Thursday, December 15, 2011

Goodbye, Christopher

News-wise, living on the west coast is difficult. All the TV shows, news programs, and political punditry is geared for an east coast time zone, so I feel like I'm learning about news after everyone else; unless of course something happens later at night. Unfortunately that has happened tonight, and just about an hour ago I found out that Christopher Hitchens has died from complications related to his esophageal cancer. He was only 62.

While in many places and to many people he is known for his literary and political writing and polemic, I have always loved him for his vigorous fight against superstitious believers. For some years now, it's been my dream to meet Christopher Hitchens - he fought tirelessly for human rights and for freedom from the tyranny of religion. He was a superb debater and had a wit matched by no one. It is sad to know that he is no longer with us to fight the good fight, but he lives on in his writing and in those of us who choose to carry the banner of science, skepticism, and critical thinking.

Almost every time I've seen a video of Hitchens he was smoking or having a stiff drink of whiskey. So tonight, this drink is for you. We'll miss you, Christopher.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas is Not Christian

One of my friends on Facebook posted this video, and I thought that I would re-post it here. It's a little overzealous in its explanation, but it has plenty of great points to make about some facts concerning the Christmas holiday ... namely that most everything about Christmas has nothing to with Christ or Christianity. Essentially pagan practices centered around a pagan holiday were adopted to be part of Christianity starting around the 16th century - but many of the traditions of Christmas time are unoriginal and date back to practices long before Jesus was around. Check out some of the points and leave any interesting comments you might have:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Because He's a Dick

Debating creationists and intelligent design (ID) proponents is a sort of hobby for me. One of my favorite things to do is find the logical inconsistencies in their argument and point it out to them to see what new maneuvers they will try to get out of the intellectual trouble.

The geniuses over at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic have nailed it with a spoof on the well-known argument from design by the 18th century theologian William Paley. You can find the comic here, or see it below:

THE CHRISTIAN ARGUMENT: The world must be designed (by the Christian God). In the same way that you would look at a watch and clearly see all the parts could not have been made and put together by 'chance', so our world runs as intricate and perfectly as a watch, therefore there must be a designer (the Christian God, of course).

THE PROBLEM: The seemingly 'designed' world is full of sickness, death, oppression, tyranny, and disasters that do not discriminate based on race, sex, or religion. Horrible things seem to happen to people across all economic backgrounds and social classes. This indicates an indiscriminate God, a capricious deity, who randomly punishes humans for any whim. The only way this could be consistent with a deity that is also responsible for designing the world is if that deity is a dick. This is highly incompatible with a loving, personal Christian God.

THE ATHEIST RESOLUTION: Instead of supposing that there is a designer and that he's a dick (which is actually far more believable than the Christian version of a designer who actually cares about people), atheists simply (and correctly) challenge the notion that there is any interventionist, designer, or creator at all. It's not necessary, and our world does not need a creator. In fact, many have argued that the world is poorly designed in many ways, suggesting that there could not have been any overseer in the process.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Supplement Infographic

There's a lot of "woo" out there, especially when it comes to dietary supplements. Someone shared a great website with me that helps to cut through all the noise of company propaganda and get to the real issue of whether certain supplements do what they claim to do. This website at InformationIsBeautiful has done a great job at organizing the existing data for taking supplements and displaying it in an interactive chart so that you can see what works and what doesn't - and guess what? The majority of supplements out there don't make the cut.  Figures.

Take this screen shot from one of the latest editions of the chart:

The Y-axis represents whether or not the evidence is strong for the supplement in question. By simply scrolling the mouse over the circle you can see what the target effect is - for example, in the image above, the evidence is strong that garlic is good for lowering blood pressure.

The size of the circle around the supplement ID represents its popularity in Google's search engine. Green tea, folic acid, and vitamin D show the most hits, whereas peppermint oil, devil's claw, and melatonin show the fewest hits. The cool color of these circles represents strong evidence - the brown color indicates that supplement does not have much evidence for or against it, and continued surveillance is important.

Now let's look at what didn't make the cut:

Well, well, well - royal jelly, despite the many late night TV ads that have been put out, is probably one of the biggest flavors of snake oil out there. It bottoms out along with wheat grass, chamomile, papain, and certain anti-oxidants for having no effect.

The next time you see a commercial promoting the ingredient of some supplement for a desired effect, check this chart out to verify the claim - most likely the commercial is over-reaching its claims, and could even be distorting the data. If you want to read the science, just click on the circle the website directs you to peer-reviewed published articles that support the claim or refute it.

It's good to be in the know.

Monday, August 22, 2011


As I've said in other places, I'm an agnostic because of science, an atheist because of probability, and an anti-theist because of religion. No one affirms my last position more clearly than Christopher Hitchens:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Episode 33 is up!

The 33rd episode of Pascal's Bettors podcast has just been uploaded, and this time there's a special godless guest interview with the new Director of Development at American Atheists, AJ Johnson. Plus we have some interesting news items, discussions, and a short (but interesting) ethics corner. Give it a listen! Remember that you can download or play from the website here, or subscribe to us on iTunes.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mr. Deity's Opposition

My how the Deity has grown ... grown to be despised.  See how Lucy Fair Angel gets sucked into the narrative as the bad "guy" - it even has references to all the skeptical brouhaha about sexism that has been going on recently!

Thursday, June 30, 2011


From wiki
Theodicy is a theological or philosophical study which attempts to justify God's (largely in the monotheistic or Abrahamic sense) intrinsic (or foundational) nature of omni-benevolence (all loving), omniscience (all knowing) and omnipotence (all powerful), despite the existence of evil which, in the view of some, would otherwise stand to refute one or more of these qualities or God's existence altogether.
SMBC posted this fantastic illustration of how most people are satisfied with these justification attempts and suggests why a more reality-based alternative to belief in god just doesn't fly with most people:

Monday, June 13, 2011

New podcast episode up!

The latest episode of our podcast is up!  Give us a listen and tell us what you think.  Also, if you have some interesting news stories to submit, or ideas for segments, drop us a line.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The PhD Movie

Brought to you by Jorge Cham, creator and illustrator of Piled Higher and Deeper.

PHD Movie Trailer from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Looking forward to seeing this ... something's got to vindicate my decision to continue the grad student life as a postdoc ....

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In God We Teach

A video documentary is finally being put together about the Kearny, NJ case where a high school student exposed his history teaching for overtly evangelizing during class time to his students.  The student, Matthew LaClair, recorded his teacher, David Paszkiewicz, in the act of pushing creationism and religion in the middle of instruction time.  The ACLU has helped Matthew file a suit - standing up for his rights has resulted in harassment from students and teachers, as well as a death threat.

Here's a preview of the upcoming documentary:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What feels better?

I love my mom.  In part because I already show great promise of growing up to be like her.  Even though she has a Droid and not an iPhone, autocorrect has been as cruel to her as it has been to me, though she's less adept at correcting bad autocorrect mistakes before sending out the final text.  That moment before you figure out that autocorrect is to blame for the very disturbing feeling that your mom just gave you is quite funny, but only after the fact.  I give you, yesterday's autocorrect slip up of the day:

In case you can't figure it out, I'm pretty sure that she meant, "Good...makes me feel better."  Once she realized the mistake she informed me that she actually did not type "nakedness feel better" and then promptly admitted that it was still true though.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Street!

I know that most places have a "Cook Street" somewhere ... my hometown has one too.  But it still excites me to see a Cook Street in San Francisco!

We like to move it, move it ... on MUNI

The month of May has whizzed right by me, but not without a lot of fun-filled days and nights.  My family actually came out to visit me (Mom, Dad, Sister and her boyfriend) for Dad's 60th birthday bash!  It was outrageously fun- we toured all over San Francisco and a little outside the city too.

In the city we went to the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point, the Exploratorium and Palace of Fine Arts, Tartine, Dolores Park, the Castro, Duboce Park, Alamo square, Golden Gate Park, the DeYoung Art Museum, Ocean Beach, Chinatown, Ferry Plaza, Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, the marina, Alcatraz, and much more.  Outside the city we made it to Berkeley, the Marin Headlands, Sausalito, Muir Woods, and Sonoma.  All of this in just under one week!  We were pretty busy.

While the family was visiting, they became acquainted with our public transit system here called MUNI.  Before their visit, I prepared by getting enough electronic commute cards, called Clipper cards:

Once the family arrived, they each received a card to get around in the city.  It essentially costs $2 for two hours of riding on MUNI in the city, a pretty good deal if you strategize your trip well.  I also didn't want them to lose track of *their* Clipper card, so I labelled the back of each one with a biology word that would stand out to them and that they could associate with their card in particular:

If someone ever stole it, there would be an easily identifiable marking too - handy especially considering that my credit card account is linked to those cards!

Do you know what each of those words means?

Friday, April 8, 2011

STORM: By Tim Minchin

For everyone who knows me but has never understood how or why I feel the way I currently do about life, science, religion, politics, philosophy ... watch this.  This animated short is based on a performance by the talented comedian, musician, and skeptic Tim Minchin.  His poem is phenomenal and the illustrations are right on point.  Sit back, relax, and think for a change:

Thursday, March 10, 2011


It's time for Gratuitous Picture Of Your Science Thursday. This is my Western blot result from earlier today. Unfortunately there are no bands except for a ladder. Next step: Repeat!

Episode 23

The atheism and science podcast that me and my friends work on together just released our 23rd episode!  Check it out - here's the summary from the Pascal's Bettors website:
  • Matt starts us off with Spreading the Bad News regarding the misconceptions about the Crusades
  • Joel reads off some news items about the ACLU defending Christians, rape being declared as "God's Will" and another attempt to teach the bible in a public school
  • Liz inspires us with some Words of Lizdom via Richard Dawkins
  • John discusses an uplifting Church In State segment where the UK prioritized secular morality over religious hatred.
  • Liz discusses some Pope-pourri, specifically a lawsuit german lawyers are using to take on the Pope
  • Nik discusses the ethics of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Snyder v. Phelps case for the latest Ethics Corner
  • Finally, we wrap up with a religious trivia question about the Jewish Mezuzah from Matt
We love getting feedback to, so use the "contact us" form on the website to let us know what you think and if you have any question or subject you'd like us to cover.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Going out with a ... freeze

Discoblog over at DISCOVER learned me something new today:  "cremation, which uses the same amount of energy as driving almost 5,000 miles, releases mercury into the atmosphere."  

What a terrible thing to do to the environment!  I always thought that, aside from donating your body to science, cremation was the most cost-effective and ecologically friendly way to go (avoiding wood and metal coffins, large tracts of land, etc.).  Well apparently there's a more environmentally friendly way to depart this mortal coil.

In short, a company called Promessa will freeze your body with liquid nitrogen (using no nasty embalming fluids) to the point that your frozen self becomes incredibly brittle.  Then a sonicator is used to essentially vibrate the frozen stuff into a fine powder before evaporating the water in the dust and planting your remains back into the ground.  The biggest environmental benefits appear to be no embalming fluid contamination, no inorganic burying material, and less space taken up.  Here's a depiction from Promessa's website of the freezing process:

Let this be my living will: if I die and my body cannot be donated to science, I want to be frozen and shattered into billions of tiny dust particles just like in Terminator 2.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Yoga for Black People


It's funny because Asians can make these jokes but white people can't (as indicated by one of the commenters).

Red Riding Hood

I intend to forgive Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the movie Twilight, for redeeming herself by directing the upcoming movie, Red Riding Hood:

Monday, February 21, 2011

I Stand With Planned Parenthood

Via Liz via fousheezy:
Did you hear? The House voted to bar Planned Parenthood from federal funding.  They cut funding for HIV tests, cancer screenings, birth control, and more, putting millions of women and families at risk.  We can't let it go unanswered.  It's time for you and me to Stand with Planned Parenthood.  Sign the open letter to the reps who voted for this bill - and to the senators who still have a chance to stop it.  Don't just reblog: SIGN IT!  
I signed it - you should do it too!  Maybe these sorts of petty funding battles wouldn't be so partisan if there were more women in Congress ...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Unseen Sea

One of the novelties of living in San Francisco is that it is foggy much of the time here.  While being in the middle of the fog is not so special, the many vantage points from high up in the city give you spectacular views of the fog rolling in or out of the bay area.

Simon Christen has produced a stop-motion video of the foggy city at different times of day and different seasons of the year.  Check it out - it's pretty amazing:

The Unseen Sea from Simon Christen on Vimeo.
UPDATE: One of the commenters has correctly pointed out that this is *not* a stop-motion but a time-lapse video.  Thanks, Mors!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Science > Religion

This comic from SMBC sums up exactly why 93% of the top scientists who are members of the United States National Academy of the Sciences are atheist or agnostic:

Friday, February 18, 2011

You Can't Explain That!

Many of you might know that conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly made a fool of himself when interviewing president of the American Atheists, David Silverman, by trying to explain the existence of god by saying, "Tide comes in, tide goes out.  No miscommunication.  You can't explain that".  Justifiably, Bill'O has become a laughing stock of the internet.  Again.

Now there's a fun meme going round that puts similarly stupid phrases above a picture of Bill O'Reilly as arguments that you just can't explain, so it must be true!  Joel shared this via Google reader.  So in the spirit of lampooning foolish TV figures that use terrible reasoning skills, I've made one of my own with the meme generator:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Help Balance the NC Budget!

I love transparency in government!  While we'll probably never be at a level that I totally approve of, any attempt to actually use the internet to engage the public with government decisions and processes is really a positive attribute in my book.  Check out this new website by Governor Beverly Perdue of North Carolina (my home state!).

You can actually go through all of the different options to decide what funding gets cut and what revenues get raised to balance the NC deficit.  Give it a try!  I cut 1.265 billion dollars of spending and raised 1.5 billion dollars in new revenue to give NC a surplus of 0.340 billion dollars.  Of course, realistically, these decisions are much more complicated, but it's nice to see the options and have an idea of what sorts of financial cuts and gains are plausible.  What can you do to fix the deficit?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prop 8 is Delayed. Again.

The Advocate reported today that the supreme court case concerning Proposition 8, the bill passed in the California 2008 election making same-sex marriage illegal, is now delayed because of an appeal to 'standing'.  Ironically, this delay is actually being caused by gay rights advocates.  Prop 8 had been overturned earlier in the year (thankfully) by Justice Vaughn R. Walker.  The decision was appealed, but not by the state of California, the governor, or the attorney general.  Now the legal battle will be fought to determine whether general voters of California (supporters of Prop 8) actually have the right to appeal.

History says that voters do not have the right to appeal.  According to the Advocate:
Last month a three-judge panel for the ninth circuit asked the California Supreme Court whether Prop. 8 supporters who have defended the ballot initiative in the federal case Perry v. Schwarzenegger "possess either a particularized interest in the initiative's validity or the authority to assert the State's interest in the initiative's validity ... when the public officials charged with that duty refuse to do so."
Fortunately the process is being expedited, but don't expect a decision on this matter any time soon.  It seems that there is light on the horizon for the Prop 8 opponents - with a little more time, gay and lesbian couples will no longer be formally discriminating against by the government.  Better late than never.

In other news, the Hawai'i legislature approved civil unions today for same-sex couples, and the Governor plans to sign the bill.  This brings the tally up to 10 states that offer domestic partnership and 5 states plus Washington DC that allow same-sex marriage.  It's a long road, but we'll get there eventually. 

Empty the Clip

Tea Party Jesus is keeping politician comments in perspective.  Alabama Senator Scott Beason recently said this about the topic of illegal immigration:

Really?  Empty the clip?  A gun reference that suggests firing all ammunition at immigrants until the weapon is empty?  How can this person be serious? Such bigoted comments should be exposed, and voters in Alabama should vote for "the other guy" in the next election.

If you're not familiar with the work over at TPJ, the author takes quotes from religious conservatives (usually Christian) and puts them in the mouth of Jesus - because conservatives think they're following Jesus' way of life, TPJ switches the character speaking the words and let's the reader decide if it's something Jesus would do.  It doesn't take twelve years of Sunday school to know that Jesus would never say "Empty the clip, and do what has to be done."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Free Will(y)

Thank goodness for Mr. Deity!  I've now found the perfect response to show the next baptist or evangelical that explains to me that the reason an omniscient and omnipotent god can allow evil is because of free will.  What a terrible reason!  In other words, a god would be choosing evil and suffering so we can have free will?  Doesn't sound like a trade off that a merciful and compassionate god who wants us to be with him/her one day would do.  Let's see how Mr. Deity gets through this:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finally a Good Trade-off for Allergies

There's a cool new study out showing an inverse correlation between the intensity of your allergies and the susceptibility of getting gliomas, a common type of brain and spinal cancer.  Although it's just a correlation, the study supports other data suggesting that the more allergies you have the less likely you are to get certain types of cancer.  It's still uncertain as to why this might be the case, but one likely hypothesis is that allergies indicate an overactive immune system.  Cancers result only when your body fails to kill the rogue cells before they get out of control - if people with allergies have overactive immune systems, perhaps their bodies just make it naturally harder for cancer cells to escape and survive immune stimulation.  Perhaps further research will confirm or refute this hypothesis, and inform us of more handy tools we could make to block cancer formation.

Until then, take a look at this MRI image of a glioma taken from the Mayfield Clinic website:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hymns for Science

I myself (an ardent scientist and atheist) am unashamed to admit that I'm a huge fan of sacred music - especially pieces by Mozart and Rachmaninoff.  Unfortunately, as it's been discussed before in the science and atheism blogosphere, there are no good science or atheism hymns like religious folk have.  Although Steve Martin has actually performed a song about how "atheists don't have no songs", there really isn't anything all that enjoyable (or singable) that actually resembles something like a hymn you would find at your local church for science/godless enthusiasts like me.

Until now.

I give you, Evolution Made Us All, by Ben Hillman:

Evolution Made Us All from Ben Hillman on Vimeo.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thou Shalt Kill?

Many Christians, especially evangelicals, believe that evil things happen in the world because of Satan, not because of God.  This is a typical response to the question "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?"  The other popular response is "You can't know God's plan", implying that even though you *think* whatever happened was bad/evil, in the bigger scheme of things it was probably good (because God did it).  Of course, the implication is that God is the source of all things good, and Satan is the source of all things evil - it's a bit of a tautology, and it's very frustrating to hear these excuses in conversation because it seems that the individuals are just imagining beings into existence (Satan) or claiming your ignorance to account for phenomena that they don't want associated with their God (but should be associated because they demand an all-knowing, all-powerful god).

Well here's something else Christians may have trouble explaining - a simple graph depicting the number of murders that occur in the Bible committed by either God or Satan:

According to the source here (the Bible), God killed 2,391,421 people, but Satan only killed 10.  Note that the Y-axis is logarithmic - this indicates a level of killing by God that is FIVE ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE ABOVE what Satan did.  In other words, God killed people 239,142.1 times MORE than Satan did.  I thought that the commandment was "Thou Shalt Not Kill"?  I'm sure you can draw your own conclusions.

Information originally shared from a StumbleUpon post.
UPDATE: For clarification, the SumbleUpon post was referred to me by the noble Greg Barnes, otherwise known as Greggles.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Does "Reason" Dress Dirty or Something?

One of the most frustrating aspects of religion is that it commonly claims truth through personal revelation.  For example, reading through the scriptures, god will "speak" to someone and they will "understand" something that they did not before.  It's interesting though ... I typically read non-sacred books and end up understanding things better too ... but not because a god spoke to me.  I rely on critical thinking processes and reason to compare and contrast ideas, evaluating the benefits and the disadvantages, the truths and the mis-perceptions of each idea.  Religious folk tend to frown on critical thinking in general and attribute any gain in knowledge to a god that they can't see, touch, hear, taste, or smell - to them, Reason is just the driving force behind questions like "Mommy, how did Methuselah live to be over 700 years old before antibiotics were discovered?" or "Daddy, if God's creation is perfect, then why did he/she create the Ebola virus, which kills you after uncontrollable vomiting and bloody diarrhea?"

Reason has long been the bane of the theologian's existence - constantly prodding; questioning; forcing religious leaders to re-think their magical explanations because, as it turns out, there's a natural force that seems to be lurking behind anything at which we turn our microscopes or telescopes.  Although it can sometimes seem that the religious kooks that *you* have to deal with every day are the most zeus-awful ignoramuses that ever existed, take solace in knowing that ignorant and inflammatory religious figures are nothing new - religion has been practicing their aversion to critical thinking for quite sometime.  In fact, one of the most well-known religious leaders, the one who provided the intellectual and emotional vigor for splitting off from the Catholic faith and creating what we know today as Protestantism, spewed some of the most ignorant and vile stupidness long before we had Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.  I give you the infamous words of Martin Luther, from Works, the Erlanger Edition v. 16, p142-148:
Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.
Doesn't that just make you proud to be a protestant?!  And know that this sort of misguided thinking is not out of an unbiased evaluation of the concept of critical thinking or reason.  Martin Luther had a clear agenda:
Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.
Aren't you happy that we don't live in the early 1500s, with Martin Luther as a King? Imagine if he were alive today ... he would burn us all at the stake because of our acceptance of the internet, vaccines, and goodness knows the gays!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Obama *is* Jesus

It's amazing how hypocritical many religious conservatives are, especially the evangelical Christian variety.  In fact, shouldn't the phrase "conservative Christian" be an oxymoron?  In what way would Jesus have been a conservative?  I mean, really.  The number of Christians who go to church and hear/read about the Beattitudes in the book Matthew are oftentimes the ones who go out and vote to disenfranchise groups of underprivileged people - is that really what Jesus would do?  The website Tea Party Jesus has done a fantastic job at revealing the hypocrisy of religious conservatives by taking old images of Jesus in many different settings and putting words in his mouth that are spoken from religious conservatives - it's hard not to cry sometimes at how abject the hypocrisy seems.

Of course, conservatives also like to turn our current president, Barack Obama, into a scary Marxist monster.  Conservatives have accused Obama of being too dark-skinned/muslim (the same thing in conservative speak), too socialist, too peace-making, and wanting to "give" away healthcare to the poor.  Religious politicians from the right have attempted character assassination, implying redistribution of wealth and universal healthcare to be terrible ideals ... of course, they think they know what Jesus would do.  This picture pretty  much summarizes my thoughts on the matter:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It's Natural

In my limited experience, this is still the most effective argument to win people over and get them to understand that homosexual desires are as natural as fruit bat blow jobs during copulation or male Right Whales double penetrating a female under the midday sun.  Via wickedgayblog:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lanai Lookout

I have some relatives that live in Honolulu, Hawaii and love to go SCUBA diving every chance they get.  They send me pictures almost every week with awesome shots of underwater flora and fauna.  This week there are a few shoreline photographs from Lanai Lookout on the island of Oahu.  I want to share these because they are just so beautiful.  Can't WAIT to go back and visit myself!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Chik-Fil-A likes people to eat their chicken, but probably not if they're gays.  It's no secret that they're more Christian than other fast food chains.  They've been in the news recently for supporting antigay politicians in Pennsylvania, and the company gave money to the antigay group Focus on the Family in 2009.

This time they're excluding gay couples from a counseling camp in Rome, Georgia.  Chik-Fil-A funds the WinShape foundation which sponsors couples retreats for both unwed and married couples.

The foundation was asked if gay couples could attend and their response was (via Good as you Blog):
"WinShape Retreat defines marriage from the Biblical standard as being between one man and one woman. Groups/individuals are welcome who offer wholesome, educational conferences and programs that are compatible with Biblical values and WinShape's purpose."
In a follow up response Chik-Fil-A directly indicated that they do not accept homosexual couples at the retreat according to their contract.

Surprise, surprise: a Christian funded group is excluding gays from their couples oriented activities.  Which part of this is "hate the sin, not the sinner" mentality that I grew up with in the South?  Besides, Jesus never had a girlfriend.  And we all know that a man who's in his thirties but has never gotten laid is probably as gay as the day is long - especially if he wasn't laid by age thirty in the year 30 BCE, when people were marrying at age 12.  I know that god must have a soft-spot for gays anyhow - King David, one of god's favorites, had a raging hard-on for Jonathon for like half of the old testament.  Plus, god makes rainbows.  Ergo, god is gay.

So, biblical standard is what is important, right?  Chik-Fil-A wants to keep gay couples out because the bible says so?  Then maybe they should stop and think about whether or not they should abide by any more of the rules set forth in the old testament (or New Testament for that matter).  I bet they would let divorced couples attend the meeting - and it's clear that divorce is frowned upon.

But of course Chik-Fil-A doesn't care about this because their reasoning is not sound - it's just an excuse to bolster their own cultural discomfort in failing to understand something that's foreign to them.  You could try to reason with them, but I have learned in my old 27-years of existence that you're best not to do that: you can't reason someone out of something that they didn't reason themselves into in the first place.

Monday, January 31, 2011

New Podcast Episode Up

My friends and I have put up the 20th episode of our atheism podcast for Pascals Bettors - go take a listen!  We're pleased to say that we over 10,000 downloads already - so if you're one of our listeners, thanks!

Allah's the demolition guy, right?

Mr. Deity is back with the latest episode about how to create matter.  Will he go with the 6-7 day model, or will he favor the organic model?  Watch and find out:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

God Fucks Up: Science Saves the Day

For all of those out there who might still believe in a god, your god is a douchebag – unless, of course, you think that human life results from an embryo naturally developing from the fusion of a sperm and an egg (which is susceptible to teratogens, natural genetic aberrations, environmental influence, etc.).  Otherwise, some deity just gave a pre-born baby a giant deadly tumor that weighs more than the baby itself (pictures below).  Oh, and if you think there's a god behind the natural events leading to human life, I’m sure you also think a god is responsible for creating the universe.  If so, your god is also responsible for everything in it, including the natural phenomena that lead to deadly cancers.  Try as he/she/it might, even divine corruption did not stop doctors from blocking the evil masterwork of giving a baby in gestation a giant tumor.

The fascinating story was recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery entitled: “Preoperative embolization of giant sacrococcygeal teratoma in a premature newborn”.  In other words, “We [doctors] cured a prematurely born baby of a deadly tumor that weighs more than the baby itself.”  This was no small feat – your god has had … well … an eternity to perfect the art of giving living things cancer – scientists and doctors have only had a hundred years or so to really fight back.  Great news: we’re getting better at beating god’s evil plans!  In fact, this particular method of foiling god’s cancer plans has only been used once before.

At about 20 weeks of pregnancy the large tumor was identified as a sacrococcygeal teratoma, or SCT.  Teratomas are special tumors that can also be very dangerous – they originate from your germ cells (the cells that make sperm or egg depending on if you’re a male or a female).  SCTs are one of the most common forms of teratomas because they arise in the pelvic region, right where germ cells can end up if they get off track from your gonads.  In this particular case, the mother was immediately give corticosteroid treatment to ease her immune system and protect the baby.  This particular tumor was immature meaning that it had very aggressive and potentially malignant cells inside it.  After close monitoring of the mother and unborn child, the mother suddenly entered labor at 30 weeks and the doctors had to perform a C-section.  This is what they found attached to the baby after delivering her:

The combined weight of baby and tumor was 3.43 kg.  The tumor itself weighed (1.86 kg) more than the baby (1.57 kg)!  Unfortunately these kinds of tumors are very dangerous to cut off (ressect) because of the huge risk of bleeding.  The bigger the tumor, the bigger the arteries carrying blood, the bigger the risk of the baby bleeding to death before the doctors can save her.  Fortunately, the doctors have science on their side.  After taking a picture called an arteriogram, the doctors were able to see the main artery that was sourcing the blood to the tumor (see the arrow):

 Normally doctors try to keep your blood stream clean of cholesterol – otherwise you might get a clot that will stop the blood flow and kill you.  In this case, the doctors reckoned that they could induce an artificial clot (called an embolism) right at the site of the artery branching off to the tumor to block the blood flow and attempt to choke it off from oxygen and food – this way, when they ressect the tumor there would be less risk of bleeding.  So, they used a commercial product called Gelitaspon (small gelatin sponges) and injected some in the artery leading into the tumor.  You can see here that this successfully reduced the blood flow to the teratoma:

At this point the doctors ressected the tumor and the bleeding was minimal.  Unfortunately there was a lot of cell death from the tumor that had still managed to circulate in the baby’s bloodstream (hemolysis) which caused major problems, culminating in a full on cardiac arrest (heart attack).  The baby’s heart stopped for a full 6 minutes.  SIX MINUTES!  I guess god really didn’t want this baby to be born.

Fortunately, doctors provided injections of gluconate, insulin, adrenalin, hydrocortisone, and other science-y drugs that saved the baby’s life.  After 6.5 weeks the baby was allowed to leave the hospital and has been receiving monthly checkups every since.  Despite a solid effort by your god, the baby survived.

If you’re someone who likes to give a god credit for things like the sunrise, the ocean’s tides, the formation of the grand canyon, and/or the “miracle” of human life, then it’s high time you also start giving your god credit for the viruses, bacteria, and cancers that are so good at destroying human beings.  Let’s face it – if you think a god is behind the scenes of nature, then to human beings, your god is a douchebag.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Red State

The famed movie director Kevin Smith has done it again. Along with his bold statements to change the movie distribution industry in Hollywood, he has found the time to make and release what looks to be one of his best movies yet, Red State. I'm sure this will get some political pundits talking up a storm. Also - Smith claims this will be his next to last movie as a director before he retires to the distribution side of film making to shake things up a bit in the industry. Hopefully he will still have a hand in directing movies part time.

I can't embed the movie on my blog, but check it out on IMDB - it will be out later this year.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Science Porn

Those people at Harvard. Geez. They just flaunt obscene images everywhere. Probably the influence of that ivory tower mindset and liberal/progressive philosophy. This used to be the picture at the bottom of the Department of Cell Biology webpage - an image of cells taken with a total fluorescence microscope:

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thank goodness for pareidolia - it makes hours in the microscope room worthwhile.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Told You So

This is one of the superbowl ads for 2011. Whereas some gay activists might frown on the political incorrectness, I'm a huge fan of this becoming more part of our culture. It's funny, people!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mr. Deity Creates Hell

I haven't been keeping up with Mr. Deity lately. He's put out quite a few new videos since I last checked in. These parodies are a riot - if you like double entendres or puns and know your bible stories, then this should be right up your alley. Here's one of the latest videos where we learn about the beginning of the creation of Hell:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Glad to be an Ex

This is one of my favorite shorts from a new website called I am an Ex-Mormon:

I would love to see something like this expanded to more than just ex-Mormons. The world could use more examples of how happy (and moral) people are without religion.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Schumann Piano Concertos

Tonight Joey and I are headed to the San Francisco Symphony to hear the Schumann piano concertos. It starts at 8 so I'm going to stop blogging and go find my seat!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Moving Targets within a Cell

Anyone who has had an introductory molecular biology class knows that the genetic information for almost all living things (this idea gets trickier if you count viruses as living things) is stored in the form of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is an elegantly simple, stable molecule that is a candidate for being the longest naturally occurring molecule on the planet (in your human cells, a single molecule of DNA would be two meters long if stretched from end to end – and that’s just from one cell!). From your introductory biology class you should also remember that, while DNA stores the genetic information, this information has to be turned into protein (the stuff that actually IS you) via an intermediate called RNA, or ribonucleic acid.

That one little “deoxy” difference between DNA and RNA makes RNA a very dynamic (and frequently unstable) molecule. In chemical terms, “deoxy” is referring to the lack of an Oxygen atom (or hydroxyl group) in DNA that is present on RNA:

Oxygen, if you don’t already know from principles of how a fire burns, is a very reactive species in the chemical world, so it makes sense that the presence of an extra oxygen atom in the RNA molecule makes it more unstable than DNA. However, the dynamic nature of RNA makes it really handy for all kinds of other chemical reactions and cellular processes – another way to say “unstable” is to just say “reactive”; and in your cells, millions of chemical reactions take place all the time, so a reactive RNA is really useful. In fact, it turns out that your cells can regulate on a finer scale whether a gene is turned on or off at the RNA level than at the DNA level.

Think about it: if you want to turn a gene on (genes are made of DNA), you need to get all the molecules situated just right over the gene so that it can make copies in its intermediate form of a particular kind of RNA called messenger RNA, or mRNA. Those mRNA copies can then go out of the nucleus into the rest of the cell and be turned into protein. Of course, you only have two copies of a gene in your cell, a pitifully small number. How can you make billions of copies of a protein from only two copies of DNA? Well, your cell makes thousands of mRNA copies of the DNA gene. Those thousands of copies of mRNA go out into the cell and are used by other molecules to make protein – usually, one mRNA copy is read over and over again to make lots of protein, and that’s how you get millions of copies of a single protein in a short amount of time.

When a cell is done making and using this protein, it can go down to the DNA to “shut off” the gene by removing all those molecules that are making mRNA copies, which will in turn keep any new protein from being made. That is, as long as the mRNA copies that are already present simply go away once the DNA gene stops making them.

But what exactly happens to an mRNA copy after the DNA gene is turned off? Does it just degrade and disappear? Can it linger around? Can it be “turned on” and “turned off” like a DNA gene can? These are all questions that people who work on RNA biology have been asking for quite some time, and the answers can be pretty amazing and pretty complex.

While other classic research has shown that mRNA copies can hang around and be turned “on” or “off” regardless of what’s happening to the DNA gene, a study published in 2007 showed some pretty cool results demonstrating that RNA copies can be trafficked around inside a cell by riding along one of the biggest structural proteins inside a cell: microtubules.

Michael Blower at Harvard University, in collaboration with Karsten Weis and Rebecca Heald at UC Berkeley showed unambiguously that mRNA copies can bind to microtubules and play an important role in localizing their protein products to a specific site within the cell. As you can imagine, trying to get enough molecules to do experiments can be hard sometimes, especially if you have to do all your experiments from a single cell. However, scientists have clever ways to amplify material, and they have a habit of studying animal models that have REALLY big cells to make this easier. This is where females from Xenopus laevis, or frog, come into the picture. Xenopus females lay incredibly large eggs (an order of magnitude bigger than human eggs) and in very large numbers (400-500 at a time!). Blower and colleagues used these massive cells to extract and purify allll the microtubules (MTs) from the rest of the cell – what they found is that there are mRNA copies stuck to the MTs!

This graph is showing you all of the mRNA copies in the Xenopus eggs and whether they are bound to MTs or not. The X-axis is showing you “enrichment on MTs” and the higher the number, the more it’s enriched. The Y-axis is showing how many mRNA copies are enriched at that amount. For example, there are 140-160 mRNA copies that are approximately -1.4 Log2 enriched, and only 5-10 mRNA copies that are about 1.3 Log2 enriched. Notice that a lot of the transcripts are not enriched; in fact, they’re in the negative numbers indicating that they aren’t found on MTs but elsewhere in the cell (makes sense). However, a select few mRNA copies are actually enriched. Fortunately, the experiment that gave them this pretty graph also gave them the identities of each and every one of those mRNA copies.

So they did the next logical thing: if one experiment suggests that certain mRNA copies are stuck on MTs, then this should be visible in the cell. They decided to check it out using a microscope by labeling an mRNA and MTs to see if they look stuck on each other (the scientific word for “stuck on each other” is “overlap”). Don’t you worry about how they labeled it – that’ll be an entry for another blog post some time.

The red color indicates MTs and the green color indicates potential mRNA copies that should overlap (blue represents the DNA, but just ignore that for now). Notice that the left two panels show green mRNA copies that actually do overlap in the same region as the red MTs – this is exciting and confirms their finding. On the right you see a negative control – or an mRNA copy (called net1) that should NOT bind MTs, and indeed you don’t see any green staining, do you?

This is really cool, but the people who gave these researchers money to do research are … well, they’re taxpayers! And taxpayer money (funneled through the National Institutes of Health, or NIH) means that there’s usually a pretty strong interest in human experiments, not frog experiments. So the next question was, “If this happens in frogs, can it happen in humans?” And that’s exactly what they checked – so they took some human cells that grow in culture (no human eggs or anything like that, just human body cells), purified allllll the MTs away from the other stuff, and did the same initial experiment:

Notice again that a few mRNA copies are enriched on MTs, but most are not. This is a pretty cool idea: the same thing that can happen in frog eggs is going on in human cells too! But why would mRNA copies want to be on MTs? If mRNA copies are located on MTs, does that mean protein is made on the MTs as well? The process of reading mRNAs and making protein from them is called translation. So the scientists in this paper performed an experiment to test whether translation (the process of making protein from mRNA copies) is occurring on MTs. A clever system was adopted from previous work devising a method of labeling sites of active translation with a derivative of the antibiotic puromycin. Puromycin kills cells by getting lodged into the molecular machinery that turns mRNA copies into protein. So scientists made a version of puromycin that is tagged with a fluorescent molecule to see under a microscope. By injecting small amounts of this glowing puromycin into cells, it lodged itself into molecules called ribosomes, and labeled active sites of translation (such small amounts were injected that cell death was not a concern):

It worked! And it appears that translation is occurring on MTs. Notice the green puromycin in the left panel, which labels active translation, overlaps with the red color labeling the microtubules. You'll also note that it seems to be concentrated green at the tips of the red staining. That area is called the spindle pole, and the right panel shows a different green marker, ribosomes. Ribosomes are the molecular machinery that promote translation of mRNA copies into protein. So translation machinery is located on the MTs and at the spindle poles, and we know that active translation is occurring on MTs because the puromycin stains it too!

This is a pretty clever trick to answer their question, and they also proceeded to show that the same phenomenon occurs on MTs in meiosis as well as mitosis (remember that meiosis is cell division of the sex cells in your body, but mitosis is cell division of the rest of the cells in your body - the focus is on cell division because that's when lots of MTs organize to form really clear structures that you can look at). The last question they attempted to address was, “Is the process of translation necessary to move the mRNA copies to the MTs?” This is more important of a question to answer than you realize, but it is difficult to know what is responsible for moving mRNAs around a cell.

One hypothesis is that the translation machinery moves mRNA copies to MTs, so that’s one of the easier questions to answer. This time, the experiment required a bigger dose of purmocyin to stop the process of translation altogether. If translation is stopped altogether, then the mRNA copies may or may not be located on the MTs. The results are below:

The microtubules are in red and the mRNAs are in green. The top row is normal cells and the bottom row shows cells treated with the translation inhibitor puromycin – notice that the green mRNA copies still localize to the MTs even when translation is inhibited with puromycin in the bottom row.

These experiments, among others, make this a great paper. However, there are many questions that are left unanswered. Why are some mRNA copies localized to MTs but not others? What molecules and processes are responsible for bringing the mRNA copies to the MTs? If the mRNA copies are not allowed to localize to the MTs, will something bad happen? You can easily see how the experiments for the next possible paper are shaping up.

If you found these results interesting, you might also like this incredible video made at Harvard, animating the life of a cell. In it, you’ll see one depiction of how scientists currently think mRNA copies and other cargos are moved along microtubules (to some pretty awesome music no less).

Stay tuned for more science next week!