Broken Chromosomes and Damaged Brains

I really appreciate Cristina Rad recording and posting some of the panels from SkepchickCon/CONvergence this year. In addition to providing one more place where new people can see for themselves the Rebecca Watson Evil Cootie (Ugh!) Effect, this exposes us to audiences we don’t get at the convention itself. That, in turn, brings up questions and criticisms we don’t get at the panels themselves.

A prime example of this has been the reaction to two statements on the “Vive le Difference” panel, which covered gender and sex differences. (You can view the session itself here. If you like it, consider giving it some YouTube love. That RWECU Effect I mentioned above means that this hour-long video already had several downvotes less than an hour before it went up.)

The first statement, called sexist by many viewers, was Heina Dadabhoy’s comment that the Y chromosome is a broken X chromosome. The other, called outrageously sexist, was Greg Laden’s statement that the male brain is a female brain that has been damaged at various times throughout development by testosterone. The question is, however, are these statements true?

[Read more...]

Saturday Storytime: Iron Ladies, Iron Tigers

Sunny Moraine writes a fair amount of erotica for Circlet Press’s themed anthologies, as well as the occasional queer paranormal romance. This story, however, owes more to the “Golden Age” of science fiction. It does so, however, in a way that tells you what so many of those stories were missing.

All at once I learn a number of things, data nestled at the point where I and CERA intersect, waiting for me to retrieve it. I flip through it like a printed report; it helps to imagine these things in physical terms. This is how I was trained and in moments of partial consciousness it’s best to fall back on what you know at the most basic level. And here are the new things I know: as far as CERA can determine, re-emergence into normal space has occurred. There are a number of equipment malfunctions. Most of the sensor array appears to be offline. The primary Q-drives are offline. The differential sail is online and can be deployed if needed. Life support is online.

I am alive. I already knew this, but it’s nice to have it confirmed.

Chronometrics are offline.

Shit.

Extensive systems failure was a distinct possibility; we knew this as well, and I was told it repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the launch, as if it might make a difference. It makes no difference now in the most complete possible sense, but I punch a weak fist into the padding of the cocoon.

CERA’s plucked string voice in the center of my head—she’s waiting on my command. She’s a smart AI but even so she operates at about the intelligence of the average Labrador. She can think. But in situations featuring high degrees of uncertainty she needs instructions.

Do we have visual?

She shivers an affirmative into me. I feel something approaching relief; I’m flying blind in every meaningful way but one, then. My craft can’t tell me exactly where or when I am, the composition of the space around me, the relative location of any neighboring bodies, or whether I’ve gone anywhere else at all. But I can see.

At my command CERA engages my optical feed. But my body jerks in protest, though the cocoon swallows the movement. This isn’t right. I can feel myself blinking, lifting my hands to my eyes again—the frantic movements of the abruptly blind. Because all of my vision is blackness.

Keep reading.

A Reasonable CyberSecurity Bill

Good news from the ACLU yesterday. The furor over CISPA (and a dozen or so other acronymed bills) has paid off, at least for now. Some of our more tech-savvy senators, including Al Franken, have put together a bill that addresses the privacy and accountability concerns raised by those of us who have been shouting.

Sens. Franken and Durbin and other privacy advocates have negotiated substantial changes that will: 

• Ensure that companies who share cybersecurity information with the government give it directly to civilian agencies, and not to military agencies like the National Security Agency.  The single most important limitation on domestic cybersecurity programs is that they are civilian-run and do not turn the military loose on Americans and the internet.

• Ensure that information shared under the program be “reasonably necessary” to describe a cybersecurity threat.

• Restrict the government’s use of information it receives under the cyber info sharing authority so that it can be used only for actual cybersecurity purposes and to prosecute cyber crimes, protect people from imminent threat of death or physical harm, or protect children from serious threats.

• Require annual reports from the Justice Department, Homeland Security, Defense and Intelligence Community Inspectors General that describe what information is received, who gets it, and what is done with it.

• Allow individuals to sue the government if it intentionally or willfully violates the law.

As the ACLU points out, there are still plenty of opportunities for harmful amendments, so if you have the sort of representatives who are likely to do something like that, now is the time to contact them and remind them just how organized and active the privacy lobby has been over this. Also, that there is an election that will affect a large number of them in just a few months.

Let’s get a decent law in place so we don’t have to be constantly on our guards for more stupid ones.

