# blueollie

## On knowing what you are talking about….

First: this is how some discussions about religion appear to me. Comments to the effect of “I don’t see how it could be otherwise” are not convincing.

Economy
When people talk about raising the retirement age, remember that there is a big spread in “years lived after 65″ between wealthier white collar workers and poorer blue collar ones.

See here:

I was pleased to see this article by Annie Lowrey documenting the growing disparity in life expectancy between the haves and the have-nots. It’s kind of frustrating, however, that this is apparently coming as news not just to many readers but to many policymakers and pundits. Many of us have been trying for years to get this point across — to point out that when people call for raising the Social Security and Medicare ages, they’re basically saying that janitors must keep working because corporate lawyers are living longer. Yet it never seems to sink in.

Maybe this article will change that. But my guess is that in a week or two we will once again hear a supposed wise man saying that we need to raise the retirement age to 67 because of higher life expectancy, unaware that (a) life expectancy hasn’t risen much for half of workers (b) we’ve already raised the retirement age to 67.

Ms. Lowrey’s article is here.

Here is one of my pet peeves: all too often, a non-specialist will attempt to claim that the mainstream view/theory in a different profession is wrong because it doesn’t make sense to them. Here Larry Moran takes on a chemistry professor’s (at Rice University, no less) claim that evolutionary theory is flawed. Professor Moran concludes:

I suppose I’m going to be labeled as one of those evil “Darwinists” who won’t tolerate anyone who disagrees with me about evolution.1

I’m actually not. I just don’t like stupid people who think they are experts in evolution when they have never bothered to learn about it. Here’s my advice to graduate students in organic chemistry: if you want to know about evolution then take a course or read a textbook. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t understand a subject. Just don’t assume your own ignorance means that all the experts in the subject are wrong too.

It isn’t just “experts at a different field” though. Right now, we are hearing more and more from people who think that vaccines are bad and contain lots of harmful chemicals. One scientist had enough and made an epic drunken rant:

No, this is not a partisan issue; there are plenty of liberal anti-vaccination types out there, and they are a disgrace.

March 16, 2014

## One question for creationists:

I can’t claim my question is original; it isn’t. I shamelessly stole it from Katha Pollitt (one of the The Nation columnists that I respect):

Do you really think that scientists from physical anthropology, anthropology, geology, biology, cosmology, astronomy and physics are engaged in some massive fraud to hide the truth? Or, do you really think that (just about) ALL of them are making some elementary mistake that YOU are catching? Really?

February 6, 2014

## Different start and a couple of thoughts…Good Old Days and Bill Nye’s debate

Today, I woke up, checked some e-mail and yes, did some math. That might be a way to start my Tuesday/Thursday when I start to teach late: get up, start my duties and THEN break for a run/walk as I’ll take in a few moments.

It will be indoors, again:

Our neighborhood streets are solid compressed snow and ice.

What I am working on: it is somewhat technical. But imagine you want to find solve $f(x) = 0$ where the solution is impossible to solve “in closed form” (e. g. solve it like you did in algebra class). There are numerical techniques that you can use a computer for. If you’ve had calculus, you might recognize Newton’s method where if $x_{n}$ is an approximation to the solution, $x_{n+1} = x_n -\frac{f(x_n)}{f'(x_n)}$ where $f'(x)$ is the derivative of $f$. Never mind that; the point is that one generates a series of approximations to the solution (provided certain conditions are met): $x_1, x_2, x_3, .....x_n, x_{n+1}, ....$ which are hopefully getting closer to the desired solution. If you met the correct “starting requirements” and the solution exists, this sequence of numbers WILL get close to your desired solution.

One problem though: “how many times do you have to do this?” is an important question. One reason: the computer can’t store every number exactly; hence there is round off error, and that error grows with each calculation.
So, if it is the case where each approximation $x_n$ has error inherently built in, it might be possible (if certain conditions are met) to take your series of approximations and manipulate them so that the larger “inherent errors” subtract off and one gets close to the solution in a fewer number of steps. One adds calculation early (adding round off error) to save many more calculations later (greatly reducing round off error).

One such process is called the Aitken Delta-squared process and that is what I was working on.

Two thoughts

Thought one: the Good Old Days:

Okay, I’m just going to say this once more: No, I don’t miss the days when gas was 15 cents a gallon, and your curfew was “when the street lights came on,” and kids were more afraid of their parents than of the cops…..
Because back then, women, minorities, gays, and other marginalized people had even fewer rights than they have now. Crime is not really significantly worse now than it was then. It’s just than when a man beats his wife to a pulp, he can be convicted and jailed for it now, whereas back then, it was just seen as a domestic issue and no business of anyone else. People are still killing other people. People are still loving other people. People are still dying of curable diseases. People are still committing random acts of kindness.
And what a lot of conservatives don’t like to admit, but what the facts support, is that even the white, male, heterosexual population is better off when non-whites, females, gays, and any marginalized segments of society gain strength and power. Power is a renewable resource, increasing for the whole when it increases for a part; not a finite, limited supply.
In general, more of us are better off than we were 20, 40 years ago. I wouldn’t trade my penny candy memories for gas-guzzling over-poluting cars and institutionalized misogyny, not ever.

She is right, of course. I think that when we remember the past, we remember the good but not the bad. And change is NEVER all good; for example we live longer (most of us anyway) but that means there are more elderly who live long enough to lose their minds through dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

What was curious though was one of the replies she got (she is religious and has religious friends):

In matters of the flesh, it certainly does seem things are better than they were.

But in matters of the Spirit, we are not better off, we are worse off and it is deteriorating from there.

We are abandoning God. That is never a sign that things are “better”, no matter the outward appearance that they are.

That leads to the next point. There are those who use religion to better their own lives in the hear-and-now, but to all too many, there is an inherent virtue to accepting some woo-woo supernatural claim (THEIR claim, of course) and rejecting it is a type of evil.

I can’t have an intellectual discussion with someone who is that delusional.

Which leads me to discuss the Bill Nye “The Science Guy” (educator) versus Ken Ham (owner of the creation museum).

I might watch the debate later

There are two schools of thought:

1. Bill Nye didn’t understand that this was an exercise in politics: hence he lost by merely showing up.

2. Bill Nye won the day by presenting some science to people who don’t see a lot of it. Maybe, just maybe, he planted a seed of science that might later germinate in a young mind.

Ok, there is a third, less popular school of thought: show up and insult the creationist as a charlatan. Here, the scientist started off by making some blunt accusations against the creationist and then offered the creationist a chance to electrocute himself:

Prior to the debate, I was in camp 1, but after the debate (which I didn’t watch), I thought ….well…remembered as a kid I once believed that superstitious nonsense….maybe? Then again, I kind of “evolved” out of it by basically living among more educated people. I have deep respect for those who manage to find their way out while staying in the same environment.

Ok, time to get it….

February 6, 2014

## No, I am not watching the Science Guy debate Ham

Seriously: why would I? If I got to ask Mr. Ham on question, it would be: “do you seriously believe that physical anthropology, geology, biology, astronomy and physics are involved in some major conspiracy to hide the truth?”

No, creationists deserve no more intellectual respect than any other woo-woo. This is the way you deal with them:

## losers, transparency and silliness (photos, etc.)

This post will be a “stream of consciousness” post with no set theme; I am reviewing a LOT of job applications and need a release. :-)

Workout notes 6 mile run on the treadmill in 1:01:11; varied the incline (0 to 1 mostly, every 2 minutes) and speed; last 20 minutes I varied between 10:20 and 8:54 mpm every 2 minutes. Then I walked a slow 2 miles on the track; legs were tired so I quit.

Stamina is still low, but blood donation was last Friday.

My back is stiff from sitting too long; so I need to do some back stretches.

Topics
Our local university basketball team is playing the number 4 (or 5) team tonight; it might get ugly.

Though this team made the Sweet 16 back in 2006, success after that has been limited and attendance has fallen: (only regular season games at the larger off campus arena were counted):

2007-2008 — 10,114 (+3.1%)
2008-2009 — 10,019 (-0.9%)
2009-2010 — 9,338 (-6.8%)
2010-2011 — 8,450 (-9.5%)
2011-2012 — 7,860 (-7.0%)
2012-2013 — 7,411 (-5.7%)

The 7 games in Carver arena this year: paid attendance (NOT “through the turnstile attendance) averages 6205, but that includes only 2 conference games and includes “winter break” games. Three times, the paid attendance was less than 6000 fans and the largest crowd was the “double header” against Chicago State (6797; this included a women’s game). Also, the weather has been dreadful as of late.

Texas Football
The Longhorns hired Charlie Strong (from Louisville) to replace Mack Brown. Strong has had quite a bit of success with Louisville and is known as an “in your face” coach. I am excited. However his reception has been cool among some big donors and, well, there is this:

Yes, this shirt has been pulled. Personally, I HOPE this is someone saying “cool, things at UT have changed so much we can have a black coach” but…well…I don’t know. This is, at best, clumsy and at worst, racist. I don’t know the intent.

Losers It appears to me that the Republicans, at least the top ones, at their heart, have a contempt for those who haven’t been economically successful. In fact, some conservatives have said that the Republicans should just up and admit it:

In short, the GOP’s attempt to be the party of the common man has backfired. With good reason. Not only have the policies not worked, but the pandering ignores that the “Party of the Rich” label is an aspirational one. It’s a good brand. People like exclusivity earned in a meritocracy, and if the Republicans embrace self-made achievement through policies explicitly geared toward the rich, they’ll be far more appealing. When it comes to giving things away, the Republicans will never be able to match up with the Party across the aisle which is expert at wealth redistribution.

Importantly, there are votes to be won if the Republicans simply be themselves. Per Friedkin it’s apparent that voters sense fraud rather easily, plus it’s probably too easily forgotten that the late George McGovern was shocked during the 1972 presidential campaign when blue collar voters gave a big thumbs down to his proposals in favor of steep inheritance taxes. Republicans need to remember that the American culture is an achievement culture. Americans, as the McGovern story clarifies, at least think they’ll eventually grow rich. When Republicans try to act poor in their search for the vote of the regular guy, it’s arguable that they lose a lot of ‘regular guy’ votes. Whatever their station in life, Americans want to be rich. Because they do, Republicans should embrace their label as the party of the rich in order to attract the achievers, along with those who aspire to achievement.

Even by measures of relative mobility, Middle America remains fluid. About 36 percent of Americans raised in the middle fifth move up as adults, while 23 percent stay on the same rung and 41 percent move down, according to Pew research. The “stickiness” appears at the top and bottom, as affluent families transmit their advantages and poor families stay trapped.

But that is *always* everyone else. :-)

“Internet Science”
These top two made me chuckle:

Now as far as this next one:

:-) Unfortunately, much of the woo-woo anti GMO stuff you see on the internet is of the above caliber. And unfortunately, my State Senator came out in favor of a stupid GMO labeling law:

In November, Washington became the latest state to reject a ballot proposal that would have required labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients.
At the same time, Maine and Connecticut have passed laws requiring labels on genetically engineered foods. However, their laws won’t go into effect until other states in the Northeast also adopt GMO labeling laws.
Against that backdrop, an Illinois lawmaker said he will pursue legislation this year requiring labels on foods with genetically modified ingredients.
“I’m dealing with this strictly as a consumer right-to-know bill,” said Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria. “I’m not saying yea or nay to the health risks. I’m saying consumers have a right to know and they can make up their own mind.”
Koehler’s Senate Bill 1666 would require that foods containing genetically modified ingredients (usually referred to as GMOs, for genetically modified organisms) carry a label that says as much. The specific ingredients don’t have to be identified, only that GMOs are present.

That is dumb; here is why: would he support a law that mandated labels that contained the phase of the moon at the time of harvest? Of course not: the reason is that this factor has no effect on the product. So, a “good” GMO law would be one that would require a label when there was a SCIENCE REASON for doing so; for example if a particular genetic modification changed how a food is digested by someone with a particular allergy or disorder (e. g. Celiac disease) then yes. Of course, I know of no such modification or even if it is possible.

