Great new fossil, tired creationist arguments

A new feathered dino fossil has turned up, Xiaotingia zhengi, and it’s a beaut!

Xiaotingia was found by a collector in China’s Liaoning Province, a hotbed for feathered-dino fossils, and sold to the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature. Paleontologists led by Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences analyzed the fossil’s skeletal measurements in detail and fed them into a computer database with measurements from 89 fossilized dinosaur and bird species, including Archaeopteryx.

It’s also divergant from modern birds, but shares enough characteristics with Archeoptryx that it pulled the latter a bit out of the line leading to extant aves. Which, predictably, has the creationist lobby all tingly:

One claims that a big hole has just been blown in an icon of evolution, but that the “tenured Darwin bores” are all flapping their hands and telling everyone to ignore the damage. Another claims that evolutionary biology was looking for a simple linear trajectory in avian evolution, and now it’s shown to be a complex mess, therefore…what? Because creationists have a misconception about what was expected, evolution is wrong?

This guy is from the Late Jurassic, about 155 million years ago according to the Satanic practice of radiographic dating. That puts it square in the midst of what I’d call the prehistoric world’s best equipped flying dino evolutionary laboratory.

We’ll probably never know the true breathtaking diversity of these creatures. Fossilization is a rare event for big massive dinos, rarer still for smallish fine-boned, delicate creatures like. But one thing we do know, the Late Jurassic had an arrangement of continents favoring the evolution of birds and their cousins.

I don’t want to post images yet, but if you clicked on that Jurassic link you saw a watery gap between proto Eurasia and North America. Back then there were no significant polar caps, that shallow sea was warm year round, and dotted with islands large and small. The closest analogue today might be something like the span between Southeast Asia and Australia. In the space of a few hundred miles there would be tiny, volcanic islands, sand bars, atolls, mini archipelogos, and sizable islands, all sandwiched between big continents overflowing with forests and mountains and plains. Throw feathered dinos and other flying vertbrates into that mix and they have all the fish, insects, clams and other yummy treats their little rapidly beating hearts could desire.

It’s an evolutionary petri dish writ large that persisted for millions of years. Long enough for critters to set up shop locally and specialize, long enough for others to develop vast migration patterns, and long enough for some to grow flightless and large, and for all we know maybe even back to small and flying again. One would expect to see great diversity in such an environment. Too bad creationists offer the same tired arguments again and again to dismiss all that wonder.

The government is not a business

BTW guys, I haven’t figured out yet how to approve comments and I don’t know if the comment registration system is up and running yet. We’e also had some intermittent outages.

Bear with us! Be patient! This is a good old fashioned capitalist site powered by US greenbacks and, like any business, we’re working hard to deliver nifty products and services to everyone. The ability for readers to commend or criticize posts is probably the single most important reader feature.  I’ll get it wired at some point, even took the next few days off just to make time to do that.

Which is a clumsy segue to a broader point: FreeThoughtBlogs is a business, the goal is to generate revenue, as much as possible in fact. The US government on the other hand is not a business. This is plainly evident by the kinds of projects the government takes on. Ever watch Deadliest Catch? We do not as a nation maintain a fleet of Coast Guard helicopters and ships in the Bering Sea because it’s a money making propisition. Quite the contrary, it’s incredibly expensive.

We do that because we have, collectively, decided that that capacity is in the public good. Having those aircraft and ships available makes crab fishing much safer, it lowers costs all around. As a spin off, it also provides jobs directly in the Coast Guard, and indirectly for vehicle production, support  services, and all the bars and stores and everything else that comes along for the ride. There’s a debate every election year about what government services are and are not in the public good. But most people agree that search and rescue is good and that such activities need not be profitable.

Imagine if those crab fishing boats were operated by the same rules some Congresspersons insist we subject the government to. The latest batch of greenhorn hires walk off the deck leaving pots unattended, they march into the wheelhouse with a list of demands. They tell Captain Sig he better reduce the size of his operation, note he’s not allowed to increase revenues, and request he dock not only their paychecks and give it to the ship’s investors, but every check every other boat provides all greenhorns. Any retirement of insurance benefits must be cut, but the captain has to keep charging the greenhorns full price for them Sig is also told all safety gear and inspections are to be curtailed immediately as these are job killing burdens. The ship’s line of credit with any banks must be capped arbitrarily. And, if the captain doesn’t go along, the greenhorns will begin cutting holes in the ship and setting it on fire.

That probably wouldn’t go over well with the rest of the crew of the Northwestern, and it sure as hell wouldn’t fly with other greenhorns on other boats.

If the government is to be run like a business, then the goal would not be to shrink it or limit revenue. Far form it. The goal would be to make the business as huge as possible.

Welcome skeptics one and all!

Friends, old and new, and  of course those affectionate  trolls who send me hate mail, welcome to Freethought Blogs! The brainchild of my two blogfathers, Ed Brayton and PZ Myers. You see, ‘lo these many cyber years ago — around 2003 on the civilian calender — Ed came into a chat room we both used to frequent and announced he was starting something called a blog. Shortly after that he told me about a science site he thought I’d like. It was called Pharyngula

I don’t know if Ed or PZ had any idea what their respective enterprises would grow into.  I remember PZ once wondering aloud if his ‘laveal’ site would ever grow into an adult. But grow they both did, like weeds on steroids. Their success somehow spilled over to me. Still not sure how that happened. But my buddy Brent Rasmussen indulged me on his old site Unscrwewing the Inscrutable. One thing led to another, and the next thing I know I was contributing to a powerhouse progressive site called Daily Kos. and helping a nascent organization that would soon be known as Netroots Nation.

So, a little bit about me, and where I’m coming from. Like every person on earth I was born an atheist. Unlike most of them I stayed that way. There was never a time when I thought the religious stories proffered by my peers were literally true. In fact, I was about 10 or 11 years-old when it really sunk in that a lot of people truly believed in an immortal super being that was somehow centralized in a humanoid shape, and yet also somehow invisibly distributed everywhere in tall of space and time.

The upshot of that arc is I never went through a period of bitterness. I never felt betrayed by pastors or friends or the Bible; I never bought into their various brands of mythology in the first place. And that’s a good place to be. Because, in my rapidly approaching olden and golden years , I’ve met many men and women whom I greatly respect, and who seem to find great comfort in those beliefs.

I’ll have more later. Lots more. But for now, please follow me at@ SAndrewDKos on Twiter, and I’ll follow you right back! Oh, and if some of you would care to test out our comment registration system, I’d love to know a little bit about you and what you’d like to see here on this corner of FreeThoughtBlogs.