31 October 2009

The accident (3)

The doctor originally told me that it would take six weeks for my hand to heal completely. Right now it's been five and a half weeks since the crash, and while there's been a lot of improvement, it's clear that it won't be back to full normal function for a while yet. The splint I've had to wear is now optional as long as I'm careful, so that's something. And there have been no more of those post-concussion headaches so far.

The above X-ray was taken about a week ago, and shows the last metacarpal bone's fracture (now partly healed) and misalignment at the bottom (permanent, but not damaging to functionality, which is why we decided against surgery to fix it). The inset at the lower right is the same area of an undamaged hand, for compari-son. I can't see the fracture in the index finger at all, but even the doctor missed it originally, so it must be hard to spot.

I can type, even for long periods sometimes, but at other times it rapidly becomes painful. And I do have a full-time job that needs doing. So blog posts will continue to be somewhat intermittent.

At least I am getting ongoing treatment. I can't even imagine how people without insurance cope with something like this.

Link roundup for 31 October 2009

Sadly No takes a look at that nutty "sacred sperm" article I linked to in last weekend's roundup. (I noted some other implications of Catholic doctrine here.)

Jack Jodell has a collection of new scary monsters for Halloween. Religious nutters are just pushing the same old crap.

I do not want to be sitting next to this guy on a plane.

Discover the fascinating world of bat blowjobs.

This is just too weird. What were they thinking?

Something else I never knew even existed: steampunk Star Wars fashions (found via Mendip).

Ever wonder what people in church are really singing?

I'd be nervous driving this car past pictures of female whales. Might be like having your air bag go off by accident.

Pelosi's unveiling of the House health-reform bill brought a vast throng of teabaggers to the Capitol to protest.

Colbert pwns Lieberman. Jonathan Chait looks at his possible motives.

This stayed up on the Republican Facebook page for five days.

Franken knows his country.

Wal-Mart showcases a cross-section of humanity (for the 7th pic, captioned "with the wrong guy", I'd say he's with the wrong gal).

Georgia Republicans use a fake census letter to raise money.

The ACLU really does understand freedom of expression.

Illinois prosecutors are bullying students investigating mistaken convictions of innocent people.

I hope the cops in the next foreign country I visit are not doing what the Dallas police did. Mondragon, by the way, is the step-sister of a deceased Vietnam vet.

Megan McArdle looks at the economics of newspapers (read the comment by "rab", too).

Credit card issuers are evil (I'm canceling two more cards myself this weekend).

Blue Cross takes insurance-industry arrogance and cluelessness to new heights in North Carolina, and provokes a mass response.

Americans think it's more important that health reform include a public option than that it be bipartisan.

40% of Americans self-identify as conservative, but it's debatable what that means. Support for the crackpot-infested Republican party is lower than ever.

The economy has improved dramatically since Democrats took full control in January, though job growth lags as it always does.

The right wing favors state control over the individual. Helping people, not so much.

Randall Terry, who recently called on rightists to burn Reid and Pelosi in effigy, is a case study in Christian Right moral values. More on Christian morality here.

The public understands that Fox is a propaganda instrument in a way that the other networks are not (I'm curious about the 14% who call Fox "mostly liberal", though).

Newly-declassified British government files shed light on the character of Charles de Gaulle (found via Mendip).

Where are women most oppressed? The answer is no surprise.

I guess some people don't approve of talking about sex on TV.

This seems like an obvious case of Islamic child abuse (found via ManticoreWeb).

Jihadists have brutally murdered almost 4,000 people in Thailand over the last five years.

Islamic morality facilitates degrading sexual exploitation in Iraq and Afghanistan (both links sent by Ranch Chimp).

Annette looks at the rise of wind power in the United States.

Technology works against fascist regimes' efforts to limit internet access.

Scientists are making progress on spinal nerve regeneration.

30 October 2009

Taking a better stand

It now looks like the administration is mounting a tougher defense of free expression against the Islamic thugocracies' efforts to limit it by reviving the medieval concept of "blasphemy". Better than its earlier stance. Our leaders need to be watched like hawks on this -- if the United States won't stick up for free expression, who will?

