Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Grand Tangled Birds

The new Tangled Bank is up at Science and Sensibility. It is wonderfully done and there is plenty of good stuff to read. Also, go check out the revamped homepage of the Tangled Bank.

Also an announcement of a new carnival I and the Bird, for birdwatchers, birdlovers and avian biologists. How about poultry farmers?

Grand Rounds #40 is also up. Check the news from the medical blogosphere.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:37 PM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Flu Wiki

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Bird Flu but were too afraid to ask can be found on the brand new Flu Wiki. Go check it out, bookmark it and keep coming back as it gets updated.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 3:55 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

How do you say "Lysenko" in American English: Joe Barton

As a scientist I feel very fortunate to be living and working in the USA. It is, still, by far the best place in the world to do science. The funding, the way Universities are organized, the professional organizations and conferences, availability of technical support, equipment and materials for research, quality of colleagues and students, teaching methodology....all that is much, much better in the USA than anywhere else in the world.

Also, as a scientist, I dabble in history of science. The Lysenko episode is of great interest to scientists in the West. With all the misuse of science by the current Administration I still never expected the Lysenko-style persecution of scientists whose data do not support the party line. Yet, this day has come. The USA has its Lysenko, and his name is Joe Barton.

Chris Mooney reports on a letter from a Congressman (Joe Barton, R-TX) to a scientist (Dr.Michael Mann) working on climate change. read the letter. Doesn't it chill the feces inside your rectum?

Chris also documents the responses here and here, including this, this and this.

And this one is good, in the best Billmon style: Heinrich here and again here.

There is an atrocious AP story up on CBS online:
Duncan Black _ who founded the blog _ featured a headline Monday on his Web site, "Bite me, Congressman," that linked to a diatribe against a Republican House committee chairman over global warming.
Atrios responds:
First, it wasn't the headline, it was the content of the post. Second, it didn't link to a diatribe it linked to this rather non-diatribe like post by Chris Mooney. Third, it wasn't "over global warming" it was over a member of congress sending an intimidating letter to a scientist.
You can check out Michael Mann here and send your messages of support to:

You can check out Congressman Joe Barton here and you may want to contact him and tell him to "Bite me!"

You may also want to write a letter to the editors of Dalton's local newspapers, e.g., Corsicana Daily Sun and Forth Worth Star-Telegram and politely suggest to the local population NOT to elect him again in 2006.

You can spread a broader web of outrage if you write to more of the Texas Media, as well as spread the word via blogs, e-mail, forums...

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:24 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Books: "Biased Embryos and Evolution" by Wallace Arthur

Ever since I read Gould's Ontogeny and Phylogeny in about 1992 or 1993., I knew I wanted to do research that has something to do with evolution, development and timing. Well, when I applied to grad school, I could choose between evolution OR development OR timing, but not any combination of two or more - the true evo-devo folks were just not available for me at that precise moment in history. I chose timing and than worked dilligently to infuse my work with as much evolution and development as I could. I see a lot of similarities between evo-devo and chronobiology.

While I do not ready every evo-devo paper like PZ has to, I have maintained my interest in the field and read a number of books on the topic, e.g., Embryos, Genes and Evolution by Raff and Kaufman, Shapes of Time by Ken McNamara and many others that touch on it in one way or another (mostly books against genocentrism). I took a graduate seminar based on Raff's The Shape of Life when it just came out in 1996. One I liked a lot was A Theory of the Evolution of Development by Wallace Arthur. I bought and skimmed a few times his more recent Origin of Animal Body Plans but have never read it through - I always wanted to, but real life interfered. Thus, I was excited to hear that he has published a new one, shorter and apparently less technical book, Biased Embryos and Evolution.

Biased Embryos and Evolution is a slim volume written in a very easy, flowing, almost chatty tone, quite accessible to lay people with an interest in evolution. While many authors promise to keep the technical details to the minimum, Arthur actually does manage to achieve that goal. He warns, in several places, that he is oversimplifying in order to make a point. This strategy makes it very easy to understand the topic, yet, if one looks up the complex detailed complete story elsewhere, the point he makes is still valid. Thus, I guess, it is not oversimplification, but just simplification.

A number of books have been written that attempt to downplay natural selection as a major mechanism of evolutionary change in favor of authors' pet alternatives. Arthur does not do that. While chastising the Darwinian Synthesis for its flaws, he does not in any way try to reduce the important of natural selection. While some authors treat the compendium of evolutionary mechanisms as a zero-sum game in which rise in importance of one mechanism necessarily diminishes the importance of others, Arthur attempts a much loftier goal - a synthesis that puts several mechanisms together in a non-additive manner. He builds a theory of evolution in which several mechanisms work together, not compete against each other. I think that he succeeds brilliantly.

It is a disservice to Arthur to try to summarize in a couple of paragraphs what he spent a whole book to develop, but I will try anyway. While Fisherian mathematized population genetics focuses sharply on the changes in populations, with genes being just imaginary units of inheritance, and Dawkinsian selfish-gene hypothesis focuses on genes as the only relevant players, Arthur reframes the whole problem in a new way. In order to do so, he gradually introduces the reader to each of the main factors in evolution. First, he explains the potency of the model of an adaptive landscape. Then, he shows how, everything else being equal, the size of standing variation affects evolution. Then he demonstrates how mutations of different sizes/effects, everything else being equal, affect evolution. Then he shows how developmental bias, i.e., the probabilities of particular changes in developmental trajectories being unequal, everything else being equal, affect evolution. Next, he demonstrates how the shape of the adaptive landscape, everything else being equal, affects evolution. Finally, he shows how contigency of history affects evolution.

An essential tool in understanding Arthur's model is the mental shift in thinking about organisms. Instead of thinking about adults only, one needs to think about organisms as life cycles. An egg, a larva, a pupa, a youngster, a mature adult, a senescent individual - all those phases in the life cycle are affected by mutations, by developmental bias, and by natural selection.

There are seven major messages of his book that he briefly summarizes in the end. The first one is "the return of the organism". Instead of focusing just on populations, or just on genes, Arthur re-focuses evolutionary theory at the most relevant level, that of an organism. Focusing on the organism does not place either genes or the populations into the background. Quite contrary, it serves as a connection between genes and the populations. As Robert Brandon famously stated, genes are invisible to selection. Yet, population genetics assumes that the genes are visible to selection. How? Via phenotypes. But that is an oversimplified notion that a mutation in one gene predictably leads always to the same change in the phenotype. This one-gene one-trait view is sometimes called "bean-bag genetics".

What Arthur does is place development in between - his second major point. Mutations result in changes in developmental trajectories. The changes in developmental trajectories lead to developmental reorganization. Some such changes are easy to make, others more difficult, yet others impossible. Some such changes are more likely to occur (through sheer statistics), others less likely (thus less likely to appear FIRST and influence the future biases). This view leads one to think of "all possible creatures"., i.e., to not assume that every phenotypic change is possible. Some creatures are much more possible than others. Six-legged horses are improbable, but five-legged horses are impossible. Population genetics assumes equal potency for each mutation and envision all possible creatures to be really possible. Incorporation of developmental bias eliminates many such creatures as actually impossible.

The third major point is the differentiation between internal and external selection. Almost all of the literature on adaptation tests hypotheses of external selection, i.e., adaptations to the vagaries of the external environment. Preciously few concern themselves with the adaptiveness of well-built animal. Arthur uses the term "coadapatation" to write about the adaptive value of having a balanced development leading to a healthy, strong, fast adult, no matter in which environment such animal finds itself in. This distinction between external and internal adaptatations and the ways the two interact has actually been one of the core ideas of evolutionary chronobiology.

The developmental reaction norm - the fourth major message of the book - concerns itself with the way genes and environment, via development, interact with each other. The same genotypes will develop different phenotypes in different environments. The reaction norm is also likely to be genetically based. A mutation, thus, may alter the way a particuler developmental pathway responds to the environmental cues. It is here that Arthur makes an important distinction between population and quantitative genetics. This was a jolt for me because I took a graduate class called "Population and Quantitative Genetics" in which one professor (an evo-devo guy, actually) would spend a couple of lectures utilizing a particular mathematical method to solve a particular problem concerning changes of frequency of one or two genes in a population. The following couple of lectures would then be taught by a quantitative geneticist (one of the authors of the premier textbook in the field), solving similar questions with similar math, but expanding it to many genes. As a result, there appeared a seamless continuum between population and quantitative genetics, not a night-and-day contrast that Arthur paints. There was not that much mention of developmental reaction norms and such. Did I miss something about quantitative genetics or did Arthur? And yes, I took that class AFTER I have read a bunch of Richard Lewontin and evo-devo, so I was taking it primarily in a "know thy enemy" mental mode.

The fifth major message is the topic of modularity, something that has been a topic of interest for quite a long time mainly in the philosophy of biology literature, but more recently also in the evo-devo literature. In essence, there are quasi-autonomous developmental modules. Development of limbs may be quite independent of the development of the spleen. Yet, the autonomy is never complete, as many genes are used in multiple developmental modules. Still, existence of semi-autonomy allows for various types of developmental reprogramming, including heterochrony (timing or rates of development of two or more parts of the organism shift relative to each other), heterotopy (a part develops in a different region of the body), heterometry (change in amount of some developmental module, i.e,. getting bigger or smaller), and heterotypy (production of a novel part).

A chapter on phylogeny reconstruction brings in the sixth major message - that of contingency. The evolution took a particular trajectory. Out of many "possible creatures" some actually evolved and others did not. The developmental reprogramming that led to the development of that creature shifts the world of possible creatures: some previously possible become impossible and vice versa. There is no going back once a path in the fork was taken.

The seventh major point is cooption, the only truly new idea Arthur discusses, one that came out of recent evo-devo research. You can see two excellent examples of cooption here and here. Cooption of old genes (and not just genes, but higher-level entities, e.g., hormones) for new roles relates to the ease of modifying embryos in different ways - some changes being easier (biased for) than others (biased against). The positive connotation of such developmental bias, and the use of the terms cooption and reprogramming, IMHO, are much better than the use of the term "developmental constraints" with its primarily negative meaning (that creationists can latch onto - selection as a weeding process incapable of producing novelty).

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book (I have never seen homeobox genes explained so clearly), I have a small beef. In a couple of places, Arthur mentions that he is talking only about mutations in developmental genes and not the housekeeping genes. But, if one seriously thinks of organisms as life-cycles, there is no such thing as a housekeeping gene - all genes are developmental, even if they only help you survive from one moment to another in your old age. Mutations in genes responsible for gene replication, transcription or translation will have effects on every process in the body throughout its life-cycle. Mutations in genes responsible for day-to-day physiology or behavior likewise affect the moment-to-moment developmental trajectory during at least one phase of life between zygote and death. Granting that ALL genes are developmental genes actually makes Arthur's model more powerful.

Many books have been written criticizing Neo-Darwinism and its concommitant genocentrism, without putting much new to replace it. Some books, like Gould's Magnum Opus have built an edifice of modern evolutionary theory for the 21st century that puts embryology in the center where it belongs. But I have yet to find a book that explains it as clearly and simply as Arthur's "Biased Embryos and Evolution". When Gould's Big Book came out just before he died, I read it and lamented that he has written Das Kapital for the intelligentzia, but nobody has yet written the equivalent of the Communist Manifesto for the masses (or: he has written the new Bible, but not a readable church pamphlet, or George Lakoff's slim "Elephant" in comparison to his serious "Moral Politics"). I think that "Biased Embryos" is as close to the new Evolutionary Manifesto as is possible. I strongly recommend it. Now, if someone would just write an evolutionary biology textbook based on this view, so we can start training the new generations of scientists correctly....

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 8:46 PM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink


A new bloggers conference, ConvergeSouth will be held in Greensboro on October 7 and 8, 2005. Though I expect to see many North Carolina bloggers there, the BloggerCon is open to everyone. Register while there is still space! The program is still being built and only about half of the schedule is already listed on the website, so keep checking it for updates. I am very honored to be invited as a panelist on one of the round-tables.

A group of Greensboro volunteers recently announced that Greensboro has organized to host the inaugural year’s edition of ConvergeSouth, the South’s first free conference focused on moving North Carolina toward breakthroughs in creativity and diversity on the Internet. Exploring the digital revolution in publishing and expression, ConvergeSouth focuses on radical digital publishing and entertainment. A two-day event on the campus of historic NC A&T State University, ConvergeSouth will focus on journalism and multimedia “web blogging” for everyone. Additional ConvergeSouth features include a nationally-known keynote speaker, multimedia and music in multiple downtown venues to which the entire community is invited.

Look around the website and the blog for more information and plan to come if you can.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 2:24 AM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Monday, June 27, 2005

Carnival of Un-Capitalists

The latest issue of Carnival of Un-Capitalists is up on Impasto. It's goooood.

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

Karnival of Kidz

The latest issue of Karnival of Kidz is up on Prochein Amy. Go take a look.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:02 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Never Again!

Back in 1991, before I left Belgrade, we were demonstrating against Milosevic. Many plackards and graffiti at the time compared Milosevic to Saddam. They were mostly NOT comparing him to Hitler. Why? Not because we liked Milosevic and did not want to insult him. Not because we thought it was bad strategy. It was because we wanted to put him down, to show him how small he is, how transparent he is, how impotent he is. It would have been too great an honor to compare him to Hitler.

There is quite a lot of writing these days about the appropriatness of using Nazi analogies to the Bush administration. While the Right is screaming bloody murder whenever a Democrat mentions Hitler (or Stalin) and gloat when a Republican compares somebody to Hitler (or Stalin), there are many more cooler heads on both sides of the political landscape who are arguing against the use of such comparisons.

One of the given reasons includes bad strategy, as invoking Hitler evokes emotions and stops all discussion (Godwin's Law). That appears, on the surface, to be a good reason.

Others point out that comparing everything and everybody to Hitler cheapens the metaphor. I can agree with that point. See, for instance this collection, most of which is indeed mis-use of the Hitler's name: IN THE FUTURE, EVERYONE WILL BE HITLER FOR 15 MINUTES. There is even silly stuff out there, e.g., this (and here is why it is silly).

But, the argument most often invoked is that Bush should not be compared to Hitler and Stalin because the latter two killed millions each, while Bush only killed thousands. There are many instances of this, for instance, see Orac in this post: And on the seventh day, the Hitler zombie rested (I hope) and the links within. Or Publius' retraction of the Gitmo-Gulag comparison in this post: LAST THING ON GULAG.

When the wars in the Balkans started in 1991, only Israeli press was on the Serbian side. Why? Because of "Never again!". They have recognized what the Westerners did not - the fascistic nature of Tudjman's new government in Croatia. Tudjman was even so blatant to actually use the flag, coat-of-arms, anthem and currency of the WWII-era Croatian fascist state in his new country. It was just too obvious.

Of course fascism will take different forms in different places and at different times. No state is going to resurrect the swastika today. The signs and emblems fascism do not make. It is the underlying ideology which can be coated in whatever symbols people are already used to - and proud of - including the American flag.

Perhaps due to my growing up in Europe, or being Jewish, or losing 42 family members in the Holocaust (including my maternal grandparents), I may be oversensitized. But, when I first heard GW Bush's campaign speeches in 1999, I got chills down my spine. I was able, due to my upbringing, to recognize something most Americans did not at the time, though many are waking up now. This was the rhetoric, the platform, the ideology, and the campaign strategy deeply soaked in fascistic way of thinking.

Neither Nazism nor Stalinism sprung up suddenly out of nowhere. Both built up gradually, over the years, slowly acclimating the populations to the ever-increasing levels of totalitarianism, and utilizing the fears and emotional insecurity of the few to rein in the many. The mass killings were just the last phase. It is like boiling a frog (or a lobster) alive: put it in cold water and warm up gradually. If you put a frog in hot water it will jump out, but if you warm it up gradually, it will just sit there until it is served well done. Read this book to see how it happened in Germany and you will realize that there is nothing to prevent it from happening in the USA.

If you look at The 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism you will recognize that all 14 are at some stage of implementation by the current US government. You will also notice that none of the 14 speak to the numbers of victims as "defining". Those are specific outcomes of specific historical examples of fascism.

One of the biggest differences between 1930s/1940s and today is that today there is television, there are reporters in the field, instant communication, there is Internet and there are blogs. One of the reasons why Rove and Cheney have not killed millions and probably never will is because they cannot hide the corpses. They are getting already enough flack from us for Gitmo, Iraq and Abu-Ghraib. They have to rein in their murderous instincts if they want to remain in power. The modern technology allows them to "neutralize" their enemies without killing them, thus allowing them to repeat that they are better than Hitler and Stalin as they did not kill millions. They can feign outrage that someone would even consider comparing them to Hitler and Stalin. We should not let them have that excuse.

However, while quantitatively they did not and probably will not kill as many people, there is not much qualitatively that makes them different from other historical instances of fascism. Look up the 14 characteristics again. Fascism is not about the killing. It is about the state, in bed with the church and the big business, terrorizing its own population (and perhaps some other populations). It is about pitting some groups against others. It is about state control of the media and propaganda. It is about hierarchy in which some (e.g., white rich Protestant straight men, give or take an attribute or two) are more worthy than the others (e.g., Blacks, Jews, women, gays, foreigners, etc). It is about institutionalising core conservative "values" - and yes, Stalin was a conservative, too.

I don't personally know Cheney and Rove (Bush is just a puppet, so he can be disregarded), but everything they have said and done so far suggests that, if they were living in 1930s and they were in position of power, they would have slaughtered millions. Nothing in ther behavior suggests the tiniest modicum of decency. Their psychological profiles of bigoted, femiphobic, white, rich males does not differ at all from the leaders of the Nazi-era Germany or Stalin-era USSR.

And if you have the guts to go over to the comments at The Corner and The Little Green Footballs, it is obvious that this is the kind of people who were the first to put on the brown shirts in the early 1930s. It is the same psychological profile, the same emotional problems, the same ideology, the same rhetoric, the same behavior. Bunches of sissies are finding each other and forming dangerous hate-groups all over the country under the banners of God, SuperMan and Country.

Spend some time digging through the archives of Orcinus for detailed descriptions of activities of such groups and how their activities add up to what Dr.Neiwart calls proto-fascism. Why "proto"? Because we still do not see millions of victims. I don't think we ever will because there is too many of us, educated and informed citizens with online access who are capable of springing into action within minutes or hours. We are not dependent on state-intimidated media for information. There are bloggers everywhere, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Texas and in Washington DC. One canot hide from us. That is why I do not think there is anything "proto" about it. This is not even a very early stage. It is the fifth year of the steady gradual rise of fascism in the USA.

Thus, whoever advises not to use Hitler/Stalin comparisons is depriving us of a potent tool in the fight against the rise of fascism. Actually, we need to keep invoking the comparison in order to get people to think about it, to look around themselves, to read some history, to see for themselves. They need constant reminders that the water is getting warmer. Bush in no Milosevic - he is much, much worse.

My clumsy prose and emotional rhetoric may not sway you. Instead, take some time and read these posts that argue a similar position with much more eloquence:

Truth and Consequences
Actually, no
Not Quite a Gulag
Civic Duty

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:32 AM | permalink | (4 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Coturnix Jr. is off to the Boy Scouts camp this morning. This is the first time he's going to be gone away from home for longer than one or two nights. Mrs. Coturnix was quite nervous about it. She was working night shifts past three days so it was my job to make sure that Junior had everything ready and packed on time, inluding medical forms, camping gear etc.

On Friday, Junior and I went shopping and had a great time together. We got everything except one item. That one item was not that important, but we went to several stores in hope we would find it. Don't tell anyone, but we even entered the dreaded Wal-Mart for a few minutes, although I swore I would never set my foot in one again. Fortunately, they did not have it either so I did not have to give any money to that nasty business.

In the end, tired and dirty and hungry, we quit trying and went home. We showed off all our loot of the day. And, what did Mrs.Coturnix say when she found out that one item was missing? "I knew I could not count on you!". Well, playing with language is my hobby, so I responded: "This has nothing to do with counting" to which my kids started rolling on the floor laughing. Lucky me. Everyone just relaxed.

That was Friday afternoon. Now it is Sunday afternoon. In the past two days, Coturnietta used the phrase "This has nothing to do with counting" at least two dozen times in a variety of contexts. And she does it with a special pronounciation, trying to impersonate me. I have a feeling this phrase is going to become one of those inner-family-circle code phrases which only we will understand the whole meaning of. But anyway, that has nothing to do with counting.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:11 PM | permalink | (3 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Is It The Beginning Of The End?

A candidate for North Carolina Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court has announced on her campaign's blog that she is leaving the Republican Party and denounced the Bush administration's policy on troop withdrawal from Iraq. Rachel Lea Hunter, a Republican and a candidate for Chief Justice, likens Bush’s administration to the “Nazis” and says that all who disagree with the administration are being branded as “traitors”.

Republican Candidate Calls Bush Administration “Nazis”
Republican candidate calls Bush Admin 'Nazis,' quits party

Hat tip: Josh via Orac.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 7:02 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

The Tar Heel Tavern

The new Tar Heel Tavern is up! I don't think I have ever seen a carnival hosted by a photoblogger before and it is great! I love the concept!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:27 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Carnival of the Godless

Sixteenth Carnival of the Godless is up on Positive Liberty. You don't have to believe me, of course. You don't have to believe anything.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:22 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Thank you....

Now I don't have to write anything about Durbin, Rove or Gitmo, as this cover encapsulates my feelings exactly!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 8:50 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Liberal Coalition

I am happy to announce that I was recently accepted into the Liberal Coalition.

It is an honor to be a part of a group that contains so many of my favourite bloggers like Echidne, Rivka, Firedoglake, Archy, Iddybud, Mustang Bobby and many more. Just go and see the blogroll for yourself.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 3:07 PM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Another Blog Survey

MIT is doing a blogger survey. Go do it. I did.

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

The larger our sample is, the better chance we have of being unbiased. Help us spread the word, and have your friends with weblogs take the survey as well!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:39 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

New Carnival

Carnival of Music appears every Monday. There have already been two editions. If you write about music, or post audio-files, or do podcasts, take a look - this may be a carnival for you!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:03 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Friday, June 24, 2005

In the wake of the Kelo case

Hillarious: Developers Use Eminent Domain to Acquire White House

If you are in a mood, however, for a serious analysis of the case that is infuriating everyone on both the Left and the Right, check out Publius.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 2:40 AM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Carnival of Education #20

Carnival of Education is up on Jenny D. Excellent, as always.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 7:55 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Skeptics Circle

11th Skeptics Circle is up on Anne's Anti-quackery & Science Blog. Go check it out!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 9:47 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Today's Very Best








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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Best Letter To The Editor

Robert N. Conley of Chandlersville, OH sent a letter to his local paper, the Zanesville Times-Recorder, "Religious right should aid recruiting" gives Focus On The Family a very different meaning:

Army recruiting quotas are not being met. Now, in this time of need, the nation's focus should rightfully focus on the clerics of the religious right: Dobson, Robertson, Falwell, Parsley, etc. Can they focus? Can they refocus? Can they get the job done? Perhaps many of these clerics are hesitant to focus on military recruiting because they are former unfocused draft-dodgers. They need to get past their unfocused youthful follies. They need to refocus their focus on military recruiting.

According to religious-right reports (not propaganda), at least two to three million potential recruits have attended taxpayer-funded meetings, where they have "signed" one of the most important of all pledges: No sex before marriage. These are ideal military recruits. Certainly, the clerics can make changes where the lady pledges can focus on appropriate gender-specific tasks under the focus of their natural masters. This clerical focus should focus exclusively on the Army and Marine Corps, where all the killing is focused. Let those other people (you know who I mean) populate the Navy and the Air Force.

Yes, it is important to get everyone in the world to admit that the entire universe is 6006 (some silly heretics say 6022, others 6044) years old. And, yes, it is very important to do away with all science, and all of its complications, by just letting our all-knowing clerics explain everything to us by using the simplistic, catch-all concept of "intelligent" design. And, of course, it is important to replace all judges with robots by Robertson.

But, right now, the focus needs to be on military recruiting. Our country needs to come first. It's time for our religious right clerics to focus on military recruiting. In brief, it's time to refocus the focus.

Hat-tip: Pam's House Blend

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:50 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink


In a few minutes, this blog will receive its 50,000th visitor. Thank you all for coming.

Here it is:


Average Per Day230

Average Visit Length2:04

Last Hour6


This Week1,608

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

I Link, You Read....

Nothing original to say today. Mostly reading blogs and finding cool stuff. For instance, lots of blogging about orgasms, male and female by Chris of Mixing Memory, John Hawks, John Hawks again and John again. Sporula adds some more. Are testicles needed for orgasms? Who cares, as they are highly edible.

I really liked this review on some books on evo-devo.

John Wilkins writes about research methods in theology, similar to my recent post on thinking methods. He also writes about the modern preponderance of the Great Chain of Being.

European Tribune is a European version of DailyKos. Hat tip: Eric.

Orcinus on grazing legislation. "Let them have grass and eat it, too", said GWB.

Zimmer writes a good one on hobbits, bats and brain-sizes and provides good links to the new stuff on the jellyfish genome.

Chris Mooney reports that ACLU joined the fight for science against the BushCo assault.

Eric Martin is back from vacation with two excellent posts on Cheney's "Throes" and on Bolton.

PZ is taking a break from Jim Pinkoski and has a different Creationist of the Week, one Tabarrok, who, upon criticism, digs himself deeper.

Publius writes On Gitmo.

I am currently reading "Good Father" by O'Connoll, so I found this post by Bitch,PhD. very interesting.

Mike Munger is re-thinking blogging. Dooce is on everyone's mind.

Interesting, on Sober's Multiple Realizability Argument Against Reductionism.

UK Teenagers are so out of touch with modern science that they cannot name a single living scientist, a survey reveals today. Hat tip: Quark Soup.

Mike The Mad Biologist is Mad again: "...IDiots and creationists are starting to use antibiotic resistance in bacteria as 'evidence' that evolution doesn't happen (and all the other silliness they claim)..." What?

Leiter Reports that Smithsonian returned the Discovery Institute money.

So, you want to buy a house in the country? "Some Lebanon County officials want to warn you that it might stink. To drive the point home, they are developing a brochure that features scratch 'n sniff manure." Hat tip: Henry.

Mike answers the question: Why are birds being so aggressive lately?

Rivka is back with a good post on rape.

On the way others see America.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:02 AM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Monday, June 20, 2005

Further Evidence Of The Immenseness Of Wingnut Stupidity!

Unbeliavably funny! This Brit wingnut saw a Fred Phelps demonstration (on somebody else's blog) and wrote this whole rant as if that was an anti-war left-wing demonstration!!! He did not bother to check who's'who. No use for Google. He did not even read the post he linked to! He is still keeping the post up - does he have no shame?

How far can Right-wing stupidity go? I know they have no use for facts, but can't they just try know...pretend? Please read the comments - they are hillarious and yet, there are Wingers there defending the moron!

(hat tip: PZ)

Update: Do you think the guy deleted his blog in shame, got drunk, then joined the monastery? Oh, no! Of course not! He is a wingnut, after all. He updated! He threw on his blog a few more random pictures of various groups protesting various things and lumped them all together as "liberals". These are all, I'll have to say, HIS personal enemies. He has a level of emotional development of a three-year-old. He is a scared, little paranoid idiot, so insecure in his own masculinity, he lashes left and right at everyone he perceives as threatening: gays, blacks, liberals, Muslims, communists, Fred Phelps.... they are all out to get him, or so he thinks, erroneously believing that anyone cares about his sorry ass. He lumps all his enemies into one huge conspiracy of enemies. Just because he is personally afraid of all of them, he thinks they have all ganged together to get HIM? What a joke.

However, he is singled out because he really made a fool out of himself. In fact, he is no different than any of them, from Hindrocket to the idiots on the Corner or Little Green Footballs: chubby, pale, bald morons who cannot possibly get laid, and worry about their own sexual orientation, and compensate by feeling good being part of a "movement" whose modus vivendi is to attack, meanly and viciously, and as fast as possible, anybody who is not a member of the group. They do not care about the facts. They do not care about humanity, or democracy, or anything beyond being drunk on power of belonging to a mob. A pitiful lot, all of them.

This guy is also singled out because he is one of the most vocal pushers of the idiotic screed that Downing Street Memos are fake because they are re-typed from the originals, word for word. By that logic, the pictures he posts on his blog are all fake as he copied them from elsewhere. It does not matter how many types the Memos are copied, the content remains the same, and it is darn damning for the Bushies. If is just like Rathergate memos - they were physically fake, yet the contents was correct: the Fearless Leader did skip on his military duties. Those are facts, no matter on which piece of paper they are printed.

This kind of femiphobic, paranoid, emotionally retarted people we have to deal with. And there are millions of them. This country needs a shrink-in-chief, not a commander-in-chief.

Update 2: OMG - the guy is such a moron - he has updated again, just digging himself deeper and exposing his total misunderstanding of the world. He is such a laughingstock of the blogosphere. 20 years form now people will still be reminiscing about the "idiot who mistook Phelps for a Lefty" and lughing.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:06 PM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Carnival of Un-Capitalists

Science-themed Carnival of Un-Capitalists is now up on Guerilla Science. Some cool (and some scary) stuff.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 7:43 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Tar Heel Tavern

The brand new edition of the Tar Heel Tavern is up on The Coconut Wireless Weblog. If the summer heat is bothering you, come inside. Anton aka Mister Sugar has cranked up the air-conditioner for your reading pleasure.

If you want to host a future edition, e-mail me at Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:31 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Karnival of the Kidz #9

Welcome to the Playground at the Ninth Karnival of the Kidz. I am too fidgety to wait any longer. Sooo... Let's play!

Iowa Geek thinks that baby poop is always fun, especially if it is
flying across the room. And once the kids calm down, they say some sweet things.

Oddybobo has an unbelievably cute picture called Fishing. I have to admit, that fish is bigger than anything I ever managed to catch, to the eternal embarassment of my father who was a fishing pro.

vw bug at One Happy Dog Speaks presents Safety Glasses and Tot. I agree. It is never too early to teach personal safety!

Oldest put together two lists on Sunday. Amy takes note and proceeds to call the nearest gym.

"Have you ever kissed a fish?" TheHeadGirl at Heartkeeper Common Room proves that kids say the darnedest things.

Firefly at Bioluminescence presents Sorrow & Thanksgiving, keeping one eye on the past and the other on the future, with a bit of nostalgia and a bit of hope.

Susie goes back into the past, when her father was a little boy, aspiring to become a pilot.

Go here to see how to enter next week's carnival and to volunteer to host. Thank you all for coming!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 9:47 PM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Parable of Hats

This gives a whole new meaning to the "hat tip"....

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 7:23 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Brain Parasites....

Yet another hypothetical cause of wingnuttery. Is toxoplasmosis more frequent in Red States, or just in rural and exurban communities where there are more rats and cats?

Humor aside, Chris has more detailed information.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:06 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink


Happy birthday to my wife!

Congratulations to my cousin - he is getting married today!

And also, happy anniversary to myself - on this day 14 years ago I left Belgrade, Yugoslavia for good.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:48 PM | permalink | (4 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Autistic Conspiracy Theorists

Conspiracy theories abound. Most are bogus. Yet, even the paranoid have real enemies. This appears to be an interesting book on the topic. Yet, even the best and the smartest, if they happen to like the messenger, tend to swallow the message wholesale without critical thinking.

Update: There is more here, here and here.

Update 2: There is more here, here, here, here, here and here

Update 3: More here,
here, here and here.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 12:47 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Books: "Collapse" by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs and Steel is an excellent book. Collapse is better.

When "Guns, Germs and Steel" first came out, I was fortunate to take part in a graduate seminar that was built around it. Along with reading a chapter each week, we also read a number of additional readings, some of which were technical papers.

Careful reading of "Guns, Germs and Steel" reveals that, contrary to some opinion, it is not a work of "environmental determinism". Much of history is microhistory. There is also quite a lot of history studying how quirks and idiosincrasies of important individuals shaped history. There is also quite a lot or work on the social determination of a society's success: its history, political organization, social structure etc. What Jared Diamond attempted with "Guns, Germs and Steel" was to fill the glaring gap - the dearth of studies on effects of geography, climate and environment on the success of societies. He most definitely did not dismiss the social half of the story. He just tried to provide the other half - how geography, climate, climatic change, soil quality, orientation of continents, orientation of mountain ranges, availability of domesticable plants and animals, etc. influenced the success of societies in different parts of the world. The emphasis on environmental factors was neccessary for a book designed to fill this gaping chasm, yet I can see how a quick glance at the book (not even to mention here the biased or dishonest reading) may mislead one into assuming that the book is a work of environmental determinism.

But there are always people who voice their opinions about a book without reading it. Worse, there are many people who invent arguments out of thin air and dismiss the real experts a priori.

I am afraid that "Collapse" will suffer the same way, due to people's tendency to skim books shallowly. It is not environmental determinism. It is not a tree-hugging manifesto. It is not written from an Eurocentric perspective. It does not fall for the "noble savage" myth. Yet I have already seen all four of these accusations leveled at Diamond on blogs and in online book reviews (sorry, I will not provide links to those places). So, Jared Diamond, smartly, makes sure that (at least a rare careful) reader of "Collapse" is reminded every few pages that the analysis is not simplistic. The Introductory chapter is a clearly laid out statment of methodology - well worth reading on its own. The book is a maddeningly unbiased, multifactorial analysis of the complexity of factors that determine which societies collapse and which succeed. No-no-no, it is not unreadable academic dense prose. Au contraire - it is laid out clearly and written in an easy flowing style, so do not be afraid of its bulk. It will draw you in and you WILL read it through.

While "Guns, Germs and Steel" studies how successful societies get started, "Collapse" tries to figure out how societies manage to persit for long periods of time and why they collapse once they do. He compares a number of past and current societies on a whole host of factors. Some of the factors are purely environmental (e.g., geography, climate, climatic changes, soil quality, geographic isolation, rate of natural soil renewal, amount of rainfall, temperature, spontaneous environmental changes etc.). Some of the factors are purely social (e.g., land of origin before immigration, history, social identity, social organization, political system, religion, customs and habits, scientific and techonological prowess, quirks and idiosyncrasies of powerful people, trade relations with friendly neighbors, war relations with unfriendly neighbors, etc.). Other factors are a combination of both (e.g., effects of environment on human activity, effects of human activity on the environment, responses of the society to environmental change, etc.). He details the histories of a number of societies, exploring the relative importance of each of these factors and how those factors feed back (and sometimes feed forward) on each other, i.e., how they are NOT additive but interactive. Not once he singles out just one factor to claim that THIS is what doomed Society X.

Thus, in a biological parlance, his study is INTEGRATIVE. It is also COMPARATIVE. First of all, he examines a number of cases, some of which are past collapsed societies, others past successful societies, yet others are modern societies with various problems. Even better, he manages to do some pair-wise comparisons as well. For instance, he compares Greenland Norse to Greenland Inuit (to Iceland to Shetland); Haiti to Dominican Repubic; Rwanda to Burundi; Mangareva to Pitcairn Island; Tikopia to Tonga; New Guinea to Japan, which are examples of pairs of societies that have several factors equal or very similar (i.e., they are, in a sense, "controlled for"), yet often have different outcomes, thus provide good case studies for elucidating key differences that led to different outcomes.

Diamond never says it explicitly, but one of the take-home messages that I got was that it is only very successful societies that suffer spectacular collapses. Societies that are not very good at solving problems and providing for its members never manage to get rooted in the first place - they are mere blips in history. On the other hand, soceties with social structure, political organization and rates of technological innovation that make them very successful, collapse due to the very strengths that allowed them to survive for so long. The solution to the problems that environment poses to them led to relatively easy and good life, which in turn led to population growth. The large population may still have been OK during good or average years, but if there was a series of bad years (e.g., very cold or dry), they may have exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment (Maya and Anasazi being perhaps the best examples of this). The same types of "bad years" that they easily survived when they were smaller in the past spelled doom once they got big - technological gizmos nothwithstanding. Also, the very type of social and political organization that made the society succesful in the beginning may spell doom once the population is too large. The initial strengths become liabilities once the situation changes. And there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for success.

Diamond powerfully argues that a top-down political organization works in some situations (e.g., large societies, like Japan and China) and a bottom-up approach in others (e.g., New Guinea, Tikopia, i.e., very small societies, but also, as exception to the rule, a very large one like Australia and, presumably European countries and the USA), and a mix of approaches in others (e.g., Dominican Republic which is a mid-size society). I prefer the bottom-up approach myself, but he persuaded me, against my will, that it would not work everywhere.

The very word "collapse" has a negative conotation, yet Diamond writes with admiration about many of the extinct societies. Sure, they collapsed, but that was after very long times of very successful management of problems their environments posed. Neither it neccessarily means that every single member of that society died. There are still natives on Easter Island, yet the hight of glory passed along time ago.

The biggest part of the book - three whole chapters - describes the collapse of the Greenland Norse. Diamond rightfully stresses several times that Greenland Norse were the most successful society to ever inhabit Greenland. Several attempts by Native Americans to settle there failed. Inuit are still there, but they have been there for only about 200 years and have suffered many small local collapses where whole villages starved to death. The current "modern" inhabitants of Greenland survive only due to subsidies from Denmark. Only the Norse managed to survive and thrive in the inhospitable climate of Greenland for 500 years. Remember, we have not survived that long in the mild and fertile USA yet. Thus, why the Norse failed to survive is a big puzzle and a fascinating story. And no, it is not because they did not eat fish. Diamond evaluates the evidence and agrees that some Norse may have eaten some fish. But he also argues that even if the Norse adopted good fishing methods and ate as much fish as the Inuit, that would not have been enough. Perhaps they would have survived another year or two, but they were still going to die out. There were just too many factors working against them (and not against the Inuit), the non-eating of fish was just one of many factors, and not even a major one.

The latter chapters in "Collapse", those about modern societies, are emotional rollercoasters. Page after page of gloomy statistics, hair-raising examples of stupid and greedy environmental damage, ....and just when you are about to swear off the human race (my thoughts: "China is going to kill us all in 10 years" and "I'll never even go to visit Australia"), Diamond changes the tone 180 degrees and starts listing all the positive developments, especially the most recent ones, and ends on a cautiously optimistic note (and you take a deep breath of relief). He describes the future as a horse-race between the forces of environmental degradation and forces of reason that fight against it, and he is hopeful that the latter horse will win.

The last three chapters - about the Big Picture and take-home messages - are probably the best, but it is difficult to read them without reading the rest of the book before that. First, Diamond keeps refering to information from earlier chapters in the book. Second, you may not believe him if you have not absorbed the prior information. He lists a dozen major problems that we need to save within our generation's lifetimes if we want to leave our children a livable planet. All dozen feed on each other and all dozen, not eleven, HAVE to be solved. He has no qualms about naming the individuals and companies who are "bad" stewards of the environment, but he is most definitely going to enrage many tree-huggers with a whole long chapter on big well-known megacompanies that nobody likes yet Diamond describes how they do excellent job in re-shaping whole industries towards a more sustainable practice and even positive action towards rebuilding the damaged environment.

Finally, Diamond directly addresses and counters the most frequent responses he expects his book will elicit and, in the last chapter, gives advice how we, as individual citizens of our communities and the world, can make a difference (including what courses of action do NOT work).

While it is best to read both of Diamond's books as a two-part study, they can be read independently. They ask somewhat different questions and apply different methodology to come up with the answers. As much as I think that "Guns, Germs and Steel" is an excellent book and am glad to see that it has been on the NYTimes besteseller list continuously for years, I still believe that "Collapse" is a better book and a more important book. I hope it replaces something (some Hannity drivel or Coulter gibberish) on the NYTimes bestseller list for many years to come. I hope that people who buy it take the time to actually read it. I know it's thick, but it is worth the time and effort. It may change the way you think. It may even change your life.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:02 AM | permalink | (4 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Friday, June 17, 2005

Computer stuff

G3 is dead again.

I got an old Gateway from a friend. It was wiped clean and new XP was loaded on, as well as MSOffice.

As soon as I plugged it in, I went to download Symantec anti-virus and set it to automatic update and daily scan. The little shield thingie says that a firewall is on - is that true? I have not installed one. Also, what should I get to protect myself from spyware, adware etc.?

Second thing I did was download Firefox. Very happy!

Next, I went to my school's list of free software. It is a long list, so I am still in the As - Adobe Reader and Photoshop so far.

Then, I downloaded Hallo and Picassa, so I can load images on my blogs again (see previous post).

What is the next thing you think I HAVE to do to protect the computer (especially from my kids' web-surfing habits) and make my life easier?

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 9:12 PM | permalink | (3 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Carnival of the Un-Capitalists - Science Edition: call for submissions

Calling all carnies, the Carnival of the Un-Capitalists is now accepting submissions for the next C-un-C which will be held this coming Monday, June 20 at Guerilla Science.For this C-un-C, we are accepting submissions on the theme "Science Edition."

Just to give you an idea what we are looking for:

Energy - nuclear energy, alternative energy forms, peek oil, and the eneregy industry itself
Biotech - the industry, biopiracy, bio-engineering, animal and human health
Weapons - the military industry, new research and development, effects on the environment, DU
Farming - the corporate farm industry, governments and food policy, genetically modified foods
Animals - animal testing, trafficking, effects of corporate pollution

And this list is only the beginning. To all C-un-C regulars and first-time Carnival goers: feel free to use your imagination and don't feel constrained by this list!

As always, submissions should be in by Sunday afternoon - June 19 - no later than 4:30pm EST. Send your submission to uncapitalist [at] gmail [dot] com and be sure to check out the 'Submission Guidelines' if you have not done so already.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:45 PM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

If only people read the Bible the way they read their contracts...

Check this guy out - Jim Pinkoski - in the posts AND in the comments here, here and here.

OK, he's a creationist, but he is not even trying to be consistently within ONE version of creationism. He freely switches between YEC and OEC and IDC and when asked ONLY for internal logical consistency, not even evidence, he starts using all caps and bold and calls everyone stupid and liars and exhibits all symptoms of a persecution complex. What gives? He appears intelligent and literate and definitely can draw cool cartoons. He is not an idiot, yet he behaves like one. How did he get to be that way?

As you expect from me by now, this is the time for some pop-sociology. And I'll do one up on David Brooks and divide all people into not two but THREE categories. And I'll even order them in chronological order of predominance in history. Here we go...

A) Religious thinking - If people I respect say an explanatory system is true than it MUST be true. It will always be true, as the people who do not believe it are not people I respect.

B) Philosophical thinking - If an explanatory system has internal consistency and internal logic than it MUST be true. It will remain true until somebody is able to demonstrate where the internal logic breaks.

C) Scientific thinking - If an explanatory system is well supported by empirical data than it is tentatively accepted AS true. It will remain generally accepted until new empirical data lead to a development of a new explanatory system that is better supported by data.

Religious thinking was the norm for most people for most of history. During that long period most people were illiterate anyway, so reading the Bible (or other stuff) and thus learning by thinking independently was impossible. One had to trust one's parents, neighbors, friends and, of course, the experts on this - the priests.

Philosophical thinking was the domain of a small number of people throughout history. This mode of thinking became more widespread during 16th through 19th century, as the great philosophers made their mark on human understanding of the world and the literacy spread through the populations. Most of the exercise, though, was independent of the real world. The premium was on internal consistency. In oher words, arm-chair philosophers were involved in a "he said - she said" debate, each trying to poke logical holes in others' constructs.

Theologians were quick to join in. Bible is so incredibly internally inconsistent, they had a huge job to do: to pick what statements to read literally, which ones to understand metaphorically, which ones to conveniently forget. Each theologian tried to hammer an internally consistent interpretation of the Bible. It was important as people could read the Bible themselves and needed guidance from the Church in order not to get disilluioned.

It was important for theologians to do philosophical thinking because the masses were expecting it. Though most people were unable to do it themselves, they were still capable of discriminating between what appeared to be an argument from authority appealing to religious thinking and the argument from logic appealing to philosophical thinking. The latter seemed more modern and sophisticated and was thus prefered even by the most uneducated. It was the way the world was thinking at the time. Of course, much hand-waiving and many logical fallacies could have easily passed by the people's BS-meter, but it had to have the APPEARANCE (through the use of specific terminology and the style of argument) of being philosophical and employing logic as a tool.

In the mid-19th century, Darwin published the Origin of Species. Sure, the book had its effect on the biology of the day and the theology of the day. But most importantly, it had revolutionized the way Western societies think.

Darwin built his edifice not just by paying attention to internal logic but by paying attention to the REAL WORLD. Up till then, philosophers built grand theories with no grounding in reality, while scientists published emipirical data with no attempts to build grand theories based on such data (some scientists played philsophers, of course, building grand theories WITHOUT supporting data). Darwin was the first to demonstrate that a hugely innovative grand theory can be built entirely on emipirical knowledge about the world - and not just idealized notions of "force" or "energy" of physics, but dirty, messy, readily-observable data of biology. Since then, no more arm-chair philosophizing was sufficient. The Origin ushered in the age of the "Show me the data!" mindset.

Suddenly, internal logic was not enough any more. Even the most uneducated wanted to be shown the empirical evidence. What were theologians to do? They immediately recognized that application of scientific thinking would swiftly destroy their religion. They did something very smart instead. Instead of playing the science game, they declared religion and science to be two separate "ways of knowing" (the "non-overlapping magisteria" in Stephen Jay Gould's terminology) and continued with philosophical thinking as the proper method in theology. They under-emphasized the historical and scientific aspects of the Bible and over-emphasized the ethical messages instead. This made religion immune to empiricism. By doing this, they saved religion for another century and a half, and more!

But not everybody was that smart. Throughout the past 150+ years, there were true believers who grew up in the age of scientific thinking and were not satisfied with merely philosophical arguments of the theologians. They wanted to have the cake and eat it, too. They wanted everything in the Bible to be true AND supported by scientific evidence. Unfortunately for them, stuff written in the Bible was not consistent with the empirical data. Week after week, as new issues of scientific journals came out, the biblical story about the world got more and more refuted by hard data. With every passing year, there was less and less in the Bible that remained correct. Science is doing exactly what early smart theologians understood so well - slowly exterminating religion by exposing its factual errors and making it irrelevant.

So, did they get smart and adopt the theological/philosophical defense of religion? Oh, no. They are pretending that their religion is scientific. They adopted the terminology and the style of argument of science and they are selling their wares to the uneducated. The uneducated are incapable of discerning what is true what is not. But they are magnetically drawn to arguments that SEEM to be scientific. This is the age of reason, after all, the "Show me the data!" era.

One takes information and advice from "experts" these days. "Because I say so" is not an accepted argument any more, and neither is a purely logical construct. An argument has to have an appearance of being based on research. Alternative medicine quacks prey on the ignorance of the masses the same way. While they used to just advertise their wares with say-so, today they invent "research data" out of the thin air because when packaged that way - IT SELLS! Historical revisionists do the same - forge the documents. New-age mystics all quote statistics. Creationists pull their "data" straight out of their asses, like this guy Jim Pinkoski does. But they will keep pretending to be scientific because they have to. No other packaging sells today. Their understanding of, and criteria for what is considered to be "hard evidence" is disturbingly different from the scientific criteria, but the uneducated people do not know that. If it has a bar-graph and some numbers it looks scientific thus it can be trusted.

One of the failures of both science education in schools and science reporting in the media (including popular science on nature cable channels) is the style of presentation: "here are the facts and believe me they are true because I am the expert". How can a lay person discriminate between a genunine scientist and a pseudo-scientist if their presentations have exactly the same style? What both the schools and the media have to do is teach people how to discriminate between quacks and the real McCoy, how science WORKS, how are data evaluated, who is to be trusted and why, how to find additional information, what is the nature of the evidence. Until this is done broadly and done well, Creationists will keep winning the hearts and minds even if they loose in courts. Their message is SIMPLER than ours. Their message is more PLEASANT than ours. Their message is exactly what their audience WANTS to hear. And it is covered with a veneer of science-sounding language. It is an uphill battle to counter this if the audience is unreceptive to begin with, and uneducated on top of that. We have a lot of work to do.

If only people knew the Bible better! The way people employ scientific thinking today, and the way the Bible flunks on every count, there would be more atheists today if the religious belief was transmitted by dilligent reading of the Bible instead of relying on the chosen interpretations of local priests and televangelists.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:20 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Should have been dung beetles...

Three slime-beetles got named after Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld:
Agathidium bushi, Agathidium cheneyi, and Agathidium rumsfeldi.
The first one was found in Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina, the other two in Mexico. Grad student explains. (Hat tip: Pharyngula)

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

Some Wednesday Carnivals

We woke up this morning to three great carnivals:

Tangled Bank #30

History Carnival #10

Carnival of Education #19

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:03 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


I am too obsessed with politics! Although fully aware I am reading the NC Zoo Blog, I still mis-read this post! I thought it was about Southern White Men who are Republicans In Name Only!

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:01 PM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Evolution, Evolution Everywhere

DarkSyd has done it again! After the gorgeous post on evolution of cats , he has now penned another one - on evolution of whales! Dig through the archives for his older stuff on human evolution, too.

Afarensis has started a great new project: a group blog about evolution that targets schoolchildren (primarily middle and high school). It is called Transitions and already has some excellent articles, e.g., this one on the evolution of elephants, one on evolution of opossums and the most recent one about misunderstanding evolution. If you think you can contribute, there is contact information at the site.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:53 AM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Grand Rounds

Grand Rounds #38 is up and running at Red State Moron

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 9:03 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Books: "The Sex Lives Of Teenagers" by Lynn Ponton

I recently finished reading The Sex Lives of Teenagers by Lynn Ponton. This interview is probably the best introduction to the book.

As parent of soon-to-be teens, I found the book useful to some extent. It is a series of case-studies - the kind of chatty book so often written by psychologists - a format that makes it easy to read, but leaves one deeply unsatisfied.

My interest is in sexuality of American society and how it affects politics. This book is not it - it rarely, and very obliquely touches on the broader culture. After being impressed with Dr.Ponton when I heard her talk on the radio, I was expecting and hoping for an academic read, full of statistics, and focusing on the Big Picture. I hope she writes one. Soon.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 1:59 AM | permalink | (0 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink

Monday, June 13, 2005

Stephanie Coontz On Marriage

Yup, you know I am interested in this topic, as I have written about it a number of times, including:
Moral Politics In The Context Of History Of Marriage
Definition, Semantics And Future Of Marriage
Gay Marriage And Marriage Tax
Hooked On Hooking Up
Teen Sex, Hooking Up, Femiphobia

So, of course, I went to hear Stephanie Coontz last Wednesday, and I bought her last three books. I liked, of course, everything she said. For instance (from one of her articles):

Many people hold an image of how American families "used to be" at some particular point in time, and they propose that we return to that ideal. In fact, however, there have been a wide variety of family forms and values in American history, and there is no period in which some ideal family predominated.

Here is another excerpt, from For Better, For Worse: Marriage Means Something Different Now, By Stephanie Coontz (May 1, Washington Post article):

Marriage is no longer the main way in which societies regulate sexuality and parenting or organize the division of labor between men and women. And although some people hope to turn back the tide by promoting traditional values, making divorce harder or outlawing gay marriage, they are having to confront a startling irony: The very factors that have made marriage more satisfying in modern times have also made it more optional.

The origins of modern marital instability lie largely in the triumph of what many people believe to be marriage's traditional role -- providing love, intimacy, fidelity and mutual fulfillment. The truth is that for centuries, marriage was stable precisely because it was not expected to provide such benefits. As soon as love became the driving force behind marriage, people began to demand the right to remain single if they had not found love or to divorce if they fell out of love.

Such demands were raised as early as the 1790s, which prompted conservatives to predict that love would be the death of marriage. For the next 150 years, the inherently destabilizing effects of the love revolution were held in check by women's economic dependence on men, the unreliability of birth control and the harsh legal treatment of children born out of wedlock, as well as the social ostracism of their mothers. As late as the 1960s, two-thirds of college women in the United States said they would marry a man they didn't love if he met all their other, often economic, criteria. Men also felt compelled to marry if they hoped for promotions at work or for political credibility.
None of this means that marriage is dead. Indeed, most people have a higher regard for the marital relationship today than when marriage was practically mandatory. Marriage as a private relationship between two individuals is taken more seriously and comes with higher emotional expectations than ever before in history.
Marriage is no longer the institution where people are initiated into sex. It no longer determines the work men and women do on the job or at home, regulates who has children and who doesn't, or coordinates care-giving for the ill or the aged. For better or worse, marriage has been displaced from its pivotal position in personal and social life, and will not regain it short of a Taliban-like counterrevolution.

Forget the fantasy of solving the challenges of modern personal life by re-institutionalizing marriage. In today's climate of choice, many people's choices do not involve marriage. We must recognize that there are healthy as well as unhealthy ways to be single or to be divorced, just as there are healthy and unhealthy ways to be married. We cannot afford to construct our social policies, our advice to our own children and even our own emotional expectations around the illusion that all commitments, sexual activities and care-giving will take place in a traditional marriage. That series has been canceled.

A blogger intent on preserving "traditional marriage and his commenters chime in: Stephanie Coontz: Marriage Means Something Different Now. Here's another one.

And here's more by and about Coontz and her books:

In Search Of A Golden Age:

The Malleable Estate: Is marriage more joyful than ever? By Alan Wolfe, Slate, May 17, 2005. - what axe does he have to grind?

And from this review:
Nonfiction review: 'Marriage, a History' by Stephanie Coontz
, Reviewed By Brigitte Frase,  Special To The Star Tribune, May 22, 2005, comes this excerpt:

As in her earlier book about families, "The Way We Never Were," Stephanie Coontz has set out to tell us everything we don't know about marriage. It turns out to be quite a lot. Marriage as we know it -- discrete units of husband, wife and children -- is only about 200 years old, and that's mainly in Europe and the United States. The sunny ideal of the breadwinner husband with his homemaker wife and their 2.2 children was a historical blip, lasting only from the end of World War II until the mid-'60s, when the nation went through a nesting period, a relieved response to the end of the Depression and the war.
In her exhaustively researched and well-footnoted "Marriage, a History," Coontz has pulled together centuries of primary and secondary anthropological, sociological and historical information. But this isn't just a reference work. Filled with anecdotes about everyone from Cleopatra to Charlemagne to Henry VIII, plus all sorts of charming trivia -- did you know that the "kick" in Cole Porter's lyric came from cocaine, not champagne? -- this is a reader-friendly and absorbing book.
Coontz punctures myths left and right, pointing out that for thousands of years, all over the world, the purpose of marriage was less to unite a man and a woman than to forestall conflict, consolidate property and increase the labor pool. In one ancient Chinese culture, marriage played no role: Women had sexual relationships but lived and raised children with their siblings. Clearly, Coontz writes, "marriage is not the only way to impose an incest taboo, organize child rearing, pool resources, care for elders, coordinate household production or pass on property. It is, however, the only way to get in-laws. And since the dawn of civilization, getting in-laws has been one of marriage's most important functions."
Human beings, like most other animals, are not naturally monogamous, Coontz argues. There might be a biological imperative to mate, but there certainly isn't one to shack up. That is why every society enacts so many rules about what marriage should or shouldn't be. Neither is there one model of a traditional marriage, she points out. Polygamy and, to a lesser extent, polyandry are traditional practices. There also have been societies, in Africa and native America, where sex played less of a role than gender roles. One spouse would behave as a "male," the other as "female."
Coontz builds a strong case for her contention that the love-based nuclear marriage we think of as "traditional" emerged in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. The spread of a market economy meant people could live on wages and didn't need the support of an extended family. Enlightenment thinkers and theologians championed individual rights and, something entirely new in the world, the pursuit of happiness.
By Victorian times, marriage had become almost a mystical bond, idealized as everyone's highest aspiration. Queen Victoria set the tone: When she "broke with convention and walked down the aisle to musical accompaniment, wearing pure white instead of the traditional silver and white gown and colored cape, she created an overnight 'tradition.' "
But, Coontz points out, there is an inherent instability in a love match. When two people are required to be everything to each other, when love in a marriage is an obligation rather than a bonus, the risks of disappointment and failure are high. Coontz argues that this kind of marriage has become brittle to the breaking point. Witness the ever-growing marriage-advice industry and need for therapeutic intervention on behalf of the old biological imperative.
In fact, Coontz argues, marriage is no longer a central institution in our society. As laws have changed, giving women the same rights as men and abolishing the status of "illegitimate" children, many other ways of organizing relationships have emerged. We have cohabitating couples, single-parent households, "blended" families, communal arrangements. But the fastest growing segment of the population is singles, both the never-married and those who drop out of the market. And even for married couples, coworkers are increasingly becoming surrogate soulmates.
People will continue to marry, but it is too late to "defend" marriage; Coontz says flatly that it will never again be an important cultural institution. It strikes me that the strident debate about gay marriage masks a deep anxiety; it might well be a distraction from acknowledging the diminishing importance of marriage. Isn't it ironic that those who now sentimentalize marriage are denied entry?

Buy the book!

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

More On Female Orgasm

The discussion about the recent studies on female orgasm, first about its adaptive function and later about its genetic component, has been raging around the blogosphere for a while now. It was spawned by the publication of Elizabeth Lloyd's book on the topic (it is on my wish-list), and by a paper in Biology Letters about the genetics of female orgasm based on a survey of twins. For instance, see these posts on Pandagon, Pharyngula, The Loom and American Street. Elizabeth Lloyd, who I think is absolutely correct, writes her own blog post on the topic.

Now, via three posts on MindHacks, through an interesting blog (new to me) called PsyBlog, we find two excellent post by a blogger who is a professional sexologist. Dr.Petra, in two posts, destroys both the study (the one on genetics of orgasm) and the way media reported on it. Here they are with short excerpts:

Women, orgasm and genetics
Shock stories about women’s orgasm problem tap into the agenda of Big Pharma who want to medicalise a lack of orgasm as a clinical event requiring treatment. It increases women’s anxiety about orgasm, and reinforces the idea that a lack of orgasm is a chronic problem – rather than a normal life event.

But the main problem about this story was the speed it travelled round the world and the lack of interrogation of the actual research.

It broke the first rule of research. It didn’t measure what it claimed to measure.

Yet the public won’t know this, and as a result thousands more women and their partners are now being made to worry needlessly about their sexual functioning.

Women! Don’t orgasm so easily
Look closely about what this is really saying about sex. Apart from it being entirely geared towards heterosexuals who want a baby it’s also suggesting something else. It’s implying a natural order of sex that’s an entirely twentieth century creation. It’s suggesting that ‘real’ men ought to delay orgasm, and implies those that can will make better fathers. There’s no evidence for this at all. Only from the latter part of the twentieth century have Westerners become preoccupied with the female orgasm, or men lasting longer in bed. Blame porn if you like, but not genetics. In the past men just came quick and that was that. Female orgasm wasn’t considered at all. This research is claiming a biological and evolutionary link for a very modern cultural view of sexual behaviour. And none of these factors were either tested nor reported in the original research all this media coverage is focusing on.

This is what I wrote in the comments on Pharyngula:

We have to keep these three things separate: sexual reproduction, sexual pleasure, and orgasm.

1) Sex: Maynard Smith and others have grappled for a long time with the problem of evolution of sexual reproduction. If you reproduce by division or budding, all your offspring are exact genetic clones of you - the most preferred option for you from a fitness standpoint: it is fast, safe and clean. Biologists generally do not like the "good for the species" arguments, but sexual selection is really good for preserving lineages (as it introduces gene-shuffling, hence genetic variation, thus faster adaptation to changes in environmental circumstances). But the individual suffers: first, it has to come out of hiding into the dangerous world in order to find a mate, second it gives each offspring only half of its genes. This is already a big concession to give, and that is why we do not see any reproductive system that requires the existence of three or more sexes, although they are theoretically possible. It makes sense (but needs to be tested - this is in no way conclusive) that species selection had a say in the evolution of sex. Opponents of species selection re-define "fitness" to include many (or infinite) generations of offspring instead of usual one or two - a metric used by biologists in day-to-day research.

2) Pleasure: When two Paramecia (silver-slippers: Protista) meet they have "sex", i.e., conjugation. Do they feel pleasure? I doubt it. How about plants - does it feel reeeaaal goooood when the guy-oak's pollen lands on your flower? While fission or budding may be pre-programmed, the complex behavioral activity of leaving the safety of your burrow, going out into the dangerous world, looking for a mate (wasting time better spent foraging), competing for a mate (dangerous), evaluating the quality of the mate (tricky and often dissappointing), mating (yukky and potentially very dangerous), laying eggs or giving birth (potentially dangerous), parenting (expensive!), starting all over, requires a lot of "decision making" by the animal. There are so many negatives (somewhat more for females than males, though), it makes sense that more complicated the mating setup, more dangerous it becomes, and more it appears likely that some kind of reward may be neccessary. A Just So Story so far, but it appears that many animals (both sexes) enjoy sex and it is reasonable to test the hypothesis that sexual pleasure is adaptive in both sexes.

3) Orgasm: Having sex is very pleasurable (take my word for it!), but ALL of it, not just the orgasm. Meeting somebody attractive is pleasure in itself, talking, exchanging glances, touching, kissing...all great pleasure. In a sense, climax is anti-climax ("Darn, it's over! Was I too fast?") - makes you stop. If pleasure is adaptive (in order to have you go out and risk having sex), then perhaps orgasm is adaptive in stopping the pleasure once insemination is over (and scurrying back to safety, or going foraging). That is, perhaps, why orgasm happens at the time of ejaculation and not an hour later. That is, perhaps, why the timing of MALE orgasm is important. If a male does not have an orgasm, he'll just keep going and going like an Energizer bunny, endangering both of them (getting eaten in flagranto) . On the other hand, fertilization will happen if the female does not experience an orgasm, but that does NOT mean she did not have pleasure!

If a female orgasm was an adaptation, what would be its function? If it was an adaptation, wouldn't we expect selection to make it easier to achive one by moving the sensory endings into the vagina itself? If it was an adaptation, wouldn't we expect a much greater percentage (perhaps even 100%) of women to easily achive an orgasm during vaginal sex? If it was an adaptation, why is there such a wide variation among women (and not among men)? Have you seen the website Beautiful Agony? All guys are the same. Women are all different! Some immediatelly fall asleep afterwards, some get there fast, some take a long time, some are quiet, others noisy, some do it once, other have a whole series of orgasms, or do it a few times in a row. If it was an adaptation, this kind of variability would not be expected.

All of this suggests that developmental parallels with the building of male genital organs is the most likely evolutionary explanation for female orgasm. That does not mean that this may not BECOME and adaptation today. The evolutionary pressures today are very different from 10,000, or 100,000, or 1,000,000 years ago. Perhaps having an orgasm has a function for a CIVILIZED female. Any ideas?

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:11 PM | permalink | (5 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink