September 30, 2013

Be still, my heart!

You wake up, you think it's going to be just another ho-hum day, and suddenly the news hits you in the head.
Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be declared saints on April 27, 2014. 
Could anything be more exciting? Doubtful.
Francis had announced in July he would canonize two of the 20th century's most influential popes together, approving a miracle attributed to John Paul's intercession and bending Vatican rules by deciding that John XXIII didn't need one. 
Meh, miracles and rules. Who needs them? We've got saints to make.
John Paul made Jorge Mario Bergoglio — the current Pope Francis — a cardinal. Francis' immense popular appeal has also been likened to that of John XXIII, dubbed the "good pope." 
I guess the "good pope" monicker was meant to distinguish him from the many bad popes, such as (to choose a contemporary example) Benedict the Nazi. It makes me wonder what Obama would do if he could make saints of previous presidents. Who would he choose? I figure George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Who do you think Obama would anoint with the magic Sainting Scepter?

September 29, 2013

Random thought

I think any congress-critter who votes to cause a government shutdown should automatically lose access to all his or her financial accounts, credit cards, etc. The accounts should remain frozen until the shutdown is averted -- and if it goes on longer than 30 days, all money in the accounts should be forfeited and given to charity.

These people are living in a bubble. They have no clue about the effects of their actions. Let's give them a dose of the pain they so gleefully hand out to others.

Sochi's gay scene

There is an interesting AP article about the gay scene in Sochi. I kid you not. Russia is an odd country.

September 28, 2013

Reassuring readers

I've received hundreds -- if not thousands -- of emails from concerned readers of this blog. They're worried that I may "misuse" my new Lid. This post is intended to reassure those readers.

Have no fear. When I blog, I will never wear the Lid. If I did, I would be infallible, for all intents and purposes -- and we can't have that. Infallible bloggers just won't do. The very thought is unseemly. No, bloggers must be fallible and I assure you that is what I will continue to be (when I'm not wearing the Lid).

There is no reason to worry that I will break this self-imposed rule. I will wear another top hat while blogging. This is a mere hat, not a device from another galaxy. So readers can rest assured that I will continue to make mistakes on this blog and I will on occasion say things that make no sense at all. I will remain a mere human hairless monkey of Earth while blogging.

That's a promise!

September 27, 2013

More proof that god doesn't exist

Former President George W. Bush says he's feeling "pretty good" after undergoing a heart procedure last month and able to go mountain biking and play golf.

My greatest stroke of luck

I am so glad I wasn't born to a rich family. I'm thankful that I went out into the world on my own -- to succeed or fail without help from anyone. Parachutes don't build character; real life experiences do.

The bubble that surrounds every extremely well-off person frightens me to death. It "protects" them from reality, from people, from learning about life. They may thank their lucky stars for the hand that fate dealt them, but I thank mine.

It's good to try something, to go out on that high-wire and see if you can make it to the other side. It's rewarding to test your strengths and try to avoid the pitfalls of your weaknesses. It's good to learn from failure and gain confidence from success.

To me, this seems more meaningful than coasting through life on an eternal shopping trip. Bringing all that loot home and playing with it might while away a few hours. But it leaves nothing in its wake but emptiness. I don't want that sort of a life. It's too hollow. I want sustenance, not reassurance.

I lived. I did what I wanted to do and was lucky enough to experience success on several fronts. And as a direct result of living my life this way, I ended up being a very satisfied human being. Like anyone, I have regrets -- but they're not big ones. Mostly what I have is happiness, my own kind of happiness, a strain I basically invented while living my life. And it rewards me every day.

I don't regret my humble beginnings; I treasure them. And I feel sorry for rich people who never had the opportunities I had -- because they were "protected" by their money. It's like a closet they never stepped out of. An empty life like that makes me shudder.

I really lucked out. I hope you did, too.

Gays a major threat to human existence?

If it didn't bring harm to gay Gambians, this would be very, very funny:
The president of Gambia is using his address to the United Nations General Assembly to attack gays and lesbians, calling homosexuality one of the three "biggest threats to human existence."

President Yahya Jammeh on Friday said homosexuality, greed and obsession with world domination "are more deadly than all natural disasters put together." 
C'mon, that's funny. And the weird thing is that he got two out of three right. Greed and "obsession with world domination" are indeed killing humanity. But gays?

Then again, maybe there are gay death squads focusing on toppling regimes all around the world. Could be. You know how we like to dress up in drag, grab our assault weapons and annihilate people. So I guess he has a point.

Seriously, what happened to these people's brains? Gays a threat? Could there be any less threatening group on the face of the planet? It's like insanity has become a transmissible disease, and it (not gays) is spreading over the Earth. That might be the third threat he's looking for. Hint to Jameh: you'll see the true face of evil the next time you look in a mirror.

September 26, 2013

Turning light into matter

This is really bizarre. (Some re-paragraphing ahead.)
"Most of the properties of light we know about originate from the fact that photons are massless, and that they do not interact with each other," Lukin said. "What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they begin to act as though they have mass, and they bind together to form molecules. This type of photonic bound state has been discussed theoretically for quite a while, but until now it hadn't been observed.

Lukin also suggested that the system might one day even be used to create complex three-dimensional structures – such as crystals – wholly out of light.

"What it will be useful for we don't know yet, but it's a new state of matter, so we are hopeful that new applications may emerge as we continue to investigate these photonic molecules' properties," he said.
I can't believe they did this. It's both bizarre and intriguing. And it's yet another reminder that we are an infant race, just discovering the nature of the world around us. And yet we think we know it all and have the right to ruin the planet for future generations. We know next to nothing.

