Greg & PZ’s Excellent Party is about to hit one of those arbitrary round-number milestones: sometime soon, someone will make the one millionth comment. Our generous Seed overlords wish to mark this event with celebrations all over the world, and are planning to bestow upon us small sums of money for the purpose of purchasing refreshments at gatherings of bloggers and readers near the places where our physical forms abide.

In other words, we get to have a party and Seed will pay for the beer.

So Greg Laden and I are going to organize a joint party — if I tried to have one in Morris, the contrast with my readership would make me look sad — so we’re going to get together somewhere in the Twin Cities area some evening.

The best time for me will be the evening of Thursday, 18 September, because that’s when I’ll be driving through on my way to Madison anyway. Now we’re looking for a nice venue: something with seating for a throng, that’s not too noisy (we’ll provide the noise, instead of a football game on the big screen or a band on the stage), and with good food and beer, somewhere near the Twin Cities, and where some of you readers might actually show up. Make suggestions here and at Greg’s place and we’ll pull it together.

The recent bigfoot flap…a little late

I’ve spent my evening curled up with a wracking cough and nasty pains in places I didn’t know I could hurt — I think I sprained my diaphragm — and while stumbling dumbly through the web, I belatedly found the story of the recent Georgia bigfoot. I know, it’s last week’s news, but I’m feeling a little addled.

Anyway, it brought back old memories. Way back when I was a teenager, I used to build balsa wood model airplanes in my grandparents’ attic. It was a good deal: my family didn’t have to deal with the smell, I didn’t have to worry about my brothers and sisters stomping on a delicate wing, and Grandma would bring me cookies and milk. There was also a stack of my grandfather’s manly men magazines to browse while I was waiting for that last coat of dope to dry. I don’t know if the genre is still around today, but in the 60s and 70s, at least, there were these magazines like Argosy and Saga that were full of manly stories of manly fellows braving dangers and hunting and exploring, with the occasional woman in a bikini lolling on the beach as the manly frogmen fought vicious sharks, and such like. One of the stories I recall most vividly was the Minnesota Iceman, which the article claimed was the most amazing evidence for the existence of bigfoot ever. There were several accompanying photographs of the poor guy in full color, frozen in a defensive pose, one arm thrown up over his head, with a bright splash of red over one eye, where he had been purportedly shot.

It made an impression. I recall reading up on cryptozoology quite a bit after that, trying to figure out whether it was real or not. I regretfully came to the conclusion eventually that it was a complete fraud, largely because I couldn’t find any legitimate scientific sources that had anything to say about it, and even in my teens I knew that Argosy was not a credible source of scientific information. Curiously, I now learn that creationists haven’t figured that out; Answers in Genesis uses the Minnesota Iceman as an example of scientific fakery ala Piltdown Man, accusing “experienced zoologists and scientific journals” of going out on a limb for a bogus missing link. At least now I can place their scientific expertise as somewhere significantly below mine…at the age of 15.

The Minnesota Iceman was a fake by a disreputable carnie. What about the Georgia Bigfoot? The lesson learned there is that people have gotten stupider since the 1960s. This bigfoot corpse was a graceless fake that was exposed within hours by the clever dicks at the JREF, and was concocted and promoted by a pair of blustering oafs named Rick Dyer and Matt Whitton, who have taken the unfortunate Southern redneck stereotype and amplified it into an embarrassment. It’s a rubber suit stuffed with dead animal parts. If I’d seen the photos of this thing at an impressionable age, I would not have been at all impressed — they were pathetic. The most thorough (if rather rambling) account is at a bigfoot site, and it’s damning. The creators weren’t just con-artists, they were stupid, incompetent con-artists…and people still fell for it. That’s the most depressing part of this story. The frauds don’t even have to try anymore, and the suckers line up to give them their money.

They’re joking, right?

The pope has condemned this silly sculpture as blasphemous, and German Catholics are trying to get it removed from display.


They can’t be serious, can they? It’s kitschy and funny. But really, they’re unhappy about this.

The Vatican wrote a letter of support in the pope’s name to Franz Pahl, president of the regional government who opposed the sculpture.

“Surely this is not a work of art but a blashphemy and a disgusting piece of trash that upsets many people,” Pahl told Reuters by telephone as the museum board was meeting.

The Vatican letter said that the work “wounds the religious sentiments of so many people who see in the cross the symbol of God’s love”.

Pahl, whose province is heavily Catholic, was so outraged by the sculpture of the pop-eyed amphibian that he went on a hunger strike to demand its removal and had to be taken to hospital during the summer.

So wait…now doing anything with two sticks stuck together at right angles is going to be an affront to “God’s love”? I have been told over and over again by pompous wackaloons that I’m on the shock-jock trajectory, compelled to try and top my outrages against religion in an ever-upward spiral of offense, and that it’s going to be really hard to top cracker abuse. However, it looks like you can piss off the pope just by playing around with a couple of popsicle sticks.

Pop-sci book meme

Jennifer Oullette has put together a pop-sci book meme (and John Lynch has joined in). It’s the usual thing, a long list of books and you’re supposed to highlight the ones you’ve read, this time with the theme being that they’re all about science somehow. I detect a physics bias in Ms. Oullette’s choices, however, despite the excellent beginning — and it’s to that I ascribe my poor performance. That and some weird choices: since when is Neuromancer pop-sci? Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle or Cryptonomicon or Snowcrash would be better choices if we’re going to throw fiction in the mix, or Sterling’s Schismatrix. If we open the door to SF, though, the howling hordes will pour in and we’ll never get anything done.

Anyway, here’s my copy of the list:

  1. Micrographia, Robert Hooke
  2. The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin
  3. Never at Rest, Richard Westfall
  4. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
  5. Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney
  6. The Devil’s Doctor, Philip Ball
  7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
  8. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, Dennis Overbye
  9. Physics for Entertainment, Yakov Perelman
  10. 1-2-3 Infinity, George Gamow
  11. The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
  12. Warmth Disperses, Time Passes, Hans Christian von Bayer
  13. Alice in Quantumland, Robert Gilmore
  14. Where Does the Weirdness Go? David Lindley
  15. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
  16. A Force of Nature, Richard Rhodes
  17. Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne
  18. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  19. Universal Foam, Sidney Perkowitz
  20. Vermeer’s Camera, Philip Steadman
  21. The Code Book, Simon Singh
  22. The Elements of Murder, John Emsley
  23. Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer
  24. Time’s Arrow, Martin Amis
  25. The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, George Johnson
  26. Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman
  27. Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
  28. The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, Lisa Jardine
  29. A Matter of Degrees, Gino Segre
  30. The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss
  31. E=mc2, David Bodanis
  32. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, Charles Seife
  33. Absolute Zero: The Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman
  34. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, Janna Levin
  35. Warped Passages, Lisa Randall
  36. Apollo’s Fire, Michael Sims
  37. Flatland, Edward Abbott
  38. Fermat’s Last Theorem, Amir Aczel
  39. Stiff, Mary Roach
  40. Astroturf, M.G. Lord
  41. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
  42. Longitude, Dava Sobel
  43. The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg
  44. The Mummy Congress, Heather Pringle
  45. The Accelerating Universe, Mario Livio
  46. Math and the Mona Lisa, Bulent Atalay
  47. This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
  48. The Executioner’s Current, Richard Moran
  49. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
  50. Pythagorus’ Trousers, Margaret Wertheim
  51. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  52. The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios
  53. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump, Sandra Hempel
  54. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Katrina Firlik
  55. Einstein’s Clocks and Poincare’s Maps, Peter Galison
  56. The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
  57. The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
  58. The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
  59. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
  60. Consilience, E.O. Wilson
  61. Wonderful Life, Stephen J. Gould
  62. Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard
  63. Fire in the Brain, Ronald K. Siegel
  64. The Life of a Cell, Lewis Thomas
  65. Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris
  66. Storm World, Chris Mooney
  67. The Carbon Age, Eric Roston
  68. The Black Hole Wars, Leonard Susskind
  69. Copenhagen, Michael Frayn
  70. From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne
  71. Gut Symmetries, Jeanette Winterson
  72. Chaos, James Gleick
  73. Innumeracy, John Allen Paulos
  74. The Physics of NASCAR, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
  75. Subtle is the Lord, Abraham Pais

