Carnivalia and an open thread

Let’s catch up with the carnivals:

The Tangled Bank

We’ve got a new Tangled Bank at Dammit Jim! next Wednesday — send those links in to me or

Libra: There’s a choice to be made. You can live fast and hard in the hands of the coke dealer, or you can have the sedate life with regular maintenance, dealing with nothing harder than the occasional phosphate salt. The difference is as simple as a chain with a lock.


  1. says

    I’m thoroughly digging the astrological sarcasm.

    Me too. Since when were you so adept at reading the stars, PZ? It’s almost as if you’ve got a mini astronomer insid–OMFSM! WHERE’S PHIL PLAIT?!

  2. says

    Cross-post from Talkorigins:

    “If you really listen to the lyrics of Imagine then you realize that
    it represents everything that the Neo-Darwinists want. ‘Imagine
    there’s no Heaven…No hell below us…Nothing to kill or die for And
    no religion too…’ That’s exactly what the Darwinist establishment
    wants to do: get rid of religion. And that’s what we point out when we
    play less than 15 seconds of the song and show some of the lyrics on
    screen,” said Walt Ruloff Executive Producer and CEO of Premise

    Really, that’s Dobzhansky, Jerry Coyne, and a host of Catholic
    university biology teachers want?

    But your dishonesty doesn’t so much anger as bore us by now.

    Executive Producer and Chairman of Premise Media Logan Craft
    explained, “The fair use doctrine is a well established principle that
    gives the public the right to freely use portions of copyrighted
    materials for the purposes of commentary and criticism. While some may
    not like what we have to say or how we say it, we have the free speech
    right to do so – just as other political and social commentators have
    been doing for years”

    Yes, and if it were fair use, you’d get away with it. Trouble is, it
    is quite unlikely that it is fair use. Here, again, is my argument
    (two posts, mostly from an earlier thread on Talkorigins):……

    Now this is gallingly hypocritical:

    But the irony of this lawsuit was not lost on the film’s star Ben
    Stein, “So Yoko Ono is suing over the brief Constitutionally protected
    use of a song that wants us to ‘Imagine no possessions’? Maybe instead
    of wasting everyone’s time trying to silence a documentary she should
    give the song to the world for free? After all, ‘imagine all the
    people sharing all the world…You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not
    the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the World can live as


    I don’t think I’m the first person who has noted the irony of super-
    rich Lennon singing “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you
    can” (projection, John), but that’s not the issue here (John is dead,
    for one important reason).

    The question here is, would Stein be willing to give up his pay for
    the movie, and would Ruloff and Mathis willingly give a copy of
    “Expelled” over to be put onto bittorrent for free? Of course not.

    It’s total “do as I say and not as I do,” if hardly for the first time
    from this bunch of mendacious creeps.

    Glen Davidson

  3. Joe says

    Gemini, you will both die in a fiery auto crash this week. Virgo beware, Pluto is almost in Uranus.

  4. says

    PZ, what the hell are you doing wasting your time teaching biology and blogging?

    You could be making a fortune writing an astrological column. You’ve got the knack, my man!

  5. Horse-Pheathers says

    The cephalopod slithers as many await
    News of what happened to poor old Phil Plait,
    Unaware of the beaked-one’s most-sated “grin”
    And the sublty placed sticker: “Astronomer within!”

    “Alas” they all cried, “We want Phil back!”
    “No” he replied “He was too nice a snack!”
    “Oh well” they sighed “though it will quite pain us,
    We’ll have the bloke back when he passes Uranus.”

    (This is where I slink off to hide….)

    — Pheathers

  6. says

    Ran across this:

    Read on for one of the disturbed journalist’s greatest acts of journalistic creation, when he pretended he sat shiva with Rivers when he’d never even met her, and then defended hearsay as a practice sanctified by the Watergate investigators. (By the way, could somebody please explain how Stein still has his column in the New York Times’ Sunday Business section?)

    Stein achieved fame, but not fortune, in December of 1987, when he published a column in GQ under the pseudonym of “Bert Hacker.” The author–who began his piece with the line “I have known Joan Rivers for more than twenty years”–wrote that he’d had dinner with the comedienne ten days before the suicide of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg. Later, he said, he went to her home to sit shiva for Rosenberg.

    There were problems with this piece, all of the hallucinatory nature. Stein had never met Joan Rivers, much less been invited to her home to grieve with her. But now it appeared they would meet, in court–Rivers filed a $50 million libel suit against Stein and Condé Nast Publications.

    With that, Rivers says, Stein’s lawyer contacted her to deliver a threat: If she didn’t withdraw the suit, the world would soon know she was a lesbian who gave her husband the pills he used to kill himself. Rivers says she challenged Stein’s attorney to go public–and told him how much she was looking forward to announcing that it was Stein’s wife who lured her out of the closet.

    Stein had no comment until his appearance on the CBS This Morning show in February of 1988, when Kathleeen Sullivan suggested his reporting techniques leaned heavily on hearsay. Not at all, Stein said–his reporting methods were the norm. “The entire Watergate coverage was based on hearsay, and they gave the people who wrote that the Pulitzer Prize,” he told his astonished interviewer. “If you look at any day’s front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post, the huge majority of what is reported is hearsay.”

    So Expelled fits in with Stein’s personal history.

    Glen D

  7. MikeM says

    I’m kind of enjoying this article on CNN today:

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Human beings may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago, an extensive genetic study suggests.

    The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday.

    That’s pretty cool.

    How did the scientists determine this? What record of this do they rely on to figure it out? Is it something in the DNA? Does it have evidence in other fields (geology, etc.)?

  8. H.H. says

    Since a large part of the reason, PZ, that you’re so cool is that you make an effort to stay culturally relevant. And while I know you are a sci-fi fan, I’ve never heard you mention that you are a gamer, so I’ll assume you aren’t. However, as video games have surpassed films in terms of revenue, it isn’t surprising that some of the best sci of this generation isn’t to be found on the small or big screen–but on PCs and home game consoles. Titles like Halo, Gears of War, Half-Life, StarCraft and others offer unique universes with compelling storylines.

    In that vein, I’d like to mention that Portal, a recent sleeper hit, has one of the best songs to ever come out of the genre. Read up on the storyline, then listen to the tune (which contains massive spoilers) here: Still Alive.

    “The cake is a lie!”

  9. says

    MikeM @#14,

    There was some suggestion that the trigger for this bottleneck was the eruption of a supervolcano in Indonesia, now a volcanic lake called Toba.

    However, an article I can’t access in Science (10 May 1996: 817) called “Climate: Volcano-Ice Age Link Discounted” by Richard A. Kerr suggests the Toba eruption may not have had the effect previously supposed:

    Modern volcanic eruptions are dwarfed by the massive eruption of Toba, on the island of Indonesia, about 70,000 years ago. According to some theories, fallout from that giant blast cooled the Earth, decimating early human populations and driving the climate system into an ice age. Those hypotheses are put to the test by a year-by-year climate record buried in Greenland ice–and the results show that Toba wasn’t such a climatic catalyst after all.

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    I’m thoroughly digging the astrological sarcasm.

    Sarcasm? I um, well, um… yeah, I knew that.

  11. says

    while I know you are a sci-fi fan, I’ve never heard you mention that you are a gamer

    I used to be, back when the kids were around more, and I’ve played a little bit of Halo. But now I find I don’t have the reflexes to be able to compete on most of the games (my own children humiliate me with the games now), and time is even shorter, so no, it just doesn’t happen much. I do occasionally play a little WoW, but I mostly suck at it, and I just get on for a little brief virtual violence.

  12. SC says

    @ #21:

    Athanatos Online Academy is not accredited.”

    And you could’ve knocked me over with a feather.

    “Horvath states that the ‘Studies in Atheism’ course exposes participants to the writings and arguments of prominent and vocal atheistic spokespersons…”

    This may come back to bite them.

    I tried to look at the course description, but you have to register.

  13. amk says

    Anyone mind if I ask a dumb, speculative biology question? No? Good.

    I am aware that rattlesnakes have “pits” below their eyes that are sensitive to infra red. I am also aware that one the the stages in the evolution of the eye was light-sensitive pits, and that these pits still exist on some molluscs.

    So, are the snakes IR-sensitive pits similar to photosensitive pre-eye pits? If so, is it plausible that snakes could eventually evolve a second set of eyes, able to see in IR? ‘Cos that’d be cool.

  14. says

    I posted something like this on Talkorigins. Anyway, it’s really quite good information, from Nature:

    Nature 452, 840-845 (17 April 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06847; Received 15 December 2007; Accepted 22 February 2008

    Evolvability and hierarchy in rewired bacterial gene networks
    Mark Isalan1, Caroline Lemerle2, Konstantinos Michalodimitrakis1, Carsten Horn2, Pedro Beltrao2, Emanuele Raineri1, Mireia Garriga-Canut1 & Luis Serrano1

    EMBL/CRG Systems Biology Research Unit, Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), UPF, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
    EMBL, Meyerhofstrasse 1, Heidelberg D-69117, Germany
    Correspondence to: Mark Isalan1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.I. (Email:

    Top of page

    Sequencing DNA from several organisms has revealed that duplication and drift of existing genes have primarily moulded the contents of a given genome. Though the effect of knocking out or overexpressing a particular gene has been studied in many organisms, no study has systematically explored the effect of adding new links in a biological network. To explore network evolvability, we constructed 598 recombinations of promoters (including regulatory regions) with different transcription or -factor genes in Escherichia coli, added over a wild-type genetic background. Here we show that 95% of new networks are tolerated by the bacteria, that very few alter growth, and that expression level correlates with factor position in the wild-type network hierarchy. Most importantly, we find that certain networks consistently survive over the wild type under various selection pressures. Therefore new links in the network are rarely a barrier for evolution and can even confer a fitness advantage.

    Found at:

    This is an interesting bit of work in evolution, which ought also to help with re-engineering life. The News & Views article in Nature discussing this paper has this paragraph included in it:

    “This conclusion [that genomic networds are robust and evolvable] also flies in the face of the popular misconception among opponents of the evolutionary theory, who believe that the genetic code is irreducibly complex. For instance, advocates of ‘intelligent design’ compare the genome to modern engineered machines such as integrated circuits and clocks, which cease to function if their internal design is altered. Although sometimes it is instructive to point to similarities between design principles behind modern technology and those behind genetics, the analogy can only go so far. Engineered devices are generally designed to work just above the point of failure, so that any tampering with their construction will result in catastrophe. In the event of failure, new clocks can be purchased or central processing units replaced. But nature does not have that option. To survive–and so evolve–organisms must be able to tolerate random mutations, deletion and recombination events. And Isalan and colleagues’ work provides an important step forward in quantifying just how robust the genetic code can be.”

    Matthew R. Bennett and Jeff Hasty. “Genome Rewired.” v. 452 pp. 824-825 Nature. Apr. 17, 2008. p.825.

    Glen Davidson

  15. MAJeff, OM says


    Today, while doing some editing work, I was wondering: Why does my cat always want to lay on papers? (She just commandeered a draft chapter of my dissertation–well, it’s now one chapter but about to become two.)

  16. says

    Why does my cat always want to lay on papers?

    Because that’s the most inconvenient for you. If you want to work on the computer, by contrast, they’ll walk across the keyboard.

    It’s simply a question of what inconveniences the human the most.

  17. MAJeff, OM says

    If you want to work on the computer, by contrast, they’ll walk across the keyboard.

    She has never done such a thing. She is actually a cat who doesn’t get on the table or counters (and I’d know). [[OK, she may be too perfect. No begging. Doesn’t get on non-allowed furniture. Takes a hint when kicked off the bed because of sex.

    Why paper?

  18. Ichthyic says

    Why does my cat always want to lay on papers?

    Because paper is a good insulator.

  19. says

    She must be running a different algorithm than my little society is, then.

    Mine tag-team for maximum inconvenience; only time I’ve ever seen cats act like pack animals.

  20. SC says


    My offer of chapter feedback from a few days ago still stands. Won’t bring it up again, though, if you’re not interested. Good luck with it!

  21. MAJeff, OM says

    Because paper is a good insulator.

    Is it?
    It just struck me this morning when I had to extract several piles from under her..same thing happens whenever I’m grading.

  22. MAJeff, OM says

    My offer of chapter feedback from a few days ago still stands. Won’t bring it up again, though, if you’re not interested. Good luck with it!

    Offer? did I miss something?

    Thanks, but I’m ripping apart a five-chapter structure and reorganizing it in 8-chapter form this weekend. (Meetings with committee, and my own feelings of it being “jumpy.” Was going to turn in about 40 pages to the chair this weekend–prob closer to 100-120 of reorganized text..eep.)

  23. SC says

    MAJeff – Oh! Yes, I did make the offer earlier, but it was on Monday after I returned from Skeptics in the Hub and I wasn’t entirely sober. I can’t remember what thread it was on, but for all I know it had been dormant for a while; don’t know why I assumed you had seen it. I was where you are not so long ago, so I empathize. I also enjoy giving feedback, and am quite good at it, if I do say so myself. Sounds like you’re making good progress, though!

  24. Anton Mates says

    So, are the snakes IR-sensitive pits similar to photosensitive pre-eye pits? If so, is it plausible that snakes could eventually evolve a second set of eyes, able to see in IR? ‘Cos that’d be cool.

    Actually, I think it’s generally accepted now that pitvipers’ pits are a second set of eye; they function as pinhole cameras and can form low-resolution images. Apparently the IR images and the visual ones are then combined in the optic tectum for a wide-spectrum view of the world. Seems plausible to me that snakes could eventually evolve lenses in those pits and sharpen up their thermal vision.

    Wikipedia cites a bunch of research on the subject of infared perception in snakes, including this paper.

  25. MAJeff, OM says

    Posted by: SC | April 24, 2008 9:53 PM

    Thanks–things are chugging toward a december grad—I’m on the “fuck it being good; is it good enough?” track, and the committee is far happier (bastards!). I’d consider taking you up, but I don’t have any money to pay for “editorial services,” and wouldn’t feel right taking advantage like that. But, thank you.

  26. Sili says

    Interesting to hear that those snakeeyes work as a pinhole camera. When I read the original question my thought (as a failed chemist) was that it couldn’t be imageforming since I couldn’t think of a lense material that wouldn’t absorb the infrared radiation. For instance the human lense is most water (right?) so that must retain IR prety effectively.

    This WulffMorgenthaler remind me of Joyce.

    And I have to admit Speedbumb made me smile.

  27. amk says

    Thanks for the answers. I hadn’t thought of water absorbing IR, and I don’t suppose there are too many organic materials that aren’t mostly water. That’s one SF concept severely curtailed.

  28. J Myers says

    Anyone know what’s up with Daylight Atheism? I’m being redirected to some web hosting ad when I try to go there.