In which the co-blogger attempts action at a distance

Dinosaur v. Mammal. Photo taken from my back porch.

Our fearless leader is down, so it’s time to put on our Sixpak Chopra outfits for a little visualization. Imagine the Audubon’s cottontail in the image as the demons that have possessed PZ’s gastrointestinal system, and the jay as our Waves O’ Healing Energy® preparing to kick the rabbit’s butt. It’s guaranteed infinitely more effective than the most popular homeopathic remedies commonly available.

Spoiler: half a second after this image was taken, the jay hopped on to the rabbit’s butt, chasing him away from the sunflower seeds.

Secular charities are almost there

It takes something really important to get me to burrow up out of my sickbed, especially when I was so enjoying the dark coolth nestled in a web of soft fungal mycelia and was busily contemplating the various flavors of soil. But this issue matters. It’s the final two days of the Chase Giving campaign, with multiple tiers of donations depending on the ranking. Last time I listed the three secular candidates, you all dutifully put the first two in a solid position…because each of you had two votes.

so Foundation Beyond Belief is securely on a high tier. Poor Camp Quest has the lowest number of votes. If you didn’t see the original posting and didn’t vote before, click on that link and give them a little love. Well, cash. Even better — it mulches.

The Secular Student Alliance is doing OK, but they’re teetering right on the edge of a tier. If you’ve got a second vote, make sure they don’t fall off the edge by clicking on that link!

I also want you to think about how hard it was to type this post with only a pair of tiny paired anterior ganglia and no arms. I had to do it by writhing elaborately. And now my keyboard is a slimy mess, just like the rest of me. If I can make this sacrifice, you should be ashamed for not bothering to click, you with your endoskeletons and your digits and your image forming eyes.

The usual daily workflow around here will be temporarily diverted

Did you get my message? HELLO? I spent the whole night howling into the giant white porcelain telephone we keep in the bathroom, trying to let you know I wasn’t feeling well and probably wouldn’t make it in to work today, and that you’ll have to get your internet entertainment somewhere else.

Hello? HELLO?!? Maybe it was a really bad connection. There was this ghastly background echo of gagging and retching. I also wasn’t firing smoothly on all circuits: I was delirious and dehydrated, and I think I briefly turned into a worm, all endoderm and smooth muscle and peristalsis. The hindbrain emesis circuitry was working just fine, though, and was doing a fabulous job of moving my dinner through my digestive tract. Backwards. Let me tell you, I really regretted all those jalapenos I’d put on my salad.

I tried to warn you. I was sending out warnings to every one of you every 45 minutes all night long. I was pretty frantic. Oh, well, maybe they’ll show up in your voicemail later.

Uh…one thing. I might have accidentally uploaded an attachment. I pushed the button on the upper right of the porcelain phone’s console, and it made a wooshing sound like it was sending something big off into the world.

You might not want to open that.

Why I am an atheist – Mitchell Hayden

I consider myself lucky that I never really had a faith to lose. I was raised in a Christian family, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t questioning the things I heard in church. I made the firm decision to reject any organized religion in third grade when the leaders at my first and only Awana meeting told me (and most of the other children) that we would burn in hell for eternity if we continued to read Harry Potter. Luckily my family is not so ridiculous that they’d keep me in such an environment, and I was free to never have to go back. From that point until late into my high school career I considered myself a Deist. Just because organized religion was awful didn’t mean there wasn’t a kind loving god right? I was happy to think this until I began identifying as a skeptic. Even after my mother also rejected organized Christianity there were still a multitude of woo filled beliefs to contend with. The more educated I became the more I began to doubt all the things I had grown up with. “The Secret,” “Angel Therapy,” tarot cards. It didn’t take long for the idea of a god to follow the other foolishness down the drain. I’m now a proud and active atheist. There was a time when I thought leaving all the comforting ideas behind would be hard, that their absence would bother me. The exact opposite is true. The more I see how harmful those ideas are, the more sure I am I’m right. I could never go back to supporting beliefs that would keep people miserable because they think that their actions will lead them to a salvation that doesn’t exist.

Mitchell Hayden

Is it time to bury Mitt yet?

In a meeting Mitt Romney had with a gang of millionaires, one class traitor dared to secretly record his words…and then turn the recording over to that pinko commie rag, Mother Jones. Mitt Romney unleashed is a thing to behold, the plutocratic beast revealed.

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

You know, I think Mitt Romney paid a much, much smaller percentage of his income in taxes than I did last year, or the year before, or the year before that. Who is the moocher here? Who isn’t doing his fair share to support the American government?

There’s much more at the link, and more to come…the magazine is trickling out the juicy stuff. Here’s their summary:

Here was Romney raw and unplugged—sort of unscripted. With this crowd of fellow millionaires, he apparently felt free to utter what he really believes and would never dare say out in the open. He displayed a high degree of disgust for nearly half of his fellow citizens, lumping all Obama voters into a mass of shiftless moochers who don’t contribute much, if anything, to society, and he indicated that he viewed the election as a battle between strivers (such as himself and the donors before him) and parasitic free-riders who lack character, fortitude, and initiative. Yet Romney explained to his patrons that he could not speak such harsh words about Obama in public, lest he insult those independent voters who sided with Obama in 2008 and whom he desperately needs in this election. These were sentiments not to be shared with the voters; it was inside information, available only to the select few who had paid for the privilege of experiencing the real Romney.

It ought to demolish his campaign.