Jennifer did suggest that we make additions, so let’s beef up the biology a bit with a few more off the top of my head (OK, McPhee and Rudwick are geology…but that needs bolstering, too!).

  1. Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski
  2. Basin and Range, John McPhee
  3. Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner
  4. Chance and Necessity, Jacques Monod
  5. Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, Olivia Judson
  6. Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carroll
  7. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer
  8. Genome, Matt Ridley
  9. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
  10. It Ain’t Necessarily So, Richard Lewontin
  11. On Growth and Form, D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson
  12. Phantoms in the Brain, VS Ramachandran
  13. The Ancestor’s Tale, Richard Dawkins
  14. The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution, Elisabeth Lloyd
  15. The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Freeland Judson
  16. The Great Devonian Controversy, Martin Rudwick
  17. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Oliver Sacks
  18. The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould
  19. The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment, Richard Lewontin
  20. Time, Love, Memory, Jonathan Weiner
  21. Voyaging and The Power of Place, Janet Browne
  22. Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier

Don’t vote for Dole in North Carolina

Every time I see the disregard the Democratic party shows for secular values — which is painfully frequent — I wonder why the heck I’m even voting for these addled con artists. But then the Republicans remind me by showing up and being even worse. The latest is from the Elizabeth Dole campaign in North Carolina, which has decided to vilify her opponent, Kay Hagan, because she dares to actually meet with atheists. How horrid! Hagan has probably got godless cooties now. Here’s what a Dole press release says, expressing disgust that Hagan is actually going to meet with the Secular Coalition for America.

“Kay Hagan does not represent the values of this state; she is a Trojan Horse for a long list of wacky left-wing outside groups bent on policies that would horrify most North Carolinians if they knew about it,” [Communications Director Dan] McLagan said. “This latest revelation of support from anti-religion activists will not sit well with the 90% of state residents who identify with a specific religious faith.”

Fair enough, actually. It does represent a difference in values: that Hagan may not be an atheist but is willing to speak with them says one thing about her values, and that Elizabeth Dole thinks atheists are un-American says something else about her values. It also says a lot about Dole that she is willingly affiliated with the party of bigotry and incompetence, the Republicans. These are choices made by candidates that are legitimate issues to help voters decide who they should elect.

It says to me that people should vote for Hagan, or almost any other Democrat, over almost any other Republican.

Pareidolia poll


Two things I find absurd are people who see Jesus in random patterns, and internet polls that try to impose patterns in noise. Here’s something that does both: a moth was found with speckles that are supposed to look like Jesus.

“His hair right here and you can see the mustache and the beard and there’s a little slit right there that looks like His mouth and when he would move the mouth would open so it looked like he was trying to talk to you.”

Kirk Harper spotted the moth on an RV trailer Monday, and right away could tell it was unique.

“I immediately thought it looked like Jesus and that was what was so cool cause you’ve seen His face in grilled cheese sandwiches and windows and things but on a moth’s back…we thought that was pretty neat.”

Just to top off the silliness, the story comes with a poll to ask if you see a face. Yeah, I do — it’s Charles Manson.

On BBC radio…

I was interviewed by a rather baffled radio announcer about the destruction of crackers (I know! Who would have thought such a silly event would be the focus of so much attention?) on BBC Radio Ulster. Reader DaleP tells me that it will be available online only until Saturday, so if you want to hear another flat-voiced nasal American talking to the lovely lilting voice of an Irishman, here’s your chance.