Hilarious hypocrisy

This is classic wingnuttia. The Tea-partiers are complaining bitterly that Democrats are making unfounded accusations of racism.

“These people could be anybody. I wouldn’t put it past the Democrats to plant somebody there,” Mr. Robertson said. “They’re trying to label the tea party, but I’ve never seen any racial slurs.”

The post has a terrific punchline. It’s a picture of Mr Robertson.


I suppose his quote could have been honest. After all, he was standing behind the sign.

Andrew Sullivan replies

He thinks I missed his important distinction.

Christianity flees power as Jesus did; Christianism seeks it above everything else. And there is nothing more powerful than killing others, except for torturing them. Hence my distinction, which I make from no authority. I merely think that declaring a homeless, apolitical, non-violent hippie in first century Palestine as someone who would bless a twenty-first century terrorist militia in North America is a bit of a stretch.

Funny thing, that: that was my whole point. Modern Christianity is nothing but Christianists, then, and it’s a distinction that makes no difference. His Pope runs an official state, a member of the UN, that is dripping with extravagantly displayed wealth. Would his homeless, apolitical, non-violent hippie bless this man, this Pontifex Maximus, this Goldfather?


Or perhaps Urban II, the man who fired off the First Crusade, would be a man more to the hippie’s taste.


I don’t think I’ve missed any distinction at all. If your Palestinian hippie were here today, he’d be horrified and damn the whole mad carnival that has been established in his name, and they’re all Christianists.

For that matter, the weird theology that the old hippie espoused would be a ghastly basis for a world, and any culture in which Jesus would be comfortable would be a nightmare for the rest of us.

Design flaws support evolution

This is a nicely done lecture on design flaws in our anatomy and physiology, to refute claims of intelligent design.

I know exactly how creationists will reply, though, since I’ve heard it often enough. She’s making a theological argument, they’ll say, claiming to know God’s intent and making an assumption of his goals. It will be a restatement of the old chestnut, “God works in mysterious ways.”

However, that’s not the argument here. Imperfections and sub-optimal properties are an outcome of evolutionary theory; this is a positive argument that observations of the world best fit a model positing a history of accidents and refinements constrained along lines of descent. If the creationists want to complain, they first have to propose a set of predictions that would discriminate between accident and design, and starting from a god who can do anything at any whim is not a fruitful source of hypotheses.

That settles that then, I hope

That recent episode in which hackers broke into computers at East Anglia University and extracted private email from climate researchers was the subject of much triumphal rejoicing by the climate change deniers. The UK set a parliamentary Science and Technology Committee to review the affair and see if there was any substance to the claims of the denialists, and the report of the inquiry has been released.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—”trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The Committee found no reason in this inquiry to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. But this was not an inquiry into the science produced by CRU and it will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel, announced by the University on 22 March, to determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built.

Well. Case closed, right? Or is this another sign of the Global Conspiracy to Hide the Truth™?

The committee did have one mild criticism of the Climate Research Unit. They said that while the policy of holding some of the raw data privately is in line with common research practice and not grounds for complaint, they would like the policy to change…and I agree. Openness is always good in science.

Possible fates dispassionately reviewed

Now that the LHC is online, The Editors have catalogued three ways it will destroy the world, using the Airwolf scale of awesomeness crossed by a goofiness scale. It looks like being sucked into a black hole is one of the more pedestrian scenarios.

I am relieved that they didn’t consider the possibility that TeV collisions might be the last trump that summons the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Some things may be even too goofy for the Poor Man Institute.

The Large Hadron Collider will confirm the Bible

Good news: the Large Hadron Collider is operational, and has fired two particles together with a force of 7 trillion electron volts…and it’s only the beginning, since they’re going to ramp up the power gradually. It’s too bad Michio Kaku had to muck it up with a lot of nonsense.

“This is a huge step toward unraveling Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1 – what happened in the beginning,” physicist Michio Kaku told The Associated Press.

“This is a Genesis machine. It’ll help to recreate the most glorious event in the history of the universe.”

Please, no. Genesis has zero correspondence to reality. We are not going to drill back through Biblical events to find the truth of Genesis 1:1, which reads, by the way, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Is Kaku suggesting that the LHC will test that proposition? That is a genuinely tone-deaf thing for a scientist to say in fundie-infested America.

And of course, Answers in Genesis stands ready to appropriate the LHC for its purposes. It’s a rather bizarre support they offer to the LHC, though. You see, AiG does not accept the Big Bang, or any early event in the history of the universe that precedes 4004BC. So they have to tip-toe around it: nothing the LHC will discover can possibly confirm modern cosmology, but, they say, it can “give us some interesting insight into how God upholds His universe today”. Science works only because God makes it work.

The author, Jason Lisle, is quite possibly the most boring creationist I’ve ever read, so his essay here is scarcely worth reading unless you are really in need of a nap, but it does conclude with a useful revelation.

Whatever scientists discover about the universe from the LHC, it will show that the universe is upheld by God in a consistent way. This will therefore confirm that the Bible is true.

Get that? No matter what evidence is unearthed, no matter what science learns, no matter what history tells us, everything will be interpreted to confirm their freakish interpretation of the history of the universe. This is not science. There’s nothing you can say that is more contrary to the ideal of science than to claim that your ideas are completely impervious to the evidence.



I do think he said something stupid and thoughtless. And please learn something: saying something is a metaphor does not automatically make it good or even excusable. For some reason, the word ‘metaphor’ has become a kind of catch-all excuse whenever someone says something stupid and unjustifiable. It isn’t. This is almost as bad as rationalizing gobbledygook and nonsense by calling it art or poetry, which is so insulting to the muses of poetry that I expect Calliope and Erato and Polyhymnia to materialize and start thwacking everyone upside the head with a cithara or stuffing scrolls up their nostrils or strangling them with a veil.

Again, for those having trouble following along: METAPHOR IS NOT A MAGIC GET-OUT-OF-STUPID CARD.

Let’s keep agreeing

This is nice. Andrew Sullivan has a suggestion to exempt those wanna-be terrorists, the Hutarees, from the fold of the faithful.

Surely we can all assent to the notion that a Christian militia of the type now accused of planning domestic terrorism is not Christian. This is why I call them Christianist. Anyone planning to murder innocents by way of IEDs cannot plausibly call himself or herself a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.

Good thing he threw in that specific bit about IEDs, or I’d have to mention all the innocents slaughtered in Christ’s name since, oh, the Dark Ages. They are spared by a technological technicality!

But OK, if we’re going to redefine Christians, let’s go all the way.

Anyone denying the evidence of the world around them, like, say, a creationist, is a Christianist.

Anyone who denies the joys of sex and abstains because they think God likes them celibate is a Christianist.

Anyone who uses their religious affiliation as a tool to acquire temporal power is a Christianist.

Anyone who prays in public is a Christianist.

Anyone who uses their faith as an excuse to peep into their neighbors’ bedrooms and tell them that they’re doing it wrong is a Christianist.

Anyone who begs for money so they can convert other people to their Christian faith is a Christianist.

Anyone who thinks women should be a subservient sex is a Christianist.

Anyone who threatens others with the wrath of God is a Christianist.

Anyone who believes that Jesus manifests himself in this world via magic tricks, like turning crackers into flesh, is a Christianist.

Anyone who believes that all they have to do is have faith in Jesus, never mind what they do in life, in order to get into heaven is a Christianist.

Anyone who uses the phrase “God and Country” non-ironically is a Christianist.

Anyone who hides behind their religion to rape anyone else is a Christianist.

Anyone who shelters a religious rapist is a Christianist.

Anyone who complains about those lazy poor people getting health care and food stamps is a Christianist.

I could go on and on, listing lots of things that I think are foolish and reprehensible, and declaring that those who hold those views are not True Christians.

Unfortunately, I think that it all means that there aren’t any Christians anywhere, and they’re all damned dirty Christianists. I can’t tell them apart from the Christians!

I’m afraid the Hutarees were Christian, real-live testifyin’ preachifyin’ Jebus-lovin’ Bible-readin’ Christians. They weren’t Andrew Sullivan’s preferred version of Christian, but then, a weird gay Catholic has about as much authority to define who gets to be Christian as an obnoxious and flamingly anti-religious atheist.

Amok Time for crayfish


This is quite possibly the most awesome biology photo ever taken. It is two blind-folded crayfish battling each other in clouds of fluorescent green urine. It’s a good thing it’s just a picture, because if it were a video, in 3D, with the Star Trek fight music playing in the background, every science nerd in the world would have to lie down and die in ecstasy. Don’t click on the little arrow below it! I won’t be responsible for the consequences! (Fortunately, I can’t put it into 3D motion, so I won’t be slaughtering my readership here.)


The premise of this work is a small dilemma in sexual selection theory. The theory predicts that females are generally the choosy, limiting sex, so they should invest less in courtship — they can simply lie back, look alluring, and let the males fight it out over them before picking a winner. Males are expected to invest the most in courtship, because after all, winning gets them the big payoff with little expense, while females get the big expense of egg laying/pregnancy. That boys are traditionally expected to ask girls out on dates, not vice versa, makes a lot of sense in the context of this theory.

A possible contradiction to the theory, though, is the production of female pheromones to invite courtship. Many arthropods in particular — consider moths that produce olfactory signals that males have evolved enormous antennae to detect — use female-initiated signals to initiate courtship behavior in males, as if every day were Sadie Hawkins Day.

One way to resolve the contradiction, though, is to discover that the signal evolved for some other purpose than triggering courtship. Perhaps ancestral female moths were flying about smelling generically mothy, and male moths are simply homing in on something the females can’t help but produce.

Enter the crayfish, Pacifastacus leniusculus. Females in this species initiate courtship with a grand aromatic puff of urine, a kind of crustacean invitation to dance that I am quite glad our species does not emulate. In the photo above, it’s been visualized by injecting the crayfish with a dye, fluorescein, that can be seen against a black background with the proper illumination. The crayfish have been blindfolded so that their behaviors aren’t triggered by visual cues.

And the answer they discovered is that the copious urination is an aggression, not courting, signal. Males spew it out when they’re fighting with other males, females do it at the start of courtship, and males actually reduce the amount of urine produced during courtship. So they’re not saying, “I love you, come get me,” they’re saying “Grrr, fight, fight, fight” when they spray the tank with urine.

What’s the advantage to the ladies here? It’s the incitement. The crayfish live in high population densities, and stirring up a little trouble and getting the males to fight provides an opportunity to select a winner. It may also produce a local population of desirable contenders: a whiff of urine may encourage wimpy males to run away and avoid potential trouble, while the more aggressive males may home in on it.

Berry FC, Breithaupt T (2010) To signal or not to signal? Chemical communication by urine-borne signals mirrors sexual conflict in crayfish. BMC Biology 8:25.