Archive for December, 2008

Moved!

Hi everyone, in case you all still reach this blog through its wordpress hosted website, please bookmark the new blog location (on its own very domain!)


http://www.obsessedwithreality.com

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Under Construction

under-construction

Okay, despite the low readership here and despite the fact that I have no idea whatsoever how to promote this blog, I’ve purchased hosting services at bluehost.com and will soon move this blog from its wordpress servers to my own personal domain. The address remains the same, only this time it won’t be a redirect to https://obsessedwithreality.wordpress.com

The new site will simply be on my original domain: http://obsessedwithreality.com or conversely, http://www.obsessedwithreality.com (I think. I’m sure about the former, though).

I’m planning to add at least one important plugin, and that is the comment subscription plugin. I bet most people never return here after they comment because you can’t subscribe to comments. So I’ll be adding a plugin that allows email notification to all commentators here.

I’d also like to try promoting the blog somehow, but since this isn’t exactly a business, I’m not sure what will be a legitimate way of doing so. I just write about biology, atheism and deaf people, it’s not like I’m trying to sell a product.

Anyone got any ideas?

I’ll update more during the week (it takes about 3 days for the registrar to update my DNS’s, so this means that I can’t really do anything yet until Wednesday).

No More War! No More War?

In an awesome feat of disproportionate response, the IDF responded to Hamas’ breaking the several-months’ long cease fire with Israel by bombing the fucking shit out of Gaza. We had one civilian dead and 6 wounded in a southern city called “Netivot” (I only learnt how to sign that in ISL last week) and a few hours later, the IAF took care of annihilating 60 different security targets in Gaza, killing more than 200 Palestinians and wounding about 700. The bodycount is kind of hard with most of the bodies not in one piece, but I’m sure they’ll manage.

Why am I writing this? I’m not writing this because I condemn military action as a legitimate means of national security, I am writing this because I think killing more than 200 people is a simply a fucking massacre. We’ve butchered these people. We’ve killed hundreds of security Hamas men, hurray for us, but why? Is every Hamas person responsible for the rockets fired at our southern cities? Is this how we behave? Exactly like the other side? If Hamas had an air force, they’d do the exact same thing to us. The only difference in response is a result of us having more sophisticated weaponry. We’re behaving like thugs with F-16s.

Killing Hamas-men by the hundreds is NOT the way a responsible nation behaves. By all means, go into Gaza, shoot everyone who tries to shoot at our soldiers, this is STILL a measure of self defense, as all military action should be, and by all means *arrest every single damn one of them*. If they try to resist arrest, shoot them in the legs, if they try to shoot you, shoot them back, trying not to kill them.

Yes, the price to pay for being civilized is having soldiers die in the name of freedom and civilization. It means you can’t just bomb the shit out of civilians simply so you could save up soldiers. If this is how we behave, then our soldiers fight for an empty cause anyway. If we’re anything other than terrorists with tanks, then this is a task worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.
I’ve been to a demonstration against the attacks tonight not because I’m against attacking Gaza, but because I’m against attacking Gaza in this stupid, bloodbathed, horrendous manner. We’re letting malign idiots play with jet fighters and people who are completely innocent fucking DIE.

Bah, I’m simply furious.

What It Takes To Convert An Atheist

jesus

Caucasian Jesus

How Jesus probably looked like, sans Kefiyeh

A picture of a Palestinian middle-aged man. How Jesus probably looked like, sans Kefiyeh. Acknowledging this would make wingnuts turn into pagans, since only pagans at the time of Jesus were Anglo-Saxon.

Over at the atheist mecca of Pharyngula, yet another broiling comment section ensues due to the latest conversion of former atheist blogger, The Raving Atheist (who apparently will be “The Raving Theist” from now on).

Many considered the possibility that it’s a hoax (still possible in my book, but I really can’t say one way or another), or that TRA was somehow goaded or wooed into his conversion. A few thought that a spade is actually just a spade and that TRA reached a decision in his life to follow his heart, and that no “violence” of any kind was inflicted, nor trickery used, on TRA.

I for one am not going to predict or ruminate on the matter of TRA’s particular conversion story. I would, however, say that I know what kind of events lead people to completely change their worldview, and Jeremiaically call the atheists’ bluff of certainty in their lack of faith (says I, a die-hard atheist).

See, I believe based on the books I’ve read about human nature, biology, and the cognitive dissonance we so often employ, and my personal experience, as well, that humans think and feel very differently. Many  times during my life, I feel certain things which I know for a fact  are patently false. I admonish myself, banging my head on the wall with accurate rationalizations to try and alleviate the damage my intuition and emotions cause. Sometimes it works.

The point I wish to make is that atheists make the decision to become heathens based on what they think (at least, atheists like me, who simply spent a few weeks with Dawkins and talkorigins and did the math). When I “became an atheist”, it wasn’t as though I needed any special encouragement from Dawkins or from any other atheist spokesman. Atheism was merely a result of a long string of computations I conducted faced with the evidence and non-evidence available.

What I feel, though, sometimes has nothing to do with evidence, but merely with the way my brain functions.

I say all of this because TRA didn’t say jack zilch about what made him think that Christ is his savior and why he knows that God exists and that he watches over him. Nope. TRA believes, and “knows God” in the “other ways” necessary to know him that Dawkins alluded to when he wrote :”There are many ways of knowing besides the scientific, and it is one of those ways that are needed for us to know God”.

There’s a point to this besides telling my “fellow atheists”  that they shouldn’t be so snarky at the bible-thumper formerly known as TRA. I wish to give an explanation as to why TRA converted in the first place, while trying to base it on the modicum of evidence available.

When mom died, I still remained an atheist. I was lonely, crazed, inflicted with mental illness and growingly paranoid. I didn’t find God, even though in these parts, God is almost everywhere (metaphorically speaking). I did, however, drastically departed from the person I was. I became, in many respects, my former exact opposite. This is the result of emotional trauma, not of rational thought, and everyone, atheist or not, can and often will turn against his beliefs and convictions when pressed hard against the wall with the hot-poker of reality.

I say then to anyone comfortable in his intellectually-based atheism: your atheism is a result of your personal worldview, and like all humans, your worldview is malleable, and mostly so when reality throws a hot cauldron full of shit into your life.

Addendum

I wouldn’t write this post the way I did if TRA’s post about his conversion contained anything besides appeals to emotion, evidence-wise. With all due respect to what I wrote vis. the way emotional turmoil can change a person, when I use my head to think and not my heart, I take every input cum grano salis, and in the case of amazing conversion stories like this, cum multis granis salis.

Funniest Understanding Biology Fail Ever

Hell, this wouldn’t be that funny unless it was true. I’m scribing this meeting in the Israeli interal office about grabbing some private land to ensure an ecological corridor in central Israel. So this ecology expert is yapping about genetic diversity, when one beardy-rube exclaims: “deers aren’t Ashkenazi Jews!”. This idiot thought this is a pertinent remark, since Doctor Biology there explained that reducing genetic diversity leads to lower fitness (since incest or low geentic diversity in general leads to less adaptibilty and more autosomal illnesses).

“What do deers have to do with genetic illnesses in Ashkenazi Jews, you blasphemous heathen?!”

Tool.

Monday Organism – Amphioxus, Representative of Our Ancient Past

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Amphioxus/Branchiostoma is a primitive chordate that would probably look to most non-biologists like a tiny fish or even a tadpole. Thing is, amphioxuses aren’t fish, they’re not even vertebrates!

In fact, amphioxus belongs to a sister subphylum, “cephalochordata” (any pharyngulites who might be reading this will reconize “cephalo” from “cephalopod”. This is because “cephalo” means “head” and apparently, octopussies walk on their heads 🙂 ).