September 25, 2013

Pope writes letter to atheist

I heard about this the other day but I couldn't find an English translation of his letter, which was printed in Italian in La Repubblica. I still haven't. However, there's this:
In comments likely to enhance his progressive reputation, Pope Francis has written a long, open letter to the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, stating that non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.
Responding to a list of questions published in the paper by Mr Scalfari, who is not a Roman Catholic, Francis wrote: “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.

“Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.” 
I think that's a great response. Remember, when he first said that atheists can go to heaven, there were those in the church who screamed "no, all atheists must go to hell". Well, I guess the pope cleared that up. I also like the idea that he thinks sin is something anyone can commit, including non-Christians, by not following their conscience. That's almost a humanist way of thinking, especially when combined with his outreach to the poor.

Not bad for a pope, especially considering the evil depths of his predecessor. (Speaking of which, now that Benedict is in "seclusion", I wonder if he wears more make-up. He couldn't get it from the nuns that hang out with him but perhaps a friendly prelate lent him some. Let's hope so. A little make-up could improve his disposition by letting his true self emerge.)

It seems we're not so special

Cotton-top tamarins whisper to each other.
To better understand how the tiny monkeys use mobbing calls, the researchers recorded sounds a group made when a known threat entered the vicinity—a supervisor that had been part of the team that had captured them in the wild. Prior to the study, the monkeys had used mob calls whenever the supervisor came into their view. Neither of the researchers noticed anything unusual as recordings were made, but later during playback analysis they discovered the monkeys were engaging in vocalizations that were at such low amplitude that people in the area couldn't hear them—they were whispering to one another.
How do ya like them apples?

Image: Wikipedia Commons

It takes a solar system to create life

Here's a new idea: it may have taken ingredients from several planets to start life on Earth.
Deacon is adamant that whole solar systems are needed to generate life, not just terrestrial planets with water. Life probably needs a solar system similar to our own to start, although autogenic processes could still occur in a system that only has gas giants.
If you're a science-oriented person who loves origin-of-life stories, check out "Did Autocells Lead To Life?" at physorg. If you're not willing to read an actual science article, you'll have to be satisfied with this:

Life may have needed a bit of assistance from the gas giants in our solar system, in order to get started. Something from Jupiter goes to Mars, is transformed there, and then arrives on Earth. Voila: life (or at least autocells, which may have been the precusor to life). I love this stuff!

I am one with Dog

Dog visited me last night. And much to my shock, he bestowed a great honor upon my humble personage. I was given a Lid. That's it atop my head in the photo.

When I wear the Lid, Dog and I join together and become One. It's Dog's way of reaching out to help humanity. No longer will I have to decipher his cute barks. Now I will know the very thoughts that course through Dog's shaggy head. And in this manner, I will offer Dog's advice to humanity -- to help humans through these troubled times.

But there's a catch. Dog says a Lid is made for a much more powerful brain. We humans are almost too dumb to use the Lid technology. In fact, Dog told me there's a tremendous danger in my wearing the Lid.

I have been directed to put the Lid on for ten minutes each day, during which time it will rework my brain, setting up pathways and neuronal connections that will enable the transfer of vast amounts of information at some future date.

Dog said, "Remember, you're only a hairless monkey. Give the Lid time to work. Don't wear it longer than ten minutes a day or it could kill you." 

And so I embark upon this exciting journey -- to know the mind of Dog. And of course, I will bring you along with me. More anon.

September 23, 2013

Best video evah!

This kid did all the parts to Bohemian Rhapsody, and he's terrific. Better than that, he changed the words to make very funny physics jokes. You must listen to this. (Hat tip to AmericaBlog.)

Scary stuff

In the United States, the nuclear calamity at Fukushima has been all but forgotten. The US media literally cut off news about the situation in Japan about a week after it occurred because, I assume, bringing the nation's attention to this matter might upset the people who make billions from nuclear reactors. One must protect their feelings at all costs!

But the danger hasn't gone away. In fact, it's about to get much, much worse. The nitwits at TEPCO, who own the Fukushima facility, are about to pull spent fuel rods out of the most damaged storage pool. And if anything goes wrong (and it almost surely will), we will be in the midst of the greatest nuclear calamity the Earth has ever seen. It could be "85 times worse than Chernobyl".
We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focused on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4. … Neither Tokyo Electric nor the government of Japan can go this alone. There is no excuse for deploying anything less than a coordinated team of the planet’s best scientists and engineers. …
Maybe it's time for the US to report the Fukushima news, huh? Seriously, go read Gaius Publius' article at AmericaBlog. (It's linked above.) This is very serious. If things go wrong, it could affect us all.

Dog saved my life yesterday

Look at this photo. A dead tree fell yesterday and missed my house by inches. You should have heard this thing hit the ground. I thought a bomb went off.

It could easily have crushed my house. But Dog was looking out for me. After all, he's going to visit me tomorrow night. He certainly couldn't let me die before that momentous meeting. I suspect Dog influenced the fall of the tree on the quantum level, thus changing its path. It's a miracle!

Thank you, Dog! See you tomorrow.

Timmy Dolan wins "Most Craven" award

There's an article in the NYT this morning with this headline: "Dolan calls Pope's tone on sexual morality a breath of fresh air". Are you roaring with laughter? You should be.

Archbishop Timmy Dolan has been the Catholic voice of anti-gay hatred in the United States for many years. It is he, more than any other Catholic cleric, who has fought acceptance of gay people in every state of our country. He is without a doubt the primary, Catholic anti-gay bigot in this country.

