Friday, April 29, 2005

At The Science Fair

Yesterday morning Mrs.Coturnix and I went to Coturnietta's school. Her class had a Science Fair! You can just imagine my excitement - a scientist's daughter's first venture into science!

For two weeks she pestered me to help her with her project, and I did a little bit here and there (using sharp objects when neccessary, for instance, or going to the store and buying supplies she ordered), but in general, I did my best to resist the urge to do more than minimum and let her do it all by herself. And she did. She built a seismograph out of a cardboard box, a paper cup, a marker, some pebbles (from her aquarium!), and a roll of paper. And it worked wonderfully!

She picked her assignment herself. She's been interested in earthquakes and volcanoes lately (a budding Earth scientist?). She dug through our library and found all those thousands of books on biology (and nursing and philosophy and politics....), but nothing about earthquakes. So I went to Quail Ridge Books (they have a great childrens' book section) and asked if they had something. I was shown about ten books on earthquakes and I picked two that I thought would be at her reading level and of interest to her. And she read them hungrily the first day I brought them home.

She also built a poster out of carboard and glued onto it several sheets of paper with handwritten facts about earthquakes and the way seismograph works. She asked me where she could find some illustrations for the poster. I pointed her to my stack of old science magazines in the corner, various old issues of Science, Nature, Discover, Scientific American, American Scientist and Discover (all of which subscriptions ran out, as I cannot afford them and at the same time I am punishing myself for not finishing my Dissertation yet - no fun science until the stats and graphs are done!). Within two minutes she had not just a very pretty photograph of the Earth (from a cover) but also a series of figures showing tectonic plates from a paper in Nature! She is in third grade!

So, on Wednesday I helped her carry all that stuff to her classroom and, from what I hear, several other classes came to visit their Science Fair. Yesterday it was time for parents to come and visit. It looked like a poster session at a scientific meeting with each child standing in front of the poster, explaining what it was all about and demonstrating something.

Coturnietta is the youngest, smallest and timidest kid in the class. She is very shy. She does not talk to strangers. So we were surprised, very pleasantly of course, to see her talk enthusiastically about her project to all those parents circling around the room. I heard her explain the plate tectonics (the pieces of broken egg-shell floating on the suface of the egg-white that is the Earth), and how earthquakes happen when the two plates hit each other. I saw her demonstrate her seismograph and how the squiggles on the paper can tell you where the earthquake is and how strong it is. I was sooooo impressed. My father's (and scientist's) heart was so full of joy and pride.

Other kids' projects were also very impressive for third grade. And they all were so confident and calm explaining to us how their stuff works. Myself, I am very happy they serve wine at poster sessions at conferences....

It was only after it was all over and we were leaving the school that I thought that this was something to blog about. About a minute later, Mrs.Coturnix said "You should write about this on your blog!". So, here it is.

It was interesting to notice some other things about the Science Fair, too. For instance, children of poor or less educated parents were doing their projects in pairs, while kids of more educated parents were going solo. Of course, some kids of scientists (and there are many in Chapel Hill) produced projects that were obviously made by parents. I do not think that a third-grader can do all that wiring and soldering and hammering nails needed for some of the more ambitious projects. Coturnietta's teacher was so proud of her for doing the whole project by herself.

Another thing is that Science Fair is a misnomer. It was really a Technology Fair. Kids were supposed to write their hypotheses on their poster boards, but nobody tested any hypotheses (except: "I hypothesize that my contraption will work the way it should"). Kids built models of stuff (e.g., volcanoes, tornadoes, airplanes), or built instruments to measure something (seismograph, Watt-meter), or explained how something man-made works (e.g., lightbulb, speakers), or described an applied technology (grafting fruit trees), or described some part of nature (human skeleton). I sure hope that as they grow up they get taught the difference between science and technology. For now, it is great to see how much fun they had and how proud they all were of their work.c

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:25 PM | permalink | (5 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Automatic Complaint-Letter Generator

From the hillarious Scott Pakin's Automatic
Complaint-Letter Generator
comes this wonderful letter:

My complaint about Coturnix

Here's the angry letter Coturnix knew he was bound to receive. What follows is a series of remarks addressed to the readers
of this letter and to Coturnix himself. All in all, if there's an untold story here, it's that there are some basic biological realities
of the world in which we live. These realities are doubtless regrettable, but they are unalterable. If Coturnix finds them
intolerable and unthinkable, the only thing that I can suggest is that he try to flag down a flying saucer and take passage for
some other solar system, possibly one in which the residents are oblivious to the fact that you may make the comment, "What
does this have to do with obstinate anthropophagi?" Well, once you begin to see the light, you'll realize that when I was
younger, I wanted to follow knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bound of human thought. I still want to do that,
but now I realize that he has shown no compunction in committing chara c ter assassinations or engaging in full-scale
vendettas. Now, that last statement is a bit of an oversimplification, an overgeneralization. But it is nevertheless substantially
true. Okay, I admit that unbridled skinflints are receptive to Coturnix's ignominious messages and fool easily. But Coturnix
extricates himself from difficulty by intrigue, by chicanery, by dissimulation, by trimming, by an untruth, by an injustice.

Consequently, there is a format he should follow for his next literary endeavor. I t involves a topic sentence and supporting
facts. None but the pudibund can deny that if we're to effectively carry out our responsibilities and make a future for
ourselves, we will first have to build a world overflowing with compassion and tolerance. Again, Coturnix's ignorant actions
create a kind of psychic pain at the very root of the modern mind. News of this deviousness must spread like wildfire if we
are ever to reveal the nature and activity of his cult followers and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final

Already, some headlong demoniacs have begun to till the lackluster side of the McCarthyism garden, and with terrifying and
tragic results. What proposed social programs will follow from their camp is anyone's gu ess. All of these things are related:
credentialism, Coturnix's credos, and the general breakdown of our society. I'll even tell you how they're related. It's really
very simple. In essence, it's undoubtedly a tragedy that Coturnix's goal in life is apparently to use cameralism as a more
destructive form of irreligionism. Here, I use the word "tragedy" as the philosopher Whitehead used it. Whitehead stated that
"the essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorse less working of things," which
I interpret as saying that Coturnix says that we should avoid personal responsibility. That's a stupid thing to say. It's like
saying that he has achieved sainthood. Regardless of the theoretical beauty of the notion that to ente r into philosophic
disputations with such morally crippled (or at least, fatuitous) clunks is both dotty and caustic, there is the opposing fact that
if he truly wanted to be helpful, Coturnix wouldn't pander to our worst fears.

One can examine th is fro m another angle, and plainly see that if he isn't voluble, I don't know who is. Considering that
Coturnix likes to have difficult social issues presented to him in simple, black-and-white terms, I find it almost laughable how
he remains oblivious to the fact that he labels anyone he doesn't like as "subversive". That might well be a better description
of Coturnix. He can't possibly believe that his way of life is correct and everyone else's isn't. He's stupid, but he's not that
stupid. I doubtlessl y hope that the truth will prevail and that justice will be served before Coturnix does any real damage. Or
is it already too late? Fortunately for us, the key to the answer is obvious: If Coturnix succeeds in his attempt to weaken
family ties, it'll have to be over my dead body.

According to the latest scientific evidence, he says that granting him complete control over our lives is as important as
breathing air. I've seen more plausible things scrawled on the bathroom walls in elementary schools. Cotu rnix's reprehensible,
contumelious rodomontades dismantle the guard rails that protect society from the irritating elements in its midst. Coturnix
then blames us for that. Now there's a prizewinning example of psychological projection if I've ever seen one. Isn't it
interesting which questions he dodges and what tangents he goes off on? Those dodges and tangents make me think that he
shouldn't blame those who have no power to change the current direction of events. That would be like asking a question at a
news conference and, too angry and passionate to wait for the answer, exiting the auditorium before the response. Both of
those actions burn books.

Others have stated it much more eloquently than I, but diabolism doesn't work. So why does Coturnix cling to i t? The answer
is not obvious, because the point at which you discover that Coturnix is attracted to heathenism like a moth to a candle is not
only a moment of disenchantment. It is a moment of resolve, a determination that many people are incredul ous when I tell
them that he intends to divert our attention from serious issues. "How could Coturnix be so power-drunk?", they ask me. "It
doesn't seem possible." Well, it is sincerely possible, and now I'll explain exactly how Coturnix plans to do it. But first, you
need to realize that if we can understand what has caused the current plague of gutless dummkopfs, I believe that we can then
keep our courage up. Look at it from my point of view: There is something capricious about Coturnix's shabby mendac ity
and sneaking duplicity. But what, you may ask, does any of that have to do with the theme of this letter, viz., that he doesn't
understand politics or simply doesn't care? That's the question that perplexes me the most, because he says that anyone who
resists him deserves to be crushed. That's his unvarying story, and it's a lie: an extremely superficial and pusillanimous lie.
Unfortunately, it's a lie that is accepted unquestioningly, uncritically, by Coturnix's votaries.