Both vertebrates and cephalochordates belong to the phylum Chordata – which began it’s history pretty much with most of modern-day phyla, somewhere in the cambrian explosion.

The amphioxus shows some amazing qualities that make it an interesting animal to know about, and also an interesting model species for comparative anatomy and evolutionary research.

The reason for this being that the amphioxus presents a lot of qualities that make him a living transitional fossil, or simply, a transitional species.

First of all, this critter gives all the indication for being a primitive invertebrate with distinct differences from the more modern taxa.

Second, it shows characteristics that are peculiar to the amphioxus, but are also highly indicative of “later”, evolved traits.

Third, it shows characteristics that although primitive, are still extant in variations today.

Let’s start with the primitive stuff. The amphioxus has no vascular system, that is, he doesn’t breathe! The amphioxus absorbs his oxygen via diffusion, which is an extremely poor method of gaining oxygen, and at any case, results in much less oxygen absorption. The reason for this is that amphioxus has a very small body with a very relatively large surface area. This means that by diffusing the oxygen, the amphioxus gets just what he needs.

Also, the amphioxus has no real brain or “brain concentration” – he does have a neural system – which belongs more to my second category.

The amphioxus also has no eyes, and he spends most of his time buried in the sand, filtering food (he doesn’t have teeth, of course, while not having a backbone as well).

Things start to get interesting when you look at traits in amphioxus that are uncannily “vertebrate-like”. For starters, the amphioxus has a precursor for the liver that doesn’t function like one. It has similar hepatic characteristics, yet a stubbornly “non-hepatic” function in the amphioxus. This is the “hepatic diverticulum”, and I’ll leave it at that for anyone nerdy enough to get deeper into it.

Also, amphioxuses have dorsal segmental muscles, much like the muscles we have between our vertebrae in our back.

The most amazing feautures about the amphioxus are the features which shed light on chordate evolution. For starters, amphioxuses have glands very much like vertebrates do, which is funny, since if you guys were paying any attention, you’d remind me that I just said that he has no vascular system. Since glands are used to secrete hormones, which are signal molecules transmitted through the blood, it’s kinda hard having signal molecules sent through blood when there isn’t any!

The amphioxus glands are fascinating because of their location and their mode of operation. For example.  There is a structure called Hatschek’s pit exactly where the hypothalamus should be. It has a “hypophysis” or pituitary gland-like structure called “Rathke’s pouch” in a similar location and similar structure, that produces “exohormones”! This primitive gland secretes external signal molecules, and, according to one zoology professor I had, these molecules are similar in function and chemical activity to the hormones modern vertebrates secrete from their evolved pituitary glands!

So, really, what we have here is not just another squiggly tadpole, but a precursor to modern vertebrates, with genes, anatomy and physiology to tell us the story of how we evolved.

Friendly Atheist Meme

With a hat tip to Sisyphus Fragment, here’s a cute little atheist meme that I’d like to pass along here. The idea is simple – here’s an assortment of things that atheists do, did, or could have done (in some cases, things that define the “New Atheists”) – with all the things I’ve personally done boldfaced.

Cheers.

  1. Participated in the Blasphemy Challenge. (There’s probably nothing like that in Hebrew, and if there was, I’d be lynched)
  2. Met at least one of the “Four Horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) in person. (I wish!)
  3. Created an atheist blog.
  4. Used the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a religious debate with someone.
  5. Gotten offended when someone called you an agnostic.
  6. Been unable to watch Growing Pains reruns because of Kirk Cameron.
  7. Own more Bibles than most Christians you know.
  8. Have at least one Bible with your personal annotations regarding contradictions, disturbing parts, etc.
  9. Have come out as an atheist to your family.
  10. Attended a campus or off-campus atheist gathering.
  11. Are a member of an organized atheist/Humanist/etc. organization.
  12. Had a Humanist wedding ceremony.
  13. Donated money to an atheist organization.
  14. Have a bookshelf dedicated solely to Richard Dawkins.
  15. Lost the friendship of someone you know because of your non-theism.
  16. Tried to argue or have a discussion with someone who stopped you on the street to proselytize. (Again, Israel, would be lynched)
  17. Hid your atheist beliefs on a first date because you didn’t want to scare him/her away. (Not ashamed of dates, am scared of zealots)
  18. Own a stockpile of atheist paraphernalia (bumper stickers, buttons, shirts, etc).
  19. Attended a protest that involved religion.
  20. Attended an atheist conference.
  21. Subscribe to Pat Condell’s YouTube channel. (he totally rocks)
  22. Started an atheist group in your area or school.
  23. Successfully “de-converted” someone to atheism. (The process is very much personal, but the inspiration came from me)
  24. Have already made plans to donate your body to science after you die.
  25. Told someone you’re an atheist only because you wanted to see the person’s reaction.
  26. Had to think twice before screaming “Oh God!” during sex. Or you said something else in its place. (lol?)
  27. Lost a job because of your atheism.
  28. Formed a bond with someone specifically because of your mutual atheism (meeting this person at a local gathering or conference doesn’t count).
  29. Have crossed “In God We Trust” off of — or put a pro-church-state-separation stamp on — dollar bills.
  30. Refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
  31. Said “Gesundheit!” (or nothing at all) after someone sneezed because you didn’t want to say “Bless you!”
  32. Have ever chosen not to clasp your hands together out of fear someone might think you’re praying.
  33. Have turned on Christian TV because you need something entertaining to watch. (Would have if we had that kinda shit. Do idiot rabbis count?)
  34. Are a 2nd or 3rd (or more) generation atheist.
  35. Have “atheism” listed on your Facebook or dating profile — and not a euphemistic variant.
  36. Attended an atheist’s funeral (i.e. a non-religious service). (practically illegal in Israel)
  37. Subscribe to an freethought magazine (e.g. Free Inquiry, Skeptic)
  38. Have been interviewed by a reporter because of your atheism. (again, prescription for slaughter)
  39. Written a letter-to-the-editor about an issue related to your non-belief in God.
  40. Gave a friend or acquaintance a New Atheist book as a gift.
  41. Wear pro-atheist clothing in public. (should start, but only wear it in Tel Aviv, otherwise lynched)
  42. Have invited Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses into your house specifically because you wanted to argue with them.
  43. Have been physically threatened (or beaten up) because you didn’t believe in God.
  44. Receive Google Alerts on “atheism” (or variants).
  45. Received fewer Christmas presents than expected because people assumed you didn’t celebrate it.
  46. Visited The Creation Museum or saw Ben Stein’s Expelled just so you could keep tabs on the “enemy.”
  47. Refuse to tell anyone what your “sign” is… because it doesn’t matter at all.
  48. Are on a mailing list for a Christian organization just so you can see what they’re up to…
  49. Have kept your eyes open while you watched others around you pray.
  50. Avoid even Unitarian churches because they’re too close to religion for you.

Averaging

I often get the nasty notion that in many respects, I’m a horribly underachieving person. I’m untidy, rather callous, careless and self-centered. I eat and drink too much, I respond disproportiantely to a great deal of things, and in many subtle and stealthy ways, I have little tiny prickles of evil all over the DMZ of my personality.

So, how do I explain the fact that I’m still, on the whole, a rather amiable person, am considered smart, responsible and useful to employers and peers, and am generally depended upon (definitely by the people close to me)?

Well, this is probably an oversimplification (something that science does run-of-the-mill), but I think that this can be explained, plainly, by “averaging” of traits.

In my opinion, while in most fields I am average or slightly above average in abilities and achievement, there are a few fields in which I am very good or even extremely good at. I’m superb at languages, semantics and connotative analysis. I got extremely fast fingers (which I employ very well as a means of making a living, making an hourly sum surpassing that of my peers immensely). I usually have a superb memory and an uncanny ability to draw the most elusive of memories long after people have forgotten about them.

The mishaps I have with my personality are balanced by my enormous devotion to the people and things I care about: my carelessness is balanced by my exaggerated sense of duty to a selected cause (so even if I spent all of my life living in a shithole, if I make it my business to be tidy, I’ll be tidy, and extravagantly so)

This would be a trivial observation if it weren’t for this implied derivation: perhaps the reason I allow myself my vices is that they are a luxury I subconsciously grant myself due to my virtues.

Maybe it’s some sort of “negative decompensation mechanism” that human beings (and other animals) have when they can allow themselves to take bad advantage of their “wealth”. It’s myopic and destructive in the long run (hence my current attempts to diet out the little beerbelly I’ve grown this past few months) – but in the short run, I could never escape the notion that I could simply “get away with it”.

Vacated!

A much needed vacation is afoot.  This weekend I’ll be chilling with my gorgeous missus in a cabin for two in a beautiful mountainous village (or as we Israelis call those modern hamlets: “Moshav”) on the western Galilee. Any Christian readers this blog might have will actually recognize the name, since it’s the region in Palestine Jesus of Nazerath originated from (I bet ye for’ners din’ know that Nazerath is still a city in modern day Israel). The missus was kind enough to correct me that it’s actually a place near Kinneret, the Israeli chief fresh water lake and favourite pissing pot.

I’m taking the laptop (too attached to it), but I doubt it there’ll be wi-fi, and even if there will, I’ll be too busy snoozing in the jacuzzi with my blessedly bathing-suited babe of a girlfriend.

Too bad I have two days of hardcore studyin’, trainin’ and workin’ to do before that. I promise to post some pictures (not just beautiful landscapes, but some of the smoochin’ couple, too).

Monday Organism: Strange Mammals!

This week’s Monday Organism is not going to be about evolution, and also, not going to be about one organism. Since I rather keep these posts non-technical (not an easy thing to do), I’m going to write a little exposee on two truly amazing mammals:  the Aye-Aye and the Flying Squirrel.

A.The Aye-Aye – Daubentonia madagascariensis

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The Aye-Aye is one of those rare occurences that can only happen in a place like Madagascar. That might not be 100% accurate, but the fact Madagascar is ecologically detached (for land animals, anyway) from mainland Africa has probably done some evolutionary magic to create the wondrous biota living there.

The Aye-Aye has a somewhat (for Primatology laymen anyway) esoteric taxonomy, it is a Strepsirrhine. Strepsirrhines are what can only be reasonably called “wet-nosed monkeys”, although the Aye-Aye, at least, has some attributes that make it quite unlike the normal “monkey image” in our head.

The Aye-Aye looks like a mix of a rodent, a squirrel, a monkey, and a demon. I say “demon” because the Aye-Aye is a nocturnal primate (and the largest known, at that) – which means he has quite large eyes that glow ominously at night (the presence of the Aye-Aye is considered ominous in Malagasy villages).

The most distinguishing feature in the Aye-Aye, however, is in fact his middle finger. The Aye-Aye’s have an elongated middle finger with an alarmingly developed “fingernail”, although this finger is distinct mainly due to its unusual, “evil-witch” bone-structure. This finger is used to forage food by probing tree-holes for grubs, seeds, etc. This is basically the same thing a woodpecker does, only with fingers!

aye-aye_hand

B. The Flying Squirrel – Pteromyini

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The Flying Squirrel is a not just an amazing animal, it’s also a visual (and intellectually painful) reply to the notorious creationist question: “what good is half a wing?”. Well, apparently, it’s a world of goodness, at least for the flying squirrel. The Flying Squirrel is a moniker for a family of species who all have the same distinct “gliding organ”: the Patagium: Flying Squirrels have an extension of skin on their back not unlike that of bats, which can be steered to control their gliding in the air (making them actually “gliders” and not really “flyers”, hence “half a wing”).  They also use their tales as stabilizing and to monitor their speed (it can be used for “braking” when the squirrel needs to “land”).

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