Ah, but then the new pope says nice things about gay people...and suddenly we hear that Timmeh:
"embraced the 'magnificent interview' in which the pope chastised the church for its obsession with sexual morality, and called him 'a breath of fresh air'.”  
Craven. There's no other word for this man. Here's a bit more:
The pope’s message, Cardinal Dolan said, was that “we don’t look at people first and foremost as their sexual orientation or sexual identification; we look at him as a child of God, made in his image and likeness.” He added: “That’s the glasses we use. Everything else is secondary, so I hope that hits home.” 
But Timmy, you're a hateful, anti-gay bigot. Remember? No, well we do and we'll never forget. Hypocrisy seems to be built into this church.

September 22, 2013

Checking out the steampunk movement

As per Dog's directions, I continue to read up on the steampunk movement. It's a lot of fun and there doesn't seem to be a downside (unless people spend too much on their outfits). That's a group of steampunkers at left, by the way.

If you don't know what steampunk is, you can read about it here. And if you do know what it is, you'll appreciate a quote I found on that page:
 “Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown.” – Jess Nevins 
I love that. You can see the look in the image above (which I found at this link). Seriously, steampunk is a nice, wholesome movement based on fun and creativity. I like it! But I wonder why Dog insisted I learn about it. Hmmm.

(For those unfamiliar with Dog, he is a friendly algorithm from a galaxy far, far away. He was sent by a federation of intelligent races whose membership spans the universe. Dog's sole purpose is to save humanity from itself. BTW, newsflash: Dog informed me [in a charming series of barks] that he plans to visit me this coming Tuesday night. And he said he has momentous news for me -- which means he has big news for all of us. I believe Dog is going to save mankind! Stay tuned.)


Religion is so special

It's hard to read the news lately. There are more bombings and killings every day, and almost all are caused by religion. No, I'm not going to link to any of the stories about these disasters. Why bother? It's the background of our lives; I'm sure you're familiar with it.

Religion is killing humanity. Once someone accepts nonsense as truth, they are immediately lost in the wilderness. (See the US G.O.P. for an example of how this plays out.) For many, insanity sets in once they accept religion. They seethe and rage and kill. In the US, this is done with drones and bombs dropped from airplanes -- lest we soil our fingers or conscience by seeing the people we kill. Muslims do it with bombs, terror, torture and murder. Same thing.

But what if people realized that there are no gods? Obviously, all this would settle down. Why kill for Jeebus or Allah when they're not real? Why be Muslim or Jewish when there's nothing at the heart of your religion? It would all collapse.

And then people might notice the real world. It's right in front of everyone's eyes but people have been too busy thinking about fairytales to notice. Oh, and the world is about to have a calamity that threatens all living creatures. It's called climate change. Maybe once religion is gone, people could focus on that and do something about it. After all, they'd have so much more time on their hands, what with the end of prayer and religious services.

All the land occupied by churches and temples would be re-purposed and sold to people who would, of all things, pay taxes on the land -- and that money could be used to support local populations. And Sundays (Saturdays for some) would become normal days of the week, where people could visit family or have sex or do other positive, real things.

Soon, people could be themselves without being called sinners. That's a biggie. And children would no longer be threatened with the possibility of burning in hell for all eternity. That's a huge plus right there.

It's just a dream, of course. But it sounds so nice.

Good read

Frank Bruni has an excellent column in today's NYT. Go read The Pope's Radical Whisper.

September 21, 2013

Halloween is coming!

When I went out yesterday, all the stores had huge Halloween displays. It was a bit of a shock, but then it is getting cool around here. The leaves are already turning.

I love this time of year. To me, Fall is the beginning of the year. Where other people get into "Spring cleaning" in the, you know, Spring, I feel this way in the fall. Lately I've been sprucing up the house, getting heavy clothes ready for wear, bagging up fans for the winter, etc. It's time to get my act together: that's how Fall feels to me.

Anyway, in celebration of all that is to come, I wanted to post this pumpkin patch photo. Commenter Carmine took it a couple of years ago (and he promises to take more photos when he takes his family to pick pumpkins tomorrow; go Carmine!)

October brings Halloween, which is the doorway to Xmas. And you know what that means: It's time to read Xmas Carol (if you haven't already). Great read, cheap price, fun thrills and liberal leanings -- that's Xmas Carol. It'll kick-start your holiday season. I promise.

A common problem often seen in print

I've spoken about snarled sentences on many occasions. Here's one I found on Al Jazeera today:
The acclaimed Haitian-American writer talks about what it means to be a voice of the diaspora and her latest novel.
There's a problem in that sentence. She isn't talking about being the voice of her latest novel, as it says above. (She's the voice of both the diaspora and "her latest novel" in that sentence.) This problem occurs because the sentence is written backwards. There's a simple fix for this particular snarl: reverse the final items. First the novel, then the diaspora. Here's how it should read:
The acclaimed Haitian-American writer talks about her latest novel and what it means to be a voice of the diaspora.
See how that works? When you notice this problem in your writing, apply this simple cure. (If you still don't know what I'm talking about, compare the two sentences. I think you may say "Ahhhh!")

September 20, 2013

But're not trashing the Vatican

It's true. I've been far too kind to the Vatican ever since Francis took over. So let me be clear on the most important point: there is no god. Pope Francis, though he may bring positive change to his church, is still the CEO of a false religion. Nothing he does can ever change that. Say it with me kids: there is no god.

But if this man can make Christianity kinder, I'm all for it. Lately, every time I talk to someone in my local area, Pope Francis' name comes up. People smile like crazy when they talk about him. He's enlivened things and loosened the suffocating strictures that surround religion. And he's driving the evil wingnuts within his church crazy. How could this be a bad thing?

I want Christians to be kind. So does Francis and strictly on that basis, I consider him an ally. I'm sure I'll get back to trashing the Vatican at some point. But right now, the pope is tossing out the trash. I'm all for that.

Next day pope news

Today many headlines say something like, "Pope Rages Against Abortion". Funny. I'd phrase it this way: "Pope tosses peanut to traditionalists". He didn't "rage" at all. He just suggested that Catholic doctors not perform abortions. Ou est la rage?

Here's a clip from a story that appeared today (it's linked above):
In his comments, Francis denounced today's "throw-away culture" that justifies disposing of lives, and said doctors in particular had been forced into situations where they are called to "not respect life." 
When he said this, the pope was speaking to a group of Catholic gynecologists. Of course he was going to say something like that. It's not like the church tossed its objections to abortion. It's the church; it can't do that. So I don't find this revealing at all.

Remember, just yesterday he cautioned Catholics not to "obsess" about this stuff. That's what's called a caveat in informed circles. I can live with the pope's peanut-toss.

But seriously, what must be going through the tortured heads of blowhard wingnuts like Bill Donohue of the infamous Catholic League? I see a stroke in his near future. Fun!

September 19, 2013

One more pope thing

In the NYT article about the pope's extensive interview, I found a gem. The interviewer brought up St. Augustine's phrase: "thinking with the church". He asked Francis what this meant. In part, this was his reply:
“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” he said. “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
(Bolding is mine.)

You have to love a guy who says things like that. Rightwing Catholics, your time has come and gone. Get ready for Francis.

Life is good

Sometimes the world looks perfect. Just ask this happy groundhog.

(Click for larger.)


Okay, so it's a little buggy. And it slows your device down. (It's intended for the next generation of chips, which are in the new iPhone and will obviously be in the next iPad). But it's pretty. Very, very pretty. That goes a long way with me.

I love the font. It's so clear it's almost frightening. If you've just installed it on your iPad, I'd like to give you a few tips. These are for iPad users only. I don't have an iPhone, so you're on your own with that version of the software. Here goes:

- To see your active applications, swipe upward with four fingers. This makes the active apps get smallish and you can swipe your way through them. To close an app, swipe upward on it with one finger. Or if you want to leave some open, just swipe down with four fingers to return to the home screen.

- Newsstand is buggy. It will not close. Mind you, Newsstand sucks so there's no reason to open it. The new OS lets you put it in a folder, which is nice. So now you can drop it on the icon of another app you'd like to forget and they'll create a folder, into which they'll both disappear forever! Good riddance. And if you get stuck in Newsstand and can't get out, do what I did: push the side button to shut the iPad off. Reopen it and you'll be at the lock screen, which will return you to the home screen. And Newsstand will disappear from your active apps. Phew. Pain in the butt.

-BTW, the iBooks app looks every bit as awful as it always did. I thought they were going to get rid of the faux ornamentation. Oh well, no one reads iBooks on an iPad. They download the Kindle Reader app and buy their books at Amazon. Sorry, Apple. So iBooks is another one you can toss into a folder and forget forever.

- Don't forget to enable automatic downloads. This way when Apple comes up with a fix for the bugs (which you'll notice, I'm afraid), you won't even be aware that your software was updated. Stuff will just work better.

- Finally, if the brightness of the white background drives you crazy, go into Settings/General/Accessibility and turn on "Invert Colors". Then when you tap the home button three times, your colors will reverse and you'll see white text on a black background. Much nicer at night.

So far, that's all I've got. But I do like the OS despite my complaints. It's just too pretty to dislike.

Good luck!

There he goes again

That darn pope keeps saying the right things -- and this is causing the heads of wingnut Catholics to explode. Here's the lede from todays' AP article:
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has warned that the Catholic Church's moral structure might "fall like a house of cards" if it doesn't balance its divisive rules about abortion, gays and contraception with the greater need to make the church a merciful, more welcoming place for all. 
It also reports that the pope said this:
The key, he said, is for the church to welcome, not exclude, and show mercy, not condemnation. 
I know many progressives think the pope is being shady when he says such things, that in his heart of hearts he's as evil as all the popes that preceded him. Well, I'm sorry to break ranks but I think Francis is going to be the bestest pope evah!

BTW, the AP article is riffing on an article in American magazine. It has the entire interview. (Warning: the site is very slow and it's a long, long article.)

UPDATE: The NYT has a better rundown on this story than the link I originally provided. Check it out.

September 18, 2013

Oh, the joy!

I'm downloading IOS7 right now. Squee!

What's that tune I hear?

This recent mass shooting at the D.C. Navy Yard didn't affect me in any meaningful sense. I didn't care about it (though I felt momentary disgust) and I didn't watch any of the news coverage. I've had enough exposure to shootings, thank you. I'm moving on. You may ask why.

Here's my answer -- As long as this country continues to do nothing to control the "loose guns" situation, mass shootings are merely the background music of American life. Shootings? Meh. Let's go get some pizza.

It will continue, it will get worse and the United States won't do anything to stop it.

Hey, I know what would be fun. Let's go get some ice cream!

Update: Germany's Spiegel Online takes on the issue. An excerpt:
The tragic shooting in Washington feels all too much like deja vu. But President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats no longer even attempt to take on the real issue: America's unhindered gun mania.
Funny how they can see it clearly while we can't. Shame on Democrats. Shame on Republicans. Shame on all of us.

