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Jul 24 2014

Democrat behaving badly

The appointed Democratic senator from Montana, John Walsh, has a master’s degree from the United States Army War College. But does he deserve it?

An examination of the 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy” and posted online by The Times, revealed that about a third of Mr. Walsh’s 2007 paper consisted of verbatim language and extremely similar passages to other sources, without any kind of attribution.

“Another third is attributed to sources through footnotes but uses other authors’ exact — or almost exact — language without quotation marks,” The Times said.

That first clause made me pause…you can get a master’s by writing a 14-page paper? My undergraduate students write far more than that every semester. Thanks, War College, for cheapening the value of a degree so much!

Even if two thirds of the essay weren’t plagiarized (really, he wrote about 4½ pages to get his degree?), I’d say that isn’t graduate level work.

Jul 24 2014

Creepy ol’ Ben Stein

Remember Ben Stein? Lazy character actor best known for his mind-numbing drone, reactionary conservative who writes dull screeds on bogus economics, the creationist voice of Expelled? He’s in the news again, when we’d all rather he just goes away.

He wrote a bizarre rambling bit of nonsense for the American Spectator about how he travels the country, helping breathakingly beautiful women, taking them out to dinner, giving them writing advice, and boy, does airline food suck or what, and Obama is a failure. And he spent a fair amount of the essay just writing about this stunningly beautiful, absolute knockout young Eurasian woman who just happened to be in the airport.

As I walked through SFO in search of my driver, I came across a stunningly beautiful, absolute knockout young Eurasian woman. She was lying on a bench right next to where my driver was supposed to be, so I sat down next to her and chatted her up.

This story has evolved somewhat. Now she’s ambushing him and harassing him for money..

About five months ago, as I was walking through SFO to get into my car, I met a young woman who was extremely excited to meet me. She was literally jumping up and down with excitement. She told me she was a “performance artist” but hinted at some scary parts of her life. She said she would like to be a writer and asked if I could help. We exchanged texting addresses and off I went in my car. I spent fewer than five minutes talking to her in a busy airport terminal.

See? Ben Stein thinks Ben Stein is the kindest, sweetest person around. He deserves a medal for helping a young, beautiful woman out, giving her money and advice.

“I should get a medal for helping this woman. This is a person who appealed to me for money. She said she would send me some examples of her performance art. Some of those examples were racy, and some were not. I just don’t get what I have done wrong. She is mad at me because she wanted more money. … I didn’t expect anything from her.”

This “I am not a crook” moment was prompted by the fact that the young woman, Tanya Ma, released screen shots of their phone messages. And it’s true, he didn’t touch her, he didn’t do anything criminal — he just exposed the fact that the private Ben Stein is a deeply creepy person.

Sext messages below the fold. Wash your hands afterwards.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 23 2014

The squirreliest thing I’ve seen all day

The NRA is just plain nuts.

This guy starts out by telling us how the government sets education policy, access to public parks, labor policies to protect minorities, and then springs his case on us: we should treat guns the same way. We need guns. We ought to treat them like food, shelter, education, and voting — wonderful things that the government ought to subsidize. So later he even suggests that the government ought to provide free shooting ranges, and a yearly allotment of free ammunition.

Further, progress through the school system ought to require gun training. Why? Because we need guns.

No, we don’t. We need jobs, we need shelter, we need education, we need food, we need clean water, but hell no, we don’t need guns. He says that our gun policy is designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous…exactly right. I want to be protected from guns. I’d rather not have to worry about some freak with an automatic rifle when I walk to the grocery store; guns are bad, since they’re tools for killing people; and oh man, guns are dangerous.

But this fool says, What if instead of gun-free zones, we had gun-required zones. No thank you.

He also says,

Sound crazy? Think about it.

OK. I thought about it. It’s utterly insane. The NRA is a festering cesspool of batshit lunacy.

Jul 23 2014

Botanical Wednesday: Cruel bird

This bird, over many generations, has warped the poor Centropogon‘s flower into that bizarre curve.

Jul 23 2014

They don’t understand allometry!

I think the engineers are just trying to wind me up, again. Joe Felsenstein tackles a paper published in an applied physics journal that redefines evolution and tries to claim that changes in aircraft design are a good model for evolution. It’s a terrible premise, but also, the execution is awful.

But permit me a curmudgeonly point: This paper would have been rejected in any evolutionary biology journal. Most of its central citations to biological allometry are to 1980s papers on allometry that failed to take the the phylogeny of the organisms into account. The points plotted in those old papers are thus not independently sampled, a requirement of the statistics used. (More precisely, their error residuals are correlated). Furthermore, cultural artifacts such as airplanes do not necessarily have a phylogeny, as they can borrow features from each other in massive “horizontal meme transfer”. In either case, phylogeny or genealogical network, statistical analysis requires us to understand whether the points plotted are independent.

The paper has impressive graphs that seem to show trends. But looking more closely we notice that neither axis is actually time. If I interpreted the graphs as trends, I would conclude that birds are getting bigger and bigger, and that nobody is introducing new models of small airplanes.

And they really do redefine evolution.

Evolution means a flow organization (design) that changes over time.

I’m going to redefine bridge construction as gluing together lots of matchsticks. Hire me, everyone, to help fix your infrastructure problems! I can probably underbid everyone!

But it’s just kind of amazing that they’ve defined evolution without any mention of populations or shifting allele frequencies or any of the processes (which don’t include design) that lead to changes in genotype, or even a recognition of how these processes derive from a core unity and lead to diversity. Design done did it.

My big gripe is that they got this paper published that is all about allometry with scarcely any understanding of the concept. Here’s the abstract of The evolution of airplanes.

The prevailing view is that we cannot witness biological evolution because it occurred on a time scale immensely greater than our lifetime. Here, we show that we can witness evolution in our lifetime by watching the evolution of the flying human-and-machine species: the airplane. We document this evolution, and we also predict it based on a physics principle: the constructal law. We show that the airplanes must obey theoretical allometric rules that unite them with the birds and other animals. For example, the larger airplanes are faster, more efficient as vehicles, and have greater range. The engine mass is proportional to the body size: this scaling is analogous to animal design, where the mass of the motive organs (muscle, heart, lung) is proportional to the body size. Large or small, airplanes exhibit a proportionality between wing span and fuselage length, and between fuel load and body size. The animal-design counterparts of these features are evident. The view that emerges is that the evolution phenomenon is broader than biological evolution. The evolution of technology, river basins, and animal design is one phenomenon, and it belongs in physics.

Isn’t it cute how they claim biology as a small subset of physics? Blech.

But they only address a very narrow part of allometry. There is a functional constraint on form: you won’t survive if you have a human-sized body and a mouse-sized heart; if you scale the diameter of your legs linearly with your height, you won’t be able to walk; for a given metabolic rate and mass, you need a certain amount of respiratory surface area. That’s interesting stuff to a physiologist, but it’s also purely defined by necessity.

A developmental biologist might be more interested in how the relative sizes of different body parts change over time. Again, relative growth rates of different parts of your body are not linearly related; imagine being six feet tall with the same proportions as a baby. There are regulatory constraints on development that impose different rates in different areas.

But these guys are talking about evolution and allometry…and they treat it as a simple function of physics, where you need an engine of size X to propel a plane of size Y. Then how come every animal of the same size don’t look identical? Why doesn’t every passenger plane that carries a certain number of customers look the same (well, they do kind of blur together for me, but I’m sure any aerospace aficionado can tell me about all the differences between Boeing and Airbus. But many of these differences in animals are a result of inherited patterns, and phylogeny is essential to understand them.

For example, here’s a plot of brain mass relative to body mass (yeah, ugh, “lower” and “higher” vertebrates; let’s call them anamniotes and amniotes instead).

eq

Notice that there are two lines drawn. Both show an upward trend, with a slope that’s proportional to the 2/3 power of the body size (that N2/3 shows up a lot in allometric growth plots). But given a fish (an anamniote, or “lower” vertebrate) and a mammal (an amniote, or “higher”) of exactly the same body mass, the mammal will have a relatively and absolutely much larger brain.

Explain that, engineer, with nothing but algebra and no concern about phylogenetic relationships. It takes more to understand evolution than physics alone, and you have to take into account history, environment, inherited properties, selection, and chance as important parameters.

Oh, well, I’ve learned that physics must be really simple. I can design a plane from the ground up if I simply postulate a spherical 747. Ha ha, all those fools getting engineering degrees when they could just bring in a clever biologist to solve all their trivial little problems.

Jul 23 2014

Well, I am on a diet and trying to lose weight

So it’s very kind of John C. Wright to assemble a post that completely kills my appetite — in fact, it makes me feel like an inhabitant of the planet Miranda, only I can’t make up my mind whether to just lie down and die or go full Reaver. It’s titled The Secret to the Most Mind-Blowing Sex Ever. Very click-baity. I can only the imagine the disappointment of people searching for “mindblowing sex” and landing on Wright’s article, and feeling their generative organs shrivel.

It’s premise is that there’s more to sex than just the physical — and I’d agree with that. It’s emotional, it’s social, it strengthens the pair bond, it’s fun. But Wright isn’t thinking along those lines, and he also has a peculiar idea of what’s appropriate about the physical side of it.

If the union were physical only, nothing but the physical sensation of the orgasm would matter, and rubbing your penis in an anus, mouth, armpit, elbow, or an elephant’s ear, not to mention the crevasses of mothers and sisters and underage children, convenient animals, and fresh corpses or whatever floats your boat would be called sex just the same as sex is sex. The word sex would refer only to the hunger for the sensation, and not to the sex act.

I’m fine with people who get off on armpits. As long as the two people doing it (and I’m pretty sure that one requires at least two people; if you can do it solo, you must be built like a barnacle) are willing participants who both are enjoying it, why not? And of course I’d be among many agreeing that there’s a difference between sexual interactions and sexual gratification, and that regarding your mother as a collection of crevasses is more than a little icky. It is rather important in long-term sexual relationships that you consider your partner as a human being.

But no, that’s not what Wright is getting at. He has his own definition of the function and purpose of sex.

In order to understand the perfect sexual experience, we first must say what sex is: it is copulation, the process by which two halves of a sexual whole find complement and completion, and reproduce. The sex act is the act of sexual union in sexual reproduction. The sexes, however, are spiritual rather than physical: men are masculine in psychology and mind and soul, masculine in speech and deportment and nuance in all they do just as women are feminine. The sexual union is spiritual, ordered toward the end of reproduction.

That’s it. The whole purpose of sex is making babies. For someone who just lectured on interminably in flowery language about how sex is not physical only, he sure seems focused on the physical process of getting the lady preggers.

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, anything that hinders it is an imperfection. Prudence, if nothing else, would warn potential mother and potential fathers not to do the act which makes you a mother or a father until you have a household and loving union ready to rear children.

If you are artificially sterile, or using contraception, you are holding back, you are not passionate about the sex, you are trying to use the sex rather than surrender to the sex.

Gosh, is he an evolutionist? Because we’d be the types to say that the only ‘goal’ of evolution, the only measure of success, is sustained maintenance of the species. Of course, we’d also note that it’s a much more complicated process in humans than blindly inseminating random females (that’s more appropriate to sea urchins), and that sex also plays a role in strengthening bonds between people to help with survival, and we’d also note that lots of phenomena in biology have interesting side-effects that can be important in life histories, too. Sex is not exclusively ordered towards reproduction, so his premise is false.

We get to his real deal, at least: he’s against contraception. He doesn’t see any point to any kind of sexual interaction that doesn’t have the possibility of conception. Well, gosh, I’ll have to break the news to my wife that there were only three brief periods in my life when our sex life mattered, and that was when we were trying to have kids. All the rest was frivolity and illusion, and now that we’re all done with the kid stuff, we can stop. Because sex would be pointless.

It just gets worse from here. If you’re just trying to lose a bit of appetite, you can stop just a couple of paragraphs in — proceeding further takes you deeper into bulimia territory, as you discover that sex is also supposed to reinforce very traditional roles for men and women: master and servant.

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, you have to love the woman first, and want her to be the mother of your children, and want it more than you want life itself. Since sex is spiritual, you have to protect your children and your wife and make them safe. Your wife cannot be made safe if you are allowed to abandon her. Hence, since sex is ordered toward reproduction, you must swear, swear by Holy God and your hope of heaven, never to leave her, but to love and cherish her, in sickness and health, for better or worse, until nothing less than horrid death itself you do part.

For her part, she must vow to love and honor and obey.

And if you do not understand about that obey part, you do not understand women. She wants a leader, an alpha male, a chief, a Christ, and you must be willing to die for her as Christ was willing to die for you, or she will not feel secure in your love. If she does not swear to obey, you are not a couple, not a dyad, not a unit, but are still two sovereigns dealing with each other at arm’s length, not intimate, and she cannot trust you fully, cannot love you fully, not with a divine and self-sacrificing love. And she knows you don’t love her fully, not with a love that is more than madness, more than sense, more than the universe.

So much nonsense. Here’s the real secret to mindblowing sex: each treats the other as a sovereign, intimately. My interactions with my wife are not subservient to praising tropes in a dusty old holy book, nor are they dedicated to creating some third party (yeesh, especially not at our age).

Of course, this is John C. Wright babbling: Catholic, conservative, fan of Vox Day, science fiction writer. And if the puffed-up goofy prose in that column is any example, not a very good writer. Judging by the content, also a dogmatic idiot.

I think it would do him a world of good to go fuck an elbow, actually.

Jul 23 2014

AtheistTV, next week

I hope AtheistTV is good — they’ve announced they’ll be putting 50 years worth of their video archives on there, so I’m hoping for some interesting content. On the other hand, if it’s recycling crap from youtube as a fast way to get lots of noise online, well…it could get embarrassing. There has to be some quality control, somewhere.

I’ll check it out next Tuesday and let you know what’s on.

Jul 22 2014

Big News: God was not a Klingon

Poor Ken Ham: the media has been distorting his words. They claim that he said all the space aliens are damned to hell. He did not! He plainly said:

And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel.

See? They aren’t going to hell, because they don’t exist. He continues with a beautiful example of fundagelical creologic:

You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation. One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the “Godman,” to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin—the Savior of mankind.

Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian”!  Only descendants of Adam can be saved.  God’s Son remains the “Godman” as our Savior.  In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we see the Father through the Son (and we see the Son through His Word).  To suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong.

An understanding of the gospel makes it clear that salvation through Christ is only for the Adamic race—human beings who are all descendants of Adam.

Now that’s impressive arrogance and delusions of grandeur. So there are 1011 galaxies and almost 1023 stars in the universe, and they’re all entirely empty of intelligent life, and they’re all going to be burned away and discarded when a Magic Jew comes reappears on Planet Earth. We know this because of an ancient book written by people who thought the earth was flat and the sky was held up on pillars.

Ooooookay.

Jul 22 2014

Can someone dig up the corpse of Norman Vincent Peale and drive a stake through its heart?

He’s still stalking about, giving the complacent a lie to shut the dissatisfied up. No, positive thinking doesn’t work; affirmations have no power; The Secret is a scam. The @SciCareer guy put his foot in it again by touting some paper titled “Happy Thoughts May Help Postdocs Handle Stress.” As you might guess, the reactions of young academics aren’t exactly enthusiastic.

Are you for actual serious with this?? The article describes a new study–and I use this word lightly because it’s based on a one-time survey of 200 postdocs–that found less anxiety and depression in folks who self-reported more frequent positive emotions. So, not only do we have a clear correlation vs. causation issue here – who can say that it was the positive emotions that prevented the development of clinical symptoms and not vice versa – but it belittles the many real stressful problems that postdocs face that cannot simply be "thought" away.

The real money quote is this:  "When we suggest that people need more positive emotions in their lives, I know it sounds kind of frou-frou, but it’s actually a very simple practice.” OK. a) I don’t think you know what frou-frou means (frilly or ornamented, not fluffy or insubstantial, which is what you probably mean and you’d be right). b) No, it is not simple. Postdocs have personal, financial, and professional stresses on a daily basis. They are busy as fuck. To suggest that watching a sit-com or going for a run can change that reality not only presumes they have time for something like that, but has very strong undertones of "stop complaining and just change your attitude."

Anger is fuel for change, “positive thinking” is a worthless analgesic for the masses. Get angry, and do something about it.

Jul 22 2014

Commitment

Jonathan Eisen is walking the walk, turning down an endowed lecture opportunity because of their gender imbalance.

Thank you so much for the invitation and the respect it shows to me that I would be considered for this.  However, when I looked into past lectures in this series I saw something that was disappointing.  From the site XXXX where past lectures are listed I see that the ratio of male to female speakers is 14:3.  I note – the XXXX lecture series – also from XXXX – also has a skewed ratio (11:2).  As someone who is working actively on multiple issues relating to gender bias in science, I find this very disappointing.  I realize there are many issues that contribute to who comes to give a talk in a meeting or seminar series or such. But I simply cannot personally contribute to a series which has such an imbalance and I would suggest that you consider whether anything in your process is biased in some way. 

Sincerely, 

Jonathan Eisen

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