Monthly Archives: April 2014

Smart Badger

Don’t try to tell me some animals aren’t intelligent. I have believed they are as long as I can remember, from reading about their antics when I was a kid and since. They don’t have human intelligence, but a lot of them are pretty smart anyway. Any scientist who doesn’t believe this simply isn’t paying attention, or else he or she is too emotionally invested in their human-centric view to admit it.

I’m convinced that one of my dogs was quite intelligent, and so are many other dogs. I always assumed our nearest relatives, the great apes, were even more intelligent. And indeed they probably are. But now we know that dolphins are about equal to the apes, and certain birds aren’t far behind. Octopuses (octopi, octopodes, whatever) also appear to have quite a bit of it, whatever it is that makes them smart.

There’s probably a lot more intelligence in the animal world than we realize even yet.

Emotional Investment

Some people seem immune to facts. Not just feeble minded people, either. Some are highly intelligent and well educated, which makes their inability to accept new information dangerous to other people who look up to them.

What demon has such a grip on these people’s minds? Why can’t they integrate new information into their minds and discard old idea that no longer fit?

Well, as one of them I know is fond of saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Nobody wants to fall for anything, and the quote contains enough truth to be persuasive. The problem is when they take it too far. It’s important to stand for your beliefs, and indeed I stand for mine in this blog and other places. The problem is that even our most strongly held beliefs can be wrong; and when new information comes along, it’s time to correct them. A wise man once described faith as “believing what you know ain’t true.” Don’t keep on standing for a wrong idea after you learn it isn’t true.

Skeptical Science offers a few more ways people become so emotionally invested they can no longer accept new information that contradicts their existing opinions. (The Skeptical Science article concerns a specific  husband and wife and their online discussion, but the excerpts remain just as true.)

There is also a very heavy emotional investment at play here at many different levels …

  • In themselves: Once you take a stance in public, it is quite challenging for individuals to then change their mind – humans have this psychological need to stick with the original stance no matter what comes along. This is because we demand consistency with ourselves even when it makes no sense to do so. We also appear to become emotionally attached to specific answers (perhaps akin to the way we also become emotionally attached to specific items) and so we can find it hard to let go. Once we promote an idea, it ceases to be an idea and becomes our idea. We become, in short, highly resistant to changing our minds because our answer has become part of who we are, and so any threat to it feels like a threat to us
  • In each other: (The husband and wife) are also very much entangled here emotionally – they are husband and wife, so each is driven by an emotional bond to support the other no matter what. To back down and acknowledge “actually yes, that idea being promoted by my partner is nonsense” is simply unthinkable and not a viable step for either of them to take … ever.
  • In the belief: They also both have a very heavy emotional investment in the belief itself, everything they do is in many ways built upon this emotional foundation, so much so, that even starting to consider that possibility that the belief might not be true is not a viable option.

So they will remain immune to factual rebuttals . . .

Even that’s not all.

Many people spend their whole lives promoting nonsense. Like religion, for instance. When a pastor of a church is presented with new (to him or her) information that should overturn their beliefs, it simply doesn’t “take,” in most cases. When it does take, it may be a decade or longer before the pastor can actually stand up and say, “I was wrong.” Not only is it extremely difficult to say, “I have been wrong all this time,” but in many cases, the pastor’s income also depends on continuing to preach the nonsense. If one has a family to support, and has little training for the job market, this places terrible pressure on the pastor to keep on preaching — and believing — what he or she has preached all along.

There is, in fact, a forum composed of more than 400 anonymous pastors of churches who no longer believe what they preach, but who cannot yet admit it to their church. They work together to find solutions to the problem and help each other to “come out” safely. I sympathize with them. I was not a pastor, but it still took me a full decade and more to overcome the beliefs that had been literally drilled into me from birth. (Did you ever hear of an Independent Baptist “sword drill”?)


A rebuttal of a silly assertion is on one level pointless because they cannot change their minds, it is in effect a symptom of the real problem – the issue is not that they face the wrong facts, but rather comes down to how they work out what is and is not factual. Tackle that issue and then the rest will naturally sort itself out.

I would add that it is at times still appropriate to respond with a rebuttal for silly claims, not because it will change the mind of the claimant, but rather because there are often many fence sitters who do appreciate good reliable factual information – they have not made a public stance and so are open to the idea of changing their mind. Perhaps they have been brought up with only one side of a conversation, and so hearing the other side often does open eyes and change minds.

Stand up for what you believe, but try hard to be sure your beliefs incorporate the latest facts. You don’t want to spend your whole life standing up for nonsense.


Neil deGrasse Tyson on Race and Gender

A black astrophysicist named Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who heads the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, may be the best known, best respected, and most popular scientist in the United States since Carl Sagan. He hosts the new Cosmos series running on Fox News and several other channels every Sunday night. In 2000, People magazine named him the sexiest astrophysicist alive.

Tyson discusses how he decided, at the age of nine, that he wanted to be an astrophysicist, and his determination never wavered. Many roadblocks were put in his way by teachers and others when they found out what he wanted to be. Several of them suggested sports, instead. He believes women with an interest in science have to overcome the same kinds of hurdles, put in their way by our culture.

We must stop putting obstacles in the paths of women and minorities. We need them to help solve the overwhelming problems we face as a species.

More on Terrorism in Saudi Arabia

On the 10th of this month, I told you that I would be considered a terrorist under new Saudi Arabian law, and could be sentenced to prison for up to 20 years. Why? What did I do? Nothing. It’s what I believe that makes me a criminal. It’s because I doubt there is or ever has been a god. Here’s a little more info on that.

Atheist Republic reports that “Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, Article 32 of which guarantees freedom of speech and opinion, and Article 28, the rights to peaceful assembly and association.” Nevertheless King Abdullah has violated this agreement by passing these egregious laws against thinking people.

I personally have no intention of ever visiting Saudi Arabia, so I should be (I hope!) safe from the evil clutches of this malevolent dictator. But there must be thousands of good men and women in that country who have suddenly found themselves subject to prison just for disagreeing with something the king believes.

This is the same king who has always dehumanized women. I understand it is the only Muslim Country that forbids women to drive.

I have a female friend who once entered that country a few hours ahead of her husband and was immediately jailed for prostitution. The “evidence” for this ridiculous claim was that she was a woman traveling alone. How stupid can they get?

Former President Bush probably should have included Saudi Arabia in his Axis of Evil, along with Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. It is little (if any) better than any of them, and definitely should not be considered an ally of the United States.


Axis of Evil

It may be the only thing George Bush 2nd got right while he was president of the United States, that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea form an Axis of Evil.

Flag of North Korea
Flag of North Korea

North Korea is officially designated the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but there is nothing democratic about it. It is the size of Mississippi, has a population of 16 million poverty stricken and starving people, and has a million-man army, the fourth largest in the world. Their “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-un, lives in luxury in the capital city of Pyongyang, and has the power of life and death over them.

Take a peek at how North Koreans are treated by their own “Dear Leader,” the third in a succession of evil god-kings beginning with his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, when the nation was formed in 1948.

The Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve

Professor Richard Dawkins narrates as another biologist dissects the neck of a giraffe which had recently died in a zoo. The nerve they are studying serves the larynx and coordinates making sounds, breathing, and swallowing.

In our fish ancestors — as in modern fish — the nerve runs a very short distance from the brain to the gills, near the heart — “a couple of inches” in a fairly large fish. But when the fish began to develop necks and evolve into amphibians, reptiles, and finally mammals, and the heart moved downward in the body, the nerve was forced to loop down through the chest, around the aorta, and back up the neck to the larynx.

In humans this is just a few unnecessary inches, but how does it work in a giraffe?

The reason for dissecting the neck of this giraffe was to see how this particular nerve is routed. The experiment had been performed only once before, in 1838, so this was a confirmation of the original experiment.

Sure enough, the nerve wound down through the giraffe’s long neck, around the aorta, and all the way back up the neck to the larynx. As Dawkins concludes, it is easy to understand how this strange situation evolved, step by step. But it is not a situation any designer would have created.


A Little Worm

a little worm
a little worm

So do I, Sir David. I cannot believe in that kind of god.

Another person I have to wonder about is the sweet little nine-year-old Heidi, in San Antonio, Texas, who was kidnapped in August, 1990, by someone she apparently trusted. He raped her repeatedly, eventually throttled her to death with her own underwear, and left her body in a field to rot. (I didn’t personally know Heidi, but my then-wife was her music teacher.)

Presumably your god also created the monster that did this.

And don’t talk to me about the monster’s “god-given” free will, unless you’re also ready to explain why he let the monster take away the little girl’s own “god-given” free will.

