Friday, July 15, 2011

Guillaume explains the origins of armpit hair, with bonus items

So, Guillaume has answered his second letter for Guillaume's Mailbag. As usual, this will be much more readable at the Darwin Eats Cake site:
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Hat-tips go to Alejandro Weinstein for his question, and to Lizzie Foley, for consulting with Guillaume on the answer.

Guillaume also wanted to point out that if armpit hair were not adaptive, then why would Kevin Grennan have included it in this artificial armpit?
The robotic armpit releases "Japanese standard artificial sweat," which is apparently a thing. Image via CNET.
We leave you now with this music video, which, if Pop Up Video is to be believed, was referred to by its director as a "celebration of the armpit." Enjoy.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Child pornography and the debt crisis

So, Standard and Poor's and Moody are both threatening to lower the United States's AAA bond rating as a result of the refusal by congress to raise the debt ceiling. The result would be that we would have to pay higher interest rates on our national debt, and, if the financial experts are to be believed, a financial shock-wave that could destabilize markets around the world.

Perhaps we should think about how we got here.

The cause of the impasse is that House Republicans are refusing to allow the US to accumulate more debt. Why? Well, the Republicans, or more specifically Eric Cantor, are demanding that we move towards balancing the budget, but refuse to agree to any sort of tax increase, or even to the closing of certain existing tax loopholes.

Of course, the fundamental, deep problem here is that Americans – and by extension their elected representatives – have grown accustomed to having stuff and not having to pay for it.

But in this particular crisis, we have to ask why the hell we have a congress that is filled with obstructionist Republicans who are willing to flush the country down the toilet in order to stick to an ideological principle of NO TAXES, despite the fact that the no-taxes view is decidedly outside the mainstream, and goes against public opinion.

Well, the standard liberal/progressive explanation goes something like this: the Republican party gets its power from a rainbow coalition of billionaires and bigots. The billionaires want laissez-faire policies that will allow them to further enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else, and of the country collectively. In order to get enough votes to do this, they pander to the pantheon of bigots: people who hate black people, people who hate homosexuals, people who hate muslims, people who hate evolution, people who hate immigrants, and so on. These people are so blinded by their hatred of X that they are willing to go along with whatever regressive fiscal policies their demagogues demand.

Now, there's certainly something to this narrative, but I don't actually think it explains the majority of Republican voters. I'd say (based on nothing) that it accounts for maybe a fifth of them. They tend to be the most quotable fifth, which leads to their being overrepresented on TV, but this still leaves the question of the millions of intelligent, non-hate-filled Americans out there who put these jackasses in congress.

Which brings us to the actual topic of this post. I think a lot of Republican voters are motivated by stories like this:

Weldon Marc Gilbert was recently arrested for allegedly kidnapping and raping young boys and videotaping the encounters. Gilbert is acting as his own attorney, and, as such, has the legal right to review the evidence against him. This means that, while in jail, Gilbert has access to all of the child pornography that he himself created, which was seized in a raid on his home (ABC News).

Whenever I hear something like this, I think of my Texas relatives, who tend to propose punishments like burying criminals up to their necks and letting the victims and their families kick them in the head.

I'm a long-time ACLU member, and I recognize how critical it is for us as a society that the government play by the rules and protect the rights of even the most despicable among us. But when you hear about something like this, there is no denying the emotional attraction of the certainty, moral absolutism, and take-no-prisoners attitude that the Republicans are so adept with.

Something similar happens for many people every time there is a story about government waste (but, interestingly, not with military waste).

I fear that if we're going to be able to move the country forward in a good direction, progressives need to figure out a way to tap into that sort of emotion. For reasons that I don't fully understand, outrage about CEOs who take home billions of dollars while ruining the country don't seem to cut it.

Here's something to embody the problem in musical form: Toby Keith is an unmitigated piece of shit, but this song is awesome.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An advance for Pastafarian rights

So, Pastafarianism, the faith of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is unquestionably the awesomest line of defense against intelligent design and the slippery slope to theocracy.

Created by Oregon State Physics grad student Brian Henderson in 2005 to protest Kansas's decision to teach intelligent design in schools, the Flying Spaghetti Monster has spread around the world. If you're not familiar, the basic idea is this: if you're going to teach intelligent design in schools based on the Christian Bible, you have to give equal time to other religions, including one that believes that in a supernatural creator that looks like this:
Well, according to the BBC, atheist Niko Alm told Austrian authorities that he is a devout Pastafarian, and that his religion requires him to wear a spaghetti strainer on his head, including in his drivers license photo. It took three years, and Alm was required to undergo a medical interview to determine that he was psychologically fit to drive, but his request was finally honored:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Guillaume's Mailbag: Why do we close our eyes when we sneeze?

So, as always, these full-page ones are hard to read on the blog. For a better image, go here.
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Thanks to Willemien Kets and Elais Kadeem Player, a.k.a. crashgroove for their excellent questions.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My wife's two-page catalog spread

So, the winter catalog just came out from Dial (which is part of Penguin), and it contains a nice two-page spread about my wife, Lizzie Foley, and her forthcoming middle-grade novel, Remarkable. I've written about her and her book before, here and here. The key piece of information here is that it will be coming out on April 12, 2012, and I guess that if you want to purchase a nine-copy floor display, you may do so for $152.91.

Oh, and that the Export Territory is "WOO"

Because the text on the pages is a little bit hard to read in the images, here is the excerpt:
In the distance, Jane could see the tall, castlelike building that was home to Remarkable's School for the Remarkably Gifted. She imagined that her sister and brother were having a fabulous, nonboring day at their fabulous, nonboring school. They probably hadn't even bothered to notice how interesting this Wednesday wasn't.
She took a deep breath, which she was planning on using to exhale a long, bored sigh, when suddenly she saw a straw wrapper float into the classroom through the open window. The wrapper glided toward her and landed gently on top of her desk.
Jane was so surprised that it took her a moment to notice that there was tiny spiky handwriting on the straw wrapper. She squinted at it.
"GET READY," it read in all-capital letters. 
The picture on the second page is what she looks like now. The picture on the first page is what she looked like when we met, and I first developed the almost crippling crush on her that I still have today.

Doonesbury teaches the controversy

So, this nails it pretty much on the head:


Friday, July 8, 2011

Atheists in Foxholes

So, here's my latest thing:

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God thinks Casey Anthony is guilty, or hates trees, or something

So, you've no doubt been made aware that a Florida jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of killing her daughter, Caylee, on Tuesday. Well, now the heavens have weighed in on the case, as lightning has struck a tree close to the shrine erected near the place where Caylee's remains were found back in 2008.
The tree struck by lightning, via Brooklyn Mutt's tumblr.
Here's what some random people passing through the area had to say to the Orlando Sentinel:
"God has spoken. Casey's guilty," said Nicole Perez of Vero Beach as she walked to the mosquito-infested site beneath a steady rain. Perez and her colleague Michelle Cooper of West Palm Beach decided to stop after attending a business meeting in town.
As Cooper peered up at the exposed white bark of the pine tree she said: "That is what I call Karma."
Yes, Nicole Perez of Vero Beach and Michelle Cooper of West Palm Beach, a woman was found innocent of killing her daughter, despite Nancy Grace's saying she was guilty every night for the past two-and-a-half years, so the Christian God causes lightning to strike a tree, yes, that is exactly how Karma works.

Within a day of the verdict, Vivid Entertainment offered Casey a contract as a porn star. However, the offer was withdrawn the next day due to an "overwhelmingly negative response" from the public.

Being so reviled that even the porn industry won't touch you: that is how Karma works.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What's Princess Di holding behind her back?

So, I have no idea what is up with this, other than that William had that much hair maybe ten years ago. This is by artist Steven Vaughan, and is titled "Ordinary People, William and Kate."
What this picture seems to show is that Diana is not actually dead. Rather, there is some sort of Oedipal Aztec Gold thing going on, since she is looking at William the same way that Barbossa looks at apples. 
via The Superficial.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Guillaume's Mailbag

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I've set up Guillaume's e-mail: now, and Guillaume confirms that he received the test message that my wife sent to him. You can also reach Dev, Eleonora, Brooke, Todd, iBall, Douchebert, Drillbit, and Tacey.

I can't promise how quickly or appropriately any of them will respond, as some are much more responsible than others.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Text Angry Birds

So, here's something for anyone old enough to have played text-based games back in the day. It comes from xenuphule's tumblr.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Wrinkly fingers for gripping?

So, here's the latest in adaptationism:
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Hat-tip to Justin Blumenstiel, who is the king of transposable elements, which I think means that every time one of them transposes, they have to tithe to him.

Changizi M, Weber R, Kotecha R, & Palazzo J (2011). Are Wet-Induced Wrinkled Fingers Primate Rain Treads? Brain, behavior and evolution PMID: 21701145