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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, April 29, 2008

Crimes and Misdemeanors, A Discussion

I don't have a lot of time for blogging these days, so until things slow down I'll post this gem from You Tube, the first part of a commentary on one of my favorite films (starring one of my favorite actors, Martin Landau) by one of my not-favorite directors, Woody Allen.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Expelled: Imagine!

FINAL UPDATE: Heddle has a great post on this whole thingie.

I'm entering the countdown to finals, so have fun here.
Well, folks, where do I begin?

Since all the excitement about PZ’s expulsion from a free screening of Expelled, a lot of things have happened. It's almost too much to recount.

The free screenings and RSVP links disappeared from the website – and only certain people (atheists, skeptics, scientists, etc.) who had already RSVPed to see the movie started receiving e-mails saying that their upcoming screening were “cancelled” when they weren’t. The goal was obviously to have only sympathetic audience members at these advance screenings. (In some cases, the screening times were abruptly moved one hour earlier, angering the sympathetic members of the audience who naturally did not get a cancellation e-mail and thus showed up at the original run time.)

A Scientist and skeptic who received these apparently fraudulent e-mail “cancellations” of Expelled was Evolutionary Biologist John Lynch. (This blog post includes “before and after” screengrabs of the official Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed website showing the screenings “disappear”)

A couple of the commenters on his blog managed to attend the screenings anyway:

Commenter Brad on his experience:

Commenter Ken McKnight on his experience:

More on this story from Troy Britain:
"Expelled Promoters Just Can’t Stop Lying"

Mark in Santa Clara on his experience:
"Expelled Has Gone Truant in Santa Clara"

Meanwhile, this is what happens when you are invited to pay $10 to see an advanced screening of Expelled: you don’t get to see Expelled. You have the "privilege" of getting to see film clips already available all over the internet, and to watch Ben Stein win an award. This is what happened to Troy Britain.

"Expelled! The Movie Rip-off and the Event at Biola", again at Troy Britain's blog.

The producers of Expelled plead for a grassroots effort from its sympathetic audience to “adopt-a-theatre” on opening day, April 18, 2008. How pathetic. Do people really want to [I]rent a theatre[/I] in order to see a movie? (Just like Michael Moore, eh?)

This account is at James F. McGrath’s blog: "Freedom Friday"

Blogger Troy Britain contacted me to learn where I got the Expelled RSVP link to forward to PZ Myers. I told him that I got the link from Glen Davidson’s comment at After the Bar Closes, but that the source for Glen was a Christian blog promoting the film Expelled and exhorting the general public to sign up for these advanced screenings! That’s right, folks, we got this “top secret” URL from a Christian blog on blogger, a public site.

Troy’s blog: "The Expelled RSVP Sites: Getting to the Facts"

Of all the media outlets that have reviewed this flick (despite the producers’ Soviet-style blackout on advanced reviews of Expelled, would you have expected Fox News to pan it? Well, they did. In fact, they tore it to shreds!

Fox News (!) pans Expelled: "Ben Stein: Win His Career"

Man, it must suck to be a conservative when even the conservatives think you suck.

But it gets worse:

Those opening and closing scenes of the movie? In which Ben Stein seemingly addresses an audience of Pepperdine University students in a full auditorium? Where they cheer him at the end? Looks like a real bunch of students think NeinStein is hip and that his message was well-received, right?

It turns out that Pepperdine University students accept evolution, so the filmmakers had to rent the auditorium (it was not an event sponsored by the university), and hired actors to play "the students."

It was with some irony for me, then, that I saw Ben Stein's antievolution documentary film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, opens with the actor, game show host and speechwriter for Richard Nixon addressing a packed audience of adoring students at Pepperdine University, apparently falling for the same trap I did [creationism].

Actually they didn't. The biology professors at Pepperdine assure me that their mostly Christian students fully accept the theory of evolution. So who were these people embracing Stein's screed against science? Extras. According to Lee Kats, associate provost for research and chair of natural science at Pepperdine, "the production company paid for the use of the facility just as all other companies do that film on our campus" but that "the company was nervous that they would not have enough people in the audience so they brought in extras. Members of the audience had to sign in and a staff member reports that no more than two to three Pepperdine students were in attendance. Mr. Stein's lecture on that topic was not an event sponsored by the university." And this is one of the least dishonest parts of the film.

The producers/promoters of Expelled, Premise Media, have been served with a cease-and-desist letter, alleging plagiarism of an animation of the inner workings of a cell produced by Harvard University.

ERV’s blog:
"Expelled: Expelled for Plagiarism"


"I Love the Smell of Roasted Creationists in the Morning" (ERV again)

Wesley Elsberry’s blog:
"Okay, Expelled, but Plagiarism Will Do That for You"

PZ Myers’ blog:
"Peter Irons Drafts a Letter"

Panda’s Thumb:
"Will the Public See Expelled?"

The producers of this turdfest that is Expelled have also admitted that they never sought permission to use the John Lennon song, “Imagine”, which is played if the film over some archival footage of Josef Stalin, while Ben Stein screams that liberals want to turn our country into what Lennon (or Lenin?) envisioned, from the administrator of John Lennon’s (not Lenin’s) estate – namely his widow, Yoko Ono.

The Wall Street Journal's article.
(requires subscription)

Entire article available here:
Yoko Ono, Filmmakers Caught in 'Expelled' Flap

At this point, the scandal is growing heads like a hydra. Already everything I posted here is old news, because new news is still coming out. Unbelievable. Un-fucking-believable!

Excuse me, but it’s normal procedure to expell a student for plagiarism, and this is now plagiarism plus stealing.

To add the cherry on the top of this frosted cherry-picking cupcake, the producers sent me a spam e-mail to my school account exhorting the “friends of Expelled to "help the film" in its hate speech against atheists, skeptics, legitimate scientists, and anyone else who doesn’t pass their moral purity test. I informed them that spam was unprofessional and that the only reason they had my address was that they had required it – first for me to RSVP, and then again in the theatre, where I was told that I had to give it again on an “agreement form” not to illegally videotape and distribute the film.

And, being that I was required to give them this information, that should have ended their use of my e-mail address. (I did not give them my snail mail address, though the form asked for it – and interestingly enough, this “agreement form” had no place for a signature, just for my printed name.)

Very, very unprofessional, I must say. Just astonishingly stupid, clumsy, and unethical. Boy oh boy, what an example to the upcoming class of students entering college. These guys have some nerve to preach to the rest of the nation about the state of our educational system.

All I can do is sincerely thank the makers of Expelled for exposing the methods of creationists to the nation at large. For years, these people have operated in secret, allowing only the most controlled speeches and presentations to the public, so that everyone remains on message. Now in complete disarray, their publicity machine has done more to destroy the concept of intelligent design as “science” in the public mind that anything I could have done or said. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for this high-publicity disaster.

At Rotten Tomatoes, the rating for Expelled is 10% (less than Ishtar and Howard the Duck) and falling.

Now, it is evident to all why intelligent design has no place in science classrooms or in academia at large: it is a cheat, and its advocates are cheaters. And cheaters don’t belong in class – let alone teaching in our nation’s classrooms.

But one thing that you don't do - you don't piss off Yoko Ono.

UPDATED: Well, there I was, about to add a comment that I don’t really need to hear “Imagine” one more time in my life, either, because the song has become banal, kitch, the atheist’s equivalent of “Kum-bay-ya” (another song that I wish I could never hear again) – and then Corrente goes and rewrites John Lennon’s famous anthem especially for Ben Neinstein. And it’s hilarious.

Imagine there’s no science
So many people do
Nothing to study or wonder
The end of seeking truth
Imagine all the country
Dumber than a post…

You may say Ben Stein’s a schemer
But he’s not the only one
Many a fool would destroy us
A new Dark Age will have begun

Imagine no progression
Evolution canned
No need for artful discussions
A devaluing of man
Imagine all the children
Burning all the books…

You may say I’m a boomer
And my time will fade away
I hope someday you’ll stand up
And keep ignorance at bay

SECOND UPDATE: Oh for the love of Darwin, now someone over at John Lynch’s site has written “Bensteinian Rhapsody.” (One of my favorites!)

Anyone? I just filmed a sham,
Put some lies into your head,
Libelled Darwin, coz’ he’s dead,
Honor, you know I once had some,
But now I’ve gone and blown it all away-
Anyone? ooooohhhhh
Was it mean to tell those lies?
You’d learn more science by watching Rocky Horror-
Anyone? Anyone? My reputations now in tatters-

Too late, my crime is done,
Dembski told me I did fine-
Behe’s squirming, (he’ll be fine),
Goodbye science lessons-you’ve got to go
Gonna leave your kids behind and hide the truth
Adolf, oooooh (a shame he wasn’t atheist)
I’ll just have to lie,
I’ll just pretend that he wasn’t Christian at all--

guitar solo -

THIRD UPDATE: Ed Brayton weighs in on Expelled. And I notice that anonymous trolls who come here and criticize me (a woman) for speaking up don't have a complaint about them speaking up.

Don't come here and tell me what to say. If you don't like what you see here, leave.

FOURTH UPDATE: I told you it was a hydra. Premise Media, which produced Expelled, is now countersuing XVIVO (which produced the Harvard animation). In other words, it's a SLAPP. And ERV is totally convinced that the fact that Premise, based in Canada, filed its bogus lawsuit in Texas, not in Canada nor in Connecticut, where XVIVO is based, has nothing at all to do with the fact that Texas has no anti-SLAPP laws. ;-) She has issued a challenge to Premise Media.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008


It has surprised a lot of people who know me to find out the extent of my interest in science – in particular astronomy, geology, and evolutionary theory – and the depth of my involvement in the evolution vs. creationism/ID debate. This is due to the fact that there has long been a split between the humanities and science. It is a split that has troubled me for a long time.

Literary theory has become rife with talk of “oppressive narratives” and the like, a rootless orientation that views not only literature but life itself as a collection of “stories,” either “oppressive and from the dominant culture,” or as an act of resistance against said oppression, without any consideration as to how stories get to be told in the first place.

In order to tell these stories we must have more than just human culture and language – we must have brains, we must have mouths, and in fact I would argue that perhaps we can tell stories because we have opposable thumbs – and yet, I have rarely come across anyone who wants to talk about the scientific realities that underlie our storytelling.

Science is seen as “dehumanizing,” as a “white male oppressive narrative,” just another viewpoint, with no privileged position, and therefore literature just floats along, disembodied, disconnected from the factual and the real. And so we have the ultimate degradation of literature, literature as “spiritually uplifting” Wonder Bread, nice narratives meant more to comfort than confront. Even the rape and murder of a young girl is portrayed with all the sentimental mush (and kitsch) of an angel pendant:

Generally speaking, the sex-murder of an adolescent offers little that’s good. But in The Lovely Bones, mom and pop hook up and so do Ray and Ruth, whose body Susie is allowed to occupy just long enough to have real, true, beautiful sex for once in her afterlife. “I had never been touched like this,” she tells us. “I had only been hurt by hands past all tenderness. But spreading out into my heaven after death had been a moonbeam that swirled and blinked on and off. . . . Inside my head I said the word gentle.” The book ends with a glow.

Every impulse in every sane reader must shriek No! at this pabulum. It’s not lovely that Susie’s been slaughtered, hacked, and dumped in a pit. It’s not lovely that icy Mr. Harvey gets his comeuppance by a conveniently dropped icicle as the pit containing Susie’s body parts is being drained, leading us to assume that her remains will be found and that she will finally get a lovely stone.

Nice thought if you can abide it. Unfortunately, it’s false to all human experience to find “growth” in tragedy. In fact, the dull truth is that pain is tautological. The only thing suffering teaches us is that we are capable of suffering.

According to Jeffrey Sharlet, a journalist/provocateur who helped inspire this essay, and Andi Mudd, a spectacularly unwondrous college student who assisted in researching it, The Lovely Bones and its ilk “deserve a public shaming.” That’s because BBoWs [“Brooklyn Books of Wonder”] are escape novels, albeit garnished with intellectual flourishes. They’re kitsch, which Milan Kundera defined as “the translation of the stupidity of received ideas into the language of beauty and feeling [that] moves us to tears of compassion for ourselves, for the banality of what we think and feel.” [Emphasis mine]

It’s no surprise to me that I have avoided such novels as The Lovely Bones, The History of Love, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, all of which are mentioned in the above article by Melvin Jules Bukiet. Their titles alone shriek their sentimentality and sugar-coating of the realities of life.

But there is something else: science is missing in literature. I am not talking about science fiction – I am talking about scientific fact. Whereas television courtroom dramas detail the plodding methods of lawyers (though also made melodramatic through highly unlikely twists and turns), it seems that the only genre dealing with scientific fact is the forensic science drama – and those are extremely inaccurate.

Melvin Jules Bukiet goes on to say:

Serious fiction, literature, even if it’s fabulist, sharpens reality. BBoWs elude reality to avoid the taint of anger or cynicism or the passion for revenge felt by real people in similar situations. Instead of telling a story of brute survival, BBoWs indulge in a dream of benign rescue.

Surely that is the kind of “rescue” that those who argue that science is just “another narrative” dream of – an escape from reality, from pain and necessity. I remember, in one of my college lit classes, getting into an argument with someone of this opinion, that science was “nonsense”; it culminated with me asking her if she believed in the science that had manufactured the car that had brought her to class that morning. She said nothing after that, but her glare was palpable. I had transgressed the role assigned to women, ostensibly by feminists – victim, empath, and right-brained child-hugger. If I wanted to write, why didn't I write what "women [should] write about" - having my period, feeling "connected" with other women (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't), or wanting or raising a child?

Hoo, boy. Talk about an oppressive narrative, talk about taking a privileged position, this reassumption of helplessness, collectivity, and irrationality by women.

While these people are celebrating their newly-found liberation of being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, I discovered another article in American Scholar that brought together three of my favorite subjects: literature, science, and Valdimir Nabokov (Lolita! My favorite novel!) in an elegant call for the reintegration of scientific fact into art and literature – and for seeing literature as a creative and intellectual act, beyond narratives of race or gender oppression.

For the last few decades, indeed, scholars have been reluctant to deal with literature as an art—with the imaginative accomplishment of a work or the imaginative feast of responding to it—as if to do so meant privileging elite capacities and pandering to indulgent inclinations. Many critics have sought to keep literary criticism well away from the literary and instead to arraign literature as largely a product of social oppression, complicit in it or at best offering a resistance already contained.

Literary academics have also been reluctant to deal with science, except to fantasize that they have engulfed and disarmed it by reducing it to “just another narrative,” or to dismiss it with a knowing sneer as presupposing a risibly naïve epistemological realism. They have not only denied the pleasure of art and the power of science, but like others in the humanities and social sciences, they have also denied that human nature exists, insisting against the evidence that culture and convention make us infinitely malleable.

[Interestingly enough, this mirror’s Dennis Prager’s complaint about boys and girls being taught to completely escape gender roles, but in a more reasoned and informed manner than Prager displayed.]

I and others want literature to return to the artfulness of literary art and to reach out to science, now that science has at last found ways to explore human nature and human minds. Since these are, respectively, the subject and the object of literature, it would be fatal for literary study to continue to cut itself off from science, from the power of discovery possible through submitting ideas to the rule of evidence.

There are many ways in which science can return us to and enrich the art of literature. We could consider human natures and minds as understood by science and as represented in literature, not just as seen through the approved lenses of race, gender, and class, but in terms, for instance, of the human life history cycle, or social cognition, or cooperation versus competition. Or we could develop multileveled explanations that allow room for the universals of human nature, and for the local in culture and history, and for individuality, in authors and audiences, and for the particular problem situations faced in this or that stint of composition or comprehension.

One way to use science to approach literature (and art in general) is to view it as a behavior in evolutionary terms. Why do art in general and storytelling in particular exist as cross-species behaviors? Asking the question in these terms makes possible a genuinely theoretical literary theory, one that depends not on the citation of purportedly antiauthoritarian authorities, but on the presence of evidence and the absence of counterevidence, on examining human behavior across time and space and in the context of many cultures and even many species.

The humanities have always accepted the maxim that biologist D’Arcy Thompson stated with sublime simplicity: “Everything is what it is because it got that way.” How it got that way starts not with the Epic of Gilgamesh but much further back: with our evolving into art-making and storytelling animals. How did our capacities for art and story build and become ingrained in us over time? How do we now produce and process stories so effortlessly: what aspects of the mind do we engage, and how?

Contrary to the populist propaganda about “Big Science” (right-wing propaganda that is ironically heir to the post-modernist/literary solipsist and extreme-left feminists movements) as a sterile and dehumanizing force, threatening our values and our emotional lives, science is a profoundly human act. It demystifies that which scares us. It makes new questions and new mysteries possible.

Science does not have the freedom that art and literature do – it cannot. Scientists are not and should not be “free to ask any question” if the question is skewed to advance an agenda, or is irrelevant, or is simply not sensible to ask at this point. That may mean that many questions appropriate to be asked tomorrow will not be asked today, which is unfortunate, but that also means that tomorrow, when we do ask the question, we will have a trail of research showing us why the question is now possible to be asked.

Art and literature do not need to supply that paper trail, but science must. However, art and literature do need to have their questions grounded, at some point, in reality, in scientific fact, or they will become floating bubbles, self-contained, beautiful but useless, and subject to the wind.

Some years ago I went to a friend’s art opening, and he started gushing about his latest idea – a sculpture, to scale, of the solar system. “Um,” I said with a smile, and went on to tell him how I, as a teen-ager, simply tried to draw the moon in orbit around the earth to scale, and ended up taping sheets of paper together until I at last had a scroll that reached a length of about 40 feet.
“Oh,” said my friend, disappointed, but simultaneously fascinated. “Well, maybe I’ll just do a surrealist ‘found object’ installation, then: ‘UNIVERSE (ACTUAL SIZE).’”

When I raised this issue at After the Bar Closes, Louis supplied this link to Lab Lit, which I hope to explore further. Thanks, Louis!

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

This Theory Will Self-Destruct in Eight Years!

Everyone remembers what anniversary we celebrate on April 2, right? A certain interview appearing in a Kentucky newspaper?

I remember.

To William Dembski, all the debate in this country over evolution won't matter in a decade.
By then, he says, the theory of evolution put forth by Charles Darwin 150 years ago will be dead.
The mathematician turned Darwin critic says there is much to be learned about how life evolved on this planet. And he thinks the model of evolution accepted by the scientific community won't be able to supply the answers.

"I see this all disintegrating very quickly," he said.

Uh-huh. Sure.

We'll just see about that.

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