Heidi came from a devout Christian home. Where was the god they loved and prayed to?

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

Why did the chicken cross the road?
Why did the chicken cross the road?

Gosh-darn it, he’s a maverick!

(This has apparently been circulating on the internet for a while. I originally received it by email. I consider most such circulated items to be pure junk, to be deleted and never thought of again. But I like this one. Not only is it well written, showing that somebody actually put a lot of thought into it. But it’s also both genuinely funny and thought-provoking, as well. I like it.)

SARAH PALIN:  The chicken crossed the road because, gosh-darn it, he’s a maverick!

BARACK OBAMA: Let me be perfectly clear, if the chickens like their eggs they can keep their eggs.  No chicken will be required to cross the road to surrender her eggs.  Period.

JOHN McCAIN:  My friends, the chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

HILLARY CLINTON:  What difference at this point does it make why the chicken crossed the road.

GEORGE W. BUSH:  We don’t really care why the chicken crossed the road.  We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road or not.  The chicken is either with us or against us.  There is no middle ground here.

DICK CHENEY:  Where’s my gun?

COLIN POWELL:  Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.

BILL CLINTON:  I did not cross the road with that chicken.

AL GORE:  I invented the chicken.

JOHN KERRY:  Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it!  It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken’s intentions.  I am not for it now, and will remain against it.

AL SHARPTON:  Why are all the chickens white?

  The problem we have here is that this chicken won’t realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before it goes after the problem on the other side of the road.  What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he is acting by not taking on his current problems before adding any new problems.

OPRAH:  Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross the road so badly.  So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I’m going to give this chicken a NEW CAR so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.

ANDERSON COOPER:  We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.

  That chicken crossed the road because he’s guilty!  You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.

PAT BUCHANAN:  To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

MARTHA STEWART:  No one called me to warn me which way the chicken was going.  I had a standing order at the Farmer’s Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level.  No little bird gave me any insider information.

DR SEUSS:  Did the chicken cross the road?  Did he cross it with a toad?  Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I’ve not been told.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY:  To die in the rain, alone.

  Because the chicken was gay!  Can’t you people see the plain truth?  That’s why they call it the ‘other side.’  Yes, my friends, that chicken was gay.  If you eat that chicken, you will become gay too.  I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the Liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like ‘the other side.’  That chicken should not be crossing the road.  It’s as plain and as simple as that.

GRANDPA:  In my day we didn’t ask why the chicken crossed the road.  Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough for us.

BARBARA WALTERS:  Isn’t that interesting?  In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish it’s lifelong dream of crossing the road.

ARISTOTLE:  It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

JOHN LENNON:  Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

BILL GATES:  I have just released eChicken2013, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents and balance your checkbook.  Internet Explorer is an integral part of eChicken2013.  This new platform is much more stable and will never reboot.

  Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

COLONEL SANDERS:  Did I miss one?

Yes, We’ll Have No Bananas

Cavendish Bananas
Cavendish Bananas

America’s favorite fruit may soon be extinct.

According to the NewsDaily, on April 14, 2014, “The United Nations warned on Monday of the potential ‘massive destruction’ of the world’s $5.0-billion (3.6-billion euro) a year banana crop as a plant disease spreads from Asia to Africa and the Middle East.”

Part of the problem is that Americans eat only one variety of bananas, called the Cavendish, and it amounts to 47% of the world banana crop. The Cavendish variety is subject to being killed off by a mutated fungus called the TR4 variety of Panama disease.

Panama disease struck earlier, in the 1950s, and wiped out popular banana varieties then. But it was a different strain of the disease, and Cavendish was immune. This time, the TR4 mutant strain of the fungus disease is destroying Cavendish crops.

“There is no cure for TR4, which particularly affects the Cavendish variety that accounts for 47 percent of world banana production — by far the biggest,” according to the article.

So far, the fungus is limited to Southeast Asia and has not reached South America where most Cavendish bananas are grown; but Gert Kema, director of the banana research programme at Wageningen University in the Netherlands said, “It’s not a question of whether it will arrive but when. There’s no prevention.”

The disease is soil borne and can remain alive in the soil for decades, so quarantines are in place where it already exists, with methodologies including foot washing when leaving an infected field. But there is no known cure, once a tree is infected.

Eat your bananas while you can.