Sunday, December 31, 2006

Zoo Blogging

For Christmas this year, my family gave me a fancy new digital camera (Between this and and the Ipod that I recently purchased, I'm dangerously close to entering the 21st century!). Thanks to their generosity, I plan to start regularly posting pictures from my frequent trips to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park. It may not be as good as actually being there--heck, it's not even the next best thing--but you'll just have to take what you can get (unless, of course, you decide to come to San Diego, in which case, I'll take you to the zoo myself)! Here's the first batch, roughly grouped in chronological order (click each photo for a larger, sharper version):

Near the entrance to the zoo is a small lagoon with flamingos and quite a few ducks. Adeptly serving as the Zoo's unofficial visitors greeters, they are usually the first animals that visitors see.

Exhausted after a tiring wrestling match with his two-year-old son (not pictured because they were very close to the glass, and my attempts to reduce the glare were unsuccessful; you'll just have to trust me that it was hilarious.), Satu, a Sumatran orangutan--and quite possibly my favorite animal in the zoo--rests in the morning sunlight while eating a snack.

Memba, a 37-year-old silverback gorilla (of the western lowland variety) and head of a seven member troop, surveys his kingdom. . .

. . .and decides that it's time for a nap!

Mom carries her nine-month-old baby in typical gorilla fashion.

Mumba from an alternate view--they call 'em silverbacks for a reason!

A two-week-old Angolan Colubus monkey and its (the keepers haven't determined its sex yet) mother.

A bonobo mother and her son (I think!). Bonobos are the rarest--and quite possibly smartest--of all the non-human apes, and are closely related to chimpanzees (which makes them closely related to us, as well) . Located only in a small area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, these beautiful primates are on the verge of extinction.

A male bonobo is. . .well, I think you can figure it out.

A free-flying hummingbird looks for something tasty to drink.

Clyde, the magnificently nappy and adorable dominant-male orangutan. He is also the father of Satu.

Satu grooms Clyde before bedtime. Despite the lower qualiy of this picture, it's one of my favorites from the entire day. It's rare that I see these two orangutans interact (and when I do, it's usually because Satu has decided to antagonize his father), so I was very glad to be able witness them sharing an affectionate moment.

Well that's it for now, but don't worry--I've got lots more pictures from this visit that I will post soon; and I promise that the next set won't be quite so primate-centric!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

And may your eggnog be potent!

Thanks, Olduvai George. Nothing expresses the True Meaning of Christmas™ like an extinct, hairy pachyderm.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In remembrance

Ten years ago today, famed astronomer and popularizer of science, Carl Sagan, died at the age of 62 of complications related to myelodyplasia. Though I had only the haziest awareness of Sagan's existence while he was alive, I now consider him to be something of a personal hero. More than any other single person, I credit Sagan--and specifically, The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, the last book he published before his death--for my love of science and nature. An eloquent writer and brilliant--if often controversial--thinker, Sagan had an infectious enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge that I admire to this day. And I am hardly alone in this admiration; even ten years after his death, his intellectual patrons are legion.

In a post a few months back, I facetiously referred to Sagan as a "prophet." While I don't believe that he was sent from Heaven to fulfill a divine mission, he had a mission nevertheless, and I am grateful for his untiring efforts to increase the collective knowledge and wisdom of humanity. Although he held no naive doubts about our unique penchants for hatred and self-destruction, Sagan was an unfailing believer in humanity's potential for goodness. For this and many other reasons, he will not soon be forgotten.

Behold, the virgin shall be with child. . .

Now this is a seasonally-appropriate news story:
LONDON (Reuters) - Flora, a pregnant Komodo dragon living in a British zoo, is expecting eight babies in what scientists said on Wednesday could be a Christmas virgin birth.

Flora has never mated, or even mixed, with a male dragon, and fertilized all the eggs herself, a process culminating in parthenogenesis, or virgin birth. Other lizards do this, but scientists only recently found that Komodo dragons do too.

"Nobody in their wildest dreams expected this. But you have a female dragon on her own. She produces a clutch of eggs and those eggs turn out to be fertile. It is nature finding a way," Kevin Buley of Chester Zoo in England said in an interview.

He said the incubating eggs could hatch around Christmas.
It may not be a miracle, but I'm impressed nonetheless. Hallelujah!

(Thanks, Becka)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Winning is for suckers!

If the publishers of Time think shameless flattery is all it takes to get me to buy their mediocre magazine, they've got another think coming (although, if they changed the name of the award to "Bipedal, Naked Ape of the Year," I might reconsider).

(via everybody and their mother)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Feral Beauty

While the ants might think me a sadist for saying it, I got chills while watching this video I found at The Loom. It seems appropriate that this post immediatly follows my near geekgasm over the Alien dvd set. I don't believe it's necessarily always the case that truth is stranger than fiction (I've read some pretty strange fiction), but, when it comes to exciting awe, there is nothing in the minds of humans--as inspirational as they can often be--that compares to the sheer calamitous power and beauty that is found in nature.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Impulse buying--it's the reason for the season!

The 9-disc Alien Quadrilogy on sale at Costco for $31.99. In the immortal words of Private Hudson, "Game over, man. Game over!" That's an offer no self-respecting geek could be reasonably expected to refuse.

(I just wish somebody would tell me why the Fox execs felt the need to make up the word "Quadrilogy" when the the much cooler and already-extant "Tetralogy"could have been used.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sounds like a personal(ity) problem!

For some reason, I've been in the mood for personality tests lately (and by lately, I mean this afternoon), but, frustatingly enough, I keep getting conflicting results on Myers-Briggs-style tests. In the past hour, I've scored everything from an INFP (which has traditionally been the personality type I most match), to an INTJ, and, most recently, an ISFP. These seemingly contradictory results have left me with one question: just what the hell is wrong with me?

Part of my problem--and this is something I've noticed about myself in general, not just in the context of personality tests--is that I tend to place a high value on being rational, analytical, and logical, but naturally tend to be more passionate, emotional, and sentimental; this, I think, has led me to over-compensate on the tests in order to get the score I would prefer, rather than the score that's most accurate for me. Alas, I, like Popeye, simply "yam what I yam." If an INFP is what I am, I suppose I'll just have to learn to deal with it--athough I mustn't forget the always popular option of becoming a miserable, self-loathing whiner!

One other thing I've noticed is that I really hate questions that require binary, yes/no answers. I'm just much more comfortable with grey than I am with black or white, I guess. Hmm. . .I wonder what that says about my personality?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"AIMing" toward a definition of science

Is is just me, or is this instant messenger conversation about Karl Popper and the demarcation problem--ie., the philosophical effort to define what is and isn't qualified to be labeled as "science"--really, really fascinating?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Momma didn't raise no Benedict Arnold, or did she?

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 100%

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, "blame America first"-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day.... in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Gitmo had better start subscribing to the New York Times and learn to serve high-quality lattes; if they don't, us disaffected, baby-eating liberals are going to make the U.S. Government wish longingly for the days when they only had to deal with Islamic Fundamentalists! Long live Michael Dukakis, Barbara Streisand, and Alec Baldwin!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I wish I were there

Check out this short video about a rehabilitation school in Indonesia for orphaned orangutans. I can't say that I have anything resembling a well-developed nurturing instinct, but this, I think, could bring out the hidden mommy even in me!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Oh my geek!

I'm not ashamed to say that I think this is wonderfully hilarious:

(via Afarensis)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Things for which I am thankful

In an effort to ensure that I have something to say when the inevitable question makes it way around the dinner table today,I'm going to list some of the things for which I feel grateful this year (in no particular order, other than the first one):
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Melodramatic and muddled musings inspired by a trip to the zoo

Today, after a five-month hiatus, I visited the San Diego Zoo. As promised, I apologized to my orangutan friends (primates are only one group among many that are deserving of such an apology, but let's face it—I’m a biased ape-man) for all the suffering humanity has caused them. In response, they ignored me completely. I took this response as an expression of some sort of metaphysical irony (Orangutans being famous for their love of obscure philosophical jokes and all). No doubt their failure to acknowledge my attempted mea culpa was meant as a stark reminder of the plain fact that humanity has failed to fully acknowledge and atone for the destructive excesses of its power. Damn smart—but still very dirty—apes!

In all seriousness, I was almost moved to tears today while watching the orangutans. To me, they, along with the other apes, are more precious than just about anything else in this world (excluding my family and other loved ones, of course). The thought that these smart, fascinating and beautiful creatures might be gone—or nearly so—in just a few short years saddens me more than I can express in words. The more I think about it, the more I come to believe that working in the field of endangered species conservation is what I want to do with my life. I'm not particularly confident that the attempt to stem the tide of human-caused extinction will be any less futile than trying to plug a leaky dam with duct tape, but, hopeless or not, it's a fight I want to be a part of, even if only in some small way.

On a happier note, I can now confidently say that the San Diego Zoo is my favorite place on earth. Literally every single time I go—especially those days when I really have to debate about whether or not the trip will be worth the time and hassle—I leave feeling happy, rejuvenated, and extremely glad I got my lazy butt off the couch and did something worthwhile with my day. You can keep your Six Flags and your Disneyland, but I, like the great prophet and philosopher Peter Brazaitis, belong in a zoo.

p.s. I've added some conservation-related links to the sidebar. Please check them out.

p.p.s. Today, I watched while two apes—in the midst of their peers and a group of mildly scandalized zoo-goers—had passionate, unabashed sex. Did you witness anything that fascinating and amusing today? I didn’t think so. See what you’re missing?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Goodbye, we hardly even knew you

Here's something to temper the rhapsodic atmosphere brought about by yesterday's momentous events (finally, after years of tearful, agonized waiting, Britney Spears is once again on the market!): Orangutans flee Indonesia forest fires.
MANTANGAI, Indonesia - Dozens of endangered orangutans have been driven from their dwindling jungle habitat in Borneo by months of land-clearing fires that have shrouded parts of the region in a choking haze, conservationists said Monday.

Around 43 orangutans have been taken for medical treatment to centers in the Indonesian provinces of Central and West Kalimantan, said Anand Ramanathan, an emergency relief worker with the Washington-based International Fund for Animal Welfare, or IFAW.

Most were beaten by humans after fleeing from the burning jungle to nearby plantations in recent weeks, but several are being treated for respiratory problems and burns, he said.

Farmers and plantation companies set hundreds of land-clearing fires on Borneo and Sumatra each year, sending thick smoke into surrounding areas and neighboring Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. It has caused billions of dollars in business losses and in some cases health problems.

"Pristine jungle areas are being burnt," said Jennifer Miller, a relief worker with IFAW, which is helping Indonesia's Borneo Orangutan Survival group to recover and treat wounded orangutans. "It's extremely, extremely threatening.

"There is nothing worse than seeing an animal with a burnt face, blind and fleeing," she said ahead of a 9-day trip to Borneo.

Monsoon rains have dowsed some of the fires — the worst in a decade — but blazes continue to cause problems in Kalimantan where visibility was less than 330 feet on Monday, forcing drivers to use their headlights in the daytime.

The Indonesian government has been criticized for failing to act against those responsible for the fires. Jakarta, which has been pressured by its Southeast Asian neighbors to sign a regional anti-haze treaty, says it is doing all it can.

Indonesia has the highest number of threatened species of mammals in the world, around 146, according to the World Conservation Union.

Fewer that [sic] 60,000 orangutans remain in the wild in Indonesia — nearly 90 percent of their habitat has been destroyed by illegal logging, poaching and cut-and-burn farming practices. If the rate of deforestation continues, orangutans will disappear from the wild in around a decade, experts say.

The fires came within months of the release of 42 orangutans into nearby forests, forcing many animals back to shelters and undermining years of costly rehabilitation work.

The smog, which triggered health warnings in Singapore and Malaysia this year, has plagued Southeast Asia since the 1990s.
Gone in a decade. I don't even want to contemplate that scenario! This weekend, I think I'll go to the San Diego Zoo and tell my primate friends that I'm sorry for the miriad ways that we humans find to make their lives more dangerous and horrific. I can't help but fear that, decades from now, people will look back with great remorse at how we uncaringly waived goodbye as we pushed our closest relatives in the animal kingdom over the brink.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting as catharsis

I've been feeling rather morose about this latest election, mostly because I failed to change my voter registration when I moved about a year ago, and I assumed that this mistake would prevent me from voting today. I was wrong. Ever since I called the San Diego County Registar of Voters earlier today and found out that, despite my boneheaded laziness, I can still perform my civic duty, I've been bouncing off the walls with eagerness and anticipation driven by six years of pent up outrage at the policies of my government. I literally could not wait to get out of work into the ballot box to exercise my political demons. Well, after returning from my local polling station--an elementary school--and (if you're in my immediate or extended family, you may want to stop reading now) voting a basically straight Democratic ticket, I'm feeling pretty damn good. As I sit here, watching live election results and listening to Rage Against the Machine, my anger is assuaged, if only for the moment.

What you reap is what you sow.

The Bible, Zach de La Rocha

Monday, November 06, 2006

Edward O. Wilson: portrait of a polymath

And now, for your reading pleasure, let me draw your attention to the latest issue ofSeed Magazine--to my knowledge, the only science publication in the world that consciously attempts to be "hip"--in which is published a fascinating piece about Edward O. Wilson, the brilliant and often controversial Harvard entomologist, and his most recent book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (which, incidentally, is on my Amazon Wish List). I enjoyed the article quite a lot and would love to hear what you think about it (unless, of course, you think it sucks, in which case you can keep your negativity to yourself!).

A bit of Autumnal gloating

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Self-awareness--it's not just for primates anymore

When I look in the mirror, I am able to discern that the image I see is a reflection of myself. As long as you are not suffering from some sort of debilitating cognitive disorder (in which case you would almost certainly not be reading this), you can do the same. Other species of great apes (and possibly bottle-nosed dolphins) have the brain functions needed to associate their reflections with themselves as well.
Now, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, elephants show signs of having this ability as well:

Considered an indicator of self-awareness, mirror self-recognition (MSR) has long seemed limited to humans and apes. In both phylogeny and human ontogeny, MSR is thought to correlate with higher forms of empathy and altruistic behavior. Apart from humans and apes, dolphins and elephants are also known for such capacities. After the recent discovery of MSR in dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), elephants thus were the next logical candidate species. We exposed three Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) to a large mirror to investigate their responses. Animals that possess MSR typically progress through four stages of behavior when facing a mirror: (i) social responses, (ii) physical inspection (e.g., looking behind the mirror), (iii) repetitive mirror-testing behavior, and (iv) realization of seeing themselves. Visible marks and invisible sham-marks were applied to the elephants' heads to test whether they would pass the litmus "mark test" for MSR in which an individual spontaneously uses a mirror to touch an otherwise imperceptible mark on its own body. Here, we report a successful MSR elephant study and report striking parallels in the progression of responses to mirrors among apes, dolphins, and elephants. These parallels suggest convergent cognitive evolution most likely related to complex sociality and cooperation.

The Washington Post has more:
Elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror and use their reflections to explore hidden parts of themselves, a measure of subjective self-awareness that until now has been shown definitively only in humans and apes, researchers reported yesterday.

The findings confirm a long-standing suspicion among scientists that elephants, with their big brains, complex societies and reputation for helping ill herdmates, have a sufficiently developed sense of identity to pass the challenging "mirror self-recognition test."

[. . .]

Researchers over the years have provided body-size mirrors to hundreds of animals in zoos and other habitats. Almost always, the animals act as though the image they see is of another.

"Most animals seem incapable of learning that their behavior is the source of the behavior in the mirror," Gallup said. "They are incapable of deciphering that dualism."

By contrast, human babies get it by age 2, as do adult chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans.

Monkeys, which are more distantly related to humans than are apes, never catch on. Indeed, the only non-ape species to come close to passing until now has been the bottlenose dolphin; it lacks the limbs to touch itself (a key part of the mirror test's final challenge) but can use mirrors to examine hidden parts of its body.

[. . .]

In a series of experiments, the elephants first explored the mirror -- reaching behind it with their trunks, kneeling before it and even trying to climb it -- gathering clues that the mirror image was just that, an image.

That was followed by an eerie sequence in which the animals made slow, rhythmic movements while tracking their reflections. Then, like teenagers, they got hooked.

All three conducted oral self-exams. Maxine, a 35-year-old female, even used the tip of her trunk to get a better look inside her mouth. She also used her trunk to slowly pull her ear in front of the mirror so she could examine it -- "self-directed" behaviors the zookeepers had never seen before.

Moreover, one elephant, Happy, 34, passed the most difficult measure of self-recognition: the mark test. The researchers painted a white X on her left cheek, visible only in the mirror. Later, after moving in and out of view of the mirror, Happy stood directly before the reflective surface and touched the tip of her trunk to the mark repeatedly -- an act that, among other insights, requires an understanding that the mark is not on the mirror but on her body.

The researchers also placed a transparent, "sham" mark that could not be seen in the mirror on Happy's right cheek, to see if the feel of that mark on the skin alone might cause her to touch that spot. It did not.

DeWaal acknowledged that the precise meaning of the test is debatable. In particular, he said, "people who work on animals that don't pass the test get upset" and tend to belittle its meaning.

But he and many others strongly suspect that the rarity of mirror self-recognition -- along with it being more common among animals reported to help other animals in need -- makes the test a good marker for a certain level of consciousness.

"I believe that all animals have some level of self-awareness, but those that pass the mirror test have more of it," de Waal said.

Marc Hauser, a Harvard biologist who has studied self-recognition in cotton-top tamarins, said that the mirror test is valuable but that other tests can also shed light on "what kinds of thoughts animals have about themselves and others."
Not so dumbo is he now, eh?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kent "Dr. Dino" Hovind, felon

All reasonably informed and honest Creationist-watchers (a hobby similar to bird-watching, only involving much larger amounts of schadenfreude) shouldn't need a jury to tell them that Kent Hovind, founder of Creation Science Evangelism, is both a liar and a fraud, but today, after a three hour deliberation, a jury Florida did just that:

A federal jury has convicted Kent Hovind and his wife, Jo, of tax fraud.

Hovind faces a maximum of 288 years in prison. His wife faces up to 225 years. Her charges include aiding and abetting her husband with 44 counts of evading bank-reporting requirements.
Since forming his "ministry" in 1989, Hovind has conned his way into the hearts and wallets of untold thousands of naive and unfortunate church-goers who earnestly wanted to believe that he was doing the Lord's Work. Well, reasonable people may disagree about what doing the Lord's Work might look like, but one thing is certain: as he spread the warm and fuzzy Gospel of Young-Earth Creationism, Hovind conveniently managed to forget that part about rendering unto Caesar, and now Caesar's come to collect the debt. There's a lesson here--you can lie to children and swindle the ignorant, but never, ever try to cheat the Taxman; he always wins.

I know I shouldn't have a smile on my face right now, that there's something wrong with taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, even major-league assholes like Hovind, but I can't help it. I confess--I'm a terrible person, and this piece of justice is so terribly sweet that I just can't keep from grinning.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Christmas Loot

In an effort to make it easier for you to further my materialistic educational goals this Holiday Season*, I have created an Amazon Wish List. Now, instead of worrying about whether I'd prefer this or that book, the only question you'll have to ask yourself is, How many books should I get him? As an added convenience , I've included a link to my Wish List on the sidebar; that way--on the off-chance that you don't purchase something for me immediatly after reading this--you'll still be able to access my list when this post gets buried by the many insightful and moving pieces I'll undoubtedly write between now and Christmas.

*Please note: the author of this blog does not restrict his acceptance of gifts, bribes, and random acts of kindness solely to the Christmas Season; they are welcome year-round.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Less of me, more of Tool

Well, I obviously haven't been doing much in the way of blogging in the past couple of weeks. Events in real life (as if I had one!) have kept me busy and distracted, but I'm sure that, one of these days, I'll get back to doing whatever it is that I do with this blog. While I think up something interesting to say, watch this amazing performance of the song "H." by Tool. The sound quality is fantastic, but the cameraman should be summarily executed for moving the shot away from Maynard during the most powerful part of the song. Nevertheless, the video is awesome. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dave gets put on the "naughty" list

Dear Santa Claus,

While out running errands this evening, I couldn't help but notice that you seem to be making preparations for Christmas rather *ahem* early this year. Now, I don't mean to be critical, and I certainly wouldn't want to tell you how to do your job, but, frankly, I'm a bit concerned. It's not that I don't appreciate your eager festive spirit; nothing could be further from the truth! It's just that, well, I think you may be jumping the gun a bit this year. I really love the Christmas season, but I also really enjoy some of the other major fourth-quarter holidays(I won't mention any names--I know how much you hate that) and would hate to miss them. Personally, I think it would be a real big shame if we started going straight from Columbus Day to Christmas each year. That just wouldn't feel right to me, and I hope you don't mind me saying so.

Here's an idea: Maybe you could stick to holding sway over our lives from Black Friday through the end of December and let those other fun--but admittedly inferior--holidays keep their usual time slots? Whatever you decide to do, I want you to know that I think you're doing a "heckuva a job," and I'll respect your expert judgement on the matter. I just wanted to let you know how I felt.

Still love ya, big guy!


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Charles Colson's Misplaced Congratulations

I'm finally ready to admit the truth: I'm addicted to the evolutionary culture wars. Now, there's no need to lecture me; I already know what you're going to say. Sure, the culture wars are bad for you. I'm fully aware that they rot your brain and are more addictive that an eight-ball of meth laced with nicotine; I'm not ignorant to the fact that the evolutionary/creationism argument is well-known as the "gateway" conflict, leading inexorably toward more "hardcore" wars regarding abortion rights and laissez-faire capitalism; and I've often heard it said that those who engage in culture war-related activities do so because of deep-seated personal issues that have not been properly resolved; But you know what? I really don't care! I like my culture wars, okay? Is that so bad? Sure I spend hours each day reading (and sometimes participating in) obscure and often inane arguments on numerous blogs and message boards, but I could quit anytime I wanted to. Really, I could. I just don't want to right now. My habit hasn't been a problem for me so far, and I see no reason why it has to be one in the future.

Right. . .

Having gotten that out of the way, I came across this short article by Charles Colson (of, among other things, Watergate fame) that I wanted to share. It's just so silly that I couldn't not comment on it. In his brief commentary, Colson heaps praises upon Phillip Johnson, the so-called "Father" of the Intelligent Design movement. It's short, so I'm just going to quote the entire thing:

How do you honor a man who started a groundbreaking movement that challenged the scientific establishment and is changing the way the world thinks about the origins of life?

Phillip Johnson’s friends came up with a great way to answer that question. In honor of Phil’s many accomplishments, they have commissioned and published a collection of essays, in a book titled Darwin’s Nemesis. That’s the perfect title, because that’s exactly what Phil has become over the past fifteen years. This feisty Berkeley law professor became the unlikely spearhead of the intelligent design movement with the publication of his book Darwin on Trial, in which, from the perspective of a skilled lawyer, he examined and cross-examined Darwinism and found gaping holes. His legal and rhetorical training had convinced him that the Darwinists were acting like people with “something to hide.” Indeed, they are.

His investigation showed him exactly what they were hiding. As geophysicist Stephen Meyer puts it, the best Darwinists can put forth is “a panoply of euphemism and wishful thinking masquerading as evidence.” So Phil dared to start questioning what many believed to be unquestionable and to enlist many scientists to start questioning it as well. The rest, as they say, is history.

Through all the controversy—and just plain mud-slinging—that followed the publishing of Darwin on Trial, Phil has maintained his stance, continuing his lawyerly probing and careful research, and he has kept his good humor and graciousness. In these ways, he serves as a magnificent example to all of us involved in worldview teaching.

Just the list of authors who have contributed to Darwin’s Nemesis shows the effectiveness of Phil’s approach. It’s full of essays by distinguished scientists and philosophers who support the intelligent design movement. And it even includes a couple of articles by critics of intelligent design, including philosophy professor and evolution advocate Michael Ruse—the kind of balance you’d like to see in classrooms. In the contentious debate that surrounds the intelligent design vs. evolution issue, getting the participation of someone like Ruse is a testimony to Phillip Johnson.

There’s no doubt that Phil’s willingness to encourage the work of scientists and help create a network for them has allowed the movement to flourish. This book really shows just how far the intelligent design (ID) movement has progressed in a relatively short time, despite the best efforts of many Darwinists to shoot it down—because, as is becoming clearer and clearer, ID has the evidence on its side.

But Darwin’s Nemesis is far more than a tribute to one man—it’s an insightful, enjoyable, highly readable explanation of the intelligent design movement as a whole. And as the passages I’ve quoted demonstrate, this is very much in keeping with Philip Johnson’s practice of keeping the focus on the movement and the questions it is asking, not on himself. The paradox is that by doing this, he has shown how one informed and dedicated individual can literally shape the course of history—just one more lesson from Phil Johnson’s work from which we all can benefit, and one more reason why he’s one of my personal heroes.

Let's be blunt: Charles Colson is talking out of his ass. Here are a few things he didn't mention:

* The ideas of Phillip Johnson are neither ground-breaking nor are they particularly challenging to the scientific community.

* Despite quite a lot of popular-level book, efforts to introduce ID into high school classrooms, propaganda press releases and thousands of dollars spent on marketing, ID has made little headway in its quest for acceptance by the scientific community, and as Philosopher and ID-proponent Paul Nelson has admitted, there is currently no actual scientific theory of Intelligent Design.

*Less than a year ago, in the landmark ID-case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, Judge Jones, a Bush-appointed conservative Christian, ruled that ID is not science and has no place in science class (see here for a copy of the ruling. It's actually quite an interesting read.)

The plain fact of the matter is that there is little reason to believe that ID will ever find acceptance by any substantial percentage of the relevant scientific community--ie., Biologists. This is the case, I believe, for at least two reasons:

1. Despite countless Creationists' assertions to the contrary, Evolutionary Biology is scientifically productive field of research, and there really is an enormous amount of evidence favoring the idea that life on earth is a product of descent with modification from earlier organisms via, among other things, the creation of genetic variabilty through mutation spread of this inherited variability through differential reproductive succes (ie., Natural Selection). Does that mean that Biologists know everything that they would like to know about the history and diversity of life? Not at all. Does it mean that all aspects of the currently-accepted Evolutionary theory will turn out to be correct in every case ? Again, no. But this also doesn't mean that God--err. . .the Designer--should be inserted as an answer for questions we haven't figured out yet. That's the great thing about science; there's always something more to learn and discover.

2. The second--and in my opinion, too commonly overlooked--reason is that, unlike mainstream evolutionary theory, ID really does nothing to satisy the insatiable hunger to understand how and why the world around us works that is probably the single biggest driving force behind the research that scientists undertake. Boiled down to its most basic form, ID simply states that certain features of life (there is a seperate field of ID that deals not with life but with attributes of the universe itself that I'm ignoring here) are best explained as the product of an intelligent agency. But when pressed to make statements about who the designer is and when, how, and for what reason these designs were implemented, ID-proponents are characteristically silent (except, of course, in front of "safe" audiences consisting of conserative Christians. Then, they're very open about the Designer being synonymous with the Christian God). To drudge up an old euphemism, ID simply cannot and will not cut the mustard with most scientists because it doesn't even attempt to answer most of the questions that they're asking.

It's obvious that Chuck Colson knows next to nothing about Biology (or if he does, he's doing a stupendous job of hiding it). That's not to say that I'm an expert myself. I'm certainly not. But I know enough to spot bullshit when I see it; and Colson's "commentary" is a nice pile of hot, steaming, poo.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The disturbing ironies of public service

Rep. Mark Foley, the Republican Congressman from Florida who recently resigned after it was revealed that he wrote sexually inappropriate email messages to at least one underage boy, also "chaired the House caucus on missing and exploited children and was credited with writing the sexual-predator provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which Bush signed in July," according to the Washington Post.

I think we can all take comfort in knowing that this law protecting children from sexual predators was authored by somebody who very likely had a great deal of knowledge and expertise on the topic. What a breathtakingly repugnant piece of work that man is.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tooling around YouTube

As of late, I've been spending quite a bit of time at the website YouTube, searching for and watching live videos of the band Tool. While Tool has been around since the early '90's, they didn't show up on my radar--which obviously must have been pointed in the wrong direction--until fairly recently. Fortunately for me, they did show up eventually, and now they're one of my favorite bands. You might even call me a Tool convert. And while I may be a newbie, what I lack in experience, I make up for in enthusiasm. As I do with many of the other things I enjoy the most, I have taken it upon myself to spread the good news of Tool's existence to those presumably uninitiated people around me (Mom and Dad, you're not closet Tool fans, are you?). For this reason, please allow me to present--with thanks to YouTube and some lucky fan with a video camera--this excellent video of Tool performing "Pushit" live in concert circa 1995. Enjoy!

*Warning: The following contains profanity*

Edit: As I mentioned in the comments, YouTube pulled the video for "Pushit" from their website. I've replaced it with another live Tool video, a two-part song called "Parabol/Parabola." There's no profanity in this one, just amazing music and an oddly satisfying animated video. Again, enjoy!

Monday, September 18, 2006


Here are some photos from the wedding I recently attended in Rosarito, Mexico. Enjoy!

The beautiful bride:
The bride and groom (plus random children):

The Bridesmen: "Girly men? Who called us girly men? We'll kick your asses!"

More friends:

Alcohol-inspired randomness:
A good--and safe!--time was had by all. I, for one, couldn't have asked for more.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A novel weekend

Things I've recently done for the first time:

- Driven to and around Mexico, getting lost (or nearly so) on multiple occasions
- Acted as a Bridesman in a wedding (no, I didn't wear a dress, but I offered to)
- Ate Filet Mignon
- Endured minor harrassment at the hands of uppity U.S. Border Control Agents
- Attempted--badly and under the influence--to salsa dance
- Patronized a McDonald's restaurant--okay, it wasn't the first time ever, but it was the first--and, hopefully, the last--in quite a long while.

All of these new experiences were centered around the recent wedding in Rosarito, Mexico of two of my friends. If I get my virtual "hands" on any pictures, I may just post a few of them here.

Just in case your Bush Administration "Outrage-O-meter" hasn't already burst into flames. . .

. . .Read this Washington Post story about the government's display of incompetence and croneyism in the effort to rebuild Iraq. Here is a howl-inducing sample (but really, you should read the whole thing):

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

These days, I've been having a difficult time getting a really good righteous indignation fix. It use to be that I could just read any old news story about Bush saying or doing something dihonest, incompetent, corrupt, or evil, and I'd be set for a days. But lately, it seems that Bush rarely does or says anything that isn't dishonest, incompetent, corrupt, or evil anymore. For this reason, the kinds of news stories that had formerly compelled me to thrust my head into the wall--a compulsion I soon learned to supress--are now I dime a dozen, and I increasingly find myself in a state of political anger-fatigue. It's only the most brazen demonstrations of government ineptitude and unscrupulousness that can pull me from my apathetic slump. This WaPo article sure managed to do the trick, though. I think I'll be good to go for at least the rest of the day, but I'll make no promises that I won't be jonesing again by tomorrow.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ken Miller talk at KU

Recently, Kenneth Miller, a Cell Biologist and Intelligent Designer-debunker extraordinaire, gave a talk at Kansas University entitled "God, Darwin, and Design: Creationism’s Second Coming." He's an extremely smart guy, an engaging speaker, and, while I don't agree with everything he says (For instance, his proclivity to lay the blame for creationists' problems with evolution almost entirely at the feet of certain atheists tends to irk me. See here, here and especially here for a very interesting--and, in my opinion, somewhat overstated--three-part discussion related to this topic from PZ Myers), I think Miller is an important and powerful spokesman for science. The talk can be heard here. Jack Krebs of Kansas Citizens for Science also posted a summary of the talk at The Pandas Thumb.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Asher and me

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting my new nephew. Here are a couple of photos from that momentous occasion:

Don't be confused by the peaceful facade. Beneath this adorable surface, lies a raging maelstrom of discontentment, which, when disturbed (and in this case, "to disturb" is synonymous with "to induce consciousness"), can only be appeased by massive amounts of breast milk. He's a cutie, though, and the word on the street is that he may be turning over a happier leaf.

Personally, I think it must the influence from his uncle that's responsible for Asher's change in demeanor. Let me be clear, though: my status as a positive role model will go no further. From here on out, I'll do nothing but teach him profanity, feed him candy before dinner, and give aid to all his efforts at mischief-making and rule-flouting. Kid, you are going to love me!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Be still my poor, downtrodden ego

How much is this blog worth?

Not a thing, apparently. I think that we can all agree that there must be some mistake here. A blog of such caliber as mine must surely be worth a great deal, indeed! The most logical conclusion to be reached from this embarrassing miscalculation is that something is severely wrong with Capitalism. Obviously, the valuation methods in current use have not even the most tenuous connection to anything resembling reality. Therefore, by the powers invested in me by the state of California, I am officially declaring the demise of our free-market system, which will be replaced by a new system in which an object's market value is based solely upon my whims; and my whims dictate that this blog be worth $100,000,000,000. It looks like I won't need to be going into work anytime soon!

Take that, you elitist bastards!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A letter to my One True Love

Dear AutoZone,

Please forgive this audacious thought: If you had testicles and I had a uterus, I would happily have your babies. Heck, I'm so in love with you right now, there isn't much that I wouldn't do for you. You see, I have what Automotive Psychologists call Aftokinotophobia, the uncontrollable fear of sudden car problems. I find the thought that my car might suffer catastrophic engine failure only marginally less troubling than the thought that I might die a gruesome and torturous death at a very young age.

Needless to say, when I noticed last Friday that my "Check Engine" light had turned, I did not take the news well; in the four days since, I have become a raging alcoholic, ripped out every hair on my body, and committed no less than four separate felonies (only one of which involved a domesticated animal). Obviously, things were not looking up for me. . .that is, until I found you.

What can I say? You picked me up from the vile gutter in which I lay, quieted my cataclysmic moanings, and got me back on my feet again, all without charging me a dime! What man could expect such kindness--such mercy--in a world as cruel as this one? Certainly I, the Grand Poobah of Motor Vehicle Ineptitude, rank among the least worthy of your time and patience, and yet, thanks to your unfailing efforts, I need not now endure the scorn and humiliation (not to mention the bilking) that surely awaited me at the hands of my most hated enemy, the devious Mechanic, to whom I feared that I was bound to turn.

Now that I have seen your beacon of light, shining in this cold, dark world, I cannot go back to where I was before; I am irrevocably changed. I feel as if a vital piece of my soul has been restored, like I've learned what it is to be truly human--the kind of wholistic person that the great Automotive Manufacturer in the Sky intended me to be--and I owe it all to you.

If there is anything that I can do to show you my appreciation and unfaltering devotion--anything at all--please allow me to, in some small way, repay the generosity that you have shown me.

Forever Yours,


P.S. When I looked into your eyes and said, "Please tell me how to fix this," what I really meant was, "I love you with all of my heart."

P.P.S. When you looked into my eyes and replied, "Just make sure you tighten your gas cap the next time you fill up your tank," I knew what you really meant was, "And I you, with all of my heart."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Introducing someotherguy 2.0

Now with two times the self-indulgence!

I'm play around with some of the settings. The old blog name and template were never very satisfying to me, so I've changed them. I'm not certain that these changes will be permanent either--although, for the moment, I'm mildy amused by the new title--so let me know what you think.

Testing the limits

Thousands of years ago, a genetic mutation spread among a group of Northern Europeans which caused them to produce the enzyme lactase as adults, thus conferring the ability to comfortably digest dairy products past the time of weaning. Since then, countless millions of adults have enjoyed the benefits of drinking milk and eating cheese (not to mention the satisfaction of savoring a delicious Dairy Queen Blizzard!), but I think I may have just inadvertently stumbled upon the limits of this particular evolutionary advantage. My lunch today consisted of five pieces of pizza and a container of yogurt. Now I know that there really can be too much of a good thing. As the Swedes say, "Oofdah!"

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Free at last!

Free from the tyranny of computer waiting lines. . .
Free from the ghastly comments of the unwashed, library-going (and My Space-obsessed) masses. . .
Free from the dreaded automated logoffs. . .
Free from horror of waking up at 2 am and realizing that I can't check my favorite blogs for updates. . .
Free from the debilitating lack of access to pirated software, music and videos. . .

Ladies and gentlemen, after months of agonized waiting, I am officially back online! I'm so happy I could spit (except I won't, since I might damage my brand new monitor and that would be truly tragic)! I would like to take this moment and officially welcome myself back to the 21st Century. Oh, it feels good!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Confessional checklist of an irreparably geeky person

1. Loves the X Files. . .check

2.1 Has read The Lord of the Rings more than half a dozen times. . .check

2.2 Has seriously contemplated the controversies surrounding whether or not Tolkien's Elves had pointy ears and if the Balrog's wings were real or metaphorical. . .check (For the record, my position is "no" on the pointy ears and definitely metaphorical for the wings.)

2.3 Owns multiple copies of both the Lord of the Rings and the Sillmarillion. . .check

3. Dressed in costume for the midnight showing of Star Wars: Episode 1. . .check

4. Thinks Carl Sagan was a Prophet. . .check

5. Loves comic books. . .check

6. Thinks Cortana from Halo is totally hot. . .check

7. Can expound at length on the topic of why Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series started brilliantly, but eventually spiraled into an insufferably convoluted morass of unreadable garbage. . .check

8. Considers Ender's Game to be the finest piece of literature ever written by a Mormon. . .check

9. Has a blog. . .check

10. Has, in the past, owned and read multiple books set in the Star Trek universe. . .check

My, that was painful, but carthartic. I've needed to get all of that off of my chest for quite some time. As they say, admitting that you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, and, as I think is evident, I have a lot of problems to recover from. At least I've never watched Buff the Vampire Slayer or played D & D; maybe there is hope for me yet.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The ridiculous and the weird

For your science-reading pleasure, see two recent posts from Carl Zimmer:

One is on the evolution of a unique--Zimmer aptly refers to them as "beautifully ridiculous"--group of whales, and the other is a stranger-than-fiction story about an odd type of cancer found in dogs which, according to some scientists, could potentially be considered a form of parisitic life.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Maxims: old, new, and modified

Some people—conservative, free-market advocates especially, from my experience—like to repeat the old adage, "Those who cannot do, teach." Having known quite a few multitalented teachers, I've never given that phrase much credence. Regardless of this fact, I'd like to propose a new aphorism in a similar vein: "Those who cannot win an argument, play the martyr.” As inspiration for this coining, I would like to credit the following hilarious comment from Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski:
The pressures directed against frontline ID proponents are real. From your armchair, it is easy enough to say that we need simply to get to work. But families and livelihoods really are under threat by these Darwinian fascists, and when our days are spent trying to shore up the latter, the former does not get done.
(note: this is Dembski's comment as it originally appeared. After posting it, he made some unannounced modifications—including changing “Darwinian fascists” to the marginally less ridiculous “Darwinian enforcers”—presumably after realizing how crankish he sounded. His revised statement can be viewed by clicking the above link; it’s not much better. )

Unbelievable. Evidently the big, bad, evil, “Darwinist” scientists are really the ones to blame for the complete lack of scientific productivity shown thus far by the Intelligent Design movement! It couldn’t be that ID is a scientifically useless concept. No sir, the truth is that ID is being suppressed by the Man! That must be the most parsimonious explanation.

If William Dembski didn’t exist, some ethically-challenged evilutionists would have to make him up, if only to make their creationist/ID opponents look even more absurd.

(Via Stranger Fruit)

Monday, July 31, 2006

Blood Pressure Rising

Today, one of my co-workers claimed that global warming is an evidence-free hoax perpetuated by angst-filled hippies like Al Gore who simply can't stand the idea that some of the rest of us are having a good time. Comments like these make my blood pressure shoot up so fast that I can almost feel my veins constricting. My anger is not directed so much against the absurd falsity of the statement itself--although I'm sure that scientists who make up the The American Meteorological Society, American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science would be more than a little bewildered to find out that they're all a bunch of fun-hating, spiteful hippies--but against the attitude that it represents.

It's simply a fact that a statement of such arrogance must necessarily stem from a position of ignorance, if only because no well-informed person could honestly hold it. What bothers me so much is that this attitude is so common. Many people seem more than happy to read an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal or listen to a rant from Rush Limbaugh and decide that they've done enough "research" to blithely wave away decades worth of experiments and research that they don't even understand. It's just the intellectual equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and repeating "Your wrong! I'm not listening!" over and over.

Here's an idea to keep in mind: just because you've read Michael Crichton's factually-challenged thriller about evil environmentalist conspiracies doesn't make you a climate science expert. Hell, I frequently read books and articles by scientists on the subject of climate change, and the more I learn, the more I realize that I don't know anything about it. That's just the way it is--learning new stuff requires lots of hard work and effort!

It takes a mind-bogglingly large amount of hubris--not to mention a rather under-developed set of critical thinking skills--to stand in a place of complete (or near complete) ignorance on a topic and accuse thousands of trained professionals--people who have devoted their lives and their livelihoods to the subject--of fraud and/or incompetence. And yet, I manage to come across plenty of global-warming deniers--and no small number of creationists--who are more than willing to do just that on a regular basis. It makes me sad and angry. It's okay to be ignorant; it's even okay to be arrogant, but to be both at the same time, about the same thing? That's unacceptable.

For the sake of fairness, I humbly request that if anybody catches me bloviating on a subject that I'm clueless about--and that's a long list of topics--please, please, please give me a swift kick in the ass at your earliest opportunity. I might not like it at the time, but eventually I'll come to thank you for it; and you'll be doing your part to make the world a better place.

The sole caveat to all of this are the so-called "literary theorists." Everybody who isn't an idiot knows that "literary theory" is a pile of garbage concocted by a bunch of know-nothing blowhards who wanted to make themselves feel important, but didn't have any real talent. I, of course, don't need to know anything about literary theory to make that judgment; it's just obvious.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Happy Birthday, Asher!

For the few people who read my blog, but don't read my, my sister's, after nine months and more pregnanacy-related blog posts than this non-father could believe possible (just kidding, Cath!), she has finally given birth to a healthy, blond-haired, baby boy named Asher. He was born yesterday afternoon. Welcome to the world, little guy! I'm sure many awe-inspiring photos will be forthcoming. I can't wait to see 'em!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Something I don't understand

Hezbollah militants/terrorists/freedom fighters/Islamofascists/whatever kill three Israeli Soldiers and kidnap two others.

That's bad.

In response, Israeli forces start bombing Lebanon, knocking out the Beruit airport and killing 53 civilians.

Isn't that worse? I just don't get it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Questions about Ethics

A query:

If I happen to catch a colleague reading the World Net Daily website, and I have good reason to think that he's not just doing it because he's amused by the rantings of crazy people, am I allowed to think less of him?

A follow-up query:

If the answer to the previous question is "no" and I already do think less of him, should I feel sorry about this?

A final query:

If the answer to the first question is "no," and the answer to the second question is "yes," and I don't feel sorry about thinking less of him, should I engage in regular, wet-noodle-facilitated bouts of self-flagellation in a desperate attempt to repair my ailing conscience?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Victory in Berlin

My fellow Patriotic Americans,

Today is a day of celebration for all those believe in our cherished, blue-blooded American values! Our European nemeses, those pretentious, head-butting surender-monkeys, the French, have suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Italian national soccer team. The Italians--who will no doubt soon be names as honorary American citizens by a united (except for the irrelevant, whiny, French-loving Democrats) act of Congress--has defeated the neo-marxist French team to become World Cup Champions. The Italians played gloriously and easily defeated the cheese-eating French, who seemed far too concerned with appeasing terrorists to succeed at something as manly as a national sporting event. Please join me and the rest of the civilized world in laughing in the face of wine-snobbery and cowardice, and give a hearty cheer for free-market capitalism, cheap beer, and all Italians everywhere! Huzzah!

P.S. Some Un-American traitor-types may be wondering why the Americans had to rely on another European country to defeat the much-hated French. Well, everybody knows that Soccer is just a mild form of Collectivistic Socialism, and we Americans hate that sort of thing, so it's no wonder that we're no good at it. If the French are foolish enough to decide that they want to try they pathetic hand against us in a real, Capitalistic sport like baseball, basketball or football--not hockey, though; hockey is only played by Communists like the Canadians, Russians and Minnesotans--we'll be happy to kick their pansy asses ourselves.

Again, Huzzah!

Monday, July 03, 2006

In the annals of "That's just weird and creepy!"

From here:

Church constructs monument to Christianity in likeness of Lady Liberty

As drivers wait for a green light on Winchester Road, they automatically lean their heads forward to view the 72-foot sea-foam-green Statue of Liberation overlooking Hickory Hill.

The towering replica of the Statue of Liberty -- with a few Christian touches -- is being erected in front of the 12,000-member World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church at Winchester and Kirby Parkway.

Replacing the recognizable torch, Lady Liberty holds a cross.
A beige sheet veils much of the $260,000 statue and will be removed during a Fourth of July ceremony.

Lady Liberty's uncovered eyes already peer down on the community. A tear falls from her right eye representing her concern for America.

Church members said the mixture of the statue and Christian symbols represent "America belonging to God through Jesus Christ."

The statue's famous inscription -- "Give me your tired, your poor ..." -- has been replaced with Roman numerals representing the Ten Commandments.

The seven-spiked crown that represents the seven seas of the world, has been changed to signify the seven redemptive names of Christ, according to church pastor Apostle Alton R. Williams.

Inscribed on the crown is the name Jehovah.

Democracy? Who needs democracy when we can have a good, old-fashioned theocracy?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A mixed bag

Some good news and bad news regarding the proposed amendment to ban the "desecration" of US flags.

The good news: The bill fell four votes short of the 67 needed for it to pass the Senate--after already passing in the House by a count of 286 to 130--and be sent to the states for ratification.

The bad news: We have 349 Congress-people who don't have the foggiest clue about what the concept of free speech really means.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Personal rejection, venture capitalist gnomes and other absurdities of life

I tend to shy away from blogging about my personal life. I find the idea to be somewhat pretentious and the results seem to be more than a little boring. I certainly don't have anything against pretension--I think a certain bit of pretentiousness is a prerequisite for even starting a blog--and boring is okay from time to time, but the combination of the two? Not good (amusing stories from junior high school being a notable--or possibly notorious!--exception). That being said, I'm going to deviate from my standard operating procedure and write about my life outside of my antipathy towards George W. Bush. Feel free to stop reading now. I won't take it personally; after all, I'm not terribly interested in reading about your life, either*.

Anyway, I mentioned a few months back that I was applying to the University of California, San Diego in order to transfer into their Biological Anthropology program. After many days of nail-biting and eager mailbox-checking, I finally was informed in May that my application was rejected. Today I found out why. As it turns out, I was rejected because of where I was transferring from, or more precisely, where I wasn't transferring from. Apparently the UC system is mandated by the California state legislature to give heavy preference to students transferring from other California states schools and community colleges, and because UCSD consistently has so many applicants coming from these schools, they accept basically no transfer applicants from non-California schools (and they probably just point and laugh at students coming from tiny, Midwestern, evangelical Christian liberal arts schools--thanks, Wheaton!). That's what I was told, anyway.

In one sense, I feel this comes as good news because now my ego can rest assured that the cause of my rejection was not some personal or academic flaw of mine. On the other hand, the news is disappointing because, as the admissions office informed me, nothing I can do will ever get me accepted. It's simply not going to happen. As many Socal surfers are wont to say, "Bummer, dude."

There goes plan A. And plan B. . .well, I'm still working on plan B. I'm feeling kind of similar to the underpants gnomes of South Park, except that the gnomes have both steps one and three of their business plan figured out (to those who do not consider South Park to be an integral part of their lives, the underpants gnomes' business plan consists of the following steps: 1. collect underpants 2. ??? 3. profit), whereas I'm really only solid on step three of my evil plan to become an exotically rich and famous primatologist who takes over the world. My plan looks something like this:



3. Become exotically rich and famous and take over the world. Or is it become rich and famous and exotically take over the word? Or possibly I'm suppsed to become rich and famous and take over an exotic world! Who knows?

Apparently I may still need to spend more time working this whole life-plan thing out. I may not know what it is that I'm doing with my life, but at least I now know what the next step is. Oh wait, I haven't the foggiest clue about that either. Okay, I may not know what I'm doing with my life and I may not know what the next step is going to be, but at least I know what the next step isn't going to be! I think I'll take some solace in that. Oh hell, maybe I'll just join the underpants gnomes; I'm sure they have things figured out by now.

*Just kidding, Catherine.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The world is back to normal

That's right, now that I've gotten that brief, aberrational Bush-praising out of my system, I can get back to my regularly schedule government-loathing. It seems that the Bush Administration, not content to spy on Americans using the NSA, has resorted to using the private-sector to violate our civil liberties. See this AP Report for details:

WASHINGTON - Numerous federal and local law enforcement agencies have bypassed subpoenas and warrants designed to protect civil liberties and gathered Americans' personal telephone records from private-sector data brokers.

These brokers, many of whom advertise aggressively on the Internet, have gotten into customer accounts online, tricked phone companies into revealing information and even acknowledged that their practices violate laws, according to documents gathered by congressional investigators and provided to The Associated Press.

Yes, that sounds more like the government we all know and love.

Thanks to Ed Brayton for the heads up.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hey NSA, read this one!

Anybody who reads this blog knows how much I love to rag on President Bush for being a dishonest, incompetent hack, and for making a general muck of nearly everything to which he puts his hand. Well folks, it's time to buy an industrial strength raincoat and a very large umbrella because the swine are taking to the sky tonight (years from now, I predict that people will remember June 17th, 2006 as The Day It Rained Pig Shit); that's right, I'm about to say something nice about "Dubya."

Not being used to this sort of thing, I'm naturally having a hard time getting the words out, so I'll just say it as plainly as I can: President Bush did something really, really great this week. (I wonder if this means I have to turn in my "Arch Liberal, Destroyer of Freedom and Enemy of Liberty" credentials. I hope not; I think the signed glossy photo of Alec Baldwin simultaneously burning an American Flag and eating pages of the Bible has a high potential value as a collector's item) The Christian Science Monitor has the exciting details:

With the stroke of a pen, President Bush has established the largest ocean wildlife reserve in the world, centered along a string of islands, reefs, and atolls that stretch 1,400 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands.

Other reef systems, such as Australia's Great Barrier Reef, are larger. But only a third of that UN-designated World Heritage reef is protected, analysts say, leaving far more of it open to exploitation.

The move comes from an administration not known as the darling of the environmental and conservation crowd. But it's drawing kudos from a variety of marine-conservation groups. The region's relative isolation has allowed it to retain some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world. The president's proclamation Thursday, which designated the area as a national monument, immediately created a reserve that covers some 140,000 square miles, more territory than all of America's national parks combined.

"This is just amazing," says Ellen Athas, ecosystems-protection director for the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, who served on the president's Council on Environmental Quality under Bill Clinton. "This is an important first step in protecting some of the world's healthiest reefs for future generations."

Way to go, Mr. President! Now if we could only convince you to give a damn about anthropogenic climate change. . .

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Get thee gone from the gene pool!*

From the Seattle Times:

A man shouting that God would keep him safe was mauled to death by a lion in a Kiev, Ukraine, zoo after he crept into the animal's enclosure, a zoo official said Monday.

"The man shouted, 'God will save me, if he exists,' lowered himself by a rope into the enclosure, took his shoes off and went up to the lions," the official said. "A lioness went straight for him, knocked him down and severed his carotid artery."

The Kiev authorities have ruled this a suicide, but I think that there is more to the story. It seems obvious to me that this was no mere suicide, but a propaganda stunt concocted by the Evil Atheist Conspiracy. The poor guy was only a patsy.

*Alternately titled: "In which I show a stunningly offensive lack of sensitivity."

A melodramatic movie review

I lead an exceedingly meaningless and miserable life; so dreadful is it that I am desperately willing to pursue nearly any activity—no matter how inane and boorish it may be—in order to temporarily escape the wretched drudgery of my daily existence. I would like to think that this really isn’t the case, but reason tells me that it must be so, for I can conceive of no other explanation for why I decided to go see the remake of The Omen this past Tuesday night.

To call this movie bad is to do a grave injustice to every truly bad movie that has ever been made. No, this movie was not bad; it was shit, pure and simple. I have watched hundreds of movies in my short life—many of them tremendously horrible pieces of film—but, by any reasonable standard, The Omen has set a new gold standard for ineptitude in filmmaking. It professed to be a thrilling supernatural horror flick, but it was neither thrilling nor horrifying (well, that’s not actually true; I did find myself continuously horrified by the poor acting and wooden writing). Instead, it was scene after disjointed scene of shear boredom and snooze-worthiness.

Let’s get one thing straight: I did not expect this to be a high-quality film. I fully anticipated that it would be a bad movie, but I did expect—foolishly, in hindsight—that it would at least somewhat interesting and mildly frightening. Alas, this was tragically not the case; nothing could have prepared me for the heights of craptitude that The Omen scaled. I’ve felt my heart pound harder while looking at things floating in my toilet, than I did during this movie. Speaking of things seen in a toilet, did I mention that this movie is shit?

Every few minutes I would think, this is the part where things will get interesting! It wasn’t. After a few more minutes I would declare to myself, Aha! Now the movie’s really going to get scary! It didn’t. And finally, as the movie and my hopes for humanity were nearing their end, I whispered in my head, as if in a prayer, I know there’s going to be something really crazy that happens here at the end, something so wildly unexpected that it will make the torturous boredom of the past ninety minutes all worth it! There wasn’t. What a fool I am.

As I left the theater, a few burning questions formed in my mind:

*Why does the son of Satan seem incapable of making any facial expression more startling than a slightly peevish pout?

*Why—Dear God, why?—was Julia Stiles in this movie? She is neither a good actor, nor an attractive looking person. Poor actor + not hot = should not be in blockbuster Hollywood horror show.

*Why does every horror movie made in the past five years use the same old camera tricks? They’re not scary, only boringly predictable.

*Why has President Bush not banished every person involved in the making of this film to the Russian Gulag, where they will spend the rest of their natural lives engaged in back-breaking labor?

As preoccupied as I still am with finding answers to these questions, I find myself haunted by a disturbing fact: I paid hard-earned cash to see this movie and, therefore, I helped to make The Omen happen. This is my fault. Because of me, more films as shitty as this one—my heart quakes at the mere thought of it—will undoubtedly be made. Please pardon me while I go hang my head in shame.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Delayed Reaction

I took a walk to the beach today and, as I strolled, my mind--for reasons it certainly did not see fit to share with me--wandered back into the days of junior highschool. Specifically, I recalled I the stream of insults and cruel taunts that I so often found being flung my way. I suspect that these verbal assaults are something with which most anybody at that age has to contend, but I found them to be particularly vexing. The reason I was so frustrated was not that I was shocked or dismayed by the fact that I was being belittled--to the contrary, at the time, I believed that the cruelty of one’s friends was a given, that it was simply a part of the natural order of things, and I did my best to make peace with this reality--but instead, my aggravation stemmed from the fact that the barbs used against me were always random and nonsensical in nature.

Instead of picking on some quirk of my personality or highlighting a particularly ugly physical feature (and I surely had plenty of both!), my tormentors chose alternatively to make up some unattractive quality out of whole-cloth, assign it to me, and then mock me for it (An especially perplexing example of this occurred after I wore a recently-purchased “Cookie Monster” T-shirt to school. After being spotted in this apparently ridiculous attire, my “friends” permanently labeled me as “a wuss.” To this day, I cannot understand their logic. To me, Cookie Monster is the very embodiment of testosterone-driven machismo: he knows exactly what he wants and he’s willing to consume anything and everything that stands between him and his desire. Cookie Monster looks at rules, restraints, and societal norms and says, “To Hell with that! Me want Cookies!” How he could possibly be associated in any way with “wussiness” I simply cannot fathom).

To me, this seemed egregiously unjust; if I was to be mocked, I wanted to be mocked for something I deserved, damnit! My assailants’ weapons of choice also had the unfortunate side-effect--and this, I suppose, is the reason for which they were chosen--of catching me so off-guard that, in the moment, I was left completely incapable of mounting an effective counter-attack (and, in these kind of situations, being able to react and respond “in the moment” is all that really matters). So, instead of responding, I simply forced a weak, ineffectual smile and pretended that I wasn’t bothered by what they said.

If the fact that, ten years later, I still find my mind drawn back to their taunting is any evidence, it seems to me now that I really was bothered. Perturbed or not, as I walked today, I finally found my voice; As I replayed these conversations in my head I was at last able to fashion a few retorts so sharp and biting that, had I found myself with the opportunity to use them “in the moment” I would have cut my antagonists to bloody ribbons (metaphorically speaking, of course), while at the same time cementing my own status as demigod of coolness. No bully could possibly have stood in the wake of my calm, collected onslaught. Alas, I fear that my new-found parrying skills have come a decade too late, and since I no longer inhabit the halls of junior highschool, they will be of no use except as a means to revel in pubescent glories that might have been. I suppose that I should simply be glad that, as an adult living in a moderately more mature world, I no longer find having a steady supply of cruel come-backs at-the-ready to be a necessity. On the other hand, should I happen upon a person who, in his abounding foolishness, thinks me a bit of easy sport, a patsy upon which he can effortlessly heap brutally absurd daggers, he will find himself sorely mistaken; the gloves have come off and I’m ready to rumble.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A public service announcement

I just finished reading Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert. This is a book that should be reading by, quite literally, everybody. Go to your local library; go to your local bookstore. Beg, borrower, or steal a copy. Do it now; don't wait. Once you're done reading it, loan it to a friend and tell everybody else you know to read it as well. We all really need a wake-up call. Maybe this could be the start of one.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

More primate (not monkey, darnit!) business

It may not have trickled its way onto most people's radars, but this provocative story has my corner of the internet all a-buzz:

Humans, chimps may have bred after split

Boston scientists released a provocative report yesterday that challenges the timeline of human evolution and suggests that human ancestors bred with chimpanzee ancestors long after they had initially separated into two species.

The researchers, working at the Cambridge-based Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, used a wealth of newly available genetic data to estimate the time when the first human ancestors split from the chimpanzees. The team arrived at an answer that is at least 1 million years later than paleontologists had believed, based on fossils of early, humanlike creatures.

The lead scientist said that this jarring conflict with the fossil record, combined with a number of other strange genetic patterns the team uncovered, led him to a startling explanation: that human ancestors evolved apart from the chimpanzees for hundreds of thousands of years, and then started breeding with them again before a final break.

''Something very unusual happened," said David Reich, one of the report's authors and a geneticist at the Broad and Harvard Medical School.

The suggestion of interbreeding was met with skepticism by paleontologists, who said they had trouble imagining a successful breeding between early human ancestors, which walked upright, and the chimpanzee ancestors, which walked on all fours. But other scientists said the work is impressive and will probably force a reappraisal of the story of human origins. And one leading paleontologist said he welcomed the research as a sign that new genetic information will yield more clues to our deep history than once thought.

''I find this terrifically exciting and important work," said David Pilbeam, a Harvard paleontologist who was not part of the Broad team.

Aside from the fact that the headline is technically not true--neither humans nor chimpanzees as we know them were around at the time of this alleged breeding; it would be more accurate to say that members of the lineages that eventually led to modern humans and chimpanzees may have interbred after these lineages split (Alas, accuracy is once again sacrified in the name of sensationalism)--this is a fascinating story. Rather than offering my own under-informed opinions, let me point in the direction of two immensely more-qualified resources on this controversial topic: the fascinating commentary of science writer extraordinaire Carl Zimmer and the tempered criticisms of John Hawks, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Unless your curiosity drive is malfunctioning--in which case you should seriously consider taking it into the shop--and you are somehow already bored by this fascinating topic, check out the posts by these two writers; they're delicious brain-food.

Oh, and if any kind, Nature-subscribing Samaritan who stumbles onto this blog feels a pressing desire to email me ( a copy of the paper, I certainly would be obliged; I'd love to read this one.