Everything you ever wanted to know about the Tunguska event

Except, unfortunately, what the heck it was. The Tunguska event was the mysterious explosion of unidentified origin that occured in a remote area of Siberia on 30 June 1908, flattening trees over 2000 square kilometers, but leaving no trace of a crater. Archy has put together a thorough account of what we know, including some of the speculation about the causes.

I rather liked the idea that it was a curse by the thunder god, Ogdy, mainly because “Ogdy” is such a cute name.

The Official Australian “Vent About World Youth Day” Thread

I must have a lot of Australian readers, or the few of you are really upset about this, because I’m getting a rising volume of email about World Youth Day. This is a bizarre Catholic get-together for young people — bizarre because, well, the idea of a pack of Catholic priests herding a flock of young boys and girls into one central mass sounds like the preliminaries to a feeding frenzy to me — which is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, a substantial chunk of which is being subsidized by Australian taxpayers. Isn’t it a bit peculiar that a secular government is paying for a massive membership drive for sectarian superstition? Furthermore, the Australian government is expanding police authority to restrict protests at the event, levying prohibitive fines for even trivial expressions of free speech.

All this for a goofy medieval religion that has decided that it needs to get jiggy with the young’uns to maintain its relevance.

Anyway, Australian atheists, agnostics, and secularists, you’ve got reason to be pissed off. The thread is yours.

“Mr Homosexual” would be an awesome name

At least, it beats “Mr Gay”, which sounds so frivolous. It seems the American Family Association, which you can tell from the name is yet another institution that has mistaken “patriarchy” for “family”*, was a little overzealous in their use of search and replace, and renamed an athlete named Tyson Gay briefly.

*Try it! Just mentally substitute “patriarchy” for “family” in the title of every right-wing organization that uses the term in their name, and it will suddenly make so much more sense.

Evolgen disputes my explanation!

RPM of Evolgen disagrees with my definition of synteny! This is terribly distressing. Especially since, strictly speaking, he is precisely correct. The word has evolved in its usage from the pure form that RPM is describing to a more colloquial, pragmatic, somewhat sloppier sense as used by people looking at comparative genomics rather than classical Drosophila genetics.

If you read contemporary evo-devo papers, my definition is more useful in comprehending what they’re saying. If you want to read Drosophila genetics papers, you better know what RPM is talking about, or god help you (and there is no god).

Something up Orac’s … alley

What? How could Orac pass this story by?


A monument to the enema, a procedure many people would rather not think about, has been unveiled at a spa in the southern Russian city of Zheleznovodsk.

The bronze syringe bulb, which weighs 800 pounds and is held by three angels, was unveiled at the Mashuk-Akva Term spa, the spa’s director said Thursday.

“There is no kitsch or obscenity, it is a successful work of art,” Alexander Kharchenko told The Associated Press. “An enema is almost a symbol of our region.”

In related news, the head of the Zheleznovodsk Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau committed suicide today…

Catching up with old news

I have been very, very bad. I have been neglecting my obligations as a member of the blogosphere to share links to interesting stuff, all because I’ve been busy with travel and work. I missed the Carnival of the Liberals, the Accretionary Wedge, I and the Bird, the Carnival of Space, and even the Carnival of the Godless. I am wicked, the worthless scum of the earth, a footling twallop who deserves your scorn and needs to be demoted.

But I’m trying to catch up! I promise I’ll do better!

I also overlooked Revere’s Sunday Sermonette, which I usually catch: the latest is a tribute to George Carlin, but even worse, I missed the one from the week before, which was about one of my comments. At least Revere understands what I meant when I compared religion to knitting.

I haven’t had an open thread in a while, either. Go ahead, excoriate me.

I think this can be my last post on the debacle called Expelled

The propaganda movie opened in Canada, and the weekend box office numbers are in.

$24,374. Nationwide.

So Canada is a smaller country in population than ours, and their money is worth a little more than ours, but still…I don’t think we can call that anything but a flop.

Where’s Creationist Keith now? He was ranting about the hundreds of millions of dollars the movie was going to make, how it was going to trigger a world-wide change in attitudes towards evolution, and how it was going to get me fired. Boy, was that prediction ever wrong.

Evolving proteins in snakes

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

We’ve heard the arguments about the relative importance of mutations in cis regulatory regions vs. coding sequences in evolution before — it’s the idea that major transitions in evolution were accomplished more by changes in the timing and pattern of gene expression than by significant changes in the genes themselves. We developmental biologists tend to side with the cis-sies, because timing and pattern are what we’re most interested in. But I have to admit that there are plenty of accounts of functional adaptation in populations that are well-founded in molecular evidence, and the cis regulatory element story is weaker in the practical sense that counts most in science (In large part, I think that’s an artifact of the tools — we have better techniques for examining expressed sequences, while regulatory elements are hidden away in unexpressed regions of the genome. Give it time, the cis proponents will catch up!)

This morning, I was sent a nice paper that describes a pattern of functional change in an important molecule — there is absolutely no development in it. It’s a classic example of an evolutionary arms race, though, so it’s good that I mention this important and dominant side of the discipline of evolutionary biology — I know I leave the impression that all the cool stuff is in evo-devo, but there’s even more exciting biology outside the scope of my tunnel vision. Also, this paper describes a situation and animals with which I am very familiar, and wondered about years ago.

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How can a poll about the end of the world be pointless?

It’s the nature of these things to trivialize. Yet again, media hysteria fuels the absurd fear that flipping a switch in Switzerland will Destroy The World…and they’re running a poll to let non-physicists guess at the risks. This one has two polls: “Is the gaint[sic] particle smasher worth the risk?” and “Which do you think is more likely to destroy the world? Human actions or natural disaster?”

Go ahead, vote. Everyone’s opinion is of equal value in matters of nuclear physics.