Good job, Jim Henson Company

Thanks, Hallowell P.D.

I don’t normally thank the police for their services – I’m more suspicious of them than anything – but this past weekend was Old Hallowell Day, an annual event celebrating the anniversary of when Hallowell, Maine became a town. As usual, the police were out in full force, including a number of state troopers. They did a fine job of keeping the peace, even breaking up one potential fight only a few feet away from me.

I’m glad they were there.

Thought of the day

Just remember: The tragedy in Colorado was part of God’s plan. So if you want to place blame on anyone, I guess it’s his fault.

Don’t boycott Chick-fil-A because of its bigoted president

Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A recently had this to say in a radio interview:

“We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”

Following backlash after those remarks, Cathy then told the Baptist Press in an article posted July 16 that he is “guilty as charged” and is very “supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”

Of course this has resulted in plenty of calls for boycotts and condemnations from all sorts of people. It’s a bigoted position Cathy holds (though he does have a clear right to hold it and even promote it), so it’s no surprise that there has been so much outrage. However, I don’t think this is the best reason to avoid eating at Chick-fil-A. Yeah, it’s obviously a good reason. A damn good reason, in fact. But it isn’t the best one. The best deterrent is actually the fact that Chick-fil-A tastes like shit.

The importance of specificity in language

When I write, I make it a point to be as specific as I can with my words and phrasings. I’m not perfect at it, but I think I do a pretty good job. However, this causes some of my sentences to be longer than absolutely necessary. I try to counter that by throwing in lines and syllables that will slow down a person’s reading. My hope is that doing so will bring about a little more concentration and thus a better chance at an accurate reading. If that fails, then I have to turn to bringing up past quotes and spelling things out. It can get tedious and no one likes it, but sometimes it has to be done. For example, let’s consider Thunderf00t and PZ Myers.

I don’t want to get into the details of the kerfuffle at ‘Freethought’ Blogs here, but I have been lightly following the videos that keep popping up. As of late there have been two of note: yet another from Thunderf00t and one from PZ. I hate transcribing stuff, so I’ll give a quick summary.

In PZ’s video, PZ says Thunderf00t polled YouTube commenters about this whole incident in order to settle the issue. He then says Thunderf00t claimed (on his blog, prior to getting the boot) that the poll was free from confirmation bias because he didn’t block or ban any of the said commenters. Thunderf00t responded by first pointing out that he never claimed to have settled anything. He then went after PZ’s accusation that he had said the poll was free from confirmation bias. Here is what Thunderf00t actually wrote:

The thunderfoot channel is essentially a 100% free speech zone, with no confirmational bias due to blocking/banning people.

Do you see the important part here? Thunderf00t said there was no bias due to blocking/banning people. He did not say there was no confirmation bias at all. He was making the specific point that his YouTube channel is essentially a 100% free speech zone – just like he said in his first clause. So not only was Thunderf00t very clear in his claim regarding confirmation bias, but the context of his sentence confirms his claim.

So why does this matter? In this case, PZ was attempting to make Thunderf00t look stupid and irrational by virtue of making what would be quite a fundamental mistake and misunderstanding of a basic scientific concept. The reality, however, is that Thunderf00t did no such thing. PZ simply was not careful in his reading. As Thunderf00t says in his video, it would be as if he said there are no broken windows in Manhattan due to meteor strikes, but then PZ turns around and tells people Thunderf00t thinks there are no broken windows in Manhattan at all.

This is one small example of what happens when people don’t pay attention to language. It’s okay to have misunderstandings and the occasional slip-up, but I find this to be an all-too-common occurrence on the Internet. A little more caution would go a long way.

Thought of the day

World cooks:

1. Italians
2. French
3. Who cares?
4. My cat’s butt
5. Mexicans

Evolution, fruit flies, and counting

Don’t let any creationist tell you complex things don’t come from simple precursors:

US and Canadian researchers have evolved a population of fruitflies that can count. The result, presented on 9 July at the First Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology in Ottawa, Canada, supports the notion that the neural mechanisms underlying basic arithmetic skills first emerged hundreds of millions of years ago. It could also eventually offer a key to understanding why some people have problems with numbers…

During a 20-minute training period, flies were exposed to either two, three or four flashes of light — two and four flashes coincided with a vigorous shake administered by placing a electric toothbrush next to the box containing the flies. After a brief rest, the flies were returned to box and shown the light flashes. Despite a dislike for being shaken, most of the flies were not able to learn to associate the negative stimulus with the number of flashes. But 40 generations later, they could.

The researchers caution that the work is preliminary and that they do yet know what genetic changes are behind the insects’ evolved number sense.

What I find interesting is exactly how this constitutes selection pressure. The flies certainly don’t like being shaken, but that’s entirely irrelevant if there isn’t some sort of reproductive advantage to be had from recognizing when the shaking will occur. Clearly there is, and we could speculate all day long as to why flies that associate the flashes with negative stimulus pass on more of their genes than the other flies, but I would like to see some experimental data showing the details. Does shaking disorient the flies? Does it interrupt the mating process? Does it affect fertility? Perhaps the paper that comes from all this can shed some light.

Now excuse me while I go murder the fruit flies that appear to have evolved to make my kitchen just awful for the past week.