Archive for October, 2008

Boo-jeers for Local In(s)anity

Great, just great. I just tried to access my curriculum (I have no idea where my classes are, yet, and the semester’s starting on Sunday) and I got a message telling me that the information services in BIU (Bar Ilan University) are offline through the weekend. The reason being that the university servers, apparently, are observing the Shabat.

Now, I would just like to ask: is this because of the decree that servants and slaves are (a la Deuteronomy) not allowed to work on the Shabat, then today, now that slavery is abolished,  “servers” are considered to be “servants”? Maybe it’s a friggin’ typo.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot.

STUPID FUCKERS.

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Chavez gets it right: Palin is a “confused beauty queen”

Hur hur.

Sure, Chavez is probably a corrupt semi-tyrant, but at he least got that one just right.

I bet creationists won’t object to carbon dating THIS time.

A group of researchers from San Diego (led by a chap called Richard Levy, humph!) recently found evidence for a complex of copper mines that carbon-dates approximately to the biblical era of king Solomon’s reign. This is an interesting find, mainly because it’s quite amazing to find an ancient culture that pursued mining in such an organized fashion.

The mines were located in Jordan, south of the dead sea (ack, I hate that place). During biblical times, the same spot was within the kingdom of Edom. It is quite possible that if king Solomon had existed (there’s no evidence for his existence anywhere in archaeology or history outside of the bible, although there’s evidence for other biblical kings) – then this is where he might have imported his copper from. If I recall correctly, Solomon (Shlomo in Hebrew) had good relations with Edom, or possibly, even had some kind of “commonwealth” with Edom (since according to the bible, countries all around soiled themselves with fear of him).

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: creationists who obviously are adamant against radiometric dating will have to skip this material evidence for biblical validity because they don’t seem to “believe” in radiometric dating (and definitely not radiocarbon dating, the evillest dating method of all, can’t seem to figure out why.)

There seem to be two major types of creationist claims against radiometric dating: radiocarbons and radio-anything else. Maybe because carbon-dating is used to date relatively recent objects (the half life of carbon is about 5300 years) – so this might be used to threaten held beliefs that can be refuted by material evidence. This is obviously quite different than radiometric dating used to date samples from the distant past, and since the distant past doesn’t exist under a young-earth creationism point of view, it’s easy to simply label all other radiometric dating methods as false.

Richard Levy also said something quite inspiring, and I quote:

We can’t believe everything ancient writings tell us,” Levy said in a university statement. “But this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible.

Pull the other one?

To that I say: damn straight!

Post Cemetry

Today I found myself contemplating what happens to posts once they die. The most circulated blog I can think of is probably Pharyngula. PZ Myers’ words are being viewed and re-viewed about a million times every month, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets to more than that on particularly spicy seasons. But even Pharyngula has archives, and I’m betting the ancient posts (especially those on Pharyngula.org, the older blog) never get accessed again.

Blogs aren’t like books, codices of carefully constructed words, designed, should people “read Kafka” or “read Conan Doyle” to be immortalized as character witnesses for the authors who created them.

But with blogs, words are ephemeral. PZ Myers and other notable bloggers might have written amazing and popular posts in the past, and those posts are forever forgotten. It’s possible that some literary jewels were created almost on a daily basis, and they’re all gone forever. In a way, this makes blogging a middle-ground between literature and journalism. Sure, responsible bloggers proof-read and carefully pick their post’s main topics and issues, and very serious bloggers even write multiple drafts – but no post ever conceived beats the literary manuscript. The worded piece of art that its creator proudly refers to it as “my book”.

All of this made me come to the realization that even when I write a post that actually gets read (the only example I can give is the post I wrote about the Yom Kippur riots), I know that it doesn’t matter much. People click on a link, skim through your carefully crafted words, and forget all about you, or blog, and your post the next day.

So what makes the distinction between “a person who blogs” and a “blogger”? Unlike bookwriters, it’s not any particular post or even a particular category of posts, but simply the style and history of the blog. Most Pharyngula readers aren’t science afficionados, and even though I love reading PZ’s posts on science, most of the time PZ writes about activist freethought and liberal politics (or about their antagonists).

This is, of course, not a problem in the least, but still, Pharyngula is without a doubt more of an “Atheist blog” than a “Science blog”, and that’s hardly a shame. Seeing the world of science through a self-avowed atheist with the charming and captivating worldview of PZ Myers is quite rewarding on its own. However, reading a science textbook is rewarding in a totally different fashion.

This also brought me to the realization that this blog will probably never succeed in its current setting. It’s not necessarily because I’m a bad writer (I’d say “smack average” would describe me well) or because I write about boring topics (hardly, I’ve touched some interesting issues, entirely not of my own merit, while this blog’s been alive) – I think it’s because this blog doesn’t offer the possibility of a posse like other blogs do (religion related blogs are a good example to cite). I do not offer “a home for like-minded atheists” like Pharyngula does. I do not offer a breeding ground for passionate biologists or even rather interested young peers.
Obsessed With Reality, like me, is destined to always swivel and veer to whichever my convoluted mind is up to and that, since I’m no celebrity, politician, or large-breasted female human, is of no interest to almost anyone (except other reality-obsessives, which I scarcely meet or know of).

This fact, although disheartening, is never going to be a death warrant for the blog. Writing things down endows me with some sort of releasing sensation. To be obnoxiously poetic, I could say that putting my meandering thoughts and ideas in writing “sets them free”, in a way – and that is something I’ll always love and require and fortunately, this doesn’t need a large readership to achieve.

Evolution: a Theory in Doubt

The Evolution-Creation debate has turned into somewhat of a frenzied obsession to a lot of people, so much that TV shows, blogs, radio talks, books and law suits have been entirely dedicated to the topic. Becoming another tortured soul engrossed in the evolution of the debate a few years back, I was aware at the onset that the debate isn’t about science at all.
What I wish to do in this post is to actually show a small amount of gratitude towards the creationist movement for being so adament in their doubts of evolution, because without their often duplicitous  critique of the theory of evolution, I probably wouldn’t have doubted the theory that much, myself.

See, in other well-established theories, where the public’s resistance to them is minimal, there really isn’t a point to go around trying to poke holes in said theories for the passionate layman. Sure, afficionados of any field will probably delve deep into their subject of affection, but the truth is: the enormous resistance to the theory of evolution, both by pseudoscientists and zealots lacking any credentials, has caused a great spark of learning amongst skeptics.

When I first started learning about biology and evolution, probably my number one incentive for learning about certain aspects of biology were various creationist claims about the impossibility or improbability of evolution. I remember reading through the index for creationist claims on talkorigins simply because it was delightful to learn so many new things about biology and other scientific fields through the mirror of pseudoscientific attacks on them.

It’s also a good primer for learning more about good old-fashioned biology, and I remember that very quickly I found myself sticking my nose in biology textbooks, and that was years before I ever entered a college classroom.

So thank you, creationism: for lighting the fire of philosophy in all knowledge-thirsty naturalists. You certainly did that for me.

I only wish you didn’t try to shove it into public education.

I do admit, however, that putting a polemic pressure on the public understanding of evolution probably did a lot to teach more and more people about the theory. I’m sure that most people wouldn’t even know what evolution is if it wasn’t such a big deal to bible-thumping ignorants.

Freedom of Speech

Another pharyngulated blog, 2000 years of deception (hark at that), has brought to my attention a particularly obnoxious type of homeschooling, bigoted, hate-mongering, ignorant and odious individual. The bottom line is that miss God Hates Fags here says that homosexuality should be punishable by death and that with any luck some radical will blow up a “gay-friendly high-school”. She also said she doesn’t actually endorse this. Oh yeah, no sir!

Anyhow, since this is just another run-of-the-mill idiot with nothing to do but to spread tinfoil hat mouth-foaming belliigerence (and, tragically, inculcating it in her homeschooled children) – on itself it’s not big news and not particularly interesting. The only sympathizers clods like that have are other twerps with the same single-digit IQ.

However, being the comments prowler that I am, I sniffed the comments in 2000YOD (well, I’d obviously not look into the godbot’s blog for a balanced view, that despicable hag quickly deleted every comment from non-sycophants) and I ran into this jewel:

Anonymous said…
Flaging her blog is juvenile and close minded.

Hate Speech is still free speech. No matter how vulgar the message.

I’m sorry, all ye unfaithful – this anonymous chap is right. Freedom of speech logically entails freedom of dumb, hateful, poisonous speech. Freedom of speech enables Hitlers and Mussolinis, not just FDR’s and Churchills. If one accepts the right to free speech, one must also allow it for anyone with a dissenting and even disgusting view, and I fully endorse this woman’s right to display her revolting worldview to the world. At least that way more people can be made aware of this vile, sickening individual.

I’m using more expletives than usual precisely because I wish to make an example of my own free speech. See, I don’t think suppressing people’s view is a good long-term strategy for any purpose. It doesn’t even stand to reason even when we ignore the warm, fuzzy feelings liberal concepts like FOS give to us ( I’m not kidding, it’s given me warm fuzzy feelings ever since I heard of it in junior high. )

The thing is – if people have dissenting views, hushing them up won’t make them go away, and in any case, if there’s a personality or an upbringing that makes people susceptible to certain viewpoints, then shutting them up won’t make them change their minds, or change the fact that such viewpoints will survive. People always find a way, and writing about crap like said hag is just one of many methods of propagating disgusting ideas.

So my take on this is that freedom of speech does in fact and should cut both ways: it’s the right of useful, intelligent, modern human beings to express their views and to spread useful and egalitarian ideas and it’s also the right for bible-thumping yokels to dribble about how wonderful a world without people who are different than they are is going to be.

I also think that it’s solely the responsibility of sensible liberals to use that same right to vocalize their contempt, scorn, disdain, disapproval, disavowal and absolute flaming dejection at such putrid ideas.

In the end, it’s the winning ideas that win, not the most vocal ideas, though being overly vocal helps to propogate bullshit. But the end result is that people want power, and the way to power is in reason and in reason alone. If you convince enough people to use their heads and not the opinions of authoritative bigots, they will, in turn, use their heads to produce results better than they could before.

Then the tide will turn.

Speak out hard enough, and the truth will win: not because it’s warm and cuddly, but because it’s concordant with humanity’s biological reality: the truth is the best way to get to results, and only those who get to results get a say in anything.

Eventually, if enough people use their heads, the warm and fuzzy feelings (the truly important part of this whole “life” thing) will follow.

Cruelty to Animal Rights’ Activists

The only way to view my attitude towards non-humans non-hypocritically is by admitting that I am morally okay with killing non-humans and/or eating them/researching with them (as long as its not unnecessarily cruel). When I say “unnecessarily cruel”, I mean that any pain induced to a “higher species” is not induced haphazardly. I’m okay with AIDS viruses injected to mice if it’s meant to help find a cure or vaccine to the virus, I’m completely repulsed, however, at the idea of kicking a mouse and killing it for the sake of sadistic satisfaction.  I find this admission to be rather casual, but I suspect that most, or at least many, people would find it repugnant.

Animal rights activism is quite widespeard in Israel, and I can’t help but cringe when I see bumper-stickers that say “eating meat is murder”. To that, I say: nope, eating meat is lunch, a nourishing, tasty lunch. It’s a valuable source of protein and micro-nutrients and, if well-dieted, an important part of daily nutrition. Of course, you could replace it with other foods, but once you eliminate the moral issue, there’s no reason to.

Of course, I sympathise with the idea that unecessary cruelty to animals is mean, while mostly I admit that I’m rather impervious to said cruelty being acted upon animals. It’s not an admission of endorsing such cruelty, just of enough apathy towards it that allows for non-action, and for any hypocrite who scoffs at such indifference to violence, I’d say: “when’s the last time you adopted an orphan? Oh, you DID adopt an orphan? What about all the other orphans you left to starve because you picked the cute one?”.
At the same time, I find it personally okay to eat meat and I really, really don’t care what the animals have to say or what they feel about it. Most carnivores would devour me alive if they had the choice. Not that that “makes it okay” in any way, but it goes well to show that eating is not a moral issue unless you find the species you eat to be cuddly. I’m sure PETA protests very little against eating snakes, insects and molluscs, even though snakes and arthropods are just as “alive” (and in the case of some arthropods, quite clever) as amiable cows and ducks are. The whole premise of “animal rights” is pathetically childish and hypocritical: save the “animals” (meaning Metazoan species only), and at that, only the ones I like.

I can’t help but thinking of Poison Ivy and her pathological deference for plants, and how she’d probably flay people alive for eating corn (and if she wouldn’t, a person who would is no different than a terrorist animal rights activist who bombs researchers’ homes for conducting experiments on animals)/

Animal rights actvists are peurile pick-and-choosers, hypocritically defending the animals they like while abandoning the species they don’t care about: they’re simply okay with killing different kinds of species, making them just as “murderous” to “plant right activists” as meat-eaters are to them. Anyone aware enough of the biological reality knows that any heterotrophic animal has to “murder” (read kill) a different organism to survive. This isn’t a question of “right or wrong”, it’s merely a question of natural imperative. What you eat or what you’re okay eating is completely arbitrary, and in that respect, I find it completely reasonable to eat anything that’s not human (while also being aware of cannibalisms and frankly all for sending canniabals people to prison for being murderers).

At that, I wish to say that I completely endorse animal right activists who promote non-violence against animals that are, say, used for slaughter. Personally, I’d prefer that all animals being slaughtered would not suffer at all before being slaughtered. If it was up to me, I’d make sure their death is completely painless.

Hermit yawn

Beh, I hope something interesting happens soon.

Evidence for TB’s antiquity found in Haifa

Well, I’m not REALLY going to deprive anyone from the pleasure of reading Greg Laden (the guy is simply begging for a horrible pun), but since his recent post enables me to combine two rather distant categories, “Local” AND “Science”, I couldn’t help myself.

Greg writes about a recent archaeological finding in Haifa, up north from here, in a neolithic site dated about 9,000 years old (I can’t help but wondering what young-earthers make of findings like this). The important sciency stuff is all about “paleopathology” (yup), that is, the findings (of infant bones) seem to exhibit TB-like symptoms, which in effect suggests that TB is not only a much more ancient affliction than previously thought, but also that it might have evolved in humans first and not in cows, as was previously thought to be the case.

Yep, evolution, a theory in crisis!

Losing Myself

I’ve somewhat belated reading the truly amazing book, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”, by Oliver Sacks, and halfway through it, I must say that wrongly so, too. Apart from the delightful insight on human behavior, neurology and neurobiology, I found a most staggeringly terrifying idea.

Sacks speaks often about patients who are, due to one neurological deficit or another, lost. I say “lost” because it optimally describes their condition: a part of them, due to a physical injury that directly triggers their personality and convictions, is gone, never to be seen again, or in some cases, artificially restored, to a greater or lesser extent.

Sacks poetically and nobly described a myriad of neurological disorders, some of them pertaining to aged patients and others, sometimes simultaneously, afflicting poor souls with no hope for ever surviving their illness.

To me, though, the most striking and terrifying aspect of neurological disorders is the fact that a part of you, a Platonic and essential part of your very being, can be lost because of an injury. I find it most terrifying that it is possible, either by injury or by congenital inclination, to actually lose the person you are, while at the same time be perfectly aware of this loss occurring. Amnesiacs seem to be gradually aware that all that they are, their professional training, the emotions they attribute to their loved ones, their past and their entire lives, are, inch-by-inch, fading away. Some people with “disembodiment” feel that a part of their body does not belong to them, and can no longer acknowledge their own organs.

In short, the physical lump of matter that is the brain can actually, if injured, be responsible for that which we consider our essential selves, and that, bluntly, gives me the creeps.

I find no scarier death than the death of the aware mind. If I was ever actually still alive while knowing that the things that constitute my personality and my my essence are dying, it would probably feel much more sickening and worse than death: true death at least has the consolation of true nothingness – the premature and gradual dying of the self is scarier, because it actually allows the person to be aware of his own “spiritual” (for want of a better word) death. There is nothing worse than dying, except the awareness that you are, in a very real sense, already dead.

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