Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sophophora melanogaster (part 2)

So, I am back. The meeting was fun, and it was nice to put a lot of faces by names of people I never ever had met before. It looked like most Drosophila taxonomists preferred to save the name Drosophila melanogaster but unfortunately, there was no consensus about this. About what to do with the genus was even less clear, ranging from doing nothing, lump everything together (despite the huge range if issues that would create) and splitting the genus.

Doing nothing basically leads to the conservation of the current situation, in which taxonomists can split of smaller groups if they wish. There are several good candidates to be split of, and for which it is relative easy to just examine all species and find characteristics that are unique for the new genus. Unfortunately, that is effectively just increasing the paraphyly issue in the genus Drosophila. Two people objecting to doing the split now claim that we first have to examine ALL type species of the genus and the included genera, what effectively means examining 2250+ species, especially knowing that there are at maybe as many as 1500 undescribed species in the family, many of thoise within the genus Drosophila or the embedded genera (Oriental region and Hawaii primarily). Requiring that will result in a defacto arrast of any progress with regard of thie paraphyly issue.

Lumping the genera to a single genus is maybe even worse. Besides the enormous size of the genus (~2250 describe plus undescribed -> 3000+ species), it woyuld be very heterogeneous, and that is exaclt what we don't want; it is why various genera like Hirtodrosophila and Scaptodrosophila have been removed from te genus. But worse, there will be over 100 secondary homonyms, aka, species with the same scientific species name. In all these cases, a new name has to be generated, and if someone in the future removes those species again from the genus, the renaming has to be undone because the older name has priority. So, in stead of actually dealing with the issue at hand, it is just creating a much bigger issue.

So, splitting seems the only sensible thing to do. several clades are well defined, generally recovered as well-supported monophyletic clades. Some claim that for example the saltans-willistoni clade is basal to all the other drosophilids (aka, that this clade is the first to branch off, see MP-situation). This would mean that the second main branch in the subgenus Sophophora, the obscura-melanogaster clade together with all the other subgenera and the included genera is the sisterclade of the saltans-willistoni clade.

Well, there is a substantial amount of evidence against that topology. First of all, all studies claiming such an effect are based on Maximum Parsimony (MP), notorious for many things, but in this case primarily because it is often inadequate for issues related to variation in nucleotide composition. Variation in bucleotide composition can be adequatly addressed in Maximum Likelihood and Bayesian analyses using an adequate nucleotide substitution model that can explain apparant deviations. When you do that, the result is as in the figure under "Actual situation".

But there is another reason to suspect that the figure under "Actual situation" is better, and that is that the 12 genome paper actually has species of all three branches, and that study using about 9000 genes (gasp) clearly demonstrated that the "Actual situation" figure is correct, and the MP situation is incorrect. A similar situation occurs with the virilis s.l. and repleta s.l. clades in the virilis-repleta radiation. Here again, the 12 genome project tree clearly confirms that both branches are within a single monophyletic clade, and not in a different topology as suggested by some.

So, what will happen in the future? That is inclear. We have first to wait till the commission decides about the Sophophora melanogaster problem, and if they decide to go ahead, we will submit an article proposing to split the genus. If the commission decides against us, it might take a different route, with proposals to split of various clades till be effectively have a very extreme genus Drosophila with the melanogaster-obscura group and part of the immigrans-tripunctata radiation that contains the type species, D. funebris.

I keep you all posted!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sophophora melanogaster

Yeah, in a few days, I will go to San Diego, to a meeting where all the major names in the Drosophila systematics will come together to discuss the future of the genus Drosophila, and especially Sophophora melanogaster. The genus Drosophila as currently defined is paraphyletic, and I together with a few others are going to propose to split the genus.



Not everybody likes that, and some have decided to organise a one day workshop to address this issue and some additional issues.

A major issue with splitting the genus is that one most used model organism, Drosophila melanogaster will change its name to Sophophora melanogaster. Yes, indeed. Impossible! That is not even worth a discussion, the sheer magnitude of schoolbooks, internet pages, etc that need to be adapted to accommodate such a change is unacceptable. Fortunately, there is a small group of scientists at the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature who can debate, vote and overrule the normal rules for naming species. So, we submitted an application (pdf) to them, in which we asked them to fix this for the community by setting asside the current type species (D. funebris), and make D. melanogaster the new type species. Problem solved. You would think. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Unfortunately, a bunch of people object to it. Some say that the world just has to print new books, change the texts etc, and that we do not have to be mindfull of all those schoolkids etc. Others say we do not know enough, which as fas as I am concerned is bogus, but heck, disagreement is the fuel for progress.

Anyway, in a few days, I will be defending our proposal to split the genus, and see whether we can actually agree on this. I keep you posted!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Boycott Michael's Arts and Crafts store

Last Thursday, a friend of me was 'fired' from Michael's Arts and Craft Store in Tallahassee after she did not appreciate that colleague of her told her something along the line of: "You are probably gay and therefore should have been aborted." She walked out at that moment, and was the next day fired because she was unwilling to cooperate in a cover-up of the story.....

Anyway, there are several initiatives going on, but till that time, please, boycott Michael's in Tallahassee.

Friday, November 14, 2008

President Obama

Yeah, finally, a black president. It is time for a country with so many African-Americans that they have a African-American president. and the good thing, he is not someone who was a spokesman for blacks, but someone for everybody to start with.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Obama knows his priorities

Campaigning is important, sure, but the announcement that Obama is going to visit his serious ill grandmother who raised him shows two things to me. One, he really cares about interpersonal relationships, and second, he knows his priorities. A sick and, if I read correctly between the lines, dying grandmother deserves this kind of attention. This is not a situation where he has to decide to nuke a foreign country or not, there is no national security involved, and thousands of lives, so, this is the right thing to do!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Which foreign dependency is worse: Oil or Money

if Americans think they have it bad with their dependence on foreign oil, they haven't even started to realise how incredibly dependent they are to foreign money. Without China, Japan, Korea, the Arab oil states and Europeans, the USA would not even be capable of sustaining the incredible trade and budget deficit it is currently trying to control. So, if we compare, which of the two is worse? Oil or Money?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Does Biology rules out Gay Marriage?

Gay marriage is a hot button in the US. Where I come from, the Netherlands, it is not any more and even the CDA now considers is something not to be fought any more. Anyway, the US is making head ways, now that a third state (Connecticut, after Massachusetts and California) legalized gay marriages.

Some people opposing gay marriage use biology to argue that the traditional marriage should be limited to one man and one woman. They argue that “It takes a man and a woman to create children and thus create a family”. And that therefore, marriage should be limited to one man and one woman. Unfortunately for them, they only would be right if, and only if, marriage was a biological phenomenon, which of course, it is not. Marriage is just a social construct, nothing more.

But besides that marriage is a social construct, using biology in this way is oversimplifying what biology actually tells us. Using biology in the way it is used against gay marriage ignores the large variation that biology shows. It for example assumes that you only have man and woman, ignoring that there are a substantial number of intersex people. During development of the foetus, many biological processes have to line up perfectly to get the proper sex-determination. if anything goes wrong, because of genetics or environment, some of the characteristics typical for a man or a woman will be skewered and defining whether the person is a man or a woman becomes a legal nightmare.

For example, in Texas, the state's 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio, ruled that a man is defined by his chromosomes. This results in that same-sex couples, of which one is transsexual, can legally marry (with the cravat that it is considered illegal in the rest of Texas). Thus just illustrates that using biology to define a social construct as marriage is anything but build on the most shaky grounds.

But I think the argument is made this way because it avoids the insertion of overt religious arguments into something that should be free of religion. We have to expose the argument for what it is, a thinly veiled argument to insert religion into the legal system.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Voodoo economics: China or America?

So, which country is mostly unaffected by the current money crisis? Yes, China. The least capitalist based market of the larger nations, with substantial government regulation, but seems to best now that the credit crunch is getting worse.

But things are worse, China is probably the only nation in the world that can actually finance the bonds that the US will need to cover the 700,000,000,000 US $ that the US wants to invest in their bankrupted (no pun intended) financial system.

The US government was already unable to tell China what to do. Every time a senator or other politician made some waves for reform, for example to limit imports from China, or to prevent jobs from going there, a mid-rank official would appear on Chinese television, and indicate that China was considering to diversify their bonds. And without failure, the stock market would cringe and the US politician would shut up. Now, the sell-out to to China is just going to be worse.

What I really do not get is that many poor people vote for the republicans, because in the end, they are the victims of the voodoo economics of that party. But I guess that prohibiting gay marriage is more important than having money in their wallet.

Abstinence only increases abortion rates

Abstinence only increases abortion rates. This is a simple one:
  1. Sex drive is natural
  2. Many do not have the control to withstand nature
  3. So, they have sex before marriage anyway (who wants to wait till being 27 or so before having sex?)
  4. When they have sex anyway, they have no clue about avoiding pregnancies, because the ONLY line of defence against it, abstinence, just faltered
  5. result, the baby is coming.......
And it explains in part, why of the western countries, teenage pregnancy rates are so substantially larger in the US than in other countries. In the Netherlands, where sex-education is part of high school education, teenage pregnacy rates are around 6.2, while in the us, it is a nine-fold higher at 52.1.......

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wikipedia's version of Natural Selection

Several years ago, I tried to help out at wikipedia. It was a waste of time. The article I spend most time on was Natural Selection, and my hand is still visible in the article. Unfortunately, the uneducated masses rule wikipedia, so, wikipedia now tries to let you believe that:
Natural selection is the process by which favorable heritable traits become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavorable heritable traits become less common, due to differential reproduction of genotypes.
Yawn, this is the perfect definition of Evolution by means of Natural Selection, which is NOT the same as Natural Selection. Unfortunately, this is an error even made in some text books, especially those that are interested in the result of Natural Selection.

Natural Selection by itself is a process. And that process has an effect. The process is that individuals that are better adapted to a specific environment survive and/or reproduce more often than individuals that are not as well adapted to the same environment. The result is that gene frequencies in the population changes for the traits under selection, which is exactly the definition of evolution.

By carefully distinguishing the process from the multi-generational effect, a much clearer understanding of how Natural Selection acts can be gained. Unfortunately, wikipedia won't do that, as they are ruled by the ignorant masses.......

Saturday, September 20, 2008

United Divided states of America

Why is this extremely divided country called the UNITED States of America. Would DIVIDED States of America not be more appropriate?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Social Security, American Style

In the US, when you get unemployed, are sick, or whatever, only limited help can be expected from the federal government. Capitalism rules, and if you cannot help yourself, you are crewed. Really, well, it is more nuanced.

Take the current crises in the financial markets. They are big enough to bring the US economy on its knees, and most of it is caused by the idea that you should lend for everything, even when yo do not have the means to pay those bills..... And so it began. bad credit, here is a loan anyway. A mortgage for the house? Sub-prime, no problem, here it is...... And then the economy did not exactly do what the Bush administration wanted, so you give everybody a stimulation package (Thanks Uncle Sam), but did it solve the issues. No, it just made the deficit sky rocket, but heck, most of the people making those decisions will be embalmed and put in their grave fault before those worries will hit our children and grandchildren. Who cares, we can at least live rich and destroy our earth....

But lets stop that rant there. I wanted to address another aspect of this insane system. First the government encouraged sub-prime loans because that was good for the economy. But the economy did not do what they wanted, so they nationalized two semi-private corporation, Fanny mae and that other one when they came in trouble. (O yes, they tried a few things in between, but that did evidently not help a bit either. Anyway, so what to do next? Well, uncle sam is going to be a mortgage broker, and is going to buy mortgages. Congratulations.

So, who is going to pay all this? We, the tax payers (remind me, no taxation without representation, but I as a foreigner am not allowed to vote, but I do have to pay taxes!)! So, instead of directly developing some system that will help those in need, the US does it inderect by first pushing those people into debts to deal with the life-emergencies, after which they will hekp them anyways, and along the road, leave a lot of money with finacial instititions that could have been left out of the equation if a more sensible social security system would have been in place.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Benediction of a new Biology Building

Last Friday, they dedicated the new Life Science Building I am working in. A place where people study how the many life-forms evolved, how evolution itself works, and where a substantial percentage of the professors, post-docs, graduate students is atheist.

Anyway, it was named after James King Jr., a senator of the Florida legislature who has done a lot for Florida State University. Unfortunately, he dragged in a priest to do a benediction of the building! I was offended! Anyway, it is the usual violation of the separation of church and state, and I as an heathen really didn't appreciate it that I got blessed at such an public and open event. Now I have to bring in a horn and a bottle of mead to counter balance this!

Monday, September 8, 2008

A nightmare scenario!

I am puzzled. In the primaries, all conservative candidates could do no good in the eyes of the voters, and McCain was massively favoured over the more conservative candidates. But he did not do good enough against Obama in the polls. But the most puzzling was that the republicans, who themselves voted massively for him, did not get really excited. Weird....

Now he has whipped up an ultraconservative female VP-candidate, and suddenly things are really different. I listened to parts of their acceptance speeches, and bluntly, it felt to me that the republican base was more enthusiastic for the attacking rhetoric of Palin than for McCain.

McCain is old, and various fundamentalist christians already have start praying for the untimely death of McCain so that their ultraconservative darling can become the president. And I am sure that there are fanatic christians out there that at least hope someone will help McCain to see his creator in an untimely manner.

In short, we have a nightmare scenario here. With this scenario, the conservative right has the option to get an ultraconservative president in the white house, more conservative than that they would be able to elect directly. This back-door with an old dude that can die every day, and a ultraconservative VEEP, could be the far worst thing even happened to this country.

I fear that McCain/Palin will win. After that, lets hope he lives long enough and does not get assassinated.....

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Palin and the Failure of Abstinence Only Programs

LOL, when I heard that the teenage daughter of the vice-presidential candidate Palin was pregnant out of wedlock, it could not be a better example of the failure of 'Abstinence Only Programs'. So, here we have the woman that is the conservative face of the republican ticket who is going to defend 'Abstinence only Programs' as an effective way to prevent teen-pregnancies. Well, that worked perfect with her own daughter. To me, this is roughly the same as an anti-gay republican found in bed with another guy! Anyway how, you can guess how I would vote if I was allowed to in this country.........

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tropical Strom Fay

Tropical Strom Fay is crawls painstakingly slow across the Florida panhandle, including Tallahassee. By now, we have gotten at least 10 inch (25 cm) rain, and the rain is not done yet for the coming days..... But everything is fine, and personally, we have not been affected that much.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How to approach an evangelical christian missionary?

I play a kind of tit-for-tat game with them.

Missionary: Have you heard the word of god?

Me: Which god

Missionary: The christian god of course.

Me: Yes, I heard it and deemed it false

Missionary (shocked): But he is the true god!

Me: Says who?

Missionary: The Holy Bible!

Me: O. Interesting. My holy books say something else.

Missionary: But the bible says....

Me (interrupting): Why is the bible right and my holy books wrong?

Missionary: Well, the Bible says [fill in what ever]

Me: My holy books say the same, so why is your book right and mine wrong?

Missionary: Well, the Bible says [fill in something else]

[repeat 20 times] WARNING: Missionary is slowly reaching cooking temperature, do not touch. Replace bible for deity of choice when appropriate.

Missionary: It seems that you are lost for God.

Me: I am sorry that you are lost for Odin!

Missionary: I am sure you will see the light in the future!

Me: I have seen the light already, and I hope you will see the light in the future!

Missionary: I will pray for you!

Me: I will make a small offering to my gods for you later today! Any preference for Odin, Thor or Freyja?

Missionary (on his/her way out): God Bless!

Me: Hail Odin!

Missionary (screaming): The blood of Jesus will protect me......

Friday, August 15, 2008

In god we trust?

Which god? Yahweh? Odin? Isis? Allah?

Many Americans argue that "The motto has historical and patriotic significance and does nothing to establish a state religion" , but what if I would say
Hail Odin!
....in response to people uttering this sentence?

I am sure that many Americans will be deeply offended.... So much for the non-religious meaning of the motto........

Monday, August 11, 2008

I am not a Darwinist

Ok, lets make this clear, and maybe biologist everywhere should clarify this:
I am NOT a Darwinist!
To label evolutionary biologists as Darwinists is a old trick used by creationists to make it sound as if we and the theory of evolution have not evolved since the inception by Charles Darwin. Well, nothing could be more from the truth than just that.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Demski's illusions

Over at Uncommon decent (sorry, no link to that tard site), Dr. Dr. William Dembski definately does not get it. He asks a former Intelligent Design proponent to agree to the following:
(1) ID raises important issues for science.
(2) Politics aside, ID proponents ought to get a fair hearing for their views, and they’re not.
(3) A climate of hostility toward ID pervades the academy, which often undermines freedom of thought and expression on this topic.
(4) That climate has led to ID proponents being shamefully treated, losing their reputations and jobs, and suffering real harm.
Hummm, lets see.
(1) ID raises important issues for science.
No, it doesn't. ID is religion, not science, so it cannot raise any issue for science.
(2) Politics aside, ID proponents ought to get a fair hearing for their views, and they’re not.
They got their fair hearing, and failed.
(3) A climate of hostility toward ID pervades the academy, which often undermines freedom of thought and expression on this topic.
Part one, yes, because ID is not promoted through doing research and finding facts, but through popularisation and high school curricula. Part two, no, because it is discussed freeely at universities, found to be creationism in a cheap tuxedo. Do some research and show some proof, and you will have a case.
(4) That climate has led to ID proponents being shamefully treated, losing their reputations and jobs, and suffering real harm.
No, the lack of coherent logical thinking (crucial for academia), the underhand way of promoting articles (what, should I use the normal rules of peer review?), the lack of publications, etc. cause that.

O well, Demski will never learn that he is not even a pseudoscientist. Two Ph.D.'s does not change that. That is only a sign that you can jump the hoops, the proof is in the peer-reviewed articles!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

US disregards international law

The US has shown this week again that it does think it can disregard international treaties it signed itself. The State of Texas executed two foreigners (here and here) who have not been given access to their countries representation. Anyway, despite that, it does not change the fact that executing people is something for countries who are still living in medieval times... O wait, the US is in large part still a medieval country where religion trumps science, the majority believes that their christian god created earth (they are wrong, if a religious myth would be correct, it would be the Norse creation myth), etc. So, no surprise there.

What we have to wait for is a foreign country that seizes a American for similar reasons and denies them consular assistance. The world will be to small at that time. But heck, with kangaroo courts in Guantanamo bay for illegal held prisoners, who does still believe that the US is objective and fair?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Lesbian -> Same Sex Attraction Disorder sufferer

I just came across this term. "Same Sex Attraction Disorder" Sounds like I suffer from that. So, let me guess, right wing evangelicals that promote the term? Yeah, just type the term into google, and you know where it ends, the same circles as the ex-gay movement, the gay treatment promoters etc. I know enough, just more of the same bat shit insane crap that these people try to sell as genuine snake oil.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Entitlement babies

Entitlement babies, who does not know them. I work at a university, and many many kids are work hard, doing their best to get good or at least sufficient grades. And now and then, you encounter an entitlement baby. This are the kids that by default come complaining that they did not receive an A-grade. if a student has a legitimate argument, you change the grade. but some kids cannot deal with the fact that they did not get a better grade.

University is supposed to be for the best students. Unlike high school, it is not for everybody. Unfortunately, some kids who have grown up very protected (home schooled, inferior high school) and always get their way. Every request at home get fulfilled, when they are 16 they of course get a brand new car, working for that car, what is that? So, by the time they leave the house, they only know one way of living, and that is that all their requests are fulfilled immediately.

Enter real life......

Suddenly, the source of instant gratification, mum and dad, is gone. Why does that stupid teacher not understand that I deserve an A? I am sorry that I am late for work, but I went only to bed at 4 am, and I really needed the sleep, don't tell me that this is a issue, right? No? O well, someone else will appreciate me more. No problem officer, my dad will pay the speeding fine. O, you impound my car? He will buy me a new car. Have a nice day officer.

Sometimes, it does not stop there. Mum and dad keep actively helping. The only effect that it has is that they postpone the inevitable drop the kids are going to experience unless mum and dad have enough money to keep the entitlement going. If the parents are rich enough, some of those kids will just continue to waste the rest of their lives in entitlement, and they never learn to deal with reality. Because in reality, you do not always get immediately everything you want. Sometimes, you will never get something you want.

When we grow up, we learn that the answer at times will be no, and learning to deal with disappointment is a crucial aspect of growing up. A parent who really loves their child will not stand in the way of that learning experience, but teach their child coping skills so it can handle disappointment.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

The God Delusion desecrated

Yes, PZ has done it, he desecrated The God Delusion from Richard Dawkins! That man does not know any shame!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

DelFly Micro

Today, I found this, the DelFly Micro:


This is a mechanic dragonfly, with a small tail for steering. The coin is a one euro piece, a bit larger than a US quarter. It is based on the principle of the dragon fly. See it flying here and here

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lesbos and Lesbians

Ha, we gay women are still allowed to call ourselves Lesbians! A court case in Greece was thrown out! Not that lesbian would not have been used for gay women any more if the court had ruled against using the name, but anyway.

Suppose they had won and the Athens court ruled that the word Lesbian could not be used for a gay woman? Would they after that have gone to court in all remaining countries in the world to request similar prohibitions?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

And it has been served

Yesterday, I was talking about upping the stakes. And today, we have been served. Bill Donahue has just released a new press release, now with an e-mail address to someone at CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Seems that Mr. Donahue does not get the point. Someone like PZ is not going to back down. He is just going on with his plan, whether you like it or not.

But suppose for a minute he would back down under these treats... The only thing that would happen is that Bill Donahue would be rewarded for his aggressive behaviour, and that is about the last thing you want to happen. In this stage, nobody can afford it any more to loose, because loosing would give the other party a win. You cannot have that!

So, there is a perpetual need to up the stakes, over and over again. Unfortunately for Bill Donahue, he seems to run out of options, and needs now the help of the Muslims. Because they of course are much more dangerous. Maybe they will KILL PZ. No, Bill Donahue is smart enough not to ask for PZ to be killed, but he is using the general fear for Muslims (all Muslims are terrorists of course) as a tool for his own war. Unfortunately, it is not going to work, because the impression I get from PZ Myers is that is is not going to back down from treats, no, it will make him just more determined to do so.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Upping the stakes

Ha, how do you get someone not to do something? You up the stakes. At least, in theory.

So, what is in the eyes of many Catholics more dangerous that desecrating a communion wafer? A Koran. So, many Catholics have made this request to him, in the hope he would not dare to do something like that, and back of, or at least be able to show that he is a coward. Unfortunately, it just escalates further. Congratulations, the dispute has just escalated a step further. So, what will be the next demand to him so that the requesters think they can show he is a coward/moron?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What Catholics do not get about Atheists (and visa versa)

I have been writing about the brouhaha (here and here), and I just couldn't wrap my mind around what was annoying me about many of the responses from both Catholics and Atheists alike. Today, it dawned to me that neither side does any effort to discuss this issue at neutral territory.

Many Catholics argue from the position of the sanctity of the host and that Atheists should just be able to understand that. They don't, because that requires that they accept that the host is indeed the body of Christ as the Catholics say. Every time Catholics start from that position, they already have lost before even opening their mouth.

Along the same vein, Atheists argue from the position that only what Science can prove does exist, assuming that religious people should just be able to understand that. They don't, because that requires that they ignore their experiences, experiences that are very real to many of them, even if science could prove they are mere delusions. So, every time a Atheist starts from that position, they already have lost before even opening their mouth.

The issue is not whether or not the host of actually the body of Christ, or anything metaphysical, or just a unleavened piece of bread or a cracker. To focus on the object, the discussion is going to be derailed, regardless, because it ignores the human behind the statement.

I think it is a sound principle to respect each and every person in this world, within limits of course, as I would not pay respect to someone who wants to murder me. But as a basic principle, yes. Now, we just have to hope that people can apply this to the current ongoing controversy about desecrating Eucharists. What would happen if Catholics could just say, yes, we understand that for you Atheists only non-religious believes are very important, but for us it is very important and could you respect that, and if the Atheists could just say, yes, we understand that for you Catholics religious believes are very important, but could you respect that for us it is not? Than, the whole story would not be about a cracker, but about people.

But here is the crux, that would also require several people and institutions, including the Catholic church and its representatives, look at themselves and admit that they were wrong. Wrong about using violence, death treats etc. But now that the trenches are dug, I think this is going to be played out till the end, and the mutual understanding will be lost. The Catholic church is never going to apologize to Webster Cook. It took them decades to actually realize that protecting pedophiles was not smart and to apologize for that publicly, and they still have problems with that as various Bishops still protect them. So, I do not have any faith (no pun intended) in the Catholic Church that they will any time soon apologize for this incident. No, I expect this incident to escalate further and run its full course.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Meeting Prof. Steve Steve

Recently, at the evolution meeting, I had the great honour to meet Prof. Steve Steve. he was hanging out with Wesley R. Elsberry and others of the Panda's thumb crew. Proof of the excounter can be found here, where it is obvious that Prof. Steve Steve is fully in love with Nick Matzke.

Friday, July 18, 2008

God Bless! Hail Odin!

I am an Heathen. And that means that I have a whole pantheon full of Gods and Goddesses. I will write more about that at a later stage.

One of my pet peeves is the repeated blessings that I receive from good meaning people in the form of "God Bless". I know they mean well, but sometimes, it irritates the hel(l) out of me. And it irritates me so much not for the fact that they bless me, what bad can that do, but for the fact that they would be hell bend if I would reply back with: "Hail Odin", which would be the appropriate response for me. And believe me, I have done this in discussions with an Evangelical Christians, and they were often very offended.

For me, this has everything to do with tolerance, or intolerance to be more precise. Why is it okay to say "God Bless" to someone and be offended if they reply in kind with their own deity of choice? To me, this is a situation of different standards. One for Christians and one for everybody else. It has to change.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hate Crime?

A few days ago, I wrote about the Eucharist incident in Florida, and the fragility of the believes of many Catholics. Some thing that keep me thinking is that some compared it with a hate crime:

"We don't know 100% what Mr. Cook's motivation was," said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. "However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it." (Emphasis mine)
Let me get this straight, a Hate Crime?

First of all, we need a crime! Right? So, what is the crime here. The Eucharist was handed to him with the idea that it is consumed. So, we can dismiss charges like stealing etc. At most, you can claim he did not follow the implied contract that came with the acceptance of the host, and that is that he had to eat it immediately.

The next action is done by a representative of the Catholic church. But unfortunately, the stories vary to much to be sure what happened exactly. But for the sake of the argument, lets assume that Webster Cook indeed committed a crime punishable in regular court. I personally doubt it, but lets just assume.

To make it a hate crime, we have to prove intent that it was a crime that was motivated by hate towards the Catholic church. So, he did not eat it immediately. Why? He claims because he wanted to show it to his friend, and then consume it as intended. So, where is the hateful motivation, the intent to hurt someone because of the nature of the person or entity. It was not there. It is easy to claim that it was a hate crime because he stole it and took it out of the church. But there is a lot that happens, and that is unclear, between receiving the host and walking out of the church. Much of it is reactionary to events, attacks etc that happened in that between period.

In the coming weeks, it will be interesting what is going to happen in this case. What is the university going to do, what is the church going to do. I would not be surprised if this action has consequences within the church itself for Webster, but in the regular courts, I doubt it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Fragile Religion

I guess many of you have already heard about the little storm raging through primarily the blogosphere. A student senator from the University of Central Florida (UCF) takes a friend to Catholic mass to show him what it means to be Catholic. So, instead of immediately eating the Eucharist after it is given to him, he take it with him to his seat to show the friend before consuming it. The person handing out the Eucharist get angry, and the senator decides to take it home instead of eating it in the church. He later return it, but by that time, an evangelical atheist, PZ Myers, has jumped into the arena after which the Catholic League, or better, Bill Donohue, comes to the defence of the Catholic Church and starts a campaign to get PZ Myers fired. Death treats are mailed to both the UCF student senator and PZ Myers. Nice job guys, it is obvious to me that for some Catholics, a transubstantiated cracker is apparently worth more than a humans life. O, I forgot, a non-Catholic's human life as he obviously needs to be excommunicated.

Personally, I think it is fine to anybody to do whatever they see fit, as long as they do not force me to believe things the way they see it. That Catholics believe that the wafer has been transubstantiated to the body of Christ is one thing. To use physical violence to get it back, sorry, no go. Some go as far as saying it was a hate crime. My good grief, really.

What interest me more is the fragility of the believe of many Catholics. Apparently, the act of one person can bring down a whole community. Yes, really!
"We have to make acts of reparation," Gonzalez said. "The whole community is going to turn to prayer. We'll ask the Lord for pardon, forgiveness, peace, not only for the whole community affected by it, but also for [Cook], we offer prayers for him as well."
Well, isn't this a wonderful thing to give to your enemies? The perfect weapon to bring down whole communities. You steal a Eucharist, hold it in a zip-lock bag, and you have the fate of the whole community in your hands. Did someone already demand ransom for a Eucharist?

It made me look at my own religion. My religion is something that is in me, not in the objects I use. The objects I use are just ways to represent some things, they are nice, but I could do without them. Once, I complained to a friend that I did not have rune stones. He responded: "Of course you have runes tones, just take some scraps of paper, draw the rune stones on it, and there you go." He was right, and it is one of the central ideas that I like about Heathenism, their practical angle to life, religion and the universe.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Religion VERSUS Science: Really?

One topic I am going to discuss frequently is the supposed incompatibility of science and religion. For me, they are anything but incompatible. Science is by definition limited to the natural world, in other words, that what we can see, measure, make visible, and test. Religion by definition is dealing with the supernatural, that what science cannot see, measure make visible or test.

Sure, many religious people claim that there is a direct influence of deities on our material world, but unfortunately for them, science has been unable to verify that. At the same time, it is impossible for science to address something that does not have a signature in the natural world. So, whether gods and goddesses actually exist, who know, science at best is agnostic about it.

I have a problem with both evangelical/fundamentalist religious people of any religion, as well as evangelical/fundamentalist atheists. Anybody who claims that they have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is deluded, nothing less.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Who is Heathen Scientist?

Four years ago, I was offered a post-doctoral position in Tallahassee, Florida, so I packed up my stuff and moved. From the low lands in Europe, The Netherlands, you get an idea about how the US is, but that is not the USA from the Deep South. Tallahassee might be in Florida, but as they say in Florida, "the more North you go, the more South you get", and that is definitely true, this is more like South Georgia and Alabama.

America is supposed to be the country of Freedom, but as some say, only if you are a white Christian heterosexual conservative male. Well, except for the white, I fail the remaining categories:
  1. I am a female.
  2. I am a lesbian.
  3. I am a Heathen.
  4. I am a socialist.
And related to those, but definitely a major aspect of the culture wars here:
  1. I am an evolutionary biologist
Over and over again, I am left gasping for breath about the insanity of the culture wars, especially when you come from a country where it is not an issue to be a lesbian, or a Heathen, or a socialist, or an evolutionary biologist. Anyway, I intent to write about those insanities I encounter........