Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bayer Sells batch of HIV-Infected Hemophilia Drug on International Market?

Holy fuck.

Now, to de-sensationalize from American media: South Africa's Department of Health's announcement on this.

Which still leaves me with an exasperated "holy fuck!"

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lay turns to God and family after guilty verdict

Before the verdict:
Lay then bowed his head, eyes closed, and appeared to pray as the eight-woman, four-man jury entered the courtroom to deliver the verdicts that could send him to prison for the rest of his life.
After the verdict:
God's got another plan right now," Lay could be heard telling each of his five children and other family members.

Perhaps, the notion of having a personal relationship with God lead Mr. Lay into this. I mean, when you believe in a interventionist supernatural being who actually listens to you, doesn't it become dangerously easy to justify good fortune as rewards from God.

The professional American athlete who defers the crowd's applause to God by pointing to the sky from the end zone after scoring a touchdown--isn't he actually claiming that his actions were preferential treatment from God, as though God really likes certain NFL teams and players over others? Seen that way, it's not at all the act of humility and deference that a player might believe it to be.

It's difficult to be objective about oneself already. Believing that there is a God who gets involved with your personal events easily lends itself to believing that your privileges in life show how God perhaps sees you as a little bit better. From there, it becomes a slippery slope to rationalizing one's own transgressions.

Perhaps God doesn't have any plan for you at all, Mr. Lay. Perhaps you are just another one of the rest of us who happened to be in an extremely fortunate position that allowed you to justify your deeply aggregious transgressions.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

My Superbowl email to CareerBuilder.com

I'm a marketing professional and a football fan, and your superbowl commercial not only does not appeal to me--I find it seriously offensive. I am also a director at a 5000+ employee software company. As a result of your commercial, I will never use careerbuilder to find a candidate. Furthermore, I will encourage my HR department to blacklist Careerbuilder companywide.

Your use of chimpanzees as a comedic gimmick is reprehensible. It plays upon and promotes ignorance. Not only are chimpanzees not monkeys--they are apes--but they are humanity's closet relatives. They are, in fact, more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas. More importantly, they are emotional and intelligent, and like all great apes, they are gravely endangered in the wild.

Please redeem yourselves first by abandoning such idiotic abuse of intelligent animals, and second by making some kind of generous contribution to an ape conservation organization.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hrab's Legal Department Responds

Ah, the plot thickens...Mr. George Hrab's legal department is now in the fray. Fortunately, they effectively bolster my case against CDBaby, and even hint that perhaps the distributor may not even be an actual baby.

With Mr. Hrab wisely choosing to align with my side of the case, things appear to bode badly regarding CDBaby's ability to deliver on the still unfulfilled special request I made.
Dear Rev. Ted-

Greetings from the land of all things Geologic. In response to your
current class action suit, the legal department here at the Geologic
Headquarters for World Domination (GHWD) has been advised to clear up
a few details regarding the exchange betwixt you and the disc
distribution company currently called "CDBABY" (CDBABY).

Whereas the REQUEST for a signed, in drag photo with accompanying
note was sent to CD BABY, the sent card announcing the release of
Mssr.Hrab's latest and mostest disc entitled INTERROBANG was MAILED
from Geologic records and NOT from CDBABY. One of our hundreds of
chained indentured interns who troll the internet found the Very
Reverend's blog and decided to act on his request of their own
volition, and NOT after a prompt from CDBABY.

We feel that this is an important detail that ought not to be looked
over when considering the "facts" in the "case" against CD "Baby".

Far be it from us to shill for the corporate yuch machine that is
CDBABY. Screw those guys. Screw 'em with a big black nozzle.

We do recommend however, that you buy Mr. Hrab's latest and besterest
disc entitled INTERROBANG from CDBABY as soon as it is available.

Hey a buck's a buck.

Thanks, and keep on suin'.

Legally yours*

Prof. Whizzo J. Wollsocket, Esq.

*this is not a guarantee or offer, but a colloquial closing.

George Hrab
Sadly, CDBaby could have avoided all of this if they had at least attempted the happy face stickers. But that ship has set sail.

Friday, November 11, 2005

From the Secret Email Files...

Dear Mr. Hrab:

Thank you for the nice note on your recent announcement card for the Interrobang CD release concert. As you probably are aware, I have launched a consumer whistleblower campaign against CDBaby.com on my widely read blog. (I have over six regular readers.)

While I cannot make it to the CD release event (due to geographic issues, and the intermittent nature of my ability to astrally project myself--especially in the presence of skeptics), I appreciate your offer and will be enjoying your two previous CD's in lieu of attending your soiree.

However, I advise you that my campaign on CDBaby is quite likely to slow or stall sales, which could result in your becoming collateral damage in this cold war of words.

Sincerely thine,

Ted Haeger

Note to My 6+ Readers: This could all go south into an inadvertant harrassment case if I'm not careful.... If the blogs stop for 6-24 months, you'll know why.

Slowly the Goods Come In

The saga continues...

CDBaby records sent me the CD's. Nevermind the music...did they match the special requests?!

Here are CDBaby's initial grades:
  • Request: Please put a couple stickers with crudely drawn smiley faces on the back of each jewel case. The stickers can be on the cellophane, but please make sure the smiley faces are only one the back. Extra credit for work done in color.
  • Grade: F. They didn't even try.
  • Request: Note that says: "Dear Reverend Ted: It's about damn time that you bought these. Way to keep a girl waiting. I mean, really! --George Hrab" Extra credit for having Mssr Hrab actually sign the note.
  • Grade: C+. Along with the CD's, CDBaby included a large card with the requested text. The card looked like something that CDBaby uses for thankyou notes and the like. The text was laserprinted on a stick=on label. So, while CDBaby did in fact meet the requirements, the rather obviously re-purposed card retrofit with a label onto which my requested text had been cut and pasted demonstrates a lack of creativity not deserving of a higher grade.
  • Request: Include a picture of Mssr Hrab dressed in drag and standing on a street corner holding his thumb out as though he were hitching a ride, it would be totally hot. I mean H-O-T. Hot. Thanks.
  • Grade: F. Even in the face of extreme hotness, they didn't even try.
A postcard announcing George Hrab's CD release party for Interrobang came in the mail today. On it, signed by Mr. Hrab, was the note I had requested. It was small print in all capitals, but it meets the order well. Therefore, I upgrade CDBaby's evaluation on the second request to B+. However, the extra credit for the signature bumps CDBaby up to a solid A.
For what it's worth, the picture on the postcard was of Mr. Hrab completely naked, except for a pair of red, low-top Converse and a white disk bearing an interrobang (?!) covering his naughty bits. While Mr. Hrab appears to have plenty of time to spend in the gym, CDBaby does not get to count this toward the "Hrab in Drag" request. I'll settle for nothing less than the real deal.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Is a U.S. Scientific Renaissance Coming?

It's time to check in on how the most anti-science U.S. presidential administration in history is doing in the polls:

Certainly the President's decline in popularity is not primarily due to his attacks on science, but perhaps we can soon reverse the exodus of scientific talent from the United States.

See also:

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

CDBaby Responds (sort of)

Well, CDBaby responded in kind, although I'm not so sure it was really anything other than their standard message for all orders. Whether they fulfill the special requests I put on my order remains to be seen, but I think we're at least well aligned in humor.

Reverend -
Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

Qty Description Price Total
=== =========== ===== =====
1 GEORGE HRAB: coelacanth $10.00 $10.00
1 GEORGE HRAB: vitriol $10.00 $10.00

Sub Total $20.00
Shipping $3.85
Grand Total $23.85

Your CDs have been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CDs and polished them to make sure they were in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CDs into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved 'Bon Voyage!' to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Tuesday, November 1st.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as "Customer of the Year". We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you once again,

Derek Sivers, president, CD Baby
the little CD store with the best new independent music
phone: 1-800-448-6369
email: cdbaby@cdbaby.com

Thursday, October 27, 2005

George Hrab CD's Available Online

I discovered a tweaked-out musician named George Hrab from the skepticality podcast. His influences are some of my favorite artists, and his music generally has a scientific/skeptical angle, so how could I not get some of his work?

I found his disks are available online, then I noticed that the order process has the following step:

Any special instructions, comments, or questions? Gift-wrapping or a personal card? Tell us now!

