Some time ago I argued that life on other planets is not only possible, but, I think, likely. This conclusion is based on two facts 1) Life is incredibly diverse and adaptable. The existence of extremophiles, organisms that can survive under extreme conditions, and the amazing hardiness of critters like water bears, indicates that life might survive seemingly inhospitable environments found on other planets; and 2) The expansion of the number of exoplanets that have been discovered in the last few years, which is one of the most breath-taking scientific advances in my lifetime, provides ample possibilities for the emergence of life.
But, of course, until life on other worlds is confirmed, this remains speculative.
So, what's new? Recently, NASA has announced the confirmation of 715 new planets, orbiting 305 stars bringing the total planetary count to nearly 1700. There are also several thousand candidate planets awaiting confirmation. Yowza, that's a lot of new ground. Interestingly, as the below chart indicates, most of the newly-confirmed planets are not too distant in size to Earth.
Also intriguing, is that most of planets seem to be part of planetary systems; i.e. multiple-planet star systems like our own Solar System.
Even more exciting is the discovery of several new planets that occupy the "habitable zone," which is defined as planets that have the right temperature to have liquid water on the surface. Below is an artists depiction of habitable zone worlds, from the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, which was recently featured on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. It is also possible, since several of these worlds orbit the same star, that star systems with multiple habitable planets are common.
So, whither goest the Kepler telescope project? They've had some challenges lately. Two of the four reaction wheels that control the direction that the telescope points have become inoperative. They could still operate with only three, but with only two viable controllers, the project seemed dead-in-the-water. But, the clever folks at NASA have devised a solution. Using solar pressure in conjunction with the two functioning wheels they will be able to continue the search in what they describe as the K2 phase of the project. If, like me, you're a Keplerholic and want to see even more check out the Kepler image gallery.
But, the Kepler data is not the only news. NASA announced a "concept under study" to re-visit Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Europa, which is slightly smaller than Earth's Moon, is considered to be one of the more likely candidates to harbor extraterrestrial life within the Solar System. Although most of the moon's surface is frozen, a few months ago the Hubble Space telescope detected plumes of water vapor on Europa's surface, and it is believed that there is liquid water beneath the icy crust. The concept of the Europa Clipper is to put a vessel in orbit around the moon to perform detailed instrument analyses. Among the questions is how thick is the ice crust on the surface? Could the giant moon harbor creatures in the oceans of water beneath its surface? I say, let's go fishin'--who knows what will bite? Below is a picture of Europa taken by the Galileo Probe in 1996.
This reminds me of the fabulous sci-fi film from a few months ago "Europa Report" which is a fictional documentary of a manned exploration of Europa. I highly recommend this film, which I think was largely overlooked because it was overshadowed by the very popular film "Gravity" which I blogged about previously. Below-left is the trailer for "Europa Report" and below-right is a short NASA video about Europa. So, will we find extraterrestrial life? Well, I believe it is there, but will we find it? I have no idea, but I hope so--and we have so much more to explore! To get a feel of how large (and how small) our universe is, I invite you to explore this mind-blowing interactive infographic.
In closing, I would like to leave you with this quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson.
I guess food is near and dear to all of us. A few weeks ago I blogged about breatharianism, featuring the very interesting "experiment" performed by Naveena Shine. Today I'd like to blog about the interesting relationship between the world of vegetables and woo.
Maybe, I should have added this to the list of interesting words that I blogged about previously, but here's a great one: "Tasseography" (AKA tasseomancy) which is a fortune-telling technique that uses tea leaf or coffee ground residue, or wine sediments as a means of separating gullible people from their money. Part of a long tradition of shysters that include palm readers, tarot card readers, crystal ball readers etc. who are expert at "cold reading;" that is, using clues, often aided by leading questions, conveyed by their victims to answer questions about their relationships, money problems and their futures. The video on the below left features a woman who describes herself as an "energist" and a clairvoyant. She has "a gift." Add a few great feel good-buzzwords like, "transformation," "resonated," "comfort and peace" "empowered" some lit candles, and gruvy new agey music and what-do-ya got? a nice newsvertisement video. I really hate the way that psychics twist words and concepts like "energy" or "intuition." Exactly what sort of energy is radiated by tea leaves? The only intuitive powers that psychics have are their ability to cold read their hapless victims. The middle video is another example of a tasseographer. This woman is apparently both an "Inner Faith Priestess" AND an "interfaith Priestess" and a shamanist. Why not? More new agey background music. The tea leaves are a "gift from the cosmos." Blah, blah, blah. But, why limit yourself to tasseomancy, when there are so many other plants? Below right is a different kind of quackmeister, she foretells the future using asparagus. That's right, she's "the world's only asparamancer." Will wonders never cease?
For my last entry into the vegetable woo hall of fame allow me to introduce Grandpa John and his electric pickle demonstration. Somehow Grandpa John twists glowing pickles as analogous to the energy that god puts into Christians. Confused? Oh, just watch the video, Gramps makes it all crystal clear. Not only is the glowing pickle cool, but you gotta love his sweater.
So, what to make of all this? I don't need to be an asparamancer to predict a cold, rainy day in Seattle. I predict my future holds a nice, tasty, bowl of homemade soup which will warm my innards this evening. Yummy.
A few weeks ago I blogged about some words that have caught my attention. One of them was "raccoonitude," which I define as "the attitude of trying to get away with something, and when caught, being so charming that you feel like you should be entitled to your peccadillo, and thus, you might just get away with it." Below is a video of a perfect example. This reminds me of a raccoon encounter that I had a few years ago. It involved myself, my cat, Alex, and what Dangblog described as a "hideous yowling destructo-animal." I didn't have a blog back then, but Dang pretty much got the facts right. Here is the quote from his blog entry:
"After watching a horror movie at a theater, Scot came home and entered his house. His cat is there, looking very anxious. From inside the house comes a ghastly shrieking howl; part-animal, part-banshee. This is followed by a loud crash of breaking glass as the sliding glass door in the back of his house shatters. Alex, the cat, freaks out and runs full bore into an unbroken part of the glass door and bounces off. He disappears into the shadows.
What the hell happened? It’s elementary, my dear Watson. When Scot is out, he leaves a window open a cat’s width for Alex to come into the house. The window is several feet off the ground. While at the movies, a raccoon entered through the window, scarfed cat food, and maybe was casing out the rest of the house when Scot walked in. The coon, scared by the sudden appearance of Scot, bolted for what looked like the outdoors but he was unfamiliar with the concept of glass. His thick skull smashed through the glass door and he escaped. No blood was found. Maybe the animal went to a local emergency room with a concussion. Alex, terrified by both raccoon and window crash, did exactly the same thing as the raccoon, only he was too small to break a window. He was found the next day; uninjured, but a little reluctant to come home. No raccoon was actually ever spotted in this incident, but a previous raccoon invasion made one these bandits the most likely suspect. "
As Dang recounted, I never did confirm with certainty, that it was a raccoon, but other than a chupacabra, I really don't know what else it could have been. The previous raccoon invasion was evidenced by what were apparent raccoon paw prints on the window. Let's examine the myth of the chupacabra, one of my favorite cryptozoids. El chupacabra (not to be confused with the Seattle restaurant) translates as "goat sucker," for it's reported habit of sucking the blood of goats.
An interesting aside is there is a family of birds, the nightjars, or caprimulgidae, who are (falsely) reputed to suck the milk of goats. Their name comes from the bird's habit of flying over herds of goats with their mouths open to feed on stirred-up insects. But I digress.
The existence or a "real" chupacabra has never been verified. They usually prove to be hideous-looking canids who, because of disease (often mange) or genetics, are lacking hair.
They remind me of nude mice, which are often used in medical research, because, in addition to being hairless, nude mice lack a thymus, a feature important in the study of cancer and the immune system. I propose that nude mice be renamed as "chupamousra." But I digress (again).
So, how can I be certain that the intruder was a raccoon and not a chupacabra? I never actually saw the animal and there was no blood to test, and although the incriminating paw prints strongly suggest it was actually a raccoon, it is possible, that it was BOTH. There are a few instances (see video below) of a reported chups that later on were proven to be hairless raccoons. I suppose, although I strongly doubt it, that it could have even been a small coyote, or even a "chupacoyote," (Yes, I made up that word too.) since there have been numerous documented cases of wild coyotes right here in West Seattle.
One further digression I'd like to make--my last, I promise--is that I often see fears expressed and propagated by the local news that getting bit by a raccoon in Washington state could lead to a series of painful rabies vaccinations. It is my hope that the local medical establishment realizes that rabies, according to the Washington State Department of Health, for reasons I don't understand, is not endemic to the local raccoon population, although it has been found in bats.
Anyhow, one of the puzzling aspects of the "hideous yowling destructo-animal incident" is the paradoxical behavior of my cat. What was Alex thinking when he tried to bash his brains out on the adjacent window pane? I can think of several possibilities: 1) Ego. That is, "This stupid raccoon thinks he can breakout at will, well I can too." Alex apparently was unaware of Newton's Laws of Motion, i.e., F=MA. He might have had the acceleration, but probably not the mass of the putative raccoon, thus not enough force to break the window; 2) Anger. Maybe, he thought, particularly since this bastard ate all his food, that with this human backing him up, he could kick the raccoon's ass; 3) My favored interpretation, confusion and stupidity. Although Alex was a very intelligent cat, he was just a cat--and cats can definitely be stupid. He seemed to recover fully from the ordeal--and so did I--although it cosy me about $400 to repair the window. Alas, ten years after adopting me, Alex disappeared, I'm almost certain that he's in cat heaven now. Unfortunately, supposedly cats don't go to heaven--but that's hard to prove. Below are a couple of pictures of Alex, chupacabra ass-kicker. Come to think of it, he was a pretty big cat!
Below is a selection of chupacabra videos for your enjoyment.
It is becoming more and more evident that global climate change is real. NASA now has a site that provides ample information for those who want to catch up on the latest. It is also apparent that climate is caused by human beings, not just natural vacillations in weather. But, here is the problem: I don't feel it yet. Most of us, in our comfortable westernized lives, go about our blissful existence living in denial of the the inexorable, seeming inevitable, planet-wide changes in climate patterns that are already having widespread consequence. But, the real questions are: Can we do anything about it? If it is inevitable, how can we deal with it? How consequential will it be? Part of the problem is that for my whole life I have been exposed to a string of doomsday predictions: ozone layer depletion, overpopulation, acid rain, assorted viral pandemics (AIDS, bird flu, swine flu.) nuclear armageddon...the list seems endless, none of the crises have proved as consequential as some of the more-extreme doomsayers predicted--at least, not yet. So, what of global climate change? Is the sky really falling? Well, I don't know, but except for a few heretics, the vast majority of climate scientists and scientific analyses lead to the inevitable conclusion that, yes, it is real. But as stated above, I still don't feel it. I feel an emotional disconnect between the reality and action.
Which leads me to my selection of James Balog as my rational hero this week. He embodies the true spirit of this bloggers philosophy, that human beings need to be persuaded, not only on the logical, scientific, level, but the emotional level also. Passion is not driven by logic, but by feelings. Logic and feelings intertwined and synergized can lead to amazing progress and meaningful change. James Balog uses his medium, nature photography and film making, to breathe life into the dull ramble of statistics and charts. His film "Chasing Ice" uses time lapse photography to document the rapid (unbelievably rapid, really) retreat of glaciers in northern climes. This film, now available on DVD, had a strong, almost visceral, effect on me. I highly recommend it. I watched a DVD, but recommend seeing it on the big-screen if possible. Glaciers, wow!
Below, are two videos that will introduce you to his work. The left, is the trailer for the film, the right is the TED talk by Balog that I highly recommend, especially, if you think it unlikely that you have time to watch the film. I love Balog's introduction to his TED talk, quoted below, which artfully expresses my own philosophy.
"Most of the time, art and science stare at each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension. There is great confusion when the two look at each other. Art, of course, looks at the world through the psyche, the emotions -- the unconscious at times -- and of course the aesthetic. Science tends to look at the world through the rational, the quantitative -- things that can be measured and described -- but it gives art a terrific context of understanding."
Congratulations to James Balog for his selection as the Do Ya Think? Blog's Rational Hero of the Week. In addition, I thank Balog for helping me to feel, as well as think.
This is the third and final blog post on this topic about words that are either new or new to me. Previous entries can be accessed here and here
Diffability or handicapable are new to me. Diffability is defined by Word-Spy as, "A disability, especially one that causes or encourages the person to develop different or special abilities." The earliest citation for diffability that Word-Spy could identify is from Tim Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics, in 1997. Diffability is a great example of how words can indicate a changing society. Almost no one that I know uses the terms crippled or retarded, which have morphed into handicapped, and have now evolved into disabled or challenged. Now, it seems, that the correct appellation is "diffabled." Okay by me. I have witnessed this evolution with many words. Here's a handy chart:
When I was in elementary school in suburban Chicago (in the 60s) it was somewhat acceptable to use the "N-word" but one almost never used the "F-word." Now the frequency of use is reversed. I recall that us kids would all jump into a frenzied "nigger-pile." I also recall a counting rhyme:
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a nigger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Later on the word "nigger" was replaced with tiger. I recall my grandmother telling me that there was an audible gasp in the theaters when Rhett Butler delivered the now famous quote from the 1929 film Gone With the Wind, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!" Shocking!--for the time a swear word in the movies. The point is, that language is ever-evolving. This is not necessarily bad, but it is always interesting, and the words diffabled and handicapable are two fascinating examples of language in motion.
A quenelle salute (or gesture) is recognized when one arm is directed downwards diagonally with the other hand touching its opposite shoulder. (See pic below). It is often considered an anti-establishment, scatalogical, or an anti-semitic inverted Nazi salute. The term quenelle comes from a disgusting-looking creamed fish or meat dish. There are lots of interesting salutes in the world. Below are pictures of a few.
My personal favorite is the Vulcan salute (upper left hand corner.). The quenelle is demonstrated in the upper right. Time will tell if the quenelle salute lasts, or whether it is just a fad. My guess is that if enough people are offended by it, it may last awhile. If people are wise enough to ignore it, it will die.
Newsvertising is a word that I made up. Who knows if it will catch on. I define it as a news release which is really just a clever advertisement. Examples of newsvertising? Here are several:1)Contests by the Mars Candy Company to either name a replacement color or name a new color of M&Ms candy. 2)What seems like an annual release of the McDonald's McRib sandwich. 3) Amazon announcing on the news show "60 Minutes" the planned development of delivery drones, conveniently announced just prior to the height of the Christmas shopping season. 4) A very recent favorite, Kraft Foods announcing a "supposed" shortage of Velveeta "alleged" cheese. I write "supposed" because I wonder if this shortage isn't entirely contrived, and "alleged" because I think Velveeta is to cheese what cardboard is to a tree. All of these are examples of what I dub newsvertising. I really can't blame these companies, this is an absolute gold mine of free advertising, but I really wish the media would display at least a modicum of integrity (not likely, I know) and just let these obvious manipulative machinations just die before they become memes.
Raccoonitude. I overheard this word at a local Burning Man event CriticaLand (see below). I can't remember the exact definition bestowed by its utterer, so I'll just make one up. Raccoons are really cute, but very devious. Raccoonitude is the attitude of trying to get away with something, and when caught, being so charming that you feel like you should be entitled to your peccadillo, and thus, you might just get away with it. Below is a video by the "Undisputed Truth." The song is called Smiling Faces Sometimes," a perfect description of raccoonitude.
Janky. I first heard this word in relation to a Burning Man regional gathering in the Seattle area put together by Critical Northwest. The CriticaLand theme for this year was "The Jankiest Place on Earth." What the heck? Here is a quote from an article I wrote entitled "Welcome to Camp Janky" (Full article available here)
"The Urban Dictionary comes to the rescue,'… inferior quality; held in low social regard; old and dilapidated; …used to describe a person, place or thing which is questionable, fucked up, wrong, strange, broken down, undesirable, and/or just something you can’t think of another word for… a conjunction of ‘junky’ and‘skanky’.' Well, okay then, I think I get it now. Sounds like an Appalachian Paradise. But here is my fave definition: “Poorly constructed or put together, and does not seem like it should function at all, although it may perform beyond expectations.”
I think that about covers it, and CriticaLand was indeed totally janky in a wonderful way.
Evangedouche is a great word that I first saw in a Jezebel Blog posting by Lindy West. The entry is entitled "Worst Guy Ever Alert: Beware of Horrible Hipster Pastor Mark Driscoll" who is described as a "preening alpha evangedouche." Ah, music to my ears. I have a particular interest in this evangedouche (I just love typing that word.) because this guy is the head of the Mars Hill Megachurch, which has a satellite right in my neighborhood of West Seattle. Readers of this blog know that I have some respect for the power of religion as a positive force, but there are some religious celebrities (e.g. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, John Hagee) that are so extreme, so obviously idiotic, that I am reduced to name-calling, and evangedouche is as good an insult as any, and better than most. So, what is it that makes Driscoll a premier evangedouche? (I'm going to type that word as many times as context allows.) A couple examples: Driscoll believes that yoga is "demonic," and the wonderful film "Avatar" "the most Demonic, Satanic. film I've ever seen," Gimme a break. I could go on for many paragraphs about what a jerk that Driscoll is, but I recommend you read Jezebel's blog entry instead. If you want further reading about this evangedouche, I recommend this link about his views on "Avatar." How anyone, particularly women, can become part of his "flock" is a mystery to me. Below is a couple videos, the first is Driscoll the other is another notorious evangedouche John Hagee. Enjoy.
Psychonaut or psychonautics. Fascinating words introduced to me by a friend. It refers to the journey that one can take in one's mind using altered states of consciousness, often induced by hallucinogenic substances. I don't endorse this, nor do I practice it--at least not using drugs--but I do concede that some folks seem to think that psychonautics can launch the psychonaut on a creative, "spiritual" journey, perhaps leading to nirvanic bliss (or something like that.) and possibly a creative epiphany. Personally, I'm a little too concerned about permanently scrambling my brains--I prefer to not perform experiments on myself--and leave this to braver folks. But hey, I like the words, if not the practice.
So, this completes my semantic journey through the American lexicon. It's been fun for me to collect these words. I can't close without mention of the greatest wordsmith of them all: William Shakespeare. Thanks Bill, you were the greatest. Check out his handy Shakespearean insult generator. I'm sure that Shakespeare would have heartily approved of evangedouche, or I'll be a "paunchy reeling-ripe moldwarp!"
Sorry I've neglected my blog over the holidays, but I'm back in the saddle now. This is a continuation of my last blog entry that highlighted some interesting vocabulary that I've been seeing floating around the last year or so. Below are a few more of my favorites.
Burqini or Burkini is a pormanteau of burqa and bikini. It is a swimsuit designed by Aheda Zanetti that is intended to preserve Muslim modesty. It covers the entire female body except the face, hands and feet. Thinking about this motivated me to look up the kinds of headwear worn by Muslims. Below is a diagram showing the various types.
In Seattle I see a fair share of women wearing hijabs and a couple wearing burkas. One young lady I saw in a Starbucks adding sugar and cream to her drink while talking on a cell phone that she had neatly tucked into her hijab. I teased her by saying "Gee, that's a pretty slick solution to the laws in Washington state prohibiting talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device." She smiled and replied, "We call it a 'Muslim Bluetooth.' I like that.
In France there has been a recent hullabaloo about a legal ban on wearing a Niqab in public, which is now being subject to a legal challenge. My view: I think this is simply a case of state-sponsored racism. My feelings parallel the views of this article that this is not a security issue, nor an abrogation of the subjugation of women. It is simply a, ahem, "thinly veiled" example of islamophobia. I hope the European court rules to get rid of this stupid law. DYT Blog readers know that this blogger is no fan of religion, but this is just plain wrong. The court ruling on this sometime in the next few months.
Gish Gallop. Oooh, this is a good one. Named for creationist wacko (Note: This author considers all creationists as wackos) Duane Gish in a term coined by anthropologist Eugenie Scott, who has been a potent force in an attempt to keep creationism out of science classes in public schools. The gallop is essentially a distraction technique of running down a long list of irrelevancies, straw-man arguments and falsehoods to support a position. The idea is to create an unassailable argument that is weighted by numerous "facts." A Gish Gallop, in other words, is piling bullshit onto bullshit and then adding even more bullshit. Unfortunately, for for the gushers of gish, this amounts to only a large pile of...yeah, you guessed it, bullshit. This technique is not only used by creationists, but climate change deniers and other irrational "thinkers." The Rational Wiki entry has links to several examples.
Ignosticism or Igtheism. These terms have been around for a while, but they're relatively new to me. I like this definition:
"Ignosticism is the position that, before we can have a meaningful conversation about "God", we have to adequately define "God". Since most given descriptors of "God" are muddled, self-contradictory, linguistically empty, etc, it's pointless to talk about it at all. Basically the position boils down to saying "I don't know what you're talking about when you talk about 'God". The idea of "God" is cognitively incoherent and so cannot be entertained in thought. It is unthinkable and unverifiable. Ignosticism is often synonymous with Theological Noncognitivism."
Let me define this by example. Often, beliefs in god are divided into three broad categories (With sub-categories in each): theist, atheist, and agnostic; or, believer, non-believer and "doubter," respectively. When confronted with these descriptions many years ago, I was could never fit myself into any of these neat little categories, and often described myself as "confused," or would say something like, "I have no idea what you're talking about." Some, taking pity on my ignorance, would rise to the occasion and and try to cobble together some sort of definition, like a "Supreme Being," (which sounds to me like some kind of divine ice cream concoction), or they would list some description of unprovable extremes, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, incorporeal, etc. or synonyms "God is Love," or some such nonsense. I have to say that this never really clarified anything for me. Nowadays I'm pretty comfortable, in the absence of anything more definable, to remain confused. But now, I have a label for it: I'm an ignostic. Yay, me.
Schmeat or Shmeat. Another pormanteau of the words "sheet" and "meat." This sounds like an interesting meal. Essentially, test tube meat grown in vitro from cultured bovine muscle cells. At first blush, this sounds terribly unappetizing to me. But, after thinking about it, why not? Some of us eat hot dogs, hamburgers, or chicken nuggets? People who have tried it seem impressed both by its mouthfeel and similarity to "real" meat. Much better than soy bean or tofu preparations (tofurkey anyone?) that are doctored to resemble meat. I wonder if this will catch on with vegetarians? Maybe some. It seems relatively cruelty-free, and may have environmental benefits, but it's not clear yet how schmeat compares in terms of nutritional content with the real thing. Below is a pic:
Looks tasty to me. Some have suggested that this might develop into a solution to the world hunger problem if we can figure out a way to produce it cheaply enough. Personally, I'm a fan of addressing the global shortage of protein by consuming insects. Insects may sound unappealing, at least to American appetites, but, honestly, we generally have no trouble eating shrimp and lobster, which are just other arthropods. Below I have posted a couple videos of taste tests of schmeat. Bon appetit!
Well, shucks, I'm still not all the way through my list of words and this blog-post is getting kind of long. Looks like this is a three-parter. Stay tuned and Happy New Year everyone.
I love words. I've always been a word guy. I'm really not tempted to fix a car or a computer for pleasure, but reading, writing, talking and listening,--that's what I do best. Over the last few months I've been keeping an eyes and ears open for new words and phrases that catch my attention. A couple blog posts ago I got a head start on this when I wrote about the "Full Amish." Let me dump a few more of my faves from the last year or so.
Selfie This is a fun word, that is a self-portrait usually taken with a hand held digital camera or phone. I guess other folks have found this word interesting because it has recently been selected as "Word of the Year" by the Oxford English dictionary, beating out a couple of my other favorites, schmeat and twerk.
Twerking feels kind of old hat now, but I don't remember seeing this last year. Twerking is defined as "a type of dancing in which the dancer, usually a woman, shakes her hips in an up-and-down bouncing motion, causing the dancer's buttocks to shake, 'wobble' and 'jiggle'." It's use seems to have exploded in popularity with the pop star Miley Cyrus. But, after doing a little "research" I found out that the term twerking has been around for at least 20 years. Check out this link if you're really interested.
Apodment has been springing up on billboards in Seattle lately. Essentially "microhousing" sort of like mini-studio apartments, or a small version of "buffet" apartments as they were often called when I lived in Denver. Apodments are usually about 150 to 300 sq. feet and often have only one kitchen shared between 6 or 8 units. I'm not sure that I would find the lack of privacy appealing, but I can understand the trend. Think of all the items that we used to have that we no longer need the space to accommodate: no more books (replaced by electronic readers), no more bulky stereos (replaced by I-pods, computers.) If you own a TV at all, it might be an ultra-thin set that hangs on the wall. Records? electronic storage. Basically, we live our lives on screens, large and small. Why do we need all that energy-hogging space? Less real stuff, more cyber stuff. Makes sense, especially in the transient life of the techno-elite, who may not wish to be weighed down by many material objects. Have laptop, will travel.
Freedom Fondle. I saw this phrase in a Facebook entry. It refers to the free grope that Homeland Security is now entitled to at airport security, compliments of post-9/11 paranoia. I still remember going through the airport right after the 9/11 attack and seeing an army dude wearing camouflage in the airport, standing at attention, brandishing a machine gun. My first thought: Why should I bother to bring a gun through security, when I could just tackle this guy? My second thought: I hope he didn't have a fight with his girlfriend this weekend. I don't know, maybe it was all for show, maybe the gun was unloaded and he was being watched from above.
Choprawoo. Coined by David Gorski who goes by the nom de blog "Orac" on his respectful Insolence blog it "honors" everybody's favorite quack guru, Deepak Chopra. Dr. Chopra has been spinning is home-spun pseudoprofound garbage for many years now. He's published at least 57 "self-help" books, so, if nothing else, you have to admire his productivity. I love this little site that strings together random fragments of Deepak Chopra's "wisdom," derived from his Twitter feed into pseudoquotes which seem indistinguishable from the real Chopra. Below is a mixture of real quotes and random fictional quotes from the fake quote generator. Can you tell which is which?"Experiential truth reflects the flow of self-knowledge" "Hidden meaning explores self-righteous timelessness"“You must find the place inside yourself where nothing is impossible.” "The universe influences unbridled opportunities"“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” "Every person is a God in embryo. Its only desire is to be born."Give up? The third and fifth and sixth quotes from above are real, the other three are random, not that it makes any difference. Chopra has been taken to task by several skeptics. Here's a good commentary, and here's a more polite one from Phil Plait. Everywhere it seems the purveyors of pseudoscience are being outed. The organization that produces TED talks has recently released a statement about the dangers of pseudoscience. As they describe it "The consequence of bad science and health hoaxes are not trivial." and they are right. People have died as a consequence of substituting quack medicine for real medicine. But, the quackmeisters spouting choprawoo are not taking this lying down, which leads me to my next topic. Militant Skepticism. I think Deepak has had his feelings hurt. On his blog and in a series of Huff Post articles he wrote "The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism." Yes, skepticism "has gotten itself into a pickle," it has become a "militant crusade." Maybe the term "militant skepticism" has been around longer than I'm aware, but this is the first I've heard of it. Essentially an impassioned screed against guerrilla skeptics and skeptic celebrities Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Chopra attacks Richard Dawkins (a "militant atheist") for his attack of the "God Hypothesis." Dawkins is taken to task by Chopra because has the temerity to insist on proof, or at least credible evidence, for the existence of god. But, "Dawkins offered no experiments to prove or disprove the existence of God." Well, no kidding, Dawkins failed to prove or disprove the existence of unicorns either. So what? Chopra goes on to attack Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris over-reliance on the "five senses," and "turning their backs on and scorning subjectivity." Basically, Chopra's argument is a long-winded "god of the gaps" argument, which, to summarize, we don't understand everything in the world, therefore god exists. Somehow skeptic's distrust in "subjective truth" gives Chopra license to peddle his own new-age religion. Intermingle quantum physics with consciousness-what do you get?-insta-wisdom! Buy yours today!
Ah, I see that this post is getting a bit long and I'm only about halfway through my word list. Let's call this part 1 and I'll try and cover a few more words and phrases in my next post. But before I go lessee if I can use all the words for today in one sentence. Deepak, you and your apodment-sized brain, can use your choprawoo-sputtering, lips to freedom fondle this militant skeptic's twerking behind while taking a selfie.
Hey, I did it.
I get a little exasperated when I so-often see religious dogmatists refer to evolutionary biologists as "Darwinists." I think it is just a canard to somehow conflate evolutionary theory into some kind of religious belief or ideology. Silly "scientific" creationists, your arguments aren't any more scientific than your "intelligent" design arguments are intelligent. This was a fairly obvious motif in the dog-awful film of yesteryear "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," (I can't argue with the veracity of the title.) which I only recommend watching if you want to see a sterling example of misguided religious propaganda. I haven't seen the film in years but I think their syllogism was something like:
1) Evolutionary biologists are Darwinists
2) Darwinists believe in social darwinism.
3) Nazis are social darwinists
4) Therefore evolutionary biologists are Nazis.
Yeah, pretty insulting. John Rennie, in his Scientific American article, "Ben Stein's Expelled: No Integrity Displayed," pretty well summed it up: "Ben Stein wants you to stop thinking of evolution as an actual science supported by verifiable facts and logical arguments and to start thinking of it as a dogmatic, atheistic ideology akin to Marxism."
I really don't get it. They don't call physicists Newtonists or Einsteinists, do they? Oh, and please, save me from semantic junk that evolution is "just" a theory. As has been often pointed out gravity is "just" a theory and we don't fall off the planet, and then there is germ theory; we still catch colds, right?
Part of the reason I'm thinking about this is that I'm about 60 pages into what is shaping up to be a pretty good book: Brilliant Blunders, by Mario Livio. The thesis of the book is that many great scientists, including Darwin, Einstein, Pauling, and others "stumbled badly," and some of these errors were instrumental in advancing their respective fields. For example, in Darwin's case, according to Livio, he made the fundamental error of believing in "blended" inheritance. Darwin believed that if a population of white mice generated a mutant (a "sport" in the terminology of the day) black mouse, subsequent generations would gradually dilute the black pigment to the point where the population would revert to an all white population. The dilution of genetic blending would logically counter the idea of natural selection, which would allow expansion of a fixed attribute if the mutation results in a reproductive advantage. If only Darwin recognized, or was aware of, the discoveries of his contemporary Gregor Mendel he would have realized an elegant mechanism of inheritance (via what were later called genes) that would have neatly explained natural selection. All of this highlights the fact that scientific knowledge is provisional knowledge, that is, subject to change in light of a better understanding of the facts.
Let's end this post with some fun videos related to Charles Darwin, the greatest biologist who ever lived.
Okay, this particular topic has little to do with Art or Science--but how about a little personal history for a change? When I was a medium- to small-sized young'un my folks were still stuck in the meme that a misbehaving child should receive corporal punishment. Although my folks weren't really religious, I think this was probably a societal extension of the biblical "Spare the rod, spoil the child" B.S. If I recall correctly, somewhere around my tenth birthday, they stopped the spankings. I think they probably figured out that it really doesn't work. AFAIK, my little sister was never hit by my parents, and all three of us kids seemed to come out okay. I remember that they switched to a "timeout" system; in other words--go to your room, or no after school fun activities for some set period of time. I remember once I badly misbehaved (I think I basically destroyed my Grandmother's house) when I was about eleven or twelve. I was deprived of desserts for a whole month. Oh, the horror! In a retrospectively hilarious act of rebellion I shop-lifted no less than four ice cream sandwiches from the local drugstore during that month. Thank goodness I wasn't caught, or there would have been Hell-to-pay, and, really, I was basically an honest kid. I think the name of the drugstore was "Kiefer's." It was in Mt. Prospect IL. Let me just say that if Kiefer's (or their heirs) want to send me a bill (go ahead and add compound interest) I'll happily pay. I'm sorry.
But, that isn't what I'm writing about. Several years ago I visited my cousin, who had a young son. I learned later that, they had a new punishment, when their son misbehaved, he was NOT forced to go to his room. Of course not. In his bedroom he could watch TV and videos and play video games. What kind of punishment is that? His punishment? He was "unplugged." No video games. No TV. No cell phone. Major suckiness. But now, in this age of twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, in addition to video games TV and Email, being "unplugged" is an even more severe punishment. Kids today seem to be even more dependent on the social connectedness that is facilitated by technology. America's youth is more electronic (and fatter) than ever. I even heard a description of this new punishment of being disconnected. It is called "The Full Amish." My guess is that most kids would rather be whacked upside the head than subjected to this brutal treatment. So, my advice to teens and pre-teens. Behave yourself, or you too might be subjected to the FULL AMISH. Besides, Christmas is coming, and, although I have doubts about the existence of an omniscient god, I have little doubt about an omniscient Santa Claus.
DYT Blogger: So, Mr. Phrogg--
PPP: Oh, please, call me Phineas.
DYT Blogger: As you wish. Phineas, what is it like to share the big screen with stars like, George Cluney and Sandra Bullock?
PPP: Well, I have to say, that they are consummate professionals. It was a real honor. Both of them were so very easy to work with. They're like Michael Jordans of the film world. Not only are they fantastic, but they make everyone around them better too. I wish them the best of luck in their respective careers, and you can bet that they're on my short-list should an appropriate role be available for them in one of my future projects.
DYT Blogger: That's very gracious of you, Mr. Phro--er, I mean Phineas. Did it bother you at all that they seemed to get more screen-time than you?
PPP: Oh, not at all. I feel like they were a great lead-in to my scene, which was, of course, the climax.
DYT Blogger: ...and a captivating climax it was, I'll say.
PPP: Thank you.
DYT Blogger: Although, it did seem a rather small role for an artist of your stature...
PPP: There are no small roles, only small minds, sir.
DYT Blogger: Righto! So why, exactly, weren't you featured earlier in the film?
PPP: Simple: Logistics.
DYT Blogger: What do you mean?
PPP: They simply couldn't find a space suit of suitable proportions to fit me--although your point is well-taken--next time I think I'll instruct my agent to negotiate for a custom-made space suit.
DYT Blogger: Perhaps for a sequel?
PPP: If there is a sequel. My time is valuable, and--how shall I express it--my dance card is filling up. Perhaps though i might be able to squeeze in another cameo.
DYT Blogger: So tell me, or, let's say, tell the world, who have been some of your inspirations and mentors helping you to launch your illustrious career? Kermit the frog, perhaps?
PPP: Ahem, you're walking on thin ice there.
DYT Blogger: Thin ice?
PPP: That's a bit offensive, if you don't mind.
DYT Blogger: Oh, so sorry Mr. Phrogg, no offense intended.
PPP: Well, I'll just chalk it up to your ignorance. let me just say this, Kermit is, to frogs, what blackface is to African Americans--not funny. In fact, an insulting caricature.
DYT Blogger: Oh, I apologize again.
PPP: ...and let me add, that like most of Hollywood, I'm quite tolerant of, how shall I say this, "unusual" relationships. But I can't wrap myself around Kermit's obsession with--I can hardly say it--a pig. That "Miss Piggy" is not only not a frog, she isn't even an amphibian. Beastly! (PPP was breathless at this point.) Sorry. I need a moment to recover from the thought.
DYT Blogger: Perhaps we should change the subject.
PPP: Yes, let's do so. Let's get back to the original subject: Me, that is.
DYT Blogger: Perhaps you could share who some of your inspirations are?
PPP: Well, this is exactly about me, but I'll roll with it. Not exactly a model, but someone I admire is Peter Dinklage.
DYT Blogger: The dwarf actor in "Game of Thrones?"
PPP: Yes. Now there's and actor who goes against the grain. Before Peter it seemed that most dwarfs were portrayed as ridiculous. Remember "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?" Similar to him I seek to make the world treat both frogs and toads with the distinction and seriousness that is long overdue.
DYT Blogger: Of course.
PPP: Inexcusable stereotyping. But Dinklage broke that stereotype. On "Game of Thrones" he's clever, conniving, with extraordinary diplomatic intellectual guile, and quite the ladies man too.
DYT Blogger: That he is.
PPP: Of course he's not nearly as fecund as even the average frog, he is, after-all, a mammal. But anyway, I'm trying to separate from ridiculous frog-stereotyping in the same way. What Sidney Poitier is to racist black-face, Dinklage is to anti-dwafism, and I intend to be against anti-frogism. This, I hope, will be my cultural legacy. Now, I'm very sorry, but I have to wrap this up. My agent has arranged a meeting with Stephen Spielberg and I'm already ten minutes late.
DYT Blogger: Thank you sir.
PPP: My pleasure.
That, DYT Blog readers, is the transcript of the interview with Phineas P. Phrogg, who I am sure will be showing us great things, no matter what pond he winds up in.