What is unknown, what ought not be claimed

Tara at Aetiology has taken a careful look at the 200-year history of the clockmaker analogy. She quotes her favorite essay arguing against ID:
"The analogy which you attempt to establish between the contrivances of human art, and the various existences of the Universe, is inadmissible. We attribute these effects to human intelligence, because we know beforehand that human intelligence is capable of producing them. Take away this knowledge, and the grounds of our reasoning will be destroyed. Our entire ignorance, therefore, of the Divine Nature leaves this analogy defective in its most essential point of comparison.
Great words - go read the post to find out whose they are. Be sure also to read the lovely excerpts of 19th-century science books explaining god's plan, eg:.
As the earth is round, only half of it can be lighted at once. In order that both sides may be lighted, the Creator has caused the earth to rotate.


Judicial review and accusations of judicial activism

There's a great analysis of "judicial activism" accusations here: Positive Liberty: Activism in Kitzmiller. I'm glad someone can keep a cool head when the angry-and-religious get really noisy. (Thanks to Stranger Fruit for the recommended reading).

id church


Happy solstice!

Originally uploaded by Mrs. Kennedy.

With a cool pumpkin witch photo by Fussy


Aren't these the best stuffed olives ever?

olive penguins

The War on Christmas

I think this sums it up nicely:


Candorville copyright Darrin Bell


What use is half an eye?

Er, did the "What use is half an eye?" argument show up on today's funny page?

missing link

PZ's new dissection of Michael Behe is a fun read.

All I want for Christmas is a Pterosaur!

The Substitute (or A Very Infernokrusher Christmas)



Squidmas carols

Cthulhu Carols
Just a taste:

God rest ye scary great old ones;
Let everything dismay.
Remember Great Cthulhu
Shall rise up from R'lyeh
To kill us all with tentacles
If we should go his way.

O tidings of madness and woe, madness and woe
O tidings of madness and woe!
(from Pharyngula)


So You'd Like to... Use Amazon.com correctly?

Amazon snark

Penguins in training

BBC NEWS | Japan zoo walks portly penguins

For comparison:

The penguins who swam from Tierra del Fuego to Brazil inside their zoo enclosure are described here.


divine canal odor

So. I did a seriously insane amount of cash-register-running and student-question-answering and book-stack-rearranging today. I'm tired and sore and nearly braindead (although now that I'm sitting alone in a quiet place I can feel my brain firing back up). So today's only post will be a big ol' cheat: Go read today's Making Light, it's terrifically funny in a way that is unique to dissections of dumb books by smart people.



Perfectly sensible

I'm scratching my head at this:


This conversation makes perfect sense within its bounds and is nonsensical outside those bounds. Like hexidecimal math, kinda.

Yet another carol for the questioning

Teresa at Making Light has a just wonderful answer to xmas carols:

In this season when Christmas carols so often turn up in irritating or inappropriate contexts, I find it cheers me to be able to piously sing this to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”:

Meum est propositum in taberna mori
ubi vina proxima morientis ori.
Tunc cantabunt laetius angelorum chori:
Deus sit propitius isti potatori, isti potatori.

Poculis accenditur animi lucerna,
cor inbutum nectare volat ad superna.
Mihi sapit dulcius vinum de taberna,
quam quod aqua miscuit praesulis pincerna.

Jejunant et abstinent poetarum chori,
vitant rixas publicas et tumultus fori,
et, ut opus faciant, quod non possit mori,
moriuntur studio subditi labori.

Unicuique proprium dat natura donum,
ego versus faciens bibo vinum bonum
et quod habent purius dolia cauponum;
tale vinum generat copiam sermonum.

Mihi nunquam spiritus poetriae datur,
nisi prius fuerit venter bene satur.
Cum in arce cerebri Bacchus dominatur,
in me Phoebus irruit et miranda fatur.

Tales versus facio, quale vinum bibo,
nihil possum facere, nisi sumpto cibo.
Nihil valent penitus, quae jejunus scribo,
Nasonem post calicem carmine praeibo.

The latin text dates to the 12th century and could be summarized as "an ode to hedonism." Huzzah!

Teresa links to a translation here.

The Field Museum's Women in Science

The Field Museum's Women in Science

Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank, a bimonthly collection of weblog science writing, is newly posted at Rural Rambles


"Creativity, genius and sacrifice."

There's a great discussion going on over at the blurbodoocery about health care reform. As of a few months back, The Family Armstrong is officially and completely self-employed. They knew it would be a challenge to find health coverage without going through an employer, but it's proving almost impossible ". . . the premiums are about three car payments a month. Two if it's a really nice car."

Because this shitty thing is happening to the Armstrongs and they're being open about it, health care reform is getting a new talented, intelligent, employed, cute young family face. Something bigger could come out of this, though - there's a lot of energy and brainpower on the blog circuit. Maybe this will be a watershed moment. As dj blurb wrote:

The biggest issues facing universal health care in the United States seem to be the powerful insurance lobby (remember the scary ads from the insurance companies in the 90s when Clinton wanted to give a health card to everybody?), the failed notion that free markets and competition will keep prices low and the paranoia that universal health care will somehow be a huge step towards socialism/communism. Add to this the decreasing employer contributions to health care for employees and in the next 5 to 10 yearsof continued inflation of health care costs this country will be in serious shit. I believe that it's time to put some brain power into solving this issue. There has to be a better way. Creativity, genius and sacrifice.

Countdown to apocalypse?

Goddam. First France, now Australia.

The news from Sydney:

A week ago two lifeguards at Cronulla beach were assaulted by a group of young men, reportedly of Middle Eastern descent.

On Sunday "thousands of young white men attacked people of Arabic and Mediterranean background" on the same beach (BBC). Thousands?! I'm amazed no one has been killed. It sounds like the property damage began that night.

On Monday night there was a ton of property damage. By that point, some of the attacks were retalliatory. The police were out in sufficient numbers to turn back the thugs who showed up to dismantle the mosque in Maroubra. Oh, and lots and lots of iron bars have been confiscated. Iron bars. Just think of what an iron bar can do to a human cranium.

The polititians are wringing their hands and saying that this sort of thing just doesn't happen in Australia -- it's a pluralist society, after all. Oops, look, it did happen in Australia. Tellingly, the young white guys giving quotes to the press are describing people as either Aussie or "Lebs" (Lebanese) so, er, plurality doesn't seem to be working at ground level in suburban Sydney. As likely as not, the folks being described as "Lebs" are native-born Australians.


Caroling II

crispyshot wrote here:

My UU church went a-caroling to some older members in their nursing homes just yesterday, and our pastor launched into "God rest ye, Unitarians." Made me
chuckle. So did the ex-Catholic we were serenading. When we asked if he had any requests, he said, "Sing me something informative." Curiously, that was not a subject heading in our Traditional Carols book.

So I'm trying to think of "something informative." My mind turned immediately to "The sun is a mass of incandescent gas . . ." which is probably They Might Be Giants. Then I remembered the fall-down-funny geography and physics songs from Animaniacs. The refrain from their excellent Universe Song goes:

It's a great big universe
And we're all really puny
We're just tiny little specks
About the size of Mickey Rooney.
It's big and black and inky
And we are small and dinky
It's a big universe and we're not.


Animaniacs was great brainfood for my seventeen-year-old self.
Plus, it's the funniest thing Spielberg's ever been involved with.

"No God means . . ."

From The Scientific Indian:

Penn Jillette on God

Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

- There Is No God, Penn Jillette.

Loren Eiseley is making this so much easier

I like being a student, and I want to do graduate work, but not in cultural studies (my BA field) . When I was 19, a lot of questions were nagging me that were addressed by history and by story, but I'm on to other questions now. I am fascinated by biology and I've been doing coursework a little at a time so I will eventually be qualified for a graduate program in bio. This term was Zoology, and it was a blast, except for the awkwardness of being five or six years older than my TA, ten years older than my study partners.

I was browsing in the natural history at the public library last week, and I picked up a little gift book put together around a Loren Eiseley essay.
howflowerschangedtheworldI sat down in the stacks and devoured it, and when I reached the last page I reached for the nearby books of his essays. I took them over to a study table and sat down to make a decision about which ones to carry home. I quickly noticed that the author biographies didn't agree - his books published before the seventies had notes about Eiseley's academic career and interests, those published later had added the story of of his adventures as a drifter during the depression. Ears perked up, I checked the library catalog and, yep, he published an autobiography in 1975: All the Strange Hours. I read most of it yesterday.
The thing about Eiseley's story - for me - is that he didn't begin his academic career until his late 20s. He did some bachelor's level work at the usual age, but was pulled away by other pursuits and came back to academia after deciding that it was the only work that would feel meaningful to him. And he succeeded in finding work to do, other people who wanted to study, and a place in print - all the things that seem so uncertain as I decide to shoot the moon. I'm incredibly comforted - it's okay to begin again at my age, it's okay to like scholarship, it's okay.


War is Over! (if you want it)

war is over

xmas is over



I just got a video clip from my brother. In it, Larry the Cable Guy sings carols for his encore. The one that sticks in my mind goes like this:

O Come all ye Immigrants
Gi-it yer Green Cards
Learn some damn English
And then how to drive.
(The views expressed are not necessarily those of the blogger)

The response I sent my brother begins with a "WooooHooooo" and ends with the lyrics of my all-time favorite altered carol:

God rest ye Unitarians, let nothing you dismay
There's no historic evidence there was a Christmas day
When Christ was born is just not known, no matter what they say,
O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact,
Glad tidings of reason and fact
A folklorist could have a field day with tracing the different versions of these lyrics - the first page of google results contained the lyrics I remembered, a pagan history version, and version with an extra dose of cynicism. The UUA's santioned lyrics are listed beside this selection from the Gilbert and Sullivan songbook:
I am the very model of a modern Unitarian :
Far broader than a Catholic, Hindu, Jew or Presbyterian.
I know the world's religions and can trace their roots historical,
From Moses up to Channing, all in order categorical.
Speaking of Unitarian Universalist irreverent music, it was at UU camp that I learned it is possible to sing most of the hymnal to the tune of the Gilligan's Island Theme. (Thanks, Evad!)
Start your humming:
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful trip.
That started from this tropic port,
aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailin' man,
the skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day,
for a three hour tour,
a three hour tour
Now, switch lyrics but keep the same tune:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see
Was blind but now I see

T'was Grace that taught...
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed.
It works on hymn-influenced verse too, see:
Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality.
We slowly drove—He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility—
-Emily Dickenson


Holiday Parties Bite

I went to a party and felt extremely awkward around lawyers and radio execs. They all seemed nice, which is kind of a good thing, but standing around and making nice chit chat makes me a terribly angry person. I usually feel the urge to shout at the nice person This is not a conversation. What makes you think this is a conversation? This is a conversation template that both you and I have revisited thousands and thousands of times. This is not a conversation! Yeah, I know. I am so freaking well-adjusted that you wish you were me.

awkward xmas party


Clippings about Kashmir

I had a foot-in-mouth moment the other night over coffee, when I made a flip statement about Kashmir and the "Oh no, you can't publish that map" stories. I realized I really didn't know much about where the conflict came from.

Reading over the last half-hour, I've learned:
1. When people speak of Kashmir, they may be including any or all of the following territories: Kashmir, Jammu, Ladakh, and Aksai Chin (aka the White Desert).

2. The region is disputed by three countries: Pakistan, India, and China. Parts of the region are controlled by each of the three countries.

3. At the time of Indian independence, Kashmir was a principality bordering India - as were Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal. Like Sikkim, unlike Bhutan and Nepal, Kashmir became a protectorate of the Republic of India for reasons which are summed up by this impatient and semi-ignorant observer as "for it's own good."

4. We (we earthlings) are locked into a standoff between India and Pakistan but no one seems to imagine that Kashmir could rule itself as it did a century ago. Hmph.

Today in The Hindu (newspaper):
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has urged the United States to lend its support to efforts aimed at resolving the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, 'which is at the root of tension in South Asia.'
Suketa Mehta: Too beautiful for death

The Invention of Pakistan and Pakistan is an acronym!

Aw, just like old times

defective yeti:

Snow Advisory
Attention citizens the Greater Seattle Metropolitan Area. As we have now received 1/16th of an inch of snow, municipal code
N-774290.4.c is in effect, requiring all drivers currently on the roads to drive their vehicle into a ditch at the earliest convenient moment.

Reminds me of dear Colin's first-person account of The Blizzard of '96 when he was safely back in Iowa. And of the snow-phobic drivers in Portland that wear studded tires on their cars from October to May.

LCC's miscegenation section

Yesterday my dear friend Shameless Agitator posted this:
"I'm Degenerate/Defective"

[The LCC] classification system has been devised by the LC to partition the world's knowledge into tidy little categories. According to their tidy little system, there's a patch of call numbers starting with Gs that describe persons such as myself, 'Interracial offspring.' This topic is conveniently sandwiched between 'Inbreeding' and 'Degeneration.' Furthermore, 'Interracial marriage' appears in the Gs between 'Inbreeding' and Marriage of Degenerates and Defectives.' (Noted by Karen Downing in her new book, Multiracial America.)

My first reaction was to stomp around my office like an angry little grendlin.Rumplestiltskin2
Once that was accomplished, I hit the internets and looked for more information. The Library of Congress Classification's five volumes of subject headings are either unavailable online or are well hidden. Annoying. Next, I sifted through my friendly neighborhood LCC-classified library and was glad to find that zero books on mixed-race relationships and people of complicated descent have been placed in the degeneracy section of the G's.

*Deep breath*

Okay. That finding allows me to feel hopeful that the classification Shameless found is quietly going away and just needs to be struck from the subject headings. Further evidence: I pulled two books from the stack on my sofa, Joel Crohn's Mixed Matches and Claudine Chiawei O'Hearn's Half and Half and found that both are placed in the LCC's HQ classification: Social Sciences: Marriage & Family. That's where they belong.

Kudos to Shameless Agitator and Karen Downing for shining a klieg light on the LCC's lingering miscegenation section. May it be eradicated.

Why are Mixed Matches and Half and Half in the stack of books next to my reading lamp? Because I'm a white girl and I've been seeing a guy from India for a few weeks. *Grin* We like each other and it's all going swimmingly. And because I'm a research junkie - no matter what subject, I always go to the library and learn the "conventional wisdom" and the current ideas forwards and backwards before I even think about the possibility of making a decision.

Before things get serious between us - and it seems like they will - I want to know what the "special challenges" are supposed to be and whether I'm up for them. And since I mostly sometimes mostly want to raise a kid or two someday, I'm doing some thinking about making hypothetical babies that would be racially and culturally both-and-neither and whether that's okay. When I say "whether that's okay," I mean: will I be able to help those hypothetical kids deal with the extra helping of abusive bullshit they'll get from their classmates in second grade? Twenty years from now, will I be prepared for extra-strong resentment from my hypothetical teenagers for putting them in an extra-awkward situation? When I'm unable to protect them as little kids or soothe them as teenagers, how will I feel? It's a weighty thing to consider. And as I work my way through this decision, I'm conscious that as adults, these hypothetical children won't have a choice about interracial marriage.

Is all of that okay with me? I'm still considering. Probably. Maybe.

In summary: Shameless Agitator rocks. And "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony" does not run through my head when I think about maybe making an interracial family.


Editors Endangered?

Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | Black day for the blue pencil: "I have a notion of editors in days of yore,' he wrote, 'being straight-backed and terrifying, all integrity and no bullshit, responding to a vocational calling and above all driven by a love of the word, brave enough not only to champion the best but also to tell their authors whatever might be needed to improve the work."

Pharyngula::The holiday is upon us!

Pharyngula::The holiday is upon us!: "I didn't even know it was Cephalopodmas! I still don't know what day it's supposed to be! (In fact, google has never heard of 'Cephalopodmas', although 'Squidmas' seems to be popular.)"

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