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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Sean's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
11:47 pm
Since LiveJournal is no longer the primary outlet for my ideas and writings ...
... I might as well make an official 'hiatus' post, declaring the likelihood that I won't really be making any more posts here for the time being (and admitting the reality that I've already pretty much abandoned it, for a long time now).

I still plan in the future to go back through my LJ archives and collect old essays and entries for some sort of publication, someday. But the real place to go nowadays if you wish to hear me express my views in that wonderful mixture of barely controlled ranting and rigourous rational criticism -- laced with acid wit and mind-expanding imagery, and intricately woven into all sorts of complex coördinate and subordinate clauses and modifying phrases -- that I have come to master is my Facebook page. That is where all the previous entries here for a number of months have been copied from, and that is my primary intellectual outlet these days.

So, the best way to continue worshipping me is to head on over to


, if you haven't already. (Sorry, I really had no other place to put that comma given the way the URL was set off from the rest of the paragraph.)

I'm a slut for friends, so anyone who hasn't sent me a request yet, feel very free. I am a slut and not a whore because I don't do it for money -- I do it just for the love of the feeling. Which is not to say that any offers of financial recompense will be turned down.
Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
12:17 pm
We All Shine On ... but some shine brighter than others
Today is the anniversary of a terrible day -- a stupid, pointless, unspeakably tragic killing. But that is not the vibe that I feel in the air. There is joy today, not sadness. A celebration of a huge, important, wonderful life that still inspires hundreds of millions daily.

One of the radio stations I listen to is playing John Lennon's songs, and brief remembrances of him from his friends and loved ones, on and off all day. His name is 6th on Yahoo!'s list of the biggest web searches right now. Bloggers and TV hosts everywhere will have paid their respects to him by the end of the day.

Lennon has been dead for exactly 29 years, and he's still practically front-page news. He would have been 69 now. It's been 46 years since he first became famous, and all the pundits confidently proclaimed that he and his bandmates were a passing fad that would vanish within a year and never be heard of again. But that's not what happened.

Instead, he helped change the world -- though he himself would be the first to point out that the changes had to come anyway, that the times influenced him just as much as the other way round. Yes, many, many others were crucially important to the way the cultural revolution unfolded. But probably no one else represents the spirit of youth, freedom, peace, love, openness, and rebellion bequeathed to us by the Sixties better than John Lennon. And everywhere this spirit lives on, so does he.

So shine on, John, you crazy diamond. Yes, some of us are in your tree. It is, indeed, high. We can, you know, tune in. And you're right -- it's not too bad.


I suggest anyone who is still not totally 100% clear on who John was and what he stood for should read this interview, which was the thing that first began to open my eyes to what a great, smart, and witty man he was, back when I was 15 or 16 years old:



Now I would like those of you in the cheaper seats to stand, please, for the Nutopian International Anthem:

Thank you. You may sit down. And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry ...
Thursday, November 19th, 2009
5:34 pm
Ahhh, the mass media ... always scrupulously keeping up with the science of years ago!
Apparently, on Sunday, 60 Minutes had a story on Mary Schweitzer and John Horner's discovery of T. rex soft tissue, and Horner's idea about switching old genes on to turn chickens into old-fashioned, long-tailed and sharp-toothed dinosaurs:


First of all, I'd like to point out that every single part of this story was apparently brand-new news to the 60 Minutes people ... although the original paper announcing the discovery was published in March 2005. It has already gone through a big controversy, become common knowledge to virtually every scientist in the world and about 70% of children, been followed up over the last 4 years and 8 months with several more detailed and thorough papers, and settled into a comfortable position as a widely acknowledged discovery of great importance (with only a few hangers-on still trying to discredit it). And Horner has been talking about his 'dinochicken' idea for even longer than that, I think. He's put it forward dozens if not hundreds of times, in all kinds of books, interviews, TV shows, and anywhere else you can think of.

None of this is news, people!

The only thing I learned from that segment that I haven't already known for years is that they'd reproduced the soft-tissue findings on a hadrosaur.

I mean, come on here. I want to just be pleased by the public propagation of seriously cool and educational science stories. But no matter how hard I try, I have never been able to figure out (or reconcile myself with) how the media decides when to suddenly publish a story about something that happened years ago, and is already old, tattered hat to just about any professional or even amateur student of the field, and then pretend like it's some kind of breaking news.

Even when the story, like this one, is fairly well-done, and not riddled with oversimplifications and inaccuracies, it still drives me nuts. They seem to care so little about scientific news that the way they find their stories is apparently by accidentally running across something in a back issue of Discover from half a decade ago, and going, 'Ooh, cool! Let's randomly do that, so we don't have to worry about trying to understand what's happening now!'

Also, two brief criticisms of Jack Horner:

(1) It would be real nice to hear him at least pretend to have the slightest qualms about destroying fossils by breaking them apart and dissolving them. Maybe he wouldn't be facing so much controversy over it if he showed even the tiniest sign of understanding the magnitude of that sort of decision. With glib, flippant responses to those concerns like 'glue is cheap', it's no wonder no one else wants to let him or Mary near their fossils.

(2) It's a shame that when he's out promoting his 'dinochicken' story to the general public, he never seems to take a moment to point out that whatever kind of dinosaur you could produce that way, it would in no way be the same as any of the actual species that existed back in the Mesozoic. His method of turning a few genes on or off can only produce classical dinosaurian characteristics on a still fundamentally modern, avian creature. It can not produce a true prehistoric, nonavian dinosaur. Yes, we could learn a lot, even from that; but it's dishonest to give the public the impression that it's possible to magically turn a chicken into an actual Velociraptor or T. rex.

(Also, while we're at it, why in the world would you pick a highly derived, heavily modified bird like a chicken for this experiment? Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to start out with a more primitive bird that's already genetically and anatomically closer to its dinosaur ancestors -- a paleognath, like an ostrich, rhea, emu, or cassowary?)
Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
6:35 pm
Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks Overnight

The Orionid meteor shower is expected to put on a good show tonight into the predawn hours Wednesday, weather permitting.

This annual meteor shower is created when Earth passes through trails of comet debris left in space long ago by Halley's Comet. The "shooting stars" develop when bits typically no larger than a pea , and mostly sand-grain-sized, vaporize in Earth's upper atmosphere.

"Flakes of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us dozens of meteors per hour," said Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.

People in cities and suburbs will see far fewer meteors, because all but the brightest of them will be overpowered by light pollution. The best view will be from rural areas (the moon will not be a factor, so dark skies will make for ideal viewing).

When and how to watch

The best time to watch will be between 1 a.m. and dawn local time Wednesday morning, regardless of your location. That's when the patch of Earth you are standing on is barreling headlong into space on Earth's orbital track, and meteors get scooped up like bugs on a windshield.

Peak activity, when Earth wades into the densest part of the debris, is expected around 6 a.m. ET (3 a.m. PT).

Some meteors could show up late tonight, too. Late-night viewing typically offers fewer meteors, however, because your patch of Earth is positioned akin to the back window of the speeding car.

The Orionids have been strong in recent years.

"Since 2006, the Orionids have been one of the best showers of the year, with counts of 60 or more meteors per hour," Cooke said.

Some of those counts come in flurries, so skywatchers should find a comfortable spot with as wide a view of the sky as possible. Lie back and allow 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, then give the show at least a half hour to play out through spurts and lulls. Meteors could appear anywhere in the sky, though traced back they will appear to emanate from the constellation Orion.

Telescopes and binoculars are of no use, because meteors move too quickly. Extra warm clothing is a must, and a blanket and pillow or lounge chair allows comfortable positioning so you can look up for long stretches.

Reliable event

Predicting meteor showers is tricky because the debris comes from multiple streams.

Each time comet Halley passes around the sun on its elongated orbit – every 76 years – it lays down a fresh track of debris for Earth to plow through in subsequent years. Those tracks spread out and mingle over time, and we pass the tracks each October during our 365-day, nearly circular trek around the sun.

Japanese researchers Mikiya Sato and Jun-ichi Watanabe say activity in recent years is related to debris put in place from 1266 BC to 911 BC, and this could be another good year, according to NASA.

Even if that prediction does not hold, the Orionids will almost surely put on a decent show. Prior to 2006 and going back many years, the Orionids have produced a reliable 15 to 20 meteors per hour at the peak, for skywatchers with dark skies.

As a bonus, this time of year you can expect an additional five to 10 sporadic meteors per hour – those not related to the shower.
6:34 pm
Ending death penalty could save US millions: study

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Even when executions are not carried out, the death penalty costs US states hundreds of millions of dollars a year, depleting budgets in the midst of economic crisis, a study released Tuesday found.

"It is doubtful in today's economic climate that any legislature would introduce the death penalty if faced with the reality that each execution would cost taxpayers 25 million dollars, or that the state might spend more than 100 million dollars over several years and produce few or no executions," argued Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center and the report's author.

"Surely there are more pressing needs deserving funding," he wrote, noting that execution was rated among the least effective crime deterrents.

In just one death penalty trial "the state may pay one million dollars more than for a non-death penalty trial. But only one in every three capital trials may result in a death sentence, so the true cost of that death sentence is three million dollars," the study's author said.

"Further down the road, only one in ten of the death sentences handed down may result in an execution. Hence, the cost to the state to reach that one execution is 30 million dollars," Dieter added in the report entitled "Smart on Crime."

The center's goal of ending executions may still be an uphill battle.

The report comes just a week after a new poll found that 65 percent of Americans still favor the death penalty.

Legal in 35 of the 50 US states and used regularly in about 12 or so, the death penalty has been reconsidered recently in 11 states, largely because of the high costs associated with its use.

Colorado came close to eliminating execution but New Mexico was the only state to abolish it, in March.

"There is no reason the death penalty should be immune from reconsideration, along with other wasteful, expensive programs that no longer make sense," Dieter stressed, noting that most US states that pay to maintain a system to execute inmates have in the past three decades put to death only a handful of convicted criminals.

"The same states that are spending millions of dollars on the death penalty are facing severe cutbacks in other justice areas. Courts are open less, trials are delayed, and even police are being furloughed," Dieter said.

In Pennsylvania, 200 police posts sit unfilled, and in New Hampshire trials were put on hold for a month to save money.

Dieter says that keeping execution while reducing its costs is not realistic. If less money is spent on appeals, he argues, the risk of executing an innocent person will increase.

He said that ultimately, execution does not deter crime as its supporters hope. Capital punishment has been abolished in most western democracies, and after it was eliminated in the US state of New Jersey in 2007, the state saw its murder rate decline.

Dieter cites a poll of 500 local police chiefs, which was paid for by the DPIC and released on Tuesday, showing support for ending capital punishment.

The survey found that the police chiefs see the death penalty as the least effective tool in deterring crime. They suggest more efficient use of resources -- such as boosting funding for drug and alcohol abuse programs.
6:31 pm
BBC News: Heroin supply clinic cuts crime, reduces drug abuse

A scheme in which heroin is given to addicts in supervised clinics has led to big reductions in the use of street drugs and crime, the BBC has learned.

More than 100 users took part in the pilot - part funded by the government - in London, Brighton and Darlington.

They either injected heroin or received the drug's substitute methadone.

Those given heroin responded best and an independent panel which monitored the scheme over six months is advising ministers to set up further trials.

About three-quarters of those given heroin were said to have "substantially" reduced their use of street drugs.

Research suggests that between half and two-thirds of all crime in the UK is drug-related.

The Home Office says on its website that about three-quarters of crack and heroin users claim they commit crime to feed their habits.

Professor John Strang, who led the project, said the results were "very positive" because the scheme had helped cut crime and avoid "expensive" prison sentences.

Professor Strang, who is based at the National Addiction Centre, part of King's Health Partners, said the individuals on the programme were among those who had been the hardest to treat.

"It's as if each of them is an oil tanker heading for disaster and so the purpose of this trial is to see: 'Can you turn them around? Is it possible to avert disaster?'

"And the surprising finding - which is good for the individuals and good for society as well - is that you can," he said.

The Randomised Injecting Opioid Treatment Trial (RIOTT) programme - which is funded by a number of agencies, including the Department of Health - began in 2005.


More from Today programme

It involved 127 chronic heroin addicts for whom conventional types of treatment had failed.

Many of the addicts were also using other substances, including crack cocaine.

During the trials, a third of addicts were given the heroin substitute methadone orally and another third injected methadone under supervision.

The remainder, observed by nurses, injected themselves with diamorphine - unadulterated heroin - imported from Switzerland.

National roll-out?

Those on the programme were also given psychological support and help with their housing and social needs.

The results showed that addicts in all three groups cut the amount of heroin they obtained illicitly from street dealers.

According to researchers, more than half of the heroin injecting group were said to be "largely abstinent" and one-in-five did not use street heroin at all.

Before they began the programme, the addicts in the heroin injecting group were spending more than £300 a week on street drugs. After six months, this had reduced to an average of £50 a week.

It used to be about chasing the buzz, but when you go on the programme you just want to feel comfortable
John, RIOTT participant

There was also a big drop in the number of offences addicts admitted committing to obtain money to feed their habit.

In the previous month before the scheme started, addicts in the heroin injecting group reported carrying out 1,731 crimes.

After six months, this had fallen to 547 offences - a reduction of more than two-thirds.

One of the heroin addicts on the programme, a 34-year-old man called John, had been addicted for eight years when the trials began. He fed his habit by dealing.

"My life was just a shambles... waking up, chasing money, chasing drugs," he said.

But John said the scheme had transformed his life "100 per cent" and he now had a part-time job.

"It used to be about chasing the buzz, but when you go on the programme you just want to feel comfortable," he said.
Syringe and heroin
Many participants "substantially" reduced their use of street drugs

"I've started reducing my dose gradually, so that maybe in a few months time I'll be able to come off it altogether, drug free totally."

In its drug strategy, published last year, the government said it would "roll out" the prescription of injectible heroin, subject to the findings of the pilot scheme.

The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA), which administers drug treatment in England, said the results were "encouraging".

The NTA said an independent expert group, set up to advise the government, had concluded that there was enough "positive evidence of the benefits" of the programme to merit further pilots.

The NTA is understood to be keen to evaluate the financial implications of the scheme. At £15,000 per user per year, supervised heroin injecting is three times more expensive than other treatments.
6:20 pm
New Poll Shows Greatest Ever Support for Legalizing Marijuana

A poll by Zogby International released today found that 41% of Americans agree that “the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: it should regulate it, control it, tax it and only make it illegal for children.” This represents a striking increase from previous nationwide polls on making marijuana legal.

“Over 40% of Americans basically think that marijuana prohibition makes no more sense than alcohol Prohibition, and should be repealed,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Nearly two years ago USA Today ran a front page story with the findings of a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll which found that support for legalizing marijuana was at its highest in 30 years, with 34% in favor, up from 15% in 1972. The jump over two years to 41% is similar to other rapid shifts in public opinion around marijuana decriminalization in Canada, Britain and elsewhere.

The poll released today interviewed 1,204 adults chosen at random nationwide. They were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement: “Some people say the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: it should regulate marijuana, control it, tax it, and only make it illegal for children.” The margin of error is +/- 2.9%.

"No other criminal law on the books in this country is enforced so vigorously, yet backed by such a small majority of Americans," said Nadelmann. "When two of every five citizens say it's time to make marijuana legal, the government's response should be to reduce penalties and re-evaluate the law, yet the federal government is doing just the opposite: blocking the availability of marijuana for medical purposes, prohibiting the production of hemp for industrial purposes, and spending billions of dollars per year on the war on marijuana."

"U.S. marijuana policy is increasingly out of step with our closest allies and neighbors," said Nadelmann, pointing to the decriminalization of marijuana in Canada, Switzerland, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy and elsewhere.
Monday, October 19th, 2009
1:13 am
He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun / In case of accidents, he always took his mum
I've been watching the Animal Planet show Untamed and Uncut a lot lately. In case you're unfamiliar with it, it's all real-life videos taken by regular people of extraordinary animal rescues (by which I mean both rescuing animals, and rescuing people from animal attacks).

Some of it is really amazing and beautiful stuff. It shows people selflessly risking their lives to save all kinds of trapped and injured animals -- from raccoons (Procyon lotor) to polar bears (Ursus maritimus) -- as well as animal-attack victims making remarkable escapes from the edge of death.

However, a different aspect I've been noticing more and more as I watch it lately is how it shows that a lot of people are just -- if you'll pardon me -- incredibly fucking stupid when it comes to animals!! Seriously, many of these folks should be formally listed as 'At-Risk Survivors' in the Darwin Awards records.

Recently, I've seen the following on this show:


Some guys in a fishing boat intentionally went out, over the weekend or something, in order to fish ... for sharks. These three or four dudes went out in the ocean in this dinky little boat, in order to purposefully use big hooks to assault, torment, and capture 100- to 200-kilogram blue sharks (Prionace glauca) for fun and sport.

Needless to say, one of them ended up getting pulled into the water via his fishing rod, and nearly killed. Which just goes to show that -- believe it or not -- going out into the water and fucking with deadly sharks is NOT a good idea!!! You do something that stupid, I'm tempted to say you deserve whatever you get.


Two or three guys, out hiking or something, ran across a severely injured owl (I don't remember the species), whose wing was broken, making him unable to fly or hunt. Of course, this would have undoubtedly led to his death if no one had done anything. So these guys proceeded to try to catch him in order to get him to a vet -- all by themselves, with no training in animal rescue, and with no equipment but a little blanket!

First of all, they were putting themselves into danger, by facing the owl's deadly beak and talons. But that's not the real problem here, to me. The real problem is that they were putting the owl in further danger by attempting an amateur rescue. The first thing they should have done was to call in the professionals, who know what they're doing, who aren't going to needlessly harm the animal (or themselves) due to inexperience and unpreparedness.

It wouldn't have been a problem if it was a case of the danger being too urgent, so they didn't have time to call the professionals. But this owl was really in no immediate peril, and was easy to follow around and keep track of since he was limping around, unable to fly. So why didn't they call someone who actually knew what to do, instead of blundering in and trying to do it themselves without the proper training and equipment? Well, according to one of the guys, 'It just never occurred to me to call someone else'! Gee, that's a good reason, huh?

If I'm not mistaken, actually, although they got the owl to the vet safely, he died a few days later from his injuries. Which is a really weird thing to hear on one of these shows -- they almost never show a story where an animal ends up dying (unless there was more than one, and one died but [an]other[s] survived). But the truly sad thing is, I can't help but wonder whether he would have survived if those guys had called someone, instead of irresponsibly jumping into a rescue they had no business trying to carry out.


A group of divers went out into the middle of some waters infested with tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), dropped a big chum bucket to get the sharks excited, and then proceeded to all climb into the water -- right next to all the bloody chum -- with no cages, no shark suits, and, in fact, no safety equipment of any sort whatsoever!!! Their only attempts at protecting themselves were to try to stay close to each other, and float vertically instead of horizontally to try to make themselves look a little less like food.

Remarkably, only one of them was injured, but clearly these people were out of their damn minds! Did none of them say to zirself, 'Um ... We're going to purposefully whip these sharks into a feeding frenzy, and then jump into the open water, right in the middle of it? ... And these particular sharks are one of the most dangerous of all shark species, which is responsible for more human attacks than almost any other? ... And we're using no safety equipment at all? ... Uh ... Are we sure this is a good idea??'


A bunch of guys into 'extreme sports' went out into extraordinarily high, dangerous, snow-covered, rocky mountains, all the way out in the wilderness -- where there were no safe, marked trails whatsoever -- and proceeded to ski down them at ridiculous speeds for fun, risking their lives for a stupid, irresponsible form of entertainment.

Now, I have problems with all these sorts of people who engage in these types of activities -- adrenaline junkies and daredevils who repeatedly engage in unsafe, potentially life-threatening activities, for no other reason than they get off on it. If you want a rush, there are plenty of at least halfway safe ways to get it. There's bungee jumping, skydiving, roller coasters, skiing on marked trails, psychedelics, flirting -- activities for which there are basic, standard safety procedures, so that you have a low chance of permanent injury or death unless you ignore those safety procedures.

(And it absolutely boggles my mind that there is such a thing as people who do these sorts of risky things -- jump flaming motorcycles over huge canyons, race cars in close proximity around and around in a circle[*] at speeds of over 45 m/s (100 mi/h), wrestle alligators -- professionally, for a living. If you do that sort of thing once, or a few times, well, that's one thing. But if you keep doing it over and over again, every damn day, you're essentially making it a statistical inevitability that you will be severely hurt or killed, eventually. I simply cannot grasp why anyone thinks that kind of risk is worthwhile, just for shits and giggles and entertaining a bunch of drunken people.)

But I digress. What really pissed me off about this situation, actually, was that it wasn't the skiers' lives who ended up getting put in danger. One of them, the stupid bastard, brought his dog out with them -- into a situation he knew would be very dangerous. The poor dog, who was just trying to follow his owner, ended up falling down a mountain. He plummeted dozens of metres through the air off a cliff, and then rolled down the rest of the way, completely out of control. I think they said he reached speeds of about 18 m/s (40 mi/h) as he helplessly tumbled down the mountain. It's a miracle he didn't break his neck, or crack his head open on a rock, or get covered and crushed by an avalanche.

This moron kept talking about how much he loved his dog. What BS! Would he have brought his child out into that extremely perilous situation? That's no act of love -- it's an act of cruelty, of reckless endangerment. If he wants to be an idiot and risk his own life for a stupid sport, that's fine. But leave the damn dog out of it!!!