September 17, 2013

Aravosis nails it again

John Aravosis has a great post over at AmericaBlog about the current moral state of the Catholic church. Seriously, go read it. And wait for the last line of the post.

Brisk air brings meaningful change for bloggers

With great solemnity and even more dignity, bloggers across the country are switching gears as cooler air reaches their environs. Actually, we change more than gears.

At this time each year, we do what the Official Blogger Code says we must -- we put away our boxer shorts and T-shirts and slip into some comfy sweats. Some bloggers are so motivated by the temperature change that they vacuum the Cheeto bits out of their keyboards. Meh. I just turn mine over and shake it. Let the others engage in frills; I'm ready to go.

First Skeptember, then Octogre. These are the months of change. Bloggers, take a deep breath and feel the power. We. Are. Bloggers!!!

September 16, 2013

Generation W

There's a great article today in the Times, and it's source is surprising. I've often railed against "The Stone", the NYT's usually simpering philosophy column, but today's column by Peter Ludlow is spot-on. It's about "Generation W", the US population group that came of age in the time of Wikileaks. It's called "The Banality of Systemic Evil". Here's a taste.
Chelsea Manning, the United States Army private incarcerated for leaking classified documents from the Departments of Defense and State, felt a similar pull to resist the internal rules of the bureaucracy. In a statement at her trial she described a case where she felt this was necessary. In February 2010, she received a report of an event in which the Iraqi Federal Police had detained 15 people for printing “anti-Iraqi” literature. Upon investigating the matter, Manning discovered that none of the 15 had previous ties to anti-Iraqi actions or suspected terrorist organizations. Manning had the allegedly anti-Iraqi literature translated and found that, contrary to what the federal police had said, the published literature in question “detailed corruption within the cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government and the financial impact of his corruption on the Iraqi people.”

When Manning reported this discrepancy to the officer in charge (OIC), she was told to “drop it,” she recounted.
It's a great column. Go read it.

September 15, 2013

How did life on Earth get its start?

The most interesting science story this week is about how life began on Earth. If you won't read the linked story, here's the non-scientific summary: non-living molecules started to do stuff.

Here's how the story begins:
Before there was life on Earth, there were molecules. A primordial soup. At some point a few specialized molecules began replicating. This self-replication, scientists agree, kick-started a biochemical process that would lead to the first organisms. But exactly how that happened—how those molecules began replicating—has been one of science's enduring mysteries.
Because of this discovery, we now know the what -- molecular fossils called Urzymes; we just don't know the how. This is very important for moving the question forward. And frankly, I enjoy the fact that some mystery remains. Scientists will figure it out, with no need for god's intervention.

Life is built into the fabric of the universe. Matter (which is equivalent to energy, let us recall) produces life whenever and wherever it can. It is the nature of matter to beget life.
Before there was life on Earth, there were molecules. A primordial soup. At some point a few specialized molecules began replicating. This self-replication, scientists agree, kick-started a biochemical process that would lead to the first organisms. But exactly how that happened—how those molecules began replicating—has been one of science's enduring mysteries.

Read more at:

September 14, 2013

Writing to Chelsea Manning

This page at Firedoglake states that we must use Chelsea Manning's birth name on the envelope in order for a letter to reach her within Leavenworth. Inside the letter, you can freely call her Chelsea. So to make sure your letter of support gets past the guards, always put "Bradley Manning" on the envelope. Here's the new address:

Bradley E. Manning #89289
1300 N Warehouse Rd
Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-2304

Go to your computers now and start writing!

(I'm going to offer to print Xmas Carol and send it off to Leavenworth. I can't imagine a nicer way to cheer her up this Xmas.)

The epidemic that is ravaging major league baseball

It's shocking but true. There is an epidemic in major-league baseball. Players on every team have been seen pointing at the sky during games.

As far as anyone can tell, the players seem to think that planes far above their heads are guiding every movement of the bat and baseball on the field. Curiously, it further seems that these players believe they must appease the nebulous agents who operate such planes.

And so in every game you'll see players pointing at helicopters, passenger planes, blimps -- and even clouds that look like planes. It's a painful thing for fans to have to witness. The players are obviously deluded in an extremely serious way. The poor things!

So keep an eye out during the next game. And when a player points toward a plane, pity the poor fellow. He knows not what he does.

September 13, 2013

Hey, I'm a journalist

The new Media Shield Bill passed by the the Senate defines a journalist as:
"someone who has had an employment relationship with a journalism organization for one year within the past twenty years."
Since I worked for Variety for over a year, about 17 years ago, I qualify as a journalist. Hooray! So if anyone wants to spill secrets to me, feel free. I will never reveal my sources.

(Mind you, I don't have any sources.)

Great AP story

Follow this link for a good read. (And yes, it speaks of god with respect. I don't mind such things. The story is much more than that.) Here's a snippet:
Seeking inspiration for a musical commission to mark the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, composer Yotam Haber turned to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute's Oral History Project. Combing through the files in the Alabama city, he came across a 1998 interview with Henrietta Tripp. 
And it goes on from there, bringing the past struggle for civil rights to life. Seriously, I loved this article and I cannot wait to hear the musical composition. It sounds transcendent. (Yes, we atheists use words like that, too. Surprise!)

PZ speaks

I really like this.
I think too many people look into religion and see a mirror, reflecting their good values and their personal aspirations, and they fail to see that they’re holding up a burden and a distraction and a poisonous delusion, and that, as good people, they’d be even greater when free of that ugliness. They need to realize that they are not the church, and the church is not them — and that separating oneself from an edifice of lies is actually a virtue.

September 12, 2013

Absurd to the Nth degree

On Ed Brayton's blog I found this quote from Michelle Bachman:
“We are in times that are unprecedented,” Bachmann said. “These are the times of birth pangs, we’re seeing the intensity of age and the speed and rapidity that these events are starting to speed up so fast that we can hardly get our minds about it.”
Makes no sense at all. Thanks, Michelle!

It kind of reminds me of something I heard a baseball announcer say the other day. While listing the positives about a certain player, he said the guy was "very fast in speed".

Some people just can't think.

Terrorist Catholic church fires another gay teacher

If you spark terror on a regular basis, you are a terrorist. That should be simple enough to understand. The following is a quote from Kristen Ostendorf, a teacher who was fired from her job at a Minnesota Catholic high school for being a lesbian.
I’d like to be the last person to be fired for who I loved, or for the gender of the person I love. But I won’t be, probably, and the silence around it terrifies me.
Terror -- religion makes it happen every day. And on the subject of sexual orientation, the Roman Catholic church is one of the greatest terrorists.

PS: If the church lets priests marry, it'll be great fun when most of the priests announce they want to marry other men. Let the good times begin!

Sleazy Putin

Sleazy is the perfect word for an op-ed in the NYT today, allegedly written by Vlad Putin hisself. I won't run it down here. Russia is trying to sound more sensible than Obama; that's it in a nutshell. But I think it's amusing that the op-ed ends with this sentence:
We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal. 
Are you roaring with laughter? You should be.

September 11, 2013

New IOC head

Thomas Bach, a gold-medalist in his time, has been elected as the new head of the IOC (International Olympic Committee). The link leads to Spiegel Online, but the story is minimal. No mention know.
"I want to thank all my friends and colleagues who voted for me," Bach said after the decision. "I know of the great responsibility of an IOC president. This makes me humble."
That's nice, Tom. Now go straighten out this Russian gay-pogrom thing -- and get back to us right away. The world is waiting.

Pope again says atheism is fine

Okay, so he didn't put it in those words. But apparently he was asked various "theological" questions in an Italian newspaper. I really liked this answer:
To the 89-year-old Scalfari's question of whether someone without faith who commits a sin would be forgiven by the Christian God, Francis responded: "God forgives those who follow their conscience." 
That's pretty much the definition of atheism. We figure things out on our own and try to do the right thing without, you know, consulting dusty old books.

On the other hand, Ed Brayton had a post up the other day (sorry, no link) that indicated Francis talks out of both sides of his mouth on the topic of atheism. But the pope hit a high note with this remark about following one's conscience. That's the definition of morality: doing the right thing.

There's even talk today about the church putting the kibosh on priestly celibacy. Change is afoot. Now, if only he'd say there is no god. Soon, right?

Johnny Weir is an asshole

John Aravosis rips Johnny Weir to shreds in a blog post today. Good, the man is a joke.

I mean, here he is, America's uber-gay skater, and he won't say a thing against Russia's anti-gay law. He even appeared on TV in a Russian military uniform last night. He is a major, world-class fool.

Johnny Weir is and always has been a "look at me" person rather than a gay person. There's a big difference. It's almost like he's gay just for the attention.

Piss on you, Weir.

September 10, 2013

Simple is better

What do I think the athletes should do at Sochi? One simple thing: mention your significant other when you're being interviewed. This applies to both gay and straight athletes. Just be who you are.

If everyone involved reveals his or her sexual orientation, no one can be singled out for violating the rules. Hug your honey while the cameras are rolling. Speak of the support your girlfriend provides. Mention you're about to marry the greatest guy in the world.

In my years as a human rights worker, I learned the value of a good comparison. Ideally, you want the other group, in this case the straight people, to be doing exactly what you're doing. This makes it easy to note disparities in responses, should they occur. Under this plan, each athlete at Sochi will be doing the same thing: acting naturally and thereby revealing his or her sexual orientation.

The lack of different behavior patterns among straight and gay athletes will create a powerful learning experience for the TV audience and spectators. And if there are repercussions for the gay athletes, I suspect most viewers will say, "But they all did the same thing". Indeed, they did. That's the point.

Any other suggestions out there?

September 9, 2013

More Olympic piggery

So now the IOC is threatening athletes, thinking this will stop demonstrations against Russia's filthy anti-gay law. Sure, that'll work. Hah. 

Note: paragraphing is my own.
BUENOS AIRES — Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said Sunday that athletes would be warned about rules prohibiting demonstrations at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. 

Chernyshenko said that athletes and spectators at the Sochi Games would not be affected by the law and that organizers were “absolutely confident that there will be no conflicts in that regards.” 
That is so funny! No conflicts at all. Good prognosticator, eh? 
But Gerhard Heiberg of Norway, the Olympic committee’s marketing chief, said he had heard from corporate sponsors, particularly from the United States, “about what they are afraid of could happen.”
Six of the committee’s 10 worldwide sponsors are based in the United States: Coke, General Electric, McDonald’s, Visa, Dow Chemical and Procter & Gamble.
Heiberg urged the I.O.C. to be prepared with a plan in case demonstrations against the Russian law occur.

“I think this could ruin a lot for all of us,” Heiberg said.