27 October 2009

The battle of the dirty dollar

Conservatives like to call attention to the risk that the regulatory state can grow too powerful and activist and strangle private enterprise -- and an honest assessment of history shows that, yes, this can happen. It's all too painfully obvious, however, that what we have long faced in the United States is the opposite problem: powerful private interests using their money to buy control of the state. Wall Street money has flowed to obstruct the re-regulation of the financial sector, thus putting us all at risk of a repeat of the Bush recession someday; the "blue-dog" Democrats who threaten to help Republicans stymie real health-care reform have been amply rewarded in cash by the insurance industry for putting its interests ahead of ours. If this fails to qualify as bribery, it must be by the slimmest of semantic technicalities.

We will soon see a major test of strength between the power of the dirty dollar and the power of the voters. The Reid health-reform plan (good summary here) includes that which the insurance industry has fought hardest to prevent: a public option. The plan is far from perfect: the public option will not be offered to anyone who currently has employer-provided coverage, for example, and entire states will be allowed to "opt out", denying their citizens expanded choice. But it will be there, if the plan passes; and the people will have the chance to compare the scare stories with reality, allowing support for further reforms to grow.

We can expect the insurance industry to fight tooth and nail against this. The money will flow as never before, in the effort to defeat the Reid plan. That does not mean they will prevail. The reason politicians want that money is to buy our votes come re-election time. If we convince them that doing the wrong thing will make us angry enough not to re-elect them regardless of what they spend, they will do the right thing.

Two and a half years ago, with the Bush amnesty, we faced a Senate seemingly in the pocket of special interests conspiring against the national interest. It was supposed to be a done deal -- the fix was in. But the people roared, and the politicians backed down.

We can do it again. If we make ourselves heard loudly enough, we can get the Senate to pass this thing. But we may need to be very loud indeed.

26 October 2009


Now comes the starkest case yet of how President Obama's pathetic obsession with bipartisanship is the chief obstacle to achieving real change in Washington.

Senate Democratic leaders think they have the necessary votes to pass health-care reform with a public option if it includes an "opt-out" for states (this means that red states could reject the public option and remain a captive market for the insurance companies, as the price for the rest of us getting the public option as an alternative).

Obama is actively opposing their efforts in favor of the insurance companies' own preferred plan, a fake "reform" with no public option, just the so-called "trigger" (a promise that something real may get done years from now if the insurance companies don't clean up their act).

It would mean kicking the can down the road, the waste of the best chance we've ever had to truly reform the system. But the lone Republican whose support might be won over, Olympia Snowe, is against the public option. So real reform would have to pass with only Democratic votes -- and that wouldn't be bipartisan.

It's true that some Democrats are reluctant to vote for a public option, especially if not a single Republican is on board. But that's precisely the kind of situation where bold support and advocacy from a popular President could make the difference.

Well, the only bold support and leadership we're seeing right now is from Reid and Pelosi. If real reform gets passed, the credit will belong to them. Obama is AWOL or worse in the final battle for his own signature issue.

We could have had a President committed to real change. We could have had Hillary.

Update: Reid's bill is done: see here for more.

25 October 2009

Inevitable morality

A few weeks ago blogger Rita put up a posting on the old question of where morality comes from. The old idea that morality exists by divine diktat is fairly easily disposed of, but then, why does it exist?

It occurs to me that the real answer to this question can be found by analogy with natural selection. To see why this is, try turning the question around: Would it be possible for morality not to exist?

Try to imagine a society in which theft, rape, and murder were considered proper and acceptable behavior. Obviously such a society would not last very long. If you imagine a world in which some societies freely allowed such acts and some did not, then within a couple of centuries, only the societies of the second type would still exist. Notice that this is still true even if none of the societies in question have any religion. It's purely a matter of the inevitable consequences of behavior.

One could imagine a morality-free society reaching the logical conclusion that theft, rape, and murder should be discouraged purely because they are dangerous both to society and to the individuals within it, and decreeing punshments for that purpose; however, this alone would be of limited effectiveness. The police cannot be everywhere, and people of normal intelligence could figure out ways of indulging in forbidden behavior while reducing the risk of punishment to an acceptable level.

Such a society would be much less stable than one in which each individual was also discouraged from engaging in theft, rape, or murder by some form of internal inhibition, which is to say, a sense of morality. Notice that for the sake of this argument it doesn't matter whether that inhibition is a genetic trait or just a cultural feature that some societies happen to possess. The point is, societies which possessed this feature would be much more stable than societies in which those behaviors were accepted, or societies in which they were discouraged only by punishment; and so, over time, only societies of that type would survive, while societies of the other two types would disappear.

The actual roots of morality probably lie in the social organization of primates. Chimpanzees have various constraints on behavior within their social groups. For example, males fight each other for dominance, but restrain themselves so that these conflicts rarely lead to death or serious injury. This isn't due to a commandment from some chimpanzee Moses; it's because chimpanzee groups regularly fight each other, and any group in which the adult males mostly killed each other off would likely be wiped out by some neighboring group in which they did not do so; thus, only those groups which harbored the inhibition about internal fighting survived to transmit their genes (including the genes for the inhibition) to future generations. Most other chimpanzee behavioral inhibitions have obvious similar explanations.

The more elaborate morality of humans probably evolved from such primate inhibitions over time as our ancestors' intelligence slowly increased. As Charles Darwin said, "Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed, or nearly as well developed, as in man."

But whatever the origin of morality, the important point is that human societies which did not have it would be at a disadvantage in competing for survival with societies which did, and so today we see only societies of the latter type.

Notice that this argument applies only to actual morality, and not to the hodgepodge of sexual taboos which, weirdly, are what religious people tend to mean when they use the word "morality". There are no human societies in which theft, rape, and murder are considered morally right, but attitudes about contraception, homosexuality, abortion, adultery, pre-marital sex, etc. vary wildly from one society to the next; any or all of those things may be considered crimes worthy of death in some cultures, utterly unobjectionable in others. This is because under most conditions, a society's attitudes about these things have only a marginal impact on its chances of survival, so the "natural selection" effect is not triggered. (Obviously a society in which all sexual activity was homosexual or all pregnancies were aborted would not last long, but societies in which homosexuality and abortion are accepted when individuals prefer them, can and do continue indefinitely.)

So the question of why we have morality is similar to the question of why we have sexual desire or fear of death; if our species didn't have such traits, we wouldn't even exist to be asking the question.

24 October 2009

Link roundup for 24 October 2009

This personalized license plate seems pointless, but it was sure expensive (found via Mendip).

Jack Jodell has some ideas on what this country really needs.

This Guinness ad is cool (but beer is intelligently designed).

Keith Bardwell defends his actions. It doesn't help.

Some conservatives support sane drug laws (read this too).

An established Catholic educates a new convert: Yes, we really are that crazy; deal with it. They're reaching out to Anglicans, though.

Fear the coming rise of the hybrid people-eating super-serpents.

A Republican governor honors Harvey Milk, to predictable conservative outrage.

Hey guys, how would you like a job where you can approach any woman in public and order her to take her bra off and shake her breasts for you? Oh, and you can whip her too, if you're into that. Amazingly, such a job actually exists -- in one of the world's most religion-dominated countries (found via Counting Cats).

Common Dreams reviews the Jamie Leigh Jones case and where it implies conservatism wants to take us. The case is becoming a PR disaster for the Dirty Thirty, even in the South.

Russell Blackford has more on Oklahoma's vile new abortion-intimidation law, here and here.

Batteries not included: Go ahead, defenders of the health-care status quo, try to justify this. And this (more here).

Pelosi and Reid now seem to be getting the message on the public option -- and the CBO says it would reduce the deficit (sent by Ranch Chimp). Public pressure may be helping. It's still needed.

Al Franken knows his stuff on health-care comparisons.

Elizabeth Pisani looks at prostitution and sex-trafficking hysteria in Britain.

Injuries associated with bike riding are getting more serious (hey, I should know).

As people live longer and longer, Leeds University in Britain is working on longer-lasting artificial joints.

Swedish and Italian scientists have developed a prosthetic hand that can actually feel (found via Mendip).

20 October 2009

Obama's worst decision

I feel quite confident about the title of this posting; even if the Obama administration lasts the expected eight years, no act it commits in the future will ever be able to match the fundamental, unforgivable wrongness of this:

Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any "negative racial and religious stereotyping." The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians.....Though it has no direct enforcement (and is weaker than earlier versions), it is still viewed as a victory for those who sought to juxtapose and balance the rights of speech and religion.

No, of course a UN vote has no legal force. It's a statement of principle, and in this case, what the administration casually sold out in order to appease the Islamic gangster-states is such a bedrock principle of human freedom that the founders of this country enshrined it in the First Amendment.

Freedom of expression with the caveat "unless it offends or upsets someone" is no freedom of expression at all. Respectable, popular expression that doesn't bother anybody needs no protection. Free expression must include the absolute right to attack even the most sacred of cows, to defend views which you or I or the Pope or the Ayatollahs find shocking and outrageous, or it means nothing.

The administration's stance aligns it with the murderous, freedom-hating medieval potentates of Riyadh and Tehran, and against Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, and the heritage of the Enlightenment. Whether it's a crime or somehow merely a blunder, it is unforgiva-ble and irredeemable.

(Link above found via The Crossed Pond.)

17 October 2009

Cover the walls!

Earlier this year, where I work, our union contract came up for its regular re-negotiation. Inevitably, given the recession, the new contract had some bad features -- reduction or elimination of pay-rate increases, mostly. Nevertheless, it was a lot better than the management's original proposal.

Yesterday the union held a lunch to celebrate the new contract. The two union reps there had an interesting story.

Months ago, when it became clear how bad the management's initial offer was, the union circulated a petition for employees to sign declaring that they supported its efforts to get something better. Copies of the petition were sent to every work unit with instructions to fax it back to the union.

Yesterday, our union reps told us that within twenty-four hours of sending out the petition, they received two thousand signatures (more than half the members). In the big conference room where negotiations were to be held, they taped up the returned petitions with signatures on the walls. The petitions completely covered the walls. It was a graphic reminder to the management negotiators that the union had the employees behind it.

Considering the state of the economy back then, the deal we ended up getting wasn't bad.

As health-care-reform negotiations drag on, with the insurance companies spending money all-out to buy any legislator who might be swayed to stymie real change, we aren't able to cover the walls of the Senate and House with petitions. But Congress has fax machines too, and they get mail. All that dirty money is of no use to legislators except to help them win our votes next election. If we make it clear we won't re-elect them unless they do the right thing, money won't help them. Speaking out makes a difference -- if enough people do it.

Where there is no Second Amendment

If there's one place where the effects of gun control can be clearly observed, that place must surely be Britain. Over the last few years, Britain's gun-control laws have been tightened until they are among the strictest in the world, guaranteeing that muggers, rapists, burglars, and suchlike can operate with assurance that their law-abiding prey will be unarmed.

In London, gun crime has risen 17% over last year. This increase cannot be dismissed as merely part of a general rise in crime rates, since overall crime rates in London actually fell over the same period -- there were 30 fewer homicides, for example, and a 4.7% fall in knife crimes (not due to a ban on private knife ownership, presumably). No, it's gun crime specifically that rose, while crime in general was decreasing.

The article does note that rape and residential burglary have increased. I have a very strong suspicion that this trend would quickly turn around if the rapists and burglars knew that large numbers of women and home-owners had guns.

Link roundup for 17 October 2009

Rap music goes multicultural, and pretty far out there (found via Mendip).

Zirgar reviews that Republican calendar.

Orly Taitz is still pestering the legal system about her Obama-birth-certificate delusions, and Judge Clay Land has pwned her again, to the tune of $20,000.

The mommy's-basement-dwelling knucle-dragger set have a new outlet for their violent fantasies.

The Pope is more likely to publicly worship Satan than to do this.

I bet this church makes witches nervous (found via Mendip).

The BEatitude has some interesting questions about Heaven (found via Bay of Fundie, whose post title suggests one more).

Middle of Nowhere has a couple of great photo posts -- the very large and the very small.

Teapot Atheist debunks the Mayan calendar bullshit. He doesn't think much of this defense of the world's largest child-molesters' organization, either.

Jon Stewart looks at conservative efforts to protect corporate rape from Commie socialist liberal interference.

Jack Jodell has an interesting posting on why Democrats in power are less effective than Republicans.

Judge John E. Jones III, whose 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover ruling struck down the creationists' intelligent-design scam, will be honored here in Portland today.

Oklahoma offers another illustration of the vicious cruelty of anti-abortion fanaticism.

Think racism is dead? Someone needs to tell Keith Bardwell. Dissenting Justice has more.

The new Republican party website is assessed by Jack Jodell, The Crossed Pond, and Wonkette.

British conservatives are unimpressed with Glenn Beck.

Reconstitution 2.0 has been on a roll this week, with posts on Soviet nostalgia, Keith Bardwell, a case study in how big money blocks real health reform, and why abusive health insurers are losing the war.

Republican Presidential hopefuls must meet a certain standard.

A member of the jury that convicted Cameron Willingham now thinks he may have been innocent -- too bad he's already been executed (sent by Ranch Chimp, who has more on executions in Texas).

Watch Iran on November 4th.

Here's a cool video of bullet impacts in slow motion (found via Mendip).

PZ Myers looks at a transitional fossil and modular evolution.

View pictures of the new Darwin Centre at the Natural Hstory Museum in London. (And pity this guy who has to work through "22,000 drawers full of beetles".)

Stem-cell science is making steady progress in growing new tissues to repair organs.

14 October 2009

Letting them get away with it

As the defenders of the health-care status quo launch an all-out campaign to panic the public against reform, Jon Stewart takes a look at the MSM's effectiveness at fact-checking their claims. It's no wonder this guy is now America's most-trusted newsman.

12 October 2009

That Nobel Peace Prize

Andrew Sullivan suggests three other candidates. I agree.

11 October 2009

Parody corner

Remember that amazingly-stupid, endlessly-parodied "storm coming" ad against gay marriage? Here's the latest rendition, taking on the current teabagger panic at the ghastly prospect of being offered affordable health insurance. As rightists scour the political landscape in search of new sharks to jump, that ad may become the paradigmatic template for highlighting their inability to make sense.

Readers have most likely seen that interactive, preposterous One Nation under God painting which has been making the rounds. There's already an improved version with actual quotes from the historical figures. For those who prefer to cut straight to the End Times, there's this.

The fires of Acirema

You may not have heard of the Republic of Acirema, but trust me; it is a large, wealthy, technologically-advanced nation and a member in good standing of the international community. It is, however, a decidedly-peculiar society in one respect: the way it handles fire prevention.

In most rich countries, fire departments are public utilities, paid for out of taxes, which respond to any fire in the community they serve, and allocate whatever resources are needed to put it out. Acirema, by contrast, has a bizarre patchwork system. All fire departments are private entities which charge fees for each fire they extinguish. Since the bill for putting out a major house fire is prohibitively high for the average citizen, the majority of people need special insurance policies to cover these bills, in case they ever arise. While firemen are dedicated professionals, they cannot usually afford to provide unpaid services; so they often do not respond to fires in houses whose owners lack fire insurance and are not rich enough to pay on their own to have the fires put out. The homes of such unfortunates are simply left to burn.

Some of the companies which sell these insurance policies are for-profit corporations, while others are non-profit entities; some of the latter even own their own fire departments. Either way, the cost of insurance policies is high and rapidly rising, beyond the means of many people. Most employers pay for employees' fire coverage as a job perk; this means, however, that the unemployed often have no coverage. Overall about 15% of Acireman citizens have no protection against fires. If a fire breaks out in such a person's home, either the house is left to burn down, or the fire department responds and then presents the owner with a bill which means utter financial ruin.

As a result of this bizarre system, every year many thousands of Aciremans die in house fires who would be saved if they lived in countries with conventional tax-funded fire departments serving entire communities. To make matters worse, the fire-insurance companies are notorious for unethical practices. They regularly deny policies to persons whose houses are found to contain "pre-existing fire hazards", very broadly defined, so that fire protection is unavailable to those who need it most. Even worse, when a fire does occur which would be expensive to put out, fire insurers sometimes comb the home-owner's policy for some technical error which they can use as grounds to cancel the policy even as the fire trucks are rushing to the scene. Due to this practice, called "re-ignition", even some citizens who have paid for insurance for years have watched firemen abandon their efforts half-finished, leaving their houses to burn and their families to die. Fire-control experts warn that the large number of uninsured houses makes whole Acireman cities vulnerable to catastrophic fires in the dry season, since fires left to burn in uninsured homes can spread.

President Amabo, recently elected with a large majority on a platform which emphasized reform of Acirema's fire-control system, has met with great difficulty in working toward this goal. The opposing political faction, the Nacilbupers, has vigorously denounced any move toward "socialist fire departments" such as exist in all other developed nations. A small but powerful group of legislators from Amabo's own faction, known for obscure reasons as the "azure hounds", have openly taken huge bribes from the wealthy fire-insurance companies to ensure that their role in the system is not endangered.

As a result, reform efforts have been scaled back; at best, there may be some limits placed on the practice of re-ignition, and there is still some hope for a "public fire option", a government-backed company selling coverage to those who cannot afford the private companies' premiums. Even these measures may not come into force for years. Though this means that thousands of Aciremans will continue to die needlessly in preventable fires, most political leaders agree that this is an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice to political realism.

In a recent speech, President Amabo tried to boost the morale
of his discouraged supporters. "Things could be a lot worse," he pointed out. "Our country could be running its national health system like this."

Shrinking tent

Republican party identification is not recovering -- it has been declining almost steadily since a brief bump in May and June, and now stands at 22% of the population.

By all accounts, the proportion of Americans who self-identify as conservatives is a lot higher than 22%, but is it any surprise that non-deranged conservatives are turned off by a party dominated by the Limbaugh-teabagger-Christian-Right complex?

The geographical distribution of that 22% is interesting too. Basically, the party remains highly popular in the South but has collapsed everywhere else -- the effect is even more dramatic if one considers that the party's 14% favorable rating in the west is probably accounted for mostly by the "Mormon belt" -- Utah and the adjacent parts of Idaho and Wyoming -- which has long been the most-solidly-Republican part of the country.

10 October 2009

Link roundup for 10 October 2009

Utah leads the nation in internet-porn consumption (found via Oliver Willis) -- it's Satan's doing, apparently.

Middle of Nowhere has some fun odds and ends, including a Republican calendar.

Limbaugh has a new gig.

I'll skip this adopt-a-liberal program, thanks.

Маяковский looks at Russian characters in American comics (found via Mendip).

The perpetually-offended people.....are offended.

Bill Maher comments on France (found via Prash).

I think I've found yet another book I need to read (and the author, Ilkka Pyysiäinen, must have some pretty advanced academic credentials just to be able to spell his own name).

The Portland Police Bureau has a video challenging the culture of silence on crime.

It's not only insurance companies that kill sick people -- religious quackery gets the job done too.

I can't be bothered to have an opinion about Obama's Nobel Prize, but here's a comment thread (read this too).

Olbermann lays the real issues on health-care reform on the line (found via Politics Plus). More on the horrors of our current system here.

There's a big difference between a free market and "corporate Communism".

Andrew Sullivan has some reminders of the mentality we're up against. On a related note, this is obviously cherry-picking -- I could easily answer all the questions, and most people I know could answer most of them -- but these people do exist.

While the conservative (by European standards) governments of France and Poland have protested against Polanski's arrest in Switzerland, Britain's leftist Guardian newspaper (and most of its commenters) have a different view (found via Middle of Nowhere).

On the celebrities downplaying Polanski's child-rape seemingly on the grounds that artists should be exempt from normal moral rules, I wrote a comment on Elizabeth's post above saying that "eventually the Polanski defenders will cut out the baloney and just declare that rape is an art form." Well, read this. And why don't those celebrities do something useful?

Here are some highlights from the Atheist Alliance International convention. More next year, in Australia.

Politics Plus and Middle of Nowhere look at that Conservapedia project for a new right-wing version of the Bible.

The arrest of a jihadist in France suggests that religious terrorists may be targeting the nuclear industry.

Here are some links on the Muslim-Nazi connection.

This could be a useful insight into cancer, but the main thing that struck me about it that there is such a thing as the Journal of Fish Disease. Truly there's a magazine for every interest!

The real bigfoot was French.

British scientists are making progress on brain-computer interfacing (found via Mendip).

08 October 2009

Food for the brain

Last month I got some extra money to spend on fun things -- so I've been spending it. An inventory of recent acquisitions:

Bram Stoker, Dracula -- incredible that I've gone all these years without ever reading the classic! I had worried that it might be one of those slow, turgid Victorian novels -- it was published in 1897, after all -- but it's far from that. The story really crackles along; it's a riveting read.

Edward Humes, Monkey Girl (what I'm currently reading) -- a history of the 2004-2005 legal battle in Dover, Pennsylvania, over local fundies' efforts to insert creationism (in its "intelligent design" guise) into the school science curriculum. Humes tries hard to treat both sides fairly, but can't avoid repeatedly revealing that the pro-ID side was utterly clueless about science.

Mary Renault, The Persian Boy -- historical novel of Alexander the Great, told from the viewpoint of a slave owned by Darius (the Persian king whom Alexander defeated) and later by Alexander himself. I remember reading this decades ago, and couldn't resist picking it up when I spotted it in the store.

Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth -- the evidence for evolution and why we are certain it really happened.

H.P. Lovecraft, Tales of H.P. Lovecraft -- ten of his classic stories.

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time -- modern physics for the layman. It may be a challenge to read, but must have been far more so to write.

Christopher Hitchens (editor), The Portable Atheist -- a collection of atheist writings through history, from Lucretius to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Victor J. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis -- "How science shows that God does not exist", rather than being merely neutral on the subject.

A work I especially wanted was Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God, a history of the Christian Right political movement written by the son (now de-fanaticized and firmly allied with the left) of one of its founders. This book was out of stock everywhere. I have one more store to try, then I'm going to order it online.

We've been hearing for years that books will become passé soon, but I don't believe it. Words on a screen are still nothing like as easy and relaxing to read as print on actual paper.

06 October 2009

The accident (2)

The bicycle accident two weeks ago was amazingly simple (and stupid), and was over in an instant -- but the effects have certainly lingered. All that happened was that I got too close to the fence running along the right-hand side of the bike path, the tip of the handlebar hit the fence, and I went flying off. Unfortunately I was going about my top bicycling speed -- I don't know what that is in miles per hour, but it's certainly closer to car speed than walking speed.

The impact when I hit the ground was like nothing I've ever felt before. And I took the whole impact on the edge of my right hand and the top of my head. The last metacarpal bone (those are the long thin bones extending from the knuckles to the wrist -- in this case, from the little finger to the wrist) snapped in the middle. If I hadn't been wearing a helmet, I'd undoubtedly have had a skull fracture as well, and perhaps worse.

The funny thing is, I didn't realize right away how bad it was. I simply got up, got back on the bike, and rode the rest of the way to work -- almost four miles. The doctor told me the pain from a broken bone often doesn't really start up for several hours. Only later, when I realized how swollen and painful the hand was, did I go to the emergency room and learn that the bone was broken.

As it was, last Wednesday (eight days after the accident), I woke up at 3:00 AM with a severe headache. It later receded enough for me to post in honor of the only religious holiday I could ever recognize, but came back in full force after I got to work. Recalling the blow to the head, I went back to the emergency room, in case there was some damage that hadn't previously been apparent. The doctors did a CT scan (yep, that's me up at the top of this posting) and pronounced me free from any brain or skull damage -- so in a way the headache was a blessing in disguise, since I now know for sure that there is no such injury. They said that the headache was "post-concussion syndrome", which basically means I'm likely to get headaches like that occasionally for the next six months or so. Unpleasant, but not dangerous.

The headache took over a day to go away. Typing is still slow and laborious and often needs to be done with the left hand alone, and you wouldn't believe how many everyday things are maddeningly difficult to do one-handed. They told me it takes six weeks for this type of hand injury to recover completely. Four weeks to go.

But the important thing is, if you ride a bike, wear a helmet. This would have been far, far worse if I'd been without one.

05 October 2009

Public option's chances improving

Despite the moans of the cynics and defeatists, it's not yet time to give up on genuine reform. Liberal Values has analysis and links.

04 October 2009

The bomb

An asstonishing and deseatful new terror tactic rears its head, butt let's hope analysts will soon get to the bottom of who's behind it. More fundamental de-tail here, t-rumpeted direct from jihadist hindquarters -- I mean headquarters.

03 October 2009

Link roundup for 3 October 2009

Can someone sic this kid on that blasted gecko I keep seeing on billboards?

There is no ceiling cat.

A reminder: don't mess with elephants.

Can Islam be funny?

I don't see that this (found via Mendip) is particularly ironic. Most vegetarians would probably eat meat if that were the only way to save their lives, just as most people would probably eat human flesh under such circumstances.

When rightist blogs talk about the left, they always seem to con-jure up some weird straw-man caricature bearing no resemblance to any actual leftists I know or have heard of. Forever in Hell dissects an example.

Reid says the public option will be there (found via Dissenting Justice).

Bill Clinton says 2010 won't be like 1994 -- for one thing, today's Democrats haven't repeated his error of attacking gun rights.

The fruits of conservative governance: Texas's under-regulated medical examiners create ghastly miscarriages of justice.

If you read only two links from this roundup, let them be this one and this one. There is a domestic terrorist threat in this country. It is real.

Republican decline is rooted in the fact that even the party's own leaders overestimate the importance of the teabagger fringe. McCain's efforts to reform the party could benefit from following Goldwater's example. Lindsey Graham is trying too (found via The Middle of Nowhere).

Secular conservative (increasingly an oxymoron these days) Heather Mac Donald calls out the right for racism and hypocrisy.

Russell Blackford discusses older and younger atheists, and the vital importance of blasphemy.

Sick, sex-hating religious fanatics are outraged at women being able to feign virginity (in a society where not being a virgin can result in being murdered).

PZ Myers is unimpressed by snotty Christian advice for atheists.

Yet another brave ex-Muslim gets death threats -- in Oklahoma.

The Middle of Nowhere has a follow-up post on Polanski and the arrogance of elites.

As long predicted, global warming is driving a rise in the level of methane in the atmosphere -- which will increase warming still further.

Even linear extrapolation of past life-expectancy trends suggests that half the babies born in developed countries this year will live to be 100. Of course, I'm more optimistic.

Over the last few years, longevity science has become much more respectable.

02 October 2009

Excusing the crimes of the elite

A few months ago I was sickened and horrified to discover that, when the malfeasance of a wealthy, powerful, privileged member of the elite results in the death of an "ordinary" person, there are very many on the left who are willing and eager to minimize and gloss over the event, treating it as a mere footnote to the great aristocrat's illustrious career.

Chappaquiddick was not just some trivial sex scandal. A person died.

Now we're seeing the same nasty impulse rise to the surface again, with Roman Polanski. While the evil of Polanski's act cannot be equated with Chappaquiddick (his victim is still alive), it was utterly heinous -- a responsible adult drugged and forcibly sodomized a 13-year-old who was vehemently protesting and asserting her lack of consent. In this case there don't seem to be many bloggers seeking to excuse and minimize the crime (thank goodness), but a laundry list of celebrities and commentators has rushed to protest Polanski's arrest and possible extradition. The Middle of Nowhere has a definitive overview of the situation (read this too). The rationalizations in defense of Polanski recall the twisted verbiage used by others to downplay and minimize the Catholic-priest child-molestation scandals.

How many of those rushing to defend Polanski would be doing so if he were an ordinary nobody guilty of exactly the same crime? (Not even a hypothetical -- there are plenty of child-rapists sitting in prison right now.) Isn't there more than a hint here, as with Kennedy, of the attitude that the "extraordinary man" should be forgiven acts for which common mortals would deserve full punishment?

I don't care if the right does worse. That's not the topic of this posting. I don't want to see this on our side.