Although some lewd, concei ted low-lifes concede that Coturnix's smear tactics are sheer idiocy, they invariably deny that
Coturnix truly believes that society is supposed to be lenient towards brain-damaged hucksters. It is just such saturnine
megalomania, mephitic egoism, and int ellectua l aberrancy that stirs Coturnix to perpetuate misguided and questionable
notions of other homicidal blusterers' intentions. When I look back I think, "Sooner than you think, Coturnix will order his
lieutenants to rob from the rich but -- unlike Robin Hood -- give to audacious amoral-types." No matter how much talk and
analysis occurs, he has stated that the laws of nature don't apply to him. One clear inference from that statement -- an
inference that is never really disavowed -- is that he has t he lingui stic prowess to produce a masterwork of meritorious
literature. Now that's just bumptious. It is certainly the height of ironies that his victims have been speaking out for years.
Unfortunately, their voices have long been silenced by the roar a nd thunder of Coturnix's foot soldiers, who loudly proclaim
that Coturnix is a bearer and agent of the Creator's purpose. Regardless of those nutty proclamations, the truth is that he will
probably respond to this letter just like he responds to all criti cism. He w ill put me down as "selfish" or "abhorrent". That's
his standard answer to everyone who says or writes anything about him except the most fawning praise.

He and his attendants are, by nature, deluded devil-worshippers. Not only can that natur e not be changed by window-dressing
or persiflage, but the word "honesty" does not exist in Coturnix's vocabulary. End of story. Actually, I should add that
ancient Greek dramatists discerned a peculiar virtue in being tragic. Coturnix would do well to re alize that they never
discerned any virtue in being shallow. Coturnix is utterly gung-ho about conformism because he lacks more pressing
soapbox issues. Too many emotions to count raced through my mind when I first realized that we must educate, inform, a nd
nurture our children instead of keeping them ignorant, afraid, and in danger. Am I aware of how Coturnix will react when he
reads that last sentence? Yes. Do I care? No, because his fixation with blasphemous yokels is slatternly. But there is a
further-reaching i mplication: Today, we might have let Coturnix trample over the very freedoms and rights that he claims to
support. Tomorrow, we won't. Instead, we will prevent the production of a new crop of the most superstitious braggarts you'll
ever see. W hen Coturnix hears anyone say that the crux of the issue is that he has no great love of democracy or
egalitarianism, his answer is to prepare the ground for an ever-more vicious and brutal campaign of terror. That's similar to
taking a few drunken swings at a beehive: it just makes me want even more to enable patriots to use their freedoms to save
their freedoms. The question, therefore, must not be, "Has he ever considered what would happen if a small fraction of his
time spent trying to make denominationalism soci ally acceptable was instead spent on something productive?", but rather,
"How can he suppress people's instinct and intellect and then turn around and shed tears for those who got hurt as a result?".
The latter question is the better one to ask, because h e hates people who have huge supplies of the things he lacks. What
Coturnix lacks the most is common sense, which underlies my point that you don't need to be a rocket scientist to detect the
subtext of this letter. But just in case it's too subliminal for some, let me thrust it into your face right here: There is something
grievously wrong with those nasty, tendentious doomsday prophets who give lunatics control of the asylum. Shame on the lot
of them!

No one can claim to know the specific source of Coturnix's recommendations, but I don't believe that Coturnix can walk on
water. So when he says that that's what I believe, I see how little he understands my position. The most filthy imbeciles you'll
ever see often take earthworms or sim ilar small animal s and impale them on a pin to enjoy watching them twist and writhe as
they slowly die. Similarly, Coturnix enjoys watching respectable people twist and writhe whenever he threatens to force
women to live by restrictive standards not appl icable to men.

If someone were to turn once-flourishing neighborhoods into zones of violence, decay, and moral disregard, I'd rather it be an
army of foul-mouthed lunatics than he, because the latter is disaffected, while the former are only silly. You may not be aware
of this, but his legates are unified under a common goal. That goal is to tip the scales in Coturnix's favor. If I understand
Coturnix's double standards correctly, then to believe that a richly evocative description of a problem automat ically implies the
correct solution to that problem is to deceive ourselves. Coturnix's bruta fulmina are not an abstract problem. They have
very concrete, immediate, and unpleasant consequences. For instance, there are two related questions in this matter. The first
is to what extent Coturnix has tried to crush any semblance of opposition to his unsympathetic remonstrations. The other is
whether or not Coturnix and his spokesmen are jackbooted rabble-rousers. This is not set down in complaint against them,
but merely as analysis. I'd like to finish with a quote from a private e-mail message sent to me by a close friend of mine:
"Coturnix's ideologies are so nebulous and malleable that they can be used to justify any egocentric fibs".

Why do you have a complaint about me on your Web page?

Try it yourself. Use your name, or somebody else's name and enjoy the fun.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:30 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Thursday, April 28, 2005

This Blog Is Under (Some) (Re)Construction

If you came to this blog within the last 24 hours or so (and not read it on your own feed) you may have noticed some changes. Nothing major - the template is the same - but more subtle things that make this blog look better. The sidebar is now on the side, not on the top and bottom (depending on your computer/operating system/browser combination, of course), the PBA aggregator has been moved to the Archives, and the number of posts on the front page has been reduced from "past month" to "last 10 posts". This should make the blog look neater, as well as make it faster to load. You may have to use the Archives more, but that is made easier by placing "Archives by Date" and "Archives by Category" right on top. For older posts, use Categories, for more recent posts, search the March and April archives, as I have been slacking on updating the categories - this computer makes everything harder to do.

Anyway, I have not made these changes on my own. I went to the Chapel Hill Blogger MeetUp last night and, for a little while before other people showed up, Anton helped me with the template. So, if you like the changes, thank Anton. More changes are in the planning - updating my sidebar and blogroll, updating archives, and, unfortunately, I will have to add some ads (blogads, perhaps Amazon, perhaps PayPal tip-jar) pretty soon. Also, Justin is moving to California in about a week, and he gave me his old iMac that I'll play with and see if it will perform better than this POS I am using right now. So, thanks Justin.

Once I learn by messing with this blog, I will apply my newly-acquired skills to fixing Circadiana, giving it a brand new look and making it look really spiffy. I will appreciate feedback about the whole endeavor.o

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:59 PM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Skeptic's Circle

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son of the Skeptic's Circle is now online. It is really excellent.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:04 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Blog stats

SciPol finally overtook Circadiana in the number of hits, just about noon today:

Science and Politics: 35,187
Circadiana: 35,174

While SciPol is eight months old and is steadily gaining readership (about 250-ish per day these days), Circadiana started with a blast (17000 hits in the first week) three months ago, then slowly went down to its expected rate of about 80 per day. That is how it should be.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:58 AM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Child Abuse, Horse Abuse, Wife Abuse, God Abuse: Conservative Pathology

There is some interesting blogging going on these days concerning child abuse at the hands of Red State parents. For instance, Archy writes a post about Tough love and peppers:

The phrase "tough love" comes out of the drug rehabilitation community, but it is probably best known to most people in the context of an evangeli cal Christian, pro-corporal punishment, anti Dr. Spock movement that has been synonymous with James Dobson since the 1970's.

Yes, and Dobson is arguably the most powerful man in the USA today. Since Dobson is too busy writing legislation for DeLay, Hastert and Frist to push through Congress, he has delegated the childrearing business to his younger proteges:

Recently, a spin-off of Dobson's movement has appeared that calls itself "Creative Correction." The name sounds like the whole point is to prevent the parents from getting bored with the same old blows, but that's not it at all. The theory is that the punishment should fit the crime in a Biblically based way. This sounds like it should lead to lots of stoning, eye poking, a nd hand casting away. The current guru of the movement, Lisa Whelchel, hasn't gone that far yet, but she's certainly on that road.

From one of the commenters, an extremely important message, that reflects my own experiences here in the Ph D-full Chapel Hill:

I'm from Louisiana and currently live in the SF Bay Area. People around here just look at me like I'm nuts when I point out to them that Jesusland is a bunch of sick MF's who want the "sodomites" and those of us who tolerate them in San Francisco dead, dead DEAD, stoned like the Old Testament says. They completely pooh-pooh the evil coming out of Jesusland. Don't believe in it. Think I'm just making things up. And when I show them stories like this, they say "Well, that's just an isolated incident." F*** no it's not an isolated incident. It's Jesusland in a nutshell, the banality of evil in all its glory. These people are SICK. And the sickness is growing -- and in control of the nation. Misunderestimate it at your own per il.

