Monday, December 6, 2010

NYTimes doesn't count on you reading carefully

These article listings came up on my NYTimes app today - the second one caught my attention:

The editors could have inserted stronger language in the Dickens subheading, considering that dead men don't normally visit talk shows, that is unless Oprah plans to go do some grave digging.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


My latest paper got accepted for publication in the journal Development and I'm pretty stoked about it - a lot of time, energy, sweat, and even a few tears went into my most recent manuscript. After publishing, every scientist hopes that their work will be noticed and cited throughout the field. You can always go check online and see how many times your paper has been cited, or whether or not your paper has been deposited in the pubmed database.

Well, today I got a very nice surprise, however temporary it may be. One of the hottest topics in cell biology today is turning a terminally differentiated cell (like a skin cell) into a pluripotent stem cell (like an embryonic stem cell), which can then be used to make any other cell type you want. It's a pretty powerful phenomenon that promises to revolutionize regenerative medicine. The process by which a differentiated cell reverts back to a more pluripotent state is referred to as reprogramming.

Imagine my delight when, after going to the pubmed database and typing in "reprogramming" to see what the latest and greatest reports are saying, my very own paper showed up! Take a look at this screenshot:

Here are two zoom pics if you can't see it:

That's my name there - Cook MS! Now, as cool as this is, my excitement is a bit tempered for two reasons:

1) In a day or two, when the next paper with the keyword "reprogramming" comes into the database, my paper will be kicked out of the number one spot. It will stay in the list for "reprogramming", but everything is listed in chronological order of publishing date.

2) The subject of my paper was not directly about turning differentiated cells into stem cells, nor did we (the authors) list "reprogramming" as a key word. The work is on a very related topic, but we do not include any direct reprogramming experiments - it seems as if the paper is listed because it has implications for and we discuss reprogramming. Still cool, but it's not as if we're changing a paradigm or anything.

However, for today I will revel in the knowledge that despite all of the research going on in the entire world about one of the hottest topics in stem cell biology, my paper is temporarily listed as number one in the pubmed research database associated with the term "reprogramming".


Monday, November 29, 2010

Creationists and the 2nd law of Thermodynamics

On the upcoming 17th episode of the Pascals Bettors podcast, we have a Counter Creationism Corner where we discuss a common misconception that creationists put forth about evolution. A favorite claim by some creationists who try to dispute evolution is that “The second law of thermodynamics prohibits evolution”. Not surprisingly, creationists who claim this know just as little about thermodynamics as they do about evolution. Thomas Kindell, founder and president of Reasons for Faith Ministries, purports just such a claim that you can watch for yourself here - that is, if you can stomach even the first five minutes of it.

Most people don’t fully understand, and thus can’t question, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but it has the allure of being one of the foundational tenets of a paradigm in physics, and people more readily question something that is referred to as a “theory of evolution” rather than a “law of thermodynamics”. The idea behind this argument is to present a seemingly longstanding scientific principle pertaining to a hard science, like physics, to topple the weaker, younger science of evolutionary theory. While this type of argument may have some emotional appeal, if creationists knew anything about the timelines of these two disciplines they would know why this is such a farce: Charles Darwin published his book, On the origin of Species, in 1859, but Darwin and others had put forth simple notions and publications about evolution much earlier. Although naturalistic thinking on biology dates back over 2600 years ago to the 6th century BCE with the greek philosopher Anaximander, proto-evolutionary ideas were set forth as early as 1745 by a few natural philosophers like Pierre Maupertuis, and later in 1796 by Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin's grandfather. Alternatively, thermodynamics emerged in the early to mid-1800s, largely due to the work of French physicist Nicolas Carnot, who believed that engine efficiency was the key to help France win the Napoleonic wars. It wasn’t until Lord Kelvin in 1854 that a concise definition of thermodynamics was recorded. Thus, even from the get-go, it seems that evolution has been around as long as, if not longer, than thermodynamics. BUT - this shouldn't matter anyways because it would be a logical fallacy to say that one science is more correct than another just because it has been around longer - so let's move on.

