2008: The year geeks took over

January 1, 2009

2008: The year geeks took over – The article cites 7 examples of how geeks ruled this year including the internet subculture spreading into the mainstream popular culture such as LOLcats, Rickrolling, and Anonymous’ ongoing war on $cientology; it becoming acceptable for adults to be gamers; the first comic book film to be seriously given Oscar consideration; and the election of the first Black(berry) president.

And on a related note: Vote for the sexiest geeks of 2008 – Some of my favorites are Marina Orlova of HotForWords, Mythbuster Kari Byron, Attack of the Show co-host Olivia Munn, Stephen Colbert, math popularizer and former “Winnie Cooper” Danica McKellar, Bill Nye The Science Guy, Skeptologist Kirsten Sanford, Marie Currie (still sexy), Physicist Richard Feynman’s daughter Michelle Catherine Feynman,  Rick Astley (oh, it’d be so awesome if this competition was Rickrolled), Anonymous (as in the decentralized group fighting $cientology), Rebecca Watson of Skepchick, George Hrab, Aiko (as in the Japanese fembot), and Phil Plait.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 12.12.08

December 13, 2008

The War on Christmas in Washington’s capitol is over. . .and it looks like we might have won – Totally unprepared for the number of applications they’d get for displays, Olympia officials have been forced to put a ban on all further displays until further notice so they can rethink this policy. And according to a spokesman for the Department of General Administration, it was the atheist display that seems to have kicked open the door for everyone else to want a display. Now if these officials have any sense at all they’ll have learned a valuable lesson from this and just opt out of allowing religious displays on public land in the future. So to quote the lyrics of the same Buffy song that skeptic Daniel Loxton cited in his essay, “Where Do We Go From Here?”:

“The battle’s done and we kinda won. So we sound our victory cheer. Where do we go from here?”

Amanda Peet defends vaccines on NPR – I’m happy that I haven’t blogged about this issue in awhile because there hasn’t been any major developments lately but I get so few chances to mention a good news story on this issue. Thank you Amanda Peet for continuing to be awesome.

But it can’t all be good news in the world of woo. The Air Force is using ‘Battlefield Acupuncture’ for pain relief – And apparently this is just one of many “alternative” treatments they’re giving soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Walter Reed hospital is using yoga to combat PTSD. Yeah, why give the soldiers medicine that actually works? After all, it’s not like our entire nation depends on these guys for survival, right? This is disgraceful and I hope those responsible end up in Abu Graib.

When skepticism leads to an awkward situation – This includes a hilarious story of how expressing one’s skepticism about something as obviously bogus as homeopathy can lead you into trouble in a social setting.

TECHNOLOGY:

Rise of the Fembots – Her creator calls her the “perfect woman.”  She can read English and Japanese, carry on a simple conversation, do math, figure out what you’re eating and drinking, and she knows the time and weather conditions all over the world. And though she wasn’t built as a sexual partner, apparently she could be tweaked to be one:

“Her software could be redesigned to simulate her having an orgasm and reacting to touch as if she is playing hard to get or being straight to the point.”

And there’s a very creepy video too.

The Dream Machine – Not only are the Japanese well ahead of us in the Fembot department but they’re also working on trying to create visual imaging of dream.

Christian leader resigns because of his almost-tolerant views of homosexuals – While opposing gay marriage Richard Cizik, Vice-President for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, has the audacity to support civil unions for gays. He also accepted Global Warming. So obviously he had to go. He resigned his position. Afterall, this is the same organization that was once headed by the male-escort-loving Ted Haggard.

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyWhistling Orangutans And Evolution of Speech – “Throughout history, human beings have used the whistle for everything from hailing a cab to carrying a tune. Now, an orangutan’s spontaneous whistling is providing scientists at Great Ape Trust of Iowa new insights into the evolution of speech and learning.”

Boy Or Girl? It’s In The Father’s Genes – “A Newcastle University study involving thousands of families is helping prospective parents work out whether they are likely to have sons or daughters.”

HUMOR:

Edward Current’s PrayerMax 5000:


News From Around The Blogosphere 8.4.08

August 5, 2008

The hidden drugs in supplements and Coca Cola maybe returning to the woo in which it came -Last week a trucker, Michael Berggren, fell asleep at the wheel. Routine blood screening turned up estazolam – a strong and addictive sedative in the benzodiazempine class of drugs (the same class as valium). Estazolam is not commonly sold in the US or Canada so this presented a bit of a mystery. It turns out that Berggren was likely getting the drug, unknowingly, in an herbal supplement he was taking called Eden Herbal Formulations Serenity II Pills.

