This link is not safe for work

No no no. It is not. If you’re home alone, in a shuttered room, with a taser to use on any one who crashes in through the window to catch you looking…maybe not even then. Behold…The Squildo. I think just the name ought to give you enough of a hint of what’s on the other side.

OMG, it’s only $15. Why am I tempted? Why?

Oh, wait, no. That’s the shipping cost. It’s $138; suddenly, much, much less tempted.

The Stedman paradox

Ah, Chris Stedman. He visited Morris today, and gave a presentation at the Federated Church before sending people off to community activities. He was a very nice guy, and he told some very nice stories, and he was just generally nice. Nice. Lots of niceness. A whole afternoon of nice. So I will restrict myself to entirely constructive criticisms.

  • Why in a church? This was an event organized by Morris Freethinkers, representing their interest in promoting positive community interactions. I would have been more impressed if it were held in a secular venue, if it were made clear that these were atheists doing good, and challenging community Christians to join us. Instead, by putting it immediately under the umbrella of religion, the impression was made that we are following, not leading.

  • I’ve been in churches before, and this talk was indistinguishable from anything that might be said in a liberal Christian church anywhere: be kind, charity is rewarding, it’s good to help your fellow human beings. Aside from saying that he was an atheist a few times, there was nothing to make this talk stand out…absolutely nothing to explain why atheists also find virtue in kindness and charity and goodness. It does not make a case for atheism if you blend into the religious woodwork so thoroughly.

  • It didn’t help that, when describing his background, Stedman talked about being a religious studies major, a seminarian, doing interfaith work, hammering on his associations with the faithful. Oh, and by the way, he’s an atheist. Yeah? This is a guy who’s been neck-deep in Christianity his entire life, hasn’t removed himself from it at all but has made a career of immersing himself ever deeper in Jesus’ pisswater, and occasionally waves a tiny little flag that says “atheist” on it. I’d like to see Stedman actually challenge his audiences and make a real case for rejecting faith, while supporting good works, but I don’t think he could do it.

  • I was entirely sympathetic to the planned community activities (assisting in the art gallery in town, visiting the elderly, doing a highway cleanup), but I couldn’t do them as part of a church group, as a matter of principle. Who was going to get credit for this work? The church, of course. I will not and can not do that; it’s providing support for beliefs I consider contemptible. What would have been better is something to inspire freethinkers to do these works without the framework of a church. We are free of that bogus crap, let’s not promote the illusion that charity is part of religion.

  • Please don’t ask me to participate in anything held in a church again. It felt icky. I really don’t like temples to ignorance, even liberal ignorance.

I know the students mean well. I know the students want to do good for entirely secular reasons. What we need, though, are tools and ideas and inspiration to do so that don’t fall back on the trappings of religion, which simply reinforce the entirely false notion that morality is a function of the church. That’s how we got into this cultural trap in the first place, by perpetually promoting the belief that goodness equals godliness, and Stedman’s approach provides no escape hatch.

Midwest Science of Origins conference…all done!

I’m extremely impressed with this group of students, the organizers of the first ever #msoc.

They pulled it off: they brought in a great lineup of speakers, Marco Peloso, Michael Wilson, Dan Demetriou, and Neil Shubin,* who did a fine job of explaining how science works, why we’ve got the answers we do, and the importance of scientific thinking. A special thanks to Neil Shubin, a scholar and a gentleman who made a major effort to support a student run event.

They also drew in a respectable number of community and regional citizens. I’m so used to having science events in Morris, and the usual suspects — students and faculty of our science and math division — show up, but no one else. These two days I looked out at the audience in wonder, because I didn’t recognize most of the people!

Another bit of good news is that in that collection of student organizers are a fair number of sophomores and juniors…they aren’t all graduating this year. And what that means is continuity and experience, ripe for MIDWEST SCIENCE OF ORIGINS II! You didn’t really think we were completely done, did you? There will be another, even if I have to take a whip to the students (which I won’t, since they were all totally enthusiastic and disciplined about this one).

One last note of appreciation: I have to thank Answers in Genesis for making it all possible. It was Terry Mortenson’s lies and ignorance, proudly paraded in a series of church-sponsored lectures last year, that outraged these students and inspired them to respond productively, bringing in scientists to report the facts accurately, rather than that awful creationist propagandist. Good work, Ken Ham! It’s amazing how effective you are at motivating young scientists to fight back!

Although, speaking of Terry Mortenson, one thing I noticed at that lecture was that the church was packed: where were you church attendees this weekend? You missed an opportunity to learn something. But don’t worry, like I said, there will be another chance next year at #msoc2.

*I know, they know…all men. They tried to get more diversity in the speakers, but this conference was assembled on a shoestring, and there were other speakers who turned them down. Next time, with a proven track record, the hope is they’ll be able to get more money and be able to afford speakers from elsewhere other than the upper midwest, and also get more positive responses. First time events are hard, but now we’ve got momentum.

I get email

Seriously, people, I am so sick of the April Fool’s jokes. I just got this in my email.

Dear Dr. Myers:

I’m writing to you in your capacity as a biology faculty member at University of Minnesota Morris. I’m originally from Minnesota— I’m from just south of Mankato, and I’m a St. Olaf alum. Currently, I’m the Dean of Research at the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) in Portland, Oregon. My PhD is in Immunology, from the University of Colorado, and I did a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University. I noticed that you earned your PhD at U of OR. My partner’s daughter graduated from U of OR 2 years ago.

This past year at NCNM, we’ve launched a Master of Science of Integrative Medicine Research (MSiMR) program. It’s a 2 year accredited program that is a combination of an MPH and a Master of Clinical Research program. As integrative medicine is on the rise, it’s important to determine what works and what doesn’t. Our MSiMR students are building the evidence base for integrative medicine. We do applied, basic, and clinical research. It’s an exciting program that examines nutrition, exercise, behavior change, massage, herbal medicine, and other natural modalities.

In addition, the MSiMR program has the potential for international medical research. I personally have collaborations in Tanzania, Brazil, and Nicaragua, and will be taking two students with me to Tanzania this summer. Thus, students who are interested in global health may be interested in this program. I’m attaching 2 brochures so that you can get a flavor of the program.

I know Morris is a little out of the way, but I’m going to be in Minnesota visiting my family April 18th-22nd, and I’m happy to make the drive if you know of students who are interested in natural medicine (naturopathic or Chinese medicine degrees) or integrative medicine research. I interviewed at Morris when I was looking at colleges for undergrad. In the past, I’ve met with the pre-med clubs at St. Olaf, Gustavus, and Minnesota State Universities. I’d like to make sure that Morris students have the same opportunities. If you’d like me to give a seminar or an informal talk for pre-med or graduate school bound students, I’m happy to do so. I’m also available to drop by a classroom and chat for 10 minutes if you think your students would be interested.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I am being teased. I would so love to have Heather visit my classroom, just to see the look on her face when the horde of students raise their heads, eyes all a-glitter, and smile and bare their needle-sharp fangs in those last few minutes before she is shredded. I suspect, though, that if I eagerly offered her access to the students, she’d look a little closer at the content of my site and flee like a tuna before the shark.

Have you ever noticed that real polymaths tend not to call themselves polymaths?

I was alerted to the existence of Jonathan Bishop on twitter: he is, apparently a super-genius who will “write papers on-demand” and “work with leading academics” in just about any field. As proof of his bonafides, he plasters a photo of him wearing a mortar board everywhere. I’ve got one of those goofy hats somewhere, I should start wearing it more often. So I’d look smart.

The hat is silly, but what he says is sillier.

I’d like to know whether HERV is linked to Lucy’s more rigid brain as I believe schizophrenia makes the brain less ‘rigid’.

My question now is: can/did retrotransposons viruses transfer from fruit flies to humans via fruit to create more rigid brains?

So many assumptions: what does Mr Bishop know about endogenous retroviruses? What does he know about the molecular biology of Lucy’s brain? What does it mean to say a brain is more or less rigid? Where’s the link between this putative rigidity and endogenous retroviruses? Why are we drawing a link between australopithecines, schizophrenia, and retroviruses?

To answer these questions, I checked out Mr Bishops’ website. Something about it reminded me of Kent Hovind, for some reason.

