Monday, December 29, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 15

Faith does not give you the answers, it just stops you asking the questions.
~Frater Ravus

Asking questions with a constant desire for further understanding of the universe around us is what makes us human. Just because the answers religion provides seem easy and comforting does not mean that they are correct, and, ultimately, refusing to seek new evidence and learn more truth about the universe is possibly the most detrimental thing that could happen to a person, a society, or a nation. It leaves us with nothing but myth and superstition, and encourages the survival of the dimwitted and the easily led. Where would human society be if it was not for the nonconformists, the creative minds, the think-outside-the-box people, the open-minded scientists, the revolutionary thinkers, and the protesters? The minds of human beings can give us the tools to be fairer, kinder, smarter, and more innovative if we only allow people the chance to express their ideas and provide an environment where evidence and logic are required in order to make authoritative decisions. Most religions want us to blindly follow where they lead, living on "faith" and not on education. The last time we tried that, 90%+ of the people were illiterate, dissenters and people who came to unpopular conclusions were executed, and almost no progress was made for a thousand years.

Why do these people want to go back to a world of ignorance, misery, and faith when today we have a world of enlightenment, education, intelligence, equality, and reason? Faith is not worth it. Believing in some distant, invisible father-figure may make people feel less small and unimportant, but propping up insecurities is, frankly, an idiotic reason to ignore cold, hard facts in favour of being ignorant, uneducated, and insistent on forcing your beliefs on everyone else.

Scottie Washcloths!

Being a knitter herself, my mother always appreciates knitted gifts for the holidays, and this year I found a pattern that I thought was perfect: a dishcloth with a raised pattern of a scottie-breed dog on it. However, I am not a huge fan of raised patterns, and I didn't like some of the letter styles, so I downloaded some knitting chart software and converted the written pattern to an intarsia chart:


Using my altered chart, I made not one, not two, but six cloths. Then I decided to hide the less-pretty backs of the cloths by sewing them together in pairs. The result? Three thick, soft, bathroom-matching washcloths that my mom and my grandmother think are "too nice for washcloths".

Here are all six cloths:







Since my Tempting sweater project is slowly making me insane (it's the K2 P2 rib that goes on forever), it was a nice change to make projects that could be done in a day or two. I way overestimated the amount of black yarn I needed, though, so there may be some Mario and/or Luigi washcloths in my future too, just for fun.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 14

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.
~Christopher Hitchens

Probably the most common comment I get from believers when they hear I'm an atheist is, "You can't prove there's no god!" They don't seem to understand that it makes more sense not to believe in something for which there is no proof than to believe in something for which there is no proof. Concepts like Russell's Teapot and The Invisible Pink Unicorn came from attempts to explain this to people. In the absence of evidence for something's existence, it is logical to assume that it doesn't exist. It is not logical to get offended when someone takes that position, claiming that it makes sense to believe things until they're proven to be incorrect.

Imagine if other institutions functioned like that. In the justice system, people are considered innocent until proven guilty, or, in other words, it is assumed that they did nothing until sufficient evidence is presented to convince a judge and/or a jury that they actually did commit the offense in question. What if people assumed instead that, in the absence of evidence, it made more sense to assume the person had done what they were accused of and they demanded that the defense prove the negative - that is, every trial would be about proving something didn't happen rather than proving that it did. Would that make for a fair and rational justice system, throwing people in jail if they couldn't prove themselves innocent? Anyone could accuse a person of something, and the state wouldn't need forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony to convict them - if the defendant didn't have an ironclad alibi, that would be enough to convict them.

How illogical is that?

However, believers make the same sort of argument when it comes to a god. In the absence of positive evidence to convince people of its existence, they insist we should believe anyway, or else provide ironclad evidence of the negative, that this figment of their imagination does not exist. Or, they say, since there is no evidence, we can't be sure that their god does not exist. But what sense does it make to assume it is likely or even possible that something exists when no one can prove any evidence that it does? Assuming it does not exist at all is the logical position. I will freely admit that I am open to real evidence, and if some ever appears in favour of the supernatural, I may change my mind accordingly.

However, I seriously doubt that will ever happen. Centuries of science have consistently proved religion wrong over and over again, and that trend is likely to continue. Supernatural beings were once the only explanation humans could come up with to explain the mysteries of the universe. Now, there are much better explanations and I go where the real evidence and solid proof are: science, logic, and reason.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 13

The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.
~Delos B. McKown

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Passing Bible Study... Without Studying

You know the Bible 71%!
 

Wow! You are truly a student of the Bible! Some of the questions were difficult, but they didn't slow you down! You know the books, the characters, the events . . . Very impressive!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Take More Quizzes


Well, I guess if these are my results on the "Ultimate Bible Quiz", I can now tell the nutty fundies that even though I have never read the bible, ever, not one word (well, except the nonsense people quote at me), I still have B-grade knowledge of their silly book. I can't decide whether that means their religion is way too prevalent in society (likely), or if their mythology is just way too easy to guess at (since I did make guesses on about 2/3 of the questions). I suppose it's probably a little of both.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Simply and Eloquently Put

A very kind and tactful person on Ravelry posted this and asked us to pass it on. It was the most clear and thoughtful analogy I've seen so far on the subject, so I offered to re-post it here. The following is copied verbatim from her, someone I wish could bring her wife to my country so they could enjoy the same rights that their Canadian equivalents do. Someday, in their home state of Florida, I hope that they will.
~Peridragon

An argument has been coalescing in my mind recently, as more and more religious people are making me understand that their definition of marriage is “a specific type of union that is sanctified by God according to their beliefs.”

I draw your attention to an adoptive mother. She is not, biologically, a mother. But she is legally (and socially and practically) a mother. But none of that will ever make her biologically a mother.

Let’s say a group of people, for some reason, decided that it was patently ridiculous for someone to be legally allowed to use the term ‘mother’ and have all the rights & responsibilities associated with motherhood when they were clearly, factually, not a mother biologically. They decided that the definition of a mother was a female who had borne a child, and to that child, or children, she was now a mother. Well, that’s impossible to argue with, right? I mean, that’s the biological definition of mother.

To those religious people who believe that a marriage is any union between any one man and woman and therefore sanctified, that definition is as true to them as the biological definition of mother is a true definition. But that’s the key–it’s only one definition of mother. Legally, mother has another meaning. You can be an adoptive mother without having to call it “civil parenthood” or “nonbiological parenthood” or some other weird word whose rights were not clearly defined already and may not be recognized even if legal. You’re just a mother – a different type of mother.

So why can’t we do it this way with marriage? To be a biological mother or a legal mother you don’t have to fulfill the same criteria. It should be that to have a (sanctified according to some religions) marriage and a (legal; has nothing to do with religion) marriage you don’t have to have the same criteria, either.

The stranger who swats the cat away from eating my hair at night pointed out that in Connecticut, the reason they wound up with gay marriage was that they tried separate but equal (the civil union thang) and people weren’t recognizing it. Like, they passed a law saying they were supposed to be treated equally, but people weren’t. It’s not just a word. It’s over a thousand individual rights. That’s one definition of marriage. The one some Christians talk about is clearly another one. We don’t need another word, just like we don’t need to call someone a life parent or some other contorted phrase when they’re a mom of an adopted kid.

~Farfalla

Monday, December 8, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 12

I am patient with stupidity, but not with those who are proud of it.
~Edith Sitwell

Monday, December 1, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 11

It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.
~Thomas Jefferson

Bye-bye Harper?

So I have been negligent in my political awareness lately and I'm finding out three days late about this.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to explain it in great detail right now, but this is the thought that is predominant for me right now:

WHO SAYS CANADIAN POLITICS IS BORING?!

This is exciting enough to make me feel a teensy bit better about my fellow Canadians' inability to see through the phony Harper exterior. He is too authoritarian, too unfriendly, too distant, and too wrapped up in his own agenda to bother to fix the economy. A coalition government? Not a bad solution. Dion is not threatening to the other parties, since he's on the way out, Layton is happy to have more influence, and Harper has pissed off Quebec enough that Duceppe is willing to side with them. It's an unusual set of circumstances that is creating some of the most interesting politics I've ever seen (to date, the winner for that was the floor-crossing maneuvers that passed the same-sex marriage bill, but this is bigger than that was).

The non-confidence vote is a week from today. Sometime before that, I'll explain the background of this and what it means for Canadians, as well as keeping us all up to date on the soon-to-appear Harper attack ads (seriously, doesn't this guy have any other tricks up his sleeve besides attacking his opponents' character?).

Woohoo! This time next week, Harper might be gone!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Asian Teriyaki Beef Dip

So, with the exception of some leftover salad, I have no vegetables in my house after having made some tofu stir fry for dinner last night. So what can I make for dinner tonight?

Well, I have four frozen packages of stewing beef and some frozen leftover beef broth, along with leftover sauces from the stir fry. So tonight we're having:

Asian Teriyaki Beef Dip

0.7 kg (1.5 lbs) stewing beef
1L (about 4 cups) beef broth
1/3 cup soya sauce
1/2 cup teriyaki stir fry sauce (thinner version of regular teriyaki sauce)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tbsp flour
  1. Place all ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low 6-8 hours (I cooked mine more like 8 hours because my broth and my meat was frozen) or on high 4-5 hours. I recommend the longer time on the lower temperature, though, because stewing beef is more tender if it cooks more slowly.
  2. Lift the lid of the slow cooker and let it cook on high for 30 minutes or so to let the flavours blend and steam out some of the water.
  3. Serve meat with sauce over homemade bread or egg noodles.
This would probably be good with a root vegetable side dish. In general, I would suggest keeping some vegetables around so that you, unlike me, can have a more balanced dinner menu.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hey Creationists!

Have you ever made the claim that there are no transitional fossils? Well you can stop it right now because I'm about to give you a picture-filled post of just a few of the transitional fossils that exist. Real pictures of fossils where you can see the features that are emerging. I won't include ones that actually require an understanding of vertebrate anatomy to appreciate, because all those long words are a lot less persuasive than clear pictures (click on them to see a larger version for more detailed examination). Rest assured, however, that if you so desire I can provide a detailed description, complete with literature citations, of exactly how things like eyes and ears and wings evolved. But that's a task for another day.

Oh, and by the way? Transitional animals are not chimeras. You aren't going to find something that has a head just like a modern bird, a body just like a modern lizard, and a tail just like a modern amphibian. That's not how it works. If that doesn't make sense to you, go learn something before you try to "disprove" evolution with your old book.

Exhibit One: Archaeopteryx

This is probably the most famous transitional fossil ever found. I have a photograph of the real thing (not a cast) to start with, and then I'll point out the details.

See those feathers? That's what makes this reptile so special. It has all the structures necessary for powered flight, and the feathers we associate with modern birds, but it still has a reptilian skull (including teeth, if you look closely), and claws on the end of the forelimbs. It also still has a full bony tail, something modern birds have since mostly lost. The other evidence supporting this transition is overwhelming, from flightless dinosaurs with feathers for display to the close similarity between the protein that forms reptile scales and the one that forms bird feathers in modern times.

This is Epidexipteryx, and it's a dinosaur, not a bird. It could not fly. However, there are clearly feathers visible in the fossil, possibly for display purposes. This is not the only fossil of its kind (China seems to have all kinds of feathered dinosaurs in its rocks), but it is a particularly good one, where the feathers are very easy to pick out. It's fossils like this that make it clear that the question, "What good would feathers do for a reptile that couldn't fly?" is a silly one. Yes, feathers are lightweight and useful for flying, but most likely they were first an advantage for body temperature regulation, then for attracting the opposite sex, then finally as an asset for gliding (and later still, powered flight). In modern birds, all three uses exist (after all, why else do penguins, emus, and ostriches have feathers even though they can't fly? Temperature regulation and looking good for the ladies, that's why). Now with fossils like Epidexipteryx, we see that flight may have been a sideline for only one part of a group full of temperature-regulating, good-looking dinosaurs with feathers.

Oh, and in case you wanted an example of a dinosaur which probably only had feathers for warmth?
Here you go. This is called a "fuzzy raptor", and it's another fairly new discovery from China. Those orange areas, if examined closely, are not mineral elements from the fossilization process. They are proto-feathers - strands of keratin that create fluffy, soft feather-like projections. Good for warmth, but not all that pretty, and useless for flight because they are not aerodynamic. Like Epidexipteryx, the fuzzy raptor was flightless and its skeleton is reptilian, but feathers would have still been very useful as insulation.

So, which came first, the feathers or the wings? The feathers did. And as for the teeth, well, modern birds can still grow reptilian teeth in their beaks. The gene is just off, not gone. Believe it or not, but genetics is a powerful tool for providing evidence for relationships between species.

Exhibit Two: Tiktaalik

This fossil was actually found in Nunavut, Canada, which I think is great. Not that I would want to try excavating fossils in permafrost way up on Ellesmere Island, but it's a fantastic discovery that was made in my home country, so I'm doubly impressed.

Tiktaalik is a transitional species between fish and tetrapods (meaning four-limbed animals, which includes all amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals). It is part of a group that is the ancestors of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, and seems to most resemble crocodilians, with eyes on the top of its head and sharp carnivorous teeth. Leg bones are visible in this photo, but they are fin-shaped. Other aspects of the physiology indicate that these limbs could not have carried Tiktaalik around on land much, if at all, because they most likely could not support the animal's entire weight easily. However, they had movable joints within the fin structure like the bones in our shoulders, elbows, and wrists and a more flexible neck without the bony gill plates of fish, features that today only exist in tetrapods and not in fish species.

As for transitioning from gills to lungs...

The close-up at the bottom-right of the image shows rib bones similar to modern tetrapods', with the ability to encase lungs. However, it still had gills for use underwater. Those are harder to see in fossil photos, but the bones where gills would be attached are labelled on the above diagram as "cbr", meaning "ceratobranchial", a bone structure associated with gills in modern fish.

Exhibit Three: Ambulocetus

Whales are always a point of contention for creationists. How could land-living mammals become so well-adapted to the water that they look just like fish? (Well, except for their bone structure and the fact that they breathe air and so on.) In fact, we know a considerable amount about whale evolution now. Here is a series of three photos that lead up to modern whales, and there is a fairly smooth transition between them:

This is Pakicetus. It was a land-bound carnivore (see those huge teeth?), but it had long webbed toes for swimming. Because of this, it is possible that it did a considerable amount of hunting in the water.

This is the aforementioned Ambulocetus, the main (but not sole) transitional fossil in the whale lineage. Somewhat similar to Pakicetus, it has long toes, most likely with webbing, but its joints are set up primarily for swimming and not for running or walking. It would have been able to swim easily, but walking would have been awkward, so it most likely spent the majority of its time hunting (teeth!) in the water. Also, its longer and better-reinforced tail would have been more useful for water propulsion than Pakicetus' thinner, shorter tail.

This is Dorudon. Its front limbs are much smaller than those of Ambulocetus and shaped like flippers, as is seen in modern whales, except that the finger bones are more elongated than in a modern whale. It also has a long, strong tail that would have made it a very powerful swimmer. What is most important, however, is the hind limbs. In modern whales they are teeny tiny hip bones with no outer musculature associated with them, but in Dorudon they are small but noticeable protrusions. Dorudon, who is in so many ways like a whale, still has legs.

One other aspect of the three photos worth looking at is the skulls. All three are very similar in shape, with the only differences being in nostril position (closer to the top of the skull for Dorudon compared to its earlier relatives) and minor shifts, such as the loss of the plate at the back of the skull seen in Pakicetus (not aerodynamic), and the rounder jawbone seen in Dorudon (again, more aerodynamic).

Exhibit Four: Odontochelys

Turtles seem like an unusual group of reptiles. Since the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction, they are the only marine reptiles left in existence, and their morphology (having a shell, for example), makes them seem very different from all other modern reptile groups, even if they belong to a land-living species. However, now we have a fossil of a proto-turtle with only the bottom part of a shell, pictured below:

This is a top-down view of Odontochelys. It looks a bit like a turtle, with the wide torso and the small skull, but the more interesting photo is below:

This is what that same creature looks like from the bottom. Does that bony underside look familiar? It's almost identical to the underside of modern turtles, but these reptiles hadn't developed a full shell yet. Oddly enough, scientists predicted that early ancestors of turtles might look like this because when turtle embryos develop, they grow their underside armor first and their shell afterwards, suggesting that shell development might have come at a later point in the turtle lineage than the development of an armored underside. Embryonic morphology has long been an indicator of an animal's evolutionary past, and this is just one of many instances where evolutionary history and modern animal development both support the same conclusion.

Exhibit Five: Australopithecus and the other Homo species

It seems to terrify a lot of people to think that humans aren't a special exception to the laws of nature. We evolved, just like everything else. Humans are animals, vertebrates, mammals, and primates, as well as hominids, so we evolved from other species just like everything else has. If we were created to be special, why do we share between 95% and 98% of our genes with chimpanzees? Why do human embryos grow gills, webs between their digits, and tails during development? Why do we function biologically like every other placental mammal on the planet? The most obvious, while possibly not the most meaningful, answer is that we are just another animal who, due to a series of natural events and fortuitous mutations, happened to get smarter and smarter until we were capable of creativity, innovation, and imagination. Sentience may be a rare trait that is not easy to evolve naturally, but it certainly makes more sense that increased intelligence was a beneficial adaptation to an otherwise ordinary animal species rather than we were created separately from all the other animals and "chosen" to be extra-important... even though in most ways we are no different from any other creature on the planet.

These are example skulls from the eight best-studied Australopithecus and Homo species, including us. The upper left skull is very similar to modern chimpanzees, with a relatively small braincase and a simian facial structure. As the skulls progress from left to right, there is a gradual increase in brain size, and in the Homo species particularly in the front of the skull, where the frontal lobe is located. More human facial structures are also seen gradually emerging, with the face becoming less sunken and more even with the jaw.

What, that's not enough transitional fossils for something as important as humans? Fine then!
This gives both front and side views of humanoid skulls, again from Australopithecus afarensis in the top left to Homo sapiens in the bottom right, but with even more gaps filled in. With this series, the skull changes look even more gradual and sequential, with the first looking very much like an ape and the last few looking very similar to us. This is very compelling evidence for human evolution. Where is the evidence that we appeared out of nowhere? How can creationism explain the existence of all these fossils?

Need I say more? Human evolution is not "speculation". This is one of the most complete sets of fossil transitions we have for any animal on Earth, and it shows where we, the human animal, came from. We came from apes. Before that we looked a little like lemurs, and long before that we looked like shrews. It's not embarrassing or horrifying to be connected to the rest of nature. It shouldn't be frightening either. We are merely equally important as everything else, not more important - that should give us some humility and some perspective on our place on this planet.

Sure, it'd be nice to be specially chosen to be smart enough to reflect on our own existence, but we weren't. We got it through nature, just like whales got their flippers from nature, turtles got their shells from nature, and birds got their feathers from nature. If anything, this should tell us that being aware of our impact on other species like no other creature can be comes with the responsibility to act sustainably within the world's ecosystems. Destroying nature hardly seems like a way to show we're grateful for being this smart, and we need to stop justifying lording over everything by saying we have some "divine" right to do whatever we want with the Earth. We don't. We are not special. We will die along with millions of other species if we continue to harm the balance of nature like we are doing today. Being sentient will not save us from starvation if we breed our plants into genetic uniformity and destroy the ecosystems that protect our food species from disease and allow them to reproduce successfully. Believing in some higher power bestowing leadership on our species will not save anyone from being killed by a new disease that could have been cured by a plant that we burned and deforested into extinction.

Any questions?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 10

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means.
~George Bernard Shaw

Every time a person uses religion to support their point of view, this is a better-articulated version of what I'm thinking. They can make that book of theirs appear to support all kinds of bigotry, discrimination, and hatefulness, and yet all the while they claim it is really all about "love".

Bullshit.

If they really had kindness and love in their hearts for their fellow human beings, they wouldn't try to justify being hateful, prejudiced, ignorant jerks. They would stop doing it and start seeing other people as the equally important human beings they are, despite their differences from the Christian ideal.

Your interpretation of your poorly-translated compilation of thousands-of-years-old writings of men is not justification for supporting the willful discrimination against others. You are just a bigot and an asshole, plain and simple, so stop making excuses and stop trying to legislate your hate under the guise of "religion". One, religion has no bearing on what is equitable under the law, and two, that's just your attempt to rationalize the fact that you're afraid of people that are different and afraid of change. That's approximately the emotional development of a preschooler.

Grow up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Herbed Sweet Potato Fries

According to my mother, as a baby I seemed to have a major preference for orange food, especially carrots and sweet potatoes (a.k.a. yams). Although we didn't cook them much once I was on solid food, I've rediscovered sweet potatoes on my own as an adult and I can't get enough of them. Over time, I've developed a sweet potato recipe that involves cutting sweet potatoes like fries, but baking them and flavouring them more like Shake-n-Bake potatoes. Only better.

Herbed Sweet Potato Fries

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into long, thin strips like fries
olive oil
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp granulated garlic (which has the texture of garlic salt rather than powder, but without all that salt)
  1. Preheat oven to 350oF. Cover a baking tray with foil.
  2. Place cut-up sweet potatoes on the tray and use a small amount of olive oil to just coat them. Sprinkle spices evenly over fries.
  3. Bake for 10-12 minutes, turn, and bake an additional 10 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft and bright orange.
These are fast and easy with very little cleanup (throw out that foil and you're done!), and they are a great complement to beef, pork, and chicken, making them a cure for "now that we have this meat, what are we going to eat with it?" disorder.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Italian Mozzarella Bread

I love experimenting with the bread machine. Of course, at first I was careful to exactly follow all the directions and only use recipes exactly as they were... but then there were some mini-disasters that came from major screwups, and I realized that bread is more flexible than I thought. It doesn't hurt that I'm in Canada and I can used all-purpose flour to make bread (no expensive bread flour for me!), so if I make some kind of blackened or gooey mess, it's not the end of the world. But so far, I haven't done that! And that includes the recipe I made up today, despite the fact that I sort of combined two recipes from different sources and then messed with the proportions from there.


I call it...


Italian Mozzarella Bread

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups (bread) flour
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried onion flakes
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, cubed
2 1/3 tsp yeast
  1. Place ingredients in bread machine in the order listed above.
  2. Set machine for white bread, light or medium crust. This will work for either a 1 1/2 lb or a 2 lb loaf setting.
  3. Double-check the consistency of the dough during the first mixing cycle. Ensure that it is not crumbly, but it does not stick to the sides - I have listed approximately how much water I used, since mine was very dry at first, but climates and machines vary, so double-check that the dough is forming correctly before leaving it to cook.

I only have one word to say: YUM. This made my whole place smell good and it has a strong, but not overpowering flavour. I like it just with butter, but it would compliment a meatball sandwich quite nicely, I think!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Double-Cabled Headband

This project started as a way to try out a new cable, but I liked it so much that I turned it into a simple finished product.

This is how it turned out (the ties are hidden underneath).

Pattern:

Weight: worsted*
*For my project, I twisted three different colours of the same lightweight yarn together, so this is just approximate.
Gauge: 3 stitches by 5 rows in stockinette stitch makes 2.5 cm x 2.5cm (1" x 1"), however, the cable pulls it closer together than that in the final product.

CO 22 stitches, leaving a very long tail (at least 40-50 cm).

Double cable:

C3F: Sl 3 st to cn and hold in front, K3, K3 from cn.
C3B: Sl 3 st to cn and hold in back, K3, K3 from cn.

Rows 1,5: K2, P3, K12, P3, K2.
Rows 2,4,6: K5, P12, K5.
Row 3: K2, P3, C3B, C3F, P3, K2.

This is what the cable looks like as it grows.

Repeat rows 1-6 until work measures long enough to sit from ear to ear on top of the head.

BO, leaving a very long tail as in the CO.

Attach two lengths of yarn of at least 40-50 cm to each of the two corners of the piece not occupied by the tails from the CO and BO. Attach two more identical lengths of yarn to the centre of each of the beginning and ending rows as well. There should now be three long lengths of yarn attached to each end of the band.

On each side:

Pull three lengths of yarn together and knot securely about 7 cm from the band. Braid the three lengths together until the braid measures at least 15 cm, or until it meets the other behind the head. Knot the end of the braid and sew the ends into the last few wraps. Once both sides are done, it should be easy to secure the band to your head by tying the two braids together under your hair.

Done! Another fast and easy knit.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 9

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.
~Richard Dawkins

This is why science is not a religion. Religious people like to claim science is a religion, and I'm sure they think they are very clever when they say so, but in reality it is much closer to being the opposite of religion. As Dawkins said, religion teaches stagnant, unchanging beliefs, and/or "god(s) work in mysterious ways", with no ability to question anything. Science teaches critical thinking, searching for answers about the universe, and constant change as the evidence builds and technology allows us to observe new things.

In short, religion:
  • demands faith in things that cannot be proven to exist,
  • is resistant (to say the least) to shifts in thinking and new paradigms,
  • characterizes people who believe differently from them as "deviants", "evil", and "pitiable",
  • requires that your beliefs be 100% (or nearly 100%) consistent with the official doctrine of the organization,
  • and has definite, absolute, and unquestionable answers for everything.
Science, on the other hand:
  • demands evidence to back up hypotheses and scrutinizes every bit of data presented,
  • relies on new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new technology to advance itself,
  • tries to amalgamate different people's theories until a synthesis that explains things best is achieved,
  • contains a wide variety of opinions, hypotheses, theories, and ideas, all of which are debated constantly with new evidence all the time to support or disprove existing beliefs,
  • and is content with some answers currently being unknown, and searches for answers to provide the truth of how the universe works by building evidence rather than relying on easy cop-outs.
Science is presented in such a way that information is available to be evaluated. No scientist believes any other scientist blindly and on faith, as religious people believe their holy books on faith alone. Scientific studies provide methodology, statistical analysis, and are peer-reviewed by other experts in the field to allow others to critically evaluate the data presented. Are the conclusions logical? Are the results statistically significant? Was the methodology sound? Were biases controlled and appropriate sample sizes used? Have the results been repeated by independent groups? Science merely presents information, and then critical thinking is required to make decisions about what is true.

No scientist will ever hear a person say something like "the Earth is 6000 years old" and say, "That is not true! You must believe what I say!" Rather, they will say, "That is not true and here is my evidence to support that statement." Scientists who provide neither proof nor logic to support their postulates are ridiculed in the scientific community. Science is about collecting data and then drawing conclusions from it, not believing something is true and then trying to convince everyone else that you're right.

Science is flexible, science is variable, and science is always changing. Religion is dogmatic, absolute, and unalterable. Those are hardly the same thing. Scientists do not worship theories or merely repeat the things they are told; they challenge existing knowledge, develop new ideas, and attempt to explain the world around us. Religion tells us what to believe and how to think, and worships "tradition", as if the world was a better place when women were the property of men, children died of childhood diseases, nearly everyone was illiterate, and monarchs ruled by divine right. Science creates progress while religion wants to revert back to a more oppressive and dangerous way of life.

Which would you choose? The security blanket of easy answers and a ticket to an afterlife paradise that doesn't even exist, or the intellectual challenge of reviewing evidence, thinking critically, and making up your own mind?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Idea...

Right now I'm working on a Tempting variation for myself, but the *K2, P2* repeat *...* ad infinitum is making me a little crazy. I need my next project to be challenging, and possibly my own design, because the simplicity is nice for early clothing attempts, but it's also getting old fast.

I saw my Ravelry friend Knitivity is making a "Reconciliation Scarf", a symbol of reconnecting Democrats and Republicans now that the US election is over. I like the idea, and the tricolour cable reminded me of my bygone attempts at cabling with intarsia in the past. I've been wanting to design a cable pattern of my own above and beyond braids and twists, and, being into politics, it seems appropriate. However, I'm thinking I can put a Canadian spin on it. Using a black background colour, I could do something similar, except with blue, red, orange, light blue, and green (and light green, and dark green, and purple...).

I could make it historical, with colours separating from the main cable when the party won an election over time, or snarky, by putting "before 2008 election" on one side, followed by an amalgamation and cable in the middle, then separating the colours again into "after 2008 election" on the other side (with the same order, of course), or just plain pretty, with an elaborate cable incorporating those colours. Maybe I could even superimpose relative changes in popular support over the course of the election, assuming the changes were significant enough to be visually appealing. This shows seat distributions over time, which might be interesting, and this shows popular support, which might give a more interesting picture. However, there are three different parties that have used the colour green, which is kind of a pain. Social Credit might have to be turquoise. Or maybe neon green. But I think that popular vote one is probably what I'll do.

It's an idea, anyway. Maybe once I have some spare time and some spare cash I'll whip something up (okay, carefully plan and painstakingly chart something up) and see how it looks. What's the point of being in a country with a multiparty system if you can't make pretty knitted things with the historical polling data?

Atheist Quote of the Week 8

The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they've found it.
~Terry Pratchett

I love Terry Pratchett; I loved him even before I knew he was an atheist. I've read The Science of Discworld alone about 10 times. How could I ever dislike someone who so clearly mocks every fantasy stereotype and is an atheist to boot?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

CNN Bugs Me But I Watched It Anyway

Since CNN likes to go off on tangents, I'm going to use the free time between presidential electoral vote projections to post updates. All times are Eastern, since that's my time zone, and I started keeping track around 9:30 pm, although I was sort of watching while knitting before that.

Times the polls close in each state (Eastern).

9:35 pm: Ohio called for Obama; the Republicans have never won the presidency without Ohio before. Obama 194, McCain 69.

This is what the CNN projection of states looked like at 9:40 pm.

9:50 pm: Iowa projected for Obama. Obama 199, McCain 78. I don't care about Elizabeth Dole's never-ending speech about nothing that's going on right now. You lost, Liz. And you deserved to, after the way you demonized atheists in your attack ads. Congratulations Kay Hagan!

10:00 pm: Utah and Kansas projected for McCain. Obama 206, McCain 89. CNN is bugging me with the repeated use of the word "blogosphere". They keep using that word, but I don't think they have a clue what it means. It's the equivalent of them saying "pwned n00bs" or something and it sounds very awkward - just call them bloggers, will you? At least that's a word that's slipped into mainstream usage.

10:10 pm: Arkansas projected for McCain. Obama 207, McCain 95.

10:20 pm: Texas projected for McCain. Obama 207, McCain 129. They are talking to a commentator who is saying that Obama's race was less important in the election than McCain's age. I know that was certainly the case for me - I'm not afraid of McCain's policies, but I am terrified that, should he become president, that he would last a year or two and then die and leave us with Palin the Creationist nutcase. And of course I couldn't care less what race Obama is (really, race is such an arbitrary thing anyway in terms of actual genetic differences), but it is nice to see the US in the process of electing a minority that only 40ish years ago would have been scorned as an unnatural half-breed. I am concerned about the loony tunes trying to shoot him later, though. Hopefully that is just paranoia.

10:25 pm: Mississippi projected for McCain. Obama 207, McCain 135. The commentator is saying that it's "nearly impossible" for McCain to win the presidency now. Woohoo! Apparently at the Republican location where McCain will make a speech, they've been trying to hide the poor results since before Ohio was called, but in the age of BlackBerrys and such, that was a futile effort. They "do not see a path to victory" at this point even there, in the McCain inner circle.

10:35 pm: Electoral votes unchanged, but on the politics ticker at cnn.com I found the results of a poll based on religion:
Protestant (55% of voters surveyed): 53% McCain
Catholic (26% of voters surveyed): 53% Obama (surprisingly enough)
Jewish (2% of voters surveyed): 78% Obama
"None" (12% of voters surveyed): 76% Obama

Senate seat projections as of 10:45 pm.

10:45 pm: Same electoral projections as 10:25, but they cut to a sad-looking Sarah Palin party in Alaska. Suck it up, people. Creationism and anti-abortion ideas are a step back that Americans are not willing to make, apparently. Way to go Americans!

10:55 pm: Democratic majority in the Senate is predicted. They currently hold 54 seats.

House seat projections as of 10:55 pm.

11:00 pm: Virginia projected for Obama. Obama 220, McCain 135. Barack Obama is projected as the winner of the US presidency! Yay! Thank you, Americans! There is much cheering in the Obama camp, and I swear I heard crickets in the McCain camp.

11:15 pm: New projections are in. Obama 297, McCain 139. They are singing some song on CNN that I can't understand the words to, but it sounds nice and I feel a little emotional, since it's coming from Martin Luther King Jr.'s church. I haven't been proud of my American cousins in a long time, but I'm proud of them tonight.

11:20 pm: McCain and Palin are making their speech in Arizona. McCain apparently has already called Obama and congratulated him, and upon the boos that inspired (grow up, people), he silenced them very quickly and was absolutely as gracious as he could be in defeat. I was impressed with his acknowledgement of the importance of electing an African-American president, and his mention of the death of Obama's grandmother late Monday night in condolences. Thank goodness he didn't let Palin talk.

11:30 pm: Obama 333, McCain 155. Apparently Obama will give his speech at midnight.

This is the results map as of 11:40 pm.

11:45 pm: Obama 335, McCain 155. According to CNN, Bush invited Obama and his family to visit the White House "at [their] earliest convenience" by phone at about 11:12 pm.

12:00 am: Obama 338, McCain 156. Obama is making his speech in Chicago. He was gracious to McCain as well, which was nice, and he included gays in his list of the diversity of the nation. (I can only hope there is a national same-sex marriage legislation coming next year.) He seems interested in fixing health care and education, as well as the economy. He told an interesting story about a black woman 106 years old who has lived through women's suffrage, the civil rights movement, and two world wars, which I found truly inspiring. Now there's a woman who's seen the world change. Unfortunately, he still ended with "God bless America", but I'll wait to pass judgment on that until he implements some social policies. Just as with Palin, we didn't hear from Biden, but I suspect it was for every different reasons. Biden will have lots of opportunities to speak as Vice President.

12:15 am: House: Democrat 225. Republican 140, undetermined 70. Senate: Democrat 56, Republican 40, undecided 4. Electoral College: Obama 338, McCain 156, undecided 44.

12:25 am: So Barack Obama is the president-elect of the United States. Final numbers will be in first thing tomorrow morning, but there is no chance of any major change at this point.

Thank you, America. The rest of the world just cheered and cried with you, and I couldn't be more proud of my next-door neighbours.

Dear Neighbours to the South,

The rest of the world is watching you today. We don't want you to negate over 200 years of democracy and social change towards a free and egalitarian society by allowing the rights of gays, women, atheists, and other oppressed groups to be further reduced. You were the first example of a modern democracy and we want you to stay that way - you were an inspiration to us all at one point. We like you a lot and would like to see you pull through the economic crisis with leadership that will put you back in the good books with the rest of the world.

Oh, and in case it wasn't obvious, please don't vote in the Creationist. Please.

Love,
Canada.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 7

"There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes.
~James Morrow

I hate how patriotism has morphed in some places from being a feeling of national pride and connectedness to one's country to a "if you're not with us, you're against us" mentality. I feel a great connectedness to my country. I am informed about politics and I would never follow anyone blindly, and that's because I feel like it's my duty to my country to be informed and vote accordingly, and maintain a system of checks and balances to protect the country from ineffective or dangerous leaders. To me, that's patriotism. I support the values of my nation, I reject politicians who want to take it in a direction that conflicts with those values, and I feel incredibly lucky to live my life as a natural-born citizen of this country. As a part of that privilege, I have a responsibility to ensure that the country is for my children just as worthy of pride as it has been for me.

Rarely, that does include "foxholes" - Nazism was a worthy cause, for example, to go to war. I probably would have wanted to go and help if I had been born in that time period. Most of the time, however, war is pointless, poorly supported, and not a good solution for the problem at hand. If atheists are not found in the foxholes of those wars, it is because we are capable of thinking for ourselves, and that is an important aspect of patriotism in a modern democracy. True patriots do what they can to preserve the values of their country, and in doing so critically evaluate the motivations and justifications behind a leader's decision to go to war. If it is not justifiable and the motivations behind it are questionable, a patriot does not support it. Actual patriotism, informed patriotism, supports the country, not necessarily the leader. People who blindly follow a leader, regardless of whether their actions support the values of the country, and do what they are told is right, without thinking about it, are not patriots. They are sheep.

Supporting unjust wars is not an act of patriotism, and just because many atheists are smart enough not to fall for the "if you don't agree with the leader of the country, you are against the country" fear-mongering does not make them traitors or cowards. It makes them the ideal kind of citizen: informed, engaged, and capable of thinking for themselves. And treating them like pariahs for being that way is ultimately extremely destructive to democracy in a country. If a government supports blind faith in the government and accuses anyone with a capacity for critical thinking of treason, that encourages the kind of attitude that negates democracy and creates a nation of easily manipulated people - in the case of the US, fundamentalist Christians who already have a great capacity for ignoring facts that don't suit their worldview and following leaders without question. And considering the nuclear stockpile still available in the US, that is positively terrifying.

No atheists in foxholes? Maybe not when the foxhole only exists to support the agenda of a powerful human being, not to protect the integrity and values of a nation. And what, exactly, is wrong with that?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Variegated Cabled Vest!

So it's Halloween and I have no plans - I'm not willing to brave the bars on Halloween in general, but when it falls on a Friday? Definitely not. So what have I done, in the absence of costume preparation?

I finished a knitting project! For me!

Introducing...
The Variegated Cabled Vest!

I got motivated and finished it this afternoon. I had to teach myself how to pick up stitches around the neckline and armholes properly (there were some early disasters while attempting to do that), but it still turned out well. I'm happy with the overall end product, but it over-emphasizes the flab at the waist a little more than I would like. (Oh well, maybe it'll be motivation to go for a run later.) The pattern can be found here, but be warned that there are some typos. They were mostly in the back section, and it was pretty clear that it wasn't intended to be that way. I figure they're pretty minor, since I could find them and adjust for them without frogging rows and getting angry.

I did need to add 16 stitches to the circumference to make sure it would fit, and I also made the sleeves longer by about 4 cm. I can't believe this is labelled M/L sizing - there is no way. I may not be stick-thin, but I'm 5'7" and I wear a size 12 (usually a large or sometimes a medium), and as written this would never fit me. Heck, with 36Cs it would sit way too high up on my body to fit me, regardless of the waist size, with sleeves that short. I liked that it measured everything in cm rather than rows because the gauge on the yarn the pattern author used was unusual, but it still was more like a size small, maybe a medium as written.

I was thinking that I'd be finished the vest by Christmas, but now it's done and I still have almost 2 months. That gives me time to get the dishcloths for Christmas done (and this year the projects are getting done in November, not Christmas Eve), and possibly my new sweater as well. We'll see.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 6

An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanished, war eliminated.
~Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No More Babies!

Well, at least no more baby stuff that needs to be knitted. I finally finished the toddler-size kimono dress for the little girl who will be 2 around Christmas.

May I present:
It's the Kimono Dress!

The pattern is one I found on Ravelry. I love variegated yarn, so it's not really a shock that I chose a pattern ideally suited to that sort of colour patterning. I chose the lavender for the accent because, while the variegation is mostly blue and green, there is that same colour in there as well as a more subtle part of it (it's mostly only visible in the photo right near the hem of the skirt).

It was actually a really fast knit. I didn't like the thick garter stitch around the sleeves and skirt bottom, so I reduced them to just a couple of rows. I also did 7 rows between increases, not 5, because I wanted it to be a bit longer. I wanted to make sure it fits, even with a diaper on.

Now that the summer/fall of knitting baby stuff is over, I've been able to start a new project for me. I'm making a vest out of a less wild variegated yarn, suitable for wearing over dress shirts. It has cables (and I have been missing my cables... I haven't used them since the DNA scarf:
with three cables knit in intarsia that I made for myself last winter). The vest only needs finishing on the neckline and armholes right now, but that may take a while. I've already had to knit and completely frog one armhole because it was painfully small. I've already adjusted the pattern for width, and now I see I'm going to have to adjust the armhole finishing as well. (I swear, my arms are really quite thin! I may have needed extra waist space, but as written the armholes are stick-figure tiny. And it wasn't the binding off either... even pre-binding off the armholes were way, way too small.) So much for an easy first adult vest/sweater/etc. project. But it looks great enough that I'm willing to work at it to get it right.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 5

There once was a time when all people believed in God and the church ruled. This time was called the Dark Ages.
~Richard Lederer

I get angry on a regular basis about this. Humanity wasted a thousand years on superstition, corruption, suppression of intellectualism, and control of the poor through what was essentially propaganda.

I am forever asking myself: Considering where the Greeks were in terms of philosophy, and where the Romans were in terms of technology, what would have happened to Europe had the Christians not taken over the Roman Empire? It was ultimately ideological differences that made the Empire split, weaken, and eventually fall. The descent into the Dark Ages came swiftly from there.

We could have achieved this level of enlightenment in society hundreds of years ago, and who knows where we would be now if religion hadn't punished scientists and intellects and kept the common people illiterate and impoverished.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Welcome to Canada...

...where we hold elections that change nothing.

I sat and watched the election coverage last night until they started showing Vancouver information only at about 1:30 am my time. My riding was highly contested and I was anxious to see if my vote mattered.

See, in this country, unless you vote for the person who gets elected in your riding, your vote doesn't count. It is put into the popular vote numbers, but they're mostly just fun statistics, since the popular vote numbers never accurately reflect how the seats in the House of Commons are divided up.

To prove my point, here are the popular vote numbers for the five main political parties in Canada, plus independents:

Conservatives - 37.63%
Liberals - 26.24%
New Democrats - 18.20%
Bloc Québécois - 9.97%
Greens - 6.80%
Independent/Other - 1.16%

and here are the seats won:

Conservatives - 143/308 = 46.43%
Liberals - 76/308 = 24.68%
New Democrats - 37/308 = 12.01%
Bloc Québécois - 50/308 = 16.23%
Greens - 0/308 = 0%
Independent - 2/308 = 0.65%

Does there seem to be some discrepancy in those numbers? The Bloc only runs in Quebec (because they're a separatist party that wants Quebec to cease to be part of Canada), and they get a disproportionately huge influence over the government with over 1.5 times the number of seats that their popular vote percentage would suggest they are owed. The Greens and the NDP both get ripped off for about 6% of their popular vote, and, in the case of the Greens, they get no voice in parliament as a result despite representing a portion of the population only 3% smaller than the Bloc's support. The Conservatives very rarely get more than 40% of the popular vote (that tends to be the left/right split in Canada: 60/40), yet with the right vote-splitting on the left side, they can get 10% more seats than they should. In fact, this election caused only an overall change in popular support of 1% in favour of the Conservatives, but it earned them a 5% increase in the percentage of seats in the House that are theirs.

Fortunately, my somewhat-strategic vote for the Liberals actually mattered this time and my riding went Liberal despite the overwhelming trend towards Conservatives in the non-Toronto, non-Ottawa, non-Hamilton part of southern Ontario. But that didn't make me feel better about the election results.

It costs about 300 million dollars to run an election. Harper called an election way earlier than he needed to in an attempt to get a majority government (probably my worst nightmare). He failed. (This was mostly due to the fact that no one in Ontario, Quebec, or the Maritimes trusts his Alberta Big Oil agenda and religious undertones. Or so I would like to think... it's probably mostly because he does a very poor job of pretending like he cares about or understands ordinary - a.k.a. non-Big-Oil - Canadians at all.) So basically we paid 300 million dollars for nothing, because Harper is still PM (dammit), but still doesn't have a majority (thank goodness).

What I can't understand is why more people aren't suspicious of Stephen Harper. He is a former Canadian Alliance party member - does anyone else remember them? They were the right-wing nutjob party with the ignorant morons who are anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-privatization, anti-social programs, pro-American, anti-evolution, and pro-Bible. In the wake of the Everyone Hates Mulroney (And Campbell Too) party that was 1993, the centre-right Progressive Conservatives (who are completely reasonable, for the most part) got decimated in the House. To try and bring them back up to their former glory (Mulroney actually had two majority governments prior to his 11% popular support downfall), some members of the PCs decided that a merger with the Alliance crazies (who at the time were doing well out west) was their best option. Joe Clark, my favourite PC leader, was opposed to the idea, as were many others in the party, mostly because although their economic ideals lined up, the Alliance had some seriously Republican ideas about social policy.

The merger went through anyway, and in the ensuing leadership race, they made Stephen Harper, the former-Alliance candidate, their leader. Since then, he has surrounded himself with former-Alliance crazies that he has spent most of his past two years in office trying to keep quiet. After promises in the wake of the Sponsorship Scandal that he would run a transparent and open government, he did NOTHING OF THE SORT. Chrétien may have been involved with some misappropriation of government money, but at least he spoke to reporters briefly and answered questions nearly every day while parliament was in session. Harper, once elected, hid from the media and kept a very tight leash on his cabinet to prevent the nuts from saying anything ignorant and offensive (which they will do, if given half a chance).

Progressive Conservatives, you were complete idiots. You only had to wait a couple more years and the tables would have turned back towards you from the Liberals (hell, with over a decade in power, they were bound to screw it up sometime). Now we're all stuck with our only right-wing party being full of pseudo-Republican lunatics. You will never get a majority government as long as Eastern Canada sees your party as being controlled by the crazy portion of the Albertan right-wing. Harper (and all his cronies) scare the crap out of us. The PCs would have been a viable option when the Liberals fell into corruption. The Harper Conservatives are not.

In a way, this minority government is the best-case-scenario, though. While I feel like Stéphane Dion is sincere and intelligent, he lacks the charisma (in French as well as English) to consolidate the left vote. With this incredibly poor showing in popular support and in seats, Dion will be gone within six months. With luck, the Liberals will get a leader that Canadians can feel good about voting for. And Harper has to be the PM during an economic crisis he is ill-prepared to deal with, and he is totally clueless about Quebec and about the concerns of ordinary Canadians nationwide. If he screws up badly enough, his party might get rid of him later. Best-case-scenario is that the party revolts against his oppressive leadership and too-far-right agenda and they either go back to centre-right or split back into a reