Kentucky is defended by a god

Specifically, it’s defended by the god we all know so well.

Under state law, God is Kentucky’s first line of defense against terrorism.

The 2006 law organizing the state Office of Homeland Security lists its initial duty as “stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.”

Specifically, Homeland Security is ordered to publicize God’s benevolent protection in its reports, and it must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister, tucked the God provision into Homeland Security legislation as a floor amendment that lawmakers overwhelmingly approved two years ago.

As amended, Homeland Security’s religious duties now come before all else, including its distribution of millions of dollars in federal grants and its analysis of possible threats.

This is utterly ridiculous. Aside from obviously being unconstitutional, it makes a mockery of public security. If we are to rely on invisible entities for our protection, we’re in trouble. God doesn’t buy nuclear response forces or direct funds for communication security, issues, and protection. Man does this. Always has, always will.

Looking to a god for our homeland security is like black people looking to Bush after Katrina. He’s invisible and not going to help anyone.

Meteor Follow-up

LLOYDMINSTER, Alberta – Scientists said Friday they had found remains of a meteor that illuminated the sky before falling to earth in western Canada earlier this month.

University of Calgary scientist Alan Hildebrand and graduate student Ellen Milley found several meteor fragments near the Battle River along the rural Alberta-Saskatchewan border, near the city of Lloydminster late Thursday.

They said there could be thousands of meteorite pieces strewn over a 7-square-mile area of mostly flat, barren land, with few inhabitants.

Link

Kin Discrimination and the Social Amoeba

Research recently published in PLoS Biology indicates that amoebas which are close to starvation will seek out genetically similar relatives.

We tested how widely social amoebae cooperate by mixing isolates from different localities that cover most of their natural range. We show here that different isolates partially exclude one another during aggregation, and there is a positive relationship between the extent of this exclusion and the genetic distance between strains. Our findings demonstrate that D. discoideum cells co-aggregate more with genetically similar than dissimilar individuals, suggesting the existence of a mechanism that discerns the degree of genetic similarity between individuals in this social microorganism.

It will be really interesting if/when a description of the mechanism discerning genetic similarity is given, and if there is any remnant of it still present in humans or to what extent it exists in other species.

Interestingly, this study seems to provide more evidence for the gene being the important unit of selection by nature. It is the very survival of these organisms that could explain what has been observed here on a genetic level: genes which are similar have evolved a mechanism for detecting one another because of the mutual (but ultimately selfish) benefit of doing so. The further from similarity they are, the more likely they are to discriminate in offering assistance, as was the case in this study. Aside from the reason of promoting different allelic versions of one’s self, one good reason for the evolution of this discrimination mechanism would be to weed out “cheaters”, or genes which take advantage of the ‘altruism’ of these genes to assist other amoebas in their time of need (starvation) by abusing their helpful nature. That is, if it is embedded in me, when I see a fellow organism of my species, ‘If starving, help fellow organism’, it will pay me to also have the command, ‘If distantly related, do not help’. In other words, if I see my brother and my 2nd cousin starving, it’s going to be worthwhile for my genes if I am able to detect which one is my brother since he shares more genetic material with me than my 2nd cousin. By helping him instead of the more distant relative, I am increasing the odds that my genes or genes very close to my own will be passed on to the next generation. My genes have limited interest in helping out other, distant genes.

By the by, the use of GFP makes this experiment all the more beautiful.

Dinesh D'Souza is a moron

Let’s just jump right into an article by Dinesh D’Souza.

But of late atheism seems to be losing its scientific confidence. One sign of this is the public advertisements that are appearing in billboards from London to Washington DC. Dawkins helped pay for a London campaign to put signs on city buses saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Humanist groups in America have launched a similar campaign in the nation’s capital. “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” And in Colorado atheists are sporting billboards apparently inspired by John Lennon: “Imagine…no religion.”

What is striking about these slogans is the philosophy behind them. There is no claim here that God fails to satisfy some criterion of scientific validation. We hear nothing about how evolution has undermined the traditional “argument from design.” There’s not even a whisper about how science is based on reason while Christianity is based on faith.