Hi, my name is Jonathan Bishop. I am an IT polymath with professional expertise and Masters degrees in the scientific, legal and economic aspects of online communities and e-learning systems. I have direct experience in working in government, industry and academia and using this to push the boundaries of online community and trolling research. I hope that by the end of my career to have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of knowledge, practice and policy in the fields of information technology, the arts, law and sciences.

Oh. Well. I guess that settles that. Of course, when I looked at his publications, just about all I see are conference presentations at IT meetings; I don’t see much evidence of a polymath.

You have reached The Official Website of Jonathan Bishop. I am regarded by Incisive Media to be one of ‘Britain’s foremost exporters of online community and e-learning research to the USA and Mainland Europe‘. I am regarded as the leading authority in the world on trolling and increasing participation in online communities.

Never heard of him. Oh, and the “trolling research”? He’s got a couple of blog entries about some incident at a football game. If that’s all it takes to be an expert in trolling, I must be the Einstein of trolls!

I told him that he was babbling BS. So he replied:

We’ll see Mr Myers when my empirical research paper on plasticity and social/emotional/cognitive imparment is published!

Oooooh, he’s submitted a paper. Where, I wonder?

I sent it to Nature Neuroscience, so it will probably get into the Daily Mail after! I am based at the Insitute of Life Science!

Heh. Chewtoy. He’ll probably appreciate the brief surge of traffic this post brings to him.

Enriching Vibrants? WTF?

I thought Dave Futrelle was pulling an April Fool’s joke for a moment. He’s got post up, full of quotes, on these conversations racist MRAs are having about Enriching Vibrants. That phrase sounds like great name for a New Age band, but no…it is apparently a term of art for having sex with immigrants or non-white people. I think. Their scribblings are so incoherent and badly written, and they are so incapable of making a simple clear point, that I have no idea what they could actually be talking about.

But Futrelle’s links are valid. I looked at those sites, and the “vibrating enrichers” stuff is only a small part of the offensiveness flourishing in the Men’s Rights cesspit of the internet.

Unless…could it be…are the MRAs just the grandest, most elaborate, extended April Fool’s joke ever?

Why I am an atheist – Steve

I went to a Catholic parochial school in St. Paul for six years, was an altar boy, could pretty competently read Latin, and casually accepted my Catholic faith. But I never believed in it, any of it. It all, even to a child, seemed to not…work. But I didn’t finally lose all semblance of any belief in a god until I worked for the prison system here in MN. I’m an RN, and have always chosen to work in the underbelly; treatment and detox centers, group homes for profoundly developmentally disabled adults who also had mental illness diagnoses, psychiatric units, hospice, and where I totally lost my faith, in a maximum security prison hospital unit.

Every day I addressed the health care needs of many offenders in the system, some not so bad, some inconceivably horrid, and dangerous, most stupid, lazy, and incompetent. But one offender, a sexual predator and murderer of children, totally destroyed any possible belief in a god. This man kidnapped a five year old girl from a church, and over the course of a day, forced upon her almost every filthy, violent, savage assault you can even imagine, and many you most probably can’t. But it wasn’t the rapes, or cigarette burns, or hair yanked out, or the beatings that killed her. It was his feces forced down her throat. Then he tossed her in a dumpster like some dead cat.

I usually never read the court transcripts from any of the men I took care of. I didn’t want to know, afraid I might be influenced to provide less than good health care. I wish I hadn’t looked up this piece of shit’s court record as well. But here’s what killed god for me. This little girl “loved Jesus” according to her mother. And god is supposedly all good, powerful, knowing etc. All I could think of was where is god? When this child went through every possible humiliation, forms of pain, terror, you add your own adjective here, where was god? Theodicy is always the fly in the ointment, Epicurus nailed it a long time ago, but the kindest thought you could take from this is that god is, as Twain put it, a malignant thug. No manner of convoluted magical thinking can excuse what happened to this little girl. If there is a god, even remotely like what most of us have been taught, he’s an enemy, beneath contempt, worthy of our hatred. If he exists, fuck him. But he doesn’t.

One last thing, to all those idiot whining pharmacists and other “health care professionals” who are troubled by Plan B birth control pills. I provided competent, professional care to the monster in prison. I changed his diaper, he was an old man by the time I knew him, after a quarter century in prison, gave him his medications, checked his blood glucose levels, in short, acted professionally. Professionals don’t get to pick and choose who they care for.

United States