Archive for category Evolution

Hilarious Hate

Isn’t it usually religious folks who say people who use expletives use them because they don’t have anything intelligent to say?

This YouTube video entitled “Love Letters to Richard Dawkins” will make you laugh:

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More Hexagons in Nature

Did you know that snowflakes always form as hexagons?

Adding to my previous post on the subject:

So now we have this:

The circulating cloud formation at the pole of Saturn:

And snowflakes, just in time for Christmas.

snowflake hexagons

Beautiful, aren’t they?

Feel free to explore this incredible website!

Here’s a more recent NASA photo of Saturn which also shows the hexagon.

A mosquito:

mosquito eyes

A turtle:

turtle hexagons


The Fine Line Between Completely Nuts and Deeply Conservative Keeps Getting Harder to Distinguish

Educators in Kentucky have rolled out a new set of science standards.

Nearly two dozen parents, teachers, scientists and advocacy groups commented at the state Department of Education hearing on the Next Generation Science Standards. The broad set of guidelines will revamp content in grades K-12 and help meet requirements from a 2009 law that called for improving education.

“Students in the commonwealth both need and deserve 21st-century science education grounded in inquiry, rich in content and internationally benchmarked,” said Blaine Ferrell, a representative from the Kentucky Academy of Sciences, a science advocacy group that endorses the standards.

Seems reasonable right? Read the rest of this entry »


I Guess “The Moody Blues” Need A Category Of Thier Own

Perhaps in a Hall of Fame somewhere in a child’s imagination or somewhere else:

Somehow a catolog of great music spanning decades doesn’t measure up to the Rock n’ Roll hall of fame.

If I were they, I would tell them to keep it!

I’m sure The Moodies don’t really want my input here. I once heard a horrible story about people in wheelchairs showing up at their concerts wanting to be healed.

All they were trying to do is enlighten us.


O’Reilly: ‘We Live In An Age Where Truth Really Doesn’t Matter Anymore’

Via Media Matters: Billo bloviates about about “craziness” in the media without ever mentioning his own network, which is the worst offender. Instead, he took on a recent exchange between Chris Matthews and Michael Steele on MSNBC – which was far from the one-sided right-wing propaganda Faux News Channel specializes in.

Matthews pointed out that Willard (“Mitt”) Romney is going to be the nominee of a party that believes there’s no such thing as science, and asked, “How does this guy go from hard right, severely conservative to this new regular mainstream character he’s portraying himself as?” Steele responded forcefully. Video here. [MSNBC, “Hardball,” April 23]

O’REILLY: The problem for American voters is that anything goes these days. The Internet is full of unbelievable nonsense, as well as gross defamation. And now on some national news programs, we’re getting the same craziness. So if you’re uninformed, how can you possibly know what’s true and what’s not true?

And the problem is not exclusively on the left.

How many times have we heard that Barack Obama was not born in America, that he’s a Muslim, a Manchurian candidate, a plant from outer space? Whatever madness the anti-Obama forces can think up.

We live in an age where truth really doesn’t matter anymore. Greedy news executives and the net have obliterated it. Journalistic standards have collapsed — the Trayvon Martin case proves that.

You can pretty much do anything you want in the media, and the courts don’t care. It’s almost impossible for a well-known person to win a judgment of defamation.

But Talking Points has had enough. So every time I see craziness in the national media during the campaign, I’m going to show it to you. And I hope you will vote with the clicker. That’s the only solution to the problem. [Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor, 4/24/12]

It will be interesting to see if O’Reilly and other commentators on his network go along with Romney’s Etch-A-Sketch campaign, or if they try to hold him accountable for the hard-right positions he declared during the primaries. I suspect Faux News will say whatever Karl Rove and other GOP operatives tell them to say, and Billo will call any other analysis “crazy.”

For the record, Romney never abandoned the theory of evolution (as Steele pointed out to correct Matthews’s mistake), but he did ditch science on the issue of climate change.

UPDATE: I never watch O’Reilly, so I didn’t pick up right away on his self–pitying. When he said. “It’s almost impossible for a well-known person to win a judgment of defamation,” he was probably thinking about the loofah/falafel thing on the Andrea Mackris phone sex tapes.


Heard Around the Intertubes

Part “like you were counting anyway” in a never ending series, because sometimes people just say great things….

Alabama Republican Primary voters:
Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim, or are you not sure?
Christian: 14
Muslim: 45
Not sure: 41

Do you believe in evolution, or not?
Believe in evolution: 26
Do not: 60
Not sure: 13

Mississippi Republican Primary voters:

Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim, or are you not sure?
Christian: 12
Muslim: 52
Not sure: 36

Do you believe in evolution, or not?
Believe in evolution: 22
Do not: 66
Not sure: 11

Ironically, these are the same assholes who think there should be a literacy requirement to vote.


Ain’t related to no Monkey

Interesting observation at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. But it really raises more questions than it answers for me.

NPR asks why so many people have trouble accepting the theory of evolution, and reports on survey data that shows a direct correlation with educational achievement. The lower one’s level of formal education, the more likely they are to reject evolution, and vice versa.

Hardly shocking. For one thing it is difficult to see how we can expect someone to support a theory they haven’t been taught. I don’t know how typical it was, but my own junior and senior high experience feature not a single teacher who dared broach the subject of evolution as a subject to be taught. The only teacher who would discuss it at all was vocally against it and referred to it as “the work of the devil.” If you think that didn’t make an impression on students in predominantly LDS Idaho and Utah schools, you didn’t grow up here. Better yet, the teacher was a former bishop.

Read the rest of this entry »


Evolution and the GOP (Again)

I don’t know why nobody can post in the old topic. I can’t even access it. I’ll make a new one.
I know it isn’t just me when I say that the republicans have become more intellectually challenged lately. In 2008, there were 3 GOP candidates who did not believe in evolution. Ron Paul, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee. And much to their irony, they were the first to be taken out of the pool. But in this race, the exact opposite has occurred. All but 2 republicans believe in evolution. Mitt Romney and John Huntsman. On top of that, only Huntsman believes in climate change. The exception possibly is Herman Cain because he refused to comment.
But the rest, Perry, Bachman, Paul, Santorum, Pawlenty, Gingrich, they don’t believe in evolution. You guys are probably wondering why this matters. How is it important? To put it simply, the theory of evolution is a scientific truth that has been studied, confirmed and fine-tuned for over 150 years. There have been countless arguments ranging from personal attacks to outright lies to discredit evolution and yet it is so sound that all of those arguments helped strengthen it. And if you deny evolution, then that can mean only 1 out of 2 things:
1. You are ignorant
2. You are willing to toss away facts and pretend something else is going on

In either situation, that makes for a bad president who has to make decisions based off of facts every day. And if a president can deny facts or they are too uneducated to understand those facts, then that harms the nation.


It’s the End of the World as We Know It and We Don’t Feel Fine

The world’s coming to an end.  

Don’t believe me?  Look at our current popular culture.  In a myriad of ways the world is ending – alien invasions, zombie apocalypses, diseases, natural disasters, ancient prophecies coming true – at least according to our popular culture.  The TV series Supernatural had the good old fashioned apocalypse with Lucifer and Demons and the gates of hell and angels and celestial battles.  Buffy the Vampire slayer prevented the end of the world at least 8 times.  Angel, literally, ended its run with all hell breaking loose.  In some of these stories, the end is narrowly averted, in others it is narrowly survived; the absurd movie 2012 showed characters who managed against all odds to survive, while The Day After Tomorrow featured a similar end of the world scenario with equally improbable survivors.  The masterful series The Walking Dead shows the end of the world in horrific detail, including the utter breakdown of moral order.  TNT is airing Falling Skies, a turgid, derivative series in which aliens destroy the world and humans fight back.  Battlestar Galactica was a lengthy, grim meditation on what happens after the world ends, how society breaks down, how social standards and norms are casually, or not, abandoned and how other standards are maintained.

Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories have been around a long time, but I think something has changed in both cultural context and story content.  The grand silliness and derring-do of 1990s era disaster movies (Deep Impact, Armageddon) have given way to a deep anxiety.  Watch an episode of The Walking Dead and the profound cultural anxiety is difficult to miss; Falling Skies, turgid though it may be, is a product of a deeply anxious culture, uncertainly negotiating turbulent changes.  Supernatural, which developed parallel plots about the end of the world and dysfunctional family systems, portrays a deeply unnerved cultural world in which the girl next door is really a ravening, sexually insatiable demon and the boy next door is a ghost.  Although an otherwise awful film, 28 Weeks Later aptly portrays, as Richard observed when we discussed zombies, the cascading failure of our best laid plans.  Time again, these apocalyptic tales confront us with our cultural anxieties – our society has lost the ability to cope, to manage crisis, to adapt and grow.  Torchwood, an otherwise frothy sci fi soap, indulged in the dark ruminations on the end of all things in its previous seasons.  This season, which premieres Friday, promises to be equally dark.  Discovery runs a whole host of survivalist shows (Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, etc) in which hosts are dropped into nature and they have tips on surviving; one episode in particular was set in an abandoned former research city in the far north of European Russia.  The world is ending and we may all need to learn to forage for berries and these shows teach us how.  The BBC’s short-lived Survivors told the story of people who survived a horrific flu pandemic and how they coped in the wasteland that was post-apocalyptic England. 

All these pop culture products share a similar, profound, anxiety about the end, uncertainty about what comes next and whether our actions matter.  Read the rest of this entry »


Christine O’Donnell: ‘Where in the Constitution is the Separation of Church and State?’

Christine O’Donnell is a terrible Senate candidate with essentially no chance of winning. She has doomed the GOP’s chances of re-taking control of the Senate. She has gotten way too much attention from the media. But I have to admit, she makes people laugh. Watch the video to hear a law school debate audience laughing at her ignorance of the U.S. Constitution (go to 2:51). Via TPM:

Ben Evans, AP News:

Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware on Tuesday questioned whether the U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state, appearing to disagree or not know that the First Amendment bars the government from establishing religion.

The exchange came in a debate before an audience of legal scholars and law students at Widener University Law School, as O’Donnell criticized Democratic nominee Chris Coons’ position that teaching creationism in public school would violate the First Amendment by promoting religious doctrine.

Coons said private and parochial schools are free to teach creationism but that “religious doctrine doesn’t belong in our public schools.”

“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked him.

When Coons responded that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O’Donnell asked: “You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?”

Her comments, in a debate aired on radio station WDEL, generated a buzz in the audience.

“You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp,” said Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone, adding that he thought it raised questions about O’Donnell’s grasp of the Constitution.

TPM’s David Kurtz attempts to clarify the weirdness:

In O’Donnell’s (mild) defense, it’s a common refrain among those pushing for more inclusiveness for religion in public life that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not actually contained in the Constitution. The origin of the phrase is believed to be this 1802 letter penned by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury (CT) Baptist association.

UPDATE: Think Progress: Christine O’Donnell Not Sure If Separation Of Church And State Is In The Constitution

…O’Donnell is not alone, nor an outlier, in her party’s understanding of the Constitution. As ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser notes, while Republicans love to wrap their actions in the Constitution, much of their agenda “is nothing less than a direct assault on America’s founding document.”

UPDATE: Scarecrow on FDL:

Christine O’Donnell is hardly the only Tea Party candidate either ignorant of or confused by the U.S. Constitution while claiming to be staunch defenders. In fact, there’s very little about the Constitution that Tea Party candidates actually accept.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper:

“I’m sure most of us get confused about which amendment is which, I certainly do,” Cooper said. “But most of us aren’t running for Senate, and most of us don’t claim to be constitutional experts, as Christine O’Donnell has…

When asked recently what qualified her for the Senate, O’Donnell discussed her “graduate fellowship from the Claremont Institute in constitutional government.”

“By the way, the graduate fellowship she talks about from the Claremont Institute? The Claremont Institue is a conservative think tank, it’s not a university, and the fellowship lasted a grand total of seven days,” Cooper said.

UPDATE: Think Progress: O’Donnell Can’t Name A Single Democratic Senator

TPM: O’Donnell: I Won That First Amendment Debate!

“After that debate my team and I we were literally high fiving each other thinking that we had exposed he doesn’t know the First Amendment, and then when we read the reports that said the opposite we were all like ‘what?'”


Language, writing and the brain

Last night, I watced Nova and PBS, the episode entitled Cracking the Maya Code. I had seen this episode before and wanted to rewatch it.

In one portion, the show discusses the way that Maya writing had multiple correct ways of spelling words using multiple glyphs as well as combining different glyphs into a single, new glyph. In addition, the Maya graphical system included some glyphs that stood for a world, others were syllables and still others were syllables. The glyphs ranged from pictographs to highly abstract symbols (derived from but also distinct from the pictograph). Mayan writing was thus highly stylized and allusive. One the great tragedies of the European conquest was the loss of countless Mayan codices – and the loss then of a vast literature of an ancient civilization which would have given us even greater insights into Maya and their written language. (It’s not an unimportant point but much of impetus to destroy the codices was religious in nature and I think it is fair to call the christian to account for such wanton and pointless destruction.)

I imagine using a system of writing like the Maya would alter the way we regard the world. If you’re trying to communicate very basic ideas and instructions, you would use the very concrete glyphs, to communicate more complex ideas you’d use the abstract glyphs. Or if you were writing poetry you’d use one set or style of glyphs but for writing a business memo you’d use another. In some sense, then, the visual appearance of the text would be an indicator of the kind content. You could in some sense invent new words to capture new meanings as you went along.

In the book 1491, Charles Mann explores the knotted strings the Inca used for communication, pointing out that some scholars are beginning to explore the idea that rather than a straightforward accounting system as we have traditionally thought, they may in fact be a form of three-dimensional writing – capable of communicating a wide array of ideas in complex ways. Where Braille is a three dimension version of two dimensional writing, this could be a fully fledged system of three dimensional communication.

Back in the day, the Mormon pioneers in Utah used a phonetic alphabet called the Deseret alphabet. It was a system of phonetic writing using 40 characters corresponding roughly to the sounds of the English language. An obvious limitation of this system is that English has more than 40 unique sounds but it represents a creative way of trying to standardize and master the often random spelling of English words (the words enough and though share quite a few letters and pronounced nothing alike). The Deseret Alphabet never caught on for some very basic reasons – it would be too damned expensive and too difficult to teach everyone the new alphabet (although it could actually be relatively easy to learn).

Obviously, writing is incredibly useful. Written language seems to me to follow naturally from spoken language (just as music follows naturally as a form of communication). It allows us to communicate across vast distances, it allows us to standardize information, to read ideas and thoughts from generations ago, to post warnings of danger for people who we will never meet and so on. Writing answers a basic communication dilemma – how do I communicate with people who are not near me, how do I guarantee each receiver of my message gets the same message and does not require them to hear accurately. Easy, I write it down.

Based on experiences with feral children, there seems to be a developmental window for the acquisition of language – if you miss it, you may never master language. And yet, the human brain seems wired for communication, for language, for telling stories and for making meaning. Our brains seem wired to seek out patterns (even where no such pattern exists). Language – with its consistent repetition of sounds and patterns of sounds and words, and written language with its symbolic value – seems to me intrinsically human.

Which is where I think we humans get tripped up. Animals of all kinds produce consistent patterns of sound – you can tell the difference between a warning bark and a friendly bark and cats angry hiss and a warning hiss and a fighting hiss and friendly meow versus a troubled meow. Such things may not rise to the level of language but they seem to be proto-language, pre-linguistic. We get tripped up seeing ourselves as separate but really, maybe we’re not separate from the animal world, just a very different aspect of it?


The Practice of Healthy Skepticism

One of my favorite books is Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World (and I need a Kindle edition since my paper version is falling to bits). In one of the best and one of my favorite essays in the book The Dragon in My Garage, Sagan asks,

Now what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, my say-so . . .

You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility. . . Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative – merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of “not proved.”

Sagan aims most of his fire at things like UFO’s and visions of the Virgin Mary. Our minds play tricks on us. We perceive things that aren’t there and incorrectly see things that are there. We hear things that aren’t actually there, we mis-hear what is there. We sometimes see what we want to see, or hear what we want to hear. We human beings – wonderful, mysterious, accidentally amazing primates that we are – have evolved in such a way that we just aren’t that efficient at perceiving the world around us in consistent ways; we want to see it is as it is, but we often don’t. A bit of practice being skeptical is a good thing.

The habit of skepticism comes uneasily to us. As humans, we seem to be wired in a way that makes us want to believe. Sometimes we seem to want to believe in terrible things since that opens the possibility that something equally good exists – IOW, we will believe in the devil because if the devil is real, God must be real. Read the rest of this entry »


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