The New Humanist Advent Podcasts continue, with entries from Marcus Brigstocke, Mark Steel, Ann Druyan, Josie Long, Tim Minchin, Philip Jeays, Dara O’Briain, and in a grand finale, Richard Dawkins. I know, it’s a little early — you purists can wait to open the last little door.
When power plants burn coal to produce energy, the coal doesn’t just vanish into the atmosphere to cause global warming. No, there’s a substantial amount of left-over sludge called coal ash, a nasty mess that is enriched for toxic heavy metals. It is seriously nasty stuff. This glop has to be stored, somewhere, usually piled up and walled-off, because it’s not healthy for anything.
Behold what happens when the containment walls fail.
This is happening right now, here in the United States. Yesterday, a retaining wall failed, and 500 million gallons of coal ash — the vile grey slime in the video — poured down into the tributaries of the Tennessee River, the water supply for Chattannooga and environs.
We’re looking at a major environmental catastrophe, bigger than any oil spill, and most of the news media are silent about it. I checked CNN, MS-NBC, even Fox News…not a word. The local newspapers have a few articles, and the regional blogs are trying to follow it, but otherwise, I guess we’re going to pretend it didn’t happen.
Once upon a time, one of the more popular atheist sites on the web was The Raving Atheist. Then the blogger became the raving anti-abortionist, and most of his readership left — they even set up an independent forum where they could continue their discussions without the weirdo in charge of the blog butting in (uh-oh…I just gave you all an idea, didn’t I?).
Anyway, now the process of conversion is complete. Say goodbye to the Raving Atheist.
There’s an interesting analysis of the process of deconversion to be made here. I suspect he’s been getting a lot of personal support and attention from Christians actively interested in converting him over the years, and it’s that emotional massaging that convinced him to throw his brain out the window.
(Via the Raving Atheists Forum)
Squid don’t just make sperm: they package it up into fairly elaborate little torpedoes called spermatophores, which are either handed to the female with a specially modified arm called the hectocotyl arm, or squirted onto her with a penis. Once on the female (or a male, it really doesn’t matter), the spermatophore everts, forming a structure called the spermatangia, in which all the packed sperm uncoil, ready to do their job, and the whole mass is anchored to the target with a cement body. These structures do show species-specific differences, but here is one example from Heteroteuthis dispar.
Now the curious observation: squid are often captured festooned with spermatophores and spermatangia, and in many cases, the spermatangia may be imbedded deeply into the musculature of the animal — so it’s not simply as if the spermatophores are lovingly placed in an appropriate orifice, they are piercing the female (or the male, again, they don’t care that much), tearing deep into the interior. The question is, how do they get in there?
A few simple observations have revealed the answer. Spermatophores can be triggered by a gentle squeeze, at which time all of their fertilization machinery will fire. Here are some photos of some spermatophores going to work on a squid carcass.
(Read the caption carefully. That’s a human triggering sperm to ejaculate into a dead male squid. It’s gay necrophiliac bestiality! You don’t see that in the papers every day.)
The answer is that spermatophores also release digestive enzymes and actively burrow into the target tissue. Squid sperm show an aggressive persistence and vigorously active assault on the female body that our own pathetic human emissions lack…I feel a little inadequate, but I’m sure women are a bit relieved.
Another interesting observation is the function of the squid penis. It seems to be less an intromittent organ than a kind of hose to direct the ejaculations onto the female. In natural situations, unlike the photographs above, it is responsible for initiating the spermatophore reaction. Each spermatophore has a threadlike extension of a surrounding membrane, and tugging on that triggers the reaction. It’s like a squad of paratroopers leaping out of a phallic airplane, each attached by a static line that yanks the rip cord as they emerge.
Hoving HJT, Laptikhovsky V (2007) Getting under the skin: autonomous implantation of squid spermatophores. Biological Bulletin 212: 177-179.
Yeah, the Pope babbles dicta against people who are different from him, so what else is new?
In comments at the Vatican that are likely to provoke a furious reaction from homosexual groups, Benedict also warned that blurring the distinction between male and female could lead to the “self-destruction” of the human race.
In his address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, he described behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work” and said that the Roman Catholic Church had a duty to “protect man from the destruction of himself”.
It is not “outmoded metaphysics” to urge respect for the “nature of the human being as man and woman,” he added.
“The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”
Hang on, wait. So Catholics are like trees, and gay people are like chainsaws, or something? And the gays are engaged in clear-cutting church congregations? Homosexuals are out to EXTERMINATE the whole HUMAN RACE?
The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are. It opposes gay marriage and, in October, a leading Vatican official described homosexuality as “a deviation, an irregularity, a wound”.
Well, yeah. A chainsaw can do some pretty nasty damage.
People take the pope rather seriously, I hear. I don’t know why — the man is a kook.
Since I professed that Intelligent Design creationism is zombie pseudoscience, but that creationism was far from dead, people were wondering what new slogan or tactic will emerge. It’s already here! It’s been lurking about for a few years now, and Glenn Branch and Eugenie Scott discuss the new tactic at some length.
The magic words are, of course, “academic freedom”.
Those words in the hands of creationists are used the way Republicans name bills: exactly contrary to the actual content. “Academic freedom” bills have been getting pushed into legislatures all across the country by — you guessed it — Christian evangelicals who see them as a tool to inject biblical creationism into the public school curriculum under the guise of fairness and high intellectual standards.
In Florida, for example, a representative of the Discovery Institute dithered when asked whether intelligent design constituted “scientific information” in the sense of the bill, saying, “In my personal opinion, I think it does. But the intent of this bill is not to settle that question,” and adding, unhelpfully, “The intent of this bill is … it protects the ‘teaching of scientific information.'” Similarly, during debate on the Senate floor, the bill’s sponsor was noticeably reluctant to address the question of whether it would license the teaching of creationism, preferring instead to simply recite its text.
Thus, despite the lofty language, the ulterior intent and likely effect of these bills are evident: undermining the teaching of evolution in public schools–a consequence only creationists regard as a blessing. Unfortunately, among their numbers are teachers. A recent national survey conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University reveals that one in eight U.S. high school biology teachers already presents creationism as a “valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species,” with about the same percentage emphasizing that “many reputable scientists” view creationism as a scientifically valid alternative to evolution.
So be prepared, this is the new strategy: creationists will be openly superficial and nebulous in order to steal away the necessary rigor of our public school systems. And once science has been reduced to a floppy, useless pile of vacuous blather in their hands, they can insert any old nonsense they want…and the products of those schools, the next generation of parents and voters, will be too ignorant to oppose them.
People keep trying to tempt me into Tarvuism, and I do admit that they have some lovely reverential imagery.
However, I am a hardcore atheist, and I deny Tarvu. I even deny Oobu.
So I’m sorry, I won’t be joining, even if it is so easy to join. I do encourage and endorse their right to display a cyclopean cephalopodian nativity scene in the Washington state capitol, however.
(via Canadian Cynic)