Thursday, December 31, 2009

In Russia, UFOs Ogle YOU!

Here's footage reportedly of a pyramid-shaped UFO hovering above the Kremlin. There are two clips; one taken in daylight and the other at night. Anonymous witnesses say the object was as much as a mile wide and hovered over Red Square for hours. If that's the case, you might wonder why there's not more footage from every single person in Moscow with access to a camera. But you'd be forgetting the simple fact that sights like this are not at all uncommon in a land where futuristic supermen like Vladimir Putin can both assassinate dissidents and lift entire mountains WITH HIS MIND.


Look, I don't know if Republican/Libertarian congressional representative Ron Paul is a racist 9/11 conspiracy theorist. I've never spoken to the man, and nothing I've found in his trash has proven even remotely incriminating. (Well, except for this positive pregnancy test. Care to make an announcement, Dr. Paul?) But I do know that Paul seems to attract unwashed trust fund baby Truthers and white supremacists like nobody's business. Let's call this phenomenon Paulnetism. And it appears to be genetic. Paul's son, Rand Paul (named after author, philosopher, and FUCKING CULT LEADER Ayn Rand), has Paulnetically attracted his very own racist in the form of campaign spokesperson Chris Hightower. Make that former campaign spokesperson Chris Hightower, actually. It seems Hightower, in addition to having played in a hairtastic black metal band, has a MySpace blog all about his hilarious adventures offending black people (or as he calls them, "Afro-Americans") at Walmart with his KKK hoodie. Better yet, a MySpace buddy of his had a comment left on Hightower's page for two years wishing him a "HAPPY NIGGER DAY!!!" on January 19th, known throughout Paul's home state of Texas as Confederate Memorial Day. Obviously this kind of association looks bad for someone running for a U.S. senate seat, so Rand had to cut Hightower loose. I'm assuming this was just as difficult for him as it was for his father to fire whoever wrote all those antisemitic things in his official newsletter. More details here.

Orson Welles Layin' it Down

No one could lay it down quite like Orson Welles. Well, unless you're talking about a salad bowl full of chili. He was a fat man, you see, and this is a source of great mirth. Anyway, here he is talking about cold reading.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dad Dancing

Why does your dad dance like a jackass? According to researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, it's because of science. Specifically, the science of evolution, which may plant a dancing handicap in the subconscious minds of older men so they won't attract hot young ladies with their sexy moves. It seems dancing well is a sign of heightened testosterone levels and sexual fertility in younger men. But as they get older, their coordination and confidence levels fall. This may be a proactive way to warn potential sex partners that they might be better off looking for a younger mate. It's true that older men can still get it on like nobody's business (see: Abe Vigoda), but they're often too hampered with familial and social obligations to make good sperm donors. In fact, their continuing attraction to women make make their dancing even worse, since they're still awkward around hot ladies. Or, this could all be bunk. After all, it's pretty difficult to pop it or lock it with any grace when you're nearly crippled by arthritis. More details here.

Ladies vs. Nerds

According to both a new University of Washington study and everything you know about the human species, women are turned off by big old dorks. And since so many computer science majors are big old dorks, there's a shrinking percentage of women entering the field. Research subjects were sent into a computer lab and asked about their impressions of computer science. When the lab was decked out with "Star Trek" memorabilia, soda garbage, and other geeky bric-a-brac, women generally expressed a more negative opinion of computer science than men. Then the lab was decorated with nature posters, dictionaries, and coffee mugs, there was no difference in gender opinion among the research subjects. The psychologists who designed the study think that there's a masculine cultural stigma associated with geekdom, which makes women feel out of place. That may be true, but it's also reasonable to assume that geek symbols are negatively associated with the kinds of socially handicapped, condescending, unhygienic dorks that no one wants to associate with. Geeky TV shows, movies, and books could do a better job trying to appeal to women, but so could the guy who wipes his clammy palm on his "Last Starfighter" t-shirt before shaking a woman's hand. Sure, these are gross stereotypes, but even the grossest stereotypes are sometimes rooted in truth. For instance, most Scottish people do, in fact, eat nothing but barley-stuffed sheep stomachs. Yeah, I went there. More details here.

Restless Genital Syndrome

I know what you're thinking. "Maybe I have Restless Genital Syndrome. My cock twitches every which way!" Well, Restless Genital Syndrome isn't what you think it is. And for the love of God, get a doctor to look at that cock! RGS is actually a persistent state of arousal that can be caused by nerve damage. New Mexican Joleen Baughman has it. A car accident damaged a nerve in her pelvis and now she can barely move without getting turned on. But lest you think this is some kind of super sex hero origin story, you should know that Baughman sees her restless genitals as more of a curse than a blessing. After all, there's only so much sex your body can take. Let alone your partner's. But although I sympathize with such a distracting and embarrassing condition, I can't help but wonder if it's not as bad as she's making it out to be. Before her sex drive exploded, she says she had "practically no sex drive at all." I might think differently if I were in her genitals, but speaking as a man who's been aroused pretty much non-stop from the age of twelve or so, I can safely say I've learned to adapt. Pro tip: If you ever want to concentrate on anything, Mrs. Baughman, I'd suggest avoiding vibrating public transportation seats, episodes of "Mad Men", and corduroy pants. More details here.

Whores vs. Gigolos

While female prostitution has been legal in Nevada for a while now, it's taken until this month for men to get in on the lucrative sex trade. Well, aside from working as pimps, that is. State health officials have approved an official STD examine regimen for man-whores, and one brothel owner plans to start hiring them within the next few weeks. But not everyone is happy about this idea. And no, it's not just the repressed Mormon businessmen who think legalizing male prostitution will take all the thrill out of it. George Flint, a former minister, wedding chapel owner, and lobbyist for the brothel industry, thinks male prostitution is just icky and shouldn't be allowed. "We've worked hard for years to make the traditional brothel business in this state socially acceptable an something we can be proud of that most Nevadans accept," he said. "It was inevitable with Pearl Harbor we'd have a problem there someday, and we've known this would be a problem, too." Yes, paying to have your orifices stuffed with some rock-hard, state-approved cock is exactly like the surprise Japanese kamikaze attack that killed American soldiers and prompted the U.S. to enter World War II. Mostly because both events would/have make/made terrible Ben Affleck movies. Though I wonder if this analogy isn't a bit of a logical stretch. Is Flint implying that we knew the Pearl Harbor attacks would eventually happen? Did he know they were going to happen and just not tell anyone? What are you trying to hide, George Flint? More details here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

No God, No Go

I don't know anything about Cecil Bothwell other than the fact that he was elected to the Asheville, North Carolina city council last month. Oh, and that he's an atheist. How do I know this? Because his opponents are arguing that he shouldn't be seated in his newly won office, because North Carolina's state constitution bans anyone who doesn't believe in God from holding a public position. Sure, America is a free country where everyone has a right to believe or not believe whatever he wants, but Bothwell's opponents would like you to also consider the fact that they'd rather he wasn't in office. "“I'm not saying that Cecil Bothwell is not a good man, but if he's an atheist, he's not eligible to serve in public office, according to the state constitution,” said anti-Bothwell activist H.K. Edgerton. But the thing is, the U.S. Constitution states that no one may be denied election to a public office because of religion or a lack thereof. And when it comes to civil rights, federal law trumps state law. Which H.K. Edgerton, former president of the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, should know, considering federal rulings are what won black people like himself their own civil rights. Or maybe he's just never heard about that, since douchebags don't have ears. More details here.

Mutant Potatoes

German (mad) scientists have used the dark magick of genetic manipulation to create a new variety of potato that could make life a little cheaper and easier for several different industries. Au naturale potatoes produce both amylopectin and amylose starch, but paper, textile, and other manufacturers only use the amylopectin stuff. Or "Amy Pec", as I'm going to claim they call it. German companies go through over 500,000 tons of Amy Pec every year, which can get expensive since it has to be purified from other starches. But this new breed of mutant potato only produces amylopectin starch, reducing costs and saving energy for everyone. But how does it taste? I have no idea. I don't put genetically modified foods in my mouth for fear any one of them will make me grow bat wings. I am also an idiot. More details here.

Darpa's Dark Arts

Darpa, the U.S. military's shadowy cabal of mad scientists and frustrated science fiction writers with sociopathic tendencies, is researching new ways to keep injured soldiers alive on the battlefield while medical help is dispatched. Their solution? Turn them into the undead. Or, more specifically, the almost dead. Two competing teams of researchers are looking into how they can suspend a bleeding soldier's life while he waits for a medic. Half of all troop fatalities are caused by massive blood loss after an injury is sustained. One team is trying to simulate squirrel hibernation in humans by manipulating a pancreatic enzyme. The idea is to stop the bleeding by putting the wounded soldier in a kind of suspended animation. The other team is trying to lengthen near-death experiences by using hydrogen sulfide to block the body's need for oxygen absorption. As long as organs and tissues don't need oxygen, there's no need for blood either. The only downside is that this kind of treatment would turn our best and brightest into bloodless zombies while they're waiting for medical treatment. And after that, it's only a matter of time before they develop a taste for delicious brains. But, in fairness, it's probably only a matter of time before we all develop a taste for delicious brains. They're just so damned delicious. So tender and juicy. You're not going to eat that brain, are you? More details here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Magic Horsies

Horse owners in the area of west Dorset, U.K. are nervous that thieves may be after their beautiful beasts. The animals' manes have been found mysteriously plaited, which some believe is how horse burglars mark the ones they plan to steal. I don't know the street value of stolen horses, but this seems unlikely. Especially since none of the horses have actually been stolen. Local police are also skeptical, and they've determined there's a far more mundane explanation: witchcraft. It seems mane plaiting is an important part of certain spells. The cops have consulted with a warlock informant who says witches and wizards will bound any electric fence and brave any horse's nethers to tie some mane as part of a "knot magick" ritual. I understand how the horses' owners would be uncomfortable with spellcasters sneaking on their property and molesting their animals, but I don't really see how there's any harm being done. Unless, of course, the ultimate goal of all this magic is to summon an ancient demon god to lay waste to all humanity. But the odds of that are probably negligible at best. More details here.

Ungayin' it Up

So, Uganda is threatening to pass a new law that would make gay sex a capital crime, force the execution of HIV-positive people, ban support for gay rights, and require all Ugandans to report suspected homosexual activity. This isn't news. Also not news is the fact that America's purpose-driven pastor Rick Warren has refused to condemn the proposed law, even though he's had close ties with Ugandan ministers who are backing it. What is news, however, is that Sweden, of all places, is one of the first countries to show some balls when it comes to opposing this horrific law. If it passes, Swedish development minister Gunilla Carlsson says that her country would cut off the $50 million of annual aid they send to Uganda. Who knew Sweden had that much cash to throw around? Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper has also weighed in, calling the bill "deplorable" and making it clear Canada officially opposes it. Not much, maybe, but it's something. And something is more than nothing, which is what President Obama has said about the situation so far. Maybe he's waiting for the right opportunity? I mean, there's got to be a good reason, right? More details here.

Gayin' it Up

It seems like anyone with a healthy set of paranoid ideologies, an ill-fitting suit, and a computer can set himself up as an "advocacy group" or a "think tank." How else to explain the existence of organizations like the Family Research Council that don't really do anything other than panic about nothing. The FRC is particularly annoyed by the impending Employment Non-Discrimination Act working its way through congress. The legislation, which is being pushed by the Obama administration, would make it illegal for certain businesses to fire or refuse to promote employees based on sexual orientation. But to the FRC, this is just a Trojan horse for Obama's ultimate goal: the forced conversion of every American to a homosexual lifestyle. The logic's a little hard to follow, but the FRC appears to be arguing that the ENDA would actually force churches and other groups to hire gay people, and they describe the legislation as Obama's "plan to impose homosexuality and silence Christianity in the workplaces." Weirdly, they make particular mention of cross-dressers, even though cross-dressing has less to do with sexual orientation and more to do with the appreciation of soft, succulent undergarments. Even better, the latest version of the bill specifically (and wrongly) exempts churches, small businesses, and the military from the new anti-discrimination rules. But regardless of all that, I don't see why Obama would want to convert us all to homosexuality. Unless, of course, he's trying to keep every man's paws away from his wife's hot, hot gams. More details here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Three Tiers of Religious Belief

Atheism is one logical conclusion of a skeptical worldview. Once you train a thoughtful and inquiring eye on almost any aspect of religion, it begins to unravel. Look into the history of religious texts, and it becomes clear they were written by fallible human beings not so much inspired by God as making God up as they go along. Tracing a line through the Bible, you can find God referenced in the plural, referenced as just the greatest of many gods, referenced as a sole force of vengeance, and finally referenced as a quasi-human example of perfect kindness. The evolution of God doesn't teach us anything about an actual deity, but it teaches us a great deal about the changing priorities and ideals of humans as we multiplied and civilized ourselves.

So, it's no wonder skeptics' circles include many atheists. Once you discover evidence of God being a human construct, it's hard to believe in Him any longer. But atheism isn't a necessary conclusion of skepticism. As Bill Maher proves, it's very possible to be skeptical of religion without carrying that attitude over to other important topics like science-based medicine. Martin Gardner, one of the founding fathers of the modern skeptical movement, is a deist. Or, more specifically, he's a fideist in that he believes God exists as an unknowable entity who doesn't take an active role in our existence.

But many atheist skeptics oppose religion not just on historical or philosophical grounds, but as a matter of morality. It's undeniable that organized religion has perpetrated innumerable horrors. Mass murder, torture, thievery, and anti-intellectualism have all been committed in the name of religion, and the harm is still ongoing. The Catholic church, in opposing science-based sex education and condom distribution in Africa, has been complicit in the deaths of millions of people due to preventable STIs, including HIV/AIDS. By campaigning against the teaching of evolution in public schools, many different religions have tried and succeeded to impede the education of our children in favor of dogmatic ignorance.

It's because of these moral crimes that many atheist skeptics also become too dismissive of religion and the religious. It's difficult to ignore the fact that whatever charitable organizations that exist in our communities to feed, shelter, and clothe the poor are far more likely to be run by churches than by secularist groups. It's also difficult to ignore the fact that despite the Bible's teachings about the stoning of homosexuals, the banishing of women on their periods, or the sins of eating shellfish, most followers of Judeo-Christian beliefs are able to ignore these teachings. This is because in addition to their top-down, monolithic bureaucracies, religions are also necessarily bottom-up forces. No matter what horrible decrees come down from on high, the people are always free to ignore them. And if they're ignored by enough people, they become irrelevant.

A quick look at religious history bears this out. Religion once condoned slavery, but religious people have since rejected it. Religion has excused genocide, but religious people have fought it. There's a steady, though tediously slow march toward progress, even though the figureheads are reluctant to change. The reforms adopted by the Catholic church at Vatican II show how necessary and inevitable it is for the top to adapt to the bottom. And even though the newest pope seems to want to roll back those reforms, he'll find it's nearly impossible to do so.

Lately, the fight to legalize gay marriage in the U.S. has created a new tension between religion and reason. There are no serious political arguments against marriage equality for gay people. All of the opposition is firmly based in the irrational moral beliefs of the religious, which have no place in public policy. But skeptics, humanists, and rationalists should understand atheism isn't the only cure for this kind of institutional religious ignorance.

Last year, California voters struck down marriage equality by passing Proposition 8. This would seem like a damning statement about the harmfulness of religion, but the numbers tell a different story. 47.76% of voters chose to preserve the civil rights of gay people by voting against the measure, according to the official election results. But only about 20% of California's population identifies as non-religious. This means that a large percentage of voters who fought for gay rights at the ballot box were religious people. Like the scriptural ban on eating shellfish, they were able to put their compassion and reason above dogma. If this means reinterpreting scripture, so be it. The effect is the same.

Simple belief in God may be irrational, but it's not a symptom of an irrational mind, as Martin Gardner's deism proves. And disbelief in God is not a symptom of a rational mind, as Bill Maher's anti-science beliefs prove. And the teachings of any particular religion don't always trump basic human kindness, as the numbers in California prove. Yet it's not difficult to find skeptical bloggers and commentators speaking about the religious as if they're all idiotic, dogmatic robots. As if their internal and external contradictions are just a front for their true loyalty to the worst of religious teachings. The reality is more complicated than that. And the priorities of skeptics should reflect this fact.

So, I'm proposing a three-tiered classification system for religious beliefs, scaled according to importance.

Tier #1: The Irrelevant

This tier encompasses an abstract belief in any kind of supernatural deity. Even among members of the same faith, there are numerous interpretations as to who or what God is. To some, He's a blind watchmaker. To others, He's not even a he. To many, He's nothing but a vague force with malleable motives and powers according to what makes the believer feel good.

This kind of belief, while possibly irrational or even silly in its meaninglessness, is not harmful in any appreciable way. Criticizing it or deconstructing it or railing against it as anything other than an intellectual exercise is both shrill and useless.

Tier #2: The Inaccurate

This is when skeptics should start to take notice. Inaccurate religious beliefs are those that contradict established, empirical scientific evidence. These beliefs may or may not be harmful to society, but they're undeniably wrong. The Hebrew exodus from Egypt as recounted in the Bible, for instance, is not based on fact. The divine origins of religious artifacts such as the Shroud of Turin are questionable at best. These kinds of curiosities should be treated with an unwaveringly fact-based, but light touch. The goal in fighting them should be education, not necessarily outright ridicule.

Young earth creationism may be the most problematic inaccurate religious belief. Many religious people may accept the myth that our planet was conjured out of nothing only 6,000 years ago, but they also may do so only by default. Maybe being taught this since birth has made them less likely to question. Or maybe a larger ignorance of history and geology makes it easier to accept this false belief.

The danger comes from people who would push this belief on others, especially on the educational system. In this case, creationism would fall under the third tier. But some who would try to spread misinformation or outright lies about evolution do so in such a silly and ineffective way that they really pose little harm. Ben Stein's anti-evolution documentary "Expelled" and Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort's altered "On the Origin of Species" fall under this category.

Despite what some skeptics have claimed, "Expelled" was no flop. It didn't make the money of a summer blockbuster, to be sure, but it did respectable business for a documentary on a niche topic. Still, its influence is negligible at best. Poll the average person, and it's doubtful he or she has even heard of the movie, much less seen it. We have to ask ourselves if skeptical coverage of the film even outweighed its exposure in popular media. I suspect so. In the end, "Expelled" was an effort doomed to speak only to the choir. Its release was definitely noteworthy, and a point-by-point response to its distortions was warranted, but its impact was slight and not worth too much hand wringing.

Skeptical blogs, podcasts, and journals similarly have been buzzing about Comfort and Cameron passing out copies of "On the Origin of Species" with their added introduction chock full of creationist lies. Even more than "Expelled", the effect of this publicity stunt on the popular culture was negligible. The best way to influence a busy college student is never to hand them a dense Victorian science tome, regardless of what you've printed in the front. Someone at that age who has enough science education to accept evolution as a fact isn't going to be swayed by reading an essay from the banana guys. It's insulting to the intelligence of college students to pretend otherwise. Ultimately, this was another case of preaching to the choir on Comfort and Cameron's part. And once again, they were given more attention from skeptics than from the larger media. This was a topic worth addressing, but nothing worth any kind of serious fuss.

Tier #3: The Insufferable

Religious beliefs in this tier go from being simply wrong to demonstrably harmful. Creationists who use their positions of political power to influence science education are dangerous and should be dealt with vigorously and thoroughly. The Vatican's opposition to sex education and birth control in Africa is outright deadly. Christian Scientists have proven themselves willing to harm their own sick children because of their religious aversion to medicine. Religious superstitions such as the belief in demonic possession or witchcraft can destroy communities and end lives. These beliefs are insufferable, and skeptics have done an incredible job exposing and debunking them. All efforts could be more effective, but none of these issues has been ignored.

However, there is one insufferable religious belief that has provoked less skeptical outrage than it perhaps should. Again, there is no argument against marriage equality that is not firmly based in religious aversion to homosexuality. Though incremental progress has been made, the forces of reason on this front are fighting a tough war, even losing battle after battle. In the case of California, the courts struck down marriage discrimination, but the voters built it back up. Recently, government officials in New York proved themselves unwilling to legislate civil rights for their state.

To reiterate, this fight is not one of atheists versus the religious. Though the arguments against reason are based on religious belief, I've shown that the religious are willing to go against the scriptural teachings of their faith when reason wins out. But for every skeptical article on gay marriage, there seems to be a dozen or more on Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Kirk and Ray may have invaded college campuses, but anti-equality laws are currently invading the homes of every gay person in America and the consciences of everyone concerned about equal treatment under the law.

It's time we re-prioritized and divided the inaccurate from the insufferable or the irrelevant. It's time we stopped equating atheism with reason. It's time we showed kindness and understanding to those religious beliefs that deserve it and vigorously attacked only those that truly don't. But in everything, we should act with a generous heart, a sense of humor, and a respect for the only thing that unites all of us: our humanity.*

*Those reading this who might be new to my blog might be wondering why so many other posts contain juvenile jokes about robots, genitals, and robot genitals while this post is mysteriously robo-genital joke-free. To that, I can only say this: Mechadong.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

SETI Sacking

An Arizona school district has fired one of its IT guys for installing SETI's free data analysis software SETI@home on several if not all of the district's computers. SETI@home uses a computer's background processing power to comb through the mountains of radio astronomy data the institute collects all the time, searching for an artificial signal from an extraterrestrial intelligence. Brad Niesluchowski apparently didn't tell anyone he was installing the software, but that's not the district's complaint. They allege that the increased power consumption and hard drive wear and tear caused by SETI@home amounted to over a million dollars in damages. I'm not sure how that number could be estimated, but it seems excessive. And why would a school district fire someone for contributing to the research of a pro-science institute like SETI? Oh, wait. There's more. Turns out a search of Niesluchowski's home uncovered a bunch of stolen computers. Also, he was allegedly a crappy IT guy who didn't install any firewalls. I see. More details here.

Spread the Solitude

Ever since Tiger Woods abruptly stopped text messaging me, I've been feeling a little lonely. I mean, if an international superstar athlete (sort of) no longer wants to come over and show me his favorite club, how could I expect anyone else to want me? Well, if you're thinking of offering some comfort, it might be best to stay away. According to a new study conducted by scientists at the University of Chicago, the University of California - San Diego, and Harvard, loneliness can be contagious. It seems like the lonelier we are, the more we treat our friends like shit. This pushes us to the social fringes. Consequently, our friends start feeling neglected by us, thus increasing their loneliness. It's a depressing cycle, since no matter how many Wilco songs you hear, it's tough to fight loneliness once it's set in. But I wonder if these researchers were wise to publish this study. If everyone knows loneliness is catching, they'll probably start avoiding each other. Eventually you'll all be just like me: spending your Saturday nights at home alone with a tub of Cherry Garcia and a worn out VHS copy of the 1998 PGA Tour. More details here.

Gasless Sheep

Usually when I read about scientists trying to create new kinds of animals through selective breeding programs, I hope that means I'm one step closer to my goal of marrying a human-cocker spaniel hybrid with eagle wings. But I guess Australian scientists just aren't that creative. Instead, they're using their powers to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions by breeding a sheep that burps less. Methane from livestock has long been known to contribute significantly to the world's carbon footprint, but unlike horses and cows who fart out most of their gasses, sheep mostly warm the planet through their incessant belching. Some of this has to do with their diet, but researchers think genetics might also play a role. And though a selective breeding program might seem like a frustratingly slow solution, it's much better than plan B: using the sheep's wool to knit burp-enclosing snout cozies. Build up too much gas inside the sheep's guts, and they'll explode. Lest you think that's just a shortcut to lamb chops, remember that the gas inside will still be released into the atmosphere. That's called physics. I think. More details here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


While a woman's hair might be turned gray from an encounter with the knife-fingered stalker of dreams, a spin in Magneto's power-draining machine, or a job telling other women how to dress like human beings, Dr. David Gunn and his team of researchers have found that genetics have more of a say. They studied several identical twins and found similar levels of grayness and thinness between them, regardless of environmental or stress factors. Non-identical twins showed a greater variation. This indicates that, at least for women, toxic chemicals or run-ins with demon creatures aren't much of a concern when it comes to hair. Hopefully this will calm some people down. Men and women both have a tendency to fear the gray, but it's especially pronounced in women. Which is baffling to me, since gray hair is so goddamn sexy. Or maybe just gray streaks. If you haven't guessed, I would like to have sex with Stacy London. More details here.

Light Trap!

Optical computing has long been the dream of the types of people who dream about such things. Cat lovers, most of them. And probably the same types who would love all their appliances to run via USB. The thing about optical computing is that it would be super fast. Information could be encoded in light instead of having to travel through copper or silicon as electricity. But that information eventually has to be converted from an optical to an electrical signal at some point so it can make your screens go blink and your motors go whir. And if we could kindly ask light to slow down a bit, sapping the information from it would be much easier. Well, researchers at Towson University have persuaded light to hold up a bit by creating a tapered waveguide. They coated a lens with a thin layer of gold, laid it on a similarly gold-coated slide, and shined a laser into it. The light slowed to the point that rainbows appeared to be trapped inside the lens. The bottom line here? My download of "Backyard Butt-Bangers VIII" may one day be instantaneous thanks to this exciting discovery! More details here.

Aw, Fuckabee

Last Sunday, four Seattle police officers were shot and killed allegedly by Maurice Clemmons, an ex-con who'd previously been locked up in Arkansas for aggravated robbery. In 2000, when Mike Huckabee was governor of Arkansas, he commuted Clemmons' 108-year prison sentence and set him free. Now, some are blaming Huckabee for the deaths of these Seattle cops, since Clemmons would still be in jail if Huckabee hadn't shown him mercy. It's a tricky situation for Huckabee. He's created a reputation for himself as the Rick Warren of politics, an evangelical Christian with a cuddly layer of kindness and understanding. He thinks evolution is bunk, and he's perfectly happy denying gay people their civil rights, but he'd rather talk these things out and crack a couple of jokes than scream them out and crack a couple of skulls. This conservative core with a thick coat of folksy charm has positioned Huckabee as a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. (No, it won't be Sarah Palin. Despite all the attention she gets from the media, even the GOP leaders know she's crackers. Right now, it's a contest between Mitt Romney and Huckabee.) The problem here is that Republicans have really embraced the core values of cruel and unusual punishment over the years. There's nothing they'd rather do than torture a prisoner, and many of them see trying suspected terrorists in a Constitutional court of law as tantamount to high treason. Make no mistake about it: Huckabee was right to question Clemmons' 108-year sentence for committing a robbery when he was seventeen years old. But as Michael Dukakis' eyebrows can tell you, the GOP have a hard time distinguishing between mercy and softness on crime. Even worse, it looks like many of the 1,033 pardons or sentence reductions Huckabee granted while in office were granted for religious reasons. He either met the convicts in person or was sent letters telling him how they'd found Jesus. It would be interesting to see how many of those went on to commit more crimes once they were free. I suspect the percentage isn't anything significant. But it's tough to explain hard numbers when four cops have just been murdered. Huckabee says this isn't his fault so much as the fault of Arkansas' justice system, which never should have thrown a teenager in jail for 108 years in the first place. He may be right. But I have a feeling the Republican party may be a tough sell when it comes to being reasonable. More details here.