It won’t. The Republican faithful will all delude themselves into thinking they all belong to his club of millionaires, or that they will be, once the mighty Rethugs get power and sweep away all those obstacles to their ascendance, like taxes and black and brown people and all those damn foreigners.


Wondering where all those moochers live? Oh, look: a map.

Hey, isn’t that the Republican base?

Mark your calendars, desert folks

The California Desert office of the National Parks Conservation Association is sponsoring a series of free talks on desert environmental issues, especially as they relate to climate change, and they’ve asked me to present one this month. Here’s the description from the NPCA’s email alert:

Tuesday, September 25, 6 p.m.

In the Old Growth Desert
Join environmental journalist and natural history writer Chris Clarke on a journey through the California Desert’s old growth! In this presentation, Clarke weaves striking photography and decades of scientific research to convey a stunning fact: millennia-old plants are all around us in the desert, lining freeways and reigning over vacant lots.

The venue will be the Palm Springs Public Library, 300 South Sunrise Way off Baristo, Palm Springs, California. Come on by and say hello.

Godlessness gives strength

Ain’t this the truth?

So that’s my story in a nutshell. I highly doubt you’ll be seeing it on your current affairs television show as they tend not to like defiant, questioning, atheist cripple stories. They’re not very inspiring for the viewers.

But at least you can read Holly Warland’s story online. She was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when she was 12, and realized it wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t god-given, it wasn’t there for a purpose: she was the unlucky loser in a cosmic lottery. And she found strength in herself. Now that’s inspiring!

Mazinaatesijigan Gekinoo’amaadiwin

Free movies on the UMM campus, open to all!

Watch out for the woo, but you’ve got to appreciate the fact that oppressed peoples are expressing themselves in their own words about their lives and the destruction that has been wreaked on them.

Mazinaatesijigan Gekinoo’amaadiwin Film Series (Films with Knowledge)
For much of the 20th century, American Indian identities were shaped, at least in popular culture and public imaginations, by advertising imagery, photographs, and wild west shows. In the past few decades, American Indian artists and filmmakers have extracted their own image from these external forces, challenging the established codes of representation. The goal of the Mazinaatesijigan Gekinoo’amaadiwin Film Series is to challenge participants to examine and discuss how film impacts Indigenous culture, identity, politics, and stereotypes.

Dakota 38 (2011, 78 min., Smooth Feather Productions)
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
7:00 p.m., 109 Imholte Hall
In the spring of 2005, Jim Miller, a Native spiritual leader and Vietnam veteran, found himself in a dream riding on horseback across the great plains of South Dakota. Just before he awoke, he arrived at a riverbank in Minnesota and saw 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanged.

Finding Our Talk (2009, 72 min., Mushkeg Media)
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
7:00 p.m., 109 Imholte Hall
Every fourteen days a language dies. By the year 2100 more than half of the world’s languages will
disappear. This film examines three indigenous communities struggling to preserve their languages: The Rapid Lake Anishinaabe from Quebec, the Wahpeton Dakota Nation from Saskatchewan, and the
Guovdageaidnu Sami from Norway.

Star Dreamers, Part One: The Indian System, Featuring Filmmaker Sheldon Wolfchild (2012, 72 min., 38 Plus 2 Productions)
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
7:00 p.m., 109 Imholte Hall
By 1862, the system had brought the Dakota living on reservations in Minnesota to the brink of starvation, offering them little option other than dying of hunger in war. The system made war inevitable. his is the first of a three-part documentary series on the origins of the Dakota War.

Independent Indigenous Film & Media Shorts Featuring Filmmaker Missy Whiteman
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
7:00 p.m., 109 Imholte Hall
A compilation of short films :
Coyote Way (2012, 5 min.)
Nawa Giizhigong (2012, 7 min.)
Indigenous Holocaust (2008, 5 min.)
Neinoo (Mother) (2007, 3 min.)
Walk in Shadows (2004, 7 min.)

The best thing I’ve read today

I know it’s early, but I expect it to be the best thing for a few days yet. David Byrne writes about his love affair with sound, and I came away from it feeling like I’d both learned something new and that it fit well with other ideas I already had — it was a revelation to see how well music and evolution fit together.

Because music evolves. Byrne’s thesis is that it evolves to fit its environment (sound familiar?), and that you can see the history of a genre of a music in its sound. It’s all about the spaces it was played in, which shapes the kind of sound can be used effectively…and he makes the strong point that you can’t fully appreciate the music of a culture or a time when you transpose it to a different space. He goes through all kinds of music, from medieval chants (cathedrals!) to hip hop (cars!). The iPod isn’t just a passive delivery system for generic music, it influences how music will sound — ear buds represent a completely different sonic environment from a cluttered dance club.

Apparently, David Byrne is an Ecological Developmental Biology kind of guy. I like him even more already.

Because that’s what eco devo is all about. Development and environment are all intertwined, with one feeding back on the other — species are products of the spaces they evolved and developed in, and cannot be comprehended in isolation. It’s one of the weird things about modern developmental biology, that we preferentially study model systems, organisms that have been able to thrive when ripped out of their native environments and cultured in the simplified sterility of the lab. My zebrafish live now in small uncluttered tanks with heavily filtered water; their environment is like iPods, simple, streamlined, focused with relatively little resonance. The zebrafish evolved in mountain streams feeding into the Ganges, in lands seasonally flooded by great monsoons, a vast and complicated opera hall of an environment. A wild zebrafish and a lab zebrafish are two completely different animals.

Oh, look. I have a new metaphor for issues I’ve been thinking about for some time. Thanks, David Byrne!

I might just make his essay part of the readings for my developmental biology course next term.