I want to be just like Leonard Nimoy when I grow up.
Jun 15 2013
Jun 15 2013
Vox Day/Theodore Beale really is hilariously easy to trigger into paroxysms of foolishness. He now refers to me as a professional "biologist" in those lovely scare quotes, because he thinks his understanding of “genetic science” is better than mine. He explains what he meant by his remarks that he, a white man, and NK Jemisin, a black woman, are not equal.
You see, Africans are pure homo sapiens sapiens. Non-Africans are not. NK Jemisin, being of African extraction, is almost surely more purely homo sapiens sapiens than I am. Or, for that matter, than PZ Myers is.
"Previous research has revealed that Neanderthal DNA can be found in the genomes of everyone who isn’t of African extraction. But, as Pääbo said, "The Denisovans had contributed DNA only to people in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, and other places in Melanesia." In other words, modern humans entering Asia interbred with Denisovans. But the Denisovan DNA didn’t wind up circulating to other areas of the world the way Neanderthal DNA did."
So, everyone who isn’t African possesses DNA from other homo species, including Homo neanderthalensis and what is either Homo denisova or Homo sapiens denisova. This is why I often mock those who believe in both evolution by natural selection and human equality, because humanity is not only NOT all the same under our skin, we are not, according to current genetic science, even all entirely the same subspecies. If we apply their idiot logic, then I was actually claiming that I am not fully equal to Jemisin rather than the other way around.
Pure what? What is a “pure” human? Every single person on this planet belongs to the same identical species, Homo sapiens, so his distinctions by differences in alleles is irrelevant. I must also mention that his habit of capitalizing the binomial name is a bit irritating. We teach a class in science writing here that hammers on a lot of the scientific conventions, and we literally tell our students that one of the first signs you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know basic biology is that they get the punctuation wrong.
The existence of individual variants, even regional patterns, is an expected aspect of the genetic complement of a population. A species is not ever assumed to be genetically homogeneous, so it’s ridiculous to point to one member with a particular admixture of genes within a group and say they’re more a member of the group than someone else with a slightly different genetic complement.
It’s pure typological thinking. Theodore Beale has a crude version of 19th century biology (to be generous) rattling around in his head, and he thinks it makes sense.
Oh, look, Sinfest has a comic just for Theodore.
Jun 15 2013
A couple of things are driving me to distraction in the recent crop of superhero movies. Maybe Man of Steel was a fine piece of entertainment — they certainly threw money at the screen — but it also contained a fine collection of irritants.
Lens flare. WHY? What does it mean? How does it add to a scene except to remind you that this is being seen through a camera? And not even that — I think a lot of it is added in post-production. What next? Dirt on the lenses? Fake scratches on the digital film stock? I hope that a decade from now, people will look back on the film output from this era and wonder what the hell they were thinking.
The falling woman trope. It’s everywhere. The poor woman is plummeting to her doom at the terminal velocity of 200 km/hr, and superhero swoops upwards at even greater speed and catches her. This doesn’t work. At that speed, invulnerable super-strong arms are like blunt blades and are going to messily trisect the victim.
There’s a variant! Women fall and need to be rescued; men fall and land on their convenient flying vehicle/mount. Just stop it.
Slugfests. In every case, bad guy meets good guy and you know that shortly they’ll start throwing roundhouse blows at each other. This is not how people interact with each other, except when they’re very drunk and stupid. These are supposed to be super-intelligent, powerful beings, and their standard response to any challenge is to punch someone in the nose.
Ever-escalating explosions. And frantic pacing. Superhero movies have become giant demolition derbies, vying with one another to provide the biggest booms and demolish the most real estate. Superman, his military allies, and his enemies basically flatten the town of Smallville before moving on to turn New York into rubble.
There are no human costs. We see skyscrapers fall, entire New York city blocks destroyed, invulnerable super-bodies flung through office buildings like missiles, and never see a single person injured or killed. We see one death and Superman howls in anguish, and I just wanted to say, “Hey, Supe, when you smashed that IHOP? You probably turned half a dozen people who were just trying to have a pancake into bloody mush. I don’t even want to try to get a body count from that imploded building over there. So why are you upset over the quick and painless demise of that one jerkwad?”
There has to be a witness. This is a corollary to the absence of deaths. A couple of the secondary human characters face the most traumatic event ever — one of them is stuck under a pile of rebar and concrete (don’t worry, they pry her out and she’s completely uninjured!) so they can stand around and gawp as the superclowns rampage all over their city. Titanic forces are shattering whole buildings, but they stand there getting a little dust in their faces, and that’s it.
Specific to this movie: Pa Kent is a goddamned evil idiot who makes his adopted alien son feel like a shameful criminal every time he does something good. I would have cheered when he died, except Kevin Costner looked so smug and sanctimonious about shaming the superboy into not saving him when he could have easily. They also make a point of the Kents being Christian, which fits that pious humble-bragging attitude so well.
So yeah, there might have been an interesting movie buried under all the metaphorical rebar and concrete rubble of the detonation of special effects, but in the real world, it’s not going to crawl out alive afterwards.
Jun 14 2013
Down there in sunny wingnutty Florida, a judge recently decided that Christian groups could “passively” distribute Bibles in public schools — that is, they could leave them on tables and allow students to pick them up. Mary Elizabeth Williams thinks that’s a bad idea, and I agree — it’s a decision that opens the door to “passive” proselytization.
The Central Florida Freethought Community decided to make a reasonable response, by passively distributing some literature of their own. And now Williams decides that atheists are just as obnoxious as Christians.
But after “1,700 students left school with Bibles” in the wake of one of those “passive” distributions in 11 schools last winter, the atheist groups decided to make a point. They asked for permission to distribute some materials of their own, including books and pamphlets with titles including “An X-Rated Book,” “Jesus Is Dead” and “Why I Am Not a Muslim.” Which if I’m not mistaken is a douche move.
Ms. Williams is mistaken. It is not a douche move. It is a responsible protest. Is the only protest that she won’t regard as a “douche move” one that is completely unobjectionable and does not annoy anyone in any way? Because that isn’t any kind of protest action at all.
And what’s so bad about these particular pamphlets and books? “An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity in the Bible” is a biblical exegesis. Jesus Is Dead is Robert Price’s analysis of the historicity of Jesus; it’s a serious book that examines the sources and the myths. Why I Am Not a Muslim is Ibn Warraq’s call for human rights and rejection of the dogma of Islam.
In the light of a court decision that allows Christian groups to flood the schools with lies and nonsense, a secular group decides to offset that influence by providing honest scholarship and serious discussions of the issues within religion. What’s douchey or obnoxious about that? Did Williams just recite the titles expecting people to react emotionally with shock and horror because they’re obviously critical of faith? Has she read any of the books in question?
What’s really a douche move is for a columnist to blow the Jesus dog-whistle to get knee-jerk support for labeling atheists as “obnoxious”, without considering for an instant the substance of their arguments. Oh, no, they said “Jesus is dead,” they must be bad, bad people, and you must agree because they are giving kids rational reasons to turn away from faith. Oh dismay. Oh fretful dithering. Oh how dare they.
And I say, oh fuck Jesus and Mohammed and all those other frauds, and be grateful that atheists are being gentle and generous in their efforts to help educate children. Because those pious fanatics who oppose us won’t be generous in return.
Jun 14 2013
I recently highlighted NK Jemisin’s speech in Australia, which pointed out the disgusting degree of racism still common in the US. One small part of the speech noted a remarkable recent occurence.
…the membership of SFWA also recently voted in a new president. There were two candidates — one of whom was a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole. In this election he lost by a landslide… but he still earned ten percent of the vote.
It was clear who she was talking about: flaming hatemonger and regressive thug Theodore Beale, who also goes by the name Vox Day. Not a good person, a really nasty, unstable, vicious wackaloon. And of course, Vox Day noticed and flew into a furious snit, demanding apologies and threatening lawsuits, because he’s so annoyed at being called a racist.
So he wrote a post denying the accusations and making his demands. He also insists that he can’t be kicked out of the Science Fiction Writers of America because he’s a paid-up lifetime member.
If you go to his page now, here’s a sample of what you’ll find.
Reality isn’t racist, Mr. Sanford. Neither is history. They simply are. And you can’t escape the fact that Ms Jemisin lied about me and about the state laws of Texas and Florida. As some of my Australian readers have already pointed out, Ms Jemisin has no idea what she’s talking about concerning Australian race relations either.
Oh, that doesn’t sound so angry or racist, you may be thinking. But what you’re seeing there is the stripped-down, cleaned-up version of his original racist rant, probably revised when he realized that threatening lawsuits for being called a racist while flinging racist insults was probably not a wise idea.
Fortunately, screen shots of the original tirade were captured. It’s rather different. Another short excerpt from the ugly:
So, perhaps their assertions should be taken with at least a small grain of salt. And it should be obvious that, being a libertarian, I am not actively attempting to take away anyone’s “most basic rights”. Jemisin has it wrong; it is not that I, and others, do view her as human, (although genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens), it is that we do not view her as being fully civilized for the obvious reason that she is not.
She is lying about the laws in Texas and Florida too. The laws are not there to let whites “just shoot people like me, without consequence, as long as they feel threatened by my presence,” those self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend themselves by shooting people, like her, who are savages engaged in attacking white people.
Keep in mind that Jemisin is black. Here’s Theodore Beale coming right out and saying that while she’s human, she’s not fully equal to a white man, himself (and please, his invocation of “genetic science” is reeking bullshit). And then he says that the racist “stand your ground” laws some states have in place are there to protect white people like him from savages like her.
Or how about this?
Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support.
Racist as hell.
Hmm. Why do you think he felt it necessary to cut that kind of racist noise out of his post?
There is now a rising swell of people calling for Beale’s expulsion from the SFWA (and apparently there are provisions within the organizations by-laws that allow for that). It sounds like a good idea to me. Remember, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept, and Beale certainly is setting a low standard. I’m surprised they’ve let him poison the organization for so long.
Then comes the tricky question. What about the 10% who actually voted for that turd?
Oh, wait, I didn’t dig deep enough into the sewer. Beale did not edit his complaint; he posted a cleaned-up version for circulation. The racist rant is still online in all of its feculent glory! The man has no shame at all.
Jun 14 2013
This 11-year-old boy, Sebastien De La Cruz, can really belt them out. Here he is singing the national anthem:
It’s an awful song, but De La Cruz can cope — I hope he’s getting some serious voice training.
But…do you want to hear how people reacted to “a beaner singing the national anthem”? No, you probably do not. There are so many proud and unabashed racists in this country.
The facts are that De La Cruz is a native American citizen and the son of an American Navy veteran. But he’s brown.
Jun 14 2013
I really hate reality TV — I saw a few episodes of the original Survivor when it first aired, and the petty bickering and the conniving and the efforts of the creators of the show to aggravate the conflict just completely turned me off. It was artificially Darwinian to an extreme. Every other reality program I’ve heard about since seems to follow the same vicious and invidious formula.
And then I stumbled onto Strip Search. I watched the first couple of episodes because I’m a fan of Maki’s webcomic, Sci-ence, and then found it addictive. The premise is simple and basically the same as a lot of reality TV programs: a group of people are set up in a house, and every day they are given a challenge to meet, the winner gets immunity, and two of the others have to up against each other in an elimination challenge…so the population gets slowly winnowed down to a final winner.
But here are the differences: the people are all webcomic artists. The challenges are all testing elements of what it takes to succeed with a webcomic, so in some ways its more like a training boot camp. Most importantly, all the people being tested seem genuinely nice; they get along, they aren’t scheming to screw each other over, they like each others’ work. The way the dynamic is set up, it’s the two show creators, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, who judge the work in the elimination rounds, who are the force of selection — so it’s not the players working to get each other kicked out of the house, it’s players cooperating against an external agent.
It’s very Kropotkinesque, and that makes it a pleasure to watch.
The final episode airs next Tuesday, so I don’t know who’s going to win yet (and the nice thing is, I don’t care; I got into it by following Maki, but I’ve gotten to like all of them), and I can’t spoil it for you. But it’s a webseries so you can easily start from the beginning.
I may have just consumed the entire weekend for some of you, who will start watching the whole series just now.
Jun 14 2013
A Republican legislator is trying to give religion yet another special privilege. He wants to insert a provision into a defense bill that says the federal government can ignore the first amendment when it comes to putting up monuments.
“This provision creates a foundation in federal law for emblems of belief on war memorials and monuments,” Hunter said Thursday. “Emblems of belief … should be protected.”
Oh, really? Why? So you can only honor those people who have the right beliefs? What happens when, say, someone puts up a memorial to the Muslims who died in New York?
Go vote on the poll.
Jun 14 2013
Wow, Australia, are you trying to shame the US by example or what? While rape is endemic in our military, and old greyheads waffle about in committees avoiding stating anything clearly about the problem, look at Lieutenant General David Morrison of the Australian army laying down the law.
Yes. The time is long past due to recognize that equality by race and sex and sexual orientation is a moral obligation. I commend Morrison for being at least one man who stands up for that obligation.
But what about us? Rebecca Watson is exactly right.
Recently, I’ve been discussing and sometimes arguing with friends about the current state of the skeptic and atheist communities. It is my firm belief that we are, as a “movement,” cowardly, and that is why we ultimately will fail. There are too many of us, and especially too many people in positions of power, who are unwilling or unable to take any real action that might help stop the incessant harassment of women in our ranks, or to take any other real moral stand. I’ve seen people who think of themselves as allies actively covering up sexual harassment at an event and then going on to invite the harasser back to speak. I’ve seen “skeptics” write blog posts defending Brian Dunning as a hero instead of an embarrassment. I’ve seen organization employees privately rage about the nonsense their boss is spewing but then refuse to even try to hold him accountable. If we’re going to get anywhere, we have to demand better. We need leaders who are more like Lt. Gen. Morrison.
I feel that American leadership in a lot of domains has been crippled by that Clintonian disease of triangulation — straining to find a position that accommodates a maximum number without regard to truth or moral status. That’s a dangerous approach when the majority is not moral, and often, not even right.