RCimT: Stuff to be mad about

As I implied yesterday, there’s far too much going on in this world right now that deserves my ire. I have to mete it out carefully or I won’t have enough to go around, because the meds for my Stretch Armstrong leg are seriously putting a damper on my ability to draw from my bile reservoir. For you though, my faithful readers, I’ll do my best. (I love you both!)

Egypt did a grand thing in ousting Mubarak. The military made many overtures of solidarity with the protesters over the last month, and they installed a “transitional leader” in Vice President Omar Suleiman. Suleiman however has absolutely no intention of transitioning Egypt to a democracy. The military is now singing a totally different tune than during the initial protests — claiming that they will start to move against strikers if they don’t get back to work soon. So Egypt traded one tin-pot dictator for another. Hooray.

Meanwhile, a CBS reporter was violently molested while covering the Egypt protests, and because she happened to be a woman, people are throwing their careers away to snipe at her for daring to try to do something in a dangerous place. Because, you know, being raped and beaten in public and having to be rescued by a group of women and Egyptian soldiers just isn’t enough damage. Lara Logan knew exactly what kind of danger she was in by daring to do her job while in possession of a vagina, thank you very fucking much.

I’m sad to have to report that being right about the “God question” (e.g., being an atheist) does not mean you’re right about other stuff, like gender politics. How a thread can go on so long where so many men think it appropriate to discuss amongst themselves “how to get women into science” while wholly and completely dismissing the women in the conversation, is beyond me. People in positions of privilege discussing how to get the unprivileged into the conversation should, obviously, not dismiss the same unprivileged. DUH. There are a few shining beacons of truth and level-headedness in the Pharyngula thread about the original talk, but they are a cool drink in a vast expansive desert of retardery.

Meanwhile, the Republicans who were swept into power recently with promises of rebuilding the American economy with jobs-a-plenty are enacting several laws on their real priority: shrinking government to only small enough to legislate every vagina in the country. While the House has failed at their attempt to redefine rape, they succeeded in passing an amended version of HR3 to ensure no federal funds are ever spent on abortions. They have also defunded Planned Parenthood, the last line of defense against teenage pregnancy, for daring to refer to abortion doctors the 2% of their visitors that need them — never mind that this means more teenagers will get pregnant and need abortions to begin with. And South Dakota is busy legalizing the murder of abortion doctors. These idiots are decidedly not “pro-life”. They’re “pro-fetus”. Once the fetus grows to the point where they might be born (whether they survive, or not; whether they kill the mother, or not), they obviously couldn’t give a shit about them. I’m sure there’s gotta be a Bible passage somewhere that justifies allowing both mother and baby to die just so a medically indicated procedure doesn’t happen that’s supposedly contrary to some vague interpretation of some arbitrarily chosen translation of some arbitrarily chosen “holy book” out of the thousands that one could choose from.

And there’s always more bullshit when you get religion involved, it seems. Why is it every one of the things I see today that is detrimental to the betterment of humankind as a whole, is inspired by religion? Seriously. It’s getting to be too big a trend to ignore. A new investigation shows that children are still in peril and clergy are still stonewalling investigators even ten years after the scandals in some Roman Catholic dioceses were uncovered and supposedly stopped. If they weren’t in the positions of power they find themselves, children wouldn’t be imperiled by this overriding demand, handed down from the top, to protect Catholicism from its own chief practitioners.

Or how about the religiously inspired Wedge-strategy-approved tactic of sowing disinformation about evolution by legislative fiat? Never mind that there’s no scientific controversy about the theory of evolution — only a controversy in that the theory of evolution apparently runs afoul of some very small-minded provincial interpretations of certain religionists’ ideation of their deity and how special humankind is in the grand scheme of things. No, scientists are well aware that all the evidence available shows evolution is a fact, and that the theory of evolution is merely an attempt at describing the mechanism behind that fact. Any controversy at the moment is in exactly how much influence natural selection, epigenetics, genetic drift, etc., have on the “big picture” of evolution. If this law were aimed at teaching THOSE controversies, I’d be fine with it and others of its ilk, but you’ll invariably find it espoused by people who unironically claim in court that the Earth is six thousand years old.

Canada’s got its own shitty little legal squabbles going on, too. For instance, the Tory-held senate rejection of this bill:

Bill C-389 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to protect the rights of transgender or transsexual citizens. It would prohibit discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” or “gender expression” in the workplace or elsewhere, and would amend the Criminal Code so that crimes committed against people because they are transgender or transsexual would be treated as hate crime.

Their grounds? That people might try to go peeping-tom in opposite sex bathrooms and defend themselves by claiming they’re really transgendered.

And the CRTC’s raising people’s suspicions lately about the partisan nature of some of their decisions — like that pesky law they’re suggesting we eliminate that prevents broadcasters from presenting lies as truth in news media.

“It’s totally bizarre. Nobody in the industry has called for it,” Mr. Murdoch said. “Where is the motivation for change that would lower the standards of truth and fairness in broadcast journalism?”

NDP MP Charlie Angus noted that the proposed change precedes the start of Sun TV, a network that has been shepherded in large part by Kory Teneycke, the former director of communication to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“We all know our Prime Minister well enough to say we don’t have to be in the realm of conspiracy theory here,” Mr. Angus said at a news conference on Monday. “We can draw our conclusions and they are pretty clear.”

It’s no conspiracy. It’s no coincidence. That law is preventing Sun TV from being everything that Fox News is to America: a trojan horse in the news media, intended to pull people’s understanding of reality, and the Overton Window, ever-further to the right. Truth be damned, we need our propaganda, sayeth Harper and his cronies.

That’s it. I’m spent for the moment. I’m sure I’ll find more to rage about soon though.

How Intelligent Design has evolved since Dover

There’s a metric ton of shitty things happening in the world right now, and I don’t have the wherewithal to blog about it all while I’m doped up on painkillers for my strained leg. (Shoveling. All last week. A few hours every day. Not surprised I hurt myself, honestly.) So, instead, I’ll just throw this nugget of heathenism out there for your edification. Will probably put together a RCimT tomorrow for the various smaller bits of outrage I’ve collected, and will save the good rants for the weekend (when nobody seems to visit the blog). Sound fair?

This lecture by Josh Rosenau tracks how Intelligent Design has evolved (*snerk*) since the Dover trial. It’s certainly a fascinating subject, as are most historical retrospectives about movements that claim to know The Truth but provide no empirical evidence.

Is cancer just cells “rebooted into safe mode”?

An interesting theory about cancer’s prominence in mammals (save naked mole rats of course):

The new theory, published in the journal Physical Biology, has been put forward by two leading figures in the world of cosmology and astrobiology: Paul Davies, director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, Arizona State University; and Charles Lineweaver, from the Australian National University.

In the paper, they suggest that a close look at cancer shows similarities with early forms of multicellular life.

“‘Advanced’ metazoan life of the form we now know, i.e. organisms with cell specialization and organ differentiation, was preceded by colonies of eukaryotic cells in which cellular cooperation was fairly rudimentary, consisting of networks of adhering cells exchanging information chemically, and forming self-organized assemblages with only a moderate division of labor,” they write.

According to Lineweaver, this suggests that cancer is an atavism, or an evolutionary throwback.

It’s certainly possible that this is the case, but my understanding was that the part that gets switched off in a cancerous cell is the part that tells it that it’s supposed to undergo apoptosis (e.g., die) under certain conditions — such as age, or cellular crowding. My layman’s understanding is that outside the genes that tell cells to die, it’s well possible that the mutated cell could have just about every other function still operating — and that that’s what makes HeLa cell lines (the undying and ever-growing cancerous cells taken from Henrietta Lacks) such a good analog for humans in biological testing. This could of course be wrong. And if it turns out cancer is really just your cell, running on older fallback code because some “off codon” didn’t get processed and so the code didn’t skip ahead to the next chunk, that means quite a bit evolutionarily, especially since so many mammals share that code line. In theory, with better technology, it may well be possible to eliminate the old code from our codebase, ridding humanity of cancer for good.

Of course, certain coders might be best told to stay out of the code base on that particular project. Gods forbid the people behind Windows ME touch our source.

Kiai Master vs Skeptic

Look, I don’t normally watch fights, much less participate in them. I’ve enjoyed some MMA in the past, and I enjoy video games with a violent bent from time to time, but I couldn’t bring myself to punch or knee someone repeatedly, especially when the other person is clearly unequipped to actually fight back. This… this is just one-sided.

Still though. $5000, for less than a minute of punching a guy in the face, while he waves his hands at me believing he’s manipulating chi? I might do it, even despite my tendencies to avoid pugilism. I mean, I could use the money. And I’d even give a little bit of it back to help him fix his broken nose.

Addendum: Apparently Brian Dunning mentioned this specific video over at Skeptoid recently. And here I wrote this before Googling “kiai master”, hoping to find some sort of shrine to this dude’s touted abilities.

Fox vs video games: the Bulletstorm shitstorm

The other day, when I saw it appear on the Playstation 3′s “What’s New” splash, I downloaded a demo for a first-person shooter game I hadn’t heard anything about before, called Bulletstorm. The demo video preceding the actual playable level pretty much set the expectations for the game — chaotically violent grindhouse with over-the-top game mechanics, protagonists with generally more machismo than intellect (even the girl) who are quick to make lewd sexual references, and buckets and buckets of blood. Despite its outlandish presentation, the demo was actually fairly fun. The ability to kick enemies and have them thereafter hang in mid-air long enough for you to aim at specific body parts is a bit silly. but otherwise my first impression was that with some polish, the game has potential.

I had no idea that potential that I saw was the potential for lulz when Fox News lost their shit over it. But there you have it. Turns out I’m not prescient — whoda thunk it? Though, given their earlier performance in grossly mischaracterizing Mass Effect’s “full digital nudity and controllable explicit sex” (which, as it turns out, is no more controllable or explicit than any sexually tinged and artistically presented offering on Fox Network’s prime time block), I should have seen it coming.

In the new video game Bulletstorm due February 22, players are rewarded for shooting enemies in the private parts (such as the buttocks). There’s an excess of profanity, of course, including frequent use of F-words. And Bulletstorm is particularly gruesome, with body parts that explode all over the screen.

But that’s not the worst part.

The in-game awards system, called Skill Shots, ties the ugly, graphic violence into explicit sex acts: “topless” means cutting a player in half, while a “gang bang” means killing multiple enemies. And with kids as young as 9 playing such games, the experts FoxNews.com spoke with were nearly universally worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch.

“If a younger kid experiences Bulletstorm’s explicit language and violence, the damage could be significant,” Dr. Jerry Weichman, a clinical psychologist at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute in Southern California, told FoxNews.com.

In their private parts! Such as the buttocks! You just can’t make this up.

More commentary below the fold.
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Thanks to the Kepler mission, the weak anthropic principle is pretty much proven.

This video by darkmatter2525 makes a bold assertion: he claims the fact that we’ve discovered the 1235 planets Kepler found in a year and a half — 54 in their stars’ Goldilocks Zones, five of which are the same size as Earth — proves the weak anthropic principle even without needing to actually visit one and see life with our own eyes.

He doesn’t mention the principle by name specifically, but he gets all the salient points that argue for it. We’re looking at a very small fraction of the galaxy, much less the universe. Kepler can only detect an exoplanet if it passes directly between us and its star, so only those solar systems that are aligned correctly could ever be detected with this technique. And yet we’ve discovered as many as we have.

And he goes on to further extrapolate that, because of the gravitational eddies scientists have discovered which point to multiple universes like ours, the strong anthropic principle may also be true. We live in a universe that can sustain life because every possible universe exists, and only in the ones that can sustain life will life actually arise to realize it.

Note that this does not cut the possibility of a deity out of the equation yet. But a deity is unnecessary in the face of the realities of quantum physics that could lead to the strong anthropic principle being true. Couple that with the fact that if you add up all the positive and negative energy in this universe, you get… zero. Zero energy. Everything… came from nothing. Every universe… came from nothing. Nothing is an unstable state. We don’t need a designer god or a creator god. Sure, maybe all of metaphysics was set into motion by such a being, but with everything thereafter happening according to those laws of physics he created, and with absolutely no evidence that any divine intervention has ever happened, Occam’s Razor slices your god neatly out of the equation.

I’ve said it before — every deity ever proposed by humankind is very likely wholly and dramatically incorrect. Made from whole cloth. Nothing but legend. So if you want to believe in a deity, fine. Feel free. As soon as you specify one of the existing dogmas of today, you’re very very likely wrong.

Deists are pretty much the only theists that have any sort of leg to stand on, but that’s because they call everything God. And we can see (at least some of that) everything.