What, no Hitler?

The Heartland Institute is a conservative climate-denialist thinktank in the US. And this is their new ad campaign:

“The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

In addition to Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro are also featured. Osama bin Laden is in the works for a future billboard.

…What, were you hoping that I would say something funny to keep you from throwing your laptop across the room? Sorry, I got nothing. This is too fucked up even for me.

(Via Bad Astronomy)

Pennsylvania church stages “fake” kidnapping of youth group to teach about religious persecution

Holy fuck.

Teenagers at the Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in Middletown, Pa., were surprised when they attended a youth group meeting at the church on March 21 and were ambushed by what seemed to be real kidnappers.

Adults, including an off-duty cop, brandished weapons and put bags over the heads of the children, ages 13 through 18, and forced them into a church van. The group was driven to the home of an assistant pastor, who was presented before the group with a seemingly bloodied and bruised face, according to Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo.

One of the adults used a real AK-47, though the gun was unloaded, Chardo said.

The church leaders who organized the fake hostage situation later told law enforcement that the event was meant to be a lesson to the children on how Christians are persecuted in places around the world, but the “educational” event may actually constitute a crime, Chardo said.

How in the world do you plan this sort of thing without considering that it may legitimately terrify and emotionally abuse these children? Is teaching about religious persecution really more important than protecting your children from harm? I guess I shouldn’t expect anything more from people who emotionally abuse children with threats of hell and damnation.

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.

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.

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.

America’s Next Top Model’s latest race fail

I’ve occasionally mentioned here and on twitter that I have a bizarre obsession with America’s Next Top Model. I don’t give a crap about fashion or modeling, though I can appreciate when the show occasionally produces artistic photos. I just love to hate it. And ANTM never fails to come up with new, amazing ways to be terrible:

  • The weird vocabulary (smeyes) and catchphrases (I’d put it in my salon!)
  • The typical reality TV type of humiliation. You mean modeling doesn’t usually require being set on fire or covered in bees?
  • The hyper drama and nonsensical screaming between the contestants that makes me feel good about myself because I’m not them
  • The inevitable stupidity that spews forth when they send the models who know nothing about world politics, geography, or culture to a foreign country
  • The fact that the show is comically bad when it comes to feminism and body image. Yes, those size 10 girls with perfect figures are certainly “plus sized,” and Tyra will teach you how to eat healthy but then throw you off the show if you gain a pound.

With Cycle 18 starting comes a new adventure. This cycle’s theme is “British Invasion,” with half the girls being Brits and half of them being Americans. And there’s some cultural battle or something. I hate to admit it, I kind of like it because the Brits also seem to be shocked and appalled by the behavior of the American girls, and they articulate their shock using delightful British slang.

But that’s not the interesting part. There’s a new milestone this cycle. Mariah Watchman is ANTM’s first Native American model, having grown up on the Umatilla reservation in Oregon. And what’s the first thing the producers make her do?

Dress up as Pocahontas.

Yes, you read right. ANTM has their first Native American model, and they immediately stick her in a tacky Pocahontas costume.

Let me put this costume in perspective for you so you understand how utterly flabbergasted I was when I was watching. The theme for the photo shoot was “Culture Clash,” where iconic figures from the UK and USA faced off. The pairings were:

  • George Washington vs. Queen Elizabeth
  • Janet Jackson vs. Scary Spice
  • Madonna vs. Elton John
  • Michelle Obama vs. Margaret Thatcher
  • Andy Warhol vs. Amy Winehouse
  • Jackie O vs. Princess Diana

Let me pause for a minute to reiterate that one of the models dressed up like MARGARET THATCHER.

With her buddy Michelle Obama. About to jump on a trampoline.

Anyway, I digress. Who was Pocahontas paired with? Who was the British equivalent the ANTM producers came up with?

John Lennon.

No, I don’t have an explanation for what Pocahontas and John Lennon have in common.

Yes, they gave Pocahontas a tomahawk prop. A TOMAHAWK.