To begin our conversation about this topic, it is important to define our terms. Thermodynamics is the science of energy conversion involving heat and other forms of energy, most notably mechanical work. It turns out that, over time, several laws of thermodynamics have emerged. There are four well-known laws of thermodynamics: the zeroth, first, second, and third laws. The zeroth law is arguably the most fundamental of the four laws, but the need to state it explicitly was not understood until after the other laws had been formulated, in 1931. This law implies the definition of a temperature function, essentially demonstrating the possibility of constructing a thermometer. It is referred to as the zeroth because it is arguably the most fundamental of the four laws, but the need to state it explicitly was not understood until after the other laws had been formulated, in 1931. The first law (1850) is commonly expressed as the principle of the conservation of energy stating that the internal energy of an isolated system is constant - also commonly known as “energy cannot be created or destroyed” - this principle is at work in E=mc2, the equation that demonstrates the force of the atomic bomb, that matter and energy are interchangeable and the conversion of matter to energy is highly exothermic.

The second law (iterations in 1850, 1851, and 1909) states that heat cannot spontaneously flow from a colder location to a hotter location. This has to do with the universal principle of decay in the universe. The second law is an observation of the fact that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential tend to even out in a physical system that is isolated from the outside world. For example, this is how a space heater would work in your house - if you’re cold, you turn on the space heater - the heat produced in the heater is transferred to the air surrounding the heater which then increases in pressure and diffuses throughout the room until the air in the room produces a higher temperature equilibrium. As a result, you get warmer because the heat from the air is transferred to your body through contact. This is where it gets confusing. ENTROPY is a measure of how much this evening-out process has progressed, and entropy of a system not in equilibrium increases over time.

The word entropy is one of the most misunderstood concepts in thermodynamics, particularly by the creationists. It is a measure of the energy not available for work in a thermodynamic process. Think of it as diffusable heat in a room - the room itself is a closed system, until someone turns on a space heater - at this point, heat energy starts pouring in at one point in the room. According to the second law of thermodynamics, heat will transfer from the heater to the rest of the room. When the heater is turned off, the remaining heat will eventually diffuse and equilibrate throughout the entire room - as this happens, entropy increases until equilibrium is reached, at which point maximum entropy is recorded for the now closed system - but remember! This all changes if we turn the heater on again and create an open system with an outside input of energy.

The trouble with the word entropy comes in with its definition in the microscopic interpretation of statistical mechanics: entropy expresses the disorder or randomness of the constituents of a thermodynamic system. Unfortunately, many people walk away from this definition thinking that entropy = disorder on a macroscopic level. ENTER: the creationists! They think they are clever by saying “HA! You and I are complex and ordered! We could not have arisen through a process of evolution because the 2nd law of thermodynamics states that everything tends towards increased entropy, or disorder! HAHA!” This idea is absurd on its face for several reasons:

1) Disorder and entropy are not the same - the second law of thermodynamics deals with entropy. There are no laws about things tending to “break down”. There are no laws about disorder as people normally use the word. The 2nd law is about spontaneous heat flow or, more generally, about the impossibility to perform useful work indefinitely. The twists put on it by creationists, including “organized complexity” are entirely fictional.

2) All systems do not tend toward decay and disorder - on Earth, there are many systems besides evolution that tend toward greater order. Some examples are ice crystals and snowflakes, cloud formations, ripples in sand and water, cracks in drying mud, streams sorting stones based on size, growing plants when “left alone”, and the development of a human from a single cell. These are clear examples of order arising on Earth.

3) Complexity can form from simplicity - take the example of hurricane formation. This is based on the idea of a pan of water with heat applied uniformly to its bottom developing a convection current that is more complex than the still water. Complex planetary ring systems arise from simple laws of gravitation. Complex ant nests arise from simple behaviors. Complex organisms arise from simple seeds and embryos. A good mathematical example of this is the Mandelbrot set which describes fractals:

4) Earth is not a closed system - our planet is not an isolated system. There is a constant input of energy from the sun. Without the sun, it is clear that no life would be possible on our planet. Sunlight (with low entropy) shines on the earth, and heat (with higher entropy) radiates off. This flow of energy, and the change in entropy that accompanies it, can and will power local decreases in entropy on earth.

5) Even in a closed system, pockets of lower entropy can form if they are offset by increased entropy elsewhere in the system - the second law *does* apply universally (to our universe). But it allows for a local decrease in entropy to be offset by increases elsewhere. Intriguingly, the maximum entropy of a closed system of fixed volume is constant, but because the universe is expanding, its maximum entropy is ever increasing, giving ever more room for order to form. Cool, huh?

6) Increasing order is not a violation of the 2nd law, even temporarily. A violation would be a decrease in entropy without a greater increase in entropy to go with it. Neither growth or evolution violate the 2nd law because both take advantage of local differences in entropy to get work done. Evolution requires only reproduction, heritable variation, and natural selection - ALL OF THESE PROCESSES OBVIOUSLY OCCUR. THEREFORE, THERE IS NO VIOLATION OF THE 2ND LAW - if anything, the 2nd law would need to be re-written to accommodate the reality of evolution occurring.

In short, order from disorder happens on earth ALL THE TIME. Creationists who claim otherwise are either deluded or being intellectually dishonest. I'm not sure which of those is worse.

Pascal's Bettors #16

Hey Everyone!

A new podcast has been up since last week. Give it a listen!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Perfect Gas Station

What is wrong with San Francisco? Besides all those other things you just thought of? I'll tell you - gas stations. I mean, the actual, physical setup of the structure and the odd amenities offered and not offered.

Ok, sure, there are plenty of wonderful attributes to this city I moved to almost two and a half months ago. But for all the fuss about reducing my carbon footprint and using public transit, sometimes I need to still drive my car to get to far away places or locations that public transit doesn't connect.

Besides, San Francisco is one of the most dense cities in the US - the streets are lined with cars that need to be taken care of and also need fuel.

Enter the confusing and inept world of SF gas stations.

Statement of disclosure: I have only been to four different stations in the city so far. I know an n=4 isn't great, but it's enough to get my complaints!

#1 why do you advertise the CASH price and not the credit? Because you want to trick me to your station, then laugh when I don't have cash. I never knew there was such a thing as gas CASH vs. gas CREDIT price. I had NEVER paid for gas with cash until I moved to this city. For those who don't know, the credit price is 30 cents more expensive PER GALLON!

#2 Why must you have payment "islands" instead of letting me pay at the fuel pump like every other gas station? Everyone must crowd around a central computing unit, and there are a surprising number of old ladies and foreign nationals that are confused by the endeavor.

#3 Why have a fee for using a debit card? Credit cards already charge me 30 cents extra PER GALLON! And if you don't have cash, you must pay a fee to use your debit card. Is this more incentive to pay with cash? Is there a big financial benefit for you to do this?

#4 Why do you have flat screen TVs at the pump but now towels or fluid so that I can wash my windshield? I thought that was one of the main staples at gas stations across the country - apparently not in San Francisco.

These are just a few of my frustrations in dealing with SF gas stations so far. If you have the answers to these, or any other quirky questions about gas stations on the left coast, please let me know. Otherwise, I will let you know when I find the first all-organic gas station. Oh, wait a minute...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Double the science, double the fun

Just inherited a nice PC monitor in my lab. Now I can do science TWICE as fast!

Friday, November 12, 2010


An agnostic because of science, an atheist because of probability, an anti-theist because of religion.

For your clarification.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Massive Member

Working in a biology lab is great fun. Although there are many rules to work with vertebrate animals, each standard has been thought through very carefully to consider the ethics of each action. In a mouse lab, we take very good care of the mice, making sure that their bellies are full of food, that any pain they experience is minimal, and that they can enjoy the company of mice of the opposite sex (or same, whatever fills their balloon).

Well, a new male was born in my old lab that seems to have all the female mice crowding just to get a better look ... ok, even the male mice (especially some fabulous ones) are also clamoring to glimpse this biological phenomenon. After years of working in a lab, I have seen mice born with extra toes, extra fingers, split tails, six legs, testicles with tumors that take up the entire peritoneal body cavity, massive spleens, and even two heads. But even *I* had never seen this before.

Males used for breeding purposes in a mouse colony are called 'studs'. This little guy brings a whole new meaning to that word - I'm sure he will be able to fulfill his post well:

Sorry I don't have a control picture to place beside this one to clarify for anyone who is unfamiliar with mouse work. For those of you who may not get it, this male has quite a massive phallus - in fact, it's close to an order of magnitude longer than a normal mouse phallus at his age (~7-10 days old). See the big pendulous member between his hind legs? That's not a double tail, that's his lady-pleaser.

Well, we'll see what the ladies think. I'm hoping he will be used for breeding purposes if possible, but if the mechanics don't look like a good prospect, well, he'll have to live with a bunch of males ... maybe there'll be a cohort in his cage that will be happy about that.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Microscopic Porn

I start my new post-doc on Wednesday. Yay! I hope the people in lab will be nice and fun.

I already miss my friends back in Durham. One of my buddies insisted that he missed me so much he started seeing signs that reminded him of me during his late night studies in the microscope room. He sent me this picture of some cells he's been studying in culture:

The name of this particular cell line? RAW. The name of the cell line is RAW.

I love my friends.

A History of God

OK - trying to get back into the blogging world. Just published a new post over at Pascal's Bettors. It's about Karen Armstrong's book, "A History of God". Check it out. I'll be back with more stuff here soon.

Happy Sunday!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Crossing the Continent to the Left Coast (Part VII)

Nevada is almost as beautiful as Utah (well, the northern part at least). The drive has been amazing and the mountain are majestic ... And annoying to drive over sometimes.

We made it to Reno and dad pointed out the historic whorehouse "Mustang Ranch". When asked how he knew about it, he said tv and friends ... Riiiight.

Actually, that is right. Dad watches lots of tv and has some risqué friends.

We're almost to California - yay!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Crossing the Continent to the Left Coast (Part VI)

After 828 miles of Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada we are stopping for the night. I can tell you that my favorite state for scenery thus far is Utah.

The tiny pictures above do not do it justice. The first was taken after entering Utah from the desolate, barren Wyoming. Green was nice to see on the hill sides, and going downhill was a big plus too. The view on I-80 up to Salt Lake City was simply amazing. Then, we travelled through the salt flats of Utah. AMAZING. We had our first bit of rain over the approximate 100 miles of salt. Is this where Mormons search for souls? Maybe they take non-Mormons, give them some salt from here on their food, and it magically converts them. Or maybe it's what makes their women so fertile to grow the religion.

Either way, I'm pooped for the night. On to Reno and then San Francisco tomorrow!

Crossing the Continent to the Left Coast (Part V)

Wyoming. Is. Big. After 180 miles of Nebraska to finish we took on all 400 miles of Wyoming. It is reported to be the least populated state - I have no trouble believing that at all. Trouble is, there's not a lot of different stuff to see, and what little there is is not green.

But we escaped to the utopic Utah! Mote on that soon.

Crossing the Continent to the Left Coast (Part IV)

Renewable energy anyone? Wyoming has brought lots of windmills and cattle ranches thus far ... as well as a transmission fluid pressure leak :-/ Dad and I are proceeding with caution and will let you know what's up after getting through Laramie - hopefully there will be no gay bashing while I'm visiting.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Crossing the Continent to the Left Coast! (Part III)

Almost ready to stop driving for day two. We've made it through indiana, Illinois, Missouri, a tiny bit of Iowa, and a hell of a lot of corn fields in Nebraska. Much of our scenery today can be summarized in the above picture.

After 860 miles today and a total of 1528 miles thus far, we have gone past the halfway point to the west coast. We will drive I-80 directly into San Francisco two days from now. Tomorrow will bring the Rocky Mountains so be on the lookout for some great pictures.

Happy cornhusking!

Crossing the Continent to the Left Coast! (Part II)

We recently crossed the mighty Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri. Dad caught a picture of the gateway arch (above).

