Thugs amuck

Whose side are the police on? Apparently, the side of the corporate masters and exploiter bankers. This is a scene from Occupy Oakland, where the police are targeting protesters rather brutally.

As is par for the course, the thugs are lying. Here’s what the Oakland PD had to say:

Q. Did the Police deploy rubber bullets, flash-bag grenades?

A. No, the loud noises that were heard originated from M-80 explosives thrown at Police by protesters. In addition, Police fired approximately four bean bag rounds at protesters to stop them from throwing dangerous objects at the officers.

It’s right there on video, a policeman tossing something that went bang right in the middle of a group trying to help an injured man. There is no excuse for that. None.


Photographic proof that the Oakland PD is lying.

Mississippi’s shame

The state of Mississippi will be considering Initiative 26 in less than two weeks. This ballot initiative is radical and dangerous; it intends to elevate a single cell to the full status of an adult human being, with all the rights and privileges of such status. It has an effect that ripples through every law on the books, because it changes who they apply to…and you know that no matter how charitably you might try to interpret the law, some fanatic somewhere is going to use it punish women for getting pregnant. It puts a little time bomb in the uterus of every expecting mother.

BALLOT TITLE: Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?

BALLOT SUMMARY: Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.

This is Dr Freda Bush, who seems to be the spokesperson for this abomination of a law. Notice how nice and positive she is, and how warm and sincere her voice is. Notice also that she lies through her smiling mouth.

Here’s what she says that fills me with fury. It’s a lie.

Science confirms that a person is a human being at the moment of fertilization. At that moment we are fully human and fully alive.

No, “science” does not say that. She is playing word games. It’s only true if all a person is to you is a cell or tissue with the right ancestry and the right collection of genes; she relies on our colloquial understanding of “human” to imply our better qualities, the gifts that make us different from animals, the elements our our nature that freight the word “humane”. Science does not judge that. Science can look at the derivation of a cell, and we could sequence genes from it and assess its relationship to human genes, and we could apply tests and tissue-type its proteins and tell you what species it belongs to, but there are no unambiguous markers for the broader meaning of humanity.

What she says is nominally, superficially true, but only in the sense that it also applies to an excised anal polyp…which is also “fully human” and “fully alive”, as the cells have the right number of chromosomes, are derived from a human parent, and have metabolisms whirring away just as industriously as any other cell in the body. We tend, however, to confine the meaning of “human” in the moral, social, aesthetic, and freakin’ meaningful sense of the word to something more substantial than the flavor of the meat. These mindless godbots want to throw that meaning away.

We can say that the cell at fertilization has no capacity for love, no sense of humor, no joy in its existence, no thoughts or plans — it lacks the neural substrates to do any of that. At some point, the developing fetus will acquire those abilities, but science can’t say precisely when, so it’s a lie to claim that you have a definitive, absolute, positive answer.

The real ambiguity of science and the imaginary certainty of these dogmatists has real consequences, though. If passed, it means women who are raped do not have recourse to abortion or even the morning after pill. It means fetuses with crippling, devastating abnormalities will be forced to be carried to term. Worse still, it means that common forms of contraceptive could be determined to be criminal: IUDs that prevent implantation and birth control pills that may prevent implantation (that’s not their primary mode of action) could be declared illegal. Proponents of the initiative claim that it will not, but they are being disingenuous and denying the known behaviors of the fanatical ‘pro-life’ crowd. You know some raving Catholic or devout Baptist will use this law as a lever to ban every potential instrument of family planning that hinders the hegemony of the patriarchy.

It also denies the reality of Mississippi.

It’s the most conservative state in the nation. Planned Parenthood (which doesn’t even provide abortions in its one clinic here) and the ACLU are dirty words. Where there were once seven abortion clinics in the state, the one remaining flies in a doctor from out of state. As for supporting life, Mississippi’s infant mortality rate is the worst of any state in the nation. The number of babies who die as infants in Mississippi is double the number of abortions annually. It also has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy nationwide, alongside a child welfare system that remains dangerously broken.)

If they really cared about babies, all their energy would be spent correcting that abysmal infant mortality rate. But they don’t. They care about god and public piety, nothing more.

This law is not about bringing public policy in line with the scientific evidence — the people behind it do not have a record of ever caring about that. This is pure religious illogic.

Imbuing fertilized eggs with rights isn’t a serious philosophical position, it’s a convenient rhetorical tactic to justify subjugating women.

It’s madness.

How many genes does it take to make a squid eye?

This is an article about cephalopods and eye evolution, but I have to confess at the beginning that the paper it describes isn’t all that interesting. I don’t want you to have excessive expectations! I wanted to say a few words about it, though, because it addresses a basic question I get all the time, and while I was at it, I thought I’d mention a few results that set the stage for future studies.

I’m often asked to resolve some confusion: the scientific literature claims that eyes evolved multiple times, but I keep saying that eyes show evidence of common origin. Who is right? Why are you lying to me, Myers? And the answer is that we’re both right.

[Read more…]

Why I am an atheist – Sophie Davis

Am I an atheist? I guess I am, I have never defined myself and put it in a box, but I guess when an opportunity arises… I am a non believer, that’s to say my thoughts are justified by evidence and theory that, to the best of my knowledge explains the truth. As a child I believed in Santa and the tooth fairy and God. .. Not because of my parents, who are distinctly non-religious. I believed, simply because I thought ‘why not?’ Perhaps I wouldn’t have ever known about God was it not for my Church of England schooling, where prayer and bible studies were a common occurrence. As I grew and with it my curious mind, I began to ask why? And How? And what is the evidence for this? My parents never pressured me to be an atheist but instead encouraged me to question and take nothing for granted. As I questioned the less convinced I became and in the blink of an eye my religious phase was over and in its place a much more long lasting love that has lasted to this day. Science, one great adventure that will take a lifetime to learn.

I will always remember a conversation I had with a Mormon at University, out on one of their recruiting missions. He asked me ‘do you pray?’ I replied ‘no’ to which he said ‘How do you know what God has planned for you? And what the point of your life on earth is?’ I explained to him that I did not long for an inherent purpose to my life and any purpose made would be my own. I told him I was a scientist and that understanding everything in life from the behaviour on animals to the orbit of the planets was my life’s work, and that from each piece of knowledge I gained I found great contentment in life. After a little pause he told me he was happy for me. I felt great sadness, that he would not appreciate the great contentment found in the facts of science and nature and instead would lead a life in fear of God.

I live my life knowing it’s the only one I will have and I live it to the full. I guess that makes me lucky, lucky not to be indoctrinated into a way of life or follow unquestioningly something that is taken on blind faith. I love to live and I live to love. Through great chance this planet has come into existence. Through great chance this planet has evolved to sustain life, through great chance I was one of the millions of possibilities my parent’s genes would mix to make me. Through great chance I was born into a family that does not practice brain washing. By great CHOICE I became an atheist, and that makes me…. one of the lucky ones.

Sophie Davis
United Kingdom

Episode CCLXVI: The Pharyngula bump?

Recently, that goofy guru Deepak Chopra thanked me on Twitter for helping his book, whatever it was, become a NYT bestseller. It would be nice to imagine that I have some fraction of the power of Colbert or Oprah, but I think he was indulging in some wishful thinking. So what else is new?

Anyway, just because I can, here’s a short video of a young woman asking Chopra a straightforward question…which he is unable to answer. His mouth moves, his lips flap, his tongue wiggles, but no sense comes out. Again…so what else is new?

(Episode CCLXV: I like turtles)

I have a bad feeling about this

August Berkshire is debating a local pastor, Martin Bownik, Wednesday night, on the subject of “Why would Jesus need to die for my Sins?” It’s a dorktastic organization and a ridiculous topic that begs the whole question (my answer: there was no Jesus, blood sacrifice by proxy is barbaric and stupid, so it doesn’t even deserve addressing), but August is a calm-tempered fellow who’ll probably let them hang themselves on their own rope. Here’s where you can go to listen:

26 October, 7pm
The Mann Theatre Maple Grove
13644 80th Circle, Maple Grove, MN

It’s being advertised on facebook, and of course the wacky pastor wrote the copy and is busily recruiting his deluded followers to show up.

Come hear an Atheist and a Pastor share their thoughts on the subject of Christs death. You don’t want to miss this special event! Speakers will be August Berkshire and Pastor Martin Bownik. This is event is being sponsored by KKMS radio 980 am and The EDGE Christian Fellowship Church

Reading the comments (sample: “I pray the Atheist will be saved, in Jesus name”), I’m afraid this debate is simply going to be packed with zombie gomers. Any rational atheists want to show up and give August some backup?


Word is that it will also be broadcast on KKMS, the worst, sleaziest, most dishonest radio station in the Twin Cities. This does not reassure me.

Someone tell Santa about good kids’ books

There aren’t enough children’s books telling the story of evolution — every doctor’s office seems to be stocked with some ludicrous children’s book promoting that nonsensical Noah’s ark story, but clean, simple, and true stories about where we came from are scarce. Here’s one, a new children’s book called Bang! How We Came to Be by Michael Rubino. Each page is formatted the same: on the left, a color picture of an organism (or, on the early pages, a cosmological event); on the right, a short paragraph in simple English explaining what it is and when it occurred. The book just marches forward through time, showing us where our species came from. Easy concept, nice execution, and it fills a gap in children’s literature.

It’s short enough to be good bedtime reading, and simple enough for pre-schoolers. The illustrations are thought-provoking enough for older kids, but won’t keep them engaged for too long — they’ll be asking for more books to satisfy their curiosity about these strange creatures that lived billions or hundreds of millions or tens of millions of years ago. Which is exactly what we want to do to our kids, right?

(Also on Sb)