October 30, 2013

The Worlds blog is winding down

New readers of this blog may not know that I intend to (almost) stop blogging when the World Series ends. It's time to write the next book.

I can hear some of you sobbing. You poor things, you. I know you'll miss me. But remember, I'll always come back (and I'll continue to post now and then). It's just that writing a novel requires my undivided attention. And you'll want to read the next book. It's going to be a zinger. (Of course, you've read the first one. Right?)

The World Series will end tonight or tomorrow night. What can I say? I have to write. It's what I do.

Evil woman will fat-shame trick-or-treaters

Seriously, how twisted can you be?
Children in a North Dakota neighborhood may be slated to get an awful surprise this Halloween: A local woman is reportedly planning to hand out "fat letters," instead of candy, to kids she thinks are "moderately obese."
Way to go, lady. I wish I lived near this woman. I'd write tons of "You're incredibly ugly and evil" letters to her. I wouldn't mail them; I'd hand them to her everywhere she goes. And I'd try to enlist others in my scheme so she'd think the whole town was in on it. The Wal-Mart greeter, for instance, could offer her one of these letters. This might give her a hint of the traumatic feelings she will inspire in children by fat-shaming them and ruining their Halloween.

This woman would have enjoyed the Spanish Inquisition tremendously. Too bad she missed it. Oh, and she knows she's being evil. She only offered her first name -- Cheryl -- when she announced her dastardly plan to a radio station. Murderers and such instinctively hide from the authorities.

Cheryl, you're a goddamn pig.

October 29, 2013

About those nonexistent demons

Ed Brayton reports that Karl Payne, an "expert demonologist", said the following about American Halloween traditions, such as dressing up as a witch, a zombie or a demon:
“When you live in [a] culture that glamorizes this, when you live in a culture that encourages people to get involved in these type of activities, do you not think that there are some people, from all age groups, who get lured into the occult through the culture we promote?” Payne asked.
Uh, Karl...there is no occult. No one believes in this stuff. Young people who claim to be "Satanists" are just kids who use "magic" as an excuse to take drugs and have sex while feeling they are one with their favorite heavy metal band. There is no belief involved. Only crazy religious people think about this stuff. Covens, for instance, do not exist. And even if they did, the "coven" would just be a group of lonely people who get together to read from old books. Completely harmless.

Repeat after me: there is no occult. It's just a scary term that exists in religious people's heads -- including the head of Karl Payne. He's trying to scare stupid people into reading his silly book on demons. Good luck with that, Karl.

Funny, tragic headlines

PZ reprinted a comic that makes fun of current journalistic practices. It's called "20th Century headlines rewritten to get more clicks". Go on over and see it. It's very funny.

This is my favorite:
"1986 - This video of a terminally ill child watching the Challenger launch will break your heart."
It's true. American publications really write headlines in this outlandish manner. It's just the latest addition to the carnival sideshow phenomenon we refer to as "American culture". Yeesh.

Major Tom speaks

Raw Story has an article about Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who sang Bowie's "Space Oddity" while floating aboard the space station. I'll always love him for that. Apparently he has a book out, and the article recounts some of what he says. Here are a few tidbits from the article.
Space food can be bland; to season it, they use pepper suspended in olive oil, so it doesn’t fly up and scatter, and make everyone sneeze. And there is no washing of clothes in space; water doesn’t function as a cleaning agent the way it does on Earth, so they wear their socks and underpants until they fall apart, then burn them.
That's just how I do it! He added this:
“How did they make all that look so good? Of course, when you come out of your spacesuit, you’re not wearing a tank top and shorts. Sandra Bullock looked really good in those! We wear a diaper and a liquid cooling garment. We don’t look nearly so good.”
And much to my delight (thought perhaps that's not the correct word) he answered my recent question about suffocating in space:
Spacewalking isn’t how it looks in the new blockbuster Gravity; it’s so dangerous, Hadfield says (a leak in the suit would result in ruptured lungs, burst eardrums and rapid loss of consciousness)... 
So: not a pleasant way to die. Check out the article to read lots more. He seems like such an interesting man. I wish I knew him.

October 28, 2013

The sneaker lady is happy today

Lo and behold, something good happened in Texas.
New abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature are unconstitutional and will not take effect as scheduled on Tuesday, a federal judge has ruled.

District Judge Lee Yeakel wrote Monday that the regulations violated the rights of abortion doctors to do what they think is best for their patients and would unreasonably restrict a woman's access to abortion clinics. 
Ya think? This was the most contorted anti-abortion law imaginable. It was designed to prevent doctors from performing abortions, and that was its only goal. All the GOP rhetoric about "protecting women and babies" is utter nonsense. Click the link above for details.

This is a big win for the good guys. Of course, it's only going to a higher court for review, but that's a good thing -- or at least it should be. Let's hope the upper court knows a thing or two about the Constitution.

As for the "sneaker lady", I was referring to Democratic Senator Wendy Davis, the woman we grew to love when she filibustered this bill for 13 hours (in her sneakers). The article informs us that "Davis is now running for governor on a women's rights platform." Go, Wendy! If you're in Texas, go out and vote for her. Don't forget.

Pretty good transgender article

I found an interesting article (in the Buffalo News, of all places) about being transgender, kids who are transitioning, etc. It visits both sides of the issue but is positive, overall.

Special bonus: the comments (so far) are supportive of transgender people. Just FYI, if this topic interests you.

Reading the news

Each morning, I get up and read all the news stories. Though I'm always hopeful as I begin this process, I find the same situation day after day -- Americans are still mean, blinkered and stupid. So I wander off to read the science news. Ahhhh!

As backward as society is, science is making tremendous strides. Each day there is a new miracle to grok. Today I learned a shocking fact about the brain (it surprised the scientists, too):
Dendrites, the branch-like projections of neurons, were once thought to be passive wiring in the brain. But now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have shown that these dendrites do more than relay information from one neuron to the next. They actively process information, multiplying the brain's computing power.

"Imagine you're reverse engineering a piece of alien technology, and what you thought was simple wiring turns out to be transistors that compute information," Smith said. "That's what this finding is like. The implications are exciting to think about."
Dendrites are essentially mini-computers. We had no clue this was the case. The implications are startling. Of course it will have a huge impact on studies of the brain. But even outside the wet world of biology, this is important. Just think, for instance, how this will impact scientists who are trying to create artificial intelligence by modeling computer structures on the human brain. Now there's an entirely new ingredient. 

So we don't even know how our brains operate (though we've learned a lot; I don't mean to knock scientists' progress in this area). We don't know what our dreams are, why we dream, or if dreams have a purpose. Only a few weeks ago, we learned that our brain cells shrink while we sleep, so the brain's toxins can be washed away easily. We know so little, though we're learning by leaps and bounds.

And yet we feel exceptional enough to ruin the planet, mow down arboreal forests, frack groundwater until it's no longer fit for human consumption, and create nuclear power plants when we have no idea how or where to store the waste they produce. And oh, yes: we make wars -- lots of wars. And all the while, we don't even know how our brains work.