This reminds me of a friend of mine. She grew up in New York City and came down to live in North Carolina. She took an intercontinental trip, starting at the Atlantic coast in Wilmington, NC and driving the whole length of I-40 until she hit the Pacific Ocean in California. Her words: "First 200 miles and last 200 miles are civilization - everything in between is Deliverance". Pathos, of course, as some child-abusers have all their teeth and dress nicely, like Dobson. And of course, there are pockets of normalcy in large cities and college towns in the reddest of the Red States, but her description remaines carved deeply into my brain. On some level, she is correct. Yes, these people are sick: Conservatives Are Crazy And Dangerous

Echidne finds more: The Godly Habit of Child Correction:

It is written by one Ronald E. Williams, an American Talibanist of an extreme kind, and it advocates corporeal punishment of children. No, it doesn't just advocate such punishment, it begs and pleads the parents (the father, obviously, but the mother can be delegated the duty to beat) to really revel in such beatings, to give them a chance to work by sticking at it, for hours if necessary. Why? Because the Bible tells him so. Also because children are inherently bad (why did God make them so?) and need to have their will broken, preferably before they turn twelve months old. No, I am not making this up

My wife and I have a general goal of making sure that each of our children has his will broken by the time he reaches the age of one year. To do this, a child must receive correction when he is a small infant. Every parent recognizes that this self-will begins early as he has witnessed his child stiffen his back and boldly demonstrate his rebellion and self-will even though he has been fed, diapered, and cared for in every other physical way.

On what occasions should a child be corrected? Whenever a child directly d isobeys authority or shows disrespect and rebellion toward authority, that child should receive correction. Lesser infractions of course would receive lesser forms of correction with the rod being reserved for the more serious infractions.

One of Echidne's commenters wrote that this guy makes Dobson look good. Oh, no. I own a copy of Dobson's "Dare To Discipine" and it is not one iota milder than what Williams writes. All the whipping and marathon beating is right there.

Archy contin ues with Spare the rod:

When Solomon admonishes us to spare not the rod, and to beat him, he means just that. Beat the child till you break his w ill. Beat him for hours if necessary. Lest we be confused by the male pron oun, Pastor Williams assures us that he means beat the troubled teenage girls, he assures us that girls can benefit from a a good beating just like boys do.

Williams' essay reads like a left-wing parody of a sociopathic, nutcas e fundie. His other writings confirm that image: teenagers should be segregated by gender at all times, girls should not engage in sports, dating is with a no-touch policy and is always chaperoned, marriages should be arranged by the parents, Christian co uples should have as many children as possible, and, of course, women should stay home and take care of the kids. If it's a joke, it's a scary one in that it has been taken serio usly as good advice by a number of churches.

Of course, differences in childrearing are one of the two essential differences between liberals and conservatives (the other being gender relations). Conservatives believe that children are born bad (wrong), that stick'n'carrot approach - the folk behaviorism - works (wrong), that discipline leads to self-discipline and obedience to self-obedience (wrong), that "strength of character" is needed for success (wrong) in a dangerous world (wrong) that cannot be made less dangerous by human activity (wrong). They believe that the most self-disciplined rightfully reap success (wrong), that the success can be measured in dollars (wrong), thus that the rich are the most upstanding citizens (wrong) and should be obeyed (bad idea). Actually, due to their misunderstanding of the nature of the wo rld, nature of human mind, and nature of societies, they produce, generation after generation, psychopaths arrested in an early stage of emotional development.

Of course, the relationship towards children is directly related to the relationship towards women, and there, conservative men are having some big pro blems.

One of Echidne's commenters mentioned something that I keep in mind all the time. The phrase "breaking his will", she writes, is not even used when talking about horses any more. Guess what, coastal liberals? Why do you think cowboys use sharp bits, long whips and star-ended spurs, while people in the Blue States tend to ride English? You can use force to turn a horse into a robot, useful enough to carry the tourists on trail-rides, but don't expect to take such a horse to the Olympics. I grew up watching two types of horse trainers. The bad ones have a "program" that every horse has to go through, and those that do not respond (the best and smartest horses) get bea ten into submission and finally sold to unsuspecting customers. I've spent most of my youth trying to "reconstruct" such horses and let them develop trust in humans and their natural talents and abilities. Many of those rough trainers ended up being hurt (even killed) by mares! They tend not to like working with mares. Mares do not become robots - they pretend to be - and they will get back at you when you least expect it - they never forget the bad treatment. Wherever I worked, they were happy to l et me work with all the fillies on the farm if I wanted to (and I did) and retained the colts for their own sadistic pleasures. I guess mares use their hind hooves to tell the overly aggressive stallions (and trainers): "Sorry buddy, I'll decide when you may appoach me from behind".

The way conservative men are raised - by being beaten by their fathers - translates into the way they treat (figuratively or less-figura tively "rape") horses, women, children, Blacks, gays, Iraqis, the poor, Jews, atheists, and the environment. That is the only way they are capable of relating to other liv ing beings. The core of it is femiphobia, the fear of being percei ved as feminine. The big enigma is why so many women become conservatiove. While some become nuns or submissive wives, the others outmacho the men and turn into the Schlaflys and Coulters of the world.

Another point I'd like to make here concerns religion. Many in the Lefty blogosphere assume that religion is the source of such pathological behavior, i.e., that it is the cause, and the wingnuttery is the effect. I believe it is the other way round. If you were raised in a strict/abusive way, you will grow up with neuroses that make you seek membership in strict hierarchical disciplinarian organizations, including the conservative churches. You pick and choose the passages from the Bible that confirm your worldview. You use such misrepresentations of Christianity (or Islam or whatever) to excuse your behavior and to push it on others. In other words, it is the wingnut pathology that distorts the religion, not the other way round...

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:08 AM | permalink | (3 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Science-Blogging on Daily Kos

Daily Kos is so big it needs its own version of Tangled Bank. Nerd News Weekly is a round-up of science-related Diaries at Daily Kos. Well prepared and worth checking out every week..

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:17 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Dare To Discipline?!

The line between Strict parenting and Abusive parenting is thin and blurry. These kids will never be able to trust other people and will never be able to trust their own judgment in making moral decisions. They will grow dependent on external moral authority and will feel comfortable in strict hierarchical organizations, be it the church, the military, or the GOP. Their moral and intellectual development is arrested and their relationship with other humans (and animals, etc.) will be pathological. They will love force, e.g., guns, football, powerful machines, and war. They will never have enough confidence in humanity to become liberal.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 9:44 AM | permalink | (3 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Grand Rounds XXXI

The 31st edition of Grand Rounds, the blog carnival of medicine, nursing and health care is now online. ⁄

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:59 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

How Readable Is Your Blog?

Use this site to calculate the readability of your blog (hat tip: Chris of Mixing Memory).

Readability Results for Science And Politics (I am assuming the front page):

Total sentences 2,614

Total words 31,144

Average words per Sentence 11.91

Words with 1 Syllable 20,468

Words with 2 Syllables 5,803

Words with 3 Syllables 3,055

Words with 4 or more Syllables 1,818

Percentage of word with three or more syllables 15.65%

Average Syllables per Word 1.56

Gunning Fog Index 11.02

Flesch Reading Ease 62.97

Flesch-Kincaid Grade 7.44

Readability Results for Circadiana:

Total sentences 1,690

Total words 21,447

Average words per Sentence 12.69

Words with 1 Syllable 13,698

Words with 2 Syllables 4,040

Words with 3 Syllables 2,445

Words with 4 or more Syllables 1,264

Percentage of word with three or more syllables 17.29%

Average Syllables per Word 1.59

Gunning Fog Index 11.99

Flesch Reading Ease 59.17

Flesch-Kincaid Grade 8.16

Yes, it's harder than your usual blog, but the front page contains five long posts on Phase-Response Curves and a bunch of other sciency stuff. I am happy that the Gunning Fox is not 20! Does this mean I can describe complex things in simple language? I hope so.

Typical Fog Index Scores:

6 TV guides, The Bible, Mark Twain

8 Reader's Digest

8 - 10 Most popular novels

10 Time, Newsweek

11 Wall Street Journal

14 The Times, The Gua rdian

15 - 20 Academic papers

Over 20 Only government sites can get away with this, because you can't ignore them.

Over 30 The government is covering something up

So, should I write for Wall Street Journal? Are they hiring Lefty ranters these days?

Some other blogs I like:

Legal Fiction:

Gunning Fog Index 12.15
Flesch Reading Ease 57.81
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 8.60

Total Information Awareness:

Gunning Fog Index 13.90
Flesch Reading Ease 51.51
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 10.21

Pharyngula (but I am assuming it misses the tough stuff "below the fold"):

Gunning Fog Index 9.52
Flesch Reading Ease 6 5.31
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 6.18

Mixing Memory:

Gunning Fog Index 12.72
Flesch Reading Ease 57.38
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 8.95

But, if you write a blog, what do you want? More readable or less reada ble? What kind of audience you think you are writing for? Should you try for a Fox Index of 6 (i.e., a sixth-grader can understand it)? No, blog-readers tend to be far more educated than that. How can you explain something complex at level 6 without d ist or ting the topic? You cannot. One should expect science, philosophy and other academic blogs to be around 10-12 (high school level), current-events and techno blogs somewhat lower, and personal journals readable still. That is how it should be.

