Monthly Archives: June 2012

“She didn’t apologize. She started laughing. I was on my hands and knees picking up bone fragments.”

Actually, I think the TSA does a pretty good job at their security theater. (Calling it something like “security theater” does not automatically prove that such theater has no function.) I remember the old days when there were one or two hijacking of an airplane every single week. Hell, my friend Billy’s dad hijacked a plane!. And later when I was doing a lot of international travelling, when there were few hijackings but the security systems at airports were visibly flawed. So I appreciate that there have been improvements even if it may be not the way I would have done it.

Having said that, TSA agents can be real boneheads at times. The latest is a case of a man bringing his father through security. His father, as it happens, as in a jar in the form of cremains. The TSA agent ended up spilling about 25% of dad on the floor and laughing about it, supposedly.

“They opened up my bag, and I told them, ‘Please, be careful. These are my grandpa’s ashes,'” Gross told RTV6’s Norman Cox. “She picked up the jar. She opened it up.
“I was told later on that she had no right to even open it, that they could have used other devices, like an X-ray machine. So she opened it up. She used her finger and was sifting through it. And then she accidentally spilled it.”

Read the rest of the story here.

If those TSA agents could see the stuff I brought through airports before they showed up they’d freak. Human remains? Huh. Run of the mill.

More Proof that Most Republicans are Morons

Remember the whole WMD thing, where President George W. Bush and Colin Powell and all those guys looked the American People straight in the face and said “we are absolutely certain that Saddam Hussein has Weapons of Mass Destruction”? Many doubted this claim. The war happened, and the claim was absolutely totally undeniably indubitably proven false. But Republicans kept saying it like it was true over and over again.

Well, a current poll shows that a majority of Republicans believe that Saddam had WMDs.

The poll is here (PDF). It covers a lot more than just WMDs and is worth a look.

I find it interesting that the poll uses the term “Democrat” to refer to the “Democratic Party” but it does not use “Republic” to refer to the “Republican Party.” Anyway, the poll showed that “..63 percent of Republican respondents still believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003. By contrast, 27 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats shared that view.” (see this summary)

Claus Larsen and SkepticReport

The only time I ever heard of Claus Larsen and Skeptic Report are when Claus shows up here to make a fool of himself by acting at the archetypal “Skeptic” who has no appreciation whatsoever for how the process of inquiry and debate operate, for nuance or context, or for that matter, simple truth and dealing with fact. His latest stroll through my blog had him demanding evidence for claims I had made about Thunderf00t’s video, when I had made no claims whatsoever about any such thing. He also brought along a “when did you stop beating your wife” sort of question regarding skepchick.org.

THIS IS A LINK to that conversation.

At first I found this annoying, then I realized that Claus is a Poe. He’s totally made up. No one can be that absurd without doing it on purpose.

But, then I realized that if Claus was here he’d DEMAND EVIDENCE that he is a Poe. And I don’t really have any. He’d be right.

So, I’ve put this blog post up for anyone to add any information, in the comments, about Claus Larsen and SkepticReport. Do you know who this guy is? Have you met him in real life? Is he really as silly in person as he presents himself on his site and in comments on other people’s sites?

Also, and this question is a bit trickier. His activism against sexual harassment guidelines at conferences seems to be way over the top for anyone. If he is a Poe that is easily explained. If he is not a Poe, then how do you explain that? Any ideas?

EPA Climate Action Upheld by a federal appeals court

This is coming from a few different sources none of which are really linkable so I’ll just copy and paste this press release from the Environmental Defense Fund:

*** BREAKING *** BREAKING *** BREAKING ***

Moments ago, a federal appeals court upheld EPA’s climate pollution emission standards, rejecting four legal challenges that had been filed by industry groups and several states’ attorneys general.

The court ruled in favor of clean air protections in four major cases, denying petitions against the Climate Pollution Endangerment Finding and the Clean Car Standards and dismissing petitions against the Timing and Tailoring Rules.

EDF activists submitted tens of thousands of comments in favor of these critical rules and today’s court decision affirms our efforts to defend EPA’s common sense solutions to promote cleaner air and a safer climate future.

This ruling also comes one day after the public comment period closed on the proposed new EPA rule that would limit climate pollution from new fossil fuel power plants. An incredible 113,579 EDF activists joined a record-shattering 2 million Americans who submitted comments in favor of this rule that, if implemented, will help end dirty energy as we know it.

Ruh Roh. Universe may not be what we thought it was.

Astronomers have discovered something that should not be there. It is an arc of light. The arc is the effect of gravitational lensing which happened as light passed by a massive galaxy about 10 billion years ago in space-time. In other words, in this universe, but very far away and a very long time ago, when our universe was a mere toddler. The galaxy that supplies the light is even farther away.

(UPDATE: See this post by Phil Plait for a detailed writup on this observation: The galaxy that shouldn’t be there)

Here’s the problem. A very massive galaxy…the one that is farthest away…over 10 billion years away in space time is an anomaly, and a galaxy massive enough to create this lensing is also an anomaly. According to the leader of the team that glimpsed this galactic puzzle, “According to a statistical analysis, arcs should be extremely rare at that distance. At that early epoch, the expectation is that there are not enough galaxies behind the cluster bright enough to be seen, even if they were ‘lensed,’ or distorted by the cluster. The other problem is that galaxy clusters become less massive the further back in time you go. So it’s more difficult to find a cluster with enough mass to be a good lens for gravitationally bending the light from a distant galaxy.”

So, is this just something that can exist but is very very rare and these scientists just happen to see it? Or is it the case that the models of the early Universe are somehow in need of adjustment.

Now the astrophysicists know what it’s like to be an astrobiologist!

More from NASA: Continue reading Ruh Roh. Universe may not be what we thought it was.

Should people be able to trademark body parts and looks?

Anthony Davis is apparently some sort of athelete, and he apparently has these eyebrows:

And he intends to trademark them. Well, actually, he’s already trademarked them:

Davis, known for his connected eyebrows, trademarked the phrases “Fear The Brow” and “Raise The Brow” earlier this month.
“I don’t want anyone to try to grow a unibrow because of me and then try to make money off of it,”

It is a good thing he does not have a twin, or there might be a fierce, and at the same time incredibly stupid, legal battle.

Romney: Outsourcer-in-Chief

Obama campaign’s latest ad:

The Washington Post story referred to is here, and says:

During the nearly 15 years that Romney was actively involved in running Bain, a private equity firm that he founded, it owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas call centers and factories making computer components, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission….

While Bain was not the largest player in the outsourcing field, the private equity firm was involved early on, at a time when the departure of jobs from the United States was beginning to accelerate and new companies were emerging as handmaidens to this outflow of employment.

Bain played several roles in helping these outsourcing companies, such as investing venture capital so they could grow and providing management and strategic business advice as they navigated this rapidly developing field….

Should the Flying Spaghetti Monster Rear his Awesome Noo-Noo?

Matt Lowry, whom I hope to be seeing in a couple of weeks, has written an article on his blog and republished on the JREF web site, called Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

The idea is this. There has been a recent change in strategy among creationists (which, I’m sorry, but I may have started a few years back for which I apologize). Instead of pushing creationism per se, they push “academic freedom” which doubles as a way to repress the teaching about climate change, evolution, and other inconvenient science, and a way to introduce whatever other “alternative view” a creationist or anti-science teacher might pull out of his or her nether regions. An by “nether regions” I mean material provided by the Heartland Institute, stuff they picked up at the Creation Museum, or took off the Answers in Genesis web site.

Matt is re-suggesting and giving new air to an idea that we all mutter under our collective breath about now and then; If they want to teach their particular religion in the classroom, then fine, but then we also must teach the origin stories of every one of the thousands of distinct tribal groups documented by anthropologists, all the other non-Abrahamic state level religion such as Hinduism, the much-hated1 Islam, and, of course, we must provide the origin and evolution related parts of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I recommend that you have a look at Matt’s blog posts, here and here.

Matt is obviously being both serious and not serious at the same time. Sometimes this seems like a strategy one should try, a sort of massive passive aggressive attack. “Well, then, fine. Let’s just do that. Let’s see what the Bhagavad Gita says about cellular biology,” is how we would say it here in Minnesota, where Passive Aggressive originated and is still a refined art.

I insist that the cults of Elvis and Bigfoot be taught in science classes from now on. Photo of Elvis and Bigfoot fighting courtesy of roadkillbuddha at http://www.flickr.com/photos/roadkillbuddha/239553576/sizes/z/in/photostream/
Other than pointing you to my colleague’s post, which also includes information about recent creationist antics in the legislative system, I also wanted to mention two-three reasons why we actually can’t do this. This is not a disagreement with Matt; he knows these things too. I just want to make sure they get mentioned.

First (but not most important), the curriculum is full. Only time neutral suggestion are reasonable. At times it seems like everyone has a thing they want taught in school. “If only they taught the kids how to bla bla bla then everything would be fine.” The thing is, whenever such an idea occurs to someone with power, like the person who happened to show up on nomination day and got elected to the school board in Poffadder Iowa, it actually DOES get added to the curriculum. School boards and administrators generally have no idea of what goes on in the classroom and despite words they may use have little respect for classroom time. Every year, in most schools, classroom time is taken away and replaced with dumb-ass crap mandated by the state legislature, the school board, the school’s administration, or whatever. Lockdown drills, Pledge of Allegiance, The News Minute, standardized tests that do not have a standardized schedule, etc. etc. People worry about snow days. Snow days are not the problem. Administrators with a microphone and a random thought popping into their head are the problem.

Another reason is the simple fact that if we let one of the hoard past the moat the rest will feel like they’ve been invited. The wall between church and state would actually have to be breached, or at least, a gate lowered, to let this happen. That can’t be allowed. This has happened already; at present, there are religiously based charter schools in the US being funded by tax dollars that give religious instruction and don’t teach evolution because the religion of the school does not accept it. That’s a breech. This is being walked back here and there, and the weakening of the charter school strategy is helping with that, but we can’t handle too many breaches.

Another reason which is the secret reason Matt would never really accept teaching the Origin Story of the Iroquois, as interesting and culturally relevant as it may be, as a scientific theory in a life science class, is because it is not science. A closely related but distinctly different reason is that it is not true.

One of the most important points Matt makes, and that I imply above, is that we are no longer talking about creationism vs. evolution. Increasingly we are talking about science in general. Well, we always have been to some extent, but it has gotten specific:

…let us note that the new Tennessee law also makes specific references to the science of global warming and human cloning, both increasingly hot-button issues for social and religious conservatives in the United States. But, interestingly, the language is more open-ended and doesn’t stop explicitly at those topics; in fact, the language states that “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation”. Note that the law doesn’t specify among whom these topics can arouse debate and disputation.

If this strategy is attempted, though, I very much hope that the first law suit demanding equal time comes from … well, you can probably guess what I think about that.

Ancient artifact from The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion from the fourth millennium before the present. Source: Pastafarian at http://goo.gl/9hsZY

1Hated by many of those who want to force their particular religious beliefs onto others’ children by legislation.