27 February 2008

Monkeys fling poo, just like us!

There’s this bargain bookstore that I go to frequently in Toronto where I’ve found such wonderful things as Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex and Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, which you just can’t find anywhere else these days (on sale, that is). The past couple of times I’ve been in this bookstore, I’ve covetously passed by a largish coffee table book on apes, very tempted to buy it, but each time passing it up because of the $25 price tag and the fact that it is light on fact, heavy on photos. I like info, so that's a bit of a problem. That said, many of the photos are hilarious and just prove that you don’t need to put a chimp in a tuxedo to make it funny.

However, I’m thinking that I should be picking it up, and not just to laugh at the ape antics. Part of the reason religious fundies don’t like evolution is the “I don’t come from no monkey” mindset (complete with bad grammar). They, and sadly this “they” includes my wife, think it’s a horrible, demeaning idea that we’re related to grimy, stupid, poo-flinging animals. Perhaps if they just stretched their brains more they’d see how similar we actually are to our ape cousins: that they’re highly social, that they’re intelligent problem-solvers, and that they have well-developed personalities. There is nothing wrong with being related to an orangutan1.

On the other hand, most of these people probably have already seen nature shows on tv and just filter the ape stuff through God coloured glasses. In which case my whole argument here is just rationalizing the fact that, if it’s still on the shelf, I’m buying that ape book the next time I’m there.

1 FYI, I have an uncle who strongly resembles an orangutan. He was actually conceived in Borneo, where orangutans live. We don’t want to think about what this potentially means for cross-species fertility.

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25 February 2008

Book meme going around

I've seen this book meme going around, so I decided to preempt it after reading CL's post about it (and the handy dandy bible quote she managed to get out of it: It really is "the good book." Who cares about the meaning of life or morality? The real important stuff is how to make the carrying harness for an ark.)

Anyway, here are the rules. Yet again, screw #5. I don't know that many people.

1. Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. No cheating!
2. Find page 123
3. Find the first 5 sentences
4. Post the next 3 sentences
5. Tag 5 people

I'm kind of cheating; the nearest book to me is my Handbook of Steel Construction, which would not work very well. The steel book does not have a page 123 per se. Its format is 1-12, 3-121, etc, which is very good for a design manual but not very good for memes. Most pages don't have sentences either, but instead have of tables, figures, and clauses.

So I choose the second nearest book, which is Early Greece, 2nd Ed., by Oswyn Murray. Turns out this is a university text and it's extremely dry and detailed, yet amazingly contains little actual useful detail. Here's my three sentence excerpt:
For the homeland, prosperity again, and not only among the colonizing cities: Aegina never colonized, but the basis of her wealth was the resulting trade. The religion behind the colonists also benefited: the Delphi of Apollo the Leader became the richest and most important international sanctuary, and repository of the tithes of booty from victories colonial and home. Politically the influence was most perhaps from colony to mother city.
Ugh, I should have shuffled my books around a bit before doing this. That was horrible.

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22 February 2008

Pharmboy got snipped - live!

Abel Pharmboy at Terra Sig went under the knife and liveblogged his vasectomy. Personally, I felt he didn't get into enough detail as far as his thoughts and fears during the operation, but given that the whole procedure takes ~20 minutes and that he's, you know, getting his general wang area hacked into, I can kind of forgive him.

The best comment on the post belongs to theo: "but do you mean to tell me i only had to ejaculate 20-30 times after the procedure to flush all the lives ones out?!!?!?! they told me i had to wait 6 mos. i coulda taken care of it in an afternoon if i'd known."

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21 February 2008

Religion makes you decorate your house like a colourblind imbecile

We’re house hunting* and have been witness to a bizarre variety of decorating options over the course of the ~10 houses we’ve seen so far. I’ve noticed a fascinating pattern of religious ornamentation. I’ve seen lots of Christian stuff, including crosses, crucifixes, inspirational posters, and East Orthodox icons. I’ve seen serious, old-fashioned Buddhas and jolly rotund Buddhas. I’ve seen the many arms of Vishnu (“hey, Ganesha, want a peanut?”). And, amazingly, despite the very limited sample size, some very definite trends have emerged that correlate religious expression with home fashion sense:

1) No Religious Ornamentation – This coincides strongly with the having the best home fashion: inviting colours, tasteful, well laid-out furniture, decent artwork. I can’t say for sure whether the current inhabitants actually live this well thought-out life of irreligion and good taste or if it’s just a ploy to sell the house better, ie. Obtain new furniture that you’ll return once you sell the house and clean the house to make it more presentable, ie. Hide your creepy religion. Regardless, these houses show very well.

2) One Dominant Religion on Display – This has always been one form of Christianity (no dominant Hindus yet). This coincides strongly with a more conservative approach to home décor. Sometimes it can be quite tasteful in a ‘granny’ sort of way. Mostly, it is just austere and cold, often keeping the unimaginative original carpet and paint. Typically the colours are drab or plain white. Crosses/crucifixes are obvious in the entrance and usually in the kitchen/dining area and in the bedrooms. There are usually bibles somewhere and maybe some fridge magnets, inspirational posters, even some artwork. Generally not too inviting.

2.5) Fascinatingly, there is a subset of this grouping: One dominant religion plus one wacky apostate – Twice I saw houses that looked like normal religious homes when I was suddenly floored by an incongruous room with a Buddha, Chinese calendars, incense, etc. Both times, this stuff was tucked away in the smallest, crappiest bedroom (actually a converted office room in one case and a cramped partially finished basement room in the other). I get a feeling the rest of the family is hiding these poor souls: tucked away in the darkest, lowest build-quality rooms to live their sinful lives in shame. Or I could just be building the story up in my mind. Either way, weird.

3) Religious Hodgepodge – These houses are living nightmares of décor. There are religious items of all sorts – Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, various Asian traditional religions – basically anything with some sort of catchy motif or trendy ‘religion of the day’ fad associated with it. There are typically woo books on the bookshelf. The paint is insane, usually bright and contrasting and not pale enough to be unobtrusive or dark enough to be soothing. For instance, one place kept the original burnt rose carpet and augmenting it with lime green walls. Furnishings are laid out in strange ways that interfere with movement. Furnishings are also hideously ugly, being of garish designs and colours that look like they are from a bad ‘80s science fiction show. They might have been trendy in the gawd-awful yuppieverse of the ‘80s, but did I mention all these houses were built in 2001 or later? Just atrocious. The basement of one had been converted into some sort of twisted dance club, complete with a superugly black and mirrored wet bar (of the aforementioned bad ‘80s science fiction variety - amazingly, it matched the master bedroom furniture), disco ball, and several miniature plasma lights instead of regular lightbulbs.

While correlation does not equal causation, I will go out on a limb and say that religion seems to impair your taste in some way, or that if your taste is impaired, you will choose to be religious. I will further say, in regards to the class #3 people out there: HOLY FUCK, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? HOW DOES YOUR HOME MAKE SENSE IN ANY WAY? WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE WATCHING TRADING SPACES: HOME EDITION, WERE YOU REALLY HOPPED UP ON A COCKTAIL OF ASSORTED HALLUCINOGENS AND WATCHING AMERICAN GLADIATORS? I MEAN, SERIOUSLY, WTF?!!!


Other than that, I have discovered that in about 40% of homes, regardless of income or education, there will be some form of blatant hockey-related ornamentation not necessarily confined to the rooms of the children. This is Canada, after all.

* There’s a chance I’ll even be close enough to walk to work, which would be very cool.

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19 February 2008

All this time spent on atheism blogging is useful for something

I think that yesterday, for the first time, all this time I’ve spent reading and participating in the atheism/culture wars blogosphere has paid off in a tangible way.

Last night, me, my wife, and a bunch of friends were gathered at another friend's house playing Wii and Cranium. The atheism stuff didn’t help the Wii playing in any way whatsoever (side note: this was my first time on a Wii and my arms are killing me! I mean, I'm in decent shape but, dude! serious lactic acid build-up. Stupid Rayman); however, it may have singlehandedly won my team the Cranium game1. We were going for the final question which was to be a word question. I was selected because they guessed I was the best speller on the team (I believe my teammates just didn't want to spell). The other team read the question:

Them: “Spell the following word: ? ... {whisper to teammate} I don’t know this... Me neither. Do you? No. Umm, should we just try to sound it out? {speaks back to us} We don’t know this word, do you? {flashes it to one of my teammates who won’t be answering the question. She shakes her head “no”} Ok, no? I guess I should just try to say it {grumbles} ... here it goes: PRAW – SEE – LIE – TIZE.”

Me: “{hurriedly cutting him off} Oh, I know that word. Proselytize. It means to try to convert someone to your belief or viewpoint, usually regarding religion.”

Everyone but me: “Wha?! How does he know that? I’ve never heard of that before in my life.”

Them: “{grumbles} Now we’ve lost.”

Me: “Not so fast. I always get the ‘e’ and the ‘y’ mixed up. (here I demonstrate that I spend so much time on this stuff that I have a regular misspelling of an infrequently used word). {concentrates so as to not embarrass myself} P-R-O-S-{pause}E-L-Y-T-I-Z-E. {looks up hopefully}2

Them: “Crap.”

My Team: “Woohoo!”

1 A little boasting on my part. We were actually far, far ahead. We could have screwed up our next 10 chances at the final question and still won.

2 To be honest, my spelling is only so-so these days (I have been seduced by spellcheckers) and I had never seen the word ‘proselytize’ until about two years ago on some atheist blog.

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12 February 2008

It's Darwin Day!

Apparently, today is Chucky D's birthday. He'd have been 199 years old if he hadn't died a while back, though I imagine he'd be pretty wrinkly by now. In honour of the event, I bought Evolution (the Oxford Reader) edited by Mark Ridley, and also have a copy of The Origin of Species that I will read (eventually).


07 February 2008

Ben Stein poster

From Friendly Atheist. Awesome.

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05 February 2008

My Wife Doesn't Agree with the Evolution of Homer

Seen here at Pharyngula is the awesome Simpsons couch gag of the evolution of Homer from single-celled life through to a homosapien (barely) on the couch. Last night's episode featured this beginning. My wife saw, and promptly exhibited her annoying fundie leanings: "Is that supposed to be evolution? I don't believe that you can get something from nothing."

I explained that evolution has little to do with how life got started in the first place; however, we still had an impasse over the whole "evolution of humans" thing. I tried to explain how the Simpons episode represents evolution in a not-too-correct way, but all this stuff takes a while to explain. It was 11:00 at night and I was tired (and apparently not a very good teacher that night because I had also failed to successfully explain how groundwater works), so I told her I could get her a book that explains evolution infinitely better than I ever could, then retrieved for her The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins from my bookcase.

She balked at its size.

Then amazingly expressed a willingness to read it (or at least excerpts - she's really not keen on reading something that big). On the condition that I read something as well. You guessed it: the Bible.

So I may be reading the Bible soon. No biggie. Even if it's a load of hooey it still has had a profound on western culture, so I stand to learn something from reading it. On the other hand, I don't know if The Ancestor's Tale is really the best book for my wife, despite my wife's utter lack of biology knowledge (she's an electrical engineer - good at physics and not much else). It's a great book, but if we're really exchanging viewpoints, a more appropriate book may be Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. It's also a lot shorter. Any suggestions?

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