The Real Reason Donald Trump Doesn’t Support Gay Rights Anymore

The politics of the United States are infuriating. Indeed, they have been so infuriating of late, that lately I haven’t written at all about the things that interest me most. Namely science. And so, to titillate your pleasure receptors and inject some endorphins into your neural receptors, I will regale you with a crispy crust of Donald Trump with a creamy science commentary nougat in the center.

First of all, Donald Trump is a chimp. I mean that figuratively in the sense that he is a sub-human form of life. I considered a few animal comparisons before settling on chimp, of course: weasel, skunk, hairless mole-rat, but I think chimp seems to fit my purposes well. Clearly he has mastered some tool use. A comb, for instance. Or is that a toupee that is carefully placed upon his shiny brow each morning by a Guatemalan page-boy? He has a twitter feed, and thus must have managed to learn the use of a smartphone and some of the rudiments of language. Of course even that can be delegated to at least a third-tier authentic human of sinister quality. Speculations abound. It’s a tough nut to crack. We’ll go with chimp.

What I am specifically referring to is the drama surrounding Trump’s “presidential bid” (taste my air quotes of righteous sarcasm!). There is, first and foremost, the fact that he is apparently going to maybe if he feels like it somehow try to run for president. Next, is some rather hilarious commentary by Bill Cosby. Trump’s rebuttal, which is laced with logical fallacies is also pure entertainment. “I can’t run for president until my reality show is done. Jeez, Cosby. Can’t a brother get a break?” And then he called Cosby a liar. Well, actually he accused him of not being honest. It amounts to the same thing.

I don’t think Trump has a chance of really becoming president, so I feel much more comfortable joking about it. That is, until this happened. My first reaction was a kind of “oh come on!” And then it got me thinking. On the one hand, it may very well be a fairly straightforward and un-cunning attempt to curry favor with gay-hating Tea Partiers. The thought process is easy: “The Tea Party hates gays, so if I want to use them to further my infantile political career, I should pretend to hate gays.” Interpret the word “infantile” how you will. I mean, it’s not like you need cunning to manipulate the Tea Party. Sarah Palin does it with her bosoms and her spunkiness.

But it seems much more likely that this is part of some byzantine conspiracy.

Ahem:

A phage is a fast-replicating bacterial virus. Fast-replication means rapid evolution. Now you’ve gotten to the sciencey nougat. New research into biomolecular manipulation has lead to an interesting new technique for manufacturing novel proteins, possibly opening up new avenues for pharmaceutical research, which will in turn, open up new ways for pharmaceutical companies to profit off of human misery. le sigh…

It is called “phage-assisted continuous evolution,” or PACE. The PACE method relies on the fact that these phage viruses have a life cycle in the neighborhood of 10 minutes. This allows for very fast evolution and with the right, artificially-imposed selection pressures, it means that useful proteins can be manufactured very quickly. I wonder when the e. coli rights activists will start busting down their doors.

It is a well-known fact that science happens a long time before people like you and me hear about it. So we can presume that this technique has been around for centuries. Or at least long enough for the Tea Party’s elite brigade of molecular geneticists to get their grubby little mitt-paws on it.

And so here it is: my contention here is that they have manufactured a protein that stimulates growth of the amygdala, which, we know from science, is a brain structure associated with emotion and, in particular, fear. Newly leaked research suggests that conservative brains have enormous amygdalas (adjectives adjusted for rhetorical effect).

And, since Sarah Palin is the evil genius behind the Tea Party and the Tea Party is comprised largely of poor white people, she needed money. Who better to inject her new miracle Tea Party Orientation Protein Drug, or T-POP’d, than a very wealthy white man? Viola! A man that has historically supported gay marriage rights is a raving gay-hater! It makes perfect sense, obviously.

Just as obvious is that fact that he will be the next president. I mean, that’s a given.

Look, I’m just trying to reason this thing out. I refuse to believe that Donald Trump is an autonomous human being, you dig? No self-conscious, bona-fide, tier-one human being is this stupid. As I have said, he is a chimp. And so he must have some sort of handler, or controller, or a new drug called T-POP’d manipulating him. Sort of like how toxoplasmosis makes rats love cats and consequently get theirselves eaten by them. This new drug turns rich white men into gay haters.

Hell, it’s not much more of a stretch to assume that the entire Tea Party movement has been infected with T-POP’d. Too far? I’m just trying to see into the mind of Alex Jones and Glenn Beck here. Perhaps if I can see beyond the Veil of Maya into the reality of the situation, the conspiracy webs of the American political and social elite, then maybe, just maybe, I might get some readers who like to click their mouse pointers on ad banners.

viva sensationnel

Not An (explicit) Argument for Evolution

Darwin was never actually put on trial for his beliefs the way Gallileo was. Or, I should say, Darwin was never put on trial for publishing his beliefs as Gallileo was. At least, not in a literal sense. In many ways, Darwin is the most vilified scientist in all of history and his ideas are continually being put on trial today.

All over the world, science is having a very difficult time convincing people of anything. Hell, there are those that believe that relativity is not supported by evidence. Rela-fucking-tivity! Follow that link at your own risk. It is literally mind-blowlingly insane. As if Special and General Relativity weren’t the backbones of modern macro-physics.

I had an argument recently with a young-earth creationist. The problem I was having was explaining that there is literally a mountain of evidence that supports the theory of evolution. Indeed, all of modern biology depends on it. Every legitimate article about biology incorporates some aspect of evolution into its discussion. Here, here, and here are a few from just this week. Granted, all of the links are to sciencedaily.com, but all of the studies being reported on are from San Diego, Oxford, and Heidelberg. The point I was trying to make was this: if the theory of evolution is so specious, then why do nearly all biologists (people heavily trained, well-read, and highly intelligent) act as though there isn’t even a question about evolution’s validity?

The thing that gets me, and perhaps this is the crux of the issue, is that conservative creationists literally do not care what the evidence says. They will not listen to reason in this matter. And I can’t fathom it. The bizarre mistrust toward science on the part of conservatives is truly one of the greatest mysteries facing our species. They say things as though they are facts and offer up little in the way of actual argumentation. And the other conservatives around them say things like, “Well said.” and “I’m so proud of you for sticking up for your beliefs.” This whole thing is bizarrely reinforced by a combination of mass psychosis and a “preaching to the choir” mentality. They silence or ignore anyone who doesn’t agree with them and that is that. There is no reasoning with this kind of attitude.

I have been asked why this bothers me and this is a difficult question to answer. It does bother me. That much is certain. One reason might have something to do with my education. I am trained in philosophy and rhetoric and bad logic sounds like a metal rake being dragged across a chalkboard. I literally cannot ignore it without a strong cognitive dissonance. I feel a deep need to correct people when they are committing a logical fallacy. Perhaps there is some psychological label that could be applied. I’d love to hear it. Regardless, I have a new job and I have been having to censor myself a lot lately, and it’s actually been causing me a non-negligible amount of stress.

Another reason the whole thing bothers me might be the fact that these wingnuts are trying to introduce legislation to heap this garbage into the minds of our nation’s children. Sometimes it is successful. And even when it isn’t, they are completely undeterred. They often get defeated in the courts. But that doesn’t stop them. There is a very strong movement in this country that is trying to shift our paradigm in the direction of a theocracy. They won’t be successful, but they sure as shit will obfuscate the issue as much as they can, which has its own set of problems.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that as of 2010, only 16% of Americans believe in evolution with absolutely no intervention on the part of a deity. A surprising 38% believe in a theistic evolution. It’s a compromise that I would certainly be willing to work around. I do not hate this idea nearly as much as I do the 40% or so that are hard-lined creationists.

Another reason the whole thing bothers me might have something to do with the fact that creationists often think they are being novel or clever or have found a new proof or some new reasoning that solidifies it. What they don’t realize is that scientists, philosophers, and atheists have been studying these arguments a lot harder and a lot more rigorously than they have. Atheists are far better versed in religious “logic” than they will ever be. We know, for instance, that there are only three (3) actual arguments for the existence of a supreme being. All other arguments are variations on the basic three (cosmological, teleological, ontological). We also know every argument against evolution by heart. They can’t convince us that it doesn’t happen because we know what they’re going to say before they say it. We have heard it all before, considered it, and destroyed it with our logic smashers. They just refuse to listen.

I have no illusions about this blog post converting anyone. Indeed, the dozen or so people that might actually read it through will be all, “fucking right!” and “Damned straight!” and no creationist will ever actually reach this sentence. This is mostly due to the fact that my pool of readers is very small (I’m working on it). But it is also because creationists do not read stuff like this. And perhaps that is the last reason this controversy bothers me. Aside from bad logic, brainwashing children, and the self-delusion of cleverness, it’s that they will not listen to anyone who disagrees with them. They initiate arguments, and then when you disagree with them, they just say, “Well, we all have a right to our opinion.” A creationist will never consider your argument carefully, logically, or systematically. They will never say, “You have a point.” And they will never, ever, ever say, “Wow, I think you might be right!”

es schenkt sich immer

Why people suck at being healthy

snake oil

I thought it was vitally important that the vial in the image look like Re-Animator fluid. Imagine the carnage that would be unleashed by the unwitting dupe seduced by the promise of a cureall that turned out not to be just harmless linseed oil, but instead the sadistic creation of Dr. West that turns its users into a cannibalistic psychotic zombie creatures.

And Obama had such good intentions. Herbert West is laughing all the way to the bank.

The problem with this whole thing is, it’s not too unbelievable. People can be duped into buying just about anything if it promises to lower cholesterol or burn fat or cure scabies. People like to think that they aren’t gullible, but they are. We like to think that we’re past the days of the soapbox salesman selling his crazy potions and tonics, but we’re not!

With your indulgence, I’d like to offer evidence for my case that Americans (and probably most people) are easily duped by anything that promises to make them better with little or no work.

I work at a natural food cooperative. Some people call it a health food store, which ought to send up red flags because it is not a health food store. Organic potato chips are only marginally better for you than conventional ones. They’re still fried in oil, loaded with fat and carbs. I work at a grocery store, albeit a member-owned cooperative grocery store.

Among the many things that we sell that are genuinely good, we also have a lot of things that pretend to be good but are actually quite pointless. I find it fascinating that someone who wants to get healthy will walk toward the supplement aisle before they head for the produce cooler.

We sell a lot of vitamins. This, in and of itself, is not a problem. We also sell “medicine,” that is, cough syrup and pain relievers and the like. But, what does an organic pain reliever look like? If you look closely at any of our “medicines,” that is anything that isn’t actually a vitamin or mineral, it will almost always be one of two things: herbal or homeopathic. I am fine with herbal remedies. I suspect that they work in the sense that they’ve been used for thousands of years and this seems to be better in many ways than the FDA’s method of testing drugs, which routinely passes drugs that later turn out to have devastating side-effects that aren’t evident until years later.

Just you wait and see what a generation raised on Ritalin will look like in another ten years or so.

Anyway, it’s homeopathy that I take issue with. It’s a form of medicine based on the theory that if you dilute terrible poisons with enough water and in the right way, then the water itself begins to take on curative properties. And not diluted just a little bit. We’re talking about diluting it to the point that, in a given, average-sized lake of homeopathic medicine, there might be a molecule or two an active ingredient.

That’s right, people (many, many people) believe this. And this shit ain’t cheap. People are paying through the nose for inert substances that have no medicinal effect whatsoever.

Moving on. You have no idea how many times I’ve been manning the till when some dupe walks in and starts looking at the herbal supplements and turns to me and says, “Do you have [insert herb that they heard about last week on Dr. Oz]?” Ninety percent of the time the answer is no, of course we don’t carry that. We do carry a bunch of other things that have probably the exact same effect, but no, they want whatever it was that Dr. Oz was so up in a tizzy about. I don’t care that Dr. Oz works at Columbia University. I hope he dies of a heart attack so he never bothers me again. He’s a charlatan. You know what he should be telling people? “Folks, there’s only one way to be healthy and that’s to eat good food and exercise.” That’s it. There’s no other way. No amount of herbal antioxidant is going to replace good, healthy, organic food.

Food is the keyword here.

An important case in point is the acai berry. It is actually good for you. Dr. Oz said it was and as much as I hate to admit it, he’s not a complete idiot. For those that don’t know, acai comes from South America and has been lauded and praised for its antioxidants, polyphenols, and other nutrients that your body does benefit from having. They do have to be shipped from South America, however. This is a problem for conservationists, I would say.

And you know what’s better for you than acai berries? You’ll never guess. Blueberries. Blue-motherfucking-berries. Oh, and strawberries. Concord grapes. Red Beans have more antioxidants. So does red wine.

Blueberries grow wild all over the north country where I live. And it’s true, people do eat them and love them (they taste a hell of a lot better than acai, too–acai tastes a lot like sweet dirt in my opinion). But we have a demand for acai. So we sell it. And I can’t say shit because we make money on it. As much as it rankles.

I’ll close with something amusing. A guy walks into the store and looks around for a while. Eventually he approaches me and asks, “Where are those marshmallows you used to have?” I reply, “I don’t think we’ve ever carried marshmallows.” Which might not be true; I’ve only been there a year. So then he says, “Yeah, you know, those ones you used to have. The marshmallows. They’re made from the Nile river fish.”

I stare at him for a handful of seconds. And then I can’t help myself. I start laughing. A hearty chortle from deep inside my stomach. He starts laughing, too and says, “I guess that does sound a little strange. But I tell you it’s real.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine anything more absurd than catching fish in the Nile–the Nile is incredibly polluted, I’ll have you know–with the intention of making fucking marshmallows.

What a world.

Gelächter ist Medizin.

Why sexual reproduction is so popular

transformer_reproduction

There are organisms that reproduce sexually and there are organisms that reproduce asexually. The former outnumber the latter by many orders of magnitude. Hell, even plants have sex on a pretty regular basis–though it’s a sort of kinky, bee-assisted sex. The question is why? Asexual reproduction is far more efficient than its more popular cousin.

In New Zealand, scientists found an astonishing opportunity to test one hypothesis. Snails are known to reproduce both sexually and asexually. In the fresh waters of New Zealand, both types of snail live side by side. So they could watch, over time, the changes in populations.

Here’s the thing. Evolution is affected by pressures. Behaviors and adaptations result for many different reasons, but the need to survive appears to be the primary factor in most adaptations–there are exceptions to this, of course. And so, the fact that sexual reproduction, which is terribly inefficient, is more popular than asexual reproduction is something of a mystery. Aside from the fact that it’s more fun.

They hypothesis that these researchers in New Zealand were testing has to do with parasites. Parasites infect all organisms. Consider that a population of snails that reproduces asexually essentially just clones itself off ad infinitum. Every child is genetically identical to its parent. It inherits all of its parent’s strengths, and, more importantly for this discussion, all of its weaknesses.

The offspring of a species that reproduces sexually is genetically unique, as it’s a sort of random mixture of its parents’ genes. So what’s a parasite likely to have an easier time with? A species that’s always the same, with the same defenses and the same weaknesses to exploit? Or a species whose members are always going to be different, have different chemistries, have different defenses?

The study showed that the population of asexually producing snails showed a marked reduction over time as a result of infection from parasites. The sexually reproducing snails showed a far more stable population trend and far less susceptibility to infection by parasites. The evidence seems to show that the evolution of sex was influenced strongly by parasites.

The thing that I find interesting about these findings is what they mean when examined in light of other things that we know about sex evolution.

Consider: Sex evolved as a defense against parasites. Once it became established as the dominant reproductive activity, sex took on a life of its own.

Peacocks have these long, ornate tails that serve absolutely no survival purpose whatsoever. They are purely a result of sexual selection. They are used to attract a member of the opposite sex. In fact, survival-wise, peacocks must strike a delicate balance between ability to attract mates and ability to escape from predators. The tails are a hindrance in a survival situation, but they ensure that their genes will be passed on. And so there are two completely separate pressures affecting the size of peacock tail feathers. One pressure creates a trend toward a smaller tail and other toward a larger, more showy tail. A very interesting tension.

But then look at humans. We are interesting because, not only are we social creatures, but we are also sentient. The most intelligent species on this planet. Sexual selection in humans is a far, far, far, more complicated affair than even that of peacocks. Look at the bizarre and strange rituals that humans adopt. Look at the prejudices, the tragedies, the arguments, the problems, that all arise as a result of a defense mechanism against parasites.

Sex brings out the absolute worst in humankind. I suppose it wouldn’t be poetic if it weren’t also true that sex can bring out the absolute best in humans as well. Poetry and literature as we know it would probably not be possible if it weren’t for sex.

I just got married. I couldn’t be happier about it. I don’t necessarily believe that monogamy is the only way that humans can (or should) interact on a sexual level, but I have made a choice to join in that sort of relationship. The fact that we can choose what sort of relationship we want to be in is probably one of our biggest problems because anyone that wants to have a different sort of relationship than what is deemed normal is often ostracized or worse.

Perhaps the best literary example of what came about as a result of sex is the Trojan War. Imagine it. Helen of Troy. The “face that launched a thousand ships.” And also spawned one terrible Wolfgang Petersen movie. All of that, because of parasites.

Maybe the Transformers are better off without it.

Maybe not.

Liebe ist in Ihrem Herzen.

Why Humans Suck Compared to Dinosaurs

dinodebate

A while back researchers located some dinosaur burrows in Montana. Of course, this proved that dinosaurs exhibited a burrowing behavior when the need arose. Just recently, further burrows were discovered in Victoria, Australia. The important thing to take away from this is that it shows a similar survival behavior from different species from different hemispheres. 110 million years ago, the Earth was a warmer place, but when Australia used to be situated at the south pole, it still got pretty cold in the winter. And apparently this was how they kept warm.

They were small dinosaurs, which makes sense. Comical as the image of a T-Rex burrowing into the soft sand of a riverbank is, it probably didn’t work that way.

The above cartoon is, as usual, my way of trying to be funny. Whether it’s successful or not, is not my call, but what I like is the idea that dinosaurs might compare survival adaptations, defenses, weaponry, in a civilized tone. It’s an anthropomorphism, which is the main point here. A similar discussion most certainly did occur between dinosaurs, but it probably would have been much more violent and probably involved the T-Rex trying to eat the Triceratops (though there is some debate over whether T-Rex was a hunter or a scavenger or both).

The thing is humans have three or so key survival adaptations: opposable thumbs, upright stature, gigantic brain. Each of these things is a tremendous liability in other ways, however. For instance, our upright stature makes us slow runners. Our huge brains mean our head are big which makes human childbirth a harrowing and very dangerous activity.

So basically, when one is trying to make the argument that humans are the pinnacle, the zenith, the ultimate, in biological evolution (or creation), they have to acknowledge the fact that humans have problems. We really have no natural weaponry, no defense against cold, our immune systems suck, we’re not strong, fast, or agile. All we have is our brains and our ability to use tools.

Dinosaurs were the most successful animals to ever walk the planet. They lived for millions of years. Bipedal man has been here for about five hundred thousand years and homo sapiens for only about a hundred thousand. We have a long way to go before we are even in the same league as dinosaurs. If anything insects (cockroaches, for instance) are the most successful animals currently creeping across this world. Crocodiles, sharks, and other similar species are far older than humans. Turtles live longer.

I mean, if your standard is simply “ability to survive,” then humans suck. We have a very high opinion of ourselves and it’s utterly undeserved. That’s the funny thing.

Again, this is from a survival-ability standpoint. Obviously we’ve made more art. We have language. We have “civilization,” whatever that means. And I think a pat on the back is well deserved. Maybe a polite, quiet round of applause.

Good work people. Keep it up for a few million more years and we’ll really be something. Just don’t screw it up in the meantime, alright?

Glück.