My sweet lord

Bill Donohue is hopping mad again — he’s got another wild hare up his butt and is fuming over another insult to his very Catholic sensibilities:

Catholic League head Bill Donohue called it “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever”.


The latest affront is a life-size sculpture of a naked man on a cross, made out of 200 pounds of chocolate, on display in New York just in time for Easter.

Come on, Bill, get over it. Shouldn’t Abu Ghraib have been “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever”? How about the injustice of our war in the Iraq? What about the ongoing denial of civil rights to homosexuals? There are a lot of horrors in the world that might prompt a good Christian man to unleash his righteous fury, but a giant chocolate Jesus really isn’t one of them.

Besides, the only real dilemma here is which piece you’re going to start nibbling on first.


Aww, somebody already ate the big bunny ears!

Old wounds

Boy, you jump on one bandwagon that starts to creak and rattle and fall apart and take a wrong turn down an ugly path, and no one lets you forget it. The Republic of T resurrects the ugly corpse of “Blogroll Amnesty Day”, I’m mentioned as one of the cruel participants, and
Lauren and Chris get in on the act. In case you don’t remember it, “Blogroll Amnesty Day”, or BAD as Chris puts it, was a brief moment when a couple of the A-listers announced that they ought to clean up their blogrolls and make them more representative of their current interests, open up opportunities for new blogs to get linked, etc. The net effect, though, seems to have been that the Big Dogs of the Blogosphere tossed a lot of people off their list of links and ended up rather clubbily talking to just themselves.

I thought BAD was a good idea, in principle — we ought to encourage some regular adjustment of blogrolls, be open to fresh blood — but it turned out to be a spectacularly bad idea in practice. Personally I tried to counter the tendency to narrow my interests with a Blogroll Open Enrollment Day (and I’ll be having another sometime in the future), but still, I’m always getting tarred with my association with the great blogroll purge of 2007.

You can find my complete blogroll listing here: it’s got something like 560 entries. The way I handle the extravagant length here on the main page is to display only a random subset of ten entries at a time, over on the left sidebar; which ten changes each time the page is loaded. I also use my blogroll — it’s not just a link dump on a page. I’ve got the RSS for each blog in my newsreader, and if I see a new blog I like I add it to the list of feeds (I also go the other way, and if the newsreader tells me a site hasn’t been updated in a month, I delete it). I periodically run a script on my newsreader’s OPML file that converts it to html, and I upload that to my blogroll page. Seriously, if you’re on my blogroll, I guarantee that I at least scan the titles of your posts each day, read a little bit of your articles regularly, and dip in and read the whole thing now and then.

So please, can everyone try not to cite me as one of those high-falutin’ wicked elitists who won’t condescend to link to the little people? Besides, I’m not an A-lister. I’ve been campaigning to be referred to as a ζ-lister, but everyone ignores that request, too.

First they came for the pirates…

OK, simple story: kid goes to school dressed as a pirate, eyepatch, inflatable sword, and talking about the flying spaghetti monster; kid is asked to remove the eyepatch several times; kid refuses; kid gets kicked out of school for a day. You may be disappointed to learn that I don’t see a problem. I think it’s fair for schools to enforce some minimal level of decorum, by all accounts he was asked politely to remove the eyepatch, and even the kids’ mother thinks he got a little carried away. A mild punishment like suspension to enforce the reasonable authority of the school administration is a fine idea.

Except for one thing. (There’s always just one more thing.)

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Godless, 1205: Godly, 778

We win! In a debate in London pitting Hitchens, Dawkins, and Grayling against a team of theists, Neuberger, Scruton, and Spivey, the audience voted solidly in favor of those obnoxious atheists.

I’m not sure what the consequences are, but it may mean that every Christian in England has to leave the country. Expect mobs of pious Anglicans to start washing up on beaches in Virginia and Pennsylvania any day now.

Don’t blame the dinosaurs

The mammalian tree is rooted deeply and branched early!

(click for larger image)

All orders are labelled and major lineages are coloured as follows: black, Monotremata; orange, Marsupialia; blue, Afrotheria; yellow, Xenarthra; green, Laurasiatheria; and red, Euarchontoglires. Families that were reconstructed as non-monophyletic are represented multiple times and numbered accordingly. Branch lengths are proportional to time, with the K/T boundary indicated by a black, dashed circle. The scale indicates Myr.

That’s the message of a new paper in Nature that compiled sequence data from 4,510 mammalian species (out of 4,554) to assembly that lovely diagram above. Challenging the ‘conventional wisdom’ that mammalian diversity is the product of an opportunistic radiation of species after the dinosaurs were wiped out at the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, the authors instead identified two broad periods of evolutionary expansion among the mammals: an early event 100-85 million years ago when the extant orders first appeared, and a radiation of modern families in the late Eocene/Miocene. A key point is that there is no change in rates of taxon formation across the Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) boundary—mammalian diversity was rich before the dinosaurs disappeared.

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The cunning Egnor evasion

Hmmm…it seems Dr Egnor, shill for the DI, has been criticizing me in some podcasts. I don’t listen to the DI’s podcasts and I’m not planning to start, but fortunately, Orac caught a few of his remarks. It’s all very peculiar: in a previous post, I showed him that it is easy to find lots of information in the published literature that rebuts his claim, I explained how the mechanism works, and I plucked out a single example and described it. What does Egnor call the scientific literature?

…I call it citation chaff. You know, chaff was stuff that pilots would throw into the air during World War II to confuse radar so that the enemy couldn’t see what was going on. And what Darwinists do is cite all kinds of papers, none of which actually address the question being asked and they assume that the person will be so overwhelmed in trying to answer these irrelevant papers that they’ll go away.

Well, his “question” was unanswerable by design: he asked for measurements of increases in information, but also excluded the use of any quantifiable metrics, like Shannon entropy. I gave him a qualitative description of mechanisms and I gave him examples, many examples, but now his fallback is to claim that the very existence of numerous scientific papers on the subject is simply “chaff”.

He should learn from Behe’s example. This strategy of denying the existence of volumes of information on a subject tends to backfire on them—all it accomplishes is to make them look willfully ignorant. That may work with their willfully ignorant followers who think that’s a virtue, but it tends to turn off people who are honestly interested in pursuing the evidence.