However, as far as I'm concerned, by far the worst offenders are the dipshits who mess around with bulls (adult male Bos primigenius). Rodeo bull-riders, bullfighters, the folks involved in the Running of the Bulls ... I'm sorry, but I have no respect whatsoever for any of them. A huge percentage of them get severely injured, all the time, and yet I have almost no sympathy for the victims, either. If you don't want to end up in the hospital, then don't gratuitously fuck around with a powerful, deadly animal for sport!!!

Tonight's Untamed and Uncut featured the story of a rodeo dude who got his neck broken three separate times from challenging, taunting, and tormenting bulls for fun. Three times!!! The third time, he was getting quite old, just about to retire. He engaged in a tremendously risky and stupid move, trying to jump over the bull, to impress the cheering fans -- something no one should ever attempt, let alone someone at his age. The bull sent him flying into a wall, where he landed right on his already twice-broken neck, breaking it again, putting him in agony, bringing him within a stone's throw of either a terrible, painful death or permanent paralysis.

They showed a clip of his wife saying she was angry, that she hated that every day for years she lived in fear that he was going to get killed -- that it drove her mad that he almost did get killed, completely needlessly, all in the name of fun and entertainment and getting a reaction from the audience.

As far as I'm concerned, her comments in this vein should have been replayed three times in a row, then put up visually on the screen, in huge block letters, surrounded by exclamation marks, in neon-bright colours, and then repeated aloud by a screaming chorus (rather than merely taking up a few seconds of footage, and then being virtually ignored). To me, it's the entire lesson of the story. This fucking MORON tortured his wife, making her live for years in a state of constant terror that he would die at any moment, and leave his children fatherless -- all because he thought it was fun to fuck around with dangerous wild animals for thrills and applause.

But that's not all. After he healed from that third (third!!!) time his neck was broken and he almost died ... guess what he did? He said, 'Well, I can't retire now! I can't have my last performance end with me on a stretcher. That would be like letting the bull win!' So he went back and did another fucking bull battle!! The hell with his wife's and children's peace of mind; he just had to go back and put his life at risk one more time, for one more adrenaline rush, to get cheered by one more audience. Arrrrrrghh ... it makes me so angry again, just writing about this stupid bastard's behaviour!

As for the rodeo in general ... Not only is bull-riding just about the most dangerous sport there is -- seriously, there's at least one video of a horrific rodeo bull incident on virtually every episode of shows like Untamed and Uncut -- but it also angers me the way these huge, beautiful, dangerous animals that should be left alone in their natural environment are locked up in tiny chutes, tormented to make them angry, and used as objects for sport and amusement. It's disgusting. It's all over the place, this arrogant and cruel human tendency to use fellow living animals for entertainment ... but at least horse racers and greyhound racers and such treat their animals with some respect. (And they also try to take precautions to make the activity at least somewhat safe, so that terrible accidents, though they happen, are fairly rare and usually caused by unusual and unforeseeable circumstances. Bull-riding, on the other hand, is inherently horribly perilous, and there is quite simply no way to make it safe, by the very nature of the sport. That's all it is -- putting yourself in horrible danger just for the hell of it, and hoping you survive by pure luck.)

Of course, bullfighting -- as they do it in Spain -- is the worst of all, in terms of animal cruelty. I will not even discuss the way they so cold-bloodedly, horrifically murder these beautiful creatures by slowly and painfully draining them of life, while driving them mad with constant torment, because I will not be able to contain my emotions. It's probably far less dangerous to the people than bull-riding is. But Tempe help any poor bull unfortunate enough to end up in that ring of torture and slaughter in the name of entertainment.

Let me just put it this way ... in every rodeo, in every bullfight, I'm rooting for the bull. It's a shame that people get hurt and even killed when the bull wins, but it's extraordinarily difficult for me to feel any sympathy for someone who uselessly puts zirself in that kind of mortal danger over and over again, for nothing more than the thrill of it. I do however, feel sympathy for their families, who don't deserve that kind of worry and fear.

[*] Okay, it's actually an oval. 'Driving around in a circle' just sounds so much better. But while I'm on the subject, I'd like to take this opportunity to debunk the popular misconception that an 'oval' is the same thing as an 'ellipse'. If this is news to you, please look it up.
Saturday, October 17th, 2009
11:02 pm
Black bear chills in Wisconsin beer cooler

From the Associated Press [bracketed conversions to SI units added by Sean]:

HAYWARD, Wis. – Shoppers in a Wisconsin grocery store got an unexpected surprise when a 125-pound [56,7-kilogram] black bear wandered inside and headed straight for the beer cooler.

The bear stopped Friday night at Marketplace Foods in Hayward, about 140 miles [225 kilometres] northeast of Minneapolis, sauntering through the automatic doors and heading straight for the liquor department.

It calmly climbed up 12 feet [3,7 metres] onto a shelf in the beer cooler where it sat for about an hour [3,6 kiloseconds] while employees helped evacuate customers and summoned wildlife officials.

Officials from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources tranquilized the animal and took it out of the store. Store workers say the bear seemed content in the cooler and did not consume any alcohol.
Friday, October 2nd, 2009
1:16 pm
The Double-Edged Sword of Popular Science Coverage
This brief news story I just watched ( http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/player/popup/?rn=4226712&cl=15872679&src=news ) about a new dinosaur-egg discovery rather encapsulates the frustration that popular reportage of science engenders in one who actually knows the science behind the stories.

One one level, it's great that the stories are out there for regular people to see. It helps promote interest in science among non-scientists.

On the other hand, they are almost always written by people who don't know a damn thing about what they're reporting on, and are often marred by grotesque sloppiness in terms of their scientific accuracy. All these people know about the subject is from second- or third-hand sources, and they have little to no genuine understanding of the real significance of the stories. They present a bastardised, highly diluted, naïve, elementary-school-level version of what's really going on, which is sometimes so badly distorted and oversimplified that it actually miseducates more than it educates.

This particular story wasn't too bad, but there were two moments that hit me like nails scratching on a blackboard. First, they said that the dinosaur eggs were from 'up to 65 million years ago'.

'Up to'????? Um ... the nonavian dinosaurs only existed more than 65 million years ago. So I'm thinking 'up to' is a rather, ah, inappropriate prepositional phrase to include. Why someone would insert such a bizarre thing into the sentence is entirely beyond me.

The other thing is that they said the eggs might be from 'the largest dinosaur species that ever existed' -- 'the sauropod'.

Arrrrrgh ... learn what a 'species' is!!! There is no 'The Sauropod'! SauropodS are a huge clade that includes something like 120 different genera -- and many of those genera in turn include several species. Some of those species are the largest dinosaurs. (And, while we're at it, it deserves mentioning that they are in fact the largest known land animals of all time, period.)

(This reminds me of the line that always makes me cringe in 'Jurassic Park', where Grant says, 'Dinosaurs and man, two species separated by 65 million years ...' That is NOT two species!! Dinosaurs include many thousands of species!!)

But at least those could be considered quibbling over details by someone who's not as picky as I am. Another story I recently read is a far worse offender:


In this story, they claim that ongoing research into Ardipithecus ramidus 'reverses the common wisdom of human evolution .... Rather than humans evolving from an ancient chimp-like creature, the new find provides evidence that chimps and humans evolved from some long-ago common ancestor — but each evolved and changed separately along the way. ... Ardi has many traits that do not appear in modern-day African apes, leading to the conclusion that the apes evolved extensively since we shared that last common ancestor.' They speak as if this is some great change in our scientific knowledge, brought about suddenly and single-handedly by Ardi.

Um, sorry, but no. In fact, the scenario outlined has been the universally accepted understanding of human (and nonhuman ape) evolution for at least several decades -- and it's also exactly the way Darwin understood things to be. In fact, it is a basic, fundamental principle of evolutionary biology that similarities in related but distinct species arise much more often from their sharing a common ancestor than by direct descent (or, at least, that we should treat them that way by default, in the absence of any proof of direct descent).

It is only the general public, which is still rampant with grotesque misconceptions and befuddled notions of how evolution works, who would be at all surprised by this. In fact, this story would be a perfect opportunity to help educate people better and dispel the myths by explaining this basic fact of biology, and its broad, general scope of application throughout the world of life. But instead, they give the impression that it's true only in this particular case, that it was just discovered last week, and that it is surprising and unexpected to scientists.

I believe that all major news and media outlets (hell, Congress too, for that matter) should have genuine scientific experts on staff to report on these kinds of stories -- people who actually know what they're talking about, have an understanding of the background and the details and the significance, and can actually write stories that are accurate, not misleading, and not oversimplified to the point of caricature, from first-hand knowledge. That this is not universal, common practice is, as far as I'm concerned, a tremendous breach of responsibility for institutions that claim to be bringing knowledge to the people so they can be informed citizens.
Wednesday, September 16th, 2009
3:42 pm
'Nuff said.

Better world: Legalise drugs
* 11 September 2009 by Clare Wilson

Far from protecting us and our children, the war on drugs is making the world a much more dangerous place.

SO FAR this year, about 4000 people have died in Mexico's drugs war - a horrifying toll. If only a good fairy could wave a magic wand and make all illegal drugs disappear, the world would be a better place.

Dream on. Recreational drug use is as old as humanity, and has not been stopped by the most draconian laws. Given that drugs are here to stay, how do we limit the harm they do?

The evidence suggests most of the problems stem not from drugs themselves, but from the fact that they are illegal. The obvious answer, then, is to make them legal.

The argument most often deployed in support of the status quo is that keeping drugs illegal curbs drug use among the law-abiding majority, thereby reducing harm overall. But a closer look reveals that this really doesn't stand up. In the UK, as in many countries, the real clampdown on drugs started in the late 1960s, yet government statistics show that the number of heroin or cocaine addicts seen by the health service has grown ever since - from around 1000 people per year then, to 100,000 today. It is a pattern that has been repeated the world over.

A second approach to the question is to look at whether fewer people use drugs in countries with stricter drug laws. In 2008, the World Health Organization looked at 17 countries and found no such correlation. The US, despite its punitive drug policies, has one of the highest levels of drug use in the world (PLoS Medicine, vol 5, p e141).

A third strand of evidence comes from what happens when a country softens its drug laws, as Portugal did in 2001. While dealing remains illegal in Portugal, personal use of all drugs has been decriminalised. The result? Drug use has stayed roughly constant, but ill health and deaths from drug taking have fallen. "Judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalisation framework has been a resounding success," states a recent report by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington DC.

By any measure, making drugs illegal fails to achieve one of its primary objectives. But it is the unintended consequences of prohibition that make the most compelling case against it. Prohibition fuels crime in many ways: without state aid, addicts may be forced to fund their habit through robbery, for instance, while youngsters can be drawn into the drugs trade as a way to earn money and status. In countries such as Colombia and Mexico, the profits from illegal drugs have spawned armed criminal organisations whose resources rival those of the state. Murder, kidnapping and corruption are rife.

Making drugs illegal also makes them more dangerous. The lack of access to clean needles for drug users who inject is a major factor in the spread of lethal viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C.

So what's the alternative? There are several models for the legal provision of recreational drugs. They include prescription by doctors, consumption at licensed premises or even sale on a similar basis to alcohol and tobacco, with health warnings and age limits. If this prospect appals you, consider the fact that in the US today, many teenagers say they find it easier to buy cannabis than beer.

Taking any drug - including alcohol and nicotine - does have health risks, but a legal market would at least ensure that the substances people ingest or inject are available unadulterated and at known dosages. Much of the estimated $300 billion earned from illegal drugs worldwide, which now funds crime, corruption and environmental destruction, could support legitimate jobs. And instead of spending tens of billions enforcing prohibition, governments would gain income from taxes that could be spent on medical treatment for the small proportion of users who become addicted or whose health is otherwise harmed.

Unfortunately, the idea that banning drugs is the best way to protect vulnerable people - especially children - has acquired a strong emotional grip, one that politicians are happy to exploit. For many decades, laws and public policy have flown in the face of the evidence. Far from protecting us, this approach has made the world a much more dangerous place than it need be.
Monday, September 7th, 2009
1:05 pm
The Lie of 'Labor Day': This Holiday is Drenched in Blood
First of all: Fuck the barbecues! Your steak may be roasting now; in the past, it was the working people who were roasted!

Labor Day today is just another meaningless, commercialised holiday that's about time off, getting drunk, waving flags and whooping a bunch of nonsense about how great it is to be an American. That's not how it started out. In fact, (the correctly spelled) Labour Day is not even an American idea at all. It was first observed in Canada, in celebration of a victory of workers' demonstrations against oppression.

And even that is not the true international Labour Day, which is on 1st May. This genuine, militant day of organisation and protest so scared American politicians that they chose the September date, thus making it easier for them turn it into just another meaningless American party holiday.

The blood of striking workers is all over Labour Day, no matter which date you celebrate it. Please, PLEASE at least spare a thought for all those people who were murdered because they stood up for their rights as human beings, before you go back to your pleasant, inoffensive little barbecues and parties.


The origin of 'our' Labour Day:

On 25th March 1872, the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike, demanding that the working week be lowered to 'only' fifty-eight hours. (Think about that for a second.) On 14th April, a parade was held by the 27 unions of the Toronto Trades Assembly in support of the strike.

George Brown, a politician and newspaper editor, responded by charging that the strikers were engaged in 'conspiracy'. Unfortunately, the idiotic old laws criminalising union activity were still on the books in Canada (though they'd already been abolished in Britain), and 24 leaders of the Typographic Union were arrested. On 3rd September (thus the September date of the holiday), seven unions marched in Ottawa to protest the arrests. The prime minister, frightened by the show of strength, promised that the anti-labour laws would be repealed; and on 14th June 1873, Parliament passed the Trade Union Act, legalising and protecting union activity. (Once again demonstrating that governments do not pass laws to protect people's rights of their own free will, because it's the right thing to do, but because organised mass protest forces them to do it to save their own skins.)

Anyway, by the 1880s, Labour Day had become an established local holiday around Toronto, in observance of these events. It reached the United States on 5th September 1882, with a Knights of Labor-organised parade in New York City. It became an official national holiday in Canada on 23rd July 1894. Shortly after the New York parade became an annual event, and president Grover Cleveland officially made Labor Day a US holiday.


Now that's a nice story, and indeed it was a significant victory for organised labour. I do not mean to belittle the achievements of those men and women. But keep in mind that the oppression in this story stopped at the level of arrest. May Day, the REAL Labour Day, is a monument to a much scarier story, one drenched in blood.

And the primary reason the September date was chosen for the American holiday was to suppress the memory of that bloody story, in order to more easily trivialise the history of the labour movement and fool people into thinking it was merely a calm and orderly march for reform of bad laws, when it was actually a bloody, fiery fight by oppressed people struggling and screaming to have their voices be heard, over the din of their fellows being beaten and murdered all around them.


The origin of May Day:

Of course, May Day was really a holiday even thousands of years before the organised labour movement; the Celtic Beltane and Germanic Walpurgisnacht were at the beginning of May, halfway between the Vernal Equinox in March and the Summer Solstice in July. It was the beginning of summer, full of fertility rituals and maypoles and all that. IMO, this deeper history only amplifies the meaning of the day in the context of organised labour.

The modern May Day, or International Workers' Day, is a commemoration of the infamous Haymarket Massacre of 4th May 1886. There was a rally in Chicago that day, in Haymarket Square, in support of a general strike that convulsed the whole nation, with workers all over the country joining together in masses tens of thousands strong, demanding the eight-hour workday.

The day before the massacre, two strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine plant were shot to death by police, despite the essentially nonviolent nature of the strikers. Outraged by this, anarchists and other protestors set up the rally at Haymarket. The rally started out as completely calm and peaceful -- not that you'd know that from all the armed police officers who were gathered to suspiciously and angrily watch the 'troublemakers'.

Then one stupid individual -- whose identity is still debated; it is not entirely impossible it was a provocateur -- threw a bomb, killing a police officer. The reaction of the police to this was to irrationally and uncontrollably lash out at the entire crowd, wildly opening fire on hundreds of innocent people who hadn't had a DAMN thing to do with the bomb.

After five minutes of carnage, the order was finally given to cease fire -- not because the cops were murdering innocent people, but because they were afraid they would end up shooting one another. Indeed, after the smoke cleared, eight policemen were dead and about sixty wounded -- not at the hands of the protestors, mind you, but of one another. Aside from the one officer killed and a couple injured by the bomb, they had all shot each other in their wild, animal frenzy to just kill everyone they could.

It is not known how many civilians were injured that day -- many were afraid to seek medical attention for fear of being arrested -- but according to the police captain himself, the number was 'wildly in excess' of the number of police casualties. At least four workers were killed, and one witness alone claimed to see over fifty wounded and dead civilians lying in the streets.

But it wasn't the massacred civilians that the 'justice' system went to work to avenge -- it was the throwing of the bomb. No one had any idea who had thrown the bomb, of course. So instead of trying to figure out, the courts declared that the leaders involved in the organising of the rally were at fault. Their 'villainous teachings' were responsible for the carnage, not the idiotic, panicked, and wild, and bloodthirsty shooting into the crowd from the police. They didn't need to find the actual bomb-thrower; in their eyes, every anarchist, every striker, every labour organiser was vicious scum who was directly responsible.

Eight of the rally's leaders were arrested and indicted for the murder of the officer who had been killed by the bomb. (Six of the eight were German or of German descent, which helped -- all those dirty foreigners were bringing dangerous ideas into the country, and it's not like they were really human, like good old red-blooded Americans, so no one would miss them.) One of the defendants was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The other seven were all given death sentences, triggering worldwide outrage and protests.

On appeal, two of the men had their sentences commuted to life. One more committed suicide the night before he was to be executed. The remaining four were summarily hanged, on 11th November 1887. There is absolutely zero evidence that ANY of these men had the SLIGHTEST thing to do with the bomb. It was nothing but state-sanctioned murder, motivated by blind revenge and a hatred of the working people who were struggling to be heard and demanding their rights.

The first international May Day was observed in 1890, as an opportunity to strike once again for the same eight-hour day that the strikes leading to the Haymarket incident had been about. Ever since then it has been a date for struggle, protest, and organisation, as well as memory of all the innocent people killed in connection with Haymarket -- and, indeed, all the other legions of innocent people who have been beaten and murdered by capitalist muscle for demanding their rights, throughout the history of the labour struggle.


May Day, the International Day of Labour, is today observed on 1st May (or sometimes 2nd May, or the first Monday of May) as a national holiday in the following 91 countries: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, China, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Lebanon, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Suriname, Sweden, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

So who celebrates Labo(u)r Day in September? Canada, the United States, and, uh ... Bermuda.

Why? Well, Canada has a decent excuse: the original September rally leading to the Trade Union Act that inspired the holiday took place there. I can forgive that. But why does the US have the September holiday instead of the May one? For one simple reason: President Grover Cleveland was scared to death of the REAL Labour Day, because it carried with it the still fresh, and deeply embarrassing, memory of what happened at Haymarket.

Cleveland, and the rest of the folks in political power in the 1890s, didn't want people to remember that day. They wanted people to forget it. They wanted to placate the unions by declaring a 'Labor Day', but they wanted to make sure it was a controllable Labor Day, one that they could make into a day for jocular parades and barbecues and days off work -- without reminding people of the sweaty, bloody struggles, and sacrificed lives, it took to get things like the eight-hour day, the five-day week, the right to form unions, a minimum wage, child labour laws, and all the myriad such things we take for granted today.


The lesson of May Day is what was best expressed by Frederick Douglass:

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

And the lesson of today, the American Labor Day, is that the economic powers that be and their political handmaidens would love for you to forget that lesson, and just go on with your friendly, meaningless, inoffensive barbecues and fireworks.

But some of us will never forget the truth.

Thursday, July 30th, 2009
10:38 am
The United Snobs of Arrogance: The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel
Enough with the self-congratulatory, super-patriotic pricks who think the rules of international conduct apply to everyone except the USA!

I just watched former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton on last night's Daily Show. This guy -- who has worked for Reagan and both Bushes, and consistently pushed conservative, short-sighted, hyper-nationalistic policies predicated on the assumption that the US should get to decide the rules for everyone else, while simultaneously doing whatever the hell it wants -- has been irresponsibly pushing the idea that Israel should conduct open military strikes against Iran, because as bad as the outcome of that will be, the possibility of a nuclear Iran is worse.

Now, first off, I find it verrrrrry interestink that he only suggests strikes by Israel. Not the US; not anyone else. Why is that, do you think? Is it because he knows that it will end badly, and he wants to make sure that the brunt of the effects fall on a convenient little puppet state, so they don't threaten the continued imperialist hegemony of the US? Or is it just that he knows the US, under the Obama administration, won't do such a thing, so he simply finds the next most convenient pawn to manipulate? Either way, I think his specification that Israel should attack Iran is highly suspicious, and raises serious questions about his motives ... though I'm willing to listen to any less sinister defence of the idea.

Anyway, Jon Stewart raised a couple of very good points. First off, quietly buried away here in Bolton's plan is the tiny little assumption that, um ... an attack by Israel would in any way stop Iran from going nuclear. Of course, it's only the entire point of his idea, so how could anyone expect him to have thought it out? His response was that, well, a few surgical strikes could at least delay their nuclear programme a little while, and in the meantime we can cross our fingers really hard and hope that the Iranian dissident movement overturns the régime before they can get the nukes back on track.

(To be fair, he didn't really say all we can do is 'hope' for a régime change; he said we should actively support the dissidents, which we haven't been doing. This sounds like a good idea, until you realise that he never explained exactly what 'supporting' them would mean, and if we are to judge by history, it will probably end up amounting to either nothing more than a few kind words, or once again falling into the short-sighted trap of believing that sending more guns and more troops will solve everything.)

He admits that none of this is inevitable, and yet somehow the remote possibility of it provides justification for active bombing of a sovereign nation. There is no indication that he has ever seriously considered any of the very very BAD ways the scenario could play out; keeping Iran from having nuclear weapons is so overwhelmingly important to him that it justifies irresponsible, highly risky, cowboy-style attacks that he can't even say are likely to accomplish the goal they're intended for!!! What is he thinking here, that Iran is going to start World War 3 eventually anyway, so we should make the first move and get the death and destruction going now so we don't have to wait??


Well, let's move on. This is far from the only disturbing thing said by this man who was formerly allowed to serve in a high-level diplomatic position and represent America to the world. Let's leave behind the fact that he has no evidence whatsoever that this plan will not just end up triggering global war and accomplish nothing else whatsoever, and assume that it actually will lead to the end of the current régime in Iran, in order to further criticise this ideological morass passing for a 'diplomatic strategy'.

As Stewart points out, this strategy of 'help topple the current leader by military force, and then assume that the country will greet you as a liberator' has fairly recently demonstrated itself to be, shall we say ... not the smartest thing in the world!! Even if there is régime change in Iran, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that the new government will be any more friendly towards us, and certainly no reason to believe that they won't still go on developing nuclear weapons anyway!! After all, doesn't just about every country, regardless of whether it's a democracy or a Muslim theocracy, want itself to be as militarily powerful as possible?

On being challenged on this by Stewart, Bolton's response was that well, true, there's no guarantee of régime change, and even if there were there's no guarantee the new Iran will be any friendlier, or will not still have a nuclear programme. Essentially, he admits that his entire plan is nothing but risk, with very little chance of success. And his rebuttal to that? A nuclear Iran is the worst thing possible, so we HAVE to do this!!!

Um ... did I dream the part where we saw that there was no evidence whatsoever that this plan would do anything at all to keep Iran from going nuclear???? I at least expected him to come up with some contorted argument about how the risk is acceptable and the chance of success is reasonable. He couldn't even be bothered to do that. He had no rebuttal whatsoever to Stewart's points! None whatsoever!!!

I can only guess that he had no response to the argument that there's a high chance his plan wouldn't even work, and would only make things worse, because he simply never even bothered to consider the possibility -- a typical attitude of these right-wing, shoot-first (and-never-get-around-to-asking-questions), irresponsible, patriotic, nationalistic cowboy hawks who think the answer to everything is shooting and bombing and killing and destroying, and the most important thing in the universe is that the US remain powerful and all its enemies be forced to bow to it.


Of course, there's a deeper flaw in the entire chain of reasoning, that goes well beyond the question of whether the plan would work or not. This point, unfortunately, Stewart failed to raise. And that is that the fundamental assumption behind all of this is that the US can have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over, and there's nothing wrong with that, but the idea that anyone who isn't an ally of the US should have even one nuclear weapon is horrific and terrifying and the worst possible scenario.

Bolton summed this up in his last major statement in the interview: 'There's actually very little difference between me and people who want no one to have nuclear weapons. That's because I think only one country should have them.' (Guess which country he meant?)

Now, first of all, wait just one damned second here! That is not a 'very little difference'! It is a HUGE FUCKING CHASM!! It's like saying there's 'very little difference' between democracy and absolute monarchy, because in a democracy there are no absolute rulers, and in a monarchy there's only one! The whole damn point of democracy is that NO ONE has the right to be an absolute ruler. There isn't one special exception. An exception would destroy the entire point. If you have an exception, in fact -- one absolute ruler allowed -- it's not democracy at all! It's the precise opposite!!!

Similarly, the whole damn point of the anti-nuclear weapons movement is that NO ONE has the right to stockpile weapons with the capability to destroy large chunks of the world. There isn't one special exception, for the US or anyone else. An exception would destroy the entire point. If you have an exception, in fact -- one nuclear country allowed -- it's not a nuke-free world at all! It's the precise frickin' opposite!!!

It's a world where one country dominates and oppresses others freely because it has a special destructive power no one else has that it can unleash whenever it wants. The idea behind a nuke-free world is that it could be a world of peace. (Of course, simply removing nuclear weapons without any other changes in the balance of power would not bring peace; it could even cause more war by removing the Mutual Assured Destruction principle. However, I think it is clear that one aspect of the creation of a peaceful world would involve the global renunciation of such horrible tools of destruction, and I find it extraordinarily hard to believe that any world with nukes could ever even come close to being peaceful.) But having only one country with nukes is no recipe for a peaceful world, and anyone who thinks it would be is a fool. Given that kind of power, what country could possibly be wise and selfless enough not to abuse it?

Sorry, but the United States most definitely would NOT. Almost the entire history of the US (at least, since the mid-19th century) is one of arrogantly abusing its economic, political, and military power to impose its will on the rest of the world. Making this country into the only one with nukes would be a horrid, incredibly stupid idea, and would be VERY VERY BAD for EVERYONE.

In fact, no country is wise and selfless enough to be the only nuclear power and not abuse it. That's because every country's government acts in its own interests, not those of the world as a whole. (As I said above, 'doesn't just about every country, regardless of whether it's a democracy or a Muslim theocracy, want itself to be as militarily powerful as possible?') That's practically the definition of a 'country'!

The entire patriotic, nationalistic worldview that it is the 'good of the country' that should be our guiding principle is short-sighted, backwards-looking nonsense! It can only lead to grief. The problems facing our world -- including nuclear weapons -- are GLOBAL ones, and can only be solved by GLOBAL cooperation. That requires that we move beyond the very concept of a country, because the idea is divisive, useless, and holding us back, causing endless strife and troubles that are totally pointless, and would be unimaginable in a unified planet without countries.

People like Bolton, and the rest of the 'America-first' hawks (conservative and liberal) who think that the US deserves to rule the world, are not going to be our saviours from people like Ahmadinejad. In fact, they are the other side of the same coin!

Forget your nationalistic bias for a moment; don't assume that the US (or wherever you live) is always the good guy, and Iran is always the bad guy. Look at the situation from a global perspective. What you will see is this: Right-wing nationalists in Iran, led by Ahmadinejad, squabbling with right-wing nationalists in the US, while the people of both countries suffer. The answer is not that one country's group of nationalists defeat the other; this will only lead to endless continuation of the nationalistic cycle of diplomatic crisis and recurring war. The answer is for the people of both countries to get rid of the nationalistic rulers that are all responsible for the problems, and move on to a world where they can work together without petty national interests sabotaging every single attempt at effecting the kinds of changes that will be necessary for the human species to survive.


As a final parting shot, let me set an imaginary scenario. Let's say that out of all the countries who have ever had, or tried to get, nuclear weapons, there was one, and only one, that has ever actually used them. They instantaneously vaporised a hundred thousand innocent people, and left tens of thousands of others to slowly and painfully die of radiation poisoning, all in the name of their nation defeating another -- and then proceeded to do it again, to a second city, for no apparent reason. Only one country has ever done this.

Would you consider that country the only one that can be trusted with such weapons? Or would you consider it the one that can be LEAST trusted with them? Um, I'm gonna have to go with the second choice.

Ha ha! I fooled you! The scenario wasn't imaginary at all! It's the way things actually are, and the United States of America is that one and only one country that has ever vaporised hundreds of thousands of innocent people with a nuclear weapon.

I simply ask ... what fucking moral authority does the US have in the first place that they get to demand Iran or anyone else give up their nuclear programmes?????
Monday, July 27th, 2009
7:41 pm
Some things that have been (literally?) driving me nuts recently
People in stores who have more than 20 (or 10, or whatever the sign says) items who, nevertheless, go to the express lane. Also, people who go into the express lane and then pay by slowly counting out coins, or have some kind of big problem that they have to spend forever working out with the cashier.

Dude, do you people not grasp the fucking concept of an express lane? The people behind you are probably in a HURRY! If you can't take care of your purchases quickly and smoothly, GO TO THE REGULAR FUCKING LINE!


People who use the word 'literally' without knowing what it fucking means.

(See http://literally.barelyfitz.com/ .)


People who are always saying that TV shows have 'jumped the shark'.

(And usually, they add arrogance to assholishness, whining about how the producers 'don't know what to do with the show' or have 'ruined' it. As if they know the 'right' way to do it. Yet oddly enough, I've never known anyone who spouted such nonsense to have demonstrated their superior knowledge by creating any successful shows of their own.)

Can these people never just enjoy a show, without analysing every little detail trying to find an excuse to say it's no good anymore and start bashing it? Dude, all shows evolve and change over time. If you don't like the new directions they're going in, then why are you still watching? Or, if you have stopped watching, why in the Virgo supercluster do you feel the need to tell everyone else that you're not watching anymore? Do you really think anyone cares? Don't you have ANYTHING better to do? Try masturbation -- it works for me!


People involved with TV shows or movies who say during interviews that some cast or crew member was a 'trooper' for dealing with difficult conditions.

One time, I watched a behind-the-scenes thing for The X-Files, followed by an episode commentary. Around the third or fourth time someone was called a 'trooper' (usually by Vince Gilligan), I said out loud, 'Stop saying "trooper"!!' Little did I suspect that over the next hour or so, I would find myself repeating, 'Stop saying "trooper"!!', at least five or six more times! They just kept fucking saying it!

I've heard the same thing in so many damn interviews and commentaries for TV shows and movies. 'He was a real trooper.' 'She was such a trooper.' 'They were all troopers.' 'Trooper trooper trooper trooper.' Learn a new fucking word, people!!


Right-wingers who criticise the use of the term 'homophobia' by saying, 'We're not afraid of them, we just disapprove of their lifestyle. The liberals need to learn to accept that we just disagree.'

First of all, what fucking right do you have to approve or disapprove of what anyone else does in the privacy of their bedroom, while harming no one? You don't get to 'disapprove' or 'disagree', because no one asked you, because it's NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS!

Second: You 'just disagree'?? This is not 'which recipe for a cherry pie is best' we're talking about here, or 'what colour should we paint a house'. This is an issue of basic fucking human rights! You can try to cover it up with innocuous sounding terms like 'disagree', but what it really is is bigotry and oppression towards a minority -- it's no less disgusting than bigotry towards blacks, or women, or immigrants, or any other oppressed group. Just because you try to dress it up as mere 'disagreement', to make it sound like just a minor difference of opinion, doesn't make it any less bigoted. It's not a minor difference of opinion. It's a gaping chasm between people who support diversity, freedom, and equality for all, and people who support prejudice, discrimination, and narrow-minded bigotry.

Third: Learn English! Oils and fats are 'hydrophobic'; does that mean they are literally afraid of water??

(Well, come to think of it, I guess it does -- to those who abuse 'literally' ...)


People who still use the word 'dinosaur' to refer to anything big, slow, dumb, inefficient, and/or outdated, as if the primitive and ignorant ideas from back in the 1950s about what dinosaurs were like are still somehow valid.

Did the last 40 years -- featuring an entire revolution in our understanding of them, as highly successful, adaptable, 'warm-blooded', intelligent, often fast and agile creatures who ruled the land for longer than any other group of animals, and still exist and rule the sky in the highly successful form of birds -- just not happen, or what? Watch a fucking Discovery Channel show once in a while, people! You're about half a century behind the times!!


While I'm on the subject: Scientists who have no real palaeontological knowledge whatsoever -- often astronomers and physicists -- who feel the need to casually mention, in the middle of a discussion that has nothing whatsoever to do with dinosaurs, that 'the dinosaurs were killed by an asteroid or comet impact'. (Sometimes they deign to include the word 'probably', but not always.) They'll be talking about, like, the general properties of comets or something, and just for the hell of it they'll throw in something to the effect of, 'Something like this killed the dinosaurs.'

Another example: In a book I have by well-known complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman (whom I still respect in a lot of ways, incidentally), he spends like a whole chapter discussing how nonlinear dynamics could explain the occurrence of mass extinctions without major external stressors, just as part of the natural ebb and flow of life's complex interrelations. Then, lamely, and apparently failing to draw the obvious conclusion his own train of thought leads to, he specifies that this must only apply to all the other mass extinctions, because the dinosaurs are known to have been killed by an impact. He knows this because 'all of the evidence seems to point that way'; perhaps unsurprisingly, he gives no indication of precisely which 'evidence' that is, nor does he explain why this one extinction should be so drastically different in cause from all the others.

It seems that some scientists' entire knowledge of the K-T extinction is limited to what they've read in popular newspaper headlines. If they bothered to actually ask some people who have actually studied the issue, and have more than a superficial acquaintance with dinosaurs, they would find that no, dammit, everyone does NOT agree that the impact 'caused' the extinction! You will find a number of people who say it did, certainly. But you will also find plenty who think that it was just the final straw after a series of unrelated environmental changes had already wrecked the health of dinosaur communities, and even more than a few who claim that it had no influence whatsoever on the extinctions. Quite a few think that volcanic eruptions in the Deccan Traps, among other things, were far more important factors. Everyone agrees that an impact did actually happen ... and that's about ALL that's agreed on by the whole community.

The supposed 'consensus' on the impact hypothesis is nonexistent, and manufactured by people outside the relevant area of expertise. But you'd never know this from the popular headlines, which of course love the impact explanation because it's so sensationalistic and easy to understand, completely regardless of the actual evidence for and against. (It's worth noting, BTW, that the guys who came up with the 'impact as sole cause of the extinction' idea, Luis and Walter Alvarez, were physicists/astronomers, who knew essentially NOTHING about dinosaurs or the world they lived in.) So I can only assume that these people who casually assume that the correctness of the impact hypothesis is universally agreed on have gotten their entire knowledge of the subject from the superficial, unscientific popular headlines.

So what we have here is scientists -- whom the general public trusts to tell them the current scientific consensus -- casually claiming authority on a subject they have no personal knowledge of, based on what they've heard through secondary and tertiary sources. Can we say 'professional irresponsibility'?


Scientists in discussions about possible extraterrestrial life who casually assume that life can only exist where there is liquid water.

What, just because the ONE instance of life we know about needs water, that means ALL other kinds of life must need it too? Um ... can we say 'limited imagination'?

I mean, I can understand that looking for water provides one of our best methods of searching for life right now, because it's not unlikely that just about any water will eventually develop some kind of life, and because any other life that is similar to Earth's will probably need water.

But just like in the 'gateway drug' argument, people seem to get this whole thing backwards, and therefore draw a highly erroneous conclusion. Most heroin users start with marijuana, but in fact only a very tiny fraction of marijuana users ever go on to heroin; thus, saying 'marijuana leads to heroin' is reading the statistics backwards, which is a big honking logical error and not the slightest bit valid. Similarly, life like Earth's almost certainly requires water; and life that depends on water, which would probably be roughly similar to Earth's life, represents our best bet for finding other life at this primitive stage of our technology. But for all we know, water-based life could be only a tiny fraction of all the kinds of life that exist. To assume that, just because water has a good chance of being associated with life, that means that ALL life must necessarily need water, is again reading things backwards, and is NOT a rationally justifiable conclusion.

You would think that intelligent scientists would have learned at least a small lesson from history. People used to say that no life could exist in extremely hot temperatures; then thermophiles were discovered. They used to say that no life could exist around toxic gases and other such extreme conditions; then methanophiles and other extremophiles were discovered. They used to say that no life could exist at the bottom of the ocean, because clearly all life needs sunlight; then chemosynthesis was discovered, and we now know there are entire ecosystems in the depths of the ocean that are completely independent of the Sun.

The lesson to be drawn? We know so little about life that any attempt to say it 'must' have any particular set of characteristics, or can 'only' live in any particular kind of environment, is overreaching the bounds of our knowledge, and foolishly drawing unsupportable conclusions based on insufficient data. At best we can say what all known life is like. For all we know, there could be living things made up purely of electromagnetic energy, or helium, or neutrinos, or exotic types of matter that we don't even know exist yet. There could be forms of life that live in two dimensions of space, or four, or twenty-six. There could be life that floats around in the clouds of gas giants like Jupiter, or that drifts freely in the interstellar or intergalactic medium. There could be pure intelligences with no recognisable physical bodies at all.

Scientists often claim that such things are impossible, but if you really examine the arguments, it turns out almost invariably that they have snuck in some major hidden, unstated assumptions about life -- like that it has the same basic physical makeup, or the same kinds of biochemical processes, as Earth life. Well, who says it does? Maybe concepts like 'digestive system' simply don't apply to two-dimensional life, any more than the concept of 'liver' or 'kidney' applies to bacteria or plants (so it doesn't matter that a digestive system would split a 2-D animal in half), for example. Maybe they don't 'eat' and 'excrete' like we do at all, but get their energy some other way that is completely unknown and unimaginable to us.

We still can't even reach a consensus, right here on Earth, on whether viruses are 'life' or not! How the hell can anyone expect to be able to make categorical assertions about what kinds of life are or are not 'possible', somewhere out there in the Cosmos? We just don't know enough to say anything meaningful on the subject. 'Nature is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.'

This 'limited imagination' principle also comes up in a lot of other contexts, and it always drives me up the wall. Another example: physicists who claim that any successful theory or model must rule out, say, tachyons, or naked singularities. They never provide any genuine justification for assuming these things can't exist; they basically just assume so. They personally find the idea of tachyons distasteful, or too weird, because they can't be neatly fit into a traditional picture of causality. So they simply declare such entities to be 'off limits' for any 'reasonable' theory. Or they worry that naked singularities will not be predictable by current physics, so they make up an ad hoc 'cosmic censorship hypothesis' that says they don't exist. They then assume this hypothesis to be true, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, and use it to 'prove' that any calculation that allows for naked singularities must be wrong.

They used to do the same thing with black holes: 'Oh no, these are way too weird, therefore we can rule them out a priori, and any model that claims they can exist must be unreasonable.' The first time a paper was read in public about black holes, the author, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, was humiliated by Arthur Eddington, who got up immediately afterwards and said that the whole idea was nonsense, based on an 'argument' that was basically entirely summed up by his statement that 'I think there should be a law of nature that prevents a star from behaving in this absurd way!' He didn't have a large enough imagination to allow for the possibility; therefore, he 'knew' it must be wrong. Chandrasekhar, of course, was eventually vindicated, and we now know that Eddington's rebuttal was nothing but hot air.

Time and time again this has happened: arrogant scientists think some new or strange idea must be wrong simply because they haven't the imagination to consider there might be aspects of the universe beyond their limited traditional view of it. Sometimes they turn out to be right, but more often they've ended up on the wrong side of history, reactionaries left behind by the progress of our knowledge, clinging to outdated, biased views of what's 'possible' that they egotistically assume are infallible.

How many more times does this have to happen before every truly new idea isn't received with a default attitude that it must be nonsense? How many times does the inadequacy of people's imaginations have to be demonstrated before they stop assuming that if they can't imagine it, it must not exist?
Monday, July 13th, 2009
5:44 pm
Cats Do Control Humans, Study Finds

Well, duh!

In fact, it is genuinely and fairly widely accepted among scientists who study such things that we never really domesticated cats at all -- they essentially domesticated us. Seriously! The generally accepted scenario is that wild cats were originally attracted to human settlements, during the period of early agriculture, by the rodents that infested their food stores, the trash heaps on their outskirts, and other such easy sources of food -- so they basically invited themselves in, adapting themselves to the human world by choice. Only afterwards, when humans began to realise that the cats helped them control pests like mice and snakes, did they attempt to turn them into pets, taking them all the way into their homes and starting to feed them outright. I personally suspect that this was part of the cats' plan all along. #8^)>

Unlike with dogs, where humans purposefully went out and collected them and bred them for specific purposes, the cats always had more control over their relationship with us than we did. And they've always remained to some degree wild and untameable, as demonstrated by the huge populations in some cities of abandoned, feral cats who do quite well surviving on their own. And the fact that the various breeds of cat are so incredibly much less different from one another than those of dogs (try to imagine a spectrum of cats like the cat-chihuahua, the cat-poodle, the bullcat, and the cat-rotweiller!) probably has no small amount to do with they fact that, unlike dogs, they were never really purposefully bred by humans to serve special, useful purposes -- they were basically just accepted as companions after they invited themselves in, loved less for what they could be made to do than for what they already did of their own free will. (It also has to do with the fact that cats didn't really enter the human world until after agriculture had begun, a long time after dogs were domesticated.)

I have an anthology of essays and stories called, Of Cats and Men. The first selection is 'On Being Kept by a Cat', by Elmer Davis, which includes the following relevant opening passage, which is one of my favourite things ever written about cats:


The lamented Freddie Mortimer of the New York Times was once moved to scorn by an item among the Lost and Found notices -- an advertisement for a lost cat whose collar bore the inscription, "This is So-and-so's cat." Nothing, Mortimer contended, could be less accurate; the only identification that could be inscribed on any cat's collar would be "This is this cat's cat."

Madame Michelet (quoted by the learned Van Vechten, whose
The Tiger in the House is practically the Golden Bough of cat lore) once computed that she had owned a hundred cats. "Say rather," her husband corrected, "that a hundred cats have owned you." Possibly he was jealous of the creatures who had usurped his rightful place as the domestic pet, but anybody with much feline experience knows he was right -- especially people who do not keep servants, and must refuse invitations for weekends because somebody has to stay at home to take care of the member of the family who cannot open ice-box doors. To the question often asked by the inexpert, "Do you keep a cat?" the proper answer is "No, a cat keeps me."

It is true that the courts have held that a cat is property, an opinion not concurred in by certain resort hotels which will take a cat for a dollar a day European plan; they make no charge for your trunk. This seems to be one of the many instances in which business is more realistic than the law; the theory that a cat is property must be set down as one of those splendid flights of wishful thinking in which judges occasionally indulge. It would be pleasant to believe that somebody who is broke and looking for a job has equal power in contracting for wages with a prospective employer, so the courts have often held that this is so; it would be agreeable to a judge who is not used to having his injunctions disregarded to believe that the most independent of all creatures is subject to human control. But the doctrine breaks down under analysis.

Scholarly and subtle men have written much of late about the distinctions between various kinds of property. There are consumption goods -- clothes, for instance -- which we all possess; and there are the means of production which are owned by the capitalists, but owned in different ways. I am, in economic terminology, a handicraft artisan owning my own means of production -- a typewriter, with which I earn my living; I am also on an infinitesimal scale a capitalist. But my "ownership" of, say, 1/435,000th part of the General Motors Corporation does not enable me to do anything with that tiny fraction of a great institution except to sell it if I choose. Henry Ford owns and uses the Ford Motor Company as I own and use my typewriter; but all I "own" in General Motors is a claim on a little of its profits, if men over whose actions I have no control manage it well enough to make a profit.

Obviously, the cat who for some years has made his home with my family falls into none of what I must apologize for calling these categories of property. He is not consumption goods but a consumer, and a fairly heavy consumer at that; nor does he produce anything except an intense satisfaction in those who associate with him. Nothing else of utility to human beings, at least; he makes what a cat doubtless regards as profits, and seems to think I have a claim on a share of them. Whenever he kills a mouse in the apartment, or a snake at his summer home in the country, he proudly brings it back to the family, perhaps supposing that we might like to eat some of it. But even then I stand in much the same economic relation to him as to Mr. Alfred P. Sloan [the president and chairman of General Motors at the time].

Reverse the situation, and the true property relation becomes apparent. I am to the cat what my typewriter is to me, or the Ford Motor Company to Henry Ford -- his means of production; in the course of time he will eat up all the money I get for these observations. If he is not my sole proprietor, at least he owns enough stock in me to make his wishes influential; and as for the members of the family who do most of the work of caring for him he seems to regard them as his employees. If they do not work for him as and when he wants them to work he expresses his opinion -- though more politely than Mr. Tom Girdler [the CEO of Republic Steel during the police massacre of striking workers in 1937] expresses his opinion in a similar situation.

This economic analysis of course does not apply to the alley cat, the free-lance cat who earns his living by his own exertions without exploiting the labor of others. But the house cat, the pet cat, so far from being property, is a capitalist, a member of the owner class, even if he catches a mouse now and then for sport. His mousing is comparable to the farming practiced by retired gentlemen of wealth, who do for amusement what their ancestors did because they had to.


Also, a brief tangentially related note: In the June 2009 issue of Scientific American, there was an article about new findings on the origin and history of the housecat. Traditionally, it's been believed that the first cats to fully domesticate humans were those in Egypt about 3600 years ago, but new genetic and archaeological evidence indicates the process actually began much earlier, about 10 000 years ago, in the Fertile Crescent, essentially at the very beginning of human agriculture.

But the most interesting nugget in the article for me was that, although housecats first became common in Europe about 2000 years ago, during the spread of the Roman Empire, they seem to have somehow made their way to the British Isles even earlier, around 2100 years ago, before the Romans could have brought them there.

Scientists consider this to be an unsolved mystery, but for me, it simply serves as confirmation of my hypothesis -- developed after many years of experiences of cats mysteriously vanishing only to turn up again in the oddest and most unexpected places in the house, or even outside -- that cats in fact have the ability to teleport freely if they so desire.
Tuesday, June 30th, 2009
9:11 pm
'I get no respect, I tell ya, no respect!'
Today, I bought the Collector's Edition DVD of Jurassic Park III (along with Jaws -- and at only five dollars each!).

For those of you who don't really remember the movie, or never even noticed this, there's one scene -- it's at the part where they dig the cel phone out of the huge pile of Spinosaurus shit -- where a Ceratosaurus briefly appears.

Now, this moment always struck me as freakin' bizarre. This ceratosaur walks up, the kid[*] yells, 'Look out!', and we think he's going to attack. But instead, he basically stands there staring at everyone for about ten seconds, then wanders off, never to be seen again. (I guess it's because he was afraid of the Spinosaurus smell coming from the fæces.)

WTF? Couldn't they have him do something? The first time I saw it, I thought I hallucinated it, he was just there and gone so fast. It was like, 'Did I just see a ceratosaur, or did I drop acid earlier and forget?' He pretty much gets the least screen time of any dinosaur in all 3 movies, and is so completely superfluous and unimportant to the plot that even the moment he does get seems almost more like an insult than anything. The only way I even knew it was a ceratosaur is because I've been studying dinosaurs in thorough detail since I was a child, and can recognise a decent number of semi-obscure genera on sight.

Have you ever watched Whose Line Is It Anyway? (the American version)? At the beginning of every episode, Drew makes a joke about how it's 'the show where everything's made up and the points don't matter. That's right, the points don't matter. Just like ...' [insert humourous reference to something that doesn't matter]. Well, a few years back I came up with my own idea for a joke they should have used: 'That's right, the points don't matter. Just like the Ceratosaurus in Jurassic Park III.'

Well, anyway, I just watched a thing on the Special Features of the DVD called 'The New Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park III'. It's a brief discussion of some of the new genera they put in that weren't in the first two movies. They discuss the Spinosaurus. They discuss the Pteranodon. They discuss the Corythosaurus. They discuss the Ankylosaurus. They even discuss the newly updated, modified raptors, which are technically not even 'new dinosaurs'.

Then, at the very end of the segment, they quickly show the ceratosaur's momentary appearance. Meanwhile, they ... COMPLETELY FAIL TO EVEN MENTION HIM!!! Instead, they're doing some kind of general concluding voiceover over the shot.

Tempe almighty, as if it's not bad enough that everyone ignores him during his actual appearance in the movie. They also have to completely ignore him in the 'New Dinosaurs' segment -- even though he's a new frickin' dinosaur!! And he's the only new one they don't mention during the segment!! And they don't say a word about him even though they're showing you his picture!!

Now I'm watching the 'Making of' feature, and at one point, some guy is mentioning some of the dinosaurs he enjoyed making, while we see snippets of them from the movie. He mentions Brachiosaurus, Ankylosaurus, and several others. Then the clip of the ceratosaur comes up again. And guess what? HE doesn't mention it, either!!!!

They just keep ignoring him every time he appears! Three times they do this! Jeez, just spit on a guy after you knock him to the ground and kick him in the ribs, why don't you?

Ceratosaurus gets no respect, I tell ya -- no respect!!

(They did finally mention him in the commentary track, during his scene.)

[*] By the way, am I the only one who thinks that the kid in this film looks like a young John Lennon?
Sunday, June 28th, 2009
7:45 pm
Don't tell me you agree with me / When I saw you kickin' dirt in my eye
Let me get this out of the way first: I am not trying to disrespect the dead. My subject is purely the general attitudes of our society. I am not expressing any particular opinion as to what those attitudes 'should' be; I am merely pointing out their inconsistency.

I have been very, very surprised by the big deal that is being made all over the country over the death of Michael Jackson. It's as if he were some great, inspiring figure that everyone loved and is devastated over the loss of.

Yes, he was a really big deal for a while back in the 1980s and early 1990s, when he got the 'King of Pop' moniker that has been repeated ad nauseam all over the place over the past few days. But tell the truth: before his death, when was the last time you ever heard anyone admit to even liking Jackson, let alone being a huge fan?

Now maybe it's just that I have been around the wrong people, but for me, the answer to that question has to be something like a decade and a half!

Until all this, Jackson seemed to me to essentially serve no other purpose for our society anymore than to be the butt of jokes and a target for contempt. He was held up as essentially the archetype of a pop star who got famous way too young, basically sending his life careening off the tracks and turning him into a freak with serious psychological problems. People talked about his nose collapsing from too many dozens of plastic surgeries. They angrily discussed him irresponsibly dangling his baby over a 4-story hotel railing. They engaged in gallows humour about his allegedly too-close relationship with young boys, for which he went on trial twice, in 1993-1994 and 2003-2005. (One I heard a while back: 'How is Michael Jackson like Sears? They both have boys' pants half off.' Remember, I'm not condoning, merely reporting what I heard.) They joked about how over time he, as I heard it expressed several times, 'turned from a black man into a white woman'. They saw him as such a freak that when he married Lisa Marie Presley, he felt the need to go out of his way to announce to the newspapers that yes, they actually had sex once in a while.

Nothing but jokes, making fun, mocking, maybe a little feeling sorry for him, and basically treating him like one of those celebrity train-wrecks that the tabloids just eat up, with each story more sensational and outrageous than the last. I couldn't for the life of me tell you when exactly his last hit came out, but looking it up, it seems to me as if his success as a musician has been plummeting since about 1997 (at least until this past year). I think the last song of his that I've even heard enough times to recognise was 1991's 'Black or White'.

Now, I'm not saying he deserved all this. Maybe he was innocent of the child molestation thing. I think there's no doubt that the emotional and physical abuse by his father in his childhood, combined with the pressures of too-early fame, caused him serious, deep mental problems, but can that really be considered his fault? Of course, the skin-lightening thing was because of vitiligo, although all those plastic surgeries really were unnecessary, bizarre, and ridiculous (supposedly he had body dysmorphic disorder as well). He did have a positive effect on a lot of people during the '80s and '90s, with all the charities he supported and his positive, anti-bigotry statements and songs. (One thing I will not forgive him for, though: Stealing his friend Paul McCartney's songs right out from under him. I mean, really, WTF was up with that? Certainly Paul was greatly hurt by it, and severed their friendship afterward.)

But whether he deserved it or not isn't the point. The point is, it happened. And now, just because he's dead, all of a sudden everyone loves him and misses him and can't stop talking about his wonderful 'legacy'?? It's almost as hypocritical as all the swooning over Richard Nixon when he died. This is a pattern in modern culture, or at least certainly in the US: we treat people like punching bags for years and years, then they die, and all of a sudden everyone loves them and is devastated.

What a load of bollocks! If you really cared about the man, you would have said so when he was still alive. This doesn't say anything, either positive or negative, about Jackson himself, but it says a lot about the rest of us, and it ain't too good.

The time is gone, the song is over ... thought I'd something more to say.
Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
2:35 pm
'Man has no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity' --Ecclesiastes 3:19
The other day, I read about a series of experiments that once again thoroughly demolishes the outdated, egotistical notion that the human brain and the intelligence it produces is something qualitatively special and completely unique, as opposed to simply being an extreme development of features already present throughout the animal republic.[1]

Every feature that anthropocentric folks have claimed to be 'uniquely human' has in fact turned out to appear to at least some primitive degree in other species, right down to chimps and gorillas who use sign language (and would probably talk out loud if they had the physical vocal apparatus to do so). But now, there's overwhelming, definitive experimental evidence that even the highest intellectual functions are present not only in apes and other primates, but in dinosaurs -- specifically, corvid birds, who have demonstrated intelligence not only equal to primates, but actually superior in some ways!

The Corvidae is the family of birds that includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, and nutcrackers. (Also treepies and choughs, whatever the fuck those are.) The recent experiments demonstrate conclusively that at least some corvids have a number of higher intellectual qualities formerly thought to be restricted to humans and other primates:

   -Causal thinking. They 'understand how to make and use tools, and to predict others' actions'.[2]

   -Flexibility. They can 'generalise rules from acquired knowledge and apply them to new situations or stimuli'.

   -Imagination. They can 'rehearse situations and solve problems mentally before taking action'.

   -Mental time travel. They can 'use prior experiences to consider the past and predict future conditions'.

   -Theory of mind. They not only recognise other individual corvids, they 'understand [their] motivations and goals'.

I will now discuss the details of these experiments in an LJ-cut section.

'Bet you'll never look at birds the same way again.' --Alan GrantCollapse )

In summary, so much for the 'superiority' of mammals. Dinosaurs not only were the most successful land vertebrates of all time, and not only still rule the skies to the exclusion of all other vertebrates except bats, but at least some of them have higher intelligence to a degree that matches or even exceeds that of primates.

The next time someone calls you a 'birdbrain', thank them for the compliment. And the next time you hear someone use the word 'dinosaur' to refer to something inefficient, outdated, primitive, extinct, and/or stupid, please forcefully set them straight.


[1] I say 'animal republic' rather than 'animal kingdom' because, really ... figureheads in Sweden and Britain notwithstanding, aren't we long past the stupid mediæval idea of kings and royalty? 'Kings' and 'kingdoms' belong in færie tales told to 3-year-old children, not the real world. A king is nothing more than some dude with way too much power for one man, way too high an opinion of his own importance, and a congenital sense of entitlement that turns him into a sheltered, spoiled child who demands that everyone else bow to him. In the modern world, we call this sort of thing 'narcissistic personality disorder' and treat it with heavy therapy and drugs.

Besides, who would the king (or queen) of the animal kingdom be? And no, it is NOT the lion. If T. rex were still alive, maybe. But there ain't no one running things today.


[2] This and all following quotations are taken from the article in which I read about all this:

Anonymous. 2009. Not your average bird brain. Science Illustrated: Jul/Aug 2009.

(I have no idea who the hell the author is, because apparently this magazine doesn't bother to give credits as to which author wrote which article. WTF is up with THAT???)


[3] In the article, they actually had the gall to explicitly say in which countries Vienna, Frankfurt, and Auckland are located. I have removed these specifications, because if you don't know where these cities are, you need to look them the hell up and learn, you uncultured American heathen!!


[4] Note that this list -- 'Apes ... and humans' -- is partly redundant, since humans are apes.


[5] Again, redundant! 'Humans, apes and some monkeys'? Humans ARE apes, dammit! (For that matter, technically, apes are also monkeys, at least by a formal cladistic definition.) It drives me frickin' nuts when people say 'humans and apes', as if they're two separate categories. It's like saying 'birds and animals', or 'water and liquids', or 'George Bush and incompetent knuckleheads'.
Monday, June 22nd, 2009
4:05 pm
Lucky thing he was long dead by the time 'The Dinosaur Dictionary' came out ...
Random sharing of something that amuses me. Go!

In October 1888, two fossilised fragments were discovered in the Aachenian deposits of Moresnet, between Belgium and Germany, by a professor and doctor of natural science named Gerard Smets. Smets examined the materials and determined them to be from the jaw of a bipedal hadrosaur[*] about 4 to 5 metres long, with possible dermal spines. He named the specimen Aachenosaurus multidens, and claimed that his identification was based on thorough examination by eye, magnifying glass, and microscope.

Shortly afterward, Louis Dollo, the well-known Iguanodon expert (he was in charge of the excavation and study at the still famous Bernissart site), reexamined Aachenosaurus and determined that in fact it was not a dinosaur at all, but two pieces of petrified wood!

In response, Smets at first defended and reiterated his original interpretation, but shortly it was found by a neutral commission that Dollo was correct: the 'Aachenosaurus' that Smets had conjured up in such detail through such 'thorough' examination was, in reality, nothing more than a couple of fragments of petrified wood. This whole affair so embarrassed Smets that he completely withdrew from his scientific career, never to be heard from again.

But the thing that really amuses me is that, since 'Aachenosaurus' starts with two A's, it's the aardvark of the dinosaur world -- which means that it is the VERY FIRST entry on almost EVERY list of dinosaur names ever written since 1888!

Can you imagine if the most embarrassing mistake of your life was, like, the first word in the dictionary, so that for all the rest of eternity, anyone who looked up anything saw it right there at the beginning, sticking out like a sore Iguanodon's thumb?


Poor guy ...

[*] For those who don't know, the common term for a hadrosaur is 'duck-billed dinosaur' -- a term which I hate for several reasons. One is that 'hadrosaur' is so much shorter and simpler, and I tend to think that if you can't learn the meaning of such a simple word without translating it into third-grade colloquialisms, then you are just not ready yet to be reading about science to begin with. Another is that their bills were very different from a duck's: they were hard, sharp-edged, powerful, horny beaks used to efficiently slice through tough plants. They had some similarities, in general shape, to a duck's bill, but in other details they were more like, say, a turtle's, and of course in other ways they were totally unique.

Addendum: Come to think of it ... birds are a subgroup of dinosaurs, so wouldn't 'duck-billed dinosaur' actually mean just ... a duck?
Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
2:51 pm
In the right-wing world, what colour is the sky, and what is it made of? Chocolate? Arsenic?
I saw a commercial the other day, obviously brought to us by the Committee for Mindless Knee-Jerk Right-Wing Republican Reactionary Slogans That Completely Miss the Point of the Issue and Don't Even Actually Mean Anything If You Examine Them for More than Two Nanoseconds® [*], that bemoaned the coming of a national universal health care system by whining and blubbering about how this will take away people's 'Choice'® in health care.

Where do these people buy their crack? Because obviously, their dealer is cutting it with some kind of powdered form of PURE MOTHERFUCKING HUMAN PSYCHOSIS.

How completely detached from reality and child-eatingly insane does one have to be to think that the important issue when it comes to health care is 'Choice'®?

Really?? Choice®?? In 2007, more than 45 million people in the United States (15,3% of the population) had NO health insurance whatsoever. (The number has been steadily increasing since 2000, so it's almost certainly even higher now -- especially with the wholesale collapse of the decayed, corrupt infrastructure of capitalism over the last few years, leading to rampant unemployment.) Something like 17 million of them live in households with annual incomes over 50 000 $ -- if even they can't get insurance, what the hell are everyone else's chances? (Nota bene: 'everyone else' constitutes about 55% of the population!) And some 5 million people are considered 'uninsurable' because of preexisting conditions, so they're just fucking screwed, left to die in a ditch by the side of the road in the name of HMO profit.

On top of all that, even those who ARE insured face a constant battle against their insurance companies, which will search for any fucking lame excuse they can come up with to get out of paying for anything and everything. Their entire structure is based on profit, so they have every economic incentive in the world to cover as little as they possibly fucking can. So even most people with insurance end up having to empty their own pockets if they ever need any genuinely big medical care, like say if they have a bad accident, or come down with a chronic disease -- and oh, Tempe help those who already have a chronic disease, since, as mentioned above, they can't even GET insurance. (So the people who most desperately need it are the ones who have the least chance of getting it. Nice, huh?)

And so ... Choice®? You're gonna go with Choice® as your pick for the REALLY IMPORTANT issue??


Most people right now have NO choice when it comes to health care. At least a universal government system would give them ONE choice. Is the Right completely unaware of the obscure and shocking fact that one is greater than zero?

No, of course not. They just. Don't. CARE. They know full well that most people would be greatly helped by universal health care. That's exactly what they don't want! Because they don't give a shit about most people -- only those with enough wealth and privilege to get into their exclusive club, where they play the stock market for fun, golf three days a week, spend a hundred dollars a day on primo cocaine, blow their noses with monogrammed silk hankies, fire thousands of people whenever the whim strikes them, and generally live high on the hog with all that money they parasitically usurped from other people's labour. Right now, they can get any health care they want -- they have Choice®. And that sets them apart from the rest of us, who can't get shit in the way of health care. The reason they have such a hard-on for Choice® is because they have it, and everyone else doesn't. If the field got evened out, they would no longer be able to flaunt that special privilege over everyone else. So the last thing they want is what's good for the overwhelming majority of the population. They want what's bad for the overwhelming majority of the population -- but good for them, so they can perpetuate the diseased class structure of our society, where 80% of the people break their backs working for peanuts while the other 20% reap all the rewards (videlicit, 90% of all the world's resources).

That's all conservatism is about: maintaining your special privileged position against all the assaults of those lowly poor people who want things like 'fairness' and 'justice'. Fairness and justice just ain't in the short-term economic interests of the ruling class.

It's in the long-term interests of everyone, of course, but the very inherent nature of capitalist society forces them toward those short-term interests, whether they like it or not. You see, it's not just a case of snobbish individuals who get personal pleasure out of looking down on the rabble. Surely there's plenty of that, but it's not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is the class structure of society, which drives even those members of the ruling class who are intelligent, liberal, and well-meaning to ultimately do what is good for the class. If they don't, the rest of the ruling class eats them alive and spits them out back into the working class with everyone else. It's not about individual choices, it's about inexorable economic forces in society that no one individual can truly resist. That's why we can't 'reform' the system by weeding out all the 'bad apples' -- because what makes the apples bad is the deep-seated rot in the tree itself. Pick off all the apples you please; more bad ones will always grow in their place, and will then spread the rot even to the 'good' apples. The only answer is to TAKE A FUCKING CHAINSAW TO THE TREE!

[*] The same people who brought us Activist Judges®, Reverse Discrimination®, Big Government®, Making Our Country Less Safe®, The War on Christmas®, Assault on Traditional Marriage and Family Values®, Obama Is a Socialist®, Evolution Is Just a Theory®, and ... the complete and utter implosion of the global economy.
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