It hurts so good

So scribblingwoman finally reads some recent China Miéville, long after Crooked Timber covered it (nothing wrong with that…if you saw my stack of books waiting for me to finish them…). She brings up a few interesting points, though, and one in particular poked me right in my reading biases. In Perdido Street Station(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), one of the central characters, Lin, meets a particularly unpleasant fate, and this after we’d been reading about her for a long time, gotten to know and like her and find her engaging. Then, wham:

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Hey, so George and Al are indistinguishable!

Bush/Gore, Bore/Gush, they were both the same, remember? It didn’t matter whether you voted Democrat or Republican, you were just getting the same ol’ thing.

Look how true that is: Bush sounds just like Al Gore. Of course, there were a few minor differences, like that Gore was 14 years ahead of Bush, really meant it (rather than having his lackeys issue retractions the day after), and I suspect, had the competence to actually follow through.

Tyrone Hayes at UMM


Last week, the opening convocation for Black History Month was given by Tyrone Hayes of UC Berkeley. I was impressed: he’s exceptionally personable, and despite the poor organization of his visit (UMM’s fault, entirely) and having to drive for hours through a small blizzard to get here from the airport, he was gracious and fun to talk with. He gave a phenomenally well-organized, lucid talk which managed to describe all the basics of his research in terms a lay audience, most of whom were not science majors of any kind, could comprehend. And as I learned, most of his work is done by undergraduates—he has an enviable research program fueled by entry level students working towards a bachelor’s degree. I am humbled.

I have to say that if you get an opportunity to hear Hayes speak, jump at it. It’s a model of good educational rhetoric. And hey, if you’re on a seminar committee somewhere, look into inviting him out…it will be worth your while.

The subject of his talk was atrazine. Atrazine is a heavily used pesticide in the United States—we hose our cornfields with the stuff around here, using it to control weeds and boost the productivity of our acreage by 1.2%. That may not sound like much, but over the entire midwest, that adds up to really big money, money that flows into the coffers of its manufacturer, Syngenta. Syngenta is a Swiss company, and interestingly, atrazine is banned in Europe. In the US, we’re allowed to have up to 3 parts per billion in our drinking water, and Syngenta initially commissioned Hayes to research possible deleterious effects of atrazine.

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More politicization of science

There are more stories out there about the corruption of science by Republicans. The National Park Service and Department of the Interior are messed up, with the Park Service rewriting documents to be “anti-environmental, pro-privatization and corporate use of the parks,” and the Interior simply making up nonsense about sage grouse.
Then we’ve got NCI fudging evidence to falsely support the claims of the anti-abortion lobby.

Bush has a lot of nerve claiming to be pro-science. He’s pro-Big Bidness, but he can’t even get that right—he’s willing to promote fake science to get a short-term advantage for business interests, but I should think any good capitalist would know that operating under a flawed representation of reality is going to lead to failure in the long run.

Heck yeah—Caroline Crocker should have been fired

…but she wasn’t. She was allowed to continue her educational malpractice until her contract expired, and then was not rehired—something that happens to adjunct and assistant professors all the time, with no necessary implication of poor work.

Caroline Crocker, if you’ve never heard of her, is the lead topic in an article in the Washington Post today, and you may also have read an account of her situation in Nature. She’s a molecular biologist who believes in Intelligent Design, and who was released from her position at George Mason University. Now she wants to claim that her academic freedom was infringed.

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Feeding the capitalists

I’ve gotten a few links to interesting CafePress merchandise today. You can now get the Immortal Pinkoski’s slogan, If you doubt this is possible, how is it there are PYGMIES + DWARFS?, on a t-shirt. Mona tells me that I can also get a fine selection of cephalopodous clothing, or samples of other interesting art—take a look at Platypus Rex.

It’s a good thing I have a wife who scowls at me when I put on something outrageous, ’cause otherwise I’d be walking around with the weirdest outfits.

Don’t be surprised—physics has always been a target

As long as I’m making addenda to posts, let’s hit up this one, too.

Some people have mentioned that they knew the creationists would come gunning for other domains of science sooner or later, and see George Deutsch’s remarks as confirmation. There is absolutely no surprise to the criticism of physics, and it’s been going on for a long while. Ultimately, the gripe the religious have isn’t with the simple facts, it’s with the process. Science is a tool that has been incredibly successful at digging into the nature of the universe, and religion is a proven flop next to it. That rankles, I’m sure.

Look at Philip Johnson and the Wedge document, too: they aren’t after just the idea that man evolved from apes. They’re out to demolish the whole enchilada. Their enemy is naturalism. Every science is a target.

Remember this: anything that isn’t learned by way of dogma and revelation is a direct challenge to the authority of religious leaders. Science, all of it, is a threat to the religious cash cow. And most daunting to the theocratic mindset, clawing your way to the top of the scientific heap doesn’t translate to the same kind of immunity to effective criticism we see in Christianity. They just don’t see how they can shift a scam that requires credulity to a paradigm that demands skepticism.

One more time

Wow, but this post has inspired so many misconceptions.

I do not think Muslims should be insulated from satire. I do not think there is parity between a cartoonist drawing a picture someone doesn’t like and a Muslim calling for the execution of the cartoonist. I am not on the Muslim’s side here, and I am uncompromising in condemning rioting and destruction as criminal.

I do think religion needs to be thoroughly criticized—you haven’t been reading Pharyngula for long if you think otherwise, and I thought I’d been quite careful to spell out that religion was a hate-amplifier in this situation—and I do think that Islam in particular needs to be taken down a peg or two (I only hesitate to say that because too many of our home-grown Christians would interpret it as approval for their sanctimony). I think some of those crowd photos show a deeply evil mindset at work.

But here’s the thing, that liberal-lefty perspective: those Muslims are people. You know, human beings with needs and desires and families and aspirations, etc. We have to live with them, unless you’re calling for their extermination or banishment (and no, we aren’t. I hope.) They’ve got this horrible, evil idea of religion stuck in their heads, and the long-term solution is to educate them and imbed more secular ideals in their communities—my objection is that I don’t see that the Danish newspaper was trying to do that. A majority poking a minority with a sharp stick is not a confrontation or an argument. It’s just being mean and petty. It’s yet another kick when they’re down to a group of people who are already marginalized.

I’d be curious to know what solutions are being planned in Europe. Maybe someone who thinks a sign that says “Butcher those who mock Islam” is irredeemable and ought to be kicked out of the country, but I suspect, optimistically, that most of the Muslims in Denmark aren’t quite that far gone; are there any constructive ideas to weaken the grip of religious foolishness on immigrant populations? Or is it all going to be a process of clumsily beating them down with simple force? Maybe some of the Danish readers here can tell us what is going to be done (oh, and if the solution is to prohibit the mockery of religion by newspapers, I’m doubly against that: it violates free speech, and it doesn’t address the real source of the conflict at all.)

I’m all for ripping into religion with wild abandon. I just think it’s obvious, though, that there is another dimension to this problem than simply the god business, and too many of us are ignoring the human/social issue to blame only a convenient religious handle on the riots.