He urged the committee to adhere to Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, which says that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted” at any Olympic site.
Rogge said athletes would be reminded about the rule, as they were before the 2008 Beijing Games.
But see, Beijing wasn't planning a holocaust for gays in 2008. Russia is. The games in Sochi are going to be interesting. There's no doubt about that. I hope Coke, McDonald's and all the other sponsors of this criminal Olympics lose business and suffer tremendous financial losses because they didn't stand up for human rights when they had a clear opportunity to do so. These companies are acting like pigs -- and they'll be in good company in Sochi.

Delicious Sochi goings-on

Check out John Aravosis' post about the state of the Sochi Olympics. Seems the evil slobs in the IOC and Russia are finally getting upset about all the negative publicity. But all they want to do is make gay people's lives miserable. So why is everyone so upset with them?!
The head of the Sochi Olympics has asked the International Olympic Committee for help in making you annoying gays, and friends of gays, stop being so mean to them.
I love the idea that hardly anyone will attend the games. That would be the best outcome. The athletes would get to compete, while Russia would look like the pig sty that it actually is. Good stuff!

September 8, 2013

About "selfie"

So it's an official word now, eh? Fine, but I think we should expand the definition and offer a variation.

Some people's entire lives are selfies. Let's start referring to them that way. I mean, seriously. All "celebrities" are on one, big, lifelong selfie.

And how about this word? Selfie-ish. To describe something done only to attract attention. "That was so selfie-ish; let's look the other way!"

Okay, I'm already tired of all these words. Let's toss the bunch.

September 7, 2013

Don't say "godspeed"

I'm somewhat horrified when I hear someone say "godspeed", as I did when NASA launched a rocket yesterday.
"Godspeed on your journey to the moon, LADEE," Launch Control said. Flight controllers applauded and exchanged high-fives following the successful launch. "We are headed to the moon!" NASA said in a tweet.
Mind you, godspeed has nothing to do with god. It's a contraction of "good speed" that became common in the old days of merry England.

Still, I don't like it. It may not mean "may god send you on your way quickly" but that's exactly what people think it means. So if you find yourself reaching for this expression -- especially if you're NASA and you're on live TV -- I think you should reach for another term. How about "Happy trails to you"?

"Happy trails to you, on your journey to the moon, LADEE" sounds just fine to me.

Is Russia preparing a gay holocaust?

Seriously, every time I read a story about gays in Russia lately, it seems more dire.

I mean, let's add it up. Russia established a law against "gay propaganda" that essentially means gays can't admit their existence. And now they're working on taking children away from gay families! Can you even imagine the level of animus that motivates such a move?

This reminds me of the situation in Germany just before the holocaust. When we hear that a huge majority of the Russian population agrees with the government's position, that's saying something important. The holocaust couldn't have happened without the permission of German citizens. There's wind in this sail.

Please read the linked article, which recounts an interview with a lesbian in Russia who actually had to sit down with her ll-year old biological daughter to explain that Putin might take her away from her family.

Plus, as you know if you've been following the horror in Russia, the government literally encourages the beating of gay men by doing nothing when gays are tricked, kidnapped, humiliated and beaten by Nazi thugs (who are all closet cases, I'm sure). Many of these attacks were recorded and displayed on social media -- yet no one arrests the perpetrators. And if they had been arrested, I've read they'd only get three months for doing such a thing.

This is, I insist, a prelude to a gay holocaust. What will Obama do when Russia crosses that red line? It will be interesting, to say the least.

The whole world must rise up and revile Russia publicly for its inhuman pillorying of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. That's the only way to stop what's coming next.

September 6, 2013

Sound advice

Ed Brayton today:
Foreign Policy magazine published a report that included declassified CIA documents that showed that our government had helped Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons against Iran in 1988 and had then launched a propaganda campaign to blame it on Iran (a mostly successful campaign, by the way). The Vietnam War was justified by LBJ by the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was completely fabricated. So our government has a history of lying to justify going to war and a history of lying specifically about who is responsible for using chemical weapons. So even if it’s true that Assad used the chemical weapons, and even if the evidence actually did support that, we have absolutely no reason to believe them when they say they have that evidence. 
Our government cannot be trusted.

September 5, 2013

Good news!

A wonderful thing is about to happen:
Madame Tussauds says its Washington location will start displaying wax figures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge later this month.
Hooray! Now we can get rid of the originals. I'm sure the wax figures will be sufficient for all royal duties. I wonder if they'll also display a figure of little Prince Nit. If they do, we can toss him, too.

Shall we accept the pope's invitation?

Apparently, Pope Francis was greatly affected by the use of chemical weapons in Syria. He is a world leader, though not the kind I usually respect. So it's good that he's calling for peace. He even invited us -- atheists -- to join him in a symbolic gesture at St. Peter's Square on Saturday.
Pope Francis on Sunday condemned the use of chemical weapons, but he called for a negotiated settlement of the civil war in Syria, and announced he would lead a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace there on Sept. 7.
I know. Fasting and prayer. What good does that do? On the other hand, he's going to assemble a huge crowd -- and we're specifically invited.
Francis invited Catholics, other Christians, those of other faiths and non-believers who are "men of good will" to join him that evening in St. Peter's Square to invoke the "gift" of peace for Syria, the rest of the Middle East and worldwide where there is conflict.

"The world needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope and of peace," Francis said.
He's right about that last bit. If I lived in Rome, I might toddle by and see if there's a large atheist contingent in the group. In that respect, it could be interesting. Plus, having invited atheists to join in, I wonder if he'll try to avoid the usual Christian prayers and perhaps speak in a secular way that can reach everyone.

Whatever. Prayer is useless, and fasting accomplishes nothing outside of a prison setting. But I do like the fact that this is the second time Francis included "non-believers" in an invitation. Between this and his "who am I to judge" remark about gays, I have to say this pope is a big improvement on the last one.

Read more here:

Read more here:

The real story is hidden behind a curtain

Well before Assad's use of chemical weapons, the Obama administration was looking for a reason to attack Syria. I'm sure they viewed Assad's slow collapse with trepidation, fearing that his formidable weapons would fall into the hands of "radicals", who would use them to attack Israel. I'll bet many on Obama's team cheered when the chemical attacks were launched. They wanted a reason to strike, and now they think they've got it.

That's why the war-mongering arguments we hear from Kerry and Obama sound ridiculous. It's because they are ridiculous. But they can't admit they wanted to destroy Assad's military capability and weaponry all along.

The most transparent administration ever is hiding its real intentions and goals. If this attack occurs, it could easily escalate into World War III.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: let's give Utah to the Israelis. After all, no one's using it. Once the entire population of Israel moves to Provost, the mid-East will settle down nicely. And there are lots of large, silly cathedrals there that the Israelis can use for temples. It's a win-win thing.

September 4, 2013

If only

The International Monetary Fund approved a $6.7 billion loan for the United States Pakistan on Wednesday in an effort to help the strategic country stave off an education economic crisis.

September 3, 2013

Let's revise the drone program

Artichoke Annie has a post up about the immorality of killing with drones. I think drone-killing is utterly disgusting and I'm ashamed that the US does this. But it does -- every day. Just think of those brave men and women, pushing buttons to kill people they've never met. What heroes. Their mothers must be so proud.

Anyway, I left this comment on Annie's post:
The definition of evil is pushing a button to make a drone kill people. It is so far removed from the basics of war -- where you're fighting someone who can also kill you. Drone-killing would be more equitable if one in ten button-pushes resulted in the button-pusher's death. And you'd never know which push would kill you. With some skin in the game, perhaps we'd be less prone to, you know, MURDER people.
And then I thought a bit more about it. Let's add a finishing touch to the new drone system: Every 25 pushes of the "kill" button should be performed by a Senator, member of the House of Representatives, the president, vice-president or chief of staff. They should all have to rotate in, without exception. The responsibility for every 25th push of the button would fall to them -- and no one would know when a push would result in electrocuting the pusher. (A random number generator chooses when to electrocute, and it's primed to do so with approximately every tenth push. No human would know which push would kill.)

Let's see how war-happy our congress and the president are with such a system in place. Something tells me there would be a lot less killing.

If you're going to kill, you must have skin in the game. It's the only "moral" way to do it.

This should be interesting

Let's see. First Obama refuses to meet with Putin because Russia is harboring Edward Snowden. And now this:
MOSCOW — Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists said Tuesday they have been invited to meet with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of this week's Group of 20 summit in Russia. 
What will Putin do? It's all so junior high, so tit-for-tat, when you get right down to it. Will Putin view Obama's meeting with gay reps as "propaganda" and arrest him? That would be fun. On the other hand, will Putin punish the gay reps afterward? I wouldn't like to see that happen.

But seriously, the whole thing is like a cartoon. The Russian president with a fixation on personal manliness goes after the gays. And the American president who promised the most transparent administration in history goes after whistleblowers with demonic vengeance. (And after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, tries to start World War III -- to prove his manliness.)

These are cartoon times, for sure.

September 1, 2013

Believers say the strangest things about (gasp) atheists

Tony gets it right.
I'm always amused when I see religious people parroting the line that atheists, because they don't believe in gods, have nothing to live for. That's just so funny.

These people should visit atheist blogs -- like FreeThoughtBlogs or even my own humble blog, and check out the happiness level. We're wildly happy. We love our lives. And by the way, we're the smart, funny ones -- as opposed to the humorless dolts who believe in gods. (And we get satire while it goes right over their heads. Just saying.)

Nothing to live for?! The universe is startlingly beautiful. And, without the help of gods, scientists have been learning more and more about how the universe works. The discoveries are endless and awe-inspiring. Reality is much more beautiful and complex than a silly religious story. God is a tiny idea, a paltry idea, when compared to the glory of reality. Religious people should drink some espresso and read a few science books. (Oh, I forgot, they can't. Reading anything other than the bible makes their heads hurt.)

Religion teaches people nothing about reality. It's just a scam, a dreary list of tiresome, meaningless legends. I guarantee you that if you study theology for the rest of your life, you will learn absolutely nothing.

Unhappy atheists? Anyone who says that is wearing blinders. Wake up! There are no gods. And life is great! (Hopefully you read that last line with the proper Tony-the-Tiger voice.)

It's hard not to like Francis

No, not the mule. The pope. He's going to "lead a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace [in Syria] on Sept. 7". I can't help but like his style (though of course, he stands for a false god and a religion that denigrates women and gays; one can never forget this).
"I forcefully condemn the use of chemical weapons," he said. "I tell you I have impressed in my mind and heart the images of what happened in the last days." 

Usually soft-spoken, Francis raised his voice as he declared, "War brings on war! Violence brings on violence." 
And once again, he takes care not to stomp on atheists:
Francis invited Catholics, other Christians, those of other faiths and non-believers who are "men of good will" to join him that evening in St. Peter's Square to invoke the "gift" of peace for Syria, the rest of the Middle East and worldwide where there is conflict. 
He's a big improvement over that Nazi guy he replaced. What was his name? Oh, right: the popeyguy. Good riddance to her him. I hope for more good stuff from Francis. Maybe in the end, he can make the Catholic hierarchy less hateful. We can hope, anyway.