Atheists Talk: Matt McCormick on “Atheism And The Case Against Christ”

Can we prove atheism? Can we prove that no god exists? According to one school of thought, the answer is “No”, because we can’t absolutely prove a negative. Philosopher Matthew McCormick, however, considers this standard to be unrealistic. It isn’t the standard we apply for any other question that influences how we live our lives. Why should we treat it as the standard for accepting atheism?

In his soon-to-be-released book, McCormick lays out the case for atheism along multiple lines of argument. From the publisher’s description:

Is the evidence about Jesus as it has been relayed to us over the centuries of sufficient quantity and quality to justify belief in the resurrection? How can we accept the resurrection but reject magic at the Salem witch trials? What light does contemporary research about human rationality from the fields of behavioral economics, empirical psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy shed on the resurrection and religious belief? Can we use contemporary research about the reliability of people’s beliefs in the supernatural, miracles, and the paranormal to shed light on the origins of Christianity and other religions? Does it make sense that the all-powerful creator of the universe would employ miracles to achieve his ends? Can a Christian believe by faith alone and yet reasonably deny the supernatural claims of other religions? Do the arguments against Christianity support atheism?

This Sunday, Matt McCormick joins us on air to discuss his book.

Related Links

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

It’s Indecent All Right

No, not Sarah Silverman’s new political video.

That’s just funny. At least as long as I don’t think about it actually happening.

No, the obscene part is the $100 million that Sheldon Adelson is pledging to give to Romney to make sure Obama is defeated in this election. Why is it obscene? Because it’s using what appears to be the money obtained by buying out the political process overseas in order to do the same here. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read up. Now that is obscene.

Congratulations, Ed Clint (Updated)

It’s been a long, busy time in the making, but Ed Clint’s new parody site, FreethoughtBLAHgs (NSFW in parts) is finally live.

Sure, some of the comments have yet to be filled in, but the obsessive, grinding work that’s already gone into this is truly impressive.

I am a little disappointed, though, that Nearly Zirconium didn’t make the cut after being considered. But hey, there was already so much time and energy that must have gone into this little labor of love. Why, the time it must have taken to come up with the name Skeptic Hunt alone had to have been impressive.

So I won’t complain. Instead, I’ll just lend a hand to making sure Ed gets all the credit he so richly deserves for making this happen. Won’t you join me?

Update: I’m told that Ed Clint is denying that he’s responsible for this site, though he doesn’t seem to be doing so publicly. PZ is taking Ed’s word for it. I am not, but I’m fine with PZ or anyone else making that decision for themselves. That’s a risk I take in using protected sources. I know who they are and what they’ve seen, but you don’t. All you have is the knowledge that I knew this was coming:

And what I said in the comments here:

I know it’s him for the same reason I know what the parody of me would have been titled had it made the cut. Sources I trust came to me before it went live to tell me he had it in the works. So I’ve been waiting to see it for a little while.

I’m not naming those sources unless I have to for legal reasons, because this does seem to bear out Ed’s reputation for being vindictive. Making the names public would be a bad way to repay a warning. So you get to decide whether to trust me on this.

I think this amount of work spent on a project of this sort is newsworthy. I’m willing to rely on the information I have without revealing my sources. Nobody else is required to agree with me on either of these things.

Why I Love Pamela Gay

A few years ago, there were two Pamelas for me. One was a friend of friends, known by reputation through the physics education community. She was the person who made a trip to SIUE or an AAPT conference more complete by hanging out for an evening. She was both relaxing and inspiring to talk to, one of this world’s incredibly pleasant people, despite being put through a lot in her professional situation.

The other Pamela was this kick-ass astronomer and skeptic who did…well, everything. She was constantly traveling, talking, recording podcasts, getting people involved in citizen science, starting new programs, working for grants–everything. She was a little bit intimidating, though admirable, in her iron will and the energy she spent getting things done.

Then I discovered these two Pamelas were the same person. [Read more...]

Things to Do This Weekend

Me? I’m just going to sit here and cough some more, but there are a number of things you should be doing if you’re feeling better than I am.

First, if you’re in or near the Twin Cities (or don’t mind a bit of travel), sign up for the American Atheists Regional Conference in Saint Paul August 11.

Join us for an all-day Regional Atheist Conference at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in downtown St. Paul. Confirmed speakers so far are: Hector Avalos, Teresa MacBain, PZ Myers, Robert Price, Dave Silverman, Andy Thomson, and Ayanna Watson.

In addition to the conference speakers, there will be a room with books, shirts, and other merchandise. Two delicious meals are available for purchase (see below). That evening, after the end of the conference, we will have a pub crawl in downtown St. Paul.

Purchase conference and meal tickets below. Book your room reservations directly with the hotel, at the special link provided below.

Jessica Ahlquist has also been added to the lineup. There are a few tickets left at our special rate for the Saint Paul Saints game the night before, during which time they will be renamed the Mr. Paul Aints. Jerseys worn during the game will be auctioned off as a fundraiser for Minnesota Atheists after the game, and custom jerseys can be ordered by email before the game for $69.00.

While you’re thinking about the Minnesota Atheists, consider donating to keep Atheists Talk radio on the air. Those of us who work on the show donate our time, but we do pay for the airtime. On our show, we interview secular activists, atheist and humanist writers, scientists in politicized fields, and artists who inspire awe in the natural world. We offer an alternative to religious Sunday-morning radio programming. We raise the profile of atheists and atheism. And we really want to keep doing all of that, even if it does mean getting up early on weekend mornings.

Then, if you haven’t yet, sign up to walk for the Light the Night event benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Today is the last day in the push to add 5,000 walkers that will result in Todd Stiefel getting a mohawk (in addition to his matching donations up to $500,000) and PZ and Hemant getting tattoos.

Then it’s time to pick a team in this year’s battle to raise funds for Camp Quest. PZ used some dirty tricks to lose last year. JT and others have put together a team this year that may be able to do it fair and square, depending on where you decide to throw your support.

Then go do something fun outside, while I take a nap.

Saturday Storytime: Bedtime Stories for Alien Children

To say that something moves at the speed of publishing is…not a compliment. Writers who are dependent on their writing income for anything other than luxury purchases can end up in bad places financially, even when they’re working their asses off, simply because income trails so far behind the work. David J. Schwartz is in one of those situations now. He’s finished a novel recently, but who knows when or if he will see any money from it. In the meantime, he’s in trouble, enough trouble that he’s asking for help. In return, he’s provided something for you to read, whether you donate or not.

What you need to know is this: the Whisper was in love with the Wire. It was a strange love, as the Wire was blind and deaf and uninterested in interaction of any sort. Upon its arrival it had driven its tendrils into the seed and discovered that the unborn world tasted like burnt copper with a hint of orange. Warmth flooded the Wire, and it shuddered. It had not known there was such a thing as ecstasy.

The Whisper was on the other side of the world-seed, contemplating the seventeenth star in the firmament. The light of the seventeenth star gave the Whisper a feeling that it was trying to name. The Whisper did not notice the Wire’s arrival on the world-seed, but the Worm-child did. The Worm-child flashed its snout-gland in alarm, and after some time the Whisper became aware of this additional star in its peripheral vision. Something had happened. This was the first time since the Whisper had taken up residence on the world-seed that something had happened, so it was eager to investigate.

The Whisper shuffled to the other side of the world-seed and found the Wire siphoning life from inside. The Wire’s tendrils glittered in the light of the Worm-child’s snout-gland, and a contented hum rose from its swollen nucleus. The Whisper contemplated the Wire for a time. Then it sighed with its feet, wrapped its wide arms around the Wire, and unfolded its legs to their full length.

The Wire panicked as it was detached from its new source of sustenance. Tendrils broke through the Whisper’s skin, but there was nothing inside but the taste of camphor and coal dust. The Whisper trembled with this nearness. Eventually the Wire, unable to feed, gave up its struggle and rested in the Whisper’s arms.

The world-seed traversed the gap between the fourth and eighth stars in the firmament, and all that while the Whisper embraced the Wire, seeking a word for it. The Wire keened softly from time to time, its only recourse against deprivation. The Worm-child clung to the seed-stalk, gulping at darkness.

After a time the Whisper realized that the Wire was starving; after an additional time the Whisper realized that it did not want the Wire to die. It folded its legs and lowered the Wire to the surface, ignoring the renewed flashing of the Worm-child’s snout-gland.

Without hesitation the Wire pierced the skin of the world-seed, and moaned as it drank copper-orange nourishment from the core. The Whisper found that it was aroused. As the Wire became engorged with stolen life, anticipation rose in the Whisper until it could no longer restrain itself. In its faint deep voice the Whisper spoke love to the Wire, who could not hear this declaration. And then, because the Worm-child still flashed its alarm, the Whisper lifted the Wire once more from the skin of the world-seed.

Keep reading.