Humans are an infant species. But judging by our current actions, by the time humanity is fully grown up, there may no longer be a viable Earth to host our form of life. What's wrong with this picture?

The jarring difference in quality between our lives ("Let's cut billions from food stamps so poor people can't eat!") and our science is shocking. If only people were sensible.

Yeah. And if only pigs could fly.

October 27, 2013

As the baseball turns

The soap opera of 2013 baseball is coming to a close. So it must be time for another "language of baseball" post. Here you go.

First, a final salute to backwards talk, an affliction that affects the majority of MLB baseball announcers:
"He pitches inside, and makes the feet move of Lucas Duda." This is a new kind of backwards talk.

"He's got a lot of ground balls tonight, has Niese."
And my favorite: "As, changing it up, is Peavey." The announcer could've just said Peavey threw a changeup, but no.
But they always speak in their own language. Here are a few examples:
After Roger Bernadina almost flew to second base, FP said "Boy, he was some kinda gittin' it around first base!"

He "pulled the string" on the curve ball. That means he made it dip at the very end.

"And he never overswang!"

"Awww! He overdove it."
And when the announcers are in NY, the phrases are a little bit Yiddish:
Craig Scheppler warming up: "and he's no schlepper!" Yiddish is built into the language of New York.
They also say creepy, offensive things like, "As Joe Ortiz, the 'portly left-hander' takes the mound." They seem to have no clue this might be wrong. And yes, that was another random "As" statement, this time spoken by a Texas Rangers broadcaster. 

They're just not very bright. One announcer noted that a player was "very fast on speed." I don't think he meant the drug. He just meant the guy was fast. As I say, not too bright.

The Mets have a player named Josh Satin. He was doing well for a while and I loved seeing a white sign in the stands. It had bold red letters that screamed: "Hail Satin!" Never saw it again. I'll bet some twit objected. People are no fun at all.

They also tell old stories. One broadcaster mentioned a player from back in the day. He said the player's name was Gwodz and "everyone called him eye chart". I love this sort of baseball trivia.

They have their own brand of humor, these baseball guys. And they say things in a very down-home way. For instance, when Derek Lowe was guest-broadcasting for the Red Sox, he said this about the catcher, David Ross: "He's funny as all giddyup in that clubhouse, let me tell you!" I'll bet he is.

Anyway, it wasn't my favorite season. But it'll do. It's baseball so I can't help but love it.

This and that, once again

Sometimes I don't feel like fleshing out a post. I mean, it's Sunday, the day we all enjoy because we don't go to church. Why ruin that with work? So without further delay, I present these unexpanded snippets of thoughts:
As the chicken without a head media parrots nonsense at the heads in the sand public, blogs ask "Have we learned nothing?" Well of course we haven't. Where would people have learned anything from?

There's a player for the Texas Rangers whose name is Nick Tepesch. This reminds me of Vlad Tepys, whose last name I was assured was pronounced Tsepesch. However, I was once told that Lech Walesa was pronounced Neck Nawensa. I mean, it was Sharday all over again. You can't trust the pronunciation police.

“Obviously it goes without saying that…" Way to kick the scaffolding out from under your sentence, guys!

Humans have become the Rapa Nui, and Earth has become Easter Island. By paying attention to nonsensical things — statues for them, religion for us — each group let their world die.

I spilled an entire diet Coke on the TV remote and it still worked. I find this bizarre, but thrilling.

I just thought of a great rejoinder for a conversation that occurred 30 years ago. Damn!

Voltaire said "to learn who rules over you, Simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize." Ahem, that would be the NSA.

Everyone except Klingons wants to die in their sleep. The next favorite way to die is keeling over. Keeling over is very, very big. Personally, I would like to be sucked up into a tornado, never to be seen again. What ending are you hoping for?
In closing, I would like to remind you about the wonderful privacy of the Internet. Go ahead, spill your guts in the comments. I've got your back. Don't worry about a thing.

October 26, 2013

Dying in space is lots of fun

In a Der Spiegel interview with German astronaut Ulrich Walter, he was asked about the veracity of the movie "Gravity". Were the depictions of danger accurate?

Walter had a lot of praise for the movie but he also said they got some things wrong. For instance, he said that running out of air in space can be a really enjoyable episode in your life. The last episode, but what can you do?
When you're slowly running out of oxygen, the same thing happens as does when you're in thin air at the top of a mountain: Everything seems funny. And as you're laughing about it, you slowly nod off. I experienced this phenomenon in an altitude chamber during my training as an astronaut. At some point, someone in the group starts cracking bad jokes. Our brains are gentle with us. A person who dies alone in space dies a cheerful death.
So, great. If this should ever happen to you -- don't worry, be happy.  There's also a side conversation that was amusing. He was asked if anything bad occurred while he was aboard the space station:
Walter: It did, but it was something harmless. Our toilet's urine tank broke. So we collected our urine in a plastic bag instead and poured it outside through an airlock. As soon as it contacted the vacuum of space, it formed a lovely cloud of urine snow and drifted away. 

SPIEGEL: Creating new space debris. 

Walter: Don't worry. Those frozen pee flakes were very light and fluffy -- they weren't dangerous.
Once again, no problema. The urine flakes sound delightful.

I do worry that he got it wrong about suffocating, though. It can't be fun. It just can't. On the other hand, he's talking about suffocating while there's still an atmosphere to breathe. Sure, it's CO2, but it's not like someone taped your mouth and nostrils shut. There's probably a huge gulf between these two experiences. Common sense says this is true. Out of the two possibilities, I'd definitely choose to suffocate in space. But I think I'll stay down here and breathe the air until China succeeds in making it unfit for life.

Those darn bees

I swear, bees can't take stress at all. You drop a pencil and they all die out. Wimps!
Scientists say there was a widespread extinction of bees 66 million years ago, at the same time as the event that killed off the dinosaurs.
Silly bees.

The high cost of weed

An article at HuffPo says the price of marijuana in the United States is highest where it's illegal. Check out their graphic. It rates areas of the country from lowest price for an ounce ($150) to highest ($400). I beg to differ.

New Jersey has a medical marijuana law that Christie was basically forced to enact. Here's a snippet from that era:
Christie fought an expansion of medical marijuana, until the legislature included several changes — and until public pressure mounted. "He kind of got backed into a corner by so much pressure," Ken Wolski, chief executive officer of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, told Reuters.
Isn't he wonderful? As a result of Christie's machinations, the lucky sick people of New Jersey who need medical marijuana for pain are charged $400 an ounce. Through my close kinship with the common peoples of the world, I've discovered that an ounce of illegal marijuana in this area (NY/NJ) costs only $200.

NJ's governor sure has a sick streak kind heart. Thanks a lot, Christie, you fat slob.

October 25, 2013

Ahoy, me bloggies!

Did you miss me? I was out investigating nature yesterday -- and I'll have some photos to show you (at some point). But because you were so sad when you came here yesterday and found nothing, I shall regale you with random thoughts. Hooray!

The newest thing is left-handed conversion therapy. Why do so many people choose to be left-handed? It obviously goes against God's plan. Mind you, there's nothing wrong with left-handed people -- as long as they live right-handed lives. But it's best to nip the infection in the bud.

Next: I remember well my days of serving as an altar boy. As I recall, the Latin went something like this. (The first line is the priest, the second is the altar boy and so on.)

P:     Ad deum qui laetificat
AB:  Juventutem meam.
P:     Rectum sanctum
AB:  And to you too, father.

That last line was when English entered the mass.

Next: I'm amused by the common American phrase, "but still". As in, "But still, we shouldn't just toss him onto the street". It's kind of the argument beyond the argument's end. You've already decided to toss him onto the street. But still, shouldn't you do something for him? Maybe tuck a sandwich in one of his pockets?

Next: Ted Cruz has a face like pulled taffy. Has anyone mentioned this? Probably, but just in case, there you go.

And finally: I was thinking about the term "low-life". We say, "He's a low-life" to dismiss someone. But we never say, "They're a bunch of low-lives". That would be incorrect. It's always "low-life", even when pluralized. "They're definitely low-lifes". Now you're talkin'.

Which reminds me of something I noted in an old "Language of Baseball" post. I mocked the MLB announcers who said, "He's one of the best First Basemans in baseball". Now, I think that might actually be correct. After all, there is no such thing as a "first basemen". I've decided it's like saying "the Kennedys always summer in Stublonkportshire" rather than "the Kennedies always summer in Stublonkportshire". There are no Kennedies. I hereby condemn myself for mocking "first basemans".

Now you don't miss me so much, right? Aww, that's so cute.

October 23, 2013

Artichoke Annie knows how to live

Constant commenter Annie sent me this photo of a pecan pie she made for me. (Click to see a larger version.) Mind you, it's staying in St. Louis while I remain in New York, and it's Annie who gets to eat it.

But it's totally mine. Gorgeous, no?

Which reminds me. Get in the Halloween spirit, kids. Start reading Xmas Carol today. The story begins on Halloween night. (Hey, what can I say? I have to flog the book because no one else is. See how that works?)

And now, if you don't mind, I'm just going to enjoy my pie. Mmmmm.

Mavericks is a great update

I installed the new Mac OS, called Mavericks, last night. It was a smooth (though lengthy) process. But everything works great. In fact, things feel snappier.

I could go into my reactions at length, but there's a ZDnet article that already did it for me. Go check it out. Smoothest upgrade ever. I'd only add a couple of things.

Know that your computer will restart several times. If you're on a laptop, keep it plugged in throughout. You'll think it's done, but then it will start installing again. Just let it be. Even when Mavericks finally comes up, the computer will continue to do some work in the background. Simply let it do what it wants to, without interruption. You'll know when it's done because your computer will fall asleep, as it always does when idle. Then you can play with it.

But there's more. After it's done, do Software Update again. There will be a few additions to install. And when all that is done, restart your computer manually. Then it's done.

As always, back up before you begin. And when the install is complete and you're happy, back up the new setup.

For me, the best thing about the new system is tagging. You just click on a filename in the title bar of an application, and add all the tags you want. Goodbye folders, hello tags. They should have done this long ago but I'm happy to have it today. Good luck with your install (but you won't need luck; it just works).

The pope actually said this

This morning, digby reprints Pope Francis' words, as I do below. It seems this pope is not on board with Catholic loons who think "Jeebus" should be synonymous with "government".
“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid.
“And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

“The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”
Wow. This pope keeps shocking me -- and I like it. I like it a lot.

October 22, 2013

Shades of Isaac Asimov

The world is actually focusing on the "Three Laws of Robotics". Well, they're not that far along but they are on a path to a similar set of rules.
A proposal to pause the development of "killer robot" technology is seeing a surge of interest from robotics researchers as well as the representatives of key nations at the United Nations this month.
It seems there is consternation about the idea of sending killer robots out into the world. As in drones. The idea of a totally autonomous robot that can kill is rather chilling. Not to the United States, of course -- we're far too exceptional to be held down by mere rules of conduct. But there are those who want to focus on this issue before we reach the Terminator stage.

I applaud their efforts. But it's weird that we're actually at this sci-fi point in human history.

(Now, go read Xmas Carol and see where we're really heading. It ain't about killer bots.)

October 21, 2013

Krugman spanks Greenspan

I love Paul Krugman, mostly for his clarity and vision, but also because he's not afraid to call famous people out. As he did yesterday on his blog at the NYT:
The thing is, Greenspan isn’t just being a bad economist here, he’s being a bad person, refusing to accept responsibility for his errors in and out of office. And he’s still out there, doing his best to make the world a worse place.
I couldn't help but picture Andrea Mitchell cracking her dry and dusty pancake makeup with a scowl as she read this. Krugman is a gift.

"The Authoritarians" by Bob Altmeyer

There's a review of "The Authoritarians" at Jerry Coyne's site today. The review is written by Linda Grilli Calhoun, a "retired shrink". If you've ever wondered why rightwing nuts act that way, Altmeyer's book may provide the answer.
Altemeyer is a retired professor of psychology who taught for his entire career at the University of Manitoba.  He spent his research life studying the authoritarian personality, published many articles in journals as well as a couple of books aimed at fellow psychologists.
There's a link at the end of the article that leads to a free download of the book in PDF format! Very nice.

Israel gives major award to racist NYC mayor

Israel on Monday recognized New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the first ever recipient of the $1 million Genesis Prize, an award popularly dubbed the "Jewish Nobel Prize."
It's fitting. Israel treats the Palestinians like monkeys, and Michael Bloomberg treats African-Americans and Latinos as if they were sub-human. Really, it's a perfectly awarded prize.
"Many years ago, my parents instilled in me Jewish values and ethics that I have carried with me throughout my life, and which have guided every aspect of my work on behalf of white rich people..."
I wonder how many Jews are embarrassed by Israel awarding a major prize to the stop-and-frisk king of America. Lots, I hope. Jewish "Nobel Prize" indeed.

October 19, 2013

The Tomb of Ligeia

During the dreadful baseball game last night, I flipped back and forth between it and "The Tomb of Ligeia", the old Vincent Price movie with Kim Hunter. It was fun.

First of all, there were lots of top hats. I enjoyed seeing them though I disapproved of the way they all had curled-up side-brims. I think a flat brim is much cooler. For her part, Kim Hunter had some great riding outfits. So it was fun to look at.

Two things stuck out for me. First was a comment the Vincent Price character made. He wore large, dark, strange-looking sunglasses in the movie. When asked why he wore them, he explained that he had "a morbid reaction to sunlight." I love that. From now on, I'm going to tell people I have a morbid reaction to sunlight.

But the funniest thing was watching the Kim Hunter character ride side-saddle while galloping in a fox hunt. Now, come on. Side-saddle is the most ridiculous thing ever. She would have been flung off the horse if she wasn't stuck onto it with glue.

If anything, women should have been able to ride in regular fashion in those days, given the ample covering of their voluminous skirts. And men might ride side-saddle to avoid splitting their pants.

Whatever. And then the evil Cardinals won the baseball game. At least I had Ligeia to amuse me.

Those terrible marijuana "cravings"

This is so misguided.
In the US, more people seek treatment for marijuana abuse than for abuse of cocaine or heroin. However, there are no approved treatments for marijuana addiction.
That's because there's no such thing as marijuana addiction. As someone who smoked for years and stopped for years, I can assure you there was no withdrawal, no period of discomfort when I stopped smoking marijuana. It was a day like any other. Marijuana is something you simply stop if and when you feel like doing so. It isn't addictive at all.

Later in the article it finally says this:
The large number of people seeking help for marijuana addiction could reflect the fact that the law requires people arrested for drug crimes to seek such help.
Ya think?

Gotta love those wild and crazy Etruscan women

I was amused by this story.
Last month, archaeologists announced a stunning find: a completely sealed tomb cut into the rock in Tuscany, Italy. The untouched tomb held what looked like the body of an Etruscan prince holding a spear, along with the ashes of his wife. 
Not so fast. It turns out the "prince" holding the spear is a woman, and the body next to hers is male. The explanation?
Whereas Greek women were cloistered away, Etruscan women, according to Greek historian Theopompus, were more carefree — working out, lounging nude, drinking freely, consorting with many men and raising children who did not know their fathers' identities.  
I was hoping the other body would prove to be her wife, but I'll take what I can get. The moral is that things weren't always as they are today. Norms change.

October 18, 2013

Why humans (and most other creatures) sleep

This is big news. It answers two longstanding questions about the brain.

The short version is that when we sleep, our brains flush out the garbage that accumulates while we're awake. And that garbage is, in large part, amyloid-beta, the stuff that causes Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. As I say, this is big news.

Apparently the brain flushes out the garbage ten times faster when we're asleep than when we're awake. And, wildly, the brain's cells literally shrink while we sleep -- so the "cleaning fluid" sent from the spine can flush the area clean! It's kind of like putting the restaurant chairs up on the table so you can wash the floor. Here's that section from the article:
Another startling finding was that the cells in the brain "shrink" by 60 percent during sleep. This contraction creates more space between the cells and allows CSF to wash more freely through the brain tissue. In contrast, when awake the brain's cells are closer together, restricting the flow of CSF.
This answers the big question: why do we sleep? It was an issue that caused consternation among scientists because when we're asleep, we're vulnerable to predators. That didn't make sense in evolutionary terms. The question was always: what possible benefit of sleep could outweigh the danger of leaving oneself vulnerable to attack (and death). Now we have the answer.

Another question that arose in recent years is -- why is the brain as active while we sleep as when we're awake? What could possibly be going on in there? Well, now we know: the brain is busy cleaning up after an active day of thinking.

Fascinating stuff. I love that science finally figured this out. We must sleep so our brains can work properly. But to me, this news begs a question.

Do older people get Alzheimer's at higher rates than young people because they sleep so little? We're always hearing that older people have trouble sleeping. I was surprised they didn't mention this in the article. I'll keep my eye out for an answer and will report back if I find it.

Dog's Ten Gentle Suggestions for Humanity

By wearing the Lid, I have come to understand Dog's plan for humanity. Though there will be further guidance in the future, here are Dog's Ten Gentle Suggestions for Humanity. There is the scent of redemption in each one.
  1. Be kind to each other.
  2. Don't covet stuff. Let other people have some too.
  3. Respect science. You're going to need it.
  4. The Messiah is among you! Hahaha. Just kidding. I’m the closest thing to a Messiah that you’ve got, and I’m merely a friendly algorithm from another galaxy.
  5. Don’t put anything up your nose.
  6. When a woman says no, go away.
  7. Make sports, not war (and have lots of consensual sex).
  8. Spread the food around so everyone on the planet weighs about the same.
  9. Read stuff, any stuff. Lots of stuff.
  10. Won’t someone please think of the children? Direct the majority of your resources to the youngest among you.
NB: Dog really wanted to give humans a hundred gentle suggestions but he's aware of our short attention span. So he went in another direction. These ten suggestions are dynamic. In other words, they will change as humans need to hear new things.

For now, rejoice! Dog has seen fit to share his wisdom. May these suggestions change your life for the better.

I'm sending you away

Go to Joe.My.God's blog to listen to a short video. It's an interview that Stephen Fry did with Russia's main anti-gay wingnut, Vitaly Milonov. Milonov is the guy who wrote the disgusting anti-gay law in Russia. I've heard him speak before and he's way, way off the edge. It's very funny.

Y'all come back now, y'hear?

October 17, 2013

Sure, that makes sense

In a new GQ magazine profile, former Congressman and mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner says if it weren't for the Internet he probably would have gotten elected.
Indeed. It was the evil internet that did in poor, innocent Anthony Weiner when he tried to become Mayor of New York City. You see, it had nothing to do with his own behavior -- nothing at all! No, it was that nasty internet. You know how it's always reaching out and trashing good, innocent people.

Why, Anthony might be King by now if it wasn't for the internet. Really.

This guy is so disgusting I cannot believe that anyone voted for him. But nitwits did. Maybe that's the saddest thing about his run.

Marmoset monkeys chat with one another

I found this in today's science news:
Humans aren't the only species that knows how to carry on polite conversation. Marmoset monkeys, too, will engage one another for up to 30 minutes at a time in vocal turn-taking, according to evidence reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on October 17.
More from the article:
To find out, they placed marmosets in opposite corners of a room in which they could hear but not see each other and recorded the exchanges that ensued. They found that marmosets don't call at the same time, but rather wait for about 5 seconds after one is finished calling to respond. In other words, they follow a set of unspoken rules of conversational etiquette.
Doesn't surprise me at all. We are all animals who evolved from a common ancestor. It makes sense that we'd share capabilities with some of our brethren.

I do wonder what these marmosets say to each other. If only we could become other animals for a short time, to learn what their lives are really like. (Shades of Merlin and the young King Arthur!)

Shades of shays

It was a sad story but I had to laugh. In an AP article about a poor woman who was caught stealing $2.87 from a fountain so she could feed herself and her three cats, AP supplied this as a pronunciation aide for the town's name:

Bellefontaine (behl-FOWN'-tihn)

C'mon, doesn't that make you laugh? Fown-tihn? It's like when Americans say "Harry, bring the shays lounge over here, will ya?"

For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, the term is French: chaise longue. See that last word? It's longue, not lounge. Just like fontaine is not fountain. Cracks me up.

But the idea that there's anyone in our "exceptional" country who hasn't got enough to eat is utterly sickening. And the GOP wants this woman to have less.

October 16, 2013

No surprise that I'm a bleeding heart liberal

For whatever reason, I took Esquire's survey. It's stated purpose is to learn if you're "a part of the new American center". Well, let's hope not.

Yup, I'm a bleeding heart liberal. But I could have told them that flat-out at the beginning, and skipped the damn survey.

As with all multiple choice questions, there were instances where there was no right answer. For instance, out of six choices on a question about abortion, I was forced to pick:
"Abortions should be legal for any reason, but not after the first six months of pregnancy."
That's not my ideal choice but there was no more sophisticated offering, such as "I'd leave it completely in the hands of the woman and her doctor." I have no feelings about six-month limits. If there are rational reasons for ending the pregnancy, it should be done no matter how far along the pregnancy is.

Anyway, if you want to waste time with no discernible payoff, go take their survey.

Creepy feedspot needs to go away

I got a pushy email from someone named "Anuj" at feedspot. He or she told me that my blog is on feedspot now (!) and I've got a slew of new followers.

Taking my blog in its entirety and posting it on your site to feed your own financial needs is not okay. I told Anuj to take my blog off feedspot immediately and shove it up his or her ass.

If you're reading this on feedspot, don't. Go to my real blog. Have a nice day, all.

October 15, 2013


The tree that almost killed my house is now a pile of wood that will be chopped up and used in our fireplace.

Having a tree hit your house, even slightly, is a very weird experience. You should have heard that thing hit the ground. I'm glad to finally see some progress out there.

It was a close call. Luckily, Dog is looking out for me. Praise Dog!

Pretty soon, I will reveal Dog's Ten Gentle Suggestions for humanity. I've seen them and they're stunning. This will change everything!

A beard is a helpful device

I've never had a beard before. Oh, I grew one now and then but I always shaved it off after a glance in the mirror. Made me look old. But now that I'm actually old, I don't mind that effect. In fact, I like the beard a lot.

The thing is, I look "finished" the instant I wake up. Before growing a beard, I'd look tacky in the morning because I hadn't shaved. But now I'm glorious from the get-go. Very helpful.

I imagine this is similar to women who have "makeup" tattooed on their face. Wake up, be perfect. It's a great idea.

Go, beards!

October 14, 2013

Interesting article at Spiegel Online

Want to read something with substance? Well, click here. It's an interview with Andrew Solomon at Spiegel Online. From the article:
For his book, "Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity," author Andrew Solomon interviewed 300 parents with one thing in common: Their children were completely different from themselves. 
The article covers so many fascinating family situations. My only complaint is that it's far too short. I wanted more. Guess I'll have to read the book. Seriously, grab a cup of coffee and click on over to Spiegel.

PS: There's a glitch that implies there's a "Part II". It's just page 2 of the article, which you encounter by clicking normally to page 2. In other words, there should be no mention of a "Part II".

The root of Republican insanity

On his excellent blog, Ed Brayton quotes Conor Friedersdorf, whom he describes as "one of the smartest conservatives (real conservative, not just an anti-liberal)". Here is Friedersdorf's quote. I'll have something to add at the end:
“Republicans can pretty much say whatever they want, no matter what the bizarre logic and no matter what connection it has to what they were saying five minutes ago, and Fox News will totally accept it and blast it for hours or days,” Jonathan Bernstein observes. “The result? Republicans have become incredibly lazy. After all, why bother constructing a coherent argument if you don’t need one.”
It’s true. In order to get good press from the conservative media, Republican politicians need not craft a brilliant political strategy or impress with policy substance or excel at persuading the public that conservative ideas are the way forward. They need only find themselves in conflict with President Obama and Democrats…
Watch Sean Hannity. Listen to Rush Limbaugh. With few exceptions, the focus is winning whatever fight happens to be dominating the current news cycle. Each one is treated as if it is as maximally significant as any other, and that is no coincidence. If you’re driven by partisan tribalism more than ideology, if getting in rhetorical digs at liberals thrills you more than persuading adversaries or achieving policy victories, it makes sense that you would fight substantively inconsequential battles with no more or less vigor than any other…
The amount of conservative hackery broadcast and published every day remains staggering. In private, that fact is widely acknowledged even among movement conservative pundits, who can hardly deny something so glaringly obvious. But I have long been in a tiny minority of observers who regard conservative media as something that must be reformed if the right is to recover. How can an ideological movement succeed if its leaders and its rank and file daily rely on bad information from sources that constantly peddle fiction as fact?
Undeniably true. But I think we must take this a step further back and ask, "What allows Republicans to accept 'glaringly obvious' lies?" There is only one answer: religion. Once you allow a pernicious, "glaringly obvious" lie such as "god is real" into your life, you're lost. This fault is what allows Republicans to believe in nonsense. They opened the floodgates by believing in gods, and anything rushed in (including Rush Limbaugh!). It would be funny if the consequences weren't so tragic for our country.

October 13, 2013

Boring baseball

Yesterday's two playoff games were incredibly, mind-numbingly boring. There was no action, no nothing. It was hitless inning after hitless inning. Yay, baseball. Meh.

But here's the thing. I'm waiting for the World Series to end so I can focus on writing my next novel. The day the games end, I will begin to write. But that day may come sooner than I thought.

If the Cardinals beat the Dodgers, and the Tigers beat the Red Sox, I won't even watch the World Series. I mean, who cares which team wins that match-up?

Good. I'm dying to go back to writing. Baseball is a huge distraction for me. Once it's out of the way, my real life (as a writer) will begin again.

Besides, the idea of missing Buck and McCarver's boring game observations is appealing. They ruin any game they call. Best not to watch.

Anyone watching these games? Nah, I thought not.

Odd English

Yesterday I found myself thinking about the expression "after the fact". As in, "I only learned about it after the fact." For some reason, it struck me as odd. Why include fact?

Noodling around in my head, I wondered what the opposite expression was and realized it's "beforehand". As in, "I was trained beforehand." Hmm. Fact and hand. You'd think the two terms would match, like foreword and afterword, but they don't.

No one seems to be sure where beforehand came from. It's an old English expression, to be sure, but why the hand is included isn't clear. Some etymological sites suggest it might mean taking action before "another hand" has an opportunity to do so. Could be, but sounds a bit shaky to me.

I found an interesting note on this topic on answer.com. A commenter named Mai said:
And to extend this a bit, afterhand...
First hand, second hand, afterhand (1439) are from the notion of something being passed down from hand to hand.
That sounds likely. Hand to hand. (Aside: I can't decide if I've ever heard the term afterhand. It seems distantly familiar, as if I encountered it long ago in a book. Not sure.) This also makes me think of "firsthand experience", as in something that you yourself experience; yours is the "first hand" to "touch" the experience.

As for after the fact, I can't find the souce for this expression. Offhand (Awk! There it goes again!) I'd say it's the result of a police-official (or schoolmarm) mindset. "The suspect learned after the fact that he'd bulldozed the wrong house." It reeks of official-ese. Also, it seems to me there's a sense of wrongdoing attached to the phrase. The fact is usually something at least slightly negative. "I didn't know she was just fat when I asked how her pregnancy was going. I only learned this after the fact." It has a bit of ameliorization to it. It's an attempt to evade full responsibility. "I didn't know!"

Or maybe that's just me. Any thoughts, wordlings?

October 12, 2013

Egan's column

Timothy Egan has an interesting op-ed in the NYT about Pope Francis. It's called "Lapsed, but listening". Yes, it's yet another column praising Francis but this is no sychophant's homily. (In other words, he's not brown-nosing the pope.) It's realistic and paints an accurate portrait of the Roman Catholic church at this moment in time. This church really really needed a pope like Francis.

Check it out. Even if you're wildly atheistic (like me), I don't think you'll find fault with what he says. He's just stating the facts, m'am. And he's also right about one sad thing: Francis is not a young whipper-snapper. There's only so much he can do in the years that remain to him. Let's hope (if he keeps being sensible, anyway) that he's one of those guys who is nimble and quick-witted until he's 100 years old.

And yes, I do know that Francis is the head of a religion that is based on lies. There is no god. That's a fact that will never change. Nevertheless, he's doing something startling. The horrid anti-gay language of the church has already softened since he was crowned king of the priests. That's progress, no matter how you look at it. I can't help but be pleased.

I know it could all change in an instant. But for now, Francis isn't too bad. Can we at least agree on that?

Dave Beegle

The song is Sandy's Painting. I love this guy.

October 11, 2013

A perfect animated Zimmerman

Did South Park nail it, or what? I'm always amazed when an artist can replicate someone faithfully with just a few lines. I mean, that looks exactly like Zimmerman, doesn't it? (Click for larger.) And yes, he's shooting an African-American cartoon character -- or at least, one that he thinks is African-American.

This guy is doomed in America. This will follow him to the grave, which I suspect is not far away in his future.

Read Raw Story's report to learn about the episode. I haven't seen it, but it sounds very funny.

National Coming Out Day

Having never been "in", I never had to "come out". But I do encourage any gay person who's in the closet to step out and nail the door shut behind him.

But of course, you're never out to the whole world. For this reason, I always tell each new person that I'm gay. I look at it this way: if you're going to reject me, I want you to do it before I develop a relationship with you. This way when I walk away -- which I'll do immediately -- it won't hurt. After all, I hardly know you (and you're a stupid twit). It's a protective mechanism.

Today I saw an article on John Aravosis' blog. It's by Mark Thoma, MD, and it's about the importance of coming out to your doctor. (I always do that, too.) Thoma said this:
When it did happen to me, [i.e., a doctor had a bad reaction when Thoma, the patient, said he was gay] I felt angry and hurt. But a few minutes later, I felt relieved. Relieved that I hadn’t continued to see that doctor, built a professional relationship with him and then found out a few years later that he was “uncomfortable” with gays. Then I’d have had to move on. Instead, I found out during the first exam and just left and got a new doctor.
Good advice, and that's just the way I operate. Tell 'em on the first visit -- in fact, within the first minute of the visit. If the doctor can't handle this information, he or she is not worth going to. I see a doctor who's totally fine with having gay patients. I wouldn't go to any other kind of medical professional. 

Any coming out stories you'd like to share? Do tell.

A painful day in sports

I found it agonizing to watch the Giants game last night. Jeebus didn't want Eli to win. I guess it's that simple. But seriously, two interceptions in the first five minutes? Dog!

And of course, all the while I was flicking between the football game and the baseball game. Alas, I found no surcease in this manner. The evil Tigers beat the wondrous A's.

Truly, 'twas a painful day in sports. The Mudville nine come to mind. Anyone out there watch the games?

October 10, 2013

Just a thing

There's a very funny post over at Biodork on the FTB web site. It's called "Through God-Colored Glasses". Go read it. That's an order.

Vladimir Putin, clown

Russia's Putin is merely a figurehead. As a funny writer (whose name I can't recall) recently said, that's why he has so much time to fly with birds and take his shirt off. So who's in charge over there?

I remember when the USSR collapsed and the teevee informed me that democracy had rushed into Russia like magic, and toppled the government. In the aftermath, I wondered where those old KGB types went as all this democracy was rushing in. Did they just disappear?

Someone's always in charge. And it appears that the people who currently pull the strings in Russia are quite happy to have the nitwit Putin as a figurehead. He's so good at misdirecting the media's attention. All he has to do is snap his fingers and they start taking pictures of his manly chest.

This is what Putin does. He tosses shiny things in the air to distract the world and his own countrymen -- things like Pussy Riot, stolen NFL rings, the melding of the Russian Orthodox church with the government, the anti-gay law, and on and on. And all the while, the country's funds are being siphoned away. You can make so much money when no one is watching. So where did all that money go? This is important because whoever has the money, has the power.

That makes this story very interesting. Here's a bit of it:
A staggering 35 percent of household wealth in Russia is owned by just 110 people, the highest level of inequality in the world barring a few small Caribbean islands, a report by a major investment bank says.
How did this come to pass, you may well ask. It was easy:
The fall of Communism saw Russia's most prized assets sold off to a small circle of businessmen later known as oligarchs. President Vladimir Putin allowed them to keep their wealth in exchange for their political loyalty.
Oh, and then there's this:
...[T]he past decade saw a rise of new billionaires who draw their wealth from state contracts and some of whom are known to be the presidents' friends, like Gennady Timchenko.
Sounds quite cozy. I guess those KGB types did very well when "democracy" came to Russia. No wonder they've been quiet all these years.

But I suspect they're making the same mistake the GOP made in the US, when they encouraged the Tea Party and invited it over for a few drinks. As a result of that ill-advised genuflection, the GOP is currently being eaten alive from within. Similarly, when the Russian government joined forces with the Russian Orthodox church, they let loose a rabid monster. In the long run, this beast will rise up and bite them in the ass. Good. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of guys.

October 9, 2013

Malala's humble statement

Over at Raw Story, I learn that Malala Yousafzai said this:
In my opinion I have not done that much to win the Nobel Peace Prize,” she said.
I guess she hasn't heard about Obama.

Was Jesus Christ a government invention?

Hat tip to Joe Jervis.

Well, this is interesting:
"...[A]ncient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ."
Apparently this is for real. At least, "American biblical scholar Joseph Atwill" says so. He'll be defending his research at a conference to be held in London later this month. The link explains it all. But in case you're not a link-clicker, here's the gist:
Atwill asserts that Christianity did not really begin as a religion, but a sophisticated government project, a kind of propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of the Roman Empire. "Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century," he explains. "When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system. That's when the 'peaceful' Messiah story was invented. Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to 'give onto Caesar' and pay their taxes to Rome."
Veddy inteddesting, no? I'm not a biblical scholar, so I guess I'll wait to see how this plays out. The Catholic church (and all other Christian denominations) must be thrilled. Let's hope it's true.

Malala must win the Nobel Peace Prize

Now that Peter Higgs has his Nobel for physics, the only remaining drama for me is who will win the Peace Prize. It has to be Malala Yousafzai, right? That girl is so amazing.

Jerry Coyne has a post up this morning about her recent appearance on the Daily Show. I am in awe of her spirit. Surely she'll get the award, right? Of course, they might just double down on idiocy and give it to Obama again. There's always that. But I'm rooting for Malala. Aren't you?

PS: I've written about Malala Yousafzai before, and just this morning received an anonymous comment on that post. It said:
I saw Malala on The Daily Show and realized I had just seen and heard a Saint. True courage. 
That commenter is so right. It's in the cards. Malala will win the Nobel Peace Prize. How could it be otherwise?

October 8, 2013

Russia to have big ears at Sochi

Raw Story reports that Olympic athletes and visitors will have no internet privacy during their stay in the bigoted pig sty referred to as "Russia".
Russia has installed an all-encompassing surveillance system at the site of next year’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi that will allow security services to listen in on athletes and visitors, security analysts said on Monday.

The surveillance system was first developed by the Soviet-era KGB, predecessor of the FSB special services, in the mid-1980s and updated in recent years, said prominent security analyst Andrei Soldatov.

Dubbed SORM, the system will give Russian security services free access to all phone and Internet communications at the Olympic Games in February without the providers’ knowledge, according to research by Soldatov and his colleague Irina Borogan.
I don't know about you but when I hear things like this, I think "Fun!" I hope everyone who attends the Olympics will spend an enormous amount of time tweeting, texting and emailing comments like:
Wow, Russia is such a pig sty. I can't believe how backward they are. Their bigotry toward gay people has lowered their reputation throughout the world. Everyone is laughing at them. Russians are like cavemen -- and stupid cavemen, at that. Hahaha.
This could be highly amusing. Imagine the dimwitted, hateful twits who will be reading this stuff. Seriously, Russia burned its Olympic opportunity before the games even began. What a colossal failure this is -- and on the world stage, no less. It's like divine retribution, which is funny in itself.

I pity the Russian people. Oh wait, I hear they're as anti-gay as their laws. So the hell with them. I say we redraw the world map and leave Russia off. We'll pencil in a large ocean where Russia once stood.

October 7, 2013

Amanda Marcotte's advice for women-hating male trolls

I love that Amanda Marcotte took the time to create a list of things that men who hate women and troll feminists' blogs can do to improve their chances with women. It's so darned sensible!

If you know one of these pathetic guys who thinks that because he can't get a woman to have sex with him, all women are man-hating feminists, send him a link to Marcotte's article. And tell him to take the suggestions to heart.

Honestly, any guy who spends all his time trying to leave hateful comments on women's blogs is a tremendous, obvious, sickening troll. That's not something you want to be, guys. Think about it: what if, instead of being purposely repulsive, you tried to improve yourselves? Heck, you might even get laid if you take AM's list seriously. As she says in the article:
Being a fun, interesting, likeable person is so much better than being a misogynist bore, both for your soul and for your prospects on the dating market.
So get off your asses and get to work, guys. Before, you didn't know what to do. Now you do. Hop to.

New review of Xmas Carol

There's a new review of Xmas Carol at Amazon today. Short but sweet:
I am a reader who often gets bored with fiction and non fiction alike. May have started and come back to three or four books at one time. Xmas Carol is a novel that totally held my interest from start to finish. Try it.
Another five-star review. Go read it if you haven't already. It's almost Halloween, which is perfect timing to begin the book. It starts with a child's Halloween that hurtles out of control, and goes on to present a horrifying but ultimately uplifting suspense story.  Pro-gay, pro-atheist, pro-fun. How can you not read it?

The future has something in store for humans, something that's not yet on our radar. You'll get a glimpse of this impending future in Xmas Carol. 

PS: did I mention that it's incredibly cheap?

The tornado cometh

Oh, the weather outside is frightful -- stiff wind, pouring rain and the threat of tornadoes. Meh, tornadoes. (That word looks weird, doesn't it? You can spell it tornados or tornadoes. Spell-check likes tornadoes better.)

The thing is, we in the northeast don't believe in tornadoes. We just don't. Until we see one wreck nearby homes, they're just a fanciful notion. Of course, climate change will alter tornado patterns and we may see these devils in the future. But today I'm not worried. I think they call this complacency.

As long as I'm here and talking about devils, did you read about Scalia's belief in the devil? When the interviewer expressed shock, he said:
“You’re looking at me as though I’m weird,” he continued. “My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.”
Yes, Antonin, we're looking at you as if you're weird. It's you who "travels in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America." But it goes further than you being weird. You're a true caveman, club and all.

Speaking of the devil, I have some young atheist friends (even though I'm really, really old). One recently told me he was shocked to realize that there are adults -- adults! -- who believe in the devil. I understand his consternation. The devil is as false as angels and gods. But in the US we have a nitwit religious culture that believes in almost anything: ghosts, black magic, witches, demons, whatever. They believe in it all. And why? Because they handed in their brains at church when they were children, and never looked back.

Well, these folks are ready for Halloween, anyway. I always enjoy hearing wingnuts say that Halloween is the devil's holiday and children shouldn't be allowed to trick or treat. Talk about out of touch with America. Twits -- they're everywhere.

Devil image by Conor Cunningham. Ain't it cute?

October 6, 2013

Me and Dog

I'm continuing to wear the Lid for ten minutes a day and it's changing me, though I can't explain this clearly -- even to myself. I just know I'm different. It's too early to report on the process itself but I did want to pass a tidbit along to you.

Each time I wear the Lid, I get closer to Dog. I can hear his thoughts at times -- and this teaches me things about the intelligent aliens who sent Dog to us. One item struck me as very funny.

Do you know how they decide if a race has the potential to become truly intelligent? They watch how the candidates handle Saran Wrap! Apparently all semi-intelligent races develop something like Saran Wrap (it's called Zifi on most planets). If the beings can't handle the wrap without it getting all balled up, there's apparently little reason to expect that they will become intelligent. (At this point in our history, humans aren't considered to be intelligent. We are merely candidates for intelligence -- and outliers, at that.)

So are you wondering how humans did? Not well at all. However, Dog spoke up for us and pushed the evidence aside, putting us squarely in the running as a potentially intelligent race.

(Mind you, there's an image in the Universal Encyclopedia that shows a human trying to handle Saran Wrap. It's the illustration for the word "humor". So our current reputation in the universe is less than stellar. But Dog has hope for us -- and that gives me hope for the future of the human race.)

Anyway, as these tidbits of universal knowledge come my way, I will share them with you. But honestly, Saran Wrap. Can you believe it?

What's in those "chicken nuggets"?

Reuters wants us to know. Mind you, only two "nuggets" that came from "two national fast food chains in Jackson" were tested. But they both had similar content. If you like chicken nuggets, stop reading this post. On the other hand, here you go:
The first nugget was about half muscle, with the rest a mix of fat, blood vessels and nerves. Close inspection revealed cells that line the skin and internal organs of the bird, the authors write in the American Journal of Medicine.

The second nugget was only 40 percent muscle, and the remainder was fat, cartilage and pieces of bone.

October 5, 2013

London School of Economics censors students

And it's all over Jesus and Mo. Go read Jerry Coyne's article. It amazes me that some countries go out of their way to coddle Muslims. Islam is a religion -- and religion deserves all the mocking we can muster.

A felicitous circumstance for religious people

There's an odd "psychology" article in the Times. It's about jinxes, and knocking on wood to escape the jinx. Here's how it opens:
SUPERSTITIOUS people do all sorts of puzzling things. But it’s not just the superstitious who knock on wood. From time to time, we all rap our knuckles on a nearby table if we happen to let fate-tempting words slip out. “The cancer is in remission, knock on wood,” we might say. 
Uh, no. Doesn't come up. Nor do I know anyone who would do this. Maybe I remember some old people doing it back in the 1950s, but not today. Must be the kind of people I know, huh?

I found myself groaning as I read the article but it left a cheerful thought behind -- the notion that religious people can avoid jinxes with ease. All they have to do is reach up and rap their knuckles on their skulls. This must give them tremendous comfort.

October 4, 2013

Self-assembling robots are here (sort of)

An MIT senior named John Romanishin came up with an idea for self-assembling robots in the form of little cubes. When he brought the idea to his teacher, she said it couldn't be done. So he proved to her that he can indeed create them. Then she brought the idea to the the attention of a colleague. His response was that this could not be done. So they proved it to him. Now the three have joined forces to create these self-assembling robots -- and they work.

If you like this sort of thing, here's a link. And here's an excerpt from the article:
In ongoing work, the MIT researchers are building an army of 100 cubes, each of which can move in any direction, and designing algorithms to guide them. "We want hundreds of cubes, scattered randomly across the floor, to be able to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, on demand," Romanishin says.
Coming soon to a reality near you.
In ongoing work, the MIT researchers are building an army of 100 cubes, each of which can move in any direction, and designing algorithms to guide them. "We want hundreds of cubes, scattered randomly across the floor, to be able to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, on demand," Romanishin says.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-10-surprisingly-simple-scheme-self-assembling-robots.html#jCp

The eternally minor status of Catholic women

If I was a Catholic woman, I'd be hell-bent on making this pope answer a question. Why are Catholic women worth less than Catholic men? Why are they barred from being priests, bishops and popes?

The pope has been forthcoming on many topics. He's said things no pope has said before. But on the topic of ordaining women, he simply states that this door is closed. I'm sorry; that won't do.

Women should surround him wherever he goes, chanting "Why? Why? Why? Why?" When he comes out on the balcony to greet the throng, it should echo with a call: "Why? Why? Why? Why?" Women should demand a clear answer to the question. "Tell us, old man, why can we not be priests?"

"Why? Why? Why? Why?" The pope should hear this wherever he goes. When he finally answers the question, if he does, it will be the resolution to a great mystery.

No reason has ever been given for the status quo. That's what galls. To the church, it's just an incontrovertible fact, one that requires no substantiation. Priests never answer this question. But right now, in this church, it is the perfect time for Catholic women to demand an answer. I'd love to know what excuse the pope offers for denigrating half of all Catholics.

Pisses me off.

October 3, 2013


I came upon this in a newspaper story today:
She knows of another victim who had to cut out her favorite raspberry-filled pastries because the artificial flavoring is made with castoreum, a chemical that comes from the anal scent glands of the North American beaver.

Uh-huh. But...Obama

Here's a paragraph from Paul Krugman's blog this morning:
In other words, GOP leaders fundamentally misjudged the situation (and Obama’s incentives). And now they have backed themselves into a position where they don’t know how to back down — they have to extract concessions or they’ll have been “disrespected,” in a situation where Obama simply can’t make any concessions without destroying his own credibility and betraying the fundamental norms of governance. 
That sounds so nice. But anyone who's been following Obama's mercurial career knows that, when pressured, he's willing to give the farm away -- even when Republicans haven't asked for it. This means we have no assurance that he'll stand firm.

Yes, Obama wants the Affordable Care Act to stand so that in his old age, he can say: look what I did! But what is he willing to give away in order to keep it? That's a scary question to contemplate. Do I trust Obama's judgement? Of course not.

The wisdom of Coyne

Jerry Coyne said something wonderful on his blog this morning. You can read the full post, if you like. Warning: it's rather dense -- a philosophical fight over religion and the concept of "scientism". What can I say? I'm a fan of scientifically-informed philosophy. But the take-out quote is simple and clear:
It’s the combination of absolutism as expressed in faith, and the notion that you have a handle on what God wants, that causes all the evils of religion in this world.
How's that for hitting the nail on the head? It's downright profound.

October 1, 2013

Centipede venom = pain killer without side effects

Chronic pain sufferers have been waiting for this -- a drug that relieves pain without dulling the senses or addicting the patient. And it comes from centipede venom.
"A drug which was a selective Nav1.7 blocker would be possibly a 'perfect painkiller', in that it selectively and effectively prevents the generation of pain signals from tissue, while not affecting any other nerve functions," he said.

"There are individuals who are born with non-functional Nav1.7 channels and these people have a complete inability to feel pain, and no other significant problems apart from loss of smell sensation.

"Forget about using opioids to relieve pain, this drug could mean you don't have any pain to relieve. It would be totally new class of drug."
That sounds great. I hate the side effects of opiods. Yes, they kill pain momentarily but you're a wreck afterwards. As a writer who wants his skills and mental acuity available each and every day, the last thing I want to do is take morphine or other heavy drugs for pain. This could be the answer we've all been waiting for. Imagine: no pain and no side effects. It's like magic. Human trials within two years, if all goes well.

A human thing

While reading an AP story about the pope this morning, I couldn't help but smile as I read the segment quoted below.
Such decisiveness comes despite having been "invaded by anxiety" in the moments after he was elected. In the interview with Repubblica, Francis said after the shock of the election, he immediately excused himself from the Sistine Chapel, closed his eyes in a small room off to the side and tried to relax. 

"At a certain point, a great light invaded me, it lasted a moment but it seemed very long to me," he told Repubblica's editor. "Then it disappeared and I got up." 

He went back into the room where he signed the document accepting the job and headed out onto the loggia of St. Peter's Square to be introduced to the world. 
This is an example of a normal human capability. Here's how it works: If you believe you're being helped, you receive help. I once wrote about this on the blog (but can't find the post today). 

It's not a message from god but it feels like one. And if you believe you're getting help, you become stronger, more confident, etc. In the missing post, I wrote about bench pressing. If you imagine someone is helping you lift the bar, it actually seems lighter. This is the same mechanism that enabled the pope's "light" experience and consequent surge of confidence.

This is a normal human capability, something that comes with our flesh-and-blood machinery. It's sort of a scam but it works. If you don't believe me, try it at home or at the gym. Just believe that someone (an elf, an angel, whatever) is helping you and voila -- you will feel stronger.

I continue to approve of this pope, even though he thinks he's in touch with a sky god. As long as this motivates him to do good things, he's all right in my book.