So because atheist and humanist organizations aren’t buying novel-size ad spaces, they’re abandoning science? Frankly, my dear, that’s fucking retarded. The reason these reasoned organizations are opting for messages encouraging people to be happy and to be good is that there is a far more complex message behind those words they wish to have come to light. Of course, it would be silly to buy ad space on some inconcise, rambling message. “Be good for goodness’ sake” helps to get at the heart of one atheist argument: we don’t need magic sky fairies to be good. D’Souza is right that there is a philosophy which is to be found behind these slogans, and no, not everyone carries a scientific reasoning behind them. It isn’t necessary that all atheists and humanists are interested in exploring how, perhaps, our morality comes from an innate sense with which we are all born thanks to our evolution as an intelligent, social animal. But it makes sense that in a successful tribe, sympathy, empathy, caring, love, and even self-sacrifice would be common, if not dominant, characteristics. There is always a place for atheists in the heart of science.

Instead, we are given the simple assertion that there is probably no God, followed by the counsel to go ahead and enjoy life. In other words, let’s not let God and his commandments spoil all the fun.

Lovely strawman. This isn’t about ‘disobeying God’ or any other rubbish like that which gets pedaled so ferociously by disingenuous Christians wishing to call atheists liars simply for maintaining a separate viewpoint. Atheists, agnostics, and humanists want people to live lives in which good deeds are done, care is given for our fellow man, and we celebrate our common humanity and community through our acts, words, and love. We don’t need any gods to tell us that loving and respecting one another is a good thing.

“Be good for goodness sake” is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. The question remains: what is the source of these standards of goodness that seem to be shared by religious and non-religious people alike?

This is precisely the point of the atheist bus campaigns, D’Souza! I’m glad you’ve shown, in glorious clarity, an example of the success of the recent bus ads. It’s too bad you missed it.

The only difficulty, as Folger makes clear, is that there is no empirical evidence for the existence of any universes other than our own. Moreover, there may never be such evidence.

Sometimes I wonder if these journalists actually read the entire article/study/whathaveyou that they cite.

“If a theory did gain credibility by explaining previously unexplained features of the physical world, then we should take seriously its further predictions, even if those predictions aren’t directly testable,” [Cambridge University astrophysicist Martin Rees] says. “Fifty years ago we all thought of the Big Bang as very speculative. Now the Big Bang from one millisecond onward is as well established as anything about the early history of Earth.”

That’s science and that’s what atheists and humanists embrace.

Of course, this article cited by D’Souza is nothing more than a recount of the history of the anthropic principle, debuted 35 years ago and now combined with the subject of string theory and ideas of a multiverse to make it topical. All this principle says is that ‘If things were different, they would be different.’ Well, of course. If A didn’t happen, then B may be different. I believe Ashton Kutcher covered this topic fully in 2004.

When this argument that life is finely-tuned is put forth, nothing is really being said. It’s self-evident that the present and the future depend upon the past. Obviously, had [insert random physical phenomenon], then we may not be here to discuss these things. So what? In a few trillion years, there will be absolutely no evidence of humans to be discovered anywhere in the Universe. Does it mean anything to say now that the Universe is finely-tuned to eventually be void of life as we know it? Who cares?

Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Dinesh D’Souza is a moron

Let’s just jump right into an article by Dinesh D’Souza.

But of late atheism seems to be losing its scientific confidence. One sign of this is the public advertisements that are appearing in billboards from London to Washington DC. Dawkins helped pay for a London campaign to put signs on city buses saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Humanist groups in America have launched a similar campaign in the nation’s capital. “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” And in Colorado atheists are sporting billboards apparently inspired by John Lennon: “Imagine…no religion.”

What is striking about these slogans is the philosophy behind them. There is no claim here that God fails to satisfy some criterion of scientific validation. We hear nothing about how evolution has undermined the traditional “argument from design.” There’s not even a whisper about how science is based on reason while Christianity is based on faith.

So because atheist and humanist organizations aren’t buying novel-size ad spaces, they’re abandoning science? Frankly, my dear, that’s fucking retarded. The reason these reasoned organizations are opting for messages encouraging people to be happy and to be good is that there is a far more complex message behind those words they wish to have come to light. Of course, it would be silly to buy ad space on some inconcise, rambling message. “Be good for goodness’ sake” helps to get at the heart of one atheist argument: we don’t need magic sky fairies to be good. D’Souza is right that there is a philosophy which is to be found behind these slogans, and no, not everyone carries a scientific reasoning behind them. It isn’t necessary that all atheists and humanists are interested in exploring how, perhaps, our morality comes from an innate sense with which we are all born thanks to our evolution as an intelligent, social animal. But it makes sense that in a successful tribe, sympathy, empathy, caring, love, and even self-sacrifice would be common, if not dominant, characteristics. There is always a place for atheists in the heart of science.

Instead, we are given the simple assertion that there is probably no God, followed by the counsel to go ahead and enjoy life. In other words, let’s not let God and his commandments spoil all the fun.

Lovely strawman. This isn’t about ‘disobeying God’ or any other rubbish like that which gets pedaled so ferociously by disingenuous Christians wishing to call atheists liars simply for maintaining a separate viewpoint. Atheists, agnostics, and humanists want people to live lives in which good deeds are done, care is given for our fellow man, and we celebrate our common humanity and community through our acts, words, and love. We don’t need any gods to tell us that loving and respecting one another is a good thing.

“Be good for goodness sake” is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. The question remains: what is the source of these standards of goodness that seem to be shared by religious and non-religious people alike?

This is precisely the point of the atheist bus campaigns, D’Souza! I’m glad you’ve shown, in glorious clarity, an example of the success of the recent bus ads. It’s too bad you missed it.

The only difficulty, as Folger makes clear, is that there is no empirical evidence for the existence of any universes other than our own. Moreover, there may never be such evidence.

Sometimes I wonder if these journalists actually read the entire article/study/whathaveyou that they cite.

“If a theory did gain credibility by explaining previously unexplained features of the physical world, then we should take seriously its further predictions, even if those predictions aren’t directly testable,” [Cambridge University astrophysicist Martin Rees] says. “Fifty years ago we all thought of the Big Bang as very speculative. Now the Big Bang from one millisecond onward is as well established as anything about the early history of Earth.”

That’s science and that’s what atheists and humanists embrace.

Of course, this article cited by D’Souza is nothing more than a recount of the history of the anthropic principle, debuted 35 years ago and now combined with the subject of string theory and ideas of a multiverse to make it topical. All this principle says is that ‘If things were different, they would be different.’ Well, of course. If A didn’t happen, then B may be different. I believe Ashton Kutcher covered this topic fully in 2004.

When this argument that life is finely-tuned is put forth, nothing is really being said. It’s self-evident that the present and the future depend upon the past. Obviously, had [insert random physical phenomenon], then we may not be here to discuss these things. So what? In a few trillion years, there will be absolutely no evidence of humans to be discovered anywhere in the Universe. Does it mean anything to say now that the Universe is finely-tuned to eventually be void of life as we know it? Who cares?

Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Happy Thanksgiving

Palin is an idiot

Turtle fossil discovery

Researchers recently uncovered a transitional turtle fossil in China.

From the three Odontochely fossils discovered in China, [Li Chun at the Chinese Academy of Sciences] said it was clear the turtle first developed the plastron, or the lower shell that encases the belly, before getting its upper shell, or the carapace.

“The plastron developed first and after it was fully formed, then the carapace developed,” he said.

The reason this is an excellent example of a transitional form is that what we see is basically a turtle without a back shell. It is still clearly a turtle, just not one that is much like what we see today. It seems appropriate that we’re finally discovering these turtle fossils as we close in on the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species.

So what we have is a turtle which has body armor on its lower body with the neural plates that were likely predecessors to the fuller body armor found in its modern day descendents. In addition, we see that the order of turtle armor evolution – plastron followed by carapace (its back, essentially) fits perfectly with their embryology: during development, the plastron precedes the carapace.

Turtles, wee!

Do you feel the invigoration?