Planetologist's Blog – January 2009 Archive (21)

Israelis shoot zoo animals, apparently for fun

Just in case the absolute futility and nihilism of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict wasn't apparent enough, some Israeli soldiers have decided to emphasize the point by deliberately shooting - with small arms and with rockets - animals in the Gaza Zoo. I suppose the soldiers weren't content with conventional ethnic cleansing, and decided that their supremacy needed demonstration against other species, too. Perhaps the soldiers… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 30, 2009 at 2:30pm — 3 Comments

Another physician displays crippling ignorance about evolution

Pharyngula posted a very good criticism of yet another newcomer to the ranks of the proudly ignorant in an article on OpenSalon's new beta. Hopefully the profound lack of knowledge displayed in the original anti-evolution post is not representative of the clientele in which OpenSalon intends to specialize. The original author of the OpenSalon post appears to be both complimented and annoyed to be… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 29, 2009 at 1:10pm — 2 Comments

The Unbearable Lightness of Materialism

Sometimes theists leave comments on my primary blog, planetologist.net. Recently a comment in response to my screed against Rick Warren prompted a reader - actually not a raving lunatic, rather a pretty calm but (sadly) theist writer - to leave a comment that invoked the M word... materialism. There were also a fair number of "quote me and then argue against my quote" comments, which I find almost as… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 29, 2009 at 10:34am — No Comments

Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) - Congress needs to pass it, Obama needs to sign it

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) has been languishing in committee, just like Bill the bill, for many years now. Under Bush and his cronies there was no chance it would pass, so shelved it has remained. Until now.



President Obama, as a senator from Illinois, co-sponsored the 2007 version of this bill, so he should be happy to sign it in 2009. Congress should re-introduce it. As soon as Franken is sworn in and all the other electoral disputes are resolved, Congress needs to pass it so… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 24, 2009 at 3:34pm — 3 Comments

Obama won. Get used to it.

I remember when the GOP suddenly metastasized all over the House and Senate in 1994 they were happy to say, "We're in charge, now," when asked if they would encourage input from Congressional Democrats. Then W attained - to be precise I avoid the term "won" - the Presidency only after the closest vote for the office in recent memory, followed by a stopped recount and Supreme Court-facilitated coup. His inaugural motorcade passed throngs of people protesting the seizure of their nation's highest… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 24, 2009 at 10:02am — 2 Comments

Rick Warren does not speak for me

I was pleased and surprised to hear nonbelievers mentioned in Obama's inaugural address, the first time to my limited historical knowledge that such a mention has occurred in a new President's opening words to the nation. People argue over the numbers, but anywhere from several percent to one in four Americans is an atheist, agnostic, or unassociated with any formal religious group or organization. Our numbers are legion, as the saying goes. So it was pleasing to finally be recognized as an… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 22, 2009 at 11:30am — 7 Comments

Obama inaugurates the return of science

Barack Obama was just sworn in, and he mentioned science within his first few hundred words as 44th President of the United States. To be specific:

Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics.
Here, here! At last we have a national figure who realizes how important it is… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 20, 2009 at 2:09pm — No Comments

Yes, it IS time for "I told you so"

Editorials on the legacy of George W. Bush are coming in from around the world, and the general assessment is, not surprisingly, poor.



Some might argue that bad times are best forgotten, and the era of Bush should be allowed to move past us quietly and politely. No "I told you so" from those who opposed Bush from day one. I don't agree. The tenure of George W. Bush as US President was a categorical… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 19, 2009 at 6:39pm — 2 Comments

Less than 24 hours...

... Until the long, crushing, vicious nightmare of George W. Bush's failed Presidency is finally .... finally... over. The wounds his despotism will leave our country are going to take a long time to heal, but I'm gratified that most of the US now realizes how terrible a mistake was made in electing that thug in the first place. W leaves office with the lowest approval rating on record - 22% - according to the New York Times. By any objective measure that rating should be 0%, but there… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 19, 2009 at 11:57am — 4 Comments

Sustained in vitro RNA self-replication achieved

Basic research into the origins of life continues to advance, despite the best efforts of creationists and IDiots to ignore it. Unlike the depictions presented by most evolution deniers, our understanding of prebiotic processes operating on the early Earth is actually quite advanced. Origins of life research is a vigorous field of study today and has progressed far beyond the early Miller-Urey experiments, though you wouldn't know that from most popular media coverage of the topic. Our picture… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 15, 2009 at 10:56am — 2 Comments

Bad thermodynamics: Entropy

Usually my blog entries comment on some specific news item, but in other cases I’m motivated not by a particular current event or pseudoscience eruption, but by student questions or offhand comments I hear that demonstrate and remind me of some example of common bad thinking. One such example is the dramatically wrong way thermodynamics - specifically the concept of entropy - is often depicted in the popular media, in particular by opponents of evolution by natural… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 13, 2009 at 3:00pm — 4 Comments

Obama advised: science must flow

The National Research Council has advised the incoming Obama administration to streamline our export and visa controls on the flow of science and scientists in and out of the US. From this Reuters article:



"Our visa controls have made it more difficult or less attractive for talented foreign professionals to come and learn what is great about this country, or to stay and help grow the American economy," the… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 9, 2009 at 4:41pm — 2 Comments

The Carl Sagan Exoplanet Fellowship

Carl Sagan's Cosmos television series led me - I'm more or less convinced of this, as I look back - into becoming a professional scientist. From watching Cosmos I learned about nucleosynthesis, the process by which fusion in stars cobbles atoms together from primordial hydrogen. I'd never been taught about the origins of the elements before, in any science class in grade school. Not once. Cosmos also taught me the basics of how evolution works, what a redshift is, and how I can thank fanatics… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 8, 2009 at 12:05pm — 2 Comments

Guess who the bigots are?

A new demographic study of the Prop H8 vote shows that the black vote probably wasn't the deciding factor the pundits claimed it was at the time. According to the study authors Patrick J. Egan at New York University and Kenneth Sherrill at Hunter College, CUNY carried out, the defining factors that determined which way someone voted on Prop H8 were... get ready for a real… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 7, 2009 at 6:45pm — 3 Comments

Ariane Sherine

She's hot, British, an atheist activist, she came up with a very cool idea, and she got to meet Richard Dawkins? When will she be on the Skepchick calendar?

Added by Planetologist on January 6, 2009 at 4:31pm — No Comments

Incredibly, Bush establishes Mariana Trench as a National Monument

Outgoing lunatic, ravager of civilization, source of all sorrows and US President George W. Bush announced today he is establishing by executive order the Mariana Trench, Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments. Mysteriously, this action is within the law, completely constitutional, and does not appear to involve anyone being slain or horribly mutilated while Dick Cheney… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 6, 2009 at 3:59pm — 5 Comments

Evo ex Machina

Props to the Bad Astronomer for posting this amazing YouTube video. The steampunk style animation is gorgeous, depicting machines that evolve over the ages from clanking fishbots to torrid cyberpunk perfection.



It’s doubtful such a blatant commercial as this German one could be aired in the US. Not blatant because of the sexy fembot… blatant in its… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 5, 2009 at 4:55pm — 2 Comments

Another skeptical semester begins

Tomorrow our semester starts back, which means I have to return to the classroom. It is always hard to go back after a semester break. For me the dread is not because of teaching - necessarily - but because of all the useless wastes of time that accompany a semester in term. Faculty meetings rise to the top of the hate list. Perhaps I'll do more blogging during faculty meetings this time around... I think that helps.



Anyway, this semester I'm teaching a course on the environment,… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 4, 2009 at 12:50pm — 3 Comments

Our culture can’t repel stupidity of that magnitude!

Watch... if you dare.



So… the antibiotics finally took effect, and a few minutes later some sunbeams happen to shine on a wall… and that’s proof of titanic entities composed of pure energy roaming the cosmos doing good deeds? The afflicted little girl aside… how does everyone else who appears in this video manage to feed themselves?



“Whether the light is a camera misfunction (sic) or not is not the issue,”…. really?… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 2, 2009 at 12:18pm — No Comments

(Mutation + Death) * Time = Elegance

Let loose some replicators, leave them to mutate and multiply for four billion years, and if you’re lucky you get a nice, complex biosphere. No magical sky pixies required. Evolution is so beautiful as a process not simply because it generates astounding forms of life, but because it has what physicists all crave in their equations: elegance. All that is required for evolution to work is a host of mutating replicators and lots of time… time to explore, blindly, the parameter space of Possible… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 2, 2009 at 10:34am — No Comments

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