So naturally, I made a request:

Please put a couple stickers with crudely drawn smiley faces on the back of each jewel case. The stickers can be on the cellophane, but please make sure the smiley faces are only one the back. Extra credit for work done in color.

Then I read this:

(There's almost no request we can't handle, so feel free to ask, OK?)

So I added:

Also, if you would include a note that says: "Dear Reverend Ted: It's about damn time that you bought these. Way to keep a girl waiting. I mean, really! --George Hrab" Extra credit for having Mssr Hrab actually sign the note.
Thinking about it further, I realized that these requests which I previously thought might seem absurd were actually not that challenging at all...

Finally, if you would include a picture of Mssr Hrab dressed in drag and standing on a street corner holding his thumb out as though he were hitching a ride, it would be totally hot. I mean H-O-T. Hot. Thanks.

I'll let you know outcome.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Kate Moss, Michael Jackson,

Okay, the whole Kate Moss cocaine hullabaloo incites me to comment on how we make our heroes. Something of the shock over the incident seems very contrived. It smells the same to me as the outrage over the indiscretions for which Michael Jackson was accused. It's unfortunate that so many are as gullible as to accept simply and unquestioningly the personalities that are marketed to us.

Even though I'm still just a leaf on my family tree, I'll indulge in some hubris: here are some ideas for raising children.
  • Teach your kids how to question the world that well-funded marketing efforts push at them .
  • Teach them the concept of "hegemony" and how the ideas of the powerful few are manufactured into the ideas of the masses.
  • Teach them how to ask critical questions, like, "Who benefits from this?" and "Is this person/place/thing really as important as I am being told it is?"
  • Delineate a difference between "fame" and "greatness," and teach them to select heroes who selflessly instill inspiration rather than are just good at self-promotion.
  • Spread the meme of skepticism. But also be sure to show how being skeptical does not equal being cynical
At first, I was really disturbed about how much media attention was put on the Michael Jackson case. I saw it as pandering to ratings and media sensationalism about something that should be just another court case. But somewhere in the process, I think while it was being covered on NPR, I an epiphany that turned me around on it. The media coverage exposed how irrational people became in the presence of fame. ("Sure you can sleep over at a middle-aged man's house, son!") And maybe seeing that made some people see the larger picture: that our adulation of the famous is often misplaced, and sometimes can do genuine harm to regular people.

The LiveScience article to which I linked this entry questions whether people really look up to Kate Moss as a role model. On the basic level, I agree with their assertion that no one really does. But on a grander scale, a great many people do in fact weirdly translate "fame" to mean "superior." So this whole Kate Moss thing is just one small example of how engrossed we become in undue cults of personality.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Scientists Unravel Chimpanzee DNA Sequence

Very cool article at livescience

“We hope that elaborating how few differences separate our species will broaden recognition of our duty to these extraordinary primates that stand as our siblings in the family of life.”


Monday, August 29, 2005

Update: Joined the Skeptic Webring--Rejected

Rejected [If you know the Rancid song, hum along]:
I tried to join the Skeptic Webring. Although I had browsed through some of its linked sites many times, it took a recent "well, duh!" moment for me to realize that I can be just as pompous as the next skeptic, so why not put this blog on it? Well, as you can see from the reply below, my content is apparently not abundantly skeptical, or the reviewer was skeptical about the abundance of skepticism. Personally, I think it's because I took Michael Shermer to task in my review of How We Believe. If I were him, I would have rejected the site more for being abusively tedious. But, what are you gonna do?

Here's a contribution:
For any skeptics that stumble across me through the ring, here is yet another way to find cool web content:
  1. Get the Mozilla Firefox browser. You can use this button: Get Firefox!
  2. Get the StumbleUpon plugin. (Tools --> Extensions --> Get more Extensions) This requires you to restart your browser.
  3. Set up a Stumbler account.
  4. Set your preferences to include things like atheism, consciousness, etc
  5. Enjoy stumbling upon new sites with the "Stumble!" button.
Et viola, you can now find cool stuff that the serious web surfers with your interests have already stumbled upon.

Eventually, I may take off the webring link below. I leave it up for now, since I bear no hard feelings whatsoever about the heartless and cruelly cursory rejection I received. None at all.

Biology 101. Seriously, Biology 101

Maybe someday I will get a postgraduate degree. Maybe.

