Eau de Pope

The Pope, trying to show how in touch the  Catholic Church is with everyday people, has had his own cologne created:

Italian celebrity perfume-maker Silvana Casoli, has created her most heavenly scent yet for a very special client, Pope Benedict XVI.

Known for creating a number of perfumes that can be used by both men and women with names like Chocolat Bambola (Chocolate doll) and Vanilla Bourbon, Casoli has designed unique fragrances for famous personalities like Madonna and Sting.

Speaking to Rome’s daily paper, Il Messaggero, Casoli said that the name of the pope’s specially-commissioned scent is top secret and she is not allowed to divulge all its ingredients. She did, however, reveal that she was inspired by the pope’s love of “nature” and used a blend of fragrances from lime-wood, verbena and grass.

What name would you suggest? And what’s your guess for the ingredients? Tears of little boys, or of AIDS ridden Africans? I can’t decide.

Another thing fruit flies and humans have in common

I’m kind of loving this research published in the latest issue of Science, titled “Sexual Deprivation Increases Ethanol Intake in Drosophila.” Science NOW has a good general summary of the paper:

Offer a male fruit fly a choice between food soaked in alcohol and its nonalcoholic equivalent, and his decision will depend on whether he’s mated recently or been rejected by a female. Flies that have been given the cold shoulder are more likely to go for the booze, researchers have found. It’s the first discovery, in fruit flies, of a social interaction that influences future behavior.

Read the rest here.

The genetic “proof” for ancient aliens

I have a new, horrible obsession – the History Channel’s show Ancient Aliens.

On Saturday I found myself drinking with a group of my boyfriend Sean’s friends, when one of them announced that we must play an Ancient Aliens drinking game. I had no idea what the show was, but became intrigued when they started discussing the rules of when to take a drink:

  • Whenever someone being interviewed has no relevant credentials like a PhD
  • Whenever someone says the phrase “Some scientists say”
  • Whenever someone says the phrase “ancient astronaut theorists”
  • Whenever an ancient manuscript is displayed
  • Whenever there’s a terrible CGI reenactment
  • Whenever Giorgio starts talking

Me: Who’s Giorgio?
Them: Oh, you’ll know who Giorgio is soon enough.

This is Giorgio, by the way:

…That’s all I’m going to say.

They decided to reduce the list so we would wouldn’t get alcohol poisoning. But I found myself following my own rule of “drink whenever someone says something that blatantly defies logic or is a total non sequitur.” Which meant I was pretty much constantly drinking for an hour and a half. Especially when you’re jumping from pyramids, dragon drawings, Tesla coils, and the Bible all being proof of aliens (just to name a few).

For those of you who’ve never seen the show…I’m not quite sure how to summarize it. The footage looks professionally done since it’s on the History Channel, and some of the shots of the ancient artifacts are cool to see. But if I had to summarize the major theme, it would either be “Brown people never could have done <insert amazing feat here> because they were too lazy and/or stupid, therefore aliens had to help them.” I think my favorite mindblowing moment was when Giorgio explained that:

  • People worship “Gods”
  • But people only believe in things they have evidence for
  • They had written/drawn evidence for these “Gods”
  • Written/drawn evidence is always realistic and never abstract, imaginative, or metaphorical
  • But “Gods” don’t actually exist
  • Therefore they were actually aliens

Oh, Giorgio. How I wish point #2 was true.

Something about the show hooked me in its terribleness. My emotional reaction was actually very similar to the time when I visited the Creation Museum. Yes, I was mad at how they were twisting science, using terrible logic, and spreading blatant lies. But the absurdity of it all was oddly amusing. By the end you find yourself playing along, like you’re watching a fantasy novel… and not something people actually believe.

Also, being heavily inebriated helps.

So Sean and I plowed forward to episode two, since the first two seasons are conveniently available on Netflix. Our “game” was to guess what sort of bizzaro conspiracy theory the show would provide to explain a phenomena they were hyping before the show made the reveal. Sean was a little too excited when he correctly guessed the “Humans and aliens had sex and interbred” plotline. To which I replied, “But they’re an alien. Humans can’t even breed with chimps. Humans would have to actually be aliens seeded here or something for interbreeding to be possible.”

And then that’s exactly what the show said, and I nearly peed my pants laughing.

But the real kicker came when the show brought up the human genome. Sean and I both study genomics and evolution, so we exchanged a wary look. I’ll let you see it for yourself. The clip begins at 7:34 in the first video, and continues until 3:03 in the next.

In case you can’t watch the video or had trouble following that pristine argument, let me summarize:

  • Geneticists discovered the gene HAR1, which is unique to humans and plays a critical role in the development of the human brain.
  • Did it develop through evolution? Francis Crick says human genes couldn’t have evolved because there’s not enough time for DNA to evolve by accident. He said it would be as improbable as a hurricane going through a junkyard making a Boeing 747.
  • Since it couldn’t have evolved, the aliens performed a targeted mutation in HAR1 to make us “human.”
  • We only understand 5% of the genome. If you wanted to record an eternal message that could be decoded by a creature that eventually evolved enough intelligence to decode it, you shouldn’t put it in a monument or text that can be destroyed…put it in the DNA! OMFG THAT’S WHAT JUNK DNA IS! SECRET MESSAGES!

And now, for a quick debunking:

  • HAR1 is present in all mammals and birds, not just humans. But in all non-human species, the sequence is effectively the same, or conserved. The human copy in particular has a number of differences compared to other species, so we consider the human copy of HAR1 divergent. This is not at all the only human gene to be divergent. And all species have uniquely divergent genes – that’s precisely what makes things different species. But no one is arguing that marmosets or fig trees or syphilis are actually aliens with special alien genes inserted into them. Well, maybe people are arguing that. There’s four seasons of this crap, and I’m only on episode 3 of season one. Maybe the syphilis aliens are right after the episode titled Aliens and the Third Reich (I shit you not).
  • Francis Crick has always been a strong supporter of evolution and has spoken passionately about how evolution shaped his scientific investigation. He was one of the Noble laureates who advised US courts bogged down by creationists that “Creation-science’ simply has no place in the public-school science classroom.” He also was an advocate for making Darwin Day a British national holiday. While he was initially doubtful of the origin of the genetic code and wondered if panspermia could be the answer, he later published a retrospective article where he and his colleague “noted that they had been overly pessimistic about the chances of abiogenesis on Earth when they had assumed that some kind of self-replicating protein system was the molecular origin of life.” So, um, no.
  • Francis Crick did not come up with that 747 argument – Fred Hoyle did. That’s why it’s called Hoyle’s fallacy. It’s already debunked a bajillion times by biologists – Dawkins wrote two books about it – so I won’t waste time trouncing it here.
  • Whatever alien thought junk DNA would be a great place for an eternal message is a dumbass. Because junk DNA doesn’t code for a protein or have some sort of regulatory role, it’s what geneticists refer to as “neutrally evolving.” It means it’s at liberty to gather mutations because they don’t have any major effect that would weed them out via natural selection. This is especially true when the show’s premise is that the message was placed there eons ago, and had tons of time to accumulate changes. It also doesn’t explain why chimps share a lot of junk DNA with us, or why a huge proportion of junk DNA are remnants of ancient viruses. I’m sure Giorgio would say that those aliens were trying to throw us off the scent by making it seem like our genomes had evolved through natural processes.
  • They never address the fact that the hypotheses they present throughout the show aren’t even internally consistent. At one point they say all life on earth was put there by aliens, and it evolved naturally. Then they say we ARE the aliens. So what, were the aliens unicellular organisms? How can we interbreed – like they say we do – if we’re that distantly related?! But then they say the proof that we’re aliens is that we look like the aliens…so how about those billions of years of evolution?

In poking around the internet about this show, I discovered that Giorgio had a twitter account, which included this gem:

Lizard people? Total nonsense. Aliens? Of course, duhhhhh.

Oh, History Channel. How the mighty have fallen. I remember when I was little and I’d watch you with my history-buff dad, and learn all sorts of cool things about Egypt and Rome and WWII. But now I watch you to point and laugh.

Spring break speaking schedule – MN, IN, DC

My spring break is next week! While my fellow grad students will be heading off to beaches or mountains to enjoy their time off, I’ll be going to… the Midwest. The place I’m constantly thankful for escaping. Yaaaaay.

In all seriousness, I am excited. I get to see a lot of friends during the trip and return to some of my old stomping grounds in Indiana. Plus I get a home cooked meal from my grandparents! But one of my favorite parts of doing these speaking tours is getting to meet my readers, so come check them out!

If you need added incentive, I’ll be debuting a new talk at the Indiana events called The Indiana Theocracy. Consider it an amusing summary of my various Indiana rants over the last couple of years. Hopefully it’ll be motivational for the local groups, rather than depressing.

Sunday, March 18
2:00 – 3:30 pm
Roseville Public Library
2180 Hamline Ave. N
Roseville, MN
Topic: God’s Lady Problem
Sponsored by the Minnesota Atheists (more info)

Monday, March 19
7:00 – 8:00 pm
350 Canal Walk, Suite A
Indianapolis, IN
Topic: The Indiana Theocracy
$10 ($5 for Friends of the Center)
Sponsored by the Center for Inquiry – Indianapolis  (more info)

Tuesday, March 20
8:00 pm
SULB 321
Purdue Calumet Campus
Hammond, IN
Topic: The Indiana Theocracy
Sponsored by the Secular Student Alliance at Purdue Calumet

Thursday, March 22
6:30 – 8:00 pm
WTHR 172
Purdue Main Campus
West Lafayette, IN
Topic: The Indiana Theocracy
Sponsored by the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University (my old group!)
Post talk debauchery at the Neon Cactus

I won’t be speaking in DC, but I will be there for the Reason Rally on March 24th! I’ll be tweeting like mad, roaming through the crowd, and occasionally working at the SSA’s table, so try to find me. I might even invest in a funny sign.  There’s also the post-rally celebration co-hosted by Freethought Blogs and Friendly Atheist. Maybe we should have a pre-game pub night in DC on March 23? I could also do a pub night in Minneapolis on the 17th or 18th. What do you guys think? If there’s enough interest, I’ll pick a time and a bar (suggestions welcome).

Obama is really itching for those pre-Civil War days

Says Sarah Palin in a language vaguely resembling English (emphasis mine):

Right, well, what we can glean from this is an understanding of why we are on the road that we are on. Again, it’s based on what went into his thinking, being surrounded by radicals. He is bringing us back, Sean, to days—you can hearken back to the days before the Civil War when, unfortunately, too many Americans mistakenly believed that not all men were created equal. And it was the Civil War that began the codification of the truth that here in America, yes we are equal and we all have equal opportunities not based on the color of your skin. You have equal opportunity to work hard and to succeed and to embrace the opportunities, God given opportunities, to develop resources and work extremely hard and, as I say, to succeed.

Now it has taken all these years for many Americans to understand that gravity, that mistake that took place before the Civil War and why the Civil War had to really start changing America. What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income based on color of skin. What are we allowing our country to move backwards instead of moving forward with that understanding that, as our charters of liberty spell out for us, we are all created equally.

Yeah, I’m sure Obama just can’t wait to return to the days where blacks were enslaved and treated like animals. The nostalgia is really strong, you know? But poor Sarah Palin, if her family with royal ancestry had to return to a pre-Civil War society, why, they’d have to spend so much time…um… counting those slaves? I mean, that sort of management is really stressful, right?

It still blows my mind how clueless some people are.

(Via Slog)

Kansas legislature proposes the Slut Tax!

That’s effectively what this bill is – a bill that would levy a sales tax on women who have abortions, with no exceptions for rape or medical necessity (emphasis mine):

Buried in the 69-page bill being considered by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee are several provisions, in fact, that opponents say would increase taxes on those who seek abortions. The tax sections do not include any exemptions for women who want an abortion after a sexual assault, to end a dangerous ectopic pregnancy or to remove the remains of a fetus following a miscarriage — the latter of which is defined as an abortion under Kansas law, according to Sarah Gillooly from Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

[...]Among other provisions in the proposed legislation are measures allowing doctors to withhold from patients medical information that might encourage them to seek an abortion and prohibiting malpractice suits if the woman or the child suffers a health complication as a result of information being withheld. A wrongful death lawsuit could be filed if the mother dies. The bill also would require doctors to tell women that abortion causes breast cancer and would prohibit state employees from performing abortions on the job.

Kind of sad that I’m spending International Women’s Day reading stories about my rights being stripped away and wishing I had been born a man.

Pfft, the Hippocratic Oath doesn’t apply to women!

At least, that’s what Arizona state Senators must think. They just passed a law allowing doctors to not inform women of prenatal issues in order to prevent abortions.

Some prenatal issues are somewhat or fully treatable during pregnancy or immediately after birth, through certain medication, surgery, or diet modifications. But I guess these Republicans are just so pro-life that they rather have a fetus or newborn with treatable conditions die, so that other fetuses won’t be aborted. Those fetuses typically being ones who will not make it to birth, die shortly after birth, die after a couple of years of severe agony and medical complications, or be so severely handicapped as to lower their quality of life and the quality of life of their family. Because it’s morally superior to force a woman to give birth to such a child.

No, I guess not just to force a woman to give birth to such a child – to force a woman to give birth to such a child AND to give her absolutely no warning. Because Republicans love the idea of doctors going “Surprise, your baby just died and we knew it was going to happen all along but didn’t want you to abort it!”

The bill still has to pass the House, but I hope the American Medical Association takes a public stance against it. Withholding such medical information from a patient is an egregious violation of the Hippocratic Oath.

Yet this is just yet another example of how fucked up the religious right’s War on Women is in the US. They force women to have medically unneccessary invasive ultrasounds on the grounds of “providing information,” and then just as easily hide medically necessary information. Because lawmakers totally know what’s best for women’s health. Not women. Not doctors. Fundamentalist Christian Republican lawmakers. Curious how “what’s best” always turns out to be “not having an abortion,” isn’t it?

I have angered some sort of water god

Remember how my car randomly flooded a couple of weeks ago? Well, now it’s my apartment’s turn! The apartment above mine had their bath tub’s plumbing leak, resulting in water draining down the wall into my apartment. My hallway carpet is grossly soaked, and is currently covered in towels and has a fan blowing on it. My landlord was very prompt about fixing the leak and says he’ll take care of any damage to the carpet, but it’s still a pain in the ass.

I guess this exposes my biases. I always thought that if I were going to get smited by an angry god, it would be the Christian one. Not because that one is more likely to exist than the rest, but because I make fun of it the most. Little did I know it would be a water god who finally took their wrath out against this atheist. I’m not sure which of the dozens of water gods that may be, but I’m going to guess Poseidon since I’m half Greek.

Damn you, Poseidon!

How dare you say that, MRAs!

I’m offended. You probably remember Sandra Fluke, the law student who received Rush Limbaugh’s slut shaming vitriol because she wanted to testify in front of Congress about the medical benefits of birth control. It’s hard to forget her, since assholes keep coming out of the woodwork to trash her and other women. Well, MRAs are now asserting that she’s an aggressive lesbian pirate because in a photograph it vaguely appears that her ring finger is longer than her pointer finger.

I’m offended. My pointer finger is slightly longer than my ring finger, but I’m totally an aggressive Kinsey 1 pirate. How dare they deny my identity on the basis on finger ratios alone!

Arrrr.

Amazon knows me better than Groupon

The title of the advertisement email I received from Amazon today:

World’s Largest REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups

The title of the advertisement email I received from Groupon today:

79% Off Acupuncture Sessions

I think someone’s algorithm is working better.