Daily Archives: November 5, 2012

Final ABC-WaPo Poll Is Out

Bottom line: In the popular vote, Obama will win over Romney by a surprisingly small margin, if he wins.

People generally think Obama is going to win, as per this graphic:

But the actual “I’m voting for X” numbers are 50% Obama, 47% Romney. That is within the margin of error.

The poll, which is here, indicates that while the numbers are close, Obama’s support is slightly (but only slightly) more enthusiastic than Romney’s. Obama has a good approval number compared to Romney’s but for some reason people, who are apparently all idiots, think that Romney will do a better job than Obama at handling the economy, even though a strong majority accredit Obama with understanding the economic problems the country is having.

Is there still room on the shelf for an almanac?

When I was a kid, I loved the almanac. I don’t remember where they came from, but every couple of years a new one would appear in the house, and as soon as I got my hands on it, it moved into my room and anybody who wanted to look stuff up in it after that needed to see me first. And, actually, much of the time I could give them whatever info they needed if they just asked me, because I knew the contents.

I have on my desk the “The World Almanac for Kids 2013” produced by World Almanac. It has a picvture of a ballerina, a frog, a football player with the New York Jets, somebody who looks like he is on a TV show and a kid with a fancy hair cut, could be Justin Beiber. It has the Olympic symbol, Big Ben, and the “Tower of London” and a bit of the earth as well. On the back is a chimp, some nemo-fish, two young women and a young man who are probably all TV or movie personalities or singers, and the White House with a “Vote 2012” button.

I’m telling you all this because it gives a feel for what the book is all about: The inside is like the outside, with every page full of images, generally of young people all of whom are very pretty and healthy and happy and most important, well informed looking. There are graphics and diagrams and things to do. It is printed in cheapish paper which will allow you to feel OK about taking a pair of scissors to it or drawing on it, as needed. It is only the 2013 Almanac, after all. Use it up and then get a new one next year!

I’m not sure if almanacs are still useful or cool for kids because all kids in America how have smart phones or the equivalent. Right? Or maybe the Almanac is for kids who are poor and don’t have internet access. Or maybe, just may be, it is for kids who still like books.

Or for parents who still like books to give their kids so they will maybe like books a little bit still.

Here is the publisher’s writup:

The World Almanac® for Kids is the best-selling reference book for kids, with more than 4.4 million copies sold. Filled with thousands of fun, fascinating facts and essential homework help on a wide range of subjects, this annual, full-color almanac has been completely updated and fully redesigned, with a fresh new look, hundreds of new photographs, dozens of completely new features, and a wealth of puzzles, games, activities, maps, and much more. An ideal homework aid that is fun to read for kids and adults alike, The World Almanac® for Kids 2013 provides timely and timeless information on popular subjects such as animals, science, sports, music, U.S. history, and more. Readers will find out what’s hot in 2012 with full-color photographs and facts about favorite sports and entertainment superstars!

At less than 10 bucks, I actually think this is a good Xmas present for kids in upper grade school or middle school. I do, however, have a criticism I’d like addressed in future editions. The “biology” section does not really have much on Evolution, and the “Famous Scientist” section does not have Charles Darwin as one of the biologists.

When I saw this I became enraged and spit all over the computer screen, naturally, but then I contacted the publishers for an explanation of this outrage. I was assured that they were not anit-Evolution or anti-Darwin, and that what was going on was quite different. They said that they rotated over time through subtopics, so even though Evolution was not part of the biology section this year, it could be some other year, and even though Darwin was not one of the scientists this year, he could be some other year.

This is wrong, of course. Biology IS evolutionary biology, and certain key scientists should always be mentioned because they are always part of the history of the science (until they are replaced, of coruse). What has to happen this: The editor has to talk to me now about next year’s edition, and we can start working on how to ALWAYS have “Evolution” but at the same time always make it different and interesting, current and engaging. Same with Darwin and the other key scientists. We can make this work, and I assume that by this time next year when I’m asked to review this book for the kiddies, The World Almanac for Kids will have adjusted the way it presents life science to get it more in line with how life science works; key concepts and people are always there, and what changes is the new interpretations and new discoveries being made.

What does sexism and harassment feel like to you?

I’m a guy who “gets” nasty threats from haters. I receive anti-atheist threats and icky comments, I receive a LOT of nasty stuff from climate science denialists (and that often comes along with bogus threats of law suits), I receive nasty emails and tweets from the sexist and racist SlymePitters and those folks seem to spend more time than is healthy for them making Greg-hating memes and videos and comments on web sites I would not normally visit.

So, I receive nasty horrid verbal attacks from people who hate me and what I stand for, but do I get these nasty horrid verbal attacks in the way that, for example, Rebecca Watson or Amy Roth or Jen McRight get them? Continue reading What does sexism and harassment feel like to you?

Zombie Tits …

… Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals…

"Look, for the last time, we're not angry lesbians! We just considered all of the options and it makes more sense for us to reproduce on our own!" ... "Ha! I told you she'd yell. Yo owe me fifty bucks."
I remember when the story of the blood shooting lizard of the American Southwest was first figured out. The native people of the area had always spoken of the ability of a particular lizard to spew a stream of blood from its eyes. This would be done to thwart attackers. Naturally, as is often the case, scientists working in the area wrote this off as a quaint native belief. And, as is often the case, the quaint native belief turned out to be valid aboriginal knowledge and the scientists were wrong. In this case, it was a scientist working in the area, I think studying these very lizards, and his dog who “discovered” what was already known. It turns out that the dog invoked the response, and this is how the research scientist came to witness the event.

The blood spurting lizard of the American Southwest is only one of a large number of Stories of the Bizarre and Wonderful things in nature covered in my colleague Becky Crew’s new book, Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals. The book is not actually out yet but it will be soon, and you can probably pre-order it.

There are a lot of books out there that will take you through a tour of the animal kingdom, and frankly they all start to look a lot like each other, covering the same sexy or bloody themes, making constant and generally unsupportable references to how if a frog does that than a human must work this way, or if a fish does that than this is why women shop and men watch football, etc. etc.

Zombie Tits is not one of those books. Topically, it is organized in easily recognized themes (Hunters, Lovers, Prey, Odd bodies, you know, the usual stuff). And various animals are discussed under each them, and as far as I can tell with good attention to accuracy and detail. But the way it is done is a little … different. How shall I explain this …

OK, I’m just going to say it. This book is what you would get if you dropped 750 mics of LSD, stat down with the Animal Diversity Web site, and alternated between reading about interesting animals and writing totally tripped-out stories with those very same animals as the characters in those stories. Then you would get this book.

I can’t tell you how often I am on the verge (without the LSD I quickly add, and I’m sure Becky did not take that route either) of writing stuff like this, and if you pay attention you’ll see that some of my better bloggy essays do weave a story between the cold and hard and the odd. But Becky does not hold back at all.

From the chapter “Secret boys’ club” on Concave-eared torrent frogs (Amolops tormotus) in which there is a very nicely written detailed account of current research on the mating calls and related behaviors of this interesting amphibian, we find a long digression that begins:

Seriously, female concave-eared torrent frogs, get a load of these jerks. They have their own language now? Why can’t they just email each other about …. whatever it is boys talk about? Do they really need an entire secret language so they an make comments about the concave-eared torrent frog equivalent of boobs at any possible opportunity?

… and ends with …

'Hello?' ... 'Hey, it's me.' ... 'Oh, hey, Giant Squid. What do you want? I'm trying to get dressed for work over here.' ... 'I know, I'm watching you,.' ... 'Argh, would you quit it with that stuff? You guys should have to apply for a licence to see so far away. You're all a bunch of creeps.' ... 'That's a really ugly tie.'
… and they can LOL about how your best friend clearly wants to do all of them (I’m right there rolling my eyes with you, female concave-eared torrent frogs), but you’ll always be the only ones who actually have the concave-eared torrent frog equivalent of boobs, and there’s nothing the least bit funny about LOLing about something you just LOL’d your way out of seeing.

For some reason I’ve mainly picked sexy passages from the book, but honestly, that was totally random. I just stuck a finger in and that’s what happened. The topics are more diverse than that. But don’t worry, not too much more diverse.

Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals has a list of references per chapter and other supporting resources in the back matter, is not illustrated but is nicely printed, well written, and just feels good in your hands when you read it. Must be that cream paper and perfect binding combination. Of course, I’ve probably got a pre-publication copy here so I can’t say what the final will look like.

This book is for anybody interested in animals and stuff; it will bring new exemplars to the discussion, make you laugh, and perhaps more important, will probably be read and enjoyed by a large audience who would normally read Cosmos instead of animal books. Becky is tricking people into learning cool stuff. Thank you Becky.

Becky blogs here.

The War on Science: Interview

This is an interview at Atheists Talk (TV), an update on the war on science, and a rare opportunity to see me wearing a suit.

The first few seconds are sound free; do not adjust your television set.

I mentioned the NCSE, here’s their web site.

Here’s a couple of books related to the topic:

  • Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future by Chris Mooney and Sheril
  • Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America by Shawn Otto
  • Something on crying babies and vaccination is here, and something on milk allergy is here.

    Minnesota Atheists YouTube channel is here.

    Disclaimer: The comment that we have a new kind of storm is not a conclusion, but a hypothesis, though it does not sound that way from the way I said it. But now you know.

    ADDED: A fuller list of resources is HERE.