Thursday, September 30, 2010


"I like a woman with a head on her shoulders. I hate necks."  - Steve Martin

The Pudding Has Not Enough Theme

 Beinart, Packer, and Hitchens discuss the president's foreign policy:

"Tea and Crackers"

Highlights from Matt Taibbi's piercing of teabags in Rolling Stone Magazine:
A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can't imagine it...
The individuals in the Tea Party may come from very different walks of life, but most of them have a few things in common. After nearly a year of talking with Tea Party members from Nevada to New Jersey, I can count on one hand the key elements I expect to hear in nearly every interview. One: Every single one of them was that exceptional Republican who did protest the spending in the Bush years, and not one of them is the hypocrite who only took to the streets when a black Democratic president launched an emergency stimulus program. ("Not me — I was protesting!" is a common exclamation.) Two: Each and every one of them is the only person in America who has ever read the Constitution or watched Schoolhouse Rock. (Here they have guidance from Armey, who explains that the problem with "people who do not cherish America the way we do" is that "they did not read the Federalist Papers.") Three: They are all furious at the implication that race is a factor in their political views — despite the fact that they blame the financial crisis on poor black homeowners, spend months on end engrossed by reports about how the New Black Panthers want to kill "cracker babies," support politicians who think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an overreach of government power, tried to enact South African-style immigration laws in Arizona and obsess over Charlie Rangel, ACORN and Barack Obama's birth certificate. Four: In fact, some of their best friends are black! (Reporters in Kentucky invented a game called "White Male Liberty Patriot Bingo," checking off a box every time a Tea Partier mentions a black friend.) And five: Everyone who disagrees with them is a radical leftist who hates America.
It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists. They're completely blind to how offensive the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country. I'm an ordinary middle-aged guy who pays taxes and lives in the suburbs with his wife and dog — and I'm a radical communist? I don't love my country? I'm a redcoat? Fuck you! These are the kinds of thoughts that go through your head as you listen to Tea Partiers expound at awesome length upon their cultural victimhood, surrounded as they are by America-haters like you and me or, in the case of foreign-born president Barack Obama, people who are literally not Americans in the way they are.
It's not like the Tea Partiers hate black people. It's just that they're shockingly willing to believe the appalling horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind of oppressed minority. That may not be racism, but it is incredibly, earth-shatteringly stupid.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

O'Donnell, O Jesus

This from the woman who said she could not tell a lie, even with Anne Frank in her attic and Nazis at the door.

I wonder, now that she is a Republican candidate for national office, what her position is on the U.S. government practicing deception to capture terrorists.  What does she think of the CIA?  What of the broader 'troops' who fight our enemies?

Someone should force the question.


"To get something done, a committee should consist of no more than three men, two of whom are absent."  - Robert Copeland

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This is a post about a news website article about a scientific paper.

In this sentence, I will set up a quote from another post that I find entertaining while also having no particular interest in adding extra commentary:
In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding?
In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of "scare quotes" to ensure that it's clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.
In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research "challenges".
If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims.
This paragraph elaborates on the claim, adding weasel-words like "the scientists say" to shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist.
In this sentence I will link for your reference the location of Martin Robbins' fun shot at science journalism while also linking for your reference a video production about making a video production for a news network that is very similar while not being repetitive.

That's Graphic

Since it is safe to assume that nobody thought Vice-President Biden was simultaneously giving an interview to other pundits, and it is likewise safe to assume nobody thought Lawrence O'Donnell's show was beaming live on networks other than MSNBC, I think it is also safe to assume that the producers of the show could have done with a SLIGHTLY LESS OBNOXIOUS CAPS-LOCK exclusivity graphic threatening to overtake your entire television screen. Come on guys, that graphic is on testicle-shrinking steroids.
What they really meant to say was "OMG it's Joe Biden!"


"By a curious confusion, many modern critics have passed from the proposition that a masterpiece may be unpopular to the other proposition that unless it is unpopular it cannot be a masterpiece."  - G. K. Chesterton

Religious Familiarity Not Good for... Religion

An unsurprising, though edifying piece in the NYT.  Money quote:
Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.
On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.
Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.
More at NYT.

Monday, September 27, 2010


"In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.' I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms."  - Stephen Jay Gould

Training Our Expectations

Beinart details the intransigence of the 'yahoo in charge, and the U.S. community's indifference to it:
So let’s get this straight. When Netanyahu agrees to a settlement moratorium, it’s a sign of his commitment to peace. And now that he has let the moratorium end? It’s still a sign of his commitment to peace because, as AIPAC now insists, negotiations must proceed without preconditions. It’s back to “the problem isn’t settlements.”
But the problem—or at least a crucial problem—is settlements. Creating a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank could easily require moving 100,000 settlers—ten times as many as Israel removed in Gaza, on far more theologically charged land. All those settlers will have to be financially compensated (at least partially, judging from the Oslo discussions, with U.S. taxpayer dollars). Many will have to be violently confronted, a terrifying prospect given that militant settlers comprise a larger and larger share of the Israeli officer corps. (Yitzhak Rabin, remember, was assassinated for merely contemplating the removal of West Bank settlements). And even if all this can be done without civil war, any land Israel keeps in the West Bank will likely have to be traded for land within pre-1967 Israel, and there’s not much land to trade...
Netanyahu’s decision has empowered the settlers, strengthened Hamas and made it more likely that sometime in the next year or two, the occupied territories will again explode into violence. But there is one silver lining. By his actions, Netanyahu has laid bare the criteria that American Jewish organizations actually use for evaluating the behavior of an Israeli leader. To be labeled a champion of peace by the American Jewish establishment, it turns out, a prime minister of Israel only really has to do one thing: be prime minister of Israel.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future."  - Niels Bohr


Matt Ridley in WSJ:
...we would be a very peculiar animal species if we did not have sex differences in behavior as well as anatomy. In virtually every mammal and nearly all birds, males are more aggressive, females more nurturing. It is a distinction that goes right back to active sperm competing for stationary eggs in the primeval ocean. It was only reinforced when the invention of the placenta and the mammary gland gave male mammals a gigantic prize to compete for: nine months and several years of somebody else's bodily efforts. Wombs are worth fighting over—and granting to favored applicants only.
So it's no zoological accident that in all societies, however peaceful or violent, men are about 50 times more likely to kill other men than women are to kill women, and they do so most in young adulthood, when most actively competing for mates. Likewise, it is no neurophysiological accident that women coo over newborn babies more enthusiastically than men do. Women who showed interest in babies left more genes behind than those who were indifferent; men who turned violent left more genes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

525 Years Later, a DaVinci Aeronaut

The first human powered, wing-flapping flying machine has been built by a student in Canada.  The concept was first sketched by DaVinci in 1485.

HPO Flight from U of T Engineering on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left."  - Oscar Levant

Hitchens vs. Berlinsky

Parts 234, and 5.

Monday, September 20, 2010


"People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like."  - Abraham Lincoln, written in a book review.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dawkins vs. Ratzinger

Full speech here (the actual speech had to be abridged).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

F.U.V.M. Your Holiness, Ctd

Like I said, keep it up. This time, Donahue:
The pope did not go far enough. Radical atheists like the British Humanist Association should apologize for Hitler. But they should not stop there. They also need to issue an apology for the 67 million innocent men, women and children murdered under Stalin, and the 77 million innocent Chinese killed by Mao. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were all driven by a radical atheism, a militant and fundamentally dogmatic brand of secular extremism. It was this anti-religious impulse that allowed them to become mass murderers. By contrast, a grand total of 1,394 were killed during the 250 years of the Inquisition, most all of whom were murdered by secular authorities.
Why should atheists today apologize for the crimes of others? At one level, it makes no sense: apologies should only be given by the guilty. But on the other hand, since the fanatically anti-Catholic secularists in Britain, and elsewhere, demand that the pope—who is entirely innocent of any misconduct—apologize for the sins of others, let the atheists take some of their own medicine and start apologizing for all the crimes committed in their name. It might prove alembic.
Notice how snakishly he inserts that the Pope "is entirely innocent of any misconduct."

Sure, that is a true statement if one doesn't consider abetting the rape of children by way of a structural and systematized cover up "misconduct." But, while we may already safely assume that the church sees it that way, the right-thinking world doesn't.

Furthermore, it either "makes no sense" for atheists to apologize for the crimes of others, or it does (it doesn't). That doesn't change as Donahue invents another "level" at which he may forsake logic.

So, as Donahue evidently thinks that it is wrong for atheists (or others, Catholics included) to demand apology and consequence for Ratzinger's actions, what he is saying is that two wrongs make it right - or, if two wrongs don't make it right, do two wrongs anyway.  How Christian?

The Ministry of Truth, Ctd

The Texas State Board of Education is at it again.


"In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying."  - Bertrand Russell

Funny Job Interview

Here and Around is out with another fantastic photo series:

"A setting last quarter crescent moon and the thin line of Earth's atmosphere are photographed by an Expedition 24 crew member as the International Space Station passes over central Asia on Sept. 4th, 2010. (NASA) #"

"A 30-frame sequence showing Cassini's approach to the icy plumes of Enceladus on August 13th, 2010. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute) #"

This is the south pole of Enceladus, where tidal (gravitational) forces are creating enough heat to keep an underground body of water in a liquid state.  The geysers are spewing out organic molecules along with the water.  Incredible.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


"So the emotion that walks like a burglar through our house trying all the doors has found mine the only one unlocked, indeed wide open: for there are no valuables inside."  - Martin Amis, The Rachel Papers

F.U.V.M. Your Holiness, Ctd

Grayling on arresting the Pope, in Der Spiegel:
SPIEGEL: Wasn't that idea a little over the top anyway?
Grayling: Let me explain this in the most neutral terms. For decades, priests have sexually abused thousands of children, in this country and in many others. These are serious crimes. The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has been systematically instrumental in covering up these crimes, hiding people who committed them from public prosecution and in numerous cases allowing the abuse of children to go on. The conspiracy has gone all the way to the top. We know there are questions on Pope Benedict himself. When he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he knew about some of these cases and participated in the cover-ups himself. That is a conspiracy -- there is no other word for it. It is organized crime.
SPIEGEL: And you think the pope should go to jail for that, like any mafioso?
Grayling: If the head of a drug cartel was involved in a conspiracy, we would ask some very serious questions once he came to the UK. Why should we treat the pope any differently?

Fuck You Very Much, Your Holiness

The Pope lands in the UK.  The Pope gives a speech.  The Pope compares atheism to Nazism.

The pontiff's off to a good start in the most secular country on Earth.  Keep it up, Ratzinger.  It is for us pure schadenfreude to watch a flailing, old, pederast-protecting former member of the Hitler Youth moralize to the world on the perils of being insufficiently religious.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


"I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them."  - Isaac Asimov

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wonder from Unity

The Guardian recently paired up David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins for a short conversation.  Listen to the audio here.

What is the one bit of science from your field that you think everyone should know?  

David Attenborough: The unity of life.

Richard Dawkins: The unity of life that comes about through evolution, since we're all descended from a single common ancestor. It's almost too good to be true, that on one planet this extraordinary complexity of life should have come about by what is pretty much an intelligible process. And we're the only species capable of understanding it...
[Different question] - RD: There does seem to be a sense in which physics has gone beyond what human intuition can understand. We shouldn't be too surprised about that because we're evolved to understand things that move at a medium pace at a medium scale. We can't cope with the very tiny scale of quantum physics or the very large scale of relativity. 
DA: A physicist will tell me that this armchair is made of vibrations and that it's not really here at all. But when Samuel Johnson was asked to prove the material existence of reality, he just went up to a big stone and kicked it. I'm with him.

RD: It's intriguing that the chair is mostly empty space and the thing that stops you going through it is vibrations or energy fields. But it's also fascinating that, because we're animals that evolved to survive, what solidity is to most of us is something you can't walk through. Also, the science of the future may be vastly different from the science of today, and you have to have the humility to admit when you don't know. But instead of filling that vacuum with goblins or spirits, I think you should say, "Science is working on it." 
DA: Yes, there was a letter in the paper [about Stephen Hawking's comments on the nonexistence of God] saying, "It's absolutely clear that the function of the world is to declare the glory of God." I thought, what does that sentence mean?! 
More of the transcription.


"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork."  - Peter De Vries

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tangled Up In Blue

Flight from Fact

Good on Kurtz - now how about some exposures of this sort on prime-time?

via David Neiwert.


"The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause."  - Mark Twain

Gingrich and D'Sewer

Dinesh D'Souza, best known to non-theists for his Christian apologetics, book affirming the afterlife, and his reliably grating manner in debates, has birthed this doozy of a theory about the president: Obama's policies are best understood when interpreted through the prism of 'Kenyan Anti-Colonialism'.  Newt Gingrich now seems to think D'Souza's is the best idea since, well, divorce.

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly elaborates:
Citing a recent Forbes article by Dinesh D'Souza, former House speaker Newt Gingrich tells National Review Online that President Obama may follow a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview.
Gingrich says that D'Souza has made a "stunning insight" into Obama's behavior -- the "most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama."
"What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" Gingrich asks. "That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior."
"This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president," Gingrich tells us...
Gingrich appears to have been inspired by D'Souza, perhaps best known for writing an entire book arguing that terrorists are right about the problems with American culture. Osama bin Laden and other dangerous Islamic radicals believe the U.S. is too secular, too permissive, too diverse, too free, and too tolerant -- and D'Souza concluded that they're absolutely correct. Indeed, D'Souza went so far as to argue that liberal Americans are at least partially to blame for 9/11 -- the left invited the attacks by reinforcing the beliefs al Qaeda had about the United States.
America itself was founded on the inspired visions of anti-colonialists, but we may safely assume that this is not the light in which D'Souza and Gingrich intend the phrase to be cast.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Early William Wegman Excerpts


"The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."  - Dorothy Nevill

Anything but Liberal

Susan Jacoby on Multiculturalism and Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
I find myself in a lonely place in relation to many liberals, political and religious, because I cannot accept a multiculturalism that tends to excuse, under the rubric of “tolerance,” religious and cultural practices that violate universal human rights...
I do not agree with everything Hirsi Ali has to say — about Islam or the United States — but I strongly agree with the essential point she makes in Nomad:
Here is something I have learned the hard way, but which a lot of well-meaning people in the West have a hard time accepting: All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not. A culture that celebrates femininity and considers women to be the masters of their own lives is better than a culture that mutilates girls’ genitals and confines them behind walls and veils or flogs and stones them for falling in love. . . . The culture of the Western Enlightenment is better. (italics in the original)
It is understandable that American liberals, and particularly religious liberals, are wary of anyone who makes negative public judgments about other faiths. There is a long history of disrespect for various minority cultures and religions in America, although the Constitution and the First Amendment — products of Enlightenment secularism and Enlightenment-influenced religion — have (usually) stopped the disrespect from turning into bloodshed..
But it is one thing to recognize the legal right of all Americans to believe whatever they want and quite another to maintain that all belief systems are compatible with democracy. In a free society, religion should be no more immune to criticism than atheism, and the First Amendment does not give anyone carte blanche to violate secular law in the name of faith. This crucial distinction applies to all religions, not only to Islam.'
More here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


"Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted than when we read it in the original author?"  - Philip G. Hamerton


Goldberg, on a day's outing with Fidel:
I initially was mainly interested in watching Fidel eat - it was a combination of digestive problems that conspired to nearly kill him, and so I thought I would do a bit of gastrointestinal Kremlinology and keep a careful eye on what he took in (for the record, he ingested small amounts of fish and salad, and quite a bit of bread dipped in olive oil, as well as a glass of red wine). But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

"The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore," he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, "Never mind"?'
More here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


"I bought some batteries, but they weren't included."  - Steven Wright

Monday, September 6, 2010


"Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vaccuum tubes and perhaps weigh 1.5 tons."  - Unknown, Popular Mechanics, March 1949

The Subtle Science of Emptiness

World Science Festival 2009: Nothing: The Subtle Science of Emptiness, Part 1 of 5 from World Science Festival on Vimeo.
Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5.

"Why is there something rather than nothing? And what does ‘nothing’ really mean? More than a philosophical musing, understanding nothing may be the key to unlocking deep mysteries of the universe, from dark energy to why particles have mass. Journalist John Hockenberry hosts Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek, esteemed cosmologist John Barrow, and leading physicists Paul Davies and George Ellis as they explore physics, philosophy and the nothing they share."

Flight from the Flood

(via NatGeo)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Carroll's Condensibles

Sean Carroll greatly condenses Stephen Hawking's recently publicized argument that the universe requires no God in explaining its own existence.  The concept is not much different than the one outlined in Lawrence Krauss' talk A Universe from Nothing.


"If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"  - Abraham Lincoln

Friday, September 3, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hitch on the Bitch, Ctd

From the Topic of Cancer in Vanity Fair:
…And even if my voice goes before I do, I shall continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it’s hello darkness my old friend. In which case, why not cancer of the brain? As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be “me.” (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)...
If I were to announce that I had suddenly converted to Catholicism, I know that Larry Taunton and Douglas Wilson would feel I had fallen into grievous error. On the other hand, if I were to join either of their Protestant evangelical groups, the followers of Rome would not think my soul was much safer than it is now, while a late-in-life decision to adhere to Judaism or Islam would inevitably lose me many prayers from both factions. I sympathize afresh with the mighty Voltaire, who, when badgered on his deathbed and urged to renounce the devil, murmured that this was no time to be making enemies.
Read in Full.


"When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth."  - George Bernard Shaw

Credibly Incredible

(h/t M. Pigliucci)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works."  - John Gaule

Beckfestering 2010

While watching this makes me cringe, it is hard not to notice that many of those who attended Beck's religio-nebulous platitudefest are more uninformed than purposefully sinister (though the same cannot be said for Beck and Freedomworks).  There is undoubtedly a racial element in the movement, but for the most part these are scared people who are simply repeating what they hear from media sources (targeted directly at them and their 'white fright,' as Hitch puts it) without being able to marshal the knowledge to support the arguments.

They are largely unwitting and responding to anxiety - and if saying so will have me charged with accusations of being 'elitist', so be it.

A Northern Nightmare

From the new and devastating long-form article on Sarah Palin in Vanity Fair:
One friend of the Palins’ remembers an argument between Sarah and Todd: “They took all the canned goods out of the pantry, then proceeded to throw them at each other. By the time they got done, the stainless-steel fridge looked like it had got shot up with a shotgun. Todd said, ‘I don’t know why I even waste my time trying to get nice things for you if you’re just going to ruin them.’ ” This friend adds, “As soon as she enters her property and the door closes, even the insects in that house cringe. She has a horrible temper, but she has gotten away with it because she is a pretty woman.” (The friend elaborated on this last point: “Once, while Sarah was preparing for a city-council meeting, she said, ‘I’m gonna put on one of my push-up bras so I can get what I want tonight.’ That’s how she rolls.”)
“This whole hunter thing, for Sarah? That is the biggest fallacy,” says one longtime friend of the family. “That woman has never hunted. The picture of her with the caribou she says she shot? She got out of the R.V. to pose for a picture. She never helps with the fishing either. It’s all a joke.” The friend goes on to recall that when Greta Van Susteren came to the house to interview Palin “[Sarah] cooked moose chili and whatnot. Todd was calling everyone he knew the day before—‘Do you got any moose?’ Desperate.”
Sometimes the children rebelled. A campaign aide remembers that one of the Palin children found her mother’s public displays of piety especially grating. Though Palin prayed and read the Bible every night, aides never saw the family join her for devotionals. “You’re just putting on a show. You’re so fake,” one of the children said when Palin made a point of praying in front of other people. “This is not who you are. Why are you pretending to be something you’re not?”
Lastly, and most amusingly:
Early in the 2008 campaign, when John McCain’s aides discovered that Alaska-size gaps existed in Palin’s general knowledge (among those previously unreported: she had no idea who Margaret Thatcher was), they from time to time would give her some books to read in hopes of improving the candidate’s learning curve. On one such occasion, Palin accepted the books, set them aside, and for the next 25 minutes was held rapt by one of her three BlackBerrys.
Eventually, an aide asked, “What are you working on?”  “I’m reading these great e-mails,” she said, “from the prayer warriors.”...
The term “prayer warrior” describes a person who offers a specific kind of supplication: asking God to direct an unseen battle between forces of light and darkness—literal angels and demons—that some Christians believe is occurring all around us.
Read Michael Joseph Gross' full piece at Vanity Fair.