My roommate and I were in utter disbelief. It’s not like ANTM is known for its racial sensitivity (remember the blackface episode?). But did the producers really not see the blatant problem with this? In case you need it spelled out, here’s what Adrienne had to say at her blog Native Appropriations:

She went on the record with an interview with her hometown newspaper discussing the choice as well (which was a choice of the producers, not her own), saying:

“As soon as I heard what the competition was, I knew that’s who I would be. I was completely fine with it. There’s no one else I’d want more to portray. It’s someone everybody knows.”I think this is completely a reflection of the sad, sad state of our society if a proud Native woman feels the only “iconic figure” that “everyone knows” of her race is a 12 year old who was famous for “saving” and marrying an old white dude, and then becoming a Disney character. Awesome.

The choice of the producers to have her portray “Pocahontas” is straight up offensive too. Let’s pigeonhole the only Native contestant by forcing her to don an extremely stereotypical outfit and be an Indian. The thing that stood out to me was that Mariah was cast into a race-based role, while the other pairings had plenty of (relatively progressive) race-bending. George Washington, Elton John, Jackie O, and John Lennon (all white) were portrayed by models of color, which I thought was kinda cool. But, because Mariah’s heritage is her “exotic” selling point for the show, the producers felt the need to exploit it.

Then the outfit they put on her. Oh the outfit. It looks like they bought it straight off thepocahottie halloween page--fake buckskin, primary colored feathers, plains-style beading and designs, braids in her hair. And, the kicker, a tomahawk. Yes, a tomahawk. History lesson, ANTM: Pocahontas was from Virginia, and none of those stereotypes apply to her people. So basically they did what everyone seems to do when they want to “honor” Indians–drew upon every Hollywood Indian stereotype without any regard for historical accuracy, regionality, or how effing racist it is to make the only Native girl basically dress up in blackface.

The cherry on top of this absurdity sundae was the judging panel. The judges insisted that Mariah “had a very easy thing to do” because she’s a Native American portraying a Native American, and that she should have done a much better job. Because, you know, all Native Americans are the same, and she didn’t portray Pocahontas close enough to their stereotypical notion of how Native Americans act. They couldn’t “see the angst.”

That’s what being Native American is all about. Angst and tomahawks. Gah.

Well fuck :(

This morning I was getting ready for graduate student recruitment. I was all dressed, everything necessary was printed out, and I was just waiting to leave at 11:30am. At 11 I decided I should make sure my car had gas, since I was going to be driving recruits around in it all day. I hadn’t driven it in a couple of weeks (like usual), so I couldn’t remember how full the tank was. I wandered down to the side street next to my apartment where my parking spot was.

I opened the door, and the first thing I see is disgusting standing water filling the floor of the driver’s side. I blink for a second and then zoom out, looking around the car.

Everything is covered in mold. Everything.

The seats and seat belts had a fine film covering them. The windows were grimy. A lone old coffee cup I had been meaning to throw out was completely decomposed. I had some scraps of paper under my seat that were soaked through, a couple of books on the back seat that were soggy and disgusting. Even my trunk was damp and moldy. For a split second the biologist in me noted that there were probably at least four different species in there, but then I snapped back. Everything was wet and moldy.

I stared in disbelief. Part of my brain couldn’t comprehend the destruction of my car, since I was more concerned that I had to drive people in it in a half hour. I desperately started throwing things into the dumpster, thinking maybe I could frantically clean it. I muttered “fuck” repeatedly as a homeless person who had been dumpster diving nearby gave me a wary look and scooted away. I soon realized there’s no way I could clean this sucker, and contacted a fellow grad student working on recruitment. He picked me up and let me borrow his car, so recruitment went on without a hitch.

But now that I’m back home, it’s sinking it. I’m still wondering how the hell this happened. My car is a 2003 Camry in practically perfect condition and has never ever had sealing problems. I never have even a drop of condensation forming in my car. I’m wondering if the melting snow from “Snowpacalyse” is to blame, but I’m still skeptical – this car has survived feet of Indiana snow melting on it just as rapidly. A friend wondered if it was vandals who somehow got a hose in my car. I have no clue. I mean, this stuff happens to cars that have been abandoned for years – but parked for a couple of weeks? I’ve left it alone that long tons of times. At least my car still started, so the water didn’t damage the engine or something.

If anyone has advice as to what to do, it would be much appreciated. Where the hell do I take this kind of mess to be cleaned? Is it going to have to be re-upholstered? How much of a financial hit should I expect? My auto insurance covers flood/vandalism etc, but has a $500 deductible.

Sigh :(