Scientist and skeptic Jeff Medkeff 1968-2008 -I regret to report that Blue Collar Scientist has lost his struggle with cancer and that he died last night.

Franklin Institute in Philadelphia dumbing down science? -This is the second time recently I’ve heard criticism of the Franklin Institute’s focus on cheap movie tie-ins while divorcing itself from real science. I hope to keep my eye out for follow-up stories.

Saudi religious police officer accused of going 2 over the limit–wives that is -This Saudi officer had 6–that’s right, 6 wives. That’s 2 over the legal limit under sharia law. I don’t see why he’s only accused of having 6 wives. Seems like he either does or he doesn’t. Oddly, I can’t find the man’s name anywhere.

Phil Plait has been named the new James Randi -Phil is the new president of the James Randi Educational Foundation! Randi is now Chairman of the JREF Board of Directors and will have more time to finish his next two books. Phil says he’ll focus on the E in JREF by producing educational materials for kids. He’s got my vote of confidence. Here’s Phil’s response to the historical news.

Fence & garage at Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church caught fire -Couldn’t happen to nicer people [sarcasm overload]. Hopefully, this won’t turn out to be arson…though if it is, that that be a lessen for people: being an ass makes you lots of enemies. These are the infamous “God Hates Fags” guys. But the most hated family in America deserves ridicule, not violence. One good thing I can say about them is that they make my job as an atheist activist and skeptic a lot easier. They’re too extreme to gain many converts and are seen  more as a sideshow act that entertains and amuses than a genuine threat. And while they’ve obscenely picketed funerals, they’ve never used violence. Not surprisingly, other Christian fundamentalists despise them despite the fact that guys like Pat Robertson preach pretty much the same message. The only discernible difference I can see is that the Phelps’ protest funerals to get media attention to come to them while Robertson preaches the same things on his own weekly (or daily?) TV show that reaches a larger audience.

Rod Dreher’s hypocrisy over Crackergate exposed -This is just a beautiful pwning by PZ Myers. Rarely does a non-politician have their own past statements come back to haunt them and reveal their total and complete duplicity so effectively. Thanks PZ!

Picture of PZ’s communion wafer in the trash.

Terrorist Bombing in the name of animal rights? -I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan though I have friends who are. None of them commit violence in the name of animal rights. Stories like this really make me want to include some animal rights groups with other forms of delusional cults. It probably doesn’t completely cross over into total lunacy as people seem to often present fairly rational motives for their life style decision but I’d say it’s on the border. The really activist animal rights people are indistinguishable from the religious wackos when they promote their propaganda in public parks. I don’t know. Domesticated animals wouldn’t even survive in the wild if we did let them go. But maybe I just don’t get it. Here’s another another opinion on this story.

HPV vaccination misinformation and bias in Medscape? -David Gorsky write: “The article could have been a fair assessment of whether the risks of Gardasil are higher than reported. “Could have” is the operative phrase. Unfortunately, in among the real scientists quoted (and quoted rather selectively, I might add), Gandey parroted back a whole lot of antivaccination nonsense and a misunderstanding. I expect far better from Medscape. Unfortunately, this time I did not get it. For example, there was this howler from Gandey’s report.” Here’s Orac’s take on this issue.

‘Jesus Sucks Banner called a Human Rights violation? -I blogged about this story last week. This latest update just strikes me as a totally over the top reaction to a silly, childish stunt. If you’re the type of person who thinks this is a legal matter then you’ve got bigger problems than the degree in which your imaginary friend sucks.

Blow Me Up, Scotty! -The private rocket, Falcon, carrying 3 experimental satellites and the ashes of actor James Doohan, best known for his role as Scotty on Star Trek, unexpectedly exploded. Unfortunately, Doohan’s ashes never made into space where they were to be scattered in the Earth’s orbit in accordance with his wishes. It sucks that those wishes will now never be fulfilled. As Scotty would have said, “We canna do it! We don’t have the power!”

And now for a moment of science:

Little Teeth: Big Jump In Primate Timeline? -“Tiny fossilized teeth excavated from an Indian open-pit coal mine could be the oldest Asian remains ever found of anthropoids, the primate lineage of today’s monkeys, apes and humans, say researchers from Duke University and the Indian Institute of Technology.”

Bird Could Rewrite ‘Ring Theory’ Of Speciation -“New research has uncovered how different populations of the bird crimson rosella are related to each other – a discovery which has important implications for research into how climate change may affect Australia’s biodiversity.”


News From Around The Blogosphere 7.29.08

July 30, 2008

TV watching possibly linked to autism –  “Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3.” This is the kind of thing you get when you confuse correlation with causation. You could make the same claim about the rise of the internet correlation with the rise of autism except for the fact that there is no proven rise in autism at all. We’ve broadened the definition of autism and made it more visible, but there still is no proof that autism is on the rise or that it is “an epidemic.”

NASA turns 50 Today! – On this day in 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law legislation creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This is another example of why it’s important for a president to have an understanding of science. Just like presidential administrations have foreign policies, they have science policies. Presidents often make major decisions that have lasting effects on the direction of science.

City Workers in Birmingham are not reading this right now -The Birmingham City Council has installed blocking software on their computers that block out atheist websites. And atheist content isn’t alone on the blocked list. The following subjects are blocked: “witchcraft or Satanism” and “occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism”.

How YOU can put evolution back into museums -Colin Purrington provides a list of helpful ideas on how the average person can help promote further emphasis on evolution in museums. Remember: only you can prevent creationist nonsense! (Note: This is less likely to work in art museums)

Evolve-Eyes on History Channel Tonight -Okay, I’m a bit late in reporting it but I’m sure they’re rerun it. And I’ve already seen creationists slam it before seeing it, so it’s gotta be good! Biologist PZ Myers’ running commentary of the program.

NY Times op-ed calling for closer monitoring of UFOs -Oh yeah, we’ll get right on that. [rolls poorly evolved eyes]

An English Holocaust Denier In New York -Infamous Holocaust David Irving after being released from Austrian jail for the crime of “trivializing the Holocaust” (that for the record, is something I don’t think should be a crime), is touring the U.S. to spread his unique brand of nonsense and Anti-Semitism. Along for the ride is his friend and partner in crime, Michael Santamauro (owner of the New York-based roommate service roommatefinders.com), who specifically aided Irving in tricking a church’s priest into hosting the lecture by claiming the speaker was the leader of an anodyne “book club.” This news even managed to get The Huffington Post to take time away from their busy anti-vaccine propaganda, usually provided by David Kirby to publish an article by Max Blumenthal about David Irving’s recent visit.

Another important part that’s necessary to comment on is the role Christopher Hitchens plays in the story. Hitchens had in the past published what some have called a favorable article on Irving and Irving has himself claimed that he and Hitchens are friends. Apparently though, nobody told Hitchens this, as he’s written an essay where he rips Irving apart.

And now a moment of science:

Amazon Insect Diversity Due To Ice Age? -“Ice age climate change and ancient flooding–but not barriers created by rivers–may have promoted the evolution of new insect species in the Amazon region of South America, a new study suggests.”


News From Around The Blogosphere 7.23.08

July 24, 2008

American Family Association orders a Super-Sized McBoycott -These are the same guys who last Christmas boycotted Mrs. Field’s cookies because they switched from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” and boycotted Ford Motors for “promoting the gay agenda.” These guys are just pathetic. It’s also worth noting that the “news” website One News Now is a front for their propaganda. For a hate group, they’ve got such a friendly name. I’m reminded of the Sinclair Lewis quote: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”

Autism and Vaccines: Steven Novella’s response to David Kirby & Dr. Jon Poling -I know, I’ve been posting a lot on this issue but Novella’s response here is nothing short of brilliant. He also breaks down the history of this “controversy” really well for anyone not very familiar with it.

Women in India turning to internet for abortions -How did we ever survive without the internet? Now women from India can find do-it-yourself medication to end unwanted pregnancies.

The Myths About Organic Food -New column in The Independent about organic food. To quote blogger The Amateur Scientist: “Isn’t organic farming good for the environment? No, it actually requires more land than non-organic farming. Doesn’t organic farming refrain from using poisonous pesticides? No, it just uses natural pesticide chemicals, some of which can be more harmful than the evil artificial ones. Doesn’t organic food cost a lot more? Yes. Yes, it does.

American Family Association to strongarm PBS -Wow, 2 AFA stories in one day. These guys don’t kid around.

Olivia Judson’s New York Times article about ongoing examples of evolution -Nice article pointing out just a few examples of evolution that has occurred over just the past 40 years. Of course another notable example that wasn’t mentioned in the article was Richard Lenski’s E coli experiment.

Wiccan Accidentally Stabs Herself in Foot With Sword During Good Luck Ritual -That just says it all in the title now doesn’t it.

Creationists make up an award to honor themselves with: “I LOVE ME! I REALLY LOVE ME!” -Finally an award as worthless as Tom Cruise’s $cientology award and the Oscars.

And some science news:

Genetics Of White Horses Unraveled -An international team led by researchers at Uppsala University has now identified the mutation causing this spectacular trait and show that white horses carry an identical mutation that can be traced back to a common ancestor that lived thousands of years ago.

Origins Of Cancer: Rare Mutant Cells Glimpsed -MIT biological engineers have developed a new imaging system that allows them to see cells that have undergone a specific mutation.

Unique Fossil Shows Antarctic Once Much Warmer -A new fossil discovery- the first of its kind from the whole of the Antarctic continent- provides scientists with new evidence to support the theory that the polar region was once much warmer.


News From Around The Blogosphere 7.21.08

July 22, 2008

Anniversery of Scopes Trial

-That’s right, 88 years John Scopes was found guilty of teaching Evolution in a Tennessee school. The whole event was mostly a giant publicity stunt but it was a publicity stunt that changed history. And most people don’t even realize Scopes lost. Let us just hope America doesn’t forget the lessons its learned from The Scopes Trial, the Creationism trial of the 1980s, and the recent The Dover Trial.

Chew on this one a while Creationists:
MonkeySquirrelRodent, not to be confused with ManBearPig
-Mother nature is a mad scientist! At the Denver Zoo, the rare and mysterious aye-ayes are believed by the superstitious to be cursed.

Global Warming just a cover for destroying Christianity?

-This nutjob takes Global Warming denial to a whole new level!

Larry King, menace to thinking

You’d think that after 61 years, the UFO believers would have either come up with at least one actual piece of evidence or accepted they were wrong. But who needs evidence when Larry King believes you.
Creationists fail again: taken for granite
-Creationism would be great if it weren’t for pesky facts.

More celebs drink the anti-vaccine Kool-Aid

No surprise with Britney but now they’ve got Hef too.

Generation Rescue has Jenny McCarthy, Britney Spears, and now…

More news on Generation Rescue.

Creationist Research: Semi-Technical, Completely Worthless

Another catalog of dumb creationist arguments from the people who last week proved their utter stupidity by not looking up the word eponymous.

And now some science news:
Scientists Create Touch-based Illusion: Mind Trick Yields New Insights On Perception

-I do love a good illusion.


Social Behavior In Ants Influenced By Small Number Of Genes

-Exploring the ant’s brain.


I Heart Amanda Peet

July 22, 2008

In an era when celebrities like Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey can spread dangerous misinformation about science and medicine to millions of people by exploiting the media, it’s good to find some celebrities speaking out for good science. Enter actress Amanda Peet:

This is a pleasant contrast from the likes of Jenny McCarthy, the celebrity poster girl for the anti-vaccine–err, I mean “Green Vaccine” Movement (I still can’t say that Orwellian newspeak with a straight face). As I was saying, McCarthy has become the poster girl for anti-vacciners ever since writing a book where she blamed the mercury in MMR vaccines for her son Evan’s autism…despite the total lack of any mercury in MMR vaccines. Sorry, Jenny not one of those M’s stands for mercury.

Autism’s making the news a lot these days. Everyone is up in arms over Michael Savage calling autism a myth. And they should be. This goes beyond anything Don Imus has ever said and even behind Rush Limbaugh’s Parkinson’s comments of last year.

Though I’m not so concerned with Michael Savage. Everyone knows he’s an idiot and the only people likely to be persuaded by him have no power anyway. This was probably the most politically incorrect thing he could have said but he has the right to be a moron. Because his ignorance causes no real harm I don’t much care if he’s fired over this or not. The same, however, cannot be said aboutJenny McCarthy and other celebrities (see here and here) who are persuading people to embrace their ideology and are doing great harm.

But it got me thinking. While many people have bought into this link between vaccines and autism myth due to the pure emotional appeals and scare tactics of those like Jenny McCarthy, I wonder what those people would think if they knew what Jenny McCarthy REALLY BELIEVED, which is that her son Evan IS NOT AUTISTIC. That’s right, folks. Now I admit that what follows borders on an ad hominem attack but I feel it is important that people assess the sanity of those they invest their trust in. And what I’m about to reveal is no secret but a matter of public record. Jenny McCarthy has publicly written much about her beliefs and yet her claims have been totally ignored by the old media…possibly because it’s so weird they figured no one would believe them anyway. In a few moments, Tom Cruise might start looking a lot saner by comparison. So here it is folks, in her own words, THIS IS WHAT JENNY MCCARTHY ACTUALLY BELIEVES:

Insights of an Indigo Mom
A Mother’s Awakening

by Jenny McCarthy


The day my son was born I knew the world was going to be okay. Some people only get to see heaven when they die. On May 18th 2002, I held heaven in my arms, and named him Evan. His big round eyes blinked at me and at that exact moment my life took a new direction. Every cell in my body wanted to make sure this world was safe for him and I was determined to break down walls and build bridges so that he can live in a world that mirrors his beauty.

The day I found out I was an adult Indigo will stay with me forever. I was walking hand in hand with my son down a Los Angeles street when this women approached me and said, “You’re an Indigo and your son is a Crystal.” I immediately replied, “Yes!” and the woman smiled at me and walked away. I stood there for a moment, because I had no idea what the heck an Indigo and Crystal was, but I seemed so sure of it when I had blurted out “Yes!” After doing some of my own research on the word Indigo, I realized not only was I an early Indigo but my son was in fact a Crystal child. From that point on things in my life started to make sense. I always wondered why I was a ball-buster and rule breaker on TV, and at that moment I knew exactly why. I was born to not only think outside the box, but to break that box up into a million pieces. I called this day my “awakening” but really it was the day I remembered. This was the day my life and global mission became so clear. There was nothing I could do that could contain the excitement of what was to come.

As all of you know, being a mother changes you in ways that you never thought you could imagine. I went from chain smoking and eating cheeseburgers to Hepa air filters and eating vegetarian after my son was born. The love I had for him made me want what was best for him. I was so eager to go on every talk show and preach to the world about the importance of healthy air, healthy food, and empowering our children to be the divine manifestors they came here to be. Unfortunately, I knew deep down inside that preaching would only go so far. Many parents get stuck in a comfort zone and don’t really want to change the way things run in their own households.

So, I asked the Divine for help, and my Indigo awakening day brought it right to me. The way to create a new way of life for our children isn’t just about teaching the parents, but more about teaching the children. I knew immediately that changing education in schools was my global life mission. I want to open schools across the country that apply this philosophy so that our children can be taught in an environment that feeds their soul and has them in continual balance with their authentic self.

I want our children to start each day in silent meditation with an intention for that day. I want organic cafeterias, outdoor class sessions, teaching about the power of thought, getting rid of rote memorization. I want it all. I want it to be everything and anything that ignites the fire in our children so they can live in the light, know that they have a voice, and that they can make a difference in this world. We will listen. We will build them the schools so they can have a place to do just that.

Being the Indigo I am, I do know I have taken on the biggest task anyone could try to accomplish in one lifetime. I have no doubt in my mind you will be watching me do this for the rest of my life, until I can barely hold myself up with my walker. I hope to find moms like you who also want this for your children, and join me in doing this in your own neighborhoods. Strength is in numbers, right? Well ladies, have I awakened any of you to join me on this mission?

On June 1st, I’ll be available in the Indigo Cafe forum at www.IndigoMoms.com to discuss these plans with you.


Love, Evan’s Mommy,
Jenny

Now you might ask yourself, what is this Indigo thing all about. I encourage everyone to do their own research but here’s a little primer from Wikipedia. That’s right. Jenny McCarthy, poster girl for the “Green Vaccine” Movement believes her son does not have autism but rather represents a higher order of human evolution. Apparently, he can read minds and has other magic paranormal powers. So maybe the vaccines just made him psychic. I’m thinking not.