happy new year

and, on a totally unrelated note,


Golden Compass again

Since the subject seems to attract a lot of visitors, let me put it to rest: yes, I saw Golden Compass, three times so far. Was it that good? Well, no. I felt obligated to support the movie, and to drag my friends, roommates and lovers to see it.

But was it good? Well, yes, but it wasn't great. Every detail of it was quite awesome: beautiful plot, great acting, awe-inspiring CGI and miscellaneous scenery, kick-ass action scenes, but the whole was less than a sum of its parts. Why? Was it director's fault? I don't know: the whole thing just didn't seem to gel. Perhaps it is only logical: transferring a novel of such complexity and detail to screen is doomed to some failure, and that part was obvious: the movie jumped from scene to scene without any seeming connection, especially to those that haven't read the books. The overall effect was reminiscent of Lynch's Dune; if you were familiar with the books, you couldn't help but notice a mass of detail left out, apparently haphazardly cut to bring the whole thing down to a manageable size; if you haven't, the thing looked disjointed, episodic (not necessarily in a good sense), illogical. Characters appeared and were gone without explanation. Massively important details were left dangling. Subplots flared up and fizzled out, unresolved. And violence was toned down to an "acceptable" Hollywood PG13 level.

Still, I recommend seeing it, if only for the visual pleasure and a chance to stick it to fundies.

A new low?

article reposted from http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/71319/

This is exactly how we can expect to increase our tourism dollars. Come to America, Experience the Terror!

That can be our new tourism tag line...

"During the last twenty-four hours I have probably experienced the greatest humiliation to which I have ever been subjected. During these last twenty-four hours I have been handcuffed and chained, denied the chance to sleep, been without food and drink and been confined to a place without anyone knowing my whereabouts, imprisoned."

This woman foolishly thought she could come and spend some Euro in New York. A little shopping trip. Unfortunately she hadn't realized that a computer somewhere said she overstayed a visa years ago. She's a dirty foreigner so... hilarity ensued...

"I was photographed and fingerprinted. I was asked questions which I felt had nothing to do with the issue at hand. I was forbidden to contact anyone to advise of my predicament and although I was invited at the outset to contact the Icelandic consul or embassy, that invitation was later withdrawn. I don't know why.

I was then made to wait while they sought further information, and sat on a chair before the authority for 5 hours. I saw the officials in this section handle other cases and it was clear that these were men anxious to demonstrate their power. Small kings with megalomania. I was careful to remain completely cooperative, for I did not yet believe that they planned to deport me because of my "crime".

When 5 hours had passed and I had been awake for 24 hours, I was told that they were waiting for officials who would take me to a kind of waiting room. There I would be given a bed to rest in, some food and I would be searched. What they thought they might find I cannot possibly imagine. Finally guards appeared who transported me to the new place. I saw the bed as if in a mirage, for I was absolutely exhausted.

What turned out was something else. I was taken to another office exactly like the one where I had been before and once again along wait ensued. In all, it turned out to be 5 hours. At this office all my things were taken from me. I succeeded in sending a single sms to worried relatives and friends when I was granted a bathroom break. After that the cell phone was taken from me. After I had been sitting for 5 hours I was told that they were now waiting for guards who would take me to a place where I could rest and eat. Then I was placed in a cubicle which looked like an operating room. Attached to the walls were 4 steel plates, probably intended to serve as bed and a toilet.

I was exhausted, tired and hungry. I didn't understand the officials' conduct, for they were treating me like a very dangerous criminal. Soon thereafter I was removed from the cubicle and two armed guards placed me up against a wall. A chain was fastened around my waist and I was handcuffed to the chain. Then my legs were placed in chains. I asked for permission to make a telephone call but they refused. So secured, I was taken from the airport terminal in full sight of everybody. I have seldom felt so bad, so humiliated and all because I had taken a longer vacation than allowed under the law."

She didn't know it but they were trying to 'break' her. It wasn't by accident that she was not allowed to rest, and that they kept telling her she would be able to eat and sleep any time now. Instead her physical situation got worse. This is all technique. Its part of the process that every Gitmo detainee would recognize right away. Isolate, Shock, and Break. Luckily Icelanders are made of stern stuff. Although If they had more time, she would have broken. Everyone does. Someone should send her one of those Limbaugh T-Shirts, "Experience Club Gitmo". She did.

This is the kind of treatment that any visitor to the U.S. can now expect. Imagine your skin is brown and you are traveling with your children.

Lets see how low the tourism industry drops now. I wonder which airline is going to fail first?


Mars may be subject to some pounding

A 100-meter rock is headed for Mars. While the orbit is still highly uncertain, the latest estimate is 1 in 75 chance of it impacting on Jan 30th. I can't wait, and (being the mad scientist that I am) hope it happens! We have probes in orbit around Mars that would hopefully be in a position to observe the impact. There is much to learn from it; the global effects of that impact will help us refine our models and perhaps alert those yet unconvinced that Earth may be in line for a similar punishment.


Some not-so-random quotes for the candidates

"We have now, it seems, a national Bible Society, to propagate King James's Bible through all nations. Would it not be better to apply these pious subscriptions to purify Christendom from the corruptions of Christianity than to propagate those corruptions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America?"

--John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Nov 4th, 1816

"If by religion, we are to understand sectarian dogmas, in which no two of them agree, then your exclamation on that hypothesis is just, 'that this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."

--Jefferson to Adams, May 5th, 1817

Think about it, bozos. This does not only go to Republican candidates, by any means: Democrats have been spouting loads of god-talk themselves and need to pay attention too.

Sad and frightening

A bloody mess: Benazir Bhutto assassinated.

I've always had great respect for her, not least for the fact of her being the first woman to being in charge of an Islamic nation, as well as her liberalism and bravery. This is utterly fucked.


a night at the creation museum

Thanks to Mad magazine, but why only #14?


Demotivators.com has some of the best shirts evah here. There are more, but I am particularly fond of this line and will be getting some ASAP.

oldie but goodie

The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura which was also posted on the Internet:-

Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I need some advice from you, however, regarding other specific laws and how to follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev.15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself ?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight.
I admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there room for compromise?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread, like a cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev.24:10-16) or couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging, from your devoted disciple and adoring fan.



Of course the weather of Portland conspired with someone to prevent me from looking at the beautiful conjunction of Moon and Mars last night. At least I had some whiskey...


Moon and Mars tonight

from spaceweather.com

MOON AND MARS: Please don't miss this: At sunset on Sunday, Dec. 23rd, the full Moon and Mars will rise in the east less than two degrees apart. So close together, the two brightest objects in the evening sky look absolutely dynamite. The display will be visible all night long, even from brightly lit cities, and requires no telescope to enjoy...

get thee away from me christ!

I'm an atheist and I'm OK!


I know who did it!

a fair warning

courtesy of Pharyngula. Thanks to PZ Myers!

I, too, like Dr Seuss...

...a lot. But my favourite author? I don't think so:

“Who is your favorite author?” Aleya Deatsch, 7, of West Des Moines asked Mr. Huckabee in one of those posing-like-a-shopping-mall-Santa moments.

Mr. Huckabee paused, then said his favorite author was Dr. Seuss.

In an interview afterward with the news media, Aleya said she was somewhat surprised. She thought the candidate would be reading at a higher level.

“My favorite author is C. S. Lewis,” she said.


from the Onion: Bush acknowledges the existence of Carbon dioxide

on the other hand...

...this is simply awesome:

Whale 'missing link' discovered
by BBC News

The whale is descended from a deer-like animal that lived 48 million years ago, according to fossil evidence.

image description Remains found in the Kashmir region of India suggest the fox-sized mammal is the long-sought land-based ancestor of whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Research in Nature suggests the animal lived mainly on land but dived into water to escape predators.

Whales are known to be descended from land-dwellers but the "missing link" has been a mystery until now.

Although Indonyus, as it is known, looks nothing like the whales of today, it shares certain anatomical features.

The structures of its skull and ear are similar to those of early whales, and like other animals that spend a lot of time in water, it had thickened bones that provided ballast to keep its feet anchored in shallow water.

"We've found the closest extinct relative to whales and it is closer than any living relative," said study leader Professor Hans Thewissen of the Department of Anatomy at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Ohio, US.

Hippo link image description

Indonyus belongs to an ancient order of mammals that had two or four toes on each foot. Modern day representatives of the group include camels, pigs, and hippopotamuses.

DNA studies show that hippos are in fact closely related to modern whales. They do not appear in the fossil record, however, until about 15 million years ago, some 35 million years after the cetaceans originated in south Asia.

This led Professor Thewissen and his team to search for an older land-based ancestor that would fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of the whale's dramatic evolutionary journey from land to sea.

After seeing loose teeth and fragments of jaw bones found by the late Indian geologist A Ranga Rao some 25 years ago, Professor Thewissen obtained rock samples from Rao's private collection. They harboured a treasure trove of complete Indohyus fossils, including skulls and leg bones.

Dietary clues

The stable-oxygen-isotope composition of its teeth suggest that the animal spent much of its time in water.

Some have assumed that the ancestor of whales first took to the water to feed on fish but the latest evidence suggests otherwise.

"The new model is that initially they were small deer-like animals that took to the water to avoid predators," Professor Thewissen told BBC News. "Then they started living in water, and then they switched their diet to become carnivores."

Although the behaviour and habits of Indohyus appear somewhat strange, there is a modern day parallel in the African mousedeer (chevrotain).

The mousedeer lives on land, but is known to leap into the water to avoid predators such as eagles.

are we really turning into a crusading army?


Religious Freedom in Military Questioned
by Huffington Post

TOPEKA, Kan. — A foundation that has sued the military alleging widespread violations of religious freedom said Tuesday that it has evidence showing that soldiers are pressured to adopt fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

The photos and videos of religious materials and activities are part of a lawsuit filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Army Spc. Jeremy Hall, an atheist, against Maj. Freddy J. Welborn and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The material was gathered from Fort Riley in Kansas, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fort Jackson, S.C.

Examples at Fort Riley, where Hall is stationed, included a display outside his military police battalion's office with a quote from conservative writer Ann Coulter saying, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

Another photo from Fort Riley shows the book "A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" for sale at the post exchange.

"These astonishing and saddening evidence which our foundation is making public today only further buttress our lawsuit," said Mike Weinstein, an attorney in Albuquerque, N.M., and president of the foundation, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1977.

Fort Riley spokesman Maj. Nathan Bond said the matter was being referred to post commanders for investigation. He said it is the Army's policy to accommodate all religious beliefs to the extent that they don't conflict with military missions.

"We do take this seriously," he said. If they are true, he added, they "do not seem in line with the Army values of respect."

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., in September alleges that Welborn threatened to file military charges against Hall and to block his re-enlistment for trying to hold a meeting of atheists and non-Christians in Iraq.

Hall is with the 97th Military Police Battalion out of Fort Riley. He was serving his second tour in Iraq and has since returned to the U.S.

Weinstein said materials for a Bible studies course from Military Ministry, part of Campus Crusade for Christ International, teach soldiers that the U.S. military and government are instruments to spread the word of God. The material was found at Fort Jackson, S.C., he said.

A spokeswoman for Campus Crusade for Christ said ministry officials hadn't had a chance to review the evidence and declined to comment.

The lawsuit also alleges that Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and allows a culture that sanctions activities by Christian organizations.

It also says the military permits proselytizing by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism and the placing of religious symbols on military equipment, and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious rhetoric.

The Pentagon has said that the military values and respects religious freedoms but that accommodating religious practices should not interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.

Weinstein has previously sued the Air Force for acts he said illegally imposed Christianity on its students at the academy. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit in 2006.

On the Net:

Military Religious Freedom Foundation: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org

solstice and onwards 1


...of unknown provenance...

..but awesomely fitting. Should the author show up, I'd be glad to acknowledge.

I cut down facts. I Gish and gallop.
I like to press wild fallacies.
I put on scientist's clothing
And hang around in labs.

He cuts down facts. He Gish and gallop.
He likes to press wild fallacies.
He puts on scientist's clothing
And hangs around in labs?!

He's a creationist, and he's okay.
He lies all night and he lies all day.


The Hobbits are coming!

Yes, they are. Peter Jackson has just signed a deal to make The Hobbit and a sequel to it. What that second movie is going to be is rather unclear to me, but still, a cause for jubilation!


My beliefs, today

What was the last book you read?Old Man's War by John Scalzi
What is you favorite Genre (kind) or Book?Science Fiction (of science-y variety), fantasy (of epic-y variety), magical realism, fabulism, mythology, history, science, bloody technical manuals!
When a movie is made of a book you've read are you happy or dissapointed?I try not to prejudge, but disappointment seems to be more frequent than happiness
When you read a Book does it often create an emotional reationYES.
Do you read for pleasure?YES.
DO you read more than one book a year?Far and beyond
More than one a month?Far and beyond
What was the most influential book on your life?Too many to mention. But, for one, Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World
What was the most powerful book you ever read?again, a lot. Lots of SF, and, in non-fiction, Emma Goldman, Michael Walzer, Bertrand Russell, David Hume, et al
If you could, would you ban a book and if so, Why?never.
DO you dislike people that are a different color than you?no
DO you dislike people that come from another country?no
DO you dislike people that are a different sexual orientation that you are (Gay/ Lesbian /Transgender /Straight?no
DO you dislike people that follow a different faith than you do?no, it's their beliefs that are idiotic, not the people themselves
When someone speaks to you and says something that upsets you, does it make you angry?no
When someone speaks to you about different Ideas, Are you willing to listen?YES.
Outside the Box:Space
DO you think that there are intelegent life forms in other solar sysytems?I don't know, but I would suspect so.
If not, why not?Again, we do not have sufficient data.
If So, do you think they are friendly or hostile?see above
If so do you think they would ever come here?see above
If So, do you think they already have come here?no
If someone from another solar system asked you about the human race, What would you tell them?deeply confused but holding soome promise
Outside the Box:Time
DO you believe in the possiblity of Time Travel?It is a simple fact in some of theoretical models
DO you believe inAlternate Universes?see above
What is your favorite Time period?anytime. Present.
What time Period other than now would you live in, if you couldFuture? I don't know, I am going there already.


I know now

What it is that I miss about Karelia. It's the lichens.

Huckabee go away!

Recursivity has a list of 10 reasons why Mike Huckabee should NOT be our next president. They are pretty obvious, but go there anyway, and give him some support already!

Here's a copy:

Ten Reasons Not to Vote for Huckabee

The picture that has recently emerged of former governor Mike Huckabee is that of an intellectually incurious, greedy, and corrupt fundamentalist Christian.

So here are just some of the many reasons not to vote for him.

1. He thinks that scientists believe the earth is "six billion" years old. He also thinks we "just don't know" how old the earth is.

2. He covered up an incident where his son hanged a stray dog.

3. He lied about having a theology degree.

4. He claims ‘‘The Holy Bible . . . has truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.’’

5. In 1992, he wanted to quarantine people with AIDS, even though it was well-known then that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact.

6. He improperly claimed furniture given to the governor's office as a personal gift and then didn't list it on an inventory of office items.

7. He freed criminals who committed heinous offenses if they said they had become born-again.

8. He wants a regressive national sales tax in place of a progressive income tax.

9. In 1998, he signed a statement saying that "A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband".

10. He doesn't accept the theory of evolution.

full of pictures today

a picture worth 1000 words


Apparently I am a good person.

...and my karma rules. I wish I could remember it, though.

You see, here in Oregon, we occasionally get a kicker check from the government. If government revenues in a given fiscal year have exceeded a certain amount, a percentage of our state taxes is refunded to us automatically. This is kind of nice. This year we had one. I was expecting to get several hundred bucks, just enough to get a bass guitar and spend Xmas season surrounded by dancing girls, bottles of aquavit and other accoutrements of fine living. The mail came in today; I grasped the envelope in my trembling hands and, opening it, pulled out a puny piece of paper. "You have chosen to donate your kicker to State School Fund," it read. CHECK AMOUNT: $0.00.

And then it hit me! Last year, when filing my taxes, being in an indulgent and benevolent mood after seeing the amount of my return, I checked the little box on my tax form, doing exactly what this letter claimed I did. Yes, I was warm and fuzzy, and let's face it: I never expected to get any voluntary refund back from the government. As far as I was concerned, I wasn't giving anything away. Well, apparently I was, to the tune of $350 or so.

Oh well. That gives me enough good karma to scare many little children and push plenty old ladies out of the way before it is all balanced out...;)


so much for the separation of church and state

I almost missed this one, heh. Sponsored by a Republican from Iowa, naturally. Time to call your fucking Representative and tell them what you really think about such blatant unconstitutional garbage. This is truly and utterly fucked up:

H. Res. 847: Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith


Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its roots in Christianity;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.


Go Connecticut!

agnes on faith

Stolen from RDN


idiocy all around

Mike Huckabee thinks that bumblebees can't fly, and believes he is not a primate. And this idiot--yes, idiocy is the only word appropriate in this context--is running for US presidency? WTF??? (Thanks to Recursivity).

I must then, together with many other bloggers and scientists, call for a presidential debate on science and technology. We cannot have a person ignorant of the basic facts of the universe we live in, the planet we are stuck on, and the way of thinking that is helping us uncover these facts (i.e., science) in charge of the most powerful nation on the planet. This job carries an awesome responsibility and an incredibly dangerous amount of power; village idiots need not apply.

coolness over there

Sunspot no 978: about the size of Jupiter as of this writing, getting ready to explode and utterly beautiful. I can stare at stuff like this for hours...

For more details, go to SpaceWeather

Unholy Racket No 004: A short update

1.Vancouver is full of weird-looking people, and, considering that my definition of weird is perforce different from that of mere humans, you can imagine what I mean.

2.Why is it that when I am waiting for a bus, reading a book on quantum field theory and desperately trying to wrap my brain around a particularly painful Lagrangian, some old codger or a born-again fool always attempts to engage me in some inane conversation? And they refuse to stop babbling and persist in ruining my concentration. Go play on the freeway, you goddamn freaks!

3.Conversation overheard on the bus:

SLOB, to DRIVER: "Are you going to Vancouver?"
(The front of the bus is lit up with a glowing sign saying, MAX via Jantzen Beach).

D.: "No, I am going to Delta Park."

S.: "Just to Delta Park?"

D.: "Yes."

SLOB (getting on the bus): "Let me know when we get to Mill Plain."


4. An old joke popped up in a new book on brain states:

--Knock knock.
--Who is there?
--O.J. who?
--You're on the jury.

5. Finally, to clarify my definition of weirdness, I prefer mango peach salsa to chocolate. So there!

tom tomorrow rules




The Golden Compass opens today. You may wonder why I am squawking about this movie so much. Well, for starters, it is one of my favourite fantasies (of the epic sort) ever. Much better than the thin, silly Christian propaganda of C.S. Lewis and, let's admit it, derivative and just-as-religious and authoritarian dream of J.R.R. Tolkien (although Tolkien holds a special dear place in my heart for his linguistic prowess and consequent palpably real sense of place and time). But Pullman is smarter, more interesting and certainly more original and iconoclastic than either of them. And I would rather have my child be exposed to fantasy fiction via Pullman than Lewis, or even "The Hobbit". There; I've said it. The above sentence is precisely the reason why all the totalitarian-in-disguise religionists are foaming at the mouth in their trembling lust to denounce this movie. Yeah, check out some of these (and that's just this morning's crop of articles; some more balanced than others, and some quotes more idiotic than others, but that's the way the world is, after all):

PREACHING ATHEISM. I love the quote from Father Michael Okere, whoever he is: ""The motive of this movie, it has been noted, is to sway innocent children to derail from their faith.". Probalby not quite true (the original message of the book has, reputedly, been diluted to the point of inoffensiveness), but of course even if it were so, I'd say more power to them! That kind of innocence needs to be derailed. Is it OK to brainwash children? It is, however, OK to teach them how to think for themselves, which is what Pullman's books, and, hopefully, the movie, are doing. And one of the final quotes in this article is telling: ""Christians need to be careful about what they let their families see." Isn't that lovely? I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

The Golden Compass raises Some Eyebrows.

Is 'Compass' fantasy adventure or atheism for kids? (I like that title; I hope it's both! ;))

Parents decry reading of controversial book to Shallowater third-graders. Some real side-splitting idiocy there; but this piece of news is from Texas, after all, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised...;)

Compass points: Catholic and atheist (That's BBC for you, huh!)

'Compass' author's atheism stirs debate on film's message Some interesting stuff here; apparently many people miss the point of the books, which is a bad thing, I suppose. Or is it? There are some great quotes from Pullman himself towards the end of the article.

Oh, fuck it: too much shite to wade through, and I must go to work now. Too bad. I think I'll go see it tonight, after work; i am also organizing a group outing Sunday or Monday for several shots of whiskey, a matinee and a chance to laugh at christian protesters, should there be any.

America, the beautiful

...or not? Tell me if it pisses you off as much as it does me; we seem to be stuck in some barbarous age, with no relief in sight:

US says it has right to kidnap British citizens.

We've never had much respect for international law, but this disdain for lawful ways of resolving problems has reached new heights under this administration. And they complain about other countries' disrespect for the international community, nevertheless! WTF?


Destroying the planet again? + juicy idiotic religious tidbits

Are you using electrical power bought from companies that engage in mountain-top removal? You can find out by going to My Connection and entering your zip code. If your power is purchased by a destruction of a mountain top, the site will link you to a photograph of said mountain top. For example, my zip produces this.

Get involved; they are killing OUR mountains!

In other news, the Pope is pissing blood about atheism again (the full text of the new encyclical, Spe Salvi). What else is new? The old authoritarian asshole would be kind of amusing if so many people didn't take him seriously. As it is, he is rather frightening, in a cheap B-movie horror kind of way. He may eat you whole but at least it'll be funny.

A frustrated penchant for drowning

I live in a great house. It is huge and reasonably well-heated. My roommates are great: they share alcoholic beverages and we rarely get in each other's way. The rent is reasonable. The hot-water heater is huge, allowing me to take long-ass showers. But...

The house is a typical American, utilitarian structure, and for some reason it doesn't have a bathtub anywhere on the premises. On days like today, though, a bath never leaves one's thoughts. It looks bloody cold outside, and the wind is still trying to push its way in. What better way to spend one's time than blogging from a bathtub filled with scalding hot water and maybe bubbles?

Also, on a brighter note, the absence of a bathtub denies me at least two ways of offing myself. How am I going to drown myself after swallowing a bunch of sleeping pills, Kosinski style? And I will not even mention the sheer impossibility of a quiet check-out after slicing my wrists open, peacefully staring at a not-too-clean ceiling from the womblike embrace of lukewarm water...Damn What is one to do in circumstances like these?

Rambling on #13*sqrt(2)

It snowed for about half an hour yesterday morning, and though most of it melted before hitting the ground and the rest, shortly afterwards, it still was a wondersome sight. And it made the busses run late. Also, last night, the winds were supposedly up to 74 mph (that's 30+ meters per second for you metroids). I didn't venture outside and cannot vouch for it, but I do know that every crack in every window in my house turned into a frost-breathing dragon for a while, and there was some howling going on outside. Not a hurricane, but lovely nevertheless. Maybe next year we'll get one: a hurricane and a snowstorm, ripping roofs off fundamentalist churches, tossing SUVs across streets into yuppie windows, throwing icicles at porches of rabidly Republican domiciles...nah, one can only dream...

Meanwhile, today I am listening to Gypsy Jazz while learning octave and contemplating some bourbon later tonight. Brain is dead: too much sobriety over the last several days.

a tidbit to tide you over...

...while I am feverishly trying not to write anything at all, and not drink or fuck either. It's been a hectic week.

Anyway: Chuck Norris Facts...bloody hilarious.

Got to go be bored. Chah!


Morford strikes true

Mark Morford, always quite good, is purely awesome today:

reposted from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2007/11/28/notes112807.DTL&nl=fix

Black Friday Die Die Die
America's most obscene shopping day meets its doom in an oily nightmare hell. All true!

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is this why they hate us? Why we hate ourselves? Is this why we seem to have no real idea who the hell we are anymore, or what it means to have a humane and thoughtful national identity, and therefore we happily scratch and claw and fight our way into giant fluorescent-lit hellpits for a chance at a $29 DVD player and some crappy plasma TVs and a pallet of heavily discounted spatulas?

More broadly: Is this why we're suffering such a general feeling of ennui and disgust and apathy in the culture right now, the nagging feeling that we have no center and God has abandoned us and we therefore simply cannot consume enough goods and technology to try and fill the void? The answer seems rather obvious.

I don't even know what Kohl's is. I'm guessing some sort of mass-crap superstore, like Best Buy or Target or T.J. Maxx or a weird amalgam of all of those and it doesn't really matter because last Friday they opened at 4 a.m. for the mad rush of Black Friday shoppers, because if there's one thing you want to do when your body is groggy and sleep tugs at your heart and your dreams have turned vacant and sad, it's grope cheap waffle makers before sunrise.

Wal-Mart opened at 5. Target opened at 6. Across America, gluttony ruled. There were stores that had nothing whatsoever to do with gifting or holiday largess, stores with names like Cabinetry and More or Rug Depot that nevertheless opened at 6 or 7 a.m. on that now-ominous, insane, fateful day, if for no other reason than to capitalize on the fact that there were so many franctic zombified credit-carded bodies swarming about and it would be foolish not to take advantage.


P.S. I did not buy anything on Friday, except for a bus fare to work. For that matter, I didn't buy anything on Saturday either. And yes, I do feel smug about it, but my shopping footprint is rather minuscule at the best of times, and I am proud of that, too...


Everything is getting faster and smarter

Just over the last few weeks it seems that captchas have grown in length enormously: they used to be about 4-5 characters long; now, on my Myspace account, I usually have to fill out 8-9 characters. Hah! Nobody can escape the righteous wrath of spam. That's why we need true artificial intelligence to deal with it. (I won't make any bad jokes about the relative lack of natural intelligence on this planet, of course, nor about my addiction to self-referential statements. Consider yourself warned).

Golden Compass

...had its world premiere (a press showing) last night in the UK (I wish I were in London right now; I'd have finagled my way in somehow). The reviews are good, and I am going to watch it tonight, and tomorrow. will report when I am done.

Naturally, it's all done with torrents; I will still go to the theater on the 5th when it opens here and, of course, am likely to get the DVD when it comes out. But I cannot fucking wait!!! Since Pullman's trilogy is one of my favourite all-tome fantasies and certainly the best one in the recent years I must see it NOW...;)

Of course, the Catholic Defense League and other comparable wankers are pissing in the wind with their complaints (oh my golly! these scary free-thinkers are again going to oppress 85% of god-fearing Americans! Oh woe!). Fuck them. The message of the book has already been slightly diluted by the script, and it shouldn't really offend anyone but a few rabid morons. Also, what this world needs right now (as always, but now more than at some other points in history) is a good dose of public atheism and provocative free-thought. We have been taking things like freedom a bit too much for granted, especially here in these United States.

Go Golden Compass!!!

Bender's big score

...and the Universe is destroyed. Just lovely.

The last gasps of social conservatism...

...we hope. In any case, being a friend of President Bush nowadays is not such a great idea if one wants to have any kind of a political future. In Australia, John Howard was "comprehensively defeated" on Saturday, with his defeat owing a lot to his stance on Kyoto treaty (no), on the war on terrorism (he is a close Bush ally and a personal friend) and on public health and education. In a somewhat snide (but welcome) remark, the winning Labor party stated that "Australia will remain a close ally of the United States, and Rudd [the new Prime Minister-elect] remains committed to the alliance..." but "...if there is a Democratic administration elected next year, to some extent they would become closer.”

The world just took a small step towards sanity; not all news are bad, apparently.


and justice for all

From MyConfinedSpace:


with special thanks to lucretius

from The Stubborn Curmudgeon's blog.



Today, as a mental exercise, i am trying to imagine what Thanksgiving would be like had the Axis Powers won the Second World War.

I shall have sushi and sake for lunch, and dine in a German restaurant, on sausages and sauerkraut, with some doppelbok and a shot or two of good schnapps.

Drunken quotes from the throat of midnight

Bugs Bunny: "... batten down the hatches!"

supporting character: "But, Captain, we've already battened down the hatches."

Bugs Bunny: "Well, batten them down again. We'll teach those hatches!"


Morning Malaise

1.I certainly do not want to go to work today. however, Momokawa Pearl sake is a wonderful beverage.

2.The degradation of civil society continues apace. How could we have ever thought that something like this would be funny? But it is. Laughter in the dark, laughter through tears, indeed. Tom Tomorrow rules.


A periodic reminder of why religion is evil

Today, reposted from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/15/world/africa/15witches.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

African Crucible: Cast as Witches, Then Cast Out
by Sharon LaFraniere

UIGE, Angola — Domingos Pedro was only 12 years old when his father died. The passing was sudden; the cause was a mystery to doctors. But not to Domingos's relatives.

They gathered that afternoon in Domingos's mud-clay house, he said, seized him and bound his legs with rope. They tossed the rope over the house's rafters and hoisted him up until he was suspended headfirst over the hard dirt floor. Then they told him they would cut the rope if he did not confess to murdering his father.

"They were yelling, 'Witch! Witch!'" Domingos recalled, tears rolling down his face. "There were so many people all shouting at me at the same time."

Terrified, Domingos told them what they wanted to hear, but his relatives were not appeased. Ferraz Bulio, the neighborhood's traditional leader, said seven or eight captors were dragging Domingos down a dirt path to the river, apparently to drown him, when he intervened.

"They were slapping him and punching him," he said. "This is the way people react toward someone accused of witchcraft. There are lots of such cases."

Mr. Bulio is right. In parts of Angola, Congo and the Congo Republic, a surprising number of children are accused of being witches, and then are beaten, abused or abandoned. Child advocates estimate that thousands of children living in the streets of Kinshasa, Congo's capital, have been accused of witchcraft and cast out by their families, often as a rationale for not having to feed or care for them.

The officials in one northern Angolan town identified 432 street children who had been abandoned or abused after being called witches. A report last year by the government's National Institute for the Child and the United Nations Children's Fund described the number of children said to be witches as "massive."

The notion of child witches is not new here. It is a common belief in Angola's dominant Bantu culture that witches can communicate with the world of the dead and usurp or "eat" the life force of others, bringing their victims misfortune, illness and death. Adult witches are said to bewitch children by giving them food, then forcing them to reciprocate by sacrificing a family member.

But officials attribute the surge in persecutions of children to war — 27 years in Angola, ending in 2002, and near constant strife in Congo. The conflicts orphaned many children, while leaving other families intact but too destitute to feed themselves.

"The witches situation started when fathers became unable to care for the children," said Ana Silva, who is in charge of child protection for the children's institute. "So they started seeking any justification to expel them from the family."

Since then, she said, the phenomenon has followed poor migrants from the northern Angolan provinces of Uige and Zaire to the slums of the capital, Luanda.

Two recent cases horrified officials there. In June, Ms. Silva said, a Luanda mother blinded her 14-year-old daughter with bleach to try to rid her of evil visions. In August, a father injected battery acid into his 12-year-old son's stomach because he feared the boy was a witch, she said.

Angola's government has campaigned since 2000 to dispel notions about child witches, Ms. Silva said, but progress comes slowly. "We cannot change the belief that witches exist," she said. "Even the professional workers believe that witches exist."

Instead, her institute is trying to teach authority figures — police officers, teachers, religious leaders — that violence against children is never justified.

The Angolan city of Mbanza Congo, just 50 miles from the border with Congo, has blazed a trail. After a child accused of witchcraft was stabbed to death in 2000, provincial officials and Save the Children, the global charitable organization, rounded up 432 street children and reunited 380 of them with relatives, the witchcraft report stated.

Eleven fundamentalist churches were shut down because of reports of child exploitation and abuse. Eight Congolese pastors were deported. Villages formed committees to monitor children's rights. The authorities say the number of children who are abused or living on the streets dropped drastically.

Uige, about 100 miles to the south of Mbanza Congo, is another story. Surrounded by lush green hills, it is a cluster of mud-clay settlements around crumbling shops pockmarked by bullet holes. In this region, said Bishop Emilio Sumbelelo of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, persecution of children is rising.

"It is very, very, very common in the villages," he said. "We know that some children have been killed."

His church runs the town's only sanctuary for children victimized as witches, a shelter barely bigger than a three-car garage. Thirty-two boys, including Domingos, occupy bunk beds stacked a foot apart, their few clothes stashed in boxes underneath. No shelter exists for girls.

Since July, all newcomers have been turned away. "Children come here to ask for protection, but we have no space," the bishop said. "To date, we have not found any special way to fight against this phenomenon."

Many boys describe pasts of abuse, rejection and fear. Saldanha David Gomes, 18, who lived with his aunt until he was 12, said she turned on him after her 3-year-old daughter fell ill and died.

After, he said, his aunt refused to feed him and bound his hands and feet each night, fearing that he would take another victim.

A neighbor finally warned him to flee. "I am not a witch, and I was not a witch," Saldanha said. "But I had to run away because they were threatening to kill me."

Afonso García, 6, took the shelter's last empty cot in July. "I came here on my own because my father doesn't like me and I was not eating every day," he said matter-of-factly.

After Afonso's mother died three years ago, he moved in with his father. His stepmother, Antoinette Eduardo, said she began to suspect that he was a witch after neighborhood children reported that he had eaten a razor. Besides that, she said, "he was getting thinner and thinner, even though he was eating well."

Under questioning, she said, Afonso admitted that a male relative had visited him in his dreams, demanding that he kill a family member. Afonso denies ever confessing to witchcraft.

What unfolded next is typical of many cases here. Afonso's relatives turned to a traditional healer for a cure.

The healer, João Ginga, 30, wears a fur-collared leather jacket and works out of what he calls a hospital — a cramped mud-walled room. "If someone has a bad spirit, I can tell," he said one recent morning as clients waited on a bench. "We treat more than a thousand cases a year."

With such a busy trade, Mr. Ginga said, he could not remember Afonso's case. Afonso's aunt, Isabella Armando, said her family gave Mr. Ginga $270 in cash, candles, perfume and baby powder to treat Alfonso.

Mr. Ginga performed some rituals, put a substance in Afonso's eyes that made him sob in pain and pronounced him cured, she said. But Afonso's father and stepmother, the only relatives who could afford to care for him, did not agree, and expelled him from their household.

"I pitied him, and I still pity him because he was living in the streets," the stepmother explained. "But we were afraid."

Mr. Ginga is hardly the only healer here who claims to cure child witches. Sivi Munzemba said she exorcised possessed children by inserting a poultice of plants into their anuses, shaving their heads and sequestering them for two weeks in her house.

Moises Samuel, director of the provincial office of the children's institute, said he was concerned not only about traditional healers but also about a bevy of churches with soothsayers who claimed to exorcise evil spirits and drew crowds even on weekdays.

Once a soothsayer or healer brands a child a witch, child welfare specialists say, even the police often back away.

Officers kept Domingos, the boy who was suspended from a rafter, for one night at the station house, then sent him home, said Mr. Bulio, the settlement's traditional leader. They never investigated Domingos's uncle, who Mr. Bulio said led the attack.

"Of course it was a crime," Mr. Bulio said. "But because it is witchcraft, the police do not take any responsibility."

Domingos, now 15, insisted that he said he was a witch only to save his life. But even his 32-year-old mother, Maria Pedro, disbelieves him.

Ms. Pedro is obviously fond of Domingos, her oldest child. She beams over his academic progress and worries about further attacks by his relatives, should he leave the shelter.

Still, she said, she suspects that he was bewitched into murder. "It must be true because he himself confessed," she said, eyeing Domingos carefully across a table in her two-bedroom house.

At that, Domingos stood up and walked swiftly from the house. Ten minutes later, he reappeared in the doorway, his face red and splotchy. "Mother, from this day on, I am no longer your son," he declared fiercely.

Ms. Pedro wordlessly watched him go. "I just don't know why Domingos got so angry," she said later.

For more information on this story, see


Never seen you look that good

From Kaguya, a Japanese probe in lunar orbit now, the first HD image of Earth-rise from the Moon:

Neocons untie!

A Pleiades update

Just after mentioning my desire to spend years exploring possible planets in the Pleiades cluster, here comes this bit of news: evidence has been found for *rocky* planets around HD 23514. While it is not one of the more famous stars in the cluster, the cool thing is that there seems to be an ongoing process of planetary formation in that system, at the stage that in our Solar System had led to the formation of the Moon. The planets themselves are too small to be directly observed, of course. They are probably quite inhospitable to life (HD 23514 is a G0 star, but it is likely a subgiant, several times brighter than our Sun, making its environment too warm for comfort, and it is too young for any life to have formed like the rest of the stars in the cluster), but I already took that into account: the planets to be explored are scorched, as I said...;). Indeed... More data on the host star at Vizier and SIMBAD, but nothing yet on the Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia.


A secondary birthday, hurrah!

Tomorrow is my secondary birthday: 26 years in these here United States, with brief interruptions. I seriously think of this as a birthday, of sorts. When I first came here, my family strongly encouraged me to assimilate. So I did, the result being that my Russian-ness (whatever that is) froze at the level of a 16 year old, and my American-ness (whatever that is) began at that point. I can talk about girls and algebra in Russian (and broken English), but I can only discuss politics and calculus in English (and extremely rudimentary and broken Russian).

Yeah, verily, I was a babe in the woods in late 1981, but a beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking, skirt-chasing babe. That ought to have caused some problems, you'd say, and you'd be right; all kinds of problems, from a textbook-perfect form of arrested development via ODS and Peter Pan syndrome to a possibly debilitating case of ADHD (whatever that is). In fact, it is only now, at a ripe (American) age of 26, that I am beginning to slowly realize the errors of my partying days and becoming more willing to make adult sacrifices to facilitate an interesting life and career, only to discover that I am indeed an overgrown adolescent. An adolescent with a college education, and—even if I say so—some claim to intellectual sophistication, but an adolescent anyway. Truly, this would be almost depressing if it wasn't so bloody hilarious. Oh well.

I'mo celebrate by drinking large quantities of fermented (and maybe distilled) beverages and enlisting the help of hopefully numerous members of the opposite sex to help me remember. What it is I am remembering, exactly, is nobody's business, perhaps not even mine, but remember it I shall, and enlightenment may be achieved. After all, everything will turn out allright, unless it doesn't.

Tomorrow never knows.

LolCat Bible!

Ladies and gentlemen...to our everlasting horror and amusement, the Lolcat Bible is here

Serious nostalgia

The wishing tree in Petrozavodsk:

Behind the vantage point of the following picture there is (was) a bar which was the first place I'd gotten (officially) drunk and laid in, at the age of 14...I wish I could find a photograph of the other side of the street...Fuck it, I'mo go there next year and get some photographs of my own!

Unholy Racket No 003: They have been judged

Lest this blog degenerate into seriousness, I feel like some comic relief is in order.

PBS ombudsman writes about Judgment Day, a Nova production on Kitzmiller v Dover School District trial. The article itself may be of interest to those unfamiliar with the case (huh? is that even possible?), but the true gems are the letters received by PBS regarding the show. Some of my favourites follow. Behold the flights of pure idiocy!

Towards the top of the page we have this—clearly, a product of a deep and penetrating mind:

"It doesn't take a "Rocket Scientist" to figure out that if we, as humans, evolved from monkeys . . . THEN WHY? . . . Are there STILL Monkeys??? We were "Created" by God!!! Pull up AOL now and you'll notice the Gov. of Georgia praying for rain, (No Doubt to GOD). When 9/11 happened what did every good neighbor do? PRAY. Not to monkeys . . . To our "Creator"!!! It shouldn't take tragic and desperate circumstances for people to realize this fact!!! GOD BLESS AMERICA!!! In GOD We Trust!!!

Sonya L. Johnson, North Port, FL"

Once you've stopped chuckling, you'd do well to remember that the "monkey" argument is in fact rather pervasive; other letters refer to it, for example:

"If evolution were true and man "evolved" from apes, why do we have apes and monkeys co-existing with man? Why have the apes not all turned into humans?"

Of course, all those nonstarters show is the letter-writer's complete ignorance of evolutionary theory and possible lack of functioning grey matter. Onwards!

Another popular argument is the appeal to fairness; this comes from a viewer concerned that ID did not get a fair hearing:

"What are you people afraid of? I am concerned for the viewer who is not familiar with the major tenants of both sides of the argument. I am only a lay person, but I know enough about the issue to see that a fair hearing in your format is not tolerated."

Naturally, "both sides of the argument" exist only in the fevered imagination of IDiots and creationists and their ilk (fevered? this may be a misuse of the word; "pedestrian" and "dull" and "non-imaginative" may be better descriptors). There is no intellectually serious opposition to the modern synthesis. This does not mean that some theory may not arise in the future, overturning all that we believe now (although it is unlikely, to put it mildly, but possible). It means, however, that Intelligent Design isn't that theory. This alleged controversy only exists in the minds of—dare I say it—those without any idea of what they are talking about. Clueless idiots often are the loudest kids on the playground; so here.

The "immoral implications" of evolution follow, mixed in with a dubious claim grounding human morality in religion:

""Survival of the fittest" follows from evolutionary theory. Evolutionists, to be logical and true to their faith (it takes faith to believe in it since there is no clear, unimpeachable physical evidence for macro-evolution) should see nothing wrong with what Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc., did in the genocides of millions of people. Since the exterminated ones were "weak," in terms of evolutionary faith, evolution proponents should all just shrug off these murders as being inconsequential (which is how the ones responsible for the murders saw them). But most don't, and the reason is we know those were atrocities. We know to murder another human being is wrong. And we know this because we have consciences given to us by our Creator."

Where do I start? "no clear unimpeachable physical evidence": there is no such beast anywhere in the history and practice of science. There are degrees of certainty; evolution is highly certain, more so than, say, M-theory, or, closer to earth, our description of the many bonding agents (glues, y'know) that we use on an everyday basis. And, of course, the appeal to God as the basis of our morality is pure bullshit, undiluted, ignoring many ethical theories constructed specifically on a non-theist basis, while substituting fear-based subservient (anti-)ethics for reality.

Finally, there is a slew of letter-writers who complain about the short shrift religion in general received in that program. They should keep in mind that this particualr episode was about history: any accusations of bias may just as well be directed against court transcripts. Any accusation of a bias towards a given ideology fails. An attempt to inject some religious ideology—even moderate Godtalk—into the program would have been precisely unprofessional, sunce the subject had nothing to do with the existence of gods or the validity of any religious belief. It was all about teaching religion in a science class. That's all, and those unhappy with the direction of this episode should consider that it is not the job of PBS to present every argument in every show. There is plenty religious claptrap on the idiot-box already. Claims of "evolutionist" bias are ridiculous. Fuck off already and go sit in your Dark Age corner.

Another favourite, and one that almost needs no rebuttal is "I have a degree in journalism and could easily point out every instance of yellow journalism in this show.". Yeah, you may have a degree in journalism but you are obviously quite ignorant of either biology or the actual court case in question!

Enough! What had started as a light humorous attempt to look at the silliness of some people is turning out to be a depressing peek into the idiocy of humanity in general: the majority of letters on that page follow the same format, and it all becomes rather sad, eventually. One can only ingest so much pure ignorance, nonsequiturs, ALL CAP screaming and so many logical fallacies in one sitting. Fuck 'em.


a contender for the coolest design evah

impressions 54211

I am quite impressed with the fact that over 60% a significant plurality of the visitors to this page use Firefox (it keeps changing; apparently I had a rash of IE users recently!):

Of course, the majority are still running Windoze, but one has to derive some satisfaction from the low share of the IE use even among them.


Minor rumblings

I want this poster for my second birthday, Nov 19:

Since I'm going to be exploring the scorched planets of Alcyone, Pleione, Taygeta, Merope and Maia someday, I should have them on my wall now! Waah!

In other news, I am utterly addicted to Blonde Redhead now, and cannot go a day without listening to at least a couple hours of them...


Frightening and amusing

Check out this graph, comparing the expenditures on war with those on alternative energy research. Wow.


A load of horseshit.

John Scalzi goes to the Creation Museum and is not impressed with what he sees. Priceless.

Thou misbegotten crook-pated canker-blossom!

A wonderful Shakespearean insult generator.


An Unholy Racket No 002: Goodbye, Humanism

As of today, I am no longer a humanist.

Of course this does not mean that I abandon my beliefs in the desirability of human rights, civil liberties, liberty and justice for all and such. And naturally I am still the epitome of secular. It is just that I no longer feel like I can define myself in terms of species, for several reasons.

Firstly, of course, the entire concept of species is fraught with problems. Chronospecies or reproductively isolated populations? Species do not really exist; they are convenient fictions to help us in our taxonomical/classifying/descriptive behaviours, and have no use beyond that. Every individual is unique, and while I may be a member of H. sapiens sapiens, I am Jorg above and beyond that.

Of course the aforementioned Jorg may choose freely not to belong to humanity any more. At this point of time such a decision would be no more than a ridiculous stand in the face of adversity, but we are rapidly approaching the time when intelligent entities will be able to—and many will choose to—change their genetic makeup and phenotype, making themselves distinct from the "base" human beings. Are some of their "innate" human rights going to be lost because of such a change? I don't think so.

Also, we are on the verge of creating self-aware machine intelligences. What about them? They certainly will not be human, and—despite anthropomorphizing attempts of movies such as Matrix—will not have human emotions. Our emotions are the result of a long evolutionary history and are inseparable from our phenotype. AI's will not feel love or jealousy, but they will be self-aware. Does any self-aware entity possess the innate rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? I say, of course!

Lastly, and looking in the opposite direction, what about millions of species with which we share our planet? (And others, unknown, somewhere else in this huge Universe). Do they have any rights? It seems to me that while perhaps not quite having access to a full complement of rights available to a self-aware entity, they deserve some, at least. And claiming the uniqueness of humanity tends to obscure the uniqueness of every other species and every other individual within those species (well, with the possible exception of some clones....)

In any case, I am perfectly okay with the label of transhumanist nowadays...an extremely secular one.


How to be a crank

We can all recognize them when we see them; now the Denialist blog has a wonderful HOWTO on crankery. If you've ever thought that you just might be an underappreciated genius, on a par with Galileo, check it out: awesomely useful tips on developing and distributing your own brand of idiotic insanity!

Hoax of the week

A fake paper, purporting to show that carbon dioxide emissions have nothing to do with global warming is making the rounds. You can read it here. This is brilliant, full of gems such as: "The control run was defined as: Q³uct, jyΦ = ∑cy³11".

Anyone with rudimentary math skills can see that the equations are pure gibberish. However, Rush Limbaugh and the crowd were taken in, crowing about how this paper shows once again the idiocy of "global warming alarmists". Apparently, Rush even ignored the advice of his own "climatologist here on staff" in his eagerness to embrace the nonexistent conclusions. The egg is on their face: the paper in question conclusively demonstrates ignorance and idiocy of most right-wing pundits and nothing else, a point they all seem to be missing. Brilliant; reminds me of the great Sokal hoax, even though it isn't quite as funny and exposes the conservative right rather than the idiotic pomo leftists. Still, a treasure.

truly, the most horrifying entity in the known Universe.

For those unaware: Abbie at ERV has taken to equating Michael Behe with Lindsey Lohan (Lilo!!!) and here is a wonderful, but terrifying result:

a sop to the masses

All of you that actually read this blog should be quite happy, since (as is common for me...;)):

cash advance

And, predictably,

Your Inner European is Russian!

Mysterious and exotic.

You've got a great balance of danger and allure.


My vote for the atheist of the week

...goes to Kelly O'Connor (of RRS), of course.;)

for this piece thoroughly thrashing Dinesh D'Souza (the one of the brick-filled head, possible possessor of the shallowest mind on the planet).

Go, go, go, kick some theist shite, Kelly!


This could be serious, but probably isn't ;)

In a strange commentary on the current state of US politics, the following almost convinced me at first. Only when I got to the last paragraph did I become certain that this is, indeed, satire. But soon, my friends, soon, this is going to be reality. Bugfuckery is spreading!...


Pat Robertson Says Giuliani Presidency Appears in Book of Revelation
by Andy Borowitz
Reposted from:

One day after endorsing former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for president, televangelist Pat Robertson explained his decision, saying that a Giuliani presidency features prominently in the Book of Revelation.

In his endorsement announcement the day before, Rev. Robertson had made reference to Mr. Giuliani's tenure as "America's Mayor," but did not indicate that the Republican frontrunner was a key player in the Bible's most apocalyptic book.

In his statement today, however, the televangelist made it clear that "in order for the Second Coming to occur, the world needs to end, and Rudy Giuliani is just the man for that job."

Rev. Robertson said that he was "confident" that within weeks of his inauguration, Mr. Giuliani would usher in the "end days" that are a staple of Bible prophecy.

In praising Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Robertson had critical words for the current resident of the White House, President George W. Bush: "President Bush got us on the road to Armageddon, but it's taking too darn long -- Rudy Giuliani will put us in the express lane."

While the Giuliani camp initially welcomed the endorsement of the influential evangelist, the former New York mayor seemed less enthusiastic today about being identified as one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.

When asked by a reporter in Iowa about Mr. Robertson's comments today, Mr. Giuliani replied, "9/11."

Elsewhere, former Beatle Paul McCartney confirmed that he is dating a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member, explaining, "Since my divorce from Heather, I've had to start taking the subway.

Does Buddhism discriminate against women?

Yeah, Buddhism: that enlightened, pacific, loving and respectful non-religious religion. Does it? Apparently so. Perhaps not as virulently misogynystic as Judeo-Christian traditions, it still has its own snags. And why not? It was invented many years ago and is full of ridiculous statements only marginally more acceptable than the more authoritarian religions; epistemologically, it is the same crock of shit.


art worth some looking at....

A beautiful collection of images/posters/flyers for our times available here. Go check them out already.

An unholy Racket No 001: Epitaphs and Interferences

...And it's into the fucking fray:

1.Mollie Steimer, one of those incredible people who are hated by fascists and capitalists of all stripes and admired by those that care about liberty and justice for all, wrote once:

"We fought injustice in our humble way as best we could; and if the result was prison, hard labour, deportations and lots of suffering, well, this was something that every human being that fights for a better humanity has to expect."

A short biography at Wikipedia. She needs to be remembered, and one of the purposes of this blog will be to bring attention to mostly forgotten heroes like her.

2.The word sabotage comes from French "sabot", a kind of a wooden shoe—a clog—that French workers of the early Industrial revolution threw into the machine looms to disable them—to clog them. A wonderful word that has gathered more negative connotations over the years, sadly.

3.President Harding is generally considered to be the most inept of all that held the office occasionally associated with talent and intelligence. He had said, once: "I am not fit for this office and should never have been here", which statement elevates him far above the current resident. To the old Chinese curse of "may you live in interesting times", we can add "and may you live under exceptional rulers". Exceptionally awful, that is.

4.I am currently reading Peter Irons' A People's History of the Supreme Court and a wondeful book it is. Amongst big business stooges, racists and several brilliant people with whose political and judicial beliefs I disagree strongly (the racist Taney, rabid patriot Frankfurter, or the Four Horsemen of (laissez-faire) Apocalypse) there were quite a few justices of sheer genius and ethical fortitude. (Even now, there are at least two of those on the bench. No prizes for guessing who). In any case, here are some quotes that should be remembered:

"Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition. But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by the free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That in any rate is the theory of our Constitution."

–Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, in his dissent in Abrams v. United States, 1919 (the case which resulted in the deportation of Mollie Steimer, among others, to the true bastion of liberty that was Bolshevik Russia at the time).


"The very purpose of the Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections...If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can presribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

—Robert Jackson, writing for majority in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943

There shall be more; the above words precisely capture the reasons I am so interested in Constitutional law lately. There were giants in the world in those days.

5.I must sleep now, over and out...


A Racket: #000

I am baack. That's all I shall say at the moment.


another bloody public announcement

this blog is largely dead (No! I;m not dead yet!--Now you are!) and most of my rantings have been moved to wordpress: http://vodyanoj.wordpress.com . Now that one may survive for a while. Since I am relatively new to this blogging brouhaha, that one may die soon too, to be replaced with something better. oh well. You just have to keep trying...



Amazingly, according to this article, national intelligence is outsourced now, too. Tomorrow is the 6th anniversary of the Presidential Daily Brief that had stated "Bin Laden determined to strike in US". It was...ummm...ignored.


Iraq War Cost


But naturally...

Of course. And one need never go to bookstores again...

A brilliant near-future story by one of my favourite writers, Linda Nagata, is available—free—here (the first piece of e-fiction to have won Nebula award), a good introduction to Nagata's work: and of course, you must read her nanotech novels.

Speaking of which, last time I was at Powell's, a couple of weeks ago, I picked up my third copy (the first two were given away a long time ago) of Deception Well, among other books, and had a chance to reflect on the fact that all of the half-dozen or so science fiction paperbacks I was getting were written by women. Coincidence? Actually, I don't think so: yet another field—traditionally male—being transformed and enhanced. Of course, there always were women in SF publishing—according to some accounts, the genre originated with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein—but they always were a minority and tending to work within fantasy rather than science fiction proper before the last 10 years or so. Not anymore: women are giving us 80% of quality, literary science fiction now. (Someday soon I'll make a list of links for y'all). For another facet of the story, one also quite dear to my geeky empirico-deductive little heart, check out Out of the Shadows: Contributions of Twentieth-Century Women to Physics.

PS: Now that I've ordered my signed copies of Nagata's books, some lucky person will inherit my current copies...they are all out of print, but not impossible to find.


Brownback's pathetic attempt at damage control

Earlier this month, Sam Brownback (a Republican presidential wannabe senator from Kansas) raised his hand when a reporter asked the potential Republican candidates if any of them "didn't believe in" evolution. Now he is back, with a New York Times op-ed, trying to clarify his point. Funnily, his attempt at damage control sounds even more ridiculous, mealy-mouthed, and irrationally pathetic than his original response. This is the intellectual level allowed for a potential candidate for themost powerful office in the world? Mind-boggling.

Let's take some of his statements:

Brownback: "The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two."

This, of course, is a statement of faith and does not have a single shred of reason—in intent or execution. And the Bible is an inerrant word of God, then? What about Biblical claims about the age of the earth; its cosmological claims; its ridiculous biological claims (rabbits chewing cud (Leviticus 11:6) springs to mind, funnily)--that completely contradict the whole body of scientific evidence?

Brownback: "Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose."

Of course, this statement can only satisfy the most hardcore believer completely ignorant of advances in modern science (such as evolutionary psychology) and non-theistic ethical systems (there are many more of those than there are of "goddy" ones).

Brownback: "If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it."

Well, that is plain bullshit. The statement about microevolution highlights the standard Creationist false dichotomy: there is no qualitative difference between micro- and macro-evolution; the latter involves quantitatively more significant changes than the former, but the process working on both is the same; really, the two terms are so confusing and misused by now that we should probably stop using them altogether (together with the whole concept of species for non-taxonomic purposes? hmm...that's an idea). In any case, the second sentence does not even talk about "evolution" per se, but rather an extremely cartoonish view of standard philosophical materialism. So Brownback apparently does not know what the word evolution, as used by science, means.

Brownback: "There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today."

What monumental ignorance! Punk-eek and standard adaptationism are not two different theories. The underlying mechanism--natural selection--is the same in both of them. The arguments are about contingency, rate and tempo, not about the basics. But I suppose the point is too subtle for Brownback to understand.

Brownback: "Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table."

Oh? And what is it? New religion-based dating methods? Hot-air theories unfounded on any empirical evidence? And he dares claim that evolutionary biologists go "beyond empirical evidence"?

I am skipping over much of what he has to say; he is diggin his own pit, and I do not have time to address the logical fallacies and misinterpretations of reality that wave their Cthulhoid tentacles from each sentence. However, here is the last paragraph:

Brownback: "While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science."

Okay, then. 1.If "no stone should be left unturned" in our research, how can we know anything with certainty? This idiotic sentence demonstrates three things: that Brownback has no clue about the way science works, that he does not let simple logic interfere with his sentence construction and that he has a dangerous certainty—known to some as self-righteousness—about certain aspects of reality that is a far cry from both the humility of the majority of scientists and the supposed humility of religionists.

2.The very last two sentences are truly frightening. He is saying that religion should trump science in certain questions decided a priori and that scientific process itself should be subject to religious censorship. This is not only scary, as all theocracies are scary, it is unconstitutional as well, as—also—all theocracies are.

Luckily this fundamentalist moron is not likely to even get the Republican nomination; however, just the fact that somebody of such dubious intelligence, education missing in action and ridiculous beliefs can even be considered for the office of the President of the USA bodes ill for the future of this country.


Unproductive, but somewhat flattered

I am:
H.G. Wells
The first major literary talent to make himself at home in the science fiction field, greatly expanding its popularity.

Which science fiction writer are you?


Back from the brink: some of the news fit to print

(including images)
In my quest for idiocy on this planet, I occasionally stumble upon truly staggering sites. Like this one: Heliocentrism is an Atheistic Doctrine. I mean...what do I mean? Words fail. Since this is a blog in support of Brownback's presidency, I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. Please, somebody tell me this is an elaborate joke

The fact that this blog is powered by wordpress proves my long-held suspicion that even bags of hammers can learn to use good software and imitate human behaviour almost perfectly. But ye shall know them by the rocks in their heads that fall out all over the page!

Pshaw. It's got to be a troll..a spoof...a parody...the alternatives are truly horrifying to contemplate...

Since the murder of Du'a Khalil Aswad a couple of weeks ago, at least 12 more women were killed "in the name of honour" in Kurdistan. For more on the increase in violence against women in "liberated" Iraq, see here. Even a hardcore pacifist like me wants to destroy the bastards responsible. We cannot tolerate intolerance.

On an entirely lighter side, for those of you working on research papers, I give you a beautifully hilarious guide to Using the Passive Voice in Scientific Writing! Weep with laughter; I am.

Since you are already weeping, consider this: lately, Islamic countries have been at the forefront of...eh...backwardness, having had the torch passed to them by Christianity somewhat embarrassed about the failure of its own metaphysical and epistemological claims (not that they'd ever admit it...). Still...Islamic bicycles?

Yet another newsite in the immortal tradition of The Onion (yeah yeah yeah! Intelligent Falling theory!!!) and Wonkette: NewsBiscuit. My current favourite is Russua and Estonia "pretending to have computers".

Insane asylum, late night.

First inmate (shouting): "I am Napoleon!"
Second inmate: "How do you know?"
First Inmate: "Because God told me!"
Third inmate (from another room): "I did NOT!"

"I just don't have faith. Sorry. Can't fake it. But I'm no more angry, purposeless or immoral than the next guy. And if God invented free will then this is all His fault anyway."
--John Moore


Awesomeness of the week: the eruption of Tvashtar on Io:


New emotions identified barely in time for Summer:
requiapathy: the combination of relief and guilt that comes with the sudden realization that you no longer miss a dead loved one.

seprudity: the feeling of appreciating a coworker's dedication without fully understanding his or her job function.

trepatiousness: a synthesis of rage and jealousy, though more muted and often accompanied by a sensation of weightlessness.

(from The Onion, of course)

When I get to Mars, I'm going spelunking: Possible cave entrances on Mars
Seven dark spots seen in Mars Odyssey THEMIS images could be the entrances to underground caves on Mars. The researchers who identified these caves have given them the following names:
Dena (-6.084 N, 239.061 E)
Chloe (-4.926 N, 239.193 E)
Wendy (-8.099 N, 240.242 E)
Annie (-6.267 N, 240.005 E)
Abbey & Nikki (-8.498 N, 240.349 E)
Jeanne (-5.636 N, 241.259 E)
Credit: NASA / JPL / U. Arizona / G. Cushing et al. 2007

Also, All (known) objects in the Solar System larger than 200 miles in diameter. (Yes, I live in the USA, it's 321.8688 km...;))

Dumbo Octopus: naturally, with a name like that, it is fittingly and thoroughly lovable:

Did you know that GoogleMaps has a Mars option? I didn't, but now I do, and am happy.;)

Some sheer brilliance from GrrlScientist: To Be a Good Republican You Must Believe...

And, finally, a short and insignificant list of the very few minor, innocent and irrelevant mistakes made by the Bush administration. Enjoy!