Merry Christmas

I swear next year is when I’m going to update this picture.

Merry Christmas

Thought of the day

I know it won’t happen, but I hope the Democratic and Republican nominees are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The political mayhem would be hilarious.

Whoa

Here’s why the misspelling of “whoa” bothers me so much more than other misspellings:

I understand that language evolves. Words spelled one way in the past are spelled another way today. Words spelled one way today will be spelled another way in the future. Language, spelling, grammar, syntax, and other linguistic aspects change over time, and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean we should simply ignore the etymology of a word because some people misspell or misuse it. And, of course, we don’t. For instance, few people argue that we should accept “rediculous” as a valid spelling, despite it being a very common misspelling.

This argument changes, however, when we get to certain words. “Whoa” is the one I notice the most; in fact, when it comes to “whoa”, this argument gets thrown out the window completely. Then stabbed with the broken shards of glass for good measure. This particularly bothers me because its most common misspelling – “woah” – doesn’t make any sense. When people misspell “ridiculous” with an “e”, the word is still phonetically correct. The same basic idea goes for difficult-to-spell words. But with “woah”, the logical basis behind the misspelling simply isn’t there. It’s just bad spelling; the phonetics of the word change entirely: “woah” has two syllables and rhymes with Noah. But point out this misspelling and everyone loses their shit. Suddenly we’re suppose to accept it because it’s so common.

That sounds rediculous to me.

Good job, Goodell

Goodell

Uganda adopts circumcision, finds science works

This is no real surprise:

The growing uptake of medical male circumcision by men in the Rakai district of Uganda is leading to a substantial reduction in HIV incidence among men in one of the districts of the country worst affected by HIV, Xiangrong Kong of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2015) in Seattle, USA, on Thursday…

The study found that circumcision coverage in non-Muslim men increased from 9% during the Rakai circumcision study to 26% by 2011, four years after the trial concluded. Every 10% increase in circumcision coverage was associated with a 12% reduction in HIV incidence (0.88, 95% confidence interval 0.80-0.96).

HIV incidence reduction in women lags behind but is expected to catch up in coming years.

We’ve known for the better part of the past decade that circumcision literally saves lives by acting as a high efficacy vaccine that reduces female-to-male HIV transmission by 60% (which is better than the flu vaccine most years). That we’re seeing the positive results of implementing it as a policy isn’t surprising. Science just works.

Thought of the day

The NFL is a really shady organization. First they release the Wells report, which was filled with bogus science, faulty logic, and an obvious agenda. Next, they smear Tom Brady over ‘destroying’ his cell phone – even though the NFL had all the information they requested AND Brady’s people offered to try to get them more (they declined). Now they’ve not only escalated their language from him being ‘generally aware’ of some scheme* to him being overtly involved, but they’re <em>still</em> leaking false reports to ESPN (which dutifully reports what their football overlords request they report). Fuck you, NFL.

*There was, in fact, never any scheme by anyone. The footballs were never deflated beyond the predictions of the ideal gas law. Moreover, Brady explicitly gave a copy of the rules to the refs so that they would know to keep the balls at the legal minimum of 12.5.

Catholicism and evolution

I often hear people trumpeting that the Catholic Church supports science because it supports evolution. The usual rebuttal is a terrible one that points to the Church historically denying science, as if that bears any relevance whatsoever to whether or not it supports it now. Let’s stop with that line of bad argument and instead focus on what the Church currently believes – it turns out it, in fact, does not support evolution.

Evolution has no goal. It isn’t conscious. It operates on a combination of natural selection and random mutation (amongst a few other factors). This is necessarily focused on the level of the individual – or gene, if you want to go down that path, but we needn’t – and generation. An organism replicates or reproduces, passing its genes on to the next generation without regard to how well its great-great-great-great-great offspring will fare. Indeed, it isn’t even passing on its genes with regard to how will its own offspring will fare. It, of course, often does make an investment there, but its concern is in and of itself in the passing of its genes. Fundamentally, that is what matters in evolution. The genes that pass through the sieve of natural selection have done so for the sake of continuing to exist. We would be correct to think of the game as resetting in every generation.

What this means is that there is no long term goal within evolution. Genes have unconsciously seen to it that they will get themselves copied for as long as they can. If that ends with a quickly replicating bacterium or something toothy or something small and quick or something intelligent or something simply huge, then so be it. The only way in which it can be said that evolution has any sort of goal is to say that it has generational goals. These are not conscious and they do not come about with any sort of phenotypic effects in mind. That is, the goal is for genes to continue to exist; there is no goal for genes to produce any particular characteristic or trait. Evolution is truly incidental.

This matters in terms of the Catholic Church’s alleged acceptance of evolution because the Church, like most religions, believes that human are special and/or inevitable. We aren’t. As Stephen Jay Gould famously noted, if we re-ran the tape of life, we would get different results every time. The fact that we exist is incidental in the history of life. Change a few factors here or there and humans don’t exist. The same goes for every species. For instance, if an asteroid didn’t hit Earth 65 million years ago, dinosaurs would quite likely still roam the planet. The rise of the mammals probably wouldn’t have happened since we would have remained as small burrowing creatures that kept out of the way of all the big, toothy animals out there.

Human inevitability is necessary for virtually all religions, including Catholicism. If humans are only incidental, then we lose any sort of special status. That’s exactly what reality is, though. We know this for a fact. The only way to reconcile Catholicism and evolution is to say that God guided evolution towards humanity in a way which appears consistent with a natural process. For my money, that’s an unsatisfying God-of-the-Gaps explanation; in this argument, God is indistinguishable from nature.

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