An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

September 17, 2010

Data-ey

Filed under: funny — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 8:18 pm

There should really be a science-specific word that parallels Stephen Colbert’s truthiness. It’s not exactly falling for psudoscience (since that kind of ‘well it seems like it should work this way’ thinking might or might not lead to bullshit conclusions).  ‘Common sense’ lends an air of approval that’s not such a good idea, and ‘intuitive’ sounds too technical.

There was some essay I read as a kid on exobiology, purporting to explain that there’s a good chance life has to be carbon based,  because living systems need to be able to build a super wide variety of molecules, and nothing is as flexible as carbon while still being reasonably common anywhere in the universe. Maaaaybe silicone, they said, but it’s hard to get that much silicone together, even after a supernova event. I have no idea if that logic is even plausible, let alone based on any kind of evidence other than that we happen to be made of carbon, and it’s working out pretty well for us.

So, any nominations? Factish? Data-ey? Scienceful? What do y’all think?

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September 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 8:48 pm

Sorry posting has been slow (to non-existent) here lately. Let’s just say chronic headaches don’t mix well with blogging. I’ll be back soon, though. To make it up to you, I’d like to share this link to a gallery of photos from a museum of Soviet-era arcade machines. Pictured below is ‘Traffic Sign Quiz.’ You’re welcome.

Via Boing Boing.

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August 10, 2010

Conservapedia: Propaganda or Performance Art?

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t gotten a little tipsy at the club, stumbled home safely, and spent an hour or two laughing their nether regions off at Conservapedia?

I didn’t think so.

I know I’m a little late to the party with this story from Talking Points Memo, which relates the tale of Conservapedia founder and second-generation douchebag Andy  Schafly’s inability to remember the difference between general relativity and moral relativism. Whatever, I’m sure even after someone explains the difference to him, he’ll still believe that understanding deep physics leads people away from Jesus (which, ok, there may be some correlation/causation there), and that that means Einstein must have been wrong. Luckily, Conservapedians were able to snark right back, with this mathematically & logically sound bit of self-referencing on their main page:

Counterexamples to the Bible 0
Counterexamples to Evolution 60
IQ of Atheists 0 divided by 60

Oh, snap! Zero divided by 60! That’s gotta be less than regular zero!

But there’s so much more to love about the internet’s most fake encyclopedia. You could go for the obvious, reading the reality-challenged articles on feminism, atheism, gay rights, Obama’s birth certificate, or other far-right hobbyhorses. But the real genius is the care with which they’ve fabricated delusional alternate-universe explanations for  innocent seeming topics.  Did you know that liberals lie about certain species of North American cactus being endangered, so we can up the supply of peyote? (to be fair, they seem to have deleted the entire article on cacti to hide their shame on that one) Or that Dodos might have gone extinct all of their own? Or that the bible proves the existence of unicorns? Unicorns, people. Normally I’d say don’t feed their egos, but this is some seriously worthwhile comedy reading. Just look at today’s top pages:

Most viewed pages
Main Page 8,067,661
Atheism 4,940,958
Homosexuality 3,565,061
Barack Hussein Obama 1,429,644
Wikipedia 924,932
Adolf Hitler 822,325
Sarah Palin 771,927
Liberal 721,863
Examples of Bias in Wikipedia 688,911
John McCain 585,396

Barack Hussein Obama! Adolf Hitler! Sarah Palin! In that order!

Hours of crying while laughing (followed by laughing while crying) are at your fingertips, thanks to the magic of the internet. Welcome to the future.

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July 17, 2010

Periodic Table of Profanity

Filed under: funny,media and pop culture — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 6:02 pm

Those of you who know me well or are on the receiving end of my Google Reader barrage have noticed that I like periodic tables. Especially ones composed of things other then elements. This is my favorite of the week:

It’s a magnificent, apparently British thing, from the Interrogative series to the variations on Sodding. My only complaint is that the color-coded series only correspond loosely to their content.

And in all fairness to my content-thieving, I should mention that you can buy print over this away, and that I saw this first on the excellent blog Man Made DIY.

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July 16, 2010

Libertarians: Overt Douchbags

Today’s post is brought to you, belatedly, by this lovely post over (link should work now) at Gin and Tacos and my thoughts thereon. Long story short: the post is an, er, scathing critique of James Sherk’s (of the Heritage Foundation*) recent appearance on Hardball. (note: much of the audio on the latter half of the video is ruined by Matthews laughing his ass off the soundstage) Sherk asserts that, basically, the Science of Economics Proves having unemployment insurance discourages people from sucking it up and getting a job, any job, ASAP–even if that means moving to where the jobs are, or taking something out of your field and way below your former pay grade. Or all three. And, we are to believe, that’s a Bad Thing, because unemployed people are using Your Tax Dollars to hold out for jobs like their old ones, rather than accepting that the invisible hand of the marketplace has booger-flicked them out of the middle class.

One thing I’ve always wondered: Isn’t it maybe better, long term national economic policy-wise, for the abruptly unemployed to have a chance to hold out for whatever their definition of a ‘good job’ is? Having someone who’s highly trained–whether they have a Ph.D or 20 years experience as an underwater welder–take work way out of their field puts their skills to waste. I’m guessing Sherk would say they’re welcome to keep looking for another teaching or welding job while they flip burgers, but taking that minimum wage job is bound to slow down their job search waaaay down–it’s not like their new boss has any incentive to let a newly-trained employee leave, and they’re not under any mandate to give employees time off to go to interviews. I’m not just speculating, this was been a problem for me when I was in food service and looking to get out. The longer you’re out of a profession, the harder it gets to get back in. At 6 months, you’re an unemployed welder. At 2 years, you’re a former welder.

And for people who don’t have the education or experience to get out of shitty jobs, a sudden influx of formerly-white collar workers is bad, bad news. To take this to a bit of an extreme, consider this: when the last 5 people a McDonald’s hired have a BA or an MBA, there’s a good chance HR will start skipping over applicants sporting a GED. You can see this in places with chronic over education and high employment–isolated college towns and Portland, OR come to mind.

The percentage of Americans with college degrees has meandered ever-upward over the last few decades, and with it, the minimum qualifications for many jobs have gone up incrementally too. Office drone & secretarial type listings often demand a bachelor’s degree rather than a HS or associate’s degree, unskilled workers are expected to have graduated high school, and skilled labor has slowly swung from on-the-job training toward a tech school first, employment later model. I think this downturn will push that trend a little further, as the unemployed people with MBAs settle into office jobs a tier or two below their last position, the people with undergrad degrees go down another notch or two, and so on. People who are highly educated aren’t going to be unemployed forever, they’ll just wind up pushing everyone below them down a notch.

Human-interest stories about the crappy economy always focus on the former banker who now works as a gas station attendant. But what about the guy who can’t get a job as a gas station attendant because all those jobs are now going to college graduates?

I’m guessing Sherk hasn’t had much experience being unemployed without good prospects. So he sat down and thought real hard about it, read some intro economics texts that say things will all work out so long as everyone makes ‘rational’ choices and people have perfect information. And using his Rational Power, he deducted people should go where there are jobs.

But he obviously didn’t talk to anyone in the ‘real world,’ (or even in the rural poverty hot zones of Real America (TM)) or he’d have noticed that he’s full of shit. For starters, there’s no where in the US right now where business is booming and jobs are plentiful. And if he’d talked to anyone actually dealing with unemployment,* he’d know that the whole ‘rational decision’ model isn’t what’s actually sensible for people to do. In a model, moving for a crappy job is better than staying put with no job. But in practice, there are all kinds of costs–the cost of moving, of giving up your friends, family, professional network, etc. If only one person in a couple is unemployed, moving just to see if a state with 7% unemployment is better than one with 10% unemployment is especially stupid. I could go on, but I’m sure everyone gets the point.

*Yeah, I know, the Heritage Foundation fancies itself more conservative than libertarian, but in this case, the economic argument is pure free-market freebasing, which both teams support but libertarians do so with less social finesse. Sherk’s fuck-you-and-your-kids attitude is a stellar example of that kind of malicious social cluelessness. So there.

**At one point he cites his well-off unemployed friends, who he doesn’t seem to have talked to at all, and who are exempt from his admonitions to take jobs they currently consider beneath them.

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June 4, 2010

Propaganda for your Pants

Filed under: feminism,gender,media and pop culture — Tags: , , , , , — Ethan @ 7:31 pm

A little while ago, I got the chance to tour parts of the CDC. While waiting for our contact to come and lead us through the impressive maze of the place, we killed a few moments wandering around the main attraction of the Visitor’s Center: the CDC’s museum to itself.

At the time, their temporary exhibit was a retrospective of STI public health campaigns. It was fascinating stuff, from the now-quaint syphilis scares to the deep, deep disgust with women’s sexuality.  (Note: all these images are from Mother Jones recent retrospective of military propaganda The Enemy in Our Pants, which inspired this post. Check it out)

Yeeeeah. I love a good pun, but seriously. Booby Trap? Are you fucking kidding me? There are pulp novels from the same time period with classier covers. This is a hairs breadth away from suggesting that woman’s vagina is a spear-lined pit covered in palm fronds. And they go on like that, one after another, warning innocent men of the horrible, horrible things that could befall their precious wieners, should they get too close to any of the local ladies.

Well, except maybe for this one. Made for the British public just before the US sent a massive wave of troops in to prepare for D-Day, it puts the blame squarely on the hoards of apple-cheeked, sex crazed GI’s.

The other thing that really caught my attention was the  stark difference between a lot of the first-generation PSA’s and the ones that came later–the first syphillis treatment ads basically just said “Hey, did you know you could stop having syphillis? Ask your doctor!” Which, given all the havoc untreated syphilis can cause, was probably all they needed to say.

Similarly, the posters from the pan-African smallpox eradication campaign all translated to variations on “If you go to your local clinic and get vaccinated, you won’t ever get smallpox. Bring the kids!” with matching illustrations of a friendly-looking man in a lab coat holding a minimally intimidating vaccine gun, followed by happy families celebrating their smallpoxlessness. I mean, that shit pretty much sells itself, right?

But by the 60′s, one US ad for the oral polio vaccine mentioned its ‘great taste.’ Which is nice and all (I’m guessing it was for the polio vaccine carried on sugarcubes ) but seriously? Even if it tasted like rotting shark asshole, it keeps you from getting polio. There’s no question about whether it’s worth it.

Yeesh. Americans.

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April 22, 2010

Georgia Legislature: Embarrassing Us in Front of All the Other States, Again

So, there’s a bill before the Georgia legislature right now, banning Georgians from non-consensually implanting microchips in each other. Fair enough, I’d figure that would fall under assault or something, but sure. Forcibly implanting something under someone else’s skin is Not Ok.

A few years ago, some friends of mine were doing a study on bats where they were implanting  subcutaneous RFIDs about the size of a grain of rice into the animals and releasing them. They got drunk one night and decided they should inject themselves with a chip each, to see what it was like for the bats. Apparently, it hurt more than a little, but less than a fuck ton.

Yet no one is currently running around Georgia like a mad animal-shelter worker, tagging residents with their own home addresses in case they get lost (though that might do my brother some good). Nor do they plan to. As near as anyone can tell, the fine ladies and gentlemen of the Georgia state legislature are pushing SB 235 to protect us all from the Mark of the Beast ™, which they seem to think will take the form of a microchip implant (I think they mean an RFID tag, in this century. But who knows).  Despite growing up mostly in the bible belt, I have no real idea of what the hell they’re talking about. I think it has something to do with Satan tagging people to take to hell, or somesuch. I don’t know, my parents are atheists. Form what I’ve pieced together from incoherent billboards and Chick tracts, the Unholy One will kick off the end times with some sort of game of Mafia, where if you get tricked into letting yourself get marked, uh, you lose. For eternity. Until Jesus un-tags you, or you reach base.
But the real question is, why is this matter up for debate in the state legislature? Are they tired of trying to end droughts with prayer? Trying to draw attention away from their massive budget shortfalls, their education cuts, or their refusal to pony up even a little bit of cash for mass transit, even when the federal government is offering to pay for high-speed passenger rail through the state? Getting bad press for trying to sue to stop Georgians from getting healthcare? Probably. But so what if the state falls apart for the next 10, 20, or 50 years? They’re protecting us for eternity. That’s why they can’t be bothered to worry about the trifling details of governing in this world.

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