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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Nihilism of "Purpose"

UPDATED: Evolutionary biologist gives up on debating creationists. Well, duh. It's hard to have a fair debate with people who misquote you and then call you a liar. All in the name of divine truth, of course.
Atheists believe in what I call a cosmic democracy, a bottom-up process of interaction, competition, cooperation, co-option, construction, and and destruction. Religious believers start with an omniscient dictator (albeit a “benevolent and merciful” one) who demands that we love Him and obey him. For some reason, the former worldview is considered “negative” by those who adhere to the latter worldview, despite the fact that the latter worldview grew out of fear and ignorance, whereas the former embraces science as the best way of knowing (and of accounting for how we know what we know). For some strange reason, the former worldview is considered “nihilistic and without purpose” by those who inexplicably need to have their own life’s purpose handed to them without learning about themselves or the world.

Well, all I can say is, if this is the meaning of life, give me nihilism any day! I am happier, more independent, and less prone to anxiety than any follower of any religion that I’ve ever met. What is the purpose of this so-called divine purpose?

It’s worth noting, too, that religious addicts like George W. Bush talk about how God gave everyone “freedom,” not democracy, and not even our Republic (something you’d think a Republican would extol). The emphasis is on seeing ourselves as having a longer leash than all of the other animals, not seeing ourselves as participating in a process. That is key, I think, to understanding what is happening in America today; whereas our democracy was inspired by direct observation of the natural world by naturalists and deists (many of whom rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ), now we talk of “freedom” as a mere gift that we receive. Americans speak of their “calling,” and talk about Revelations and the Rapture as if this were a purpose that was anything but meaningless.

To me, it’s all gobbledygook. It’s pathetic. Why should I need a purpose, anyway? What can’t life be it’s own purpose?

(via Red State Rabble)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Join the War Against Jesus Day…

…or make that Jes’s Day. All that’s missing is U! (Cute, huh?)

This reminds me of how the victims of famine are consumed by thoughts of food. What can we say about those who are consumed by thoughts of Jesus every flipping minute? Jesus at school, Jesus at work, Jesus in a knot in a tree, Jesus in the woodwork, Jesus in the chipped beef on toast, Jesus as one’s personal trainer, Jesus morning, noon, and night. Enough already!

Humans may actually be preventing new species from evolving. If we can protect the “unborn,” what about protecting the “unevolved?”

UPDATED: Regarding Michael Behe's assertion that we "always recognize design," you'll never, ever guess what the most popular answer is to the question, "How did Mount Rushmore form?" You'll never guess!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

If the Earth was a Car, and Bush had Gas…

…would you roll the windows down or up? ‘Cause either way, you’re sunk, and even though I have eschewed driving for so long, so am I.

Evil-ass Bush won't even look through Al Gore's telescope. He already knows that the documentary is "false." Jesus told him.

A scientific study commissioned [as opposed to unscientific studies, I guess] by the Bush administration concluded yesterday that the lower atmosphere was indeed growing warmer and that there was "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system." [Requires payment for full article]

The finding eliminates a significant area of uncertainty in the debate over global warming, one that the administration has long cited as a rationale for proceeding cautiously on what it says would be costly limits on emissions of heat-trapping gases.

What the hell else do these gas-asses need to convince them that global warming is a fact? But don’t worry, Bush-Puppy can always find another fuzzed-up rubber bone from behind the couch to chew:

But White House officials noted that this was just the first of 21 assessments [emphasis mine] planned by the federal Climate Change Science Program, which was created by the administration in 2002 to address what it called unresolved questions.

Unresolved questions! It’s not that hard to understand, Mr. President. You like The Fart Book, don’t you? That’s your idea of heavy reading, so…

Global warming is like someone—probably you—farting in a car, except the car is in outer space, so you can’t open the windows. Did you hear what I just said, George Bush? (Get your finger away from that button, Mr. President!) Then, your friends that you’re riding with all look at each other and say, “It wasn’t me.” Then you, original you, Bush Puppy, you let out this crack, “He who smelt it, dealt it!” and point to the lone environmentalist.

That’s how you’re going down in history, you callow Jesus muncher!

UPDATED: Greenhouse gases fuel global warming, and then global warming produces more greenhouse gases! Oh, great.


UPDATED: For every superstitious, uneducated, incurious, lazy-ass, selfish President, there are thousands of oblivious, ostensibly educated, arrogant, lazy-ass, and selfish “just-stop-whining” cretins like Robert Bazell. He says that he accepts evolution, and then states that teaching Intelligent Design is just peachy by him, because doctors know that truth will out, or something like that. Instead, he wants doctors to focus on "values."

Guess what, Mr. Bazell, not everyone is as privileged as you are to be educated and have access to a fine education for your children. Teaching evolution makes all the difference in having students understand not only biology, but astronomy, chemistry, physics, and geology. Not teaching it means that some people get to hear the “it’s God’s will”/“you sinned” crap. Look at Dr. Bill Frist, stating that one can get AIDS by breathing air! Are you not concerned, Mr. Bazell, about such similar superstitious movements as the “fetal pain,” “abortion’s link to breast cancer,” “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS in heterosexuals” taking hold in this country? Or are you so out of touch that you dismiss these movements as run by fringe wackos that will not have any real consequences?

Are you saying that the artificial selection of the rich having access to science while the rest of us are told to "pray" is not about values? Are you saying that the Christian opposition to a cervical cancer vaccine is not about values? Are you saying that valuing the truth (evolution) is not about values?

UPDATED: Stephen Colbert: “If religion were based on science, it would be called--science. And no one would believe it.”

Friday, May 19, 2006

In Memoriam: Stephen J. Gould, But Not Darwin

Look what I just found while going through some of my old stuff.

Gosh, looks like our hero Darwin has got himself into a real pickle this time, hasn’t he? Will he survive this upcoming trial? Will the evil Disco Boys sink his H.M.S. Beagle for good? Will the He-Being Behe have the final hee-hee at our poor hero’s expense?

Unfortunately, unless you click on the image and wait for the large file to load, you can’t read the date very well: February 1982. This is, of course, the Little Rock trial involving the question of “scientific creationism” and how it was about to deal the final blow to “Darwinism.” Yeah, right. Darwin's theory, though it has since been augmented by Mendel's inheritance observations, modern genetics, etc., is alive and well, thank you very much.

And inside, I rediscovered this essay by Stephen J. Gould (September 10, 1941 – May 20, 2002).

[If you would like to read the whole essay, just let me know if you want a copy, and I'll get you one.]

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chimps and Me, Sittin’ in a Tree…

UPDATED: Well, if you must know, Pharyngula makes me laugh. (Warning: This is pee-in-your-pants funny.)

Human evolution: Call this a “Just-So Story,” I challenge you.

My blog is in danger of becoming The Daily Dawkins (how’s that for a tear-off calendar idea?), but here’s an intriguing article.

Okay, here's Gould. Still my hero, too.

Here I am, working in the arts, and thinking about science all the time. My colleagues have started to look at me weird, because they don’t know much about that part of me. I really hated biology in high school, but now I’m compulsively reading up on it on the way to work or home on the bus, and at lunch. I was always interested in biological evolution, however, and I loved chemistry and physics. Sometimes I sincerely regret not chugging through with a science degree, despite all my problems with math (I love math, too, but it doesn’t love me), but it seems I’m earning almost the same income as the scientists that I’ve met! And what the hell does that say about our society?

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Stuff of Nightmares

Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or F.O.P., is the weirdest, and most horrifying, condition that I've ever seen. Fortunately, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania think that they are on the verge of a breakthrough.

But after examining blood samples from five families in the United States, Britain, South Korea and Brazil, Dr. Kaplan and Eileen Shore, a colleague, found that the rampant bone growth begins with a tiny error in the nucleotide sequence of a gene that serves as a blueprint for a protein called ACVR1.

When expressed on the surface of cells, ACVR1 receives signals from a molecule called bone morphogenetic protein. The misconfigured ACVR1 protein is activated when it should not be, Dr. Kaplan theorizes, effectively forcing adult stem cells to become bone cells.

As a result, stem cells recruited to the site of a muscular injury differentiate only into bone. For patients with F.O.P., even small wounds, like minor falls or
vaccinations, can bring on uncontrolled explosions of new bone.

"It's like a runaway factory for bone that just won't stop," said Dr. Kaplan.

I've been reading Richard Dawkins' River Out of Eden. (Contrary to what a lot of people have said, I find this book really fascinating.) Here's what he says:

When an embryo begins, a single cell, the fertilized egg, divides into two; each of the two divides into four; each of the four divides to make eight, and so on. It takes only a few dozen generations to work the cell numbers up into the trillions, such is the power of exponential division. But, if this were all there was to it, the trillions of cells would all be the same. How, instead, do they differentiate (to use the technical term) into liver cells, kidney cells, muscle cells and so on, each with different genes turned on and different enzymes active?

Yes, how?

Although the egg looks like a sphere, it actually has polarity in its internal chemistry. It has a top and a bottom and, in many cases, a front and a rear (and therefore also a left and a right side) as well. These polarities show themselves in the form of gradients of chemicals. Concentrations of some chemicals teadily increase as you move from front to rear, others as you move from top to bottom. These early gradients are pretty simple, but they are enough to form the first stage in a bootstrapping [refers to the patterned toggling switches in old, paper- or card-fed computers] operation.

For those of you who love computer programming, River Out of Eden is the book for you. My curiosity about this book was piqued while listening to a talk by Dawkins online ("Selfish Gene, 30 Years Later") in which he referred to genetics as digital. Huh? Well, it makes sense. Read it!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Minneapolis School Board Endorsing Convention Tomorrow

Tomorrow the city will endorse four DFL candidates for school board. As a delegate, I am sacrificing yet another precious Saturday to choose among the nine candidates offered. As there are no dingleberry creationists among them (see under subheading, “From Structure to Superintendents”), my job is simultaneously made easier and more difficult. The overriding issues are that of job-bidding and the fact that all board members are at-large rather than representative of a geographical district. There is a bill introduced to change this structure. The abrupt resignation of Dr. Thandiwe Peebles is still a contentious issue, too.

I will vote my conscience and post the results. In the meantime, I leave you with this excellent editorial on science education, "Evolution's Bottom Line" (via Red State Rabble).

UPDATED: Seven hours and one developing migraine later, I saw most of the people I voted for lose or withdraw. Here are the candidates:

* Pam Costain
* Chris Stewart,
* T. Williams, and
* Tom Madden.

Since the question that I submitted did not get drawn, I spoke briefly with Madden about Intelligent Design and why specifically he did not support teaching it. He talked about his Catholic faith in a misguided attempt to impress me with that; however, he stated that I.D. was not appropriate in our schools, and I was satisfied with that. (Repeat at me, people: Intelligent Design is not science!)

In the Green Party convention, Doug Mann did not get the endorsement. (I guess they endorse no one, then.) There are no Republican candidates.

The DFL also endorsed Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Yay!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

That Would Be Some Fishing Opener

Forget T-Rex and his kind; when I was little I always wanted a Trilobite for a pet, and creationist windbag Kent Hovind says that I can have one! Yay! No, wait—they really are extinct. Wah! I want my Trilobite! (Lest you think that Hovind is on my side here, when I was young I also always wanted a Homo habilis for a friend. I wonder what Hovie would think of that.)

UPDATED: It turns out that another of my favorite species, the woolly mammoth, may not have been hunted to extinction as previously thought. Actually, it and the wild horse probably slowly died out as a result of global climate change.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Good News and the Rape-ture

The utterly putrid Christian video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces is being marketed as a “morality-based” gunfest and planet-raping “good” fun for those “who didn’t mind gore in Passion of the Christ.” Oh, that’s wonderful, just great. Buy it for the kiddies! Praise God, and pass on the environment, because Jesus is coming soon! (Jesus always says that He’s coming, but I think that He’s faking it.)

Like so much evangelical Christian entertainment, it focuses on the people left behind on earth rather than the lucky ones to be raptured (because, let’s face facts—Heaven is boring).

Monday, May 08, 2006

Gravity Is Just a Theory...

...and Georgie Bush Puppy tries to fly to prove it. (Apparently, this is most popular screensaver in American right now. If Bushie gets stuck, just move him with your cursor.)

UPDATED: Our Bushie mascot can't even bring himself to criticize the Chinese government's oppression of its citizens. Now, the Bushie mascot in Afghanistan can't even bring himself to denounce the violence against a female legislator on the Afghan Parliament floor.

Also, more news about our glorious republic: in infant mortality rates, at least we're better than Latvia.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ellison Wins Endorsement

Representative Keith Ellison just won the DFL endorsement for the seat formerly held by Martin Sabo!

This is GREAT NEWS! Ellison is an excellent candidate to succeed Sabo. He is a practicing Muslim who has been a voice for tolerance and civil rights in Minnesota, speaking up for gay rights, against the Patriot Act and the Iraq War, and seeking to unify Minnesotans to fight for what is important to us--education, health care, and the end to poverty, especially for children.

What the DFL needs to do is get behind him and support him. As for me, I congratulated him today at the May Day Parade, and I wear my Keith Ellison button with pride.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Astronomy Day, and the Library at Last

UPDATED: Check out the composite video of Huygens landing on Titan at Panda's Thumb!

Saturday, May 6 is Astronomy Day.

Also, the new central Minneapolis Public Library (I have been enduring the DTs waiting for this day) opens on May 20! (Um, yeah, that's the anniversary of Stephen J. Gould's death. ) Unfortunately, the Planetarium and Space Discovery Center will not be open yet--they won't be built for a few years yet--but will have a presence at the opening.

Feel free to weigh in on the Gould and Dawkins discussion between Russ and me (see comments on the previous post, "Dennett as Dramameme").

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dennett as Dramameme, and a Sad Anniversary

UPDATED: New entry in the WTF! category: “Maybe we need to keep evolutionary theory around for the laughs.” (William Dembski, Uncommon Descent, May 3, 2006). I guess that’s what passes for humor at the Disillusioned Institute these days, or else he’s wisely backing off his own countdown just one month later (See “What Dembski Said” at left).
I did manage to complete some sentences with a few people at “Drinking Liberally” last night. Packed is right—I went to Arise! at noon to buy the book and that was a good idea. And then the musician came onstage to drive away the rest of the 331 lingerers just after I managed to sit down at the bar to actually eat after a few beers.

Thus trapped, I pulled out my trusty purse-sized book* (not Zuniga’s), and made a discovery: I totally recommend reading Daniel Dennett after having tied a couple on. (“There couldn’t be ‘real’ minds and ‘real’ selfishness without billions of years of hemi-semi-demi-pseudo-proto-quasi minds and mere ‘as if’ selfishness to drive the research and development process that has eventually yielded our minds.”) I could barely put the thing down to walk the three blocks to my house! It prevents hangovers, too. Yes, I had retained it all when I woke up this morning.

Why didn’t anyone tell me earlier to reject this false dichotomy of studying and drinking? From now on I intend to get hammered any time that I come across a difficult passage, and I think that sets a grand precedent for that private Catholic college which I’m about to enter this fall for grad school. Yes, indeedy! (The nuns are, I hear, very liberal. I just want to be a librarian, people, and it’s the only place I can go, so that's why, that's why.)

*Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think

I highly recommend this book. But you know, all it’s missing is some acknowledgement by Gould (oh, Jesus, I'm becoming maudlin because it's nearing the anniversary of Stephen's death) of the contribution that Dawkins’ and Dennett's so-called “Darwinian fundamentalism” has truly made. I loved Gould, and feel grateful to him, and I miss him terribly as if he had been a friend (I never met him, either), but it was because of Gould that I put off reading Dawkins for so long. That’s unfortunate, for I find Dawkins to be so clear and so scrupulous in his prose that he has been added to my list of heroes—the list of people I have never met but who have become father figures for someone like me, who doesn’t have many real-life models.

Dennett is fast becoming a hero to me, too. Being a general reader doofus, I plan to just pile on the heroes without resolving in my mind their conflicts with each other. I cannot understand, after having read The Selfish Gene, what precisely bothered Gould so much, but I cannot respond with a rejection of Gould either, just with the sincere regret that he never acknowledged his mischaracterization of Dawkins. Nor do I resent Gould for misleading me in that area—it’s the fights with the creationist hucksters that are important. Life is short. I miss you, Stephen J. Gould.