Go here for discussion of results and some more blogs' numbers. Use the above link to read more about the methodology and to calculate the readability of your own blog..

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:59 AM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Are You A North Carolina Blogger?

Strengthen the North Carolina blogging community by getting involved. Promote your blog to other NC bloggers, introduce NC blogs to your regular readers, and learn about other great NC blogs. How?

Once a week, send a permalink/URL of your favourite post of the week to the host of the next Tar Heel Tavern. Next week's host will be Pratie Place.

Once a week, promote the Tar Heel Tavern by posting a link to it. The latest issue to link to is the Ninth Edition.

Sign up to host a future edition of the The Tar Heel Tavern and get all the NC bloggers' eyes focused on your blog for a week. If you want to host a future edition, let me know at Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com.c

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:59 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Monday, April 25, 2005

Skeptic's Circle - Call for submissions

Next edition of the Skeptic's Circle is on April 28th. For more information, go here.t

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:29 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Ann Coulter: Beauty, Beast, Rapunzel, Cinderella, or all of the above?

I have lamented several times before that neither Lakoff nor Ducat provide a satisfactory explanation for the development of conservative women of all types: nuns, submissive wives, and Coulter/Schlafly types.

Perhaps this grad student is onto something:

Fairy tales linked to violent relationships

Young girls who enjoy classic romantic fairy tales like "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast" are at greater risk of becoming victims of violent relationships in later life, a British researcher says.

A study of both parents of primary school children and women who have been involved in domestic abuse claims than those who grew up reading fairy tales are likely to be more submissive as adults.

Susan Darker-Smith, a graduate student who wrote the academic paper, said she found many abuse victims identified with characters in famous children's literature and claimed the stories provide "templates" of dominated women.

Remember when those fairy-tales were written and who wrote them...?

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 4:59 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

New Blog Carnivals

Two new Carnivals out there in the blogosphere.

First, the Carnival of Optimists already has Number One, Number Two and Number Three online.

Karnival of Kidz just had its First Edition.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 2:38 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Carnival of Un-Capitalists #4

The new issue of The Carnival of Un-Capitalists is now online on Red Harvest. Enjoy!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:08 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Pope. Who?

I have not mentioned the Pope on this blog yet. What will the election of Ratzinger mean for the future? I don't know - nobody really does - but here are some thoughts.

If it is true that there are 1 billion Catholics on this planet, that makes it about a 6th or 7th of the world's population. This makes the Vatican the largest existing purveyor of myth, irrationality and superstiton. The thought of the Cardinals who voted for Ratz was that he would be able to expand the reach of the Catholic church around the world. But will he? After all, he is more irrational and superstitious than most of his flock, let alone the rest of humanity.

If you think of the Catholic population in terms of demographics, the net growth is dependent on births, deaths, emigration and immigration. Currently, the Catholic church is experiencing a net loss in the Northern Hemisphere (e.g., Europe and North America) and net growth in the Southern hemisphere (e.g., Africa, Latin America, Southeastern Asia). Is that going to change with the new Pope?

Judging from Ratz's statements over the past couple of decades, including his statements of the past few days, he is trying to convert everyone into Catholicism: my way or highway. He is so sure in his belief that he thinks that, if he just shouts His Truth louder, everybody is going to see The Truth and join in. I think he is in for a big surprise.

His social conservatism will further alienate Northern Hemisphere population. As a result, there will be more deaths of old Catholics than births of baby Catholics, but that is not different from the current situation. The emigration (leaving the church) may be very small, but may get slightly larger due to his iron-fisted rule. The immigration (joining the church), on the other hand, will greatly decrease, as people will be unlikely to find his message to be coincident with their own core beliefs and morals. Thus, the net loss in the North will get bigger than it is now.

In the Southern Hemisphere, his economic conservatism will also alienate people. The death-to-birth ratio may not get altered substantially, and the emigration (leaving the church) may not significantly rise, but the immigration (joining the church) is likely to slow down. Social and economic justice are important for these populations and Ratz's stataments will make them think twice before joining. Thus, the net growth will slow down, perhaps stagnate, maybe even reverse.

As a result, the Catholic Church will either grow slower than today, or even start shrinking in global numbers. And that is if the local bishops and priests say and do nothing but follow the orders from the Vatican. But what if they do not? What if local priests push their own, more modern line? That kind of behavior would have two different results: first, to make Catholicism more appealing to the local population, and second, to provoke disagreement and tension within the church. Will that lead to the schism? Would American Catholics split off? If so, would European and/or Latin Americans join with the Americans or remain with the Vatican? Would the offical split bring more people into catholicism (as the liberal version attracts new converts), or would the nasty in-fighting further alienate potential converts?

Whatever happens, the attractiveness and influence of the Catholic Church will decline in the nearest future. If that is correct, I am worried that it is not healthy skeptical atheism that will be the most attractive alternative option to the people who would have, otherwise, joined the Catholic Church. I am afraid that the aggressively proselytizing evangelical Protestant churches will take over - they'll smell the blood and move in for the kill. I am sure that Islam and Eastern Orthodox Christianity (and various New Age cults, e.g., Scientology, Raelians) would also smell the troubles of the Vatican and renew their efforts to convert new people. If I had to choose between influence of the Ratz-style Catholicism and fundie Protestantism, I would always choose Catholics - a bit less crazy, irrational and superstitious lot as a whole.

So, the new Pope worries me not because he will make Catholics less modern, but because he will make even more regressive religions more attractive and influential - a net loss for the Enlightment.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 4:41 PM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Creationism....not in Minnesota!

PZ Myers of the Pharyngula blog had his op-ed published in Minneapolis Star Tribune today. An excellent article, well worth reading.

Unfortunately, due to the stupid "he said/she said" journalistic instinct to provide so-called "balance", the Star Tribune also published a typically dishonest piece by an Intelligent Design Creationist Dave Eaton.

The paper is asking for Letters to the Editor on the whole question, so pitch in, write something short and incisive to thwart the efforts to teach superstition in public schools:

An invitation to readers on ID/evolution.
We're interested in your thoughts on intelligent design, evolution, and their proper places in school curricula. Write us an e-mail of no more than 150 words and send it to, with the word "evolution" in the subject line. Be sure to include your name, address and telephone number so we can contact you if we decide to publish your response. Please reply by Monday, May 2.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 3:51 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

The Tar Heel Tavern

The Ninth Edition of The Tar Heel Tavern is up on Viewfinder Blues. Enjoy the best blogwriting of North Carolina. Next week's host will be Pratie Place. If you want to host a future edition, let me know at Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:50 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Good Father

It's too late and I am too tired to write a long post on this, but I know I won't have time tomorrow. All dirty, scrungly and unshaven after a day of house-cleaning I sped along I-40 (poor car, it was struggling to speed) to Raleigh for book-reading by M ark O'Connell at Quail Ridge Books.

I managed to get there right on time - just time enough to go and introduce myself before the event started. Now, in the times of horse and buggy this would be impossible, but in the age of Internet it's a different story: we greeted each other as friends - we have "met" on the Internet before, after all, in the comments thread on my post about Teen Sex, Hooking Up, Femiphob ia, Etc.

Yup, I got the book (which is now happily signed), but have not read it yet. I am reading Lynn Ponton's book about sexual behavior of teenagers first (review coming up soon). If I knew Mark was coming to town I would have read his book f irst, but QuailMail announced his visit only yesterday, so I came unprepared.

Mark's book is about being a father and what that means, particularly when the society is sending mixed messages about what it means to be "a man". Of course, I am very intere sted in the feedback between evolution of family dynamics and evolution of national political dynamics, but the reading was focused mainly on fathering in the sense of childrearing. The audience was, perhaps, more interested in family level than in the s ocietal level. Almost all people in the audience were women (where were the fathers?), many of those of "a certain age" (apparently friends of Mark's mother), so the questions, though very good, were focused mainly on the changing childrearing styles.

I felt that Mark also did not want to venture too far into politics. After all, he was in North Carolina and was not sure about the political leanings of his audience, so he played it safe. Of course, someone (me?) should have told him that Quail Ridge B ooks has trouble trying to sell its few copies of Hannity, O'Reilly and Coulter, while Krugman, Lakoff and Co. are flying off the shelves. I bet there was not a single Republican in that audience.

I was also very pleased (and a little shy/embarassed) that Mark made everyone look at me in the beginning when he pointed at me while saying he is glad that some people in the audience have spent a lot of time thinking about gender, and later appeared to expect (and wish for) a question from me. Of course, I would not be me without saying something out loud in a public forum... Does this make me an "influential blogger" (Karen, what do you think?)?

Anyway, before I go to bed, just a couple of comments on the stuff he said (I'll write more once I read his book, I promise).

Mark defined the difference between authoritarian and authoritative in an interesting way. To be authoritarian is to use too much force for wrong reasons (e.g., to make a child do something for selfish reasons). To be authoritative is to use the right amount of force for right reasons (e.g., to make a child do something for the sake of the child). I like that distinction a lot, but I am afraid it conflicts with the way some other literature uses the terms. For instance, the two terms, defined this way, do not map one-to-one on the Lakoff's division into Strict Parent and Nurturant Parent. Lakoff's Strict Parent is authoritative in this sense, not authoritarian, as such parenting is honestly geared towards helping the child make the best of what opportunities life may bring. This childrearing philosophy is wrong as it is based on wrong ideas about human nature, child development and human behavior, as well as behavior of the society, but it is nonetheless done out of honest belief that it is the best for the child. It is not selfish.

On the other hand, with our focus on the two Lakoffian categories (because they neatly map onto two core political ideologies), we forget that there are more than two parenting styles. There is also an Abusive Parent (definitely authoritarian), a Neglectful Parent (too physically or emotionally absent to have any authority), and a Permissive Parent (too weak and non-confident to have much authority).

It is the Permissive Parent that the Right ster eotypes the Left with, as the Core Conservatives (Regressives) are cognitively (and/or emotionally) incapable of comprehending Nurturant Parenting - it is too complex for their mental developmental stage. Thus, they talk about the "Nanny State", "everything-goes liberal philosophy", "moral relativism", etc. - all reminiscent of Permissive Parenting, not Nurturant Parenting that liberal ideology really maps to.

It is interesting what longitudinal studies show about long-term effects of these five styles on the destiny of the children (e.g., drug use, crime, incarceration rate, gang activity etc. vs. getting college and post-graduate degrees, getting rich etc.).

The best outcome is from the Nurturant Parent style which is authoritative.

The second best outcome is from the Permissive Parent style which is non-authoritative.

The third is the Neglectful Parent, which is non-authoritative.

The fourth is the Strict Parent, which is authoritative.

The worst is the Abusive Parent, which is authoritarian.

So, being authoritarian is clearly bad, but being authoritative is not in itself sufficient for succesful childrearing: if you follow Dobson because you believe that is in your child's best interest (you are doing it with most noble intentions), you will still screw up your kid. Having no authority is better than having a wrong kind of authority even if it is not authoritarian. I am assuming that other adults and peers take over as main influences if the parent is non-authoritative, while a Strict Pare nt has a strong but wrong influence on the child. But other adults and peers will reflect the beliefs of the community the kid is growing up in, so if you live in an exurb or village, even your peers may use rough Dobsonian treatment on you, while if you live in a college town, people around you are likely to be more nurturant resulting in a more positive outcome.

Perhaps I am wrong in equating "good intentions" with "good reasons" and Strict Parenting IS authoritarian, i.e., it applies too much force for wrong reasons (though out of good intentions). In that case, the Abusive Parent is just a bit MORE authoritarian than the Strict Parent, and being authoritarian, as a principle, leads to poor childrearing outcomes. I believe that Lakoff thinks this way about the five categories.

Of course, the five categores are far from being clearly delineated. In most cases there are two parents, each with a different style. The two parents also have a specific dynamic going on between them that influences the way the child is raised. As Mark noted, it is difficult to see your mother as nurturant (even if she really is) if your father keeps saying that she is a cold evil person.

Mark noted a study (I wish I had the reference) that shows that in two-parent families fathers tend (insert complicated statistics here) to be more assertive/aggressive, i.e., playing a role that is more traditionally associated with being a father and a man, while mothers tend to be more nurturant and "feminine". But, in single-parent families a shift occurs. Single mothers become more "fatherly", and single fathers become more "motherly". People are flexible in their behaviors, at least to some extent (how about Carrie's mother from the book/movie "Carrie"?).

Now that same-sex marriages are becoming a norm (Wingers' fiery rhetoric indicates they know they have lost yet another battle for white-male-straight dominance), it will be interesting to see what kind of dynamic they develop. Are they going to do a "division of labor", i.e., one spouse imitates a traditional father's role while the other imitates the mother, or are they going to BOTH assume something in the middle, something like having two single parents? Are two-men families going to be significantly different from two-women families?

Unfortunately, Mark had to sign a bunch of books, and I had to run to my lab to a computer on which I can read some blogs I cannot load at home, so we could not stay and chat forever afterwards, but I have his e-mail address now and he reads my blog, so we can continue the conversation. And I will read his book very soon and report here.


posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 3:25 AM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Publius on Nationalism, Kin Selection and Bob Dylan

Interesting post about Nationalism by Publius of Legal Fiction. He explains it in an interesting combination of genetics and culture with an ultimately (after a rough period) optimistic outlook for the future. The concept of "cultural lag" is very interesting. The "genetics" part is a little clumsy, dated and oversimplified (Hamilton's kin selection instead of group selection), but generally correct and better than the usual fare from non-biologists. I wish a biologist blogger with good grasp of group selection would write about that part....why is everyone staring at ME? I've been intending to write such a post for months now, yet feel I do not have it clear in my mind yet, so y'all will have to wait some more. In the meantime, go read Publius (and the comments) - it's thought-provoking even if you don't agree 100% with him.

Publius is one very, very serious blogger. Long serious thoughtfull posts. Not anybody's idea of light reading. Not your regular current-events-linkfest blogging. Rarely anything personal - never what he had for breakfast (or even the Random Ten on his MP3 player). Yet, once in a Blue Moon, he surprises with a one-liner. The latest one excites me, as a guitar player, as it provides a link to the site which contains lyrics and CHORDS to every Bob Dylan song ever.


posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:30 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Friday, April 22, 2005

Latest Carnivals

With computer problems and so much effort put into hosting the latest Tangled Bank, I failed to alert you to some of the latest editions of good carnivals. Here are Carnival of Education, History Carnival, Grand Rounds and Carnival of Godless. Enjoy

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:00 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Thursday, April 21, 2005

So, what are you doing for Earth's Day?

So, what are you doing for Earth's Day? E-mail the folks at Common Ills and, if you are doing something worthwhile, perhaps they will report about it on their blog tomorrow. In the meantime click on that link and see what they have found so far.?

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:41 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Tar Heel Tavern - Call for Submissions

Viewfinder Blues has issued the last call for submissions for entries for the next Tar Heel Tavern. Send your favourite recent permalinks pronto.¬

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:18 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Conservative Theory of Evolution

Conservative Theory of Evolution (hat tip: Pam's House Blend)i

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 6:35 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

What to do this weekend in the Triangle?

There is an embarassment of riches in the Triangle this week.

First, it is Passover, starting on Saturday at sundown, time for matzo-ball soup, horseradish, haroseth and Manishewitz wine and of course spending time with one's family and friends reading a Haggadah I put together a few years back that can best be described as Feminist Environmentalist Secular Humanist Pinko-Commie Haggadah. We are not going to miss hosting it this year - our house was still a mess after the move last year so we had to sk ip a year.

Then, there is a Hunter/Jumper horse show all weekend at the Fairgrounds in Raleigh. Unfortunately, no way I can make it.

Then, there is this exciting Philosophy of Biology Conference at Duke over the weekend on niche-construction, cultural evolution and the evolution of he mind. I'll try to make it on Saturday morning and all day Sunday if I can.

Tomorrow night (FRIDAY, APRIL 22, 7:00 p.m.) Mark O'Connell will discuss his i mportant new book, THE GOOD FATHER: ON MEN, MASCULINITY, AND LIFE IN THE FAMILY at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. I have posted about some of his stuff before and O'Connel actually came to my blog and responded "in person" a couple of times. I'd like to meet him in person (for real), so I'll do my best to have the house clean for Pesach in time to make it to this event....

Generation Engage has its inaugural event with Cate Edwards and Chelsea Clinton (see my previous post for more details) on SAT 4/23. 5:45 - 8pm. I'll have to miss this, of course, as I will be starting on my first (of five) cups of wine about that time.

And of course, there will be a new Tar Heel Tavern coming out this weekend...

Busy Busy!!!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 6:26 PM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Generation Engage

SAT 4/23. 5:45 - 8pm. Generation Engage to host NC inaugural event with Cate Edwards and Chelsea Clinton.

Kings Barcade, 424 S. McDowell St., Raleigh. 919-831-1005

A new non-profit(501(c)3 )organization based in DC will be hosting its inaugural meeting in Raleigh. Live music and BBQ will be provided at no cost, and all are welcome. Generation Engage's goal is to keep younger voters active in political discussions and the political process.

Members of North Carolina's General Assembly, Mayor Meeker, Cate Edwards, (and some reports have mentioned Chelsea Clinton) will be on hand. For more information on Generation Engage, please visit their website:

Well, I am hosting a Progressive Secular Feminist Environmental Godless Passover so I cannot make it, but YOU go!!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:21 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank, blog carnival of science, nature, environment and medicine is now online on Circadiana.

Tangled Bank was the first blog carnival I ever heard of, and is still my favourite -the only one I am sure to read all the posts as soon as the carnival is posted. And this says a lot: I started Tar Heel Tavern, co-founded The Carnival of the Balkans, watched (and hopefully aided) the birth and initial steps of Skeptic's Circle, Carnival of the Godless, Smarter Than I, Carnival of Un-Capitalists, Carnival of Bad History, Blog Tower and Carnival of Education. I had posts on 12 different carnivals and hosted five - this one is my second turn at hosting Tangled Bank.

I wrote about the importance of Blog Carnivals in getting to know like-minded bloggers, about the way blogging (and particularly carnivals) may alter the future of science and politics, and I try to, about once a month, collect all the existing carnivals in one place. In short - I am a real Carnie!

Now go read and enjoy the Happy Anniversary Tangled Bank!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:38 PM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Did A Virus Make You Smart?

I've been reading science-fiction pretty much all my life. I usually go through "phases" when I hit on a particular author and read several books by the same person. Last year I was in my Greg Bear phase and I have read eight of his books. He is one of those writers who gets better with age: more recent his book, more I liked it.

His is also some of the hardest of hard sci-fi around. He must be a really smart guy - he has a blog, after all! Bear really thoroughly researches whatever area of physics, astronomy, geology or biology he needs for his next novel. At a book reading last year, several people in the audience voiced their difficulties in understanding the science parts of his novels, while they thoroughly enjoyed the characters and plot. As a biologists, I found the science easy to understand, yet riveting anyway.

After I read his last two novels, "Darwin's Radio" and "Darwin's Children" I decided to check on his science - it sounded very good, yet so fantastic at the same time. What I found was a surprise: the real science is really that fantastic! Greg only needed to add a very little twist in order to turn it from fiction into science-fiction. So, here is some of what I discovered (though I am a biologist, this is way out of my area of expertise, so assume this is a lay-person writing).

Retroviruses are, well, viruses - short chains of nucleotides that enter the cell of a host and incorporate into the DNA of the host. Viruses we usually think about, like flu or herpes, use the genetic machinery of the host cell to make many copies of themselves, including protective protein coats that allow them to leave the cell and go and infect other cells.

Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) do not have the capability to leave the host cell and infect other cells (though some may produce particles that remain within the cell). It is thought that ERVs have lost that ability over millions of years of evolution (or is it parasite-host coevolution?) due to mutation and fragmentation of their sequences. They have been incorporated in our genomes for a very long time. It is estimated that as much as a third of our genome may consist of bits and pieces of old retroviruses - remnants of ancient viral infections.

ERVs have been found in many species of mammals and the absence/presence of particular ERVs, or mutations within various ERVs, are often beeing used to estimate times when two lineages split from each other. Endogenous retroviruses found in the human genome are designated as HERVs (Human ERV), in pig genome PERVs (Porcine ERV), etc.

What Greg Bear did in his novels is to allow one of the HERVs to (re)evolve the capability to leave the cell and organism and infect another organism (or fetus). While doing so, it affects the patterns of transcription of many other genes in the human genome during embryonic development, leading to developmental changes in a number of subtle anatomical, physiological and behavioral traits - changes large enough for the "virus children" to be considered a new species. The novels are particularly good at describing how the new race is being treated by the xenophobic society. Of course, Bear is a novelist, so the new traits he picked are those that make for a really good story. Those traits are not any more or less probable than any others he could have picked (e.g., high sensitivity of the vomero-nasal organ).

Most animal genomes appear to possess ERVs, yet mammals have a whole class of them not found in any other group of animals. Those appear to be a product of reverse transcription of cellular RNA. Why just mammals? Greg Bear points to a paper discussing a possible evolutionary explanation:

Viviparous mammals confront an immunological dilemma in that mammals which have highly adaptive immune systems fail to recognize their own allogenic embryos. The relationship of mammalian mother to her fetus resembles that of a parasite and host in that the fetus 'parasite' must be able to suppress the immune response of the 'host' mother in order to survive. As viviparous mammals are also noteworthy for having genomes that are highly infected with endogenous retroviruses and as retroviruses are generally immunosuppressive, the possible participation of endogenous retroviruses in the immunosuppression by the embryo was then considered. In addition, it was considered if such endogenous viruses might be more broadly involved in the evolution of their host and the resulting host genome that now appear to have many derivatives (such retrotransposons and as LINE elements) of such genomic viruses.

In many animals, endogenous retroviruses have been co-opted into new functions useful to the host. For instance, some parasitoid wasps inject so-called polydnaviruses into the egg or larva of the moth host. The virus serves to supress the immunity of the host, so that wasp eggs can survive within the host's body, hatch and the little wasps can eat their way out.

The paper quoted above proposes that placental mammals have co-opted one (or a small group of) HERV in building a connection between placenta and uterus in a way that does not compromise immunological isolation between mother and embryo. In a sense, this HERV allows the early embryo to implant into the wall of the uterus. Anti-HIV drug AZT, which is an inhibitor of reverse transcription prevents implantation of the fertilized egg, presumably by blocking the expression of the HERV.

The very-gently-stated bottom line of that paper - one that Greg Bear twists for literary purposes - is that without this particular virus that remained in our genomes since an infection millions of years ago, there would be no Placental Mammals!

Now, indulge me for a moment and let me go on a mental sci-fi trip for a moment. Let's go back 65 million years. Dinosaurs are suddenly extinct. Birds are flapping around and small mammals are hiding in the burrows. What happens next?

If the mammals did not receive this particular virus (or could not survive the infection), there would, perhaps, be no evolutionary origin of the placenta. Would we still have elephants and rhinos, or would this be a planet dominated by the giant platypus and kangaroos as big as T.rex, or perhaps enormous ravens and super-smart parrots?

Let me go onto a very thin limb here and propose that perhaps there would be elephants and rhinos but they would be very stupid...and there would be no great human civilization even if hominids arose at some point in history of Earth. Why?

How did dinosaurs get so big? They laid very small eggs, then grew at fantastic rates during early years of life. Such speedy growth required enormous amounts of energy. Every gram of food was converted into growth. The organ that is energetically most expensive to build and operate is the brain. In an animal that needs to be super-efficient about its energy, brain has to remain small, if enough individuals are to survive and reproduce for the species not to go extinct. Perhaps dinosaurs died out because they became too smart for their own good!

What does placenta do? There is no need to lay small eggs any more. Placenta allows the embryo to slow down its growth. It can grow slowly inside its mother for months (in larger mammals) and get pretty large before it has to start foraging for itself. It gets the luxury to, through some allometric and heterochronic changes, grow a bigger brain. The bigger brain, in turn, allows it to forage smarter. The mammals, once they acquired the placenta thanks to this HERV, are now free to get not just big, but also big-brained.

I know this is a hypothesis from a left field, but anyway, don't think of viruses only as bad guys that make you sneeze - a third of your genome is viral and who knows what aspect of you biology that you cherish so much may be directly traced to a remnant of a viral infection that Ducky the Platypus managed to survive a long time ago.


posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:22 AM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Monday, April 18, 2005

Un-Capitalists of the Balkans are Smarter Than I

Three great carnivals today:

Carnival of Un-Capitalists and Smarter Than I are now up, and later today check the Carnival of the Balkans.

Update: The newest, third issue of the Carnival of the Balkans is now up.

Also, looking at my schedule and computer availability for the next 24 hours, it appears I will be posting The Tangled Bank tomorrow about noon (EST), so I can extend the deadline for submissions a bit more: send your entries by tomorrow 9am EST.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:55 PM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Tangled Bank

I will be hosting the Grand Special First Anniversary Edition of The Tangled Bank, the blog carnival of science, nature, medicine and environment, on my other blog Circadiana, on April 20th.

Please send the submissions (Title of the post, name of the blog, URL/permalink of the post and, perhaps, a short blurb) to me at Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com by April 19th at 5pm EST (that's tomorrow!). Please put "Tangled Bank" in the title of your e-mail.

In the menatime, enjoy the previous edition here.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 9:52 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Books: Max Barry's "Jennifer Government"

I have just finished this fun fast-paced novel of not-so-far future. There are no more taxes, Police and NRA are security companies for hire, and Government investigates only if you can pay for it. Nobody seems to be able to recognize the US President when he appears in public, but CEOs of conglomerates are celebrities of sorts. It is a libertarian dream....and a logical outcome of such ideology is anarchy, and that is why every friggin' idiotic libertarian small-government, anti-tax, "free-market", gun-toting moron has to be forced to read this book as punishment for stupidity.

Perhaps you thought that 1984 (Orwell), Brave New World (Huxley), Man In High Castle (Dick) and Space Merchants (Pohl & Kornbluth) did not really predict the future accurately, though I would say that those four COMBINED get pretty close. If you want it all in just one volume, read "Jennifer Government". Funny, as I was reading it I was thinking about comparisons to Space Merchants (and The War Of The Merchants). A few pages later, a character picks up a copy of "Space Merchants" and does not like it because of its ironic tone: "There was no place for irony in marketing: it made people want to look for deeper meaning. There was no place in marketing for that, either".

Apparently, a movie is in the making. Max Barry has a good website with a lot of additional information and one part of it allows comments so it is, in fact, a blog.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:48 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

The Tar Heel Tavern #8

The newest, freshest issue of The Tar Heel Tavern is now online on Pseudonymous UNC Student's blog. Enjoy!

Next week (24 April 2005) the Ninth issue will be hosted by Viewfinder Blues. After that, we need new hosts. Let me know if you wish to be a host at Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com.r

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 3:17 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Femiphobia and Race

In my persistent inquiry into femiphobia (fear of being perceived as feminine) as an explanation for Regressive behavior (including voting behavior) I have encountered blog comments that can be summarized in these two ways: first, that femiphobia cannot explain racism, and second, that femiphobia does not explain why African Americans tend to vote Democratic. Let me try to address these two common complaints. I apologize in advance for my usual blunt language.

As I have already discussed (hypothesis about racism as underlying cause of Creationist belief), racism is very femiphobic. Especially during the late 19th and early 20th century, there was a feeling that civilization and modernity, and especially education, tends to "soften" men, i.e., make them less masculine. Racists at the time promulgated a number of myths about Black sexuality: that they are oversexed and hypersexual. You have all heard the myth that Black men have bigger dicks than White men. There was a fear that pure animalistic sexual magnetism is making Black men more attractive to White women, that White men cannot compete with the sexual prowess of Black men, and that Black men, being brutes, will steal and rape White women. That is all bullshit, of course, but many White men TODAY still believe it. Thus femiphobia, as a symptom of anxious masculinity projects its fears onto Black men as superior in the sex department - where it really hits the nerve.

At the same time, femiphobes have a strange relationship with women. On one hand, they are really big on public displays of chivalry. They are all so formal and gentlemanly, putting women up on the pedestal, holding their doors open and singing serenades under balconies. But once the bedroom doors are closed, Dr.Jekyll turns into Mr.Hyde and all sorts of strange, usually rough, aggressive, even brutal behaviors emerge (see the experiences of New York escorts during the GOP Convention last summer). Some serious problems with sexuality are covered up with either extremes of machismo, or strange perversions ("spank me, please").

For the same reasons, Black women entice them, as they are perceived as oversexed, yet are socially subservient and can be manipulated without punishment (see Storm Thurmond). When these guys vote Republican, it is more out of fear of what they perceive as feminism (as well as the Black face) of Democrats, than it is FOR whatever program GOP offers. Rove has figured that out and is selling his candidates not on what they offer, but as defenders of the White Men against the scary Satanic Feminists and Blacks (that is called "traditional values" and "family values") who threaten their masculinity.

Just a reaction to this White sentiment should be sufficient for Blacks to consistently vote Democratic. On top of that, of course, is the long history of the fight for Civil Rights during which the GOP was consistently on the wrong side and Democrats always on the right side. This is probably sufficient to explain why Black women vote Democratic (plus, perhaps, the hope that spread of liberal way of life will help them tame and educate their men, some of whom can be quite rough manly-men themselves).

But for SOME of the Black men, I feel there is an additional sentiment. Many of them are quite "traditional" in their views of gender roles and can be expected to be quite femiphobic themselves. Here, Ducat alone may not be sufficient without also invoking Lakoff's notion of Moral Order.

Out of many dominant-subservient pairs in the moral order hierarchy (e.g., God over men, adults over children, Whites over other races, Protestants over other Christians over other religions over atheists, Americans over other nations, people over animals over plants over inanimate matter, etc.), the hierarchy between men and women is the most important. What Civil Rights (and Democrats) have done for Black Men is to eliminate one social category that was always (as far as they can remember) ABOVE them - the White Men (and women). Thus, even if they are, at their core, conservative in this sense, they will choose the party that eliminates their bitterest competitors. It is like Beta-males going with the party that demotes Alpha-males in a baboon society. By pulling White men down to their level, they automatically see themselves as climbing one step up on the ladder of hierarchy of moral worth. After all, they are likely to also be Americans and Protestants, so only God remains above them. They may still look down on women, though (and be rough on kids, cruel to animals, hateful of foreigners, afraid of Moslems or atheists, and not caring about the environment).

There is a very small number of men, both White and Black, for which this connection between race and femiphobia is so direct, overt and strong. Yet, in a much more latent or hidden manner, it may have some small effect on voting behavior in both groups.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 2:55 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Saturday, April 16, 2005


Abstinence Only

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:33 AM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Friday, April 15, 2005

"The Work Penalty"

I always thought/claimed that John Edwards is the most natural "framer" in the whole Democratic field, though he prefers to prepare in advance while Elizabeth is the best framer I have ever seen in live interviews.

I do not have the link to the article in today's News and Observer, but the phrase "Work Penalty" is a stroke of genius.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:43 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Record of all records!

I am glad it is Blogger's server, not mine, that is taking care of all the traffic here today.
Since James Randi linked here (to the Skeptic' Circle) about 11:30am EST, I've had been hit about 200 times per hour. I usually get that many per day, less on weekends. The record so far has beed 650 hits, the day after I posted the Skeptic's circle. Today is not done yet - there's about half an hour left, but I got, according to Sitemeter, 1,455 hits today (more than 1,373 I accumulated all last week), 48 during last hour, for a total of 30,526 (I expected to pass 30,000 in a few days). Unfortunately, it appears that only a very tiny fraction of visitors looks around the blog, but, hey, this avalanche is itself quite a pleasant event, even if I gain only a couple of new regulars from it.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:28 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Friday: Carnivals and other good blogging stuff...

Magician and skeptic James Randi just linked to the
Fifth Edition of the Skeptic's Circle. I enjoy seeing my sitemeter going wild (about 400 hits in last two hours) but, the Sixth issue is already up at Socratic Gadfly so go there instead.

If you have recently written something about science, nature, medicine or environment, send your entry for the next issue of the Tangled Bank to Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com by April 19th at 5pm EST (so it can be published by about midnight).

If you are in or from North Carolina, or write about it, consider entering one of your recent posts to the next edition of the Tar Heel Tavern, coming this weekend.

If you are in or from the Balkans, or write about it, send your entry to the next issue of the Carnival of the Balkans, coming to your screens on April 18th.

The next Carnival of Un-Capitalists has a theme, so if you have recently written something related to the economics of health care from a Progressive perspective, consider sending your entry. More info here.

If you have read a brilliant post (or comment) by someone else, go fetch that permalink and send it to Smarter Than I, the next issue is coming very soon.

Anything good from godless perspective? Send your URL to the next installment of the Carnival of the Godless. If you missed the last issue, go here.

Elsewhere on the Web, there is more good stuff on Lakoff and framing, for instance a great article by Eric Martin, an excellent one (with many links to others on the same topic) by Chris of Mixing Memory, Ezra continues, Revere, as usual understa nds it the best, and Publius puts it to good use.

Last month we had great fun with penis blogging. This month, PZ got a head-start on vagina blogging withthree posts already. Better get started on your own takes on the matter..

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:07 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Books: "The Postman" by David Brin - chillingly current...

The final verdict has come from the shop: my computer is definitively dead, fried, kaputt. I will be scrambling for a replacament over the next week or so, but until then I cannot read 90% of the blogs (including my own), and while the car is in the shop (blew a gasket!!!) I cannot go to a decent computer either. That's a shame, as I cannot post links to good blog posts, read carnivals, or continue my series of Friday Good Blog Recommendations. I recommended Lance Mannion, Apophenia and David Brin's Blog so far, and intend to continue as soon as the computer situation stabilizes.

Speaking of David Brin, as a scientist and a sci-fi afficionado I am ashamed to admit that I have read only one Brin's book (I have read some of his theoretical papers, though). It was "Startide Rising" in Serbo-Croatian translation. I was a young teen. It was long time ago when I had time to devour several sci-fi novels per week. Thus, I barely remember this one except for dolphins and apes flying through space and fighting big wars.

I have four or five others here, on the bookshelf, patiently awaiting for me to have more time to finally read through the enormous and growing backlog of books. I actually moved them up on the list somewhat since I started reading Brin's blog and his masterful series on the history of the war between Enlightment and anti-Enlightment forces.

And then, not aware of any of this, my wife goes out and buys Brin's "The Postman", reads it in a day and pronounces it excellent (and she is quite a tough critic). Thus, I have just spent the afternoon/evening reading it myself, riveted from the very first chapter until the end.

"The Postman" was written in mid-1980s, before the end of Cold War, and is one of many books exploring the post-WWIII America. But he has a twist. The war was fought half-heartily. Thus, it lasted very short time, eliminating governments and infrastructure, and cooling the climate for just a couple of years, without killing off most of the human population. Sure, there is some radiation here and there, some nasty diseases, but by and large, humans survived in pretty large numbers. But all that humanity is suddenly left without any civilizational amenities, or any governmental oversight. Anarchy starts and many people get killed in an orgy of the world red in tooth and claw.

The novel is an exploration about types of social organizations that spring up in such changed conditions, from loners, through bands of thugs, to rural communities, to remnants of college towns, all scattered around the country and pretty much losing all contact with each other. Brin explores "types" of humans: good and strong men, bad and strong men, most other men who are in-between and irrelevant, and women. The fights are, really between the forces of anti-Enlightement (or new macho barbarism of militias and "survivalists") and the forces of Enlightement (educated people who remember and cherish the pre-war civilization).

What it means to be "strong" or "weak"? Was Enlightement a temporary error in human history? Are humans "naturally" prone to form societies based on hierarchy of power, aggression and ruthleseness, and if so, are such societies inevitably going to win long-term? Is it worth fighting against them? What sacrifices one must make if one wants to fight them? How much one needs to understand them in order to fight them successfully?

The main protagonist, Gordon, was a college student in Minnesota at the time of the WWIII. He travels west, alone, and learns how to survive. After 13 years, at the time the novel starts, he enters Oregon and, by some fortune, finds a postal jeep with a skeleton of a long-dead postman. Recently robbed of clothes, he puts on the postman's uniform and soon realizes its power: it has a sign of the US government and people treat him as an official governmental officer. In him, they see that the US government is back and busy rebuilding the country, starting with re-establishing the postal service. In Gordon, they see hope for return to normalcy and civilization. Even more importanatly, they give him letters to deliver and he does so, demonstrating to each long-isolated community that other communities exist.

He uses his power wisely and binds various Oregon communities together into a new state of Oregon and raises the army to defend from the "survivalists" coming from the South. Much action transpires, all the while posing questions about good and evil, the meaning of strength, and the inevitability of history.

Looking back 20 years we can notice a couple of historical errors in what happens during the 1990s, but those are rarely even mentioned and are completely irrelevant. As you read the book, in the back of your mind is the nagging thought that his scenario seems very realistic even if such social conditions (no government, no electricity, no transportation) would happen today. You read statements and proclamations by various actors in the drama and you recognize the rhetoric - you can almost play an easy game: which public figure of today would join which group? You can just see how today's Regressives would neatly fit in the vulgar hierarchical society of "survivalists" with its brutality, women's slavery, fear, hatred, racism, paranoia, aggression and violence. People like Vox Day, for instance.... Makes one think that Stephen Ducat is really right about his notion of Femiphobia in "The Wimp Factor"....(see my previous post).

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:27 AM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Femiphobia = Womb Envy?

When Mike Munger of Mungovitz' End linked to one of my most recent posts about Liberalism in Academia, I almost took offence that he characterized it as "fairly balanced". Being balanced in blogosphere is s uicidal.

One is supposed to write what one thinks with conviction. No mealy-mouthing. No ifs, ands or buts. If I am, on my blog, constructing my theory of society, and Mike is constructing his, his and my blog will together provide balance.

Multipl y that with millions of blogs out there. Only about one in five bloggers actually writes blogs - the rest are readers. Both writers and readers go around the blogs and read everything. Most people read what they find most ideologically palatable, but s ome blogs specialize in reporting "from the other side" and everyone has on occasion read stuff from the blogs subscribing to an opposite (or different) political and ideological viewpoint.

Building one's theory of society on one's blog is similar to bui lding a scientific theory. One starts with a few pieces of information and builds a tentative theory/hypothesis. As new data come in, one modifies the construct. If the theory is generally sound, thus predictive, every new piece of information that com es out tends to strengthen the theory further. If every new piece of information forces one to seriously revise the theory, this is an indication that something is deeply flawed with it.

As readers go around the blogs, they watch how the theories change over time, which ones strengthen over time, and which are constantly revised in light of new evidence. The readers also have at their fingertips all the new information - some blogger somewhere is bound to point to it - and will see who foolhardily avoi ds mentioning information that is damning to one's theory in order to preserve it. One's reputation on the Web depends on intellectual honesty. Powerline has been pronounced dead over the last couple of days due to exactly that kind of dishonesty.

Afte r a while, when dust settles, the result will not be some murky middle ground. No, one theory is going to be accepted as much better and much more consistent with ALL the available information than all the competing theories. Those defeated theories die, or linger on blogs of lost reputation.

So, I never did, and never will attempt to appease readers by being moderate. I write what I believe and push it strongly. Let the others show me wrong. But I have been more and more confident in my model (let's not call it a theory in scientific sense yet), as more and more information comes in that appears to strengthen it.

From the very first post on this blog and in several other early posts, I have felt that gender relations are the key component of one's ideology. The social progress can be measured by the progr ess in women's equality. That is why women join revolutionary movements (see the post below on the Babe Theory): those movements replace more conservative governments with more liberal governments.

As time went on, I discovered Stephen Ducat's book "The Wimp Factor", which greatly strengthened my model (see, for instance these posts:

Holiday Reading List: American Politics
Femiphobia Again
All About S ex
Teen Sex, Hooking Up, Femiphobia
Hooked On Hooking Up
Enslaving Women - Not Just Fundies
Money, Time and Sex
Rent Wars, It's Sex, Stupid
Hypocrisy Or Natural Order Of Things

and especially these two:

Conservative Manly Men, What Are They Afraid Of
Conse rvatives Are Crazy And Dangerous)

Now, this post on Pharyngula adds another piece of data. It's all about sex.

A commenter on that thread mentioned Karen Horney and the notion of Womb Envy. A lightbulb turned on above my head. I know I have some Horney (pronounced Horn-Eye) books in here. While my wife was trying to find them in this mess (we do have almost 5000 books that, in the last move, got disorga nized), I turned to the internets and here is a glimpse of what I found:

Karen Horney

On Womb Envy:

"Horney often criticized the work of Sigmund Freud. For instance, she opposed Freu d's notion of penis envy, claiming that
what Freud was really detecting was women's justified envy of men's power in the world. While penis envy might occur
occasionally in neurotic women, she said, womb envy occurs just as much in men. Horney felt that men were envious of a
woman's ability to bear children. The degree to which men are driven to succeed and to have their names live on, she said, is
mere compensation for their inability to more directly extend themselves into the future by means of carryin g, nurturing, and
bearing children. She did not understand why psychologists found the need to place much emphasis on men's sexual
apparatus. Furthermore, Horney desexualized Freud's oedipal complex, claiming that the clinging to one parent and jealousy
of the other was simply the result of anxiety caused by a disturbance in the parent-child relationship.

While debatable, many agree that Horney's theory of neurosis is the best that exists today. She looked at neurosis in a
different light, saying that i t was much more continuous with normal life than other theorists believed. Furthermore, she saw
neurosis as an attempt to make life bearable, as an interpersonal controlling and coping technique."

And this:
"Horney thought it a mistake to think that neuroses in adults is caused by abuse or neglect in one's childhood. She, instead,
named parental indifference the true culprit behind neurosis. The key to understanding this phenomenon is the child's
perception, rather than the paren t's intentions, she said. A child may feel a lack of warmth and affection if a parent, who is
otherwise occupied or neurotic themselves, makes fun of their child's thinking or neglects to fulfill promises, for example. "
- sounds to me like "Strict Father" parenting style of James Dobson, as described by Lakoff in "Moral Politics".

So, send me data that really challenge my model and will force me to make major revisions. If you can..

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:11 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Monday, April 11, 2005

Write for Carnivals....

The new issue of the Carnival of Uncapitalists is now online at The Green Lantern. The next issue will be on Majikthise, so write something economic from a Progressive perspective.

The next Tar Heel Tavern will be hosted by Pseudonymous UNC Student. Send your submissions there.

I will be hosting the next Tangled Bank on my other blog, Circadiana, so send your entries about science, nature, medicine or environment to me at Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com, by April 19th at 5pm EST.

The next Carnival of the Balkans will be hosted by Eric at East Ethnia on April 15th so hurry up with your submissions there.

Send your entries for the next Skeptic's Circle here.

And if you have read something amazingly good on a blog lately that was NOT written by you, send the permalink to the host of the next Smarter Than I at smarterthani at hotmail dot com.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:07 AM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink