Archives March 2016

“Looks like I was wrong for 30 years”

Yesterday, thanks to @Monahan_PJ (via the incomparable @edyong209), I ran across this paper in Science:

No buts about it, the butthole is one of the finest innovations in the past 
540 million years of animal evolution. The first animals that arose seem to have literally had potty mouths: Their modern-day descendants, such as sea sponges, sea anemones, and jellyfish, all lack an anus and must eat and excrete through the same hole. Once an independent exit evolved, however, animals diversified into the majority of species alive today, ranging from earthworms
 to humans.

So go read it, because it’s interesting. In case you didn’t, the tl;dr of it is that there are animals who eat and excrete using different orifices, like we do, and there are those that use the same orifice for ingestion and excretion. These box jellyfish were thought to be in the latter category, but it turns out they’re not (with a twist).

And then, there’s a throwaway line about halfway down:

“Looks like I’ve been wrong for 30 years,” said George Matsumoto, a marine bio
logist at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California, after he saw Browne’s talk.

That’s a remarkable thing to say, and I congratulate Dr. Matsumoto on his honesty.

But it also made me realize that while I’ve heard scientists make this sort of statement (not often enough, but on a regular basis), and sometimes even politicians (see, for instance, Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s reversals on gay marriage), I don’t remember ever hearing a theologian (or cleric engaging in theology) say this.

Yes, plenty of people have changed their religious affiliation, and the “I was a wretched sinful atheist heathen gay pagan until I found Jesus” story is a genre unto itself. And I’ve heard plenty of stories of people switching denominations because their old church was too repressive, not serious enough about its faith, or whatever. But these are largely matters of opinion.

Find me people changing their mind on small matters of fact. Take a look at Wikipedia’s list of Christian heresies and show me the ones that were resolved through observation and reason, rather than bloodshed.

It just doesn’t happen. In religion, there’s no reality check, no way to see that your beliefs are completely out of line with reality.

Would You Get Off the Plane?

There’s an old joke about an instructor who asks, “if you were on a plane, and found out that the inflight systems were controlled by a beta version of software written by your team, would you get off the plane?” Most of the students pale and say yes. One person says, “No. If it were written by my team, it wouldn’t make it to the runway.”

The implication is that most software is far crappier than people realize, and that programmers are keenly aware of this. But I’d like to present another reason for getting off the plane:

Even if my team writes good code, the fact that it’s still in beta means that it hasn’t been fully tested. That means that there must have been some kind of snafu at the airline and/or the software company for untested software to be put in control of a flight with ordinary passengers. And if management permitted this error, what other problems might there be? Maybe the fuel tanks are only half-full. Maybe the landing gear hasn’t been inspected.

Wheeze A Coda Dog

The Alexa app on my tablet wanted to share with me the exciting (to it) news that Amazon has released a companion device to its Echo, called an Echo Dot, and invited me to ask “Alexa, what’s Echo Dot?” to learn more.

According to said app’s transcript, here’s the conversation we just had:

– Alexa, what’s echo dog?
– Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question.
– Alexa, what’s the Dutch?
– The Netherlands national football team represents the Netherlands in international football.
– Alexa, what’s the code coda?
– Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question.
– Alexa, what’s the code doctor?
– Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question.
– Alexa, what’s the coda?
– Coda is a term used in music primarily to designate a passage that brings a piece to an end.
– Alexa, what’s Echo Dot?
– [Spiel about Echo Dot]
– Alexa, order some Echo Q-Tips.

Paul Ryan Denounces Republican Strategy

You may have heard that establishment Republicans are almost as terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency as the rest of us. And since they haven’t been able to stop him so far, they’re getting a bit desperate.
So today, Speaker Paul Ryan opened his mouth and said some words:

The Republican party does not prey on people’s prejudices—we appeal to their highest ideals.

Are you fucking kidding me? He would have us believe that he lives in this country, has managed to become Speaker of the House, and yet somehow has never paid attention to electoral politics in the last twenty-some years?

Republicans gave us the Willie Horton ad. They gave us “welfare queens”. They made “9/11” the most commonly-repeated phrase in several conventions.

Republicans were the ones screaming loudest that gay marriage would undermine religious liberty, destroy the family, and probably rain on your Fourth of July barbecue. Ditto gays in the military. And gay scout masters. And now the fearmongering about trans people in bathroom bills is all coming from the right.

Who kept accusing Barack Obama of not being American? Which party gave us “blah people”?

I understand that Ryan doesn’t want Trump to be president. But he’s the culmination of years and years of Republican divisiveness and fearmongering. They, as the saying goes, built that. Preying on people’s prejudices and fears is what Republicans do. Does Ryan really expect anyone to believe otherwise?