Folding, spindeling, and mutilating lauguage for fun since Aug, 2004
Saturday, 27 June 2009

Ben (formerly of Eclectics Anonymous), who I would really like to see get back to blogging again…sent me a couple of books (thanks, Ben) that I have now read, and am prepared to recommend.


The first is Trick or Treatment, by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst.  I really liked this book.  They did a great job of communicating the history of the current controversies involving conventional and alternative medicines.


They also did a thorough run-down of the state of research regarding the more common areas of alternative medicine.


The only problem I had with it is that they often made statements to the effect that it is not important to understand the underlying mechanism of a treatment before legitimizing it as medicine.  As long as the treatment can be shown to work in studies, in other words, it can be applied as a treatment.  I understand that, I used to think that as well, but the more I think and read about it, the more I support science-based medicine, as opposed to what they describe as “evidence-based medicine”.


Basically, if we don’t understand the mechanism for how a treatment works, it would be very difficult to say with any certainty that it will work under varying conditions.  For instance, if raw Ginger root were found to reduce inflammation, how would we know (not understanding the mechanism by which it does so), if we could get the same results from dried and powdered ginger root, or ginger root extract, or whatever?


Would we have to independently test each of these options with numerous high-quality trials?   It doesn’t make a lot of sense, given the limited resources available for such research, why would we not focus that research on medicines and treatments that the current scientific models suggest will work?


You might ask, at this point, how I can say that, since I have used chiropractors and also take a number of supplements that could be considered “alternative” medicine.


Well, frankly, I use chiropractors when I have something out of joint in my neck, back, hip, or shoulder and it is causing me pain…which is what chiropractors have been proven to have success in treating.  Now, most back problems like that will fix themselves if you just relax and pop some pain killers and rest for 4-8 weeks.  I don’t have that kind of patience.  *shrug* so there you go.  I don’t think it’s going to cure my thyroid condition, or my asthma.


I take fish oil on the direction of my doctor in order to raise my level of “good” cholesterol, and I take Glucosamine and Chondroitin for my knees because, I’ve got a perfect horror of the idea of arthritis in my knees, which I was told to expect at a very young age after my knees were run over by a hay wagon when I was in grade school (don’t ask).


Glucosamine is known to be effective for osteoarthritis, and due to the trauma to my knees, as well as a family history of OA, I don’t feel it is that weird for me to take it now that I am 41 and showing mild signs of arthritis in my knees.


I also take a number of vitamin/mineral supplements which are recommended by my doctor because I am in a population that tends to be deficient in those vitamins and minerals…but I don’t take crazy “Dr.” Weil mega-doses…just the AMA recommended amount.


Finally, as I had two mid-wife great-grandmothers, I was raised with a number of folk remedies that I resort to habitually.  You know, chicken soup, cranberry juice, salt water gargle for sore throat, Soda water for acid stomach, ginger root for nausea…


Hey, I’m not saying we shouldn’t let people be irrational, I’m just saying that medicine should be medicine, and food should be food.  In other words, if I want to take chicken soup for a cold, I should buy it in the soup isle at regular soup prices, and people should not be trying to sell me a chicken soup pill in the pharmacy, and claiming it is medicine.


This book does a good job of separating out those issues, and addressing them coherently.  It was a good book.


Tomorrow:  Longitude

P.S. go to Eclectics Anonymous, and urge Ben to start blogging again.  Do it for me, PLEEEEEESE!

Saturday, 27 June 2009 21:43:45 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [1] | #
Monday, 23 March 2009

A friend of mine recently made a comment on my Facebook account saying that Darwin was a racist.  I have decided to re-read Darwin’s writings, and make a note of the different times that he expresses his comments that might be construed as realting to race.  This entry will deal only with the Voyage of the Beagle, his first work.  And only Chapters 1-8 so far.

1)      “This spot is notorious from having been, for a long time, the residence of some runaway slaves, who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence. At length they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with the exception of one old woman, who, sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to pieces from the summit of the mountain. In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it is mere brutal obstinacy.”  --Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 2

Hmmm…doesn’t seem like a racist would make snide observations that white people interpret the actions of black people unfairly and using different standards.  In fact, the conclusions he describes other people coming to originate with the assumption that God’s creation has a hierarchy of worthiness…and that there are qualities that God imbued white people with that black people just don’t have.  Darwin mocks these ideas.  In fact, the above passage shows that he rejects the idea that white people's actions should be attributed to virtues while the same actions in non-whites should be viewed as the result of vices.

2)      As long as the idea of slavery could be banished, there was something exceedingly fascinating in this simple and patriarchal style of living: it was such a perfect retirement and independence from the rest of the world. –Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 2. – describing a feast given by a Spanish host in Rio.

3)      “As soon as any stranger is seen arriving, a large bell is set tolling, and generally some small cannon are fired. The event is thus announced to the rocks and woods, but to nothing else. One morning I walked out an hour before daylight to admire the solemn stillness of the scene; at last, the silence was broken by the morning hymn, raised on high by the whole body of the blacks; and in this manner their daily work is generally begun. On such fazendas as these, I have no doubt the slaves pass happy and contented lives. On Saturday and Sunday they work for themselves, and in this fertile climate the labour of two days is sufficient to support a man and his family for the whole week.”  -- Voyage o fthe Beagle Chapter 2 – admitting that there are some places where slavery is less unpleasant than others.

4)      “While staying at this estate, I was very nearly being an eye-witness to one of those atrocious acts which can only take place in a slave country. Owing to a quarrel and a lawsuit, the owner was on the point of taking all the women and children from the male slaves, and selling them separately at the public auction at Rio. Interest, and not any feeling of compassion, prevented this act. Indeed, I do not believe the inhumanity of separating thirty families, who had lived together for many years, even occurred to the owner. Yet I will pledge myself, that in humanity and good feeling he was superior to the common run of men. It may be said there exists no limit to the blindness of interest and selfish habit. I may mention one very trifling anecdote, which at the time struck me more forcibly than any story of cruelty. I was crossing a ferry with a negro, who was uncommonly stupid. In endeavouring to make him understand, I talked loud, and made signs, in doing which I passed my hand near his face. He, I suppose, thought I was in a passion, and was going to strike him; for instantly, with a frightened look and half-shut eyes, he dropped his hands. I shall never forget my feelings of surprise, disgust, and shame, at seeing a great powerful man afraid even to ward off a blow, directed, as he thought, at his face. This man had been trained to a degradation lower than the slavery of the most helpless animal.”

5)      “The Gauchos think that the Indians consider the tree as the god itself, but it seems for more probable that they regard it as the altar.” –displaying a reluctance to view “primitive” societies as superstitious. –Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 4 Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca

6)      The encampment of General Rosas was close to the river. It consisted of a square formed by waggons, artillery, straw huts, etc. The soldiers were nearly all cavalry; and I should think such a villainous, banditti-like army was never before collected together. The greater number of men were of a mixed breed, between Negro, Indian, and Spaniard. I know not the reason, but men of such origin seldom have a good expression of countenance. – Chapter 4 Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca expressing casual bigotry of his time, yet, careful not to speculate on the cause of his observation.

7)      The house was situated at the base of a ridge between one and two hundred feet high -- a most remarkable feature in this country. This posta was commanded by a negro lieutenant, born in Africa: to his credit be it said, there was not a ranche between the Colorado and Buenos Ayres in nearly such neat order as his. He had a little room for strangers, and a small corral for the horses, all made of sticks and reeds; he had also dug a ditch round his house as a defence in case of being attacked. This would, however, have been of little avail, if the Indians had come; but his chief comfort seemed to rest in the thought of selling his life dearly. A short time before, a body of Indians had travelled past in the night; if they had been aware of the posta, our black friend and his four soldiers would assuredly have been slaughtered. I did not anywhere meet a more civil and obliging man than this negro; it was therefore the more painful to see that he would not sit down and eat with us.  (Voyage of the Beagle – Chapter 4 Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca)

8)      Bahia Blanca scarcely deserves the name of a village. A few houses and the barracks for the troops are enclosed by a deep ditch and fortified wall. The settlement is only of recent standing (since 1828); and its growth has been one of trouble. The government of Buenos Ayres unjustly occupied it by force, instead of following the wise example of the Spanish Viceroys, who purchased the land near the older settlement of the Rio Negro, from the Indians. Hence the need of the fortifications; hence the few houses and little cultivated land without the limits of the walls; even the cattle are not safe from the attacks of the Indians beyond the boundaries of the plain, on which the fortress stands.  (Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 4Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca)

Where many naturalists and travelers of his time observed differences in kinds of people, and attributed them to some essential characteristic of the people, Darwin would be unlikely to assume that the character of a whole people was inherently superior or inferior.  Where he made judegements on a culture or people, he would observe what in their habitat or history might affect their behavior for better or for worse.

9)      “Animals are so abundant in these countries, that humanity and self-interest are not closely united; therefore I fear it is that the former is here scarcely known. One day, riding in the Pampas with a very respectable "estanciero," my horse, being tired, lagged behind. The man often shouted to me to spur him. When I remonstrated that it was a pity, for the horse was quite exhausted, he cried out, "Why not? -- never mind -- spur him -- it is my horse." I had then some difficulty in making him comprehend that it was for the horse's sake, and not on his account, that I did not choose to use my spurs. He exclaimed, with a look of great surprise, "Ah, Don Carlos, que cosa!" It was clear that such an idea had never before entered his head.”  (Voyage of the Beagle – Chapter 8 Banda Oriental and Patagonia)

He was similarly clear-headed in his observations of different cultures of Indians in the area, observing their situations, histories and the nature of the lands in which they lived, rather than making moral judgments about their “fitness” as human beings.  He would describe a scene as being “savage” or “wild” or “deplorable”…but he did not approach the description of such things from the foundation of assuming that he could discern an essential racial nature, nor a hierarchy of human value from his observations.  For instance, in the above, he does not say, as many English travelers did, that the Spanish are a cruel and tyrannical people.  He observed that the area in which they lived made it such that a person would not see the utility in being kind or sparing of an animal who can be easily replaced…an observation he made earlier about how the nature of slaveholding had turned an otherwise humane Englishman into a thoughtless tyrant with regard to his own slaves.

It is easy to see how people who have this idea of the Hierarchy of creation (a religious concept) will read and interpret Darwin’s observations as being racist.  They have assumptions that make them prone to come to racist conclusions from Darwin’s observations.

That is not Darwin’s fault.  Consider this anecdote:  Darwin hears stories that other diarists would have dismissed as local superstition, the prattling of the inferior natives.  Instead, he goes and investigates, and comes up with a reasonable possible explanation.

November 26th. -- I set out on my return in a direct line for Monte Video. Having heard of some giant's bones at a neighbouring farm-house on the Sarandis, a small stream entering the Rio Negro, I rode there accompanied by my host, and purchased for the value of eighteen pence the head of the Toxodon. [4] When found it was quite perfect; but the boys knocked out some of the teeth with stones, and then set up the head as a mark to throw at. By a most fortunate chance I found a perfect tooth, which exactly fitted one of the sockets in this skull, embedded by itself on the banks of the Rio Tercero, at the distance of about 180 miles from this place. I found remains of this extraordinary animal at two other places, so that it must formerly have been common. I found here, also, some large portions of the armour of a gigantic armadillo-like animal, and part of the great head of a Mylodon. The bones of this head are so fresh, that they contain, according to the analysis by Mr. T. Reeks, seven per cent of animal matter; and when placed in a spirit-lamp, they burn with a small flame. The number of the remains embedded in the grand estuary deposit which forms the Pampas and covers the granitic rocks of Banda Oriental, must be extraordinarily great. I believe a straight line drawn in any direction through the Pampas would cut through some skeleton or bones. Besides those which I found during my short excursions, I heard of many others, and the origin of such names as "the stream of the animal," "the hill of the giant," is obvious. At other times I heard of the marvellous property of certain rivers, which had the power of changing small bones into large; or, as some maintained, the bones themselves grew. As far as I am aware, not one of these animals perished, as was formerly supposed, in the marshes or muddy river-beds of the present land, but their bones have been exposed by the streams intersecting the subaqueous deposit in which they were originally embedded. We may conclude that the whole area of the Pampas is one wide sepulchre of these extinct gigantic quadrupeds. (Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter 8 Banda Oriental and Patagonia)

Here is a passage where he describes his over-all impression of the area.

During the last six months I have had an opportunity of seeing a little of the character of the inhabitants of these provinces. The Gauchos, or countryrmen, are very superior to those who reside in the towns. The Gaucho is invariably most obliging, polite, and hospitable: I did not meet with even one instance of rudeness or inhospitality. He is modest, both respecting himself and country, but at the same time a spirited, bold fellow. On the other hand, many robberies are committed, and there is much bloodshed: the habit of constantly wearing the knife is the chief cause of the latter. It is lamentable to hear how many lives are lost in trifling quarrels. In fighting, each party tries to mark the face of his adversary by slashing his nose or eyes; as is often attested by deep and horrid-looking scars. Robberies are a natural consequence of universal gambling, much drinking, and extreme indolence. At Mercedes I asked two men why they did not work. One gravely said the days were too long; the other that he was too poor. The number of horses and the profusion of food are the destruction of all industry. Moreover, there are so many feast-days; and again, nothing can succeed without it be begun when the moon is on the increase; so that half the month is lost from these two causes.

Police and justice are quite inefficient. If a man who is poor commits murder and is taken, he will be imprisoned, and perhaps even shot; but if he is rich and has friends, he may rely on it no very severe consequence will ensue. It is curious that the most respectable inhabitants of the country invariably assist a murderer to escape: they seem to think that the individual sins against the government, and not against the people. A traveller has no protection besides his fire-arms; and the constant habit of carrying them is the main check to more frequent robberies. The character of the higher and more educated classes who reside in the towns, partakes, but perhaps in a lesser degree, of the good parts of the Gaucho, but is, I fear, stained by many vices of which he is free. Sensuality, mockery of all religion, and the grossest corruption, are far from uncommon. Nearly every public officer can be bribed. The head man in the post-office sold forged government franks. The governor and prime minister openly combined to plunder the state. Justice, where gold came into play, was hardly expected by any one. I knew an Englishman, who went to the Chief Justice (he told me, that not then understanding the ways of the place, he trembled as he entered the room), and said, "Sir, I have come to offer you two hundred (paper) dollars (value about five pounds sterling) if you will arrest before a certain time a man who has cheated me. I know it is against the law, but my lawyer (naming him) recommended me to take this step." The Chief Justice smiled acquiescence, thanked him, and the man before night was safe in prison. With this entire want of principle in many of the leading men, with the country full of ill-paid turbulent officers, the people yet hope that a democratic form of government can succeed!

On first entering society in these countries, two or three features strike one as particularly remarkable. The polite and dignified manners pervading every rank of life, the excellent taste displayed by the women in their dresses, and the equality amongst all ranks. At the Rio Colorado some men who kept the humblest shops used to dine with General Rosas. A son of a major at Bahia Blanca gained his livelihood by making paper cigars, and he wished to accompany me, as guide or servant, to Buenos Ayres, but his father objected on the score of the danger alone. Many officers in the army can neither read nor write, yet all meet in society as equals. In Entre Rios, the Sala consisted of only six representatives. One of them kept a common shop, and evidently was not degraded by the office. All this is what would be expected in a new country; nevertheless the absence of gentlemen by profession appears to an Englishman something strange.

When speaking of these countries, the manner in which they have been brought up by their unnatural parent, Spain, should always be borne in mind. On the whole, perhaps, more credit is due for what has been done, than blame for that which may be deficient. It is impossible to doubt but that the extreme liberalism of these countries must ultimately lead to good results. The very general toleration of foreign religions, the regard paid to the means of education, the freedom of the press, the facilities offered to all foreigners, and especially, as I am bound to add, to every one professing the humblest pretensions to science, should be recollected with gratitude by those who have visited Spanish South America. (Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter 8 Banda Oriental and Patagonia)

He records his observations, and conjectures about the causes of what he sees…but he does not draw conclusions about the inherent nature or fitness of the people he observes.  This is a temptation that many brilliant men of his time were unable to resist, or to whom it didn’t even occur to them that they SHOULD resist.

I would like to add this one last bit from Chapter five, where Darwin is horrified at attempts to exterminate the local population.  Clearly, the extermination of groups of people by other groups of people had been going on there long before Darwin was born, and he is clearly in opposition to it, though in no position to change anything.  And supposedly Hitler would never have come along if not for Darwin?  Please.

In the morning they started for the scene of the murder, with orders to follow the "rastro," or track, even if it led them to Chile. We subsequently heard that the wild Indians had escaped into the great Pampas, and from some cause the track had been missed. One glance at the rastro tells these people a whole history. Supposing they examine the track of a thousand horses, they will soon guess the number of mounted ones by seeing how many have cantered; by the depth of the other impressions, whether any horses were loaded with cargoes; by the irregularity of the footsteps, how far tired; by the manner in which the food has been cooked, whether the pursued travelled in haste; by the general appearance, how long it has been since they passed. They consider a rastro of ten days or a fortnight, quite recent enough to be hunted out. We also heard that Miranda struck from the west end of the Sierra Ventana, in a direct line to the island of Cholechel, situated seventy leagues up the Rio Negro. This is a distance of between two and three hundred miles, through a country completely unknown. What other troops in the world are so independent? With the sun for their guide, mare's flesh for food, their saddle- cloths for beds, -- as long as there is a little water, these men would penetrate to the end of the world.

A few days afterwards I saw another troop of these banditti-like soldiers start on an expedition against a tribe of Indians at the small Salinas, who had been betrayed by a prisoner cacique. The Spaniard who brought the orders for this expedition was a very intelligent man. He gave me an account of the last engagement at which he was present. Some Indians, who had been taken prisoners, gave information of a tribe living north of the Colorado. Two hundred soldiers were sent; and they first discovered the Indians by a cloud of dust from their horses' feet, as they chanced to be travelling. The country was mountainous and wild, and it must have been far in the interior, for the Cordillera were in sight. The Indians, men, women, and children, were about one hundred and ten in number, and they were nearly all taken or killed, for the soldiers sabre every man. The Indians are now so terrified that they offer no resistance in a body, but each flies, neglecting even his wife and children; but when overtaken, like wild animals, they fight against any number to the last moment. One dying Indian seized with his teeth the thumb of his adversary, and allowed his own eye to be forced out sooner than relinquish his hold. Another, who was wounded, feigned death, keeping a knife ready to strike one more fatal blow. My informer said, when he was pursuing an Indian, the man cried out for mercy, at the same time that he was covertly loosing the bolas from his waist, meaning to whirl it round his head and so strike his pursuer. "I however struck him with my sabre to the ground, and then got off my horse, and cut his throat with my knife." This is a dark picture; but how much more shocking is the unquestionable fact, that all the women who appear above twenty years old are massacred in cold blood! When I exclaimed that this appeared rather inhuman, he answered, "Why, what can be done? they breed so!"

Every one here is fully convinced that this is the most just war, because it is against barbarians. Who would believe in this age that such atrocities could be committed in a Christian civilized country? The children of the Indians are saved, to be sold or given away as servants, or rather slaves for as long a time as the owners can make them believe themselves slaves; but I believe in their treatment there is little to complain of.

In the battle four men ran away together. They were pursued, one was killed, and the other three were taken alive. They turned out to be messengers or ambassadors from a large body of Indians, united in the common cause of defence, near the Cordillera. The tribe to which they had been sent was on the point of holding a grand council, the feast of mare's flesh was ready, and the dance prepared: in the morning the ambassadors were to have returned to the Cordillera. They were remarkably fine men, very fair, above six feet high, and all under thirty years of age. The three survivors of course possessed very valuable information and to extort this they were placed in a line. The two first being questioned, answered, "No se" (I do not know), and were one after the other shot. The third also said " No se;" adding, "Fire, I am a man, and can die!" Not one syllable would they breathe to injure the united cause of their country! The conduct of the above-mentioned cacique was very different; he saved his life by betraying the intended plan of warfare, and the point of union in the Andes. It was believed that there were already six or seven hundred Indians together, and that in summer their numbers would be doubled. Ambassadors were to have been sent to the Indians at the small Salinas, near Bahia Blanca, whom I have mentioned that this same cacique had betrayed. The communication, therefore, between the Indians, extends from the Cordillera to the coast of the Atlantic.

General Rosas's plan is to kill all stragglers, and having driven the remainder to a common point, to attack them in a body, in the summer, with the assistance of the Chilenos. This operation is to be repeated for three successive years. I imagine the summer is chosen as the time for the main attack, because the plains are then without water, and the Indians can only travel in particular directions. The escape of the Indians to the south of the Rio Negro, where in such a vast unknown country they would be safe, is prevented by a treaty with the Tehuelches to this effect; -- that Rosas pays them so much to slaughter every Indian who passes to the south of the river, but if they fail in so doing, they themselves are to be exterminated. The war is waged chiefly against the Indians near the Cordillera; for many of the tribes on this eastern side are fighting with Rosas. The general, however, like Lord Chesterfield, thinking that his friends may in a future day become his enemies, always places them in the front ranks, so that their numbers may be thinned. Since leaving South America we have heard that this war of extermination completely failed.

Among the captive girls taken in the same engagement, there were two very pretty Spanish ones, who had been carried away by the Indians when young, and could now only speak the Indian tongue. From their account they must have come from Salta, a distance in a straight line of nearly one thousand miles. This gives one a grand idea of the immense territory over which the Indians roam: yet, great as it is, I think there will not, in another half-century, be a wild Indian northward of the Rio Negro. The warfare is too bloody to last; the Christians killing every Indian, and the Indians doing the same by the Christians. It is melancholy to trace how the Indians have given way before the Spanish invaders. Schirdel [21] says that in 1535, when Buenos Ayres was founded, there were villages containing two and three thousand inhabitants. Even in Falconer's time (1750) the Indians made inroads as far as Luxan, Areco, and Arrecife, but now they are driven beyond the Salado. Not only have whole tribes been exterminated, but the remaining Indians have become more barbarous: instead of living in large villages, and being employed in the arts of fishing, as well as of the chase, they now wander about the open plains, without home or fixed occupation.

I heard also some account of an engagement which took place, a few weeks previously to the one mentioned, at Cholechel. This is a very important station on account of being a pass for horses; and it was, in consequence, for some time the head-quarters of a division of the army. When the troops first arrived there they found a tribe of Indians, of whom they killed twenty or thirty. The cacique escaped in a manner which astonished every one. The chief Indians always have one or two picked horses, which they keep ready for any urgent occasion. On one of these, an old white horse, the cacique sprung, taking with him his little son. The horse had neither saddle nor bridle. To avoid the shots, the Indian rode in the peculiar method of his nation namely, with an arm round the horse's neck, and one leg only on its back. Thus hanging on one side, he was seen patting the horse's head, and talking to him. The pursuers urged every effort in the chase; the Commandant three times changed his horse, but all in vain. The old Indian father and his son escaped, and were free. What a fine picture one can form in one's mind, -- the naked, bronze-like figure of the old man with his little boy, riding like a Mazeppa on the white horse, thus leaving far behind him the host of his pursuers!

Indeed, many of Darwin's peers bought whole-heartedly into the idea of the Heirarchy of Creation, which put the Caucasian humans above the non-caucasian humans.  He does not appear to do so, though he may reflect unfavorably one one society or another, or one class of men or another, or one way of life or another, there are as many examples of him looking past his prejudices and learning something new, than there are examples of him not.  The idea of inherent moral fitness (as in right to exsist)or superiority was not invented by Darwin.  In fact, he seemed remarkable free of such assumptions for a man of his time.

For Ben Stein and the other makers of Expelled to put all of this on his head, is just incredible.  More to come.

Monday, 23 March 2009 09:31:25 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [0] | #
Tuesday, 17 March 2009

I am re-reading the Voyage of the Beagle, and was amused to see this quote where Darwin mocks Lamarck:


Considering the strictly subterranean habits of the tucutuco, the blindness, though so common, cannot be a very serious evil; yet it appears strange that any animal should possess an organ frequently subject to be injured. Lamarck would have been delighted with this fact, had he known it, when speculating [7] (probably with more truth than usual with him) on the gradually _acquired_ blindness of the Asphalax, a Gnawer living under ground, and of the Proteus, a reptile living in dark caverns filled with water; in both of which animals the eye is in an almost rudimentary state, and is covered by a tendinous membrane and skin. In the common mole the eye is extraordinarily small but perfect, though many anatomists doubt whether it is connected with the true optic nerve; its vision must certainly be imperfect, though probably useful to the animal when it leaves its burrow. In the tucutuco, which I believe never comes to the surface of the ground, the eye is rather larger, but often rendered blind and useless, though without apparently causing any inconvenience to the animal; no doubt Lamarck would have said that the tucutuco is now passing into the state of the Asphalax and Proteus. --Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter 3 Maldonado (emphasis mine)


This catty little side-swipe at Lamarck just tickled me.  It is so uncharacteristic of the gentlemanly and mild Darwin.  That it is aimed at Lamarck is both telling and fitting.


Darwin occasionally agreed with Lamarck on scientific minutia, especially on clinical observations.  However, he vociferously disagreed with Lamarck on philosophical grounds and interpretations of observable facts.


Stalin rejected Darwin and embraced Lamarck (resurrected by Lysenko, and called "Lysenkoism") because Lamarck’s theory that physical traits developed by an individual can be inherited fit his political and social engineering purposes better. (in other words, if you work out and build huge muscles, your children will be born with huge muscles...even if you were naturally inclined to be a 98 lb weakling.)


Also, he had the same mis-reading of Darwin as the fundies do.  Instead of understanding that “fitness” is referring to very limited incidences of particular adaptations to a specific niche in the environment, they insist on mixing in the idea of a God-created hierarchy of general worthiness to exist.  Stalin mistakenly believed that Darwin's theory promoted the idea that those at the top of society deserved to be there because they were superior.  Naturally, that would not support the purposes of Stalin's regime, so he went with Lamarckism, or Lysenkoism, which would allow for a sort of state-sponsored acquired worthiness.


Naturally, in the Movie "Expelled", Ben Stein blames Darwin for the creation of Stalin.  I suppose that is why Stalin promoted the works of Darwin's rival, and suppressed Darwin's works...because he liked Darwin so much that he had to make sure nobody heard about him.  Whatever.  Soviet leadership embraced Lysenko as a peasant with "practical" and "common sense" ideas, and derided standard science as "elitist" and "bourgeois"...and claimed that the science elite were threatened by new ideas.




Is Ben Stein stupid or a liar?  At some point it ceases to matter.  After all, I suppose it is enough to simply say he made a movie that is worthless as anything except anti-intellectual propaganda.  I mean, he went to all of this trouble to create an entire documentary about the subject, and managed to make a whole movie that never once brushes up against the truth. How do you do that?  It fascinates me that all of the examples that the Intelligent Design promoters claim are the evil results of "Darwinism" are actually people who rejected Darwin's works in favor of rivals whose work was wrong, but suited their ideological bias...


Ironically, that is the very behavior of the ID proponents.  They reject the legacy built on Darwin's works in favor of inferior, repeatedly disproven ideas that suit their ideology.  And they use the SAME disproven ideas and demonstrably disastrous arguments as the big evils that they are trying to blame on Darwin.  That anyone gives Intelligent Design more than a passing and dismissive glance floors me.


And it sickens me that they use traditional Deistic imagery in their arguments.  What an insulting mis-appropriation of inspiration.



Tuesday, 17 March 2009 07:00:07 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [0] | #
Thursday, 08 January 2009

One of my Facebook/real life friends put this link up on his facebook page:

It's really awesome.  One more step closer to creating life in the lab.

Thursday, 08 January 2009 21:29:56 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [0] | #
Tuesday, 25 November 2008

So I was over a Pharyngula reading a very entertaining piece that handed Deepak Chopra, the rap master of woo, his butt.  (again)

I was reading the comments and enjoying the science-nerd pile-on when suddenly THIS lept out at me:

"Hmmm... Now I know where the really bad, sciency sounding dialog for the character Mohindar Suresh in Heroes comes from."

Dan misses some very important points in this comment:


1) Mohinder Suresh is smokin' hot (see exhibit "A"), and Deepak Chopra is NOT (see exhibit "B").


2)  Mohinder Suresh is a fictional character in a story that specifically suspends the laws of science so that the world can work very differently than it actually does...and to that end there is a need to supply enough technobabble to drum you into a state we call "suspension of disbelief"...whereas Deepak Copra is a real person that is creating a story that specifically suspends the laws of science so that the world can work very differently than it actually does, and to that end there is a need to supply enough technobabble to drum you into a state we call "suspension of disbelief". This will cause you to pay lots of money for him to tell you his pretty pretty story about how you can live forever and be healthy the whole time.

3)Until recently, Mohinder Suresh was a character of unfailing moral fortitude selflessly working to redeem his father's life-work, discover the truth, and benefit all of humanity...and Deepak Chopra writes lots and lots of stuff about what he thinks science doesn't know, and provides PZ Myers with many, many opportunities to point out that just because Mr. Chopra doesn't know how something happens, that doesn't mean that SCIENCE doesn't know how it happens.


4)  Mohinder Suresh's use of eyeliner is organic, subtle, and alluring.  Deepak Chopra's use of eyeliner is heavy, harsh and scary.


5) So, in summation:  LEAVE MOHINDER ALONE!  Thank you, and I rest my case.


Exhibit "A":

(Image from here)

Exhibit "B":

(image from this site)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 06:19:17 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [10] |  |  |  |  |  |  | #
Friday, 24 October 2008


Dr.Kiki is just cute as a button, yes?


(Hat Tip:   A Blog Around the Clock)

Friday, 24 October 2008 05:15:18 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [17] | #
Wednesday, 15 October 2008

People are buying hyperbaric chambers for their autistic kids.

The thing that bothers me about this is not that some parents are unable to sort out fact from fiction regarding their kid's disease, or that they might be just desperate enough to try anything, or that they look elsewhere when the doctors can't give them the answers they want.

I'm a parent, and I teach self-defense to special-needs kids.  I know these parents, and I know the time and effort and expense that they go to in order to give their children every possible leg-up to having the fullest life possible.

I understand doing the best you can, but sometimes not knowing what to do, or how to even find out what the best thing to do is.

The problem is that Autism is a slippery diagnosis, and what works for one kid isn't that helpful for another.  It's a hodge-podge of symptoms that vary in incidence and severity from person to person, and parents can often feel like the experts are just groping in the dark with no more of a clue than the parents themselves.

Many of the things that help kids on the Autism Spectrum take a lot of time, and effort and money for small, incremental gains that can sometimes seem like consolation victories.

There is a special place in heaven for the dedicated parent of a special-needs child.  Parenting takes a lot of dedication, and a lot of self-awareness, and frankly, most people have days when they just aren't up to the challenge as much as they would like to be.  The more individual issues your child has that separate him or her from peers, the more days like that you are going to have.

Enter the snakes in the garden:  People who exploit parents and children for profit.

OK, you've got your herb sellers and your special diet people...well, Im not equipped to say if they do any good, but some parents swear by them and I haven't heard of them doing too much harm.  Whatever, can't get too excited about it one way or another.  I actually take Glucosamine and Chondroitin myself, for example as well as fish oil and flax oil.  I gave Glucosamine and Chondroitin to my dog when she started getting arthritic and it seemed to help for a couple of years.  Probably subjective, but no big deal.  I started taking it when it was fairly new.  As the years have gone by, the evidence is mounting that it's effectiveness is minimal if anything.  A few years ago, I used to swear by this stuff.

Why? Well, because of assurances that I would certainly develop arthritis fairly young.  This was due to some fairly severe injuries to the joints (The worst of which was; both of my knees were run over by a hay wagon.  Long story that involves me being embarrassingly reckless), running and martial arts as hobbies, a family history of arthritis, and the extra weight I carry.  The best recommendation of doctors was to save on my knees by doing something other than running and martial arts for exercise.  They recommended walking and swimming.  Walking is boring, and I didn't have the money to join a gym at the time, so swimming was a summer-only activity.  Plus, I LOVE running and martial arts.

So I looked elsewhere and found "joint supplements"  the doctor shrugged, said the science wasn't in but it probably wouldn't hurt anything to try it.

So in other words, I didn’t like what the doctors told me and went desperately searching for an alternative solution.  I thought I'd found it, and I would have SWORN to you that it was the reason my knees stopped aching and my mobility increased, and I haven’t been crippled up with arthritis even though I probably should be.  But the more evidence mounts up, the more it looks like I'm wrong, and it had nothing to do with joint supplements.  So I wasted some money.

But then you've got your Chelatean Therapy people and people who encourage parents to put their kids in freaking hyperbaric chambers and to not immunize their kids against potentially fatal and disfiguring illnesses, and I suddenly realize that the loop-hole that lets people sell Glucosamine and Condroitin as a treatment for arthritis, (as long as they say it's not a real treatment) is being used to market hyperbaric chambers to the parents of autistic kids.

And I say close the loop-hole.  I mean it.  As good as I feel after my occasional chiropractic treatments for sports injuries...close it up.  When I put something out of joint, I usually go get it put back in joint and have them hit it with the EMS machine and assign me some exercises to keep it from getting thrown out again...but I'll settle for some Ibuprophin and walking it off for a couple of weeks if that's what it takes to keep predatory assholes from convincing vulnerable parents to put their kids in fucking hyperbaric chambers without any understanding of the mechanics behind if it works or how.

The wink-and-a-nod "These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA" is just not good enough as a reality check, obviously, if people are going to go to this sort of expense to put their kids in that kind of danger.

And if people actually believe the treatment works, let them come with the science to prove it.  If a science-based theory is established, and the results are proved, then maybe we can find a way to get the results without such a dangerous process.  And if not, the parents can get a doctor's help in evaluating if the risks are worth the results.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008 08:46:30 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [5] |  |  | #
Friday, 01 August 2008

If we could undo just one part of the legacy of The Heritage Foundation's Contract on America, and Newt Gingrich's  "Republican Revolution"...this would be the one I would root for:


Because the other things that would need to be changed would follow soon after.  Evidence-based policy is good policy.  And no, I'm not saying we should have a technocracy.  I'm just saying that if you are making a decision based on ideology in the face of scientific evidence, then THAT should be clear.

(Hat Tip:

Friday, 01 August 2008 13:20:43 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [4] | #
Wednesday, 02 April 2008
Friday, 22 February 2008

"Darwin defended slavery"


(I took the following quote from this site)

On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have staid in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horsewhip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master’s eye. These latter cruelties were witnessed by me in a Spanish colony, in which it has always been said, that slaves are better treated than by the Portuguese, English, or other European nations. I have seen at Rio de Janeiro a powerful negro afraid to ward off a blow directed, as he thought, at his face. I was present when a kind-hearted man was on the point of separating for ever the men, women and little children of a large number of families who had long lived together. I will not even allude to the many heart-sickening atrocities which I authentically heard of; - nor would I have mentioned the above revolting details, had I not met with several people, so blinded by the constitutional gaiety of the negro, as to speak of slavery as a tolerable evil. Such people have generally visited the houses of the upper classes, where the domestic slaves are usually well treated; and they have not, like myself, lived amongst the lower classes. Such enquirers will ask slaves about their condition; they forget that the slave must indeed be dull, who does not calculate on the chance of his answer reaching his master’s ears.

It is argued that self-interest will prevent excessive cruelty; as if self-interest protected our domestic animals, which are far less likely than degraded slaves, to stir up the rage of their savage masters. It is an argument long since protested against with noble feelings, and strikingly exemplified, by the ever illustrious Humboldt. It is often attempted to palliate slavery by comparing the state of slaves with our poorer countrymen: if the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin; but how this bears on slavery, I cannot see; as well might the use of the thumbscrew be defended in one land, by showing that men in another land suffer from some dreadful disease. Those who look tenderly at the slave-owner and with cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter; - what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! Picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children - those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own - being torn from you and sold like beast to the first bidder! And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbors as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty: but it is consolation to reflect, that we at least have made a greater sacrifice, than ever made by any nation, to expiate our sin.


                                                                                                         --Charles Darwin

                                                                                                             The Voyage of the Beagle     


(Hat Tip: Pharyngula)                                                          

Friday, 22 February 2008 09:29:40 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [2] |  | #
Tuesday, 19 February 2008


Those Gosh-darned pesky educated predictions backed up by research and facts.

How can Intelligent Design hope to compete?

Oh yeah.  They have Ben Stein.  Never mind.  His powers of snidely droning on and on about liberal fascism will prevail.  No one can withstand the power of his droll and slighly pouty drone.  The only people who listen to facts are effete snobs with alphabet soup after their names, and they will be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes.

(Hat Tip: Jason Bock)
Tuesday, 19 February 2008 14:54:47 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [2] |  |  | #
Friday, 15 February 2008

Just a quickie, as I have a lot to do today!

I just read on another website about how environmentalism kills 2 million people per year because environmental hysteria caused the banning of DDT.  I'd give you link, but it bothers the guy when I link to him.

Just in case you have been exposed to this myth, or know someone who has, here's some facts.

The DDT Ban Myth  (quote from this site follows):

Several anti-environmentalists have claimed that public concern over the effects of DDT after the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring led to a ban on the pesticide in some third world countries in the 1960s.  This ban, it is claimed, led to a resurgence in malaria, resulting in thousands of deaths.  But in accounts of the war on malaria, such as in Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague,  it is clear that the suspension of spraying programs was unrelated to any environmental concerns.  In fact, DDT continued to be the insecticide of choice in the battle against malaria as recently as 1994, some 30 years after the alleged ban, in areas where it was still effective (Curtis). Before considering what actually happened, let's see how some anti-environmentalists described the alleged ban.

Here's a quote from the Wikipedia entry:

The World Health Organization estimates there are between 300 million and 500 million cases of malaria every year, resulting in more than 1 million deaths,[63] with about 90% of these deaths occuring in Africa, mostly to children under the age of 5.

Most prior use of DDT was in agriculture, but the controlled use of DDT continues to this day for the purposes of public health. Current use for disease control requires only a small fraction of the amounts previously used in agriculture, and at these levels the pesticide is much less likely to cause environmental problems. Residual house spraying involves the treatment of all interior walls and ceilings with insecticide, and is particularly effective against mosquitoes, which favour indoor resting before or after feeding. Advocated as the mainstay of malaria eradication programmes in the late 1950s and 1960s, DDT remains a major component of control programmes in southern African states, though many countries have abandoned or curtailed their spraying activities. South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique and Ecuador are examples of countries that have very successfully reduced malaria infestations with DDT.

Indeed, the problems facing health officials in their fight against malaria neither begin nor end with DDT. Experts tie the spread of malaria to numerous factors, including the resistance of the malaria parasite itself to the drugs traditionally used to treat the illness[64] and a chronic lack of funds in the countries worst hit by malaria.

The growth of resistance to DDT and the fear that DDT may be harmful both to humans and the environment led the U.N., donor countries, and various national governments to restrict or curtail the use of DDT in vector control. At the same time, use of DDT as an agricultural insecticide was often unrestricted, and restrictions were often evaded, especially in developing countries where malaria is rife, so that resistance continued to grow.[14]

[UPDATE:  the same blog entry that discusses how "harmless" DDT is has now spawned derisive comments about how evivormentalists are forcing poor people to eat Twinkies because they made apples expensive by banning Alar...another chemical that they claim is completely harmless.]

Here are some real facts about Alar.

But if your one of the people that think that Alar and DDT are prefectly safe, and that people don't have any choice because fresh fruit costs more than Twinkies...and it's the evil liberals fault...don't worry.  The brave Libertarians over at Center For Consumer Freedom are protecting you.

They mock the "Alar Scare" all the time, referencing it to deride every concern about nearly every food danger that comes down the pike.  They are also defending you from "fat nazis" who want to take away your freedom to eat guilt free:

No's the title of the article:

Preserve right to eat without guilt: Don't post calories of fast-food dishes

Friday, 15 February 2008 11:45:40 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [0] | #
Wednesday, 18 April 2007

ERV points out that "framing" is inadequate with some audiences and in some situations, such as dealing with the Discovery Institute on
"their" turf
.  This is because they cheat.

If Framing is a screw driver, you can't be sucessful with it in situations that call for a hammer.

You don't engage in a "framing" debate at a Discovery Institute event where the only purpose of having a counter argument is to bring in big names to add legitamacy to the event.  No matter how well you "frame" your argument, it's not going to have much effect when you have fifteen  minutes and the Discovery Institute has a couple of days.  As ERV pointed out, a Q&A that only allows students to ask screened questions is also not helpful.

In a closed system, this would be a disaster.  However, getting those facts out to any media coverage on the event would be a good start.

That's framing.

The Discovery Institute "frames" this event as a debate.  We need to get the word out that it is a sham.  Use analogies to sporting events.  The Discovery Institute is holding a track meet, invites world class atheletes, and then only allows them to run if they agree to run while wearing fat suits.  This is so their people can "win" and say they beat world-class athletes.

When the world-class athletes turn down the invitation, the Discovery Institute can say "they're afraid" when it is the Discovery Institute that is afraid of fair competition.

John Q public is going to say "Huh.  I don't blame them.  I wouldn't go to a track meet and run in a fat suit either."

Right now, if you get into an evolution debate with a rank-and-file creationist, they spew every single Discovery Institute talking point down to the punctuation.  But when you say "Oh, the Discovery Institute" they say "who's that?"

Now, when they hear something from the Discovery Institute, they are going to say "Oh.  Those are the guys who can't handle fair competition with their ideas. " and go in search of other information.

They still might be creationists, but at least their sense of fairness won't let them use DI talking points whereas before they were unaware of even where that information was coming from.


Wednesday, 18 April 2007 05:49:45 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [1] |  |  | #
Sunday, 25 March 2007

Skeptico takes an analogy from a believer in "psychic powers" and makes it do it's little turn on the catwalk.


(Hat Tip:  Bad Astronomy)

Sunday, 25 March 2007 06:54:23 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [0] | #
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