We're well on our way to Kansas City now and hope to eat some lunch on the way. Remember to visit my facebook page and see all the churches I've "checked in" at and blasphemed with my prsence on my way to the coastal city of Sodom, er, San Francisco.

Good afternoon from west of the Mississippi!

Crossing the Continent to the Left Coast! (Part I)

Well, I got a job in San Francisco - godless, gay, liberal Mecca, BUT home to MUCH woo-woo that I'm sure you will hear about on my blog.

I'm currently crossing the country, driving the I-80 route with my dad towing many of my possessions in a 6'x12' U-Haul trailer. It's been a pretty smooth ride so far. We started in Nashville, NC and left around 8:30AM yesterday. After traveling down I-40 to Winston Salem we caught 52 North past Pilot Mountain into Virgina, then West Virginia (onto I-77 via I-74), hopping on to I-64 west at Charleston, entering Kentucky, and finally getting all the way to Ferdinand, Indiana. We're a few miles away from one of the largest water theme parks on the North American Continent called Holiday World - in fact, they have the longest water slide in the world (interestingly, after asking how long the slide must be to be the longest slide in the world, the hotel front desk worker responded that it is effectively "two minutes" long. I'm not an avid water slide lover, so I'm not exactly sure how long that is). The comfort Inn we're staying at is FULL of children age 2-12 and their parents who don't know how to make sure they behave.

I've been using the "check in" feature on Facebook mobile to let my friends know where I am throughout the day. I started checking in at local churches as we passed by, because I figured that you all might get a kick out of thinking that I'm stopping in to pay my "respects" or something.

We're on the edge of the time zone change and are up early to get on the road with some sunshine. We made it about 670 miles yesterday. I'll try to log on and let you know how we do today!

Talk to you again in another 700 miles or so :-)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gonad Fun Fact

Did you know that only one cell type in your body is responsible for passing on your DNA to the next generation? You may call them sperm or eggs, but biologists call them germ cells, because they represent your germline, or hereditary material that is passed on.

While males have an endless supply of sperm due to a germline stem cell, females are only endowed with a limited set of germs that eventually mature or die. Once they're all gone, hormone levels change dramatically which facilitates the onset of menopause. Because men don't naturally run out of germ cells, they are not subject to these sorts of hormonal changes.

Thank goodness I'm not a girl.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gonad Fun Fact

Guys, did you know that your gonads are not as symmetrical as you think? Testicular cancer is slightly more common in the right than the left testis.

In fact, the way in which blood drains from the testes is a bit different. The left testis drains into the renal vein which then connects to the superior vena cava. However, the right testis drains directly into the vena cava. This suggests that vascular differences might account for laterality phenotypes observed in the human population.

Now you know!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

PhD stands for ...

This is a great illustration of what it means to get your PhD and how to keep it in perspective. I'm reposting it below for easy access. (This was first published on Gizmodo and was created by Matt Might at the University of Utah)

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a bachelor's degree , you can a specialty:

A master's degree deepens that specialty:

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

Once you're at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And that dent you've made is called a Ph.D.:

Of course, the world looks different to you now:

So, don't forget the bigger picture:

Keep pushing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Giving up imaginary friends

I am moving across the country soon, and that means lots of cleaning and packing. I have pulled things out of the closet and from under the bed that go back as far as elementary school. It is odd rummaging through personal items like this; it is as if I am rummaging through my own past. Touching the items brings back wonderful/terrible/tepid memories which are linked to sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings. Many of you will experience this phenomenon (if you haven't already) and so it's difficult to share anything original here. However, I wanted to share with you a few of the things I have come across while packing. Two items in particular have brought back a deluge of memories and have confounded my decision to treasure or trash them: one will be kept and the other one will not. Here is a list of some things I have found while packing, and the last one represents my final step in giving up imaginary friends.

Many things I still want to keep: pictures with friends, awards earned, first piano books played from, greeting and personal cards from friends and family over the years.

Some things will obviously be thrown away: old school notes, college dorm room posters, connection cables to a camera that was lost years ago.

A few things will be thrown away with relish: reminders of bad relationships in the past, left-over Christian literature from a different time in my life.

One thing will be burned with ecstasy: Harun Yahya's creationist book, Atlas of Creation, which has served as coffee table book to gawk at with visitors. I remember it being sent to my mentor at Duke - she quickly discarded it and it wound up in my home as a point of hilarity among my friends and especially the Bettors. It's time to move on and that enormous monstrosity of a book will be good for warmth on a cool night and an excuse to get the Bettors together for some quality, heathen good time.

One thing will be kept, though my instinct was to throw it away or burn it: my journal from spring semester of sophomore year in college. The journal spans roughly eight months, surrounding my study abroad in Spain. This is back in the days when I dated girls and was a Bible-believing Christian. Reading the first entries of this journal were gut-wrenching. Such a stupid, silly young guy - confused about sexuality and even more confused by the universe. The beginning of that journal represented my thoughts unfiltered, yet imbued by the world-view of the small, conservative, hardcore Christian upbringing of my childhood. It pains me to see how lost I was then, and how the people I trusted were not the ones who would lead me out of the woods. After reading a few of the early entires I wanted to throw the journal away, and so I did. And I sat there. Then I picked it up out of the trash can and kept

reading - month three, month five, month seven. I changed so much over those eight months. I came out of the closet to my girlfriend. I started to seriously question basic religious and theological paradigms. Questions - by the end of the journal it is filled with questions. I found solace in quotes by Albert Einstein, Oscar Wilde, and Michael Shermer. The seeds of questioning had been implanted, and this journal represented the time of my life when those seeds were nurtured and fertilized. I cannot throw this journal away - I will keep it and cherish it.

One thing has been most difficult to throw away, but today it has finally landed in the trashcan: my teen study bible (see image). It has been packed away under my bed for the last five years - untouched, unused, but worn at the seams from the decade of use during my adolescence. It has been packed away because of some unrecognizable emotional connection to it the last time I came across it. Now the edges are shorn, and the margins are filled with thoughts, references to other verses, and prayers. Many selfish prayers, some unselfish prayers, few original thoughts. It represents a time in my life when I relied on the authority of others to answer the important questions, and a time when I often spoke out loud to an imaginary person (or persons - I could never quite figure out the trinity). One major difference between my bible and every other book I own, is the number of questions written in the margins. In fact, I cannot find even one question scribbled anywhere. I have many answers and references written inside, but no questions. It has bee

n many years since I last prayed (around five or six) and I realize now that any former ambition to read and study the bible was stymieing my personal and intellectual growth. It is of no use to me now, like a sock with holes in it. It is old, dirty, and I harbor negative feelings towards it, like an ex-boyfriend's toothbrush. It represents a childhood, fairy-tale belief. It is now in a place where socks with holes, old ex-boyfriends' toothbrushes, and imaginary friends belong: the garbage.

I recommend to any Christians out there still reading this that you take the only good piece of advice that your bible has to offer:

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."

--1 Corinthians 13:11

Monday, July 19, 2010

Welcome To This World

Re-post from Pharyngula.

The most disturbing thing about this video is that, even though it's made by The Thinking Atheist, I can imagine it being shown in a church to the approval of the congregation.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Double Entendres in Journalism

The first of many editions yet to come (yep, I said it).

Tired Gay succumbs to Dix in 200 meters
Sat, Jul 03 19:39 PM EDT

By Gene Cherry

EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - Olympic bronze medalist Walter Dix edged out Tyson Gay in the former world champion's hotly-anticipated return to the 200 meters at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting on Saturday.

In the 110 meters hurdles, American David Oliver recorded the fourth fastest 110 meters hurdles of all time with a 12.90 second run.

Gay, who has been battling a nagging hamstring problem for seven weeks, ran his first 200 of the year in 19.76 seconds to finish just shy of Dix, who took control coming off the bend and stayed in front to win in 19.72.

"It wasn't bad, but I was a little fatigued toward the end," Gay said. "I tried to stay relaxed and bring it home, but it wasn't enough."

Dix, who won the 100 meters and placed second at the U.S. nationals last weekend, said his race experience had helped, "but I'm a little beat up, too."

"I was a little sloppy out of the blocks, but I was able to hold on," he added. "Tyson gave me great competition."

Oliver, the Olympic bronze medalist, equaled Dominique Arnold's national record with his second consecutive lifetime best. He ran 12.93 to win the U.S. championships last Sunday.

Only world record holder Dayron Robles (12.87) of Cuba and China's Liu Xiang have run faster.

"I didn't get a great start but I brought it home," Oliver said.

The American left countryman Ryan Wilson (13.16) well behind in second spot.

Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown, the Olympic 200 champion, surprised a talented 100 field with a personal best and season-leading 10.78 seconds to leave her thinking she might double at next year's world championships.

Olympic 100 gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser trailed in 10.82, just ahead of American Carmelita Jeter (10.83).

Three other season-leading marks were set.

American world champion Christian Cantwell used a last-effort throw of 22.41 meters to win the shot put, and world indoor 800 meters champion Mariya Savinova of Russia clocked 1:57.56 to beat Olympic 1,500 gold medalist Nancy Langat of Kenya at the shorter distance.

Sudan's Abubaker Kaki added a fifth season-leading mark when he took the infrequently run 1,000 meters in 2:13.62.

Kenyan Olympic 1,500 champion Asbel Kiprop just missed another when he won the mile in 3:49.75.

Olympic long jump champion Irving Saladino of Panama pulled a mild surprise as he used a wind-assisted leap of 8.46 meters to beat U.S. world gold medalist Dwight Phillips (8.41).

Brazilian world indoor gold medalist Fabiana Murer also came out on top, winning the women's pole vault over Polish world champion Anna Rogowska. Both cleared 4.58 meters. U.S. world leader Jenn Shur failed to clear a height.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez/Ian Ransom)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

You would all get an F!

Glad these were not my students last session. They would have all received "F"s for an inability to think. I don't know who is worse: the students who choose to live in stark ignorance, the parents who lead them there, or the teachers who let it continue unchallenged.

One more day

Going to see Joey tomorrow


Going to start with this:

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Rabbit of Seville

This is one my favorite cartoons from childhood, rediscovered on youtube today. Hope you enjoy it too!

Friday, June 25, 2010

New Podcast

Hey everyone,

Just thought I'd let you know that Pascals' Bettors has our 5th podcast up on the site for you to download. Give us a listen and send some feedback - we'd love to hear from you!

(You can also subscribe to us via iTunes and follow us on Twitter @PascalsBettors)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Look of a Heathen

Let me set the stage:

Bojangles. 1:30PM.
ENTER: Me, the hungry atheist.

I order my favorite 4-piece supreme dinner, mashed potatoes with gravy, delicious honey mustard, and sweet tea. As I sit at the table eating this feast of kings, a suspicious looking middle-aged woman, placing what I assume to be jesus-tracts on cars outside, enters the restaurant, approaches me, and asks, "Do you know if you're going to heaven?"

Wondering at first if I was being recorded from some clandestine location for television, then realizing 'hey, this is north carolina, so probably not' I responded with, "What do you mean by heaven?" She looked confused, started to say something, but I just cut her off and said, "no, I'm not going to heaven." She proceeded to tell me that I could get to heaven through Jesus (if I wanted). I simply replied, "But I do not want to go to heaven."

Not to be de-railed with her witnessing, she sounded very parental and said, "You realize that you're talking about where you will spend eternity." I replied, "I intend to spend eternity where everyone else does - in the ground." With a glazed look in her eye and a forced smile on her face she blurted, "god bless you" and walked away.

I'm so proud to say that after four years of trying, I finally *look* enough like an atheist to get preached at like one by strangers. Thank you, Bojangles. Thank you, Durham.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

All by myself

Well, it's been a struggle for the gays down in Mississippi - not sure that there's a clear victory for Constance; getting your own prom when only a seven people show up may not be ideal, but at least you know who your real friends are. And bringing national (and international) media attention is definitely part of taking a huge step forward in human rights.

Leave it to Bryan Safi to give an informative, yet entertaining, recap for you:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


This webcomic sums up the usual conversation with someone who claims that they are "spiritual" instead of "religious":

Friday, January 22, 2010

Passing thoughts, pressing dreams

Below is a post I wrote last night for our new blog, Without Any Gods:

Tonight I attended a Campus Crusade for Christ (or CRU) event on campus with my non-theist friend Liz. CRU is doing a lecture series on skepticism and Christianity. I missed last week’s talk on hell (shame too, apparently there was compelling evidence discussed for its existence). Tonight’s topic was “Can I trust the Bible?”

Essentially it was a crash course for Christians in how to respond to skeptics of the Bible. The three subquestions addressed were 1) authenticity, 2) corrupt copies, and 3) canon. I really don’t feel like wasting my time re-sharing the tired old retorts that the Bible is real because it’s god’s holy word and that even mistakes over the years haven’t changed the overall message. Instead I want to briefly share with you why the speaker claims that the apocrypha (non-canonical gospels) do not belong.

“The gospels of Thomas, Peter, Judas, Infancy Gospel, etc. are not canonized because:

1) They are not self-authenticating

2) They were published later - 2nd century and beyond

3) They falsely claim apostolic authorship

4) They contain strange/comical ideas”

(The above part is verbatim from the handout that accompanied the lecture)

This list is absurd. My biggest problem is with the first point. The suggestion that something should be defined as true because it says it is true, is a basic premise that we reject everywhere else in our lives - so why not here? Because the Gospel of John claims to be the word of god, then we should believe that it is, and if other gospels don’t explicitly claim to be the word of god then they clearly aren’t. Hmmm - this reminds me of a strange Jedi mind trick … but I thought that was science fiction? I don’t really think I need to belabor this absurd idea - I won’t because I’m sure that you get how ridiculous this circular reasoning is as a criterion for inclusion.

The second point is not true. The first edition of the gospel of Thomas was written at the same time as the earliest letters of Paul, BEFORE the canonical gospels were written (^ a b Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993. “Stages in the Development of Early Christian Tradition” p. 128). John was possibly written in the 2nd century itself. The speaker’s second criterion is not being applied consistently.

The third point is absurd - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not have eponymous authors … ALL were written by other people, and attributed to them. How is that any different from the Infancy Gospels or the Gospel of Judas.

Lastly, the only reason the speaker thinks that there are strange/comical ideas in non-canonical gospels is because he didn’t grow up believing in them. A man who gets killed and rises from the dead after three days is pretty much a zombie, but Christians think that is a sane belief to hold because they’ve been taught it since childhood. A Jesus who brings clay birds to life or curses a live boy to turn into a corpse (Infancy Gospel of Thomas) is apparently absurd … rather “strange/comical”. In the book of Matthew, Chapter 21, Jesus curses a tree to die because it didn’t have fruit for him when he was hungry … this isn’t strange/comical??? As my friend Liz pointed out, wouldn’t it have been even more miraculous if he had blessed the tree to bear fruit instantaneously, or moments later, or a day later? Why did he destroy it? And why isn’t his decision to do this strange or comical? Simple because we’re used to the story.

As the speaker closed the session, Liz and I watched as the lights dimmed, the guitar was strummed, the drums began to beat, and voices were raised in song. Throughout the room of people who were mesmerized by the music, the feeling of fellowship, and the idea of a shared experience, I was left alone to my thoughts - pondering how deep a rabbit hole can burrow before running out of dirt to displace. Instead of stress and frustration, my mind cleared as a sharp realization gave me cause to smile, and while sitting amongst the believers I wrote the following in my notebook:

The joy of knowing that we are stardust, that our very material essence was forged in the fires of one of the most awesome powers the universe contains, overwhelms my disdain for those manifestations who choose to remain in stark ignorance. The irony that it is the universe itself, refusing to acknowledge its own consciousness, has not escaped my attention. I find solace in the knowledge that the fate they await is ultimately equal to mine: a dream, a death, and then a diffusion.