Rally for Raif

Skip lunch, Los Angelinos, you have something more important to do today.

Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger, was arrested in 2012 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes; the lashes to be administered each Friday, 50 at a time.

Raif’s crime? Founding a website, Free Saudi Liberals, that “insulted Islam through electronic channels.”

Free Saudi Liberals championed free speech and human rights.

Raif received 50 lashes on January 9, 2015. The lashings were suspended for a time, but the Saudi Supreme Court upheld Raif’s sentence on June 7, 2015, and the lashings could resume any time. Raif is reportedly in poor health.

On Friday, June 26, The Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles, in conjunction with Amnesty International, Muslims for Progressive Values, PEN Center USA, and the Los Angeles Press Club, will be protesting Raif’s sentence in front of the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles.

We ask the Saudi Government to FREE RAIF BADAWI and allow him to join his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three young children in Canada.

Please join us.

FRIDAY, JUNE 26, 2015
12:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Consulate General of Saudi Arabia in Los Angeles
2045 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Stacy Kennedy
(323) 385-1812
CFI|Los Angeles
(323) 666-9797


Bristol Palin, pregnant again

She has just announced another pregnancy out of wedlock, but she sounds so regretful and embarrassed…apparently this was an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, which is a very unfortunate way to start a new life.

“I wanted you guys to be the first to know that I am pregnant.

Honestly, I’ve been trying my hardest to keep my chin up on this one.

At the end of the day there’s nothing I can’t do with God by my side, and I know I am fully capable of handling anything that is put in front of me with dignity and grace.

Just a suggestion, but God didn’t and won’t help you with this. What would help is sex education, availability of contraception, and willingness to use it. There is no shame in sexual desire, and getting pregnant can be a happy occasion — but when you treat it with guilt, as an obstacle in your life, and refuse to acknowledge that there are fairly easy things one can do to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, that is a problem.

It’s also a problem when you hypocritically shame other women for their sex lives.

Racism is dead? I know journalism seems to be dying.

Hmm. An article claims that Dylann Roof got $4 million in donations, from a group calling itself “Citizens for White Rights.”

Only thing is, the news story doesn’t bother to link to any of its sources, adds an incorrect apostrophe to “citizens”, and only shows an image they say they were sent by this mysterious and ungoogleable organization that purports to show online transactions, so who knows, maybe it’s all a fake. I hope. In fact, the only source for this story anywhere on the web is this “newswatch33″ site, which looks a little dicey.

I’d like to see a little more verification before I believe any of this story.

A transitional turtle, Pappochelys


Turtles are nifty animals, with a remarkable adaptation: they’ve taken their ribs and shifted them outside their appendicular skeleton, flattened and expanded them, and turned them into a shell. It’s a clever twist, and it doesn’t require any magic — just a shift in timing during development, with a little extra signaling. The molecular biology and development explain mechanistically how it happened, and we also have fossils of some of the in-between states.

Odontochelys, a 220 million year old fossil, for instance, is a good example of a turtle ancestor that’s got some of the bits but not all. It has a well developed plastron, the belly armor of a turtle, but it doesn’t have a shell — it has broadened ribs that form a kind of flexible bony plate under the skin.

And now we have even older ancestor, from 240 million years ago, called Pappochelys. It lacks the plastron, too, instead having an array of ventral ‘ribs’, called gastralia. What caught the attention of the researchers was the true ribs. They also are flattened and broadened — they look like curvy cricket bats.

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Is the Pope Catholic?


This is my regular reminder: don’t fall for the traps and snares of the wily Pope. He’s been getting a lot of praise lately for his rejection of climate change denialism (and even I have felt faint twinges of affection for a Pope who can get Bill Donohue to puff out his lower lip and pout), but it’s not good enough. I didn’t find his Papal Encyclical to be that good — it’s great that it acknowledges the scientific evidence in the first chapter, but it’s theme is fundamentally anti-science, and he’s more than willing to abandon evidence if it contradicts his dogma.

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”.

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It’s a poor job-hunting strategy


You may have been left hanging in the case of Michael LaCour, the UCLA grad student who seems to have invented a bunch of his data. Before he was exposed, he’d been offered a job at Princeton, and was supposed to start working there this summer.

Whoops. Princeton has rescinded that offer.

Let that be a lesson to you all, kids: don’t fabricate data and don’t lie on your CV. It never ends well.

A distinguished pedigree

Last weekend, I was in Oregon at a science conference honoring my graduate advisor, Chuck Kimmel. We had science talks, and people gave little speeches, and we had a big ol’ party. One of Chuck’s colleagues and a former advisor of mine, James A. Weston, had something similar some years ago called the JAWFest; we called this one the ChuckFest. Jim told a few stories, and he also recited the intellectual lineage of Charles B. Kimmel, which is an old tradition — like the long recitations of fathers in the Norse sagas, or the begats in the Bible, only this is a chronological list of our educational forebears, and there’s a little less blood and violence.

I got the files from Jim and include it here, which is only fair since it’s also my intellectual pedigree.


Charles B. Kimmel graduated with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, where his advisor was…

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