Friday, February 27, 2009

Legion are the ways that today was a better day than yesterday...

The last two days have kind of sucked for me. I blogged about Wednesday... Then yesterday, I ended up missing ALL of the Evolution of Human Aggression sessions for the day... the session I was most interested in seeing.

Ah, but today was much better!

My day began with a job interview that resulted in an offer a few minutes later (of course, the job is my CURRENT job, but I'll be reporting to a different arm of the company), and I ended up getting offered some extra money, which I was not at all expecting, so that was nice!

I spent the afternoon attending the last few sessions of the conference, and thought it was EXCELLENT. Martin Daly & Margo Wilson's presentation was particular insightful... And I got to hear Sarah Hrdy talk, who looks entirely different from what I had imagined... Her book, Mother Nature, was one of the books that made me fall in love with anthropology as an undergrad.

I met and briefly chatted with Steven Pinker and Richard Wrangham... It must get so annoying to be a known person (I was going to say "celebrity," but I'd sound like such a nerd calling a bunch of scientists celebrities... Guilty as charged as I might be), having to stop every 20 seconds to hear some fan gushing.

Anyway, the panel discussion afterward, consisting of social workers and representatives of the Tanner Center for Nonviolent Human Rights Advocacy, discussing the implications and ramifications of the research presented over the last two days, was quite interesting.

Anyway, I need to get ready for Drinking Skeptically tonight. Peace out, sisters and brothers!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Frustration! = no Frans de Waal

Who is in the mood for a rant. Anyone?

Oh good! Then I have just the thing for you!

So, I had plans today to see Frans de Waal give the keynote address at the Tanner Center Forum. I'm a HUGE fan of de Waal's, more than anyone should be a fan of a scientist. I've been looking forard to this conference and pushing it mercilessly to the Salt City Skeptics group.

But when the time came to think about heading up to the U to see it, I'd lost all motivation.

Here's what happened:

I have a job interview on Friday, and it's a suit-and-tie sort of job interview. It occured to me that I hadn't seen my suit coat in a while. I don't wear it all that often, and last remembered wearing it in Montreal. So when I got home form work today, I went searching... My closet? No. Coat closet? Nope! Crumpled heap on bare concrete in the storage room next to the cobwebs and camping equipment? Bingo!

This means I needed to get it dry cleaned. And post haste, because I needed to make it to the keynote! So, off I ran -- okay, drove -- to the dry cleaner.

"Any chance I could get this back by end of day tomorrow?" I asked.

Dry Cleaning Guy: "Oooh, I don't know let me check." (disappears) "No, we can't guarantee it'll be done then."

"Does that mean it will probably be done tomorrow, or that it probably won't?

"All he said is that we can't guantee it."

Dry Cleaning Guy was clearly disinclined to investigate the matter further. So, I said thanks, but I'll need to find somoene who can get it done. Off I went to a competetor... Thank goodness, they other can get it done. Whew! Now, I need to get back home, change my clothes, grab a quick bite and head out the door!

Oh, damn. A really long light. I'm in the left turn lane, eight cars in front of me, and only two getting through per cycle. Annoying, but what can you do?

I work my way up to the front and I'm waiting patiently at the light. It's a very narrow street, one narrow lane each direction and a narrrow left turn lane with me in it.

Along 7th east (the major street I'm trying to turn left onto), a bus comes along, trying to make a right turn onto my road which, again, is very narrow. Guess what? The bus can't do it. Instead, it's basically headed directly for my car. I get a little nervous at the thought of being slowly crushed, but the bus driver stops short and makes a motion to me to move my car forward (i.e., into the intersection) so he can complete his turn...

Ummm, okay. I crank my wheel to the right as far as I dare without hitting the next car over and go forward a few feet. He moves the bus forward some more, pretty much wedging me in now. Nice.

I somehow manage to get forward a little further, JUST far enough that the bus can clear me. (Though now he is IN the left turn lane going the wrong direction and everyone behind me is having to contort their cars as well.)

Finally, though, the bus moves on... But there I am, the front of my car hanging out in the intersection, far enough that I am, in fact, a hazard.

No deaths though, and soon my light turns green and I'm finally able to turn. Just as I turn on to 7th, I see lights behind me. I am getting pulled over.

Yes, pulled over because my car was too far in the lane. Did he not see the bus that I was trying to avoid getting crushed by?

Why no, no he didn't. Luckily, he accepted my explanation and sent me on my way sans ticket, but by the time all this was through, I just wanted to be home, relax, and snuggle with the newly-short-haired Shakespeare.

So here I am... I think I'm going to tackle an article I've been meaning to write for the Salt City Skeptics blog about the difference between skepticism denialism. Specifically, how denialists abuse the word "skepticism" to give a veneer of credence to whatever it is they don't like (e.g., "global warming skeptics," "vaccine skeptics" an so on).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines Day, everyone!
[SVU-tines from Brandon Bird]

Friday, February 13, 2009

Yesterday's events, fossil evidence, and coming soon to LET!

Yesterday's Darwin Day event was a resounding success...

I just blogged about it over at Salt City Skeptics, along with a big post I'd been working on about the fossil evidence for evolution...

But rather than crossposting here, I'm just linking to it... PLEASE COMMENT! I'm dying to know what you guys think about the stuff I commit to words! I see the page hits, I know you're reading! No use hiding! Let me know what you think! :)

I think I'm going to start using SCS blog for (obviously) stuff related to the group, plus anything science or skepticism related, and use this one for anything related to atheism, religion, and any more personal posts. I'll put up links here to any SCS posts worthy of note.

Just so the three of you reading this know. :)

I'm starting to write a massive series of posts about Mormonism. This was spurred by a conversation with somoene who says they're agnostic, that god likely does not exists, but posists that if there is a god, it'd the version of god proposed by the LDS church. Needless to say, this odd dichotomy confused the HELL out of me... So look forward to a series of topic posts on the Book of Abraham, Kinderhook Plates, claims about Joseph Smith and his life, and much much more! Yay!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Why Darwin Day?

[Reposted from Salt City Skeptics]

First: One last reminder about the Salt City Skeptics Darwin Day Spectacular, tonight at Fat's Grill... Okay, now that that is out of the way...

Today is the day that we gather together with our families to celebrate the birth of, you know, some dude... Not a savior or a God or a legend. A man. Is it totally arbitrary for us to have a holiday or festival based around this one guy on this day every year?

Pretty much, yeah. We could have just as easily declared June 22nd "Evolution Day" or October 7th "Heliocentrism Day." We don't celebrate Galileo Day or Jonas Salk day.

So, why Darwin Day?

Darwin was not, as is often mistakenly reported, the first to come up with the idea of what we now call "evolution." The idea that species have changed over time to become other species (including humans) dates back at least to Anaxamander in the 6th century BC.

Indeed, Darwin was not even the first to develop an evolutionary model based on natural selection. That credit goes to Al-Jahiz, an 8th century biologist from what is now Iraq. Al-Jahiz postulated that:
"Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring."
That's about as concise a definition of natural selection as I can imagine. And this was 1300 years ago!

But Darwin's own realization about natural selection came at a time when people were eager for knowledge. During the 19th century, enlightenment ideals of free inquiry were coming to fruition, and the way science was practiced was shifting from "armchair philosophy" to a more methodical, procedural method of whittling away at null hypotheses.

Darwin's simple insight was at odds with a growing fire-and-brimstone brand of religion, particularly in the United States. No idea since the Kepler's heliocentric model of the Solar System had so inspired the wrath of religious fundamentalists, who insisted (and continue to insist) that the Genesis creation account was literally true. The rift between what science shows to be true and what Biblical literalists contend has grown and grown in the 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Speices, a rift that has been exacerbated by developments in astronomy, cosmology, genetics and geology that, time and again, fly in the face of biblical claims.

Darwin himself has thus become a lightning rod of criticism from religious fundamentalists, who maintain that his ideas preclude the existence of a deity. Indeed, religious fundamentalists have attempted to discredit natural selection and evolutionary theory by branding it as a dogma: "Darwinism."

Which calls into focus even clearer the question posed above: Why Darwin Day? Isn't celebrating Darwin playing in to the hands of those who claim that "Darwinism" is akin to religious dogma?

Well, sure. I suppose it is to some extent... But so what? Anyone who "celebrates" Darwin Day surely looks at February 12th as a celebration of science in general, and not a day to worship a mere mortal.

Darwin Day is about what Darwin represents: The scientific enterprise; courageously pursuing knowledge no matter where the evidence leads; challenging notions of our world and universe based on tradition rather than evidence.

That's why Darwin Day.