Unfortunately, my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies (B.A., UCSC, 1991) did not involve enough actual science classes. Nice at the time, but now I see that as a serious shortcoming. So, I enrolled in Biology 101 at Utah Valley State College's Wasatch campus. I start class tomorrow night.

  • I registerred for class on the web. I paid for registration through the same. I browsed and selected my one class online. It was so convenient, but that only scratches the surface of how information technology has improved higher education.

  • Multimedia and the Internet has totally changed education. I read the first couple sections of my textbook, then reviewed them through on line tutorials and quizzes.

  • Textbooks have changed almost as dramatically.
    • Recently, I visited my friends Phil and Jane Horn in Long Beach, CA. At their house, I perused a Biology 101 text book from the late '80's--a big hard-bound volume densely packed with text. (It remains on their bookshelf. It's hard to part with a book for which you paid so dearly, in both dollars and sweat.)
    • My textbook is soft-bound, with breathtakingly well done full color diagrams on every page. The text is very straightforward, explaining the concepts in a direct yet conversational voice. Best of all is that it provides relevancy and provokes critical thinking by tying to current biological science-related issues, such as engineered food, heart attacks in teenagers and cholesterol, and so on.
    • Many of the diagrams appear to have been made using a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program. For that reason, production of graphics is probably a lot cheaper. More importantly, diagrams can be corrected an updated to the latest scientific findings. For that reason, the book is no longer produced as a huge tome that will stand the test of time on the bookshelves of so many graduates. The quality is still there, but the book feels ephemeral, which (to me) works much better with the spirit of science. Things change. We learn and discover. Scientific knowledge will grow and change. What need is there for a textbook that feels so cannonical, so much like "the final word?"

  • I will attend this class with the class of 2009--making 1987 birth year for most of this freshman class. 1987 is the year I graduated highschool and subsequently entered college.
    I have talked a lot with Janice Patten, my stepmother, about how much students complained about the reading workloads in her literature clasess. (She specialized in literature for young adults.) I am eager to hear the first complaint, so that I can launch into my best "when I was your age" diatribe.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bush and the Grand Obfuscation

If God had meant for us to believe in Intelligent Design, he would have given us an actual theory to study for it. ID offers no theory other than "we don't know how it's possible, so only God could have done it."

Unfortunately, President Bush does not understand what a scientific theory is. Of course, the distinction is unimportant to the President. He got to where he is not by demonstrating worldly knowledge, but on being aligned with his voting constituency for his political support. Even if he knew the distinction, it would be politically unfavorable to clarify it. So, obfuscation it is.

Nevertheless, I think that we should teach Intelligent Design. It could be a great tool for teaching critical thinking. But to get this Darwinian's backing, we have to agree on these terms here.


Friday, July 22, 2005

Modern Chinese Water Torture

I lost my employee badge recently, so yeserday I finally went to get it replaced. The security office is out in one of the older 1980's era buildings, in a windowless room with several video monitors of cameras panning different sections of the Provo campus. When I got to the door (solid, no windows, of course), I could hear rock music of some sort playing inside.

I knocked. Then, I knocked a little louder. When the lone security guy opened and let me in. As he made my badge, I found the source of the music. The guy had Fox News on, playing perhaps only slightly louder than it needed to be. What I had heard had been the exciting music of some commercial.

Now, imagine being locked in a windowless room with Fox News for eight hours a day. If it didn't drive you mad, it would have to reconfigure how your mind works. Perhaps Steven Pinker should look into this.

Soon, the program was back on, with some terrorism expert being interviewed about yesterday's second bombing attempts in London. Most of the dialog centered around the Fox News guy asking many pressing questions about how extremely unsafe the world is and the need for a stronger police state. At the bottom of the screen in large letters was a simple segment title: "Terror in London." (As opposed to using a more emotionally-neutral "Terrorism in London.")

It took a while for the badge making machine to warm up, so I suffered through to the next commercial break. First commercial? WWE profressional wrestling. So I pointed out to the guy that perhaps if professional wrestling advertisments target the viewing audience of your news channel, then there could be a parallel between the two different media. He smiled and sort of acknowledged what I had said without taking any visible offense.

Maybe Fox News should have some kind of Sugeon General's warning. "Prolonged exposure can lead to unhealthy levels of credulity and destroy your natural defense systems that rely on healthy skepticism."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

My First Book Review

I have started blogging book reviews. To keep it from cluttering my regular blog, I have started yet another blogspot blog URL. My first review is of Harry G. Frankfurt's On Bullshit.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Dad's Birthday

with my Dad
Originally uploaded by thaeger.
It's my Dad's birthday today. My dad is Jack Haeger, former Chair of the English Department at San Jose State University. He's now retired and spends his time playing bridge and goofing around in Baja, where he and his wife have a condo.
Happy birthday, Dad!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Ebu Gogo (again)

This one continues to fascinate me: Is the Homo floresensis find actually a new species of human, or a merely a diminutive H. sapiens sapiens?

Carl Zimmer's blog entry on this sheds some light, with a translated article from the Indonesian press, and further enrichment provided in the reader comments.

Zimmer's blogs on this subject are very thorough, so I'll leave the rest to him.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Friends of the Evolution

My friend Scott read a lengthy entry on my professional blog and sent me an email saying: "You saw a good National Geographic program on human evolution and you didn't tell me about it?!"

How cool is it to have friends that are offended when you don't tell them about something evolution-related!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Cave Tarantula, Madagascar

Cave Spider, Madagascar

Originally uploaded by

I took a trip to Madagascar in October of 2001. While there, I visited the Ankarana site, where a huge limestone massif rises from the landscape. The formation is riddled with caves and other formations, such as tsingy (a geologic term that comes directly from Malagasy). I snapped this photo while walking through an vast cave, on the floor of which was a gigantic dune of bat guano.

Not long ago, Nova ran an episode called "Secrets of the Crocodile Caves" showing the very same species. They referred briefly to spider as "this poisonous tarantula." (Which is a little disconcerting, since I tried to get a for-scale shot of it by putting my thumb next to it.)

I'm curious to see whether anyone knows more about this particular spider. Has it been studied at all?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Post Costa Rica

Now on the return flight from Costa Rica. Kim and I had a great time at Drake Bay, and really did not want to leave when our time came up.

I got my first chance to use the PADI open water dive certification that I got a year ago. The dives were spectacular, and one of the experienced divers (divemaster with over 400 dives) told me that I was probably going to have inflated expectations going into my next dive. We saw Moray Eels in good number, and on each of the four dives we saw several white-tipped sharks calmly cruising the reef or idling on the sandy bottom. Fishes there numbered in the thousands per school and the variety was staggering. Best of all was that I got to swim with a Pacific Giant Manta on my first and second dive. It was absolutely amazing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Resplendent Quetzal

Thirteen years ago, just after graduating from my university and still not very well employed, I decided to take a trip to Guatemala to learn to speak Spanish. I spent a month there, most of it in Antigua at a language school that purports to use it's proceeds for studying and preserving some of the native languages of the Maya's descendents.

On the final week there, I chose to travel and see the country. One of the places I briefly visited was the Biotope del Quetzal, a biological reserve specifically intended for the preservation of the Resplendent Quetzal, a rather fantastic looking bird that dwells exclusively in the highland cloudforests of Central America.

Prior to going to Guatemala, I read John Maslow's Bird of Life, Bird of Death, a naturalist's travelogue from the tumultuous nineteen eighties, when the Guatemalan people were suffering a reign of terror that resulted from the tensions between paranoid neofascism and socialist-leaning rebels, and fueled by the Reagan administration's big stick policy that tore apart the entire region. (This was a period during which the Spanish verb for "to disappear" became a noun used to refer to people abducted—and murdered, sometimes en masse--by the army. Trials are finally being conducted to bring to justice some of these crimes, although many of the people are reluctant to bear witness, still haunted by the not-so-distant past.)

Anyway, Maslow's story of his quest to see the endangered Quetzal left me with an itch to see this beautiful bird, and my journey thirteen years ago left me unfulfilled. I saw no Quetzals. I did see a huge beetle that was nearly the size of my fist. And, I saw the cloudforest, albeit very briefly as my traveling companion, an intense Israeli from Tel Aviv, didn't really grasp what my fascination for the place was all about.

