Monday, February 27, 2006

Never Enough Rapid Evolution Department

A follow-up to my previos posting: Species, having to adapt to a rapidly changing climate, are evolving faster, supporting the Punctuated Equilibrium hypothesis and encouraging me to go up to the Discovery Institute's offices with bullhorn and scream, "IN YOUR FACE." But then I remind myself that, despite rapid evolutionary changes, many species are still dying out, and I sober up very quickly.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Never Enough Creationist Fuzzheads Department

Last night I found a link to a site that tries to convince college students that God, not evolution, was solely responsible for creating humans. Realizing my biases--extreme skepticism at religious hucksters persuing dubious claims that are not verifiable--I didn't expect to be convinced. But I didn't expect to be as annoyed as I was after I got to the heart of the argument. The weakness of the argument they present is only exceeded by their deceptive attempts to convince others of how right the argument is.

The site used a variation on the old theme, "If there's a watch, there must be a watchmaker." The argument was that, if you had a bag full of watch parts and shook it up for a long time, it'd never spontaneously combine to form a watch. Therefore, it's argued, it's ridiculous to claim that inanimate matter could ever spontaneously combine to form life.

Poppycock, balderdash, twaddle, flim-flam, and bullshit. In that order.

This comparison between watch parts and volatile chemicals is weak. Watch parts do not ever spontaneously combine, obviously. But hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen--the most plentiful elements in living creatures--are highly volatile, and do spontaneously combine when mixed together. Elements combine to form simple molecules. Simple molecules combine to form complex molecules. (Likewise, complex molecules also break down into simpler molecules, a key point that's important for life as well.) Some molecu l es even serve as a catalyst for creating more complex molecules, or for breaking them down into simpler molecules. This happens all the time, across the cosmos, which is littered with hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen compounds.

We have even found that amino acids can form readily in deep space, and may be present in comets. They may also show up in meteorites which may or may not in turn come from comets, although there is some controversy on the subject. This is not to say that life necessarily originated from amino acids created off-planet, but that amino acids are so abundant that it hardly matters where they came from.

Amino acids are the building blocks for DNA; it does not take much imagination to see strings of amino acids combining to form longer and longer strings of DNA, or for enzymes (more primitive, chemically, than amino acids) to break the DNA apart and recombine them with still more amino acids--and, due to the nature of DNA requiring matching pairs of chemical bonds, the effect is to create duplicates of the original. And because DNA gives instructions for creating various proteins, enzymes, and amino acids, they define all the basics for life. Errors creep into the DNA a bit at a time, and viruses (DNA wrapped up in an envelope of proteins) interject their DNA into the strand. Over time, this causes considerable change. And thus the mechanisms of evolution are put into effect, as they have been for nearly four billion years.

Admittedly, this description is oversimplified, but based on all known information, it is correct in substance. There may be reasonable differences between biologists about exact details but none of these details are critical to the argument. There are too many similarities between various forms of life--shared genes, enzymes, organ design, etc.--to be so cavalier as to blow off evolution as contrary to "common sense."

Sorry, but REALITY defies common sense: You may believe that, say, your desk surface is solid, when the impression of solidity comes from the interaction of forces at the atomic level, keeping objects from falling through. You may see the sun rise and set, but you know that's an illusion caused by the earth spinning on its axis. You may insist that the universe is but thousands of years old, but we know how fast light travels and, through parallax, we can determine how far away stars and galaxies are, and therefore, we know how long light has been travelling from the stars and galaxies--if we're talking about far-away galaxies and quasars, we get figures in the range of billions of years.

So, would you rather place your trust in a system designed to create testable ideas which can be verified by hard evidence, or in "common sense" based on a rather provincial and literal interpretation of a heavily-modified book like, oh, the Bible? The answer: Science doesn't need trust. It has evidence, testable hypotheses, and accurately predictive theories. And that's all that I need to accept it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Never Enough Insane Child Custody Cases Department

I've known Rachel Bevilacqua ever since she and I attended our first SubGenius X-Day event, way back in 1997. In all that time I've known her, she's always struck me as a very sweet woman and a good friend, with clear-cut ideas of propriety and motherhood, and how NOT to let her SubGenius performance art interfere with that. Therefore, you might imagine I'd be more than a little dismayed to get a call from her recently, letting us know that a judge has stripped her of custody of her child, Kohl.

This is not the first time that SubGenius has been used as ammo in an ugly custody battle, especially when a conservative judge has been involved. In this case, however, the situation has been taken way out of context, and it certainly does not help that her ex claimed falsely that he could not reach her and that he considered her a kidnapping risk. Nor does it help that the judge's reaction was so extreme. However, given that the Church's most important rule is, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke," and that our own holy texts have the word "LIES" on practically every page, it's somewhat hard to believe that some people will take what we do that seriously. But obviously they do, and Rachel needs your help. If you can make a donation to her legal defense fund, that would be deeply appreciated; donation links are available at both Rachel's blog and on the SubGenius page linked above. And no, I can personally verify that this is not a scam, despite what some might suspect.

More details can be found at Bartholomew's notes on religion, as well as at Rev. Ivan Stang's personal blog. A "funny" take on the situation can be found--where else?--at Jesus' General, where they have been making the unfunny "funny" for years. The situation is also mentioned on Boing Boing. It looks like news of this story is getting out there, but please help spread the word. Thanks.

Rachel and Kohl, you're in our thoughts, and we hope you two are reunited soon.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Never Enough New Music Department

I've been craving new CDs for months; thanks to both Yule and my birthday (yesterday for those keeping score at home) I finally got a few:

Ludicra - Another Great Love Song: Brilliant post-black metal from San Francisco featuring two women with savage voices, needle-sharp lyrics, and a sound that forges new territory even as it remains true to its black metal roots. Extra points for the buried, distorted sample from "Tainted Love" in-between tracks "Why Conquer?" and "In The Greenest Maze".

Ulver - Blood Inside: The Norwegian black metal band that reinvented themselves as a high-brow electronica outfit continues to astound and confound expectations, with tracks that go from angelic sublimity to surprising heaviness, all without breaking stride. Ulver has always been brilliant but a little inconsistent; all the more surprising, then, that this is one of their most consistent recordings in a decade.

Various Artists - Neurot Recordings I: This is a sampler of recordings from the label that brought Neurosis and Tribes of Neurot to the world--a label dedicated to the exploration of sounds from a post-hardcore, post-metal direction. From the bass harmonics of Vitriol to the distinctly Asian cacophony of Zeni Geva, you are practically guaranteed an exposure to new sounds regardless of how broad your tastes.

Blut Aus Nord
- Ultima Thulee: A solid but not quite distinguished first-time effort leaves the barest hint of their later experimentation with Godflesh-inspired ambient discordance. A worthwhile historical addition to my collection, but not necessarily for others....

Samael - Reign of Light: It'd be tempting to compare Samael to Rammstein, except (a) Samael's been around much longer; (b) they write much better music; and (c) their lyrics appeal to the mystic at heart. After some of the disappointment of Eternal, it's a joy to hear Samael put some backbone back into their music. Reign of Light may not exceed Passages as their greatest album, but it gives me hope that they're still striving to excel.

Peccatum - The Moribund People: An EP of three mere songs makes for more interesting listening than most LPs. Peccatum sticks with their moody and sophisticated sound for this album, and they don't disappoint. The only problem: This EP should've had more songs on it! But at least the EP comes with a video for the title track, so all is well. HIGHLY accessible.

Opeth - Ghost Reveries: Simply the most brilliant album from the most brilliant band ever to come out of Sweden. Honest. To call them a death metal band is to disregard the purity of the singing, the smoothness of the mourning guitars, the profound influence of prog-rock, the touches of folk and classical music, and the amazing ability to draw non-metal fans into their circle. But to ignore the death metal elements is to commit a grave disservice: The metal elements, seemingly sparse, have so much more impact as a result.

Never Enough Server Downtime Department

For the two people who might've noticed this site was down, blame it on a dumbass hacker whose asinine attempts made my web host temporarily suspend my account until they could ban the hacker's IP addresses. For the hacker, should he/she be reading: PBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBT.