currently residing in a British animal care facility called Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital, because everything in Britain must have an obnoxiously adorable name. It's the law. Spud is somewhat of a mystery, because no one knows what exactly is causing his skin to dry out and shed all its spines. He can't be released into the wild, since he'd be defenseless from both physical attacks and the cruel ridicule of his peers. Unfortunately, however, Tiggywinkles employees have apparently given up on using science and medicine to find out the cause of Spud's problems and are instead calling upon the help of alternative medicine practitioners. For those just joining us, "alternative" medicine is sort of like "amateur" science, meaning that more often than not, it isn't medicine at all. spud deserves better, though I am curious to see if any acupuncturists step in to help without a trace of irony. More details here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Liquidy Mars

A team of scientists who worked on the Phoenix Mars lander missions last year are set to present a paper arguing for the existence of liquid water on the red planet. Or "Native American" planet, if you're racially sensitive. They believe that globules photographed on one of the lander's struts are actually liquid water kicked up from the landing process. According to the paper, called "Physical and Thermodynamical Evidence for Liquid Water on Mars", the globules are shown to move and merge over a series of photos, which is consistent with the physical properties of liquid water. Now, you're probably wondering how liquid water could exist on a planet surface that reaches two hundred degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Turns out that in addition to finding water ice just centimeters below the polar soil, Phoenix also discovered that the Martian soil is quite salty. Salt water has a much lower freezing point than fresh water, which makes liquid water a possibility. However, other scientists who also worked on the program believe that the globules are actually ice particles and that any liquid water that makes it to the surface would instantly turn into vapor. Like any good scientific argument, this one will undoubtedly be resolved only via a shirtless cage match. Possibly at the 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference near Houston later this month. More details here.

Dead Sea Scroll Challenge

For decades now, it's been thought that the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient scriptures found in the caves of Qumran in 1947, were written by a celibate Jewish sect called the Essenes. But Rachel Elior, who teaches Jewish mysticism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, calls bullshit. According to her, there's no mention of the Essenes in the entirety of the scrolls, which is evidence that they were invented. She believes the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius created the Essenes as an example of pious, Spartan-like Jews that ran counter to the antisemitic stereotypes rampant throughout ancient Rome. The scrolls, she says, were likely taken to Qumran by a group of renegade priests called the sons of Zadok, who were banished from the Temple of Jerusalem in the second century A.D. But Elior hasn't convinced most biblical historians yet. Amongst many other criticisms of her hypothesis, the name "Essenes" is of foreign origin, so there's no reason why it would be included in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The real Essenes referred to themselves as "men of holiness" or "sons of light". Because in addition to being celibate, they were also incredibly self-absorbed douchebags. More details here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Healthy Smoker Gene

Some people smoke all their lives and never once cough up a pitch-black, pus-glistened lung. At worst, they develop a sexy, sandy voice and catlike dexterity in their fingers and wrists. But about 25% of heavy smokers come down with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. They hack, they wheeze, their lungs lose function, and they end up sounding like Sylvia Browne. It’s just terrible. So what’s the secret of that other 75%? Turns out, it’s probably genetic. Researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and St. Louis University have found that heavy smokers who develop COPD are more likely than other smokers to have five particular single nucleotide polymorphisms in a gene called ADAM33, which has previously been linked to asthma. The bad news is that there’s no gene therapy treatment right now to fix this problem in people prone to COPD. But the good news is that depending on the results of your next gene sequencing, you might feel more confident in taking up smoking! It does, after all, make you look so much cooler. More details here.

Arsonist Harassed by Ghosts

Brad A. Fisher from Town of Niagara, New York was arrested for arson after he set his house on fire with gasoline and a Bic lighter because he says “ghosts and demons” were harassing him. I’m going to make a couple improbable assumptions here, so bear with me. Number one: ghosts and demons actually exist. Number two: Brad A. Fisher isn’t totally batshit insane. Now that those are out of the way, let’s look a little deeper. Fisher apparently didn’t go into detail about the nature of the harassment, but I’m assuming it wasn’t sexual. If ghosts and demons were staring at my breasts or smacking me on the ass, I don’t see how burning my house down would stop this behavior. If anything, being stuck in a jail cell just gives them more opportunity to peek at me on the toilet. So, they must have been taunting him in some way. Antagonizing him. But even then, it doesn’t seem like destroying everything you own is a decent solution. I guess what I’m trying to say is, it pays to keep a cool head. Especially when you’re under attack by ghosts and demons. Assuming, again, that you’re not batshit insane. More details here.

Gay Ducks Kill Species

A bird sanctuary in West Sussex, U.K. has the last three New Zealand Blue Ducks in all of Britain. They’re trying to mate the sole female, Cherry, with one of the two remaining males, Ben or Jerry. The only problem is that Ben and Jerry appear to be in love with one another. And as gay prudes, they refuse to allow Cherry to share their bed. Come on, guys! How about a little spice? This is a bittersweet development for the people running the sanctuary. They would have liked to continue the species in Britain, but they have to admit that Ben and Jerry are a lovely couple. The only real loser here is Cherry, who has expressed sexual interest in Jerry, though she’s been ignored. If anyone’s looking to score with a desperate female blue duck, you know where to go. More details here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nanotech Gene Therapy

British scientists for the first time have used nanotechnology to deliver anti-cancer genes to cancer cells, paving the way for future targeted treatments. They packed these genes into nanoparticles that are only absorbed by cancer cells. Once inside, these genes force the cell to produce proteins that ultimately destroy it. While it’s only been tested on mice, this kind of treatment could eventually be used on humans with cancerous tumors too close to vital organs for surgery. Who’d have thought medical science would lead to such a remarkable breakthrough before such ancient methods as homeopathy and herbal supplements? I’m just as surprised as you are! More details here.

Asshole Chimp Elevates His Species

A chimp named Santino who lives in Sweden’s Furuvik Zoo has proven through his dickishness that his species is capable of anticipating and planning for future events regardless of emotional state. While remaining cool, calm, and collected, Santino pulled apart sections of his concrete enclosure to fashion stones, which he stored neatly until the zoo opened. Then, in a display of dominance to human visitors, he threw those stones at them like a total douchebag. This is one of the first pieces of hard evidence to show that chimps can plan for future needs. And it’s Santino’s undeniable intelligence that makes me hesitate slightly to call for his immediate arrest on assault charges. But only slightly… More details here.

Creationist Plans to Eventually Backfire

The Washington Post has an interesting article on creationist schools taking field trips to natural history museums that acknowledge the reality of evolution. In particular, they focus on a group from the ultraconservative Liberty University that visits the Smithsonian to marvel at the dinosaur fossils. Of course, the ultimate goal of these trips is two-fold. On one hand, these schools want to instill a feeling of us vs. them in their students—to paint themselves as the victims of a vast anti-Christian, Darwinist establishment. On the other hand, they want to show how their idiotic belief in a 6,000-year-old earth can be shoehorned into actual scientific discovery. But the key motivation here is simply the fact that looking at giant dinosaur skeletons is cool. And this is where I think the efforts of creationists will ultimately backfire. No matter what stupid thing you believe about the origins of life on this planet, the real discoveries of science are undeniably cool. You can be told God winked the universe into existence and then went for a nap, but that can’t stand in the way of the awesome power of a brontosaurus skeleton or pictures of a distant nebula. Those of us in the evidence-based community not only have reality on our side, we also have wonder and awe. It’s kind of nice to feel so optimistic. Read the whole thing for yourself here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

AIDS Denier Gets Payout

AIDS deniers Christine Maggiore and Robin Scovill sued Los Angeles county two years ago for releasing an autopsy report on their daughter Eliza Jane, who died of AIDS-related pneumonia. The county believed that the HIV-positive Maggiore was guilty of child neglect for not having her daughter tested for AIDS, and the family’s private pathologist claimed the girl died of an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. In any case, Maggiore and Scovill were typical AIDS deniers in that they believed everything we know about AIDS is wrong. Maggiore even published a book, What if Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS was Wrong?, which obviously didn’t answer its own question with “That would be weird, but it’s just not true.” In one of life’s funny little coincidences, Maggiore died late last year of AIDS-related causes, after having railed against proven AIDS medications that could have saved her life. Anyway, this story really has no happy ending. The county just settled the invasion of privacy lawsuit brought on by the release of Maggiore’s daughter’s autopsy report for $15,000, which will go to Scovill. No word yet on whether Scovill has come to terms with the fact that his dead wife ruined his and his family’s lives with her willful ignorance and idiocy. More details here.

Saudis Lash Geriatric Woman for “Mingling”

Saudi Arabia has a religious police force tasked with upholding woman-hating religious standards that have no place in the civilized world. And just so you don’t brush them off as some sort of absurdist fantasy, they occasionally do something so disgusting and ridiculous that you wonder why all Saudis don’t just rise up and throw them out of the country. For instance, they just arrested an elderly woman for being in the same house with two unrelated men. One of the men said that this woman breast fed him as a baby (which makes him her son under Islamic law, apparently), and was delivering bread to her in the company of his friend, who was the other man involved. The police arrested both of those men as well, but they didn’t punish them quite as harshly as the old lady. For being such a skank, she will receive forty lashes, four months in prison, and deportation. Assuming she survives, that last one might be the best thing that’s ever happened to her. More details here.

Losing Our Religion

According to a new survey by Connecticut’s Trinity College, more and more people are abandoning Christianity for no religion at all. In 1990, nine out of ten Americans identified themselves as Christians, but that number has dropped to three out of four. The number of people not affiliated with any religion is on a steady rise, while members of moderate Christian denominations like Lutherans and Episcopalians are losing ground to more fundamentalist sects. One of the survey authors attributes the rise in godlessness to a reaction against the rise in fundamentalism, as the stereotypes of Christians as intolerant evangelicals seems to be truer than ever. Though I’d like to think some of these new rationalists simply opened their Bibles, said “there’s no damn way”, and quietly joined the rest of us. More details here.

Obama All About the Stem Cells

Today, President Obama signed an executive order reversing the Bush-era ban on federally funding stem cell research beyond the sixty cell lines that existed at the time. He also granted greater autonomy to other federal science programs. In a statement, he said that the Bush administration presented a false choice between morality and science, and that the two are not mutually exclusive. Obama also expressed a bit of skepticism when it comes to the loftier claims of some stem cell research proponents, saying that its full benefits are currently unknown and shouldn’t be overstated to give people potentially false hope. Later, my head exploded from finally hearing rational, pro-science statements from someone in an elected position of power. The pieces flew all over the damn place, but a Magic Eraser got most of the stains out. My skull fragments are currently being held together with Crazy Glue, duct tape, and stem cells. More details here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Earth-like Planets Ahoy!

For those who don’t already know, NASA’s Kepler telescope is scheduled to launch tonight at 10:49pm EST. I’ll probably still be sitting in a darkened movie theater, staring into Dr. Manhattan’s big blue dong by that time, but I’ll try and TiVo it. For three and a half years, Kepler will stare into a patch of space containing the constellations Cygnus and Lyra in search of Earth-like (or Earth-sized, at least) planets around distant stars. It seems like almost every star we look at these days has a planet spinning around it, but we’ve detected mostly gas giants that can’t harbor life as we know it. While there’s always the possibility that Kepler will turn up nothing, thus wasting 600 million more federal dollars that could have gone into volcano monitoring, it’s very likely that Earth-like planets will be as ubiquitous as their larger siblings. And if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to detect the kind of water and oxygen rich atmosphere that will indicate a good target for our future interstellar conquests. Look out, aliens! It’s manifest destiny all over again! More details here.

Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho: Sadistic Idiot

Brazilian Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho has excommunicated everyone involved with helping a nine-year-old girl secure an abortion after her step-father impregnated her with twins. Please take a sip of your favorite beverage and let that sink in. Ready? The excommunications include the girl’s mother and her doctors and are especially serious in such a staunchly Catholic country. Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or when the life of the mother is endangered. In this case, both criteria were met. Remember, this was a nine-year-old pregnant with twins. Regardless, Sobrinho sees this as pretty cut and dry, saying that the laws of man don’t trump the laws of God. And no one can argue that while God frowns upon the semi-incestuous rape of prepubescent children, His hands are tied when it comes to saving them from a horrible, bloody death by stillborn childbirth. Of course, the good news here is that the child in question will live now, and all her family and friends will finally be free from a bunch of jackasses in dresses telling them what to do. More details here.

Colorado State Sen. Dave Schultheis: Blithering, Disgusting Idiot

I have several friends in Colorado who I really like a lot, and I don’t think any of them are Republicans. Which is probably just as well, because I feel comforted in knowing none of them have voted for morons like Republican Colorado Springs State Sen. Dave Schultheis, who recently opposed a bill that would require pregnant women to undergo AIDS testing (unless they opt out) in order to prevent the virus from passing to their children because “[HIV] stems from sexual promiscuity for the most part, and I just can’t go there.” Putting aside Schultheis’ obnoxious co-opting of the equally obnoxious ‘90s catchphrase “don’t go there”, is this guy really an elected official? This is the kind of statement one would expect from a South Park parody or a malfunctioning android just before it shits battery fluid all over itself and collapses in a coma. He elaborated: "We do things continually to remove the consequences of poor behavior, unacceptable behavior, quite frankly. I'm not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions." Yes, we all know that AIDS isn’t only a side-effect of sexual promiscuity, but that’s beside the point. Even if Slutty McWhorebag caught HIV by fucking random puddles of blood in Denver back alleys (too graphic?), that doesn’t change the fact that testing only protects her future child. And lest you think that Schultheis’ penchant for baby killing is simply a consistent extension of his other moronic opinions, you should also know that he’s pro-life. Here’s to family values! More sordid details here.

Gay Marriage on Trial

The California Supreme Court is hearing arguments from people hoping to strike down last year’s Proposition 8 referendum, which created an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage. Basically, the arguments have boiled down to whether a person’s right to marry trumps the rights of California’s citizens to change their constitution. Since the state’s attorney general, Jerry Brown, opposed the gay marriage ban, attorney Kenneth Starr, who famously went after Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation, was brought in to argue Prop. 8’s case. He said that Californians have the right to change their constitution in any way they see fit, unless those changes conflict with U.S. Constitution protections. But California’s threshold for passing constitutional amendments is comically low. Because they require only a simple majority, the state constitution has been altered five hundred times since 1911, as opposed to the U.S. Constitution, which has only twenty-seven amendments. So far, the consensus of the court seems to be that while the threshold is too low, it’s up to California’s voters to change that—most likely via another amendment. In addition to being an amateur scientist, I’m also an amateur lawyer, so here’s my completely illegal and most likely misguided advice. Supporters of gay marriage (i.e. humans with a trace of basic decency) should pursue their efforts to overturn Prop. 8 on a federal level. It’s much slower going, and a positive outcome isn’t very likely right now, but the only way to put this issue to rest is to force the federal courts to face up to the fact that gay marriage bans are a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. This would necessarily overturn gay marriage bans in every state, which is why it has little chance of making it through the court. But the times they are a-changing, so you never know. The Supreme Court fairly recently guaranteed federal protection to people who want to practice sodomy in the comfort of their own homes/dungeons, so it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch that they’d offer the same protection to people who want to be bound in holy matrimony first. More details here.

What is it Good For?

Last year, 1,600 people were murdered by drug traffickers in the Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez. Now, the Mexican government has ordered 5,000 soldiers and 3,000 federal agents to the streets of Juarez to help stem the violence and bring the area back under control. The town’s chief of police recently resigned after organized criminals threatened to kill one police officer every day he remained in office. In short, this is a horrible, violent, and costly situation—especially for a country that doesn’t have the most robust economy in the first place. Which begs the question: What the hell is this all about, anyway? How many people are we willing to see killed because we don’t want adults putting certain chemicals in their bodies? Without this mindless policy of prohibition, these traffickers would be called businessmen, and they wouldn’t need to deal in the kinds of criminally violent tactics that are destroying the lives of each and every person in this part of Mexico and many other places around the world. I don’t often get all up in arms over the War on Some Drugs, but this is just absurd. Even worse, I can’t think of a joke to shoehorn in here. I could mention something about the fact that the state where Juarez is located is called Chihuahua, but that just seems too juvenile. More details here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Workers hired to clean rubbish (that's British for "trash") from a pond near the town of Beaulieu (that's French for "good looking bathroom") in England made a terrifying discovery this week.


Unless a manic gentleman with a little glowy stick shows up sometime soon, I'm afraid we're all doomed. 2012, my ass.

Attack of the (Hidden) Clones

Italian gynecologist Severino Antinori loves making babies. And not in the way you think. (Well, he probably loves that, too.) He helped impregnate a 63-year-old woman using in vitro fertilization, and he recently announced his intention to impregnate another woman using genetic material from her husband, who's in an irreversible coma. Now, he says he also impregnated three women with human clones, and that those clones are living healthy, happy lives in anonymous seclusion. Why the anonymity? Antinori says it's to protect the privacy of his patients, but it might also have something to do with the fact that human cloning is illegal in Italy. Also, it makes it very easy for him to make this claim without providing a shred of evidence. And it's this lack of evidence that has skeptics saying nay. Many others (including the Raelian UFO cult) have claimed to successfully clone humans before, and none of them can offer any proof. On a related note, I have successfully cloned eighteen children--two boys and sixteen girls. I can't tell you where they are, but I can give you a one-word hint. "Homeschool". More details here.

I Want My Asthma TV

According to a new study out of the University of Glasgow, watching too much TV could increase a child's risk of developing asthma. We all know that some shows (Family Guy) actually release lung-strangling fumes of pure shit when watched, but that has nothing to do with the asthma risk. No, it's thought that sedentary behavior can alter a child's breathing patterns in such a way that his or her lungs undergo developmental changes. This particular study found that children who watched more than two hours of TV per day had twice the risk of developing asthma than those who watched less. But if the sedentary behavior hypothesis is true, that means any activity involving very little activity could have the same effect--including, I assume, sitting in a school desk for seven hours a day. More details here. And on a related note, whoever's running the Reuters photo file must have had a little fun with this story. The photo they attached (which you can see on the left) appears to show a child watching some harmless Disney program, but that's actually a screen grab from a Palenstinian show called Children's Club, where a Mickey Mouse ripoff teaches youngsters to drink their milk and wage jihad against the Jews. Adorable.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sen. Robert Menendez: Douchebag

Democratic senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey has placed a hold on votes to confirm two of Barack Obama's top science adviser nominees. Obama has tapped Harvard physicist John Holdren to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco has been asked to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. I don't know whether these are decent appointments or not, but I do know that Sen. Menendez is a douchebag, because he hasn't blocked the votes on these appointees out of any concern over them. Instead, he's just trying to get attention for some Cuba-related issue he has a personal jones for. This is exactly the kind of melodramatic circus act that makes our entire legislative body look like a bunch of whiny teenagers. Really, the whole Capitol Building might as well be the set for Lord of the Flies. I wonder how many taxpayer-funded working ours will be spent patronizingly asking this guy to tell everyone what he wants them to hear about Cuba and stop being such a dick. This delay also means Holdren and Lubchenco may not be able to participate in a Washington meeting on climate change science policy this week. Christ, what a douchebag. More details here.

The Name Game

A Cornell University study shows that simply giving vegetables a cooler name could encourage kids to eat more of them. 186 preschoolers were given regular carrots on some lunch days and "X-ray vision carrots" on others. Either way, they were just carrots, but the kids ate nearly twice as many when they thought the vegetables would give them privacy-violating superpowers. Afterward, they still ate 50% more carrots even on the days they weren't given a ridiculous name. While this research might be a boon to officials trying to get school children to eat healthier (and to whatever comic book nerd copywriter who gets to come up with the new menus), I find it more than a little terrifying. What else might we trick our children into doing using only the brainwashing power of desirable words? Sure, today we're giving them brontosaurus broccoli and krazy kool collard greens, but what's to stop evil elementary school principals from turning these kids into his own private army with the promise of a little mega mindblowing murder? More details here.

Transvestite Lizards

A group of South African and Australian researchers have discovered that many male Augrabies lizards pretend to be females until they've bulked up enough to defend themselves from rival males. These transvestites can delay the color changes that would otherwise signal their growth into mature gentlemen, keeping them feeling safe and pretty until they're ready to come out as men. In addition to protection, the cross-coloring also allows these males to get closer to females with whom they intend to make, which is exactly why I joined by high school kick line. (Also, I had fabulous legs.) It's not all gravy, though, as a stray lick from a male's tongue will blow the transvestite's cover, which could be disastrous. You never want to tell a hormone-riddled, sexually insecure man that the lady he just licked is really a dude. More details here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

LIFE!!!!!...of a Sort

When scientists began searching for life beyond our planet, they had to come up with a definition for what exactly life is. Simply looking for a creature that can eat, breathe, and procreate wouldn’t do, since those criteria describe Sarah Palin, which obviously isn’t a life form. So, they decided that life is any self-sustaining chemical system capable of evolution. By that definition, synthetic life has already been created. Well, almost. The Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, which you can call FAME only if you accompany the name with jazz hands, has a beaker full of something called Artificially Expanded Genetic Information System, or AEGIS. They claim this is the first synthetic genetic system capable of evolution. The only problem is that it isn’t self-sustaining, but that’s something that the creator, Steve Benner, believes is only a temporary problem. Obviously AEGIS isn’t a direct analog to how life originally began on earth (we were created in beakers by aliens, not scientists), but its development does show how tenacious life probably is around the universe. It’s also a huge step forward in the field of synthetic biology, which promises to use artificially engineered organism for a variety of helpful applications in science, medicine, and industry. Also, this means I’m one step closer to being able to grow my own oversized flying amoeba for personal transportation. More details here.

Women More Religious Than Men

A new study of Pew Research Center survey data confirms previous research showing women tend to be more religious than men. Of the 35,000 respondents, 86% of women considered themselves affiliated with a religion, as opposed to 79% of men. Considerably more women than men also had a certain belief in God or a “universal spirit”, as well as belief in a personal god. The greatest difference has to do with prayer. 66% of women prayed at least daily, as opposed to only 49% of men. There are several hypothesis as to why these discrepancies exist, and none of them are welcome sights for those of us who are a little disgusted by traditional female stereotypes. George Gallup, Jr. (of the Gallup polling firm, obviously) believes that women may tend to be more religious because they spend more time raising children, which often means toting the little brats to church. He also says that women have a more flexible daily schedule that allows for more church attendance, and that women tend to be more socially bonded to church groups than men. University of Washington sociologist Rodney Stark suggests that men have a genetic tendency toward low impulse control, which makes them more prone to casting aside religious obligations that stand in the way of instant gratification. Sadly, I think that many women are conditioned from birth to be less expressive and more subservient than men, so I wonder whether these poll results might be skewed by women being more unwilling to reveal their true feelings about the things they were raised to believe. And while I hate that this may be the reality, I can clearly understand why men would want to keep women in check historically. They’re smarter than we are, and there’s nothing we love containing more than terrifying power. Also, boobies are mysterious and wonderful things we don’t quite understand and therefore fear. More details here.

Conservatives Heart Porn

A new study of anonymous credit card receipts from a major online porn retailer show that while all of America loves watching naked people have sex, the highest concentrations of smut consumption are in the most traditionally conservative states. Now, it’s easy to jump on board the smug “look at the hypocrites” bandwagon, but might I wouldn’t be so quick to judge. We don’t know exactly what kinds of porn these people are consuming. As a faithless, gay-loving cosmopolitan type (i.e. a hipster douchebag), I enjoy my pornography on the edge. There are too many acronyms in my desktop porn folder to go name (A2M, DP, FFM, MMF, MILF, NASA, BBW, to mention just a few). Sure, I’d call shenanigans on any uptight conservative who spanked it to 2 Girls 1 Cup, and then I’d probably friend him on MySpace. But I don’t think there’s anything contradictory about a Bible-thumping, queer-bashing redneck swiping the credit card for plenty of old fashioned, meat and potatoes missionary action. For all we know, these red state porn mongers could just be consuming the tamest of all pornography, and I say more power to them. After all, when everyone in the country is shilling out money for filmed sex (which boggles my mind, since so much great stuff is available for free), the standard has to be reset. We shouldn’t judge whether someone is conservative by how much porn he or she watches, but how filthy that porn is. And now that I’ve written a post with enough keywords to keep me on top of Google for a few more weeks, I have some NSFW BDSM to get back to. More details here.

The Death Budget

In this global economic apocalypse, U.S. states are looking for any way to trim their bloated budgets. A few of them, including Kansas and New Mexico, are set to vote on bills that would abolish the death penalty to save some cash. Criminal cases where the prosecution pursues the death penalty are far more expensive than those where they don’t. The numbers vary, but anywhere between $500,000 to $2 million per case could be saved if states decided against killing people for revenge. And really, financial issues aside, that should be the reason why we end this archaic and absurd practice. The death penalty puts the power of ultimate vengeance in the hands of government, which necessarily places government in a higher moral position than the people. If you can’t hunt down and kill people who’ve committed crimes against you, why should the judicial system be allowed to? The death penalty doesn’t right a wrong, and it doesn’t punish the people it kills. It’s not a deterrent, and it’s been proven time and again to not be immune to killing innocent people. But if the financial sense of death penalty abolition is what it takes to finally wake up state governments, then I suppose we can’t complain. Here’s hoping no one tries to compromise by turning executions into profitable pay-per-view events. I really don’t want to live in a bad Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. More details here.

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