Today, in Costa Rica's Monteverde cloudforest reserve, I finally fulfilled this thirteen year yen to see the Resplendent Quetzal. (Not without some inconvenient false starts, such as accidentally getting on the wrong bus and starting out for the distant capitol city of San Jose insteadof getting the early start to the reserve that my wife and I had originally intended.) We saw a pair, a male and a female, low in the trees, not far from the trail. One of the guides told us that they were probably seeking a tree cavity to make into a nesting site.

My wife asked whether finally seeing the bird left me feeling fulfilled. I told her that I wanted to see a Three-wattled Bell Bird.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Perfect Day

Looking out my front windows across the I-80 corridor through the outskirts of Park City, after a fresh fall of spring snow, I see clear skies and bright sun over a white, crystalline world.

I just came off of the busiest work week my company has to offer, the Novell BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City.

This morning, at 7:00 am, the day before I go on a two-week vacation, I bathe in anticipation not for my vacation, but for a morning of nirvahna on the mountain slopes. Clear skies, fresh powder, my Neversummer, and no serious responsibilities on my mind.

Everything is oh-so-good.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Randall Terry is an Idiot

Randall Terry is infected with a mental virus that has completely impaired his ability to make cognitive sense of the world.

In the name of an allegedly existent god, Terry has been campaigning against American rights to birth control for decades. Now, he has taken up a misguided campaign to save Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman who has recently been taken off the life support systems that have sustained her since her heart failure 15 years ago.

This is religious zealotry at its worst. Terry is making a political issue out of our right to die with dignity.

If you truly consider yourself to be "pro-life," please start working on issues that can save hundreds of thousands rather than individuals. Consider joining the fight against HIV, or erradication polio once and for all. Consider helping to solve automobile safety issues--how many children each year die in automobile-related accidents?

If Terry were really interested in the lives of people, he would devote himself to a more effective and meaningful expression for his cause. Why doesn't he? Because he is mentally ill. He is infected with a severe mental virus that drastically affects his behavior. This virus is the Biblical literalism virus that has grabbed the minds and now controls the actions of conservative Christians.

To be clear, we are all infected with different mental viruses, and each of us are driven by these viruses in different ways. I am infected with the scientific rationalism virus--one I personally think is actually a benign virus. It allows people to look at other mental viruses--like extremist religious convictions--objectively.

Very few medical doctors would likely state that holding a religious perspective is a type of mental illness. Questioning a person's religious beliefs remains the last great taboo we have yet to overcome.

To get more of where I am coming from:
  • On "belief": read this interview with the great Douglas Adams, now dead, and certainly not in Heaven nor Hell, but simply dead (and missed by many of his adoring fans)
  • On "mental viruses":
    • read the excellent essay by Richard Dawkins, "Viruses of the Mind"
    • or innoculate your mind with beneficial viruses by reading Richard Brodie's book by a similar name

Friday, March 11, 2005

Return of the Cranes

Yesterday, my local snowboarding buddyErin and I were bemoaning the warm weather and rapid deterioration of the Park City snow base. I hate the decline of winter.

On my commute to work this morning, as I was turning toward Midway, Utah on my way to Provo, I saw my first Sandhill Cranes of the year, three of them flying over the Provo River. For a few thrilling moments, I completely forgot about winter's end as spring's emergence eclipsed everything else.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

More Blogger Woes: Trackbacks

Having previously blogged my woe over Blogger making superstition compulsory (see "Astrology Sucks"), I am now faced with another Blogger shortfall: no trackbacks.

I'm not an extensive researcher when I get into a lot of things. This means that I often make misteps and muddle my way toward efficiency. When I started blogging, I began by signing onto a free blog site, thinking "What the heck! It's free!"

Since that time I have learned a lot more about blogging. Trackbacks took me a long time to figure out, and I finally figured out why they're so hard to figure out. I got the concept right away. The use was what counfounded me. It turns out that I could not figure it because Blogger has no support for them.

This might be the last straw. I want to start publishing some book reviews, but while I'm facing transition, I am holding back on writing things I really should write up. I suppose that I have to actually do the research to get a better site for my blog. I'm looking over an article, but with so many individual blogs, figuring out the search term to produce better comparative resources has been tough. Anyone got any suggestions?

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Great Apes Under Pressure

Two articles I read this morning regarding preservation or loss of our great ape evolutionary siblings.

The first focuses on how Orangutans may be gone by 2025.

The second is about United Nations appeals and efforts to save all the great apes.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Truth Cramps the Mind

My colleague Tracy Thayne has a blog called "My True Words." I recently posted comments on the concept of "True." I did it anonymously because I want to see if he recognizes who published it.

Truth Cramps the Mind

Ultimately, the similar concepts of "truth" and "true" form a distraction from real understanding. The idea that something is "true" locks our minds from considering new information.

Newtonian physics was considered "true" for hundreds of years. Einstein's Relativity, which modified and expanded our understanding of Newtonian theory, met staunch resistance from the scientific community in part due to necessary scientific skepticism, but also in part because scientific minds, hardened by truth, would not accept the new theory. Progress was slowed due to a dogmatic adherence to truth.

On the extreme, Theistic worldviews persist without evidence of a supreme being because "it is written" as Truth.
The idea of "true" ends up functioning as a mental handicap, preventing people from rationally questioning the world's most popular superstition.

Scientific knowledge, or understanding, is predicated on evidence and counter-evidence. Evidence does not really lead to truth, despite that we are typically taught in school that what science has revealed to us is in fact "true." Science aggregates evidence to come up with understanding. However, any real scientific understanding is never proven as so "true" that it cannot be modified or, on rare occasions, even overturned.

When we take things as our best understanding, our minds are free to accept new ideas and evidence. This forms the difference between religious obstinacy and a healthy adaptable worldview.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

President Bush Smoked Marijuana

The evidence is pretty solid: George W. Bush was a pot smoker. Indeed, marijuana is a gateway drug leading straight to the Presidency.

The Founding Secularists

Some months ago, I found myself in a debate with a couple Mormons who insisted that the Bill of Rights was a thinly disguised re-write of the Ten Commandments. (The whole of the conversation started somehow with gay rights in Canada and found its way to a now-well-known American courthouse controversy over housing the Ten Commandments.)

What was startling about the conversation is that these two guys really believed that the founding fathers were deeply Christian. The Net has a lot of debate on this, but ultimately it seems to me that we need to ask: How much God did the framers of our nation's founding documents put into those documents.

It turns out that the answer is: suspiciously little. I ran across an article from The Nation called "Our Godless Constitution" that calls out certain Orwellian techniques used by the Bush administration, and shows that the current administration has ascribed their own religious views to these men who were atheists, Deists and, yes, in some cases Christians.

But, really, there isn't much point in debating who or what the founding fathers were, is there? They provided us with a framework that, if taken seriously, alows us to adaptively self-govern. In one of his serious moments during an interview, Jon Stewart pointed out that the framers of the constitution put down what they thought was best for their time, with provisions for changing what they may not have gotten right. Yet, still we somehow raise these men to a legendary status, as though their intents were possibly even infallible.

In the conversation with the two Mormons, I got suckered into a false debate: were the founding fathers Christian. I think there is plenty of evidence that they were not. But, really, what does that matter? Unless we accept them as infallible--Gods themselves--shouldn't we look at their work as a monumental work-in-progress. Doesn't the other view--that their words and work is the final say in governance--elevate these mere men dangerously close to a violation of the First Commandment?

Friday, February 25, 2005

Celebrity Atheists

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I haven't been posting throughout the month of February. I've been a more active in my professional blog lately. ("Professional" as in "work-related" as opposed to "professional" meaning "maintaining an air of polished professionalism.")

Friday, January 28, 2005

Ashcroft, Inauguration and Let the Eagle Soar

At the presidential inauguration ceremony of 2005, John Ashcroft sang his song Let the Eagle Soar.

This is a new low in patriotic and God-invoking propaganda. Have we acheived National Socialism yet?


Victoria Birds

Well, it happened. Goal complete. Superb Fairy-wren found. Ahhhh.

I'm in Australia for the first time, and since I'm on a disappointingly short business trip here, I chose a small goal bird for this trip. Simply to see a Superb Fairy-wren. I had tried to see one near the Yarra river in Melbourne, but that didn't happen.

Now I am at Aitken Hill conference center, and they have some nice, landscaped grounds with a few small ponds and a little riparian-ish area. It's nice to walk around, with several bird species to see. (I also saw a kangaroo yesterday.) Several Fairy-wrens were in the area, males and females.

One thing I noticed is that there are several superlative Fairy-wrens in the Australian bird list: Splendid Fairy-wrens, Lovely Fairy-wrens. Makes one wonder about the other birds who don't get a nice descriptor. I mean, there's no "Mediocre" Fairy-wren. The Variegated Fairy-wren sure got dealt a lousy moniker.

Here's the some other birds I have seen at Aitken Hill. Photos are credited via html links back to their source pages.

Pacific Black Duck


Masked Lapwing

Eastern Rosella

Willie Wagtail

White-plumed Honeyeater

Crested Pigeon

Science is Taught Wrong

I have reached a point where I realize that I was taught Science completely the wrong way. And, frankly, I'm a little bent about it.

My junior high science teacher, Mr. Hiroshi, taught us some basics on how protons and electrons always come in equal proportions in an atom, and how neutrons can make the atomic weight greater. But there was some symmetry in the math that was interesting, but overall, there was not much relevance to the topic. I now know that this is part of the Quantum theory, albeit hugely simplified. But what we learned was not deep. It was shallow. The curriculum was tired, and dumbed down. But far worse was that it was not relevant to the world of an eighth grader.

I don't think that Mr. Hiroshi was the problem; he was actually one of the more engaging teachers at Joseph George middle school. But I don't think he was provided a good curriculum, nor a way to connect this strange subject to its grand significance to our existence.

Now, my highschool biology teacher was miserable. And the way we learned biology was also miserable. That experience made me avoid taking science courses in college. While I took interest in the findings of science--something my parents instilled in me at an early age--public school curriculum established in my mind that science classes are tedious.

If I could design a high school biology curriculum, the first thing I would teach in the program would be about viruses. What these simple genetic programs do is amazing. They invade cells and hijack the DNA replicating machinery within to make copies of themselves. They hijack other cellular machinery to create protein casings for the replicants, and those casings provide the mechanism for invading yet other cells. The weirdest thing is that viruses are by and large considered to be inanimate: Scientific American recently ran a cover story called "Are viruses alive?"

This first subject of viruses opens up several exploration paths. One of immediate interest for kicking off the course is that viruses are relevant. HIV is, in fact, very relevant to high school children. Influenza is, too, for that matter. The latter example is something they can connect to. And it could increase the impact of talking about the former. But, they also give a mechanism to talk about what biology is--the study of life--by introducing whether viruses are alive or not.

Viruses as an early subject also gets immediate practical examples of how evolution works, introducing the subject on the small-scale, where it is manageable, immediately evident, and proveable with real-world examples. Some call this "micro-evolution." So be it. Save the big implications of evolution for later. Get the fundamentals of the theory in place first.

Virus as an intro also sets you up to teach about sex very naturally. Through viruses, you've covered how cells work. From that point on, you can get into cellular reproduction at any time.

Viruses do present a problem as a first subject, though. How do you introduce the subject without having to explain a mass of other concepts. For examples, the concept of cells isn't necessarily known to students at that age. So, what are these "cell" things that viruses use? Nevertheless, I think this problem can easily be solved. Perhaps start with how computer viruses spread (they're short programs that tell machines to reproduce the short programs, and most first world students would get the concept).

You could devise some in-class excercises, too. You could start by giving every student a blank sheet of paper, except one, who gets a sheet that says, "Tell two people to write down this exact sentence on their sheet of paper." It would spread through the room, even though you never gave verbal instruction to do so. Example shown: It doesn't take much instruction to get machinery working for a virus. At the end of the copying, you could grab students' attention by telling them that you planted a virus on one of the sheets of paper. Subject begun; attention grabbed. There's probably even a clever teaching angle you could get with the couple of kids who try to thwart the activity by not cooperating or changing the sentence text. (Copying infidelities are mutations; non-cooperation is actually resistance to the infection!)

Why shouldn't learning science be made fun?

Perhaps a part of what holds back biology classes from really excelling is U.S. cultural resistance to evolution. You cannot discuss how biology really works without a grasp of evolutionary theory. [Aside: The implications to how we teach sex education would be enormous if we could just show how human behavior is part of such a larger system.]

I have not heard about how great biology (or any other sub-discipline of science) classes are in other countries, so maybe this is a worldwide phenomenon.