Liberals drive me crazy sometimes; we can be every bit as stupid as Bible thumping Republicans.

Lululemon stock plunges
Lululemon has had a rough year. Perhaps it is the “transparent pants”:

(ok, NOT Lululemon but hey…)

Some want to claim this is the result of “fat shaming” (yeah right, people who do yoga in 100 dollar yoga pants so want to be associated with the obese)

Perhaps they were overvalued to begin with; they are boxed in the “yoga pants for the beautiful people” market, where they may well continue to thrive.

Back to the job application reading; at least, as mathematicians, we don’t have THIS to worry about. No one wants to sleep with us. :-(

But I did have a math article appear this month and….

:-) Hey, at my age, it is the older MILF and middle GILF crowd. Oh, all right, I got this from here and did a little modification. :-)

January 14, 2014

## This week in pseudoscience

:-)

The caption said: everyone loves science until it debumks their BS.

And you have this as well:

January 8, 2014

## What people believe about the Bible and Creationism

For thirty years, Gallup has been asking Americans their views about evolution and human beings, and the results have been remarkably consistent and stable.

Last year, Gallup once again reported that nearly half of the country believe the Biblical version of events: “Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.”

The Bible doesn’t actually say how long ago the account of creation in the book of Genesis was supposed to have taken place. But in 1650, Church of Ireland Archbishop James Ussher used the stories of the Old Testament to calculate that the world had been created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. His wasn’t the only calculus based on the Bible, but it became the most popular and is still influential with creationists today.

And according to Gallup, that calculation is still so popular, nearly half of America believes it describes the age of the earth.

But Josh Rosenau, with the National Center for Science Education, wrote this week that very different results emerge when slight changes are made to the questions that Gallup asks, and the actual number of “young-earth creationists” in the U.S. is probably much lower than Gallup claims.

Rosenau points out that the Gallup poll specifically asks about human origins, and does so in a religious context. But if Americans are asked if they believe whether plants and animals have evolved over millions of years (regardless of the reason why), a substantially higher number say yes — 60 percent did in a 2009 Pew poll, for example.

Removing religious context and human origins, people are much less likely to say that we’re living on a young earth. In another 2009 survey, only 18 percent agreed with the statement that “the earth is less than 10,000 years old,” for example.

But Rosenau thinks the number of truly committed young-earth creationists is even smaller than that.

Since the early 1980s, the National Science Board has asked Americans if they accept the idea that the continents have been moving for millions of years — and 80 percent agree. Ten percent say they don’t know, and only another ten percent firmly reject it.

What to make of this? Simple: most people simply don’t know what they are talking about, and it doesn’t matter to them. Only a very few have read the Bible (in any serious way; many of those who claim to have “read the Bible” mean that they’ve read a verse here or a snippet there). This is where this “the Bible is love” nonsense comes from.

Many have not thought enough about the conflicting claims to even realize that they are, in fact, conflicting claims. This is one reason that I actually get along better with some fundamentalists than I do with many who vote the way that I do.

November 12, 2013

## Better Off Without ‘em: a rant with footnotes. Unfortunately, I enjoyed it.

Disclaimer: though I went to 10 different schools in my 12 years of primary schooling, I spent the final 2.5 years at Travis High School in Austin, Texas. Our school flag, at that time, was the Rebel “battle flag” and our fight song was “Dixie”. I even had these flags on my bedroom wall. And yes, this embarrasses the hell out of me.

I still have a knee-jerk “yuck” reaction to “the south”, even though my ex and current wives are southerners (from Texas and Arkansas respectfully).

Also, I am one of those who feel that it was a mistake for the Union to try to keep the Confederate states; all we did by fighting them is to let them catch up economically and in technology. We’d be a stronger Union without them and I seriously doubt that they would have caught us in technology and science.

Anyway, this is a different issue, but I’d like to make the reader aware of my biases prior to reading this review.

My review
Chuck Thompson sets out to make the claim that “The South” and the rest of the Union have irreconcilable differences and therefore the current “union” is unworkable. So we (the rest of the US) should let (force?) “the South” to go its own way.

First of all, what does “the south” mean? For the purposes of Thompson’s fantasy thought experiment, he means the following states:
Alabama
Arkansas
Florida (Obama in 2008, 2012)
Georgia
Kentucky (Union Slave state)
Louisiana
Mississippi
North Carolina (Obama in 2008, oh-so-close in 2012)
South Carolina
Tennessee
Virginia (Obama in 2008, 2012, though he is willing to move the DC area part to the Union)
West Virginia (broke off from Virginia during the Civil War)

Yes, he leaves off Texas, and yes, he is aware of Governor Perry’s succession remarks. Thompson’s reason: Texas has too much going for it. But if there is a secession, Texas might decide to leave; or perhaps not. Texas is more complicated than many think, as is Florida and North Carolina. But I digress.

The other thing I should point out: this is NOT, strictly speaking, “liberal versus conservative.” The Union is left with Republican states, and the South is left with Florida and Virginia. This isn’t “black versus white” either. White racism is condemned, of course, but so are certain aspects of black churches and the largely black educational systems (in some areas).

In one sense, this is a “serious” book in that he has travelled extensively, done a lot of interviews and put forth a ton of references. He sets out a thesis (that the current union is unworkable) and sets out to back it up.

His interviews include people in a Little Rock school board meeting, in a rough-and-tumble bar, a shop that sells KKK gear (in downtown Laurens, South Carolina, no less!), people at tourist attractions, people at the large churches and professors and students in a class on “Understanding Southern Culture” at the University of South Carolina. There are many more interviews.

Of course, he makes a point of saying who would NOT grant him an interview: these include Paul Krugman (Princeton Professor and Nobel Laureate in economics), James Carville, Senator Lindsey Graham. Even Michael Lind (someone who is NOT pro-south) told him this:

I disapprove of your project, which seems terribly snobbish, to judge by your nasty title. The last thing we need at this moment is one group of Americans suggesting others belong in a different country….Even as a joke, it is not funny.

Though this quote got a nod of approval from my wife, my reaction was one of incredulity. These southern SOBs DO THIS TO US ALL OF THE TIME!!!! Frankly, I am long past sick of it.

But..that is a rant; that doesn’t advance the author’s thesis.

So what does?

Thompson points out that the Civil War officially ended in 1865. But still, there is bitterness, strife and obstruction coming from the south. At one time it was the “Dixie-crat” wing of the Democratic party; now they are Republicans. On the other hand, World War II ended in 1945, and yet the United States enjoys a decent relationship with Germany and Japan….and remember we killed hundreds of thousands of their citizens and carpet bombed their cities into oblivion.

So, the differences have not healed.

Thompson thinks that these differences are ingrained cultural differences; they are driven by an attitude that most in the south have: “men have evil in their hearts and therefore can’t be trusted.” Hence there is a tendency to cling to very top-down structures, which include fundamentalist Christianity, unreasonably anti-union corporate practices, and a distrust of anything reeking of diversity and modernism.

How does the above show up?

Harkin, a Democrat, met Wednesday morning with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board. Responding to a question from a columnist about why Republicans seemed determined to see Obama fail, he described a scene from the closed-door meeting among senators that took place last month in the Old Senate Chambers.

During that July 15 meeting – which concerned filibuster rules and included no press and no staff – one senator suggested his constituents still couldn’t identify with Obama.

“I’m not naming any names, but one senator got up from a southern state and said, ‘Well, you’ve got to understand that to my people down here, Obama seems like’ – he thought for a second and he said – ‘like he’s exotic.’”

A spokeswoman for Harkin declined to offer further detail on the exchange, noting that it occurred in a closed-door meeting with only senators present.

And yes, race is brought up. Thompson brings up examples; here is one of mine.

But anecdotes do not make an argument. So, I’ll focus on concrete things, such as the vote to repeal the law banning interracial marriage. Yes, these bans were not enforceable. But in a formal attempt to get the laws off of the books, 39 percent of those in South Carolina voted to KEEP the ban on interracial marriage on the books in 1998 (Interracial Families, Yancey and Lewis, page 2). 40.5 percent voted to keep the laws on the books in Alabama in 2000. Though there were some blacks who voted to keep the ban in place, most of the votes to do so where white: approximately 49 percent of Alabama whites and 40 percent of South Carolina whites voted to keep the ban.
(this links to a pdf file from a detailed study; these are approximations taken from polls, vote totals, demographics of the counties voting along with county by county vote totals, etc.)

Despite the fact that the number of interracial marriages in the U.S. reached an all-time high this year, there are many who still believe that mixed-race marriage is unacceptable and should be made illegal, according to a new report.

On Monday, polling firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) revealed that 29 percent of likely GOP voters surveyed in Mississippi believe that interracial marriage should be illegal. Fifty-four percent said intermarriage should remain legal, and the rest responded that they weren’t sure. The survey also found that 21 percent of likely GOP voters polled in Alabama believe that interracial marriage should be illegal.

Although the Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional more than four decades ago in 1967, Alabama kept a state-level law on the books until 2000. Many mixed-race couples in the Deep South are still struggling to feel safe and be accepted in their communities.

In November 2011, Stella Harville and her fiance, Ticha Chikuni, a native of Zimbabwe, were banned from a Kentucky church for being an interracial couple. The church also ruled that married interracial couples could be prohibited from becoming members. A month later, the congregation overturned their decision, deeming their earlier ruling “discriminatory.”

Another aspect of this incompatibility comes from the type of religion frequently practiced in the south; in these areas, religion permeates all aspects of life, including science:

You can see where Biblical literalism and creationism is concentrated.

Thompson also argues that the commitment to public education is lacking in many southern cities and that this commitment, which may have been there at one time, went away when the schools were desegregated. As evidence for this claim, he points out how low property taxes are: the average property taxes for the following states are:
Arkansas: 512 dollars a year
Kentucky: 651
West Virginia: 683
Tennessee: 752.

We live in a modest house in Peoria, IL, and pay over 4000 dollars a year in property tax!

What happens: the poor (including poor white kids) get trapped in crumbling schools while those who can afford it send their kids to private schools.

Note; as stated above, this is not a complete slam on southern white people; Thompson rails against black churches and blacks in the educational system as well. From pages 180-181:

The most outrageous accunts of incorrigible southern African American student behavior that I come across are from the Mississippi Teacher Corps. The MTC is a two year program that recruits college graduates from around the country to teach in Mississippi schools, primarily in the African American Mississippi Delta. Wide-eyed liberal education majors are promised teacher certifications and “the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students in of the poorest areas of the country.” [...]

The MTC’s website advertises an experience “modeled after the Peace Corps”, but the painfully honest Web postings from valiant young educators recoiling from a taste of Delta life suggests something closer to survival school on Parris Island.

The rest of that page (181) describes kids that don’t do anything, behave horrifically in class, flunk tests in droves, and an administration that requires a certain pass rate.

Thompson has a section about corporations and labor practices. Sure, management tends to be anti-union, but in the south, many of the non-management is too. As a result, corporations find that they can get away with paying less. For example, Thompson points out (pages 208-209) that autoworkers make 18,000 to 20,000 less per year in the south (Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee) than they do in Michigan. (note: I didn’t see a cost of living adjustment factored in). The economic study by Professor Hari Singh is here.

Thompson also claims that safety is down and accidents are up in such states; I have not verified this claim for myself.

Thompson also goes on to talk about the cost of keeping the south in the Union; one notices that, among the states that send more money to the federal government than it gets in tax dollars, only Texas and Florida are southern states (and remember Thompson doesn’t count Texas). This claim has been checked out and the situation hasn’t changed much recently.

So, we see why Thompson thinks that our differences can’t be breached and why our country would be better off without the south.
He spends a few pages suggesting how the actual secession might take place and fantasies the new republic kicking off business.

What I actually agree with: the situation is frustrating!

Unfortunately The stuff I talked about was but a small part of the book. Thompson does have a “fun” section on SEC football which I talked about here.

Much of the book consists of snark and insults….and yes, I enjoy a good rant as much as anyone and yes, I found myself laughing out loud for much of the time. The darker side of me was entertained and I felt good and self-righteous when I finished reading. But, rants are rather common; here is one of the better known ones, which was written right after the 2004 election. The language is, uh, rather salty.

And, in my opinion, much of this book is an extended version of this rant (titled “F*ck The South”), annotated with footnotes.

One might even say: “Southerners are fat and uneducated and we have the data to prove it!”

But pages and pages of such snark really don’t advance the author’s thesis. Hence, this really isn’t a serious book.

Conclusion
Don’t expect a really serious, academic argument; expect skillfully written snark backed up with footnotes. I’d put this in the same category as Al Franken’s books such as Lying Liars and Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. There are facts there but these facts are mostly used to bolster the opinion that the likely reader already has rather than to carefully make a case by examining the issues from several different directions.

And it shames me to say this: though this book is really a type of social and political pornography (designed to appeal to the bases instincts in people), I enjoyed it.

August 19, 2013

## Morning posts: science, “what ifs”, Bible tracts, etc.

I don’t know if this still happens, but when I was a young man, the fundies would frequently pass out these ridiculous cartoonish “Bible tracts”. Here is one of these (modern version).

Here is an illustration from another:

So these sometimes get parodied:

and some *still* can’t tell the difference! :-)

Science
Good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, here is what is going on: (8 minute video). Via: Biosingularity.

Fantasy
If our moon were the size of other planets, how would it appear to us in our sky? (yeah, I know; there would be other repercussions, but enjoy the video)

Biology and insects
Sometimes ants can communicate to each other via antennae. One such signal: one ant can get food from another ant (via regurgitation) by asking via antenna signals.

Sometimes, other species (in this case, flies) can use this process to get ants to give them their food! Whether this is a “shock” mechanism or a “fake signal” mechanism: it is hard to say.

You’ve got to be kidding me
The New York Times is carrying this as a “serious” discussion?

Last week Steven Pinker made the case for scientific thinking outside the “sciences,” and he annoyed some critics. But a recent essay against scientific thinking (even about scientific questions) prompted a louder outcry. After Virginia Heffernan, a technology journalist, wrote “Why I’m a Creationist,” the condemnations were swift and harsh.

Is it really so controversial to believe in biblical creation? Why are some people drawn to origin narratives like in Genesis, and others to the scientific story?

Ok, the second question might be interesting. But the first? You’ve got to be kidding me! This is on the order of “it is turtles all the way down” territory.

The most widely known version, which obviously is not the source (see below), appears in Stephen Hawking’s 1988 book A Brief History of Time, which starts:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s tortoises all the way down!”

Politics
No, most modern conservatives are not libertarians. What they wish to “conserve” is their own position in society.

August 18, 2013

## Debating creationists: a complete waste of time.

This got me started on this train of thought:

So, why won’t these “chickens” debate?

Well, think about it this way: why do you want the debate? Is it to seek scientific truth?
If it is the latter, consider this: suppose you want to know if, say, a bridge design is valid, or if a medicine will work.
Do you want the issue hashed out in a 90 minute debate on a stage? Or would you rather a hypothesis be formed, experiments run, thoughtful analysis (mostly written) done, and the models refined, if necessary?

That is how it is in science. Yes, there are debates and competing theories (well formed models of how nature works) and on occasion, a scientist will inform the public about it:

Though the competing theories are presented, scientists do things like run calculations and run experiments in order to pick the one that is most useful; they publish their results in peer reviewed media (mostly journals).

And, the judging is done by other scientists and not by what fits the intuition of the untrained.

So, if you are interested in knowing the truth about evolution, you are advised to visit the websites of the various science departments at our research universities, labs or natural history museums. This is where you will find the accomplished experts and where you’ll see the evidence carefully laid out.

At creationist debates, you are liable to find arguments of this caliber:

So, sometimes scientists decide to just have fun with the creationists and insult them:

Seriously, creationists are crackpots and do not deserve to be taken seriously.

August 16, 2013