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Lumpers, Splitters and Noah’s Ark

19 August, 2010

One of my father’s frequent pithy comments, one of his stock phrases, was, “The world is made up of two kinds of people:  lumpers and splitters.”  And palaeontologists are no exception.  Actually, they may be the definition of lumpers and splitters.

Scientists in almost every discipline are, whether they choose to admit it or not, are natural splitters.  Every (well, almost every) budding palaeontologist is a splitter.  Why?  What better way to get one’s name noticed, to get that elusive grant or, even better, teaching position, than to have your very own genus chalked up on your wall of fame?  This means, of course, that species are sometimes described based upon flimsy evidence.  One of the most famous was Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus.  Othniel Marsh, one of the true giants of early palaeontology, described Apatosaurus ajax based on a very incomplete fossil in 1877.  Then, two years later, he described Brontosaurus excelsus  based on six skeletons and part of a skull.  A quarter century later, the species, which had been split, was lumped back together by Elmer Riggs.  Of course, Brontosaurus is such a beautiful name that we continue to use it, though it is a junior synonym. Read the rest of this entry »

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Corporate Sponsorship of Palaeontological Research and Education

16 July, 2010
I was sitting on the can last night (too much information?), reading A Guide to Dinosaurs (Brochu, Long, McHenry, Scanlon, and Willis; Fog City Press, 2002), and ran across this image:
Qantassauras
Qantassaurus, from A Guide To Dinosaurs, 2002

 

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Anti-American GOP

15 July, 2010

How’s that for an inflammatory title?  I think I can support it, though.

Democracy is the philosophy which holds the United States of America together.  The rules apply to all.  We all pay taxes1, taxes which we, through our elected representatives, have agreed to pay as an admission fee for a civilized country.  We all obey the same laws, laws which we, through our elected representatives, have agreed to obey to make our lives safer.  Yet one of our major political parties, the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party, is attempting to short circuit this grand experiment in self-government.   

Democracy cannot be enforced at the point of a bayonet2.  It is a social and governmental compact to which we, as citizens and residents, have agreed.  The idea that all men are created equal, that there are certain inalienable rights which apply to all, requires fealty to the idea that we all must follow the same rules, tolerate the same red tape, stand in the same lines.  We expect there to be no special privileges such as the hochadel of the 1600s enjoyed, such as the lords of England enjoyed, such as the party members of the USSR enjoyed.

But democracy also requires three basic conditions — literacy, free time, and wealth.  And, since the Reagan Revolution of the early 1980s, what has been under attack by the new conservatives?  Education and middle class wealth, and the free time that wealth created. Read the rest of this entry »

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From The Gods and Politics conference in Copenhagen

29 June, 2010

Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life

By Atheist Ireland | Published: June 29, 2010

The recent Gods and Politics conference in Copenhagen adopted the following Declaration on Religion in Public Life. The conference was the first European event of Atheist Alliance International, and was co-hosted by AAI and the Danish Atheist Society.

We, at the World Atheist Conference: “Gods and Politics”, held in Copenhagen from 18 to 20 June 2010, hereby declare as follows:

  • We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one’s religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.
  • We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.
  • We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.
  • We assert that the only equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.
  • We assert that private conduct, which respects the rights of others should not be the subject of legal sanction or government concern.
  • We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.
  • We affirm the right to freedom of expression for all, subject to limitations only as prescribed in international law – laws which all governments should respect and enforce. We reject all blasphemy laws and restrictions on the right to criticize religion or nonreligious life stances.
  • We assert the principle of one law for all, with no special treatment for minority communities, and no jurisdiction for religious courts for the settlement of civil matters or family disputes.
  • We reject all discrimination in employment (other than for religious leaders) and the provision of social services on the grounds of race, religion or belief, gender, class, caste or sexual orientation.
  • We reject any special consideration for religion in politics and public life, and oppose charitable, tax-free status and state grants for the promotion of any religion as inimical to the interests of non-believers and those of other faiths.  We oppose state funding for faith schools.
  • We support the right to secular education, and assert the need for education in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge, and in the diversity of religious beliefs. We support the spirit of free inquiry and the teaching of science free from religious interference, and are opposed to indoctrination, religious or otherwise.

Adopted by the conference, Copenhagen, 20 June 2010.

Please circulate this as widely as you can among people and groups who advocate a secular society.

So how many American politicians would be willing to sign on to this?  Even part of it?  Atheists, nonreligious, freethinkers, rationalists and agnostics make up around 15% of America’s citizens.  I would hazard a guess that less than 1% of our elected representatives would agree with even a few of these rather common sense affirmations.

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Thursday Gourmet

17 June, 2010

I like spicy foods.   Especially chili pepper-based spicy food.  I’m not all that fond of horseradish or mustard heat, just the chili peppers.  My family (and (((Wife)))’s family) know that I like spicy food.  Which can create a minor problem. Sometimes I receive a gift consisting of a jar of dried chilis.  Some of these I love — crumbled cascabel, mulatto, or jalapeno I can and do use.  Chipotle peppers, dried and smoked jalapeno, are pretty good, but their flavour is so strong, so overpowering, that I find them hard to use.  Which means that I have a couple of jars of minced chipotle sitting in my cupboards. 

What to do, what to do.

Wait, I’ll make a chipotle sauce.  And here it is: Read the rest of this entry »

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A Response to those in California who believe that Human Rights are subject to Popular Vote.

16 June, 2010

Today, in California, arguments are being made before the state supreme court regarding the legality of Proposition 8 (liveblogging here).  Here is my response to those who think that mythology is a good reason to deny human beings their human rights:

Read the rest of this entry »

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You Can’t Make This Shit Up!

19 April, 2010

Apparently, God (or god, or gods) are angry.  He (she, it, whatever) is pissed that America passed a weak, half-assed, pathetic excuse for a health insurance reform bill (eh, it’s three steps forward, 2 1/2 steps back).  And to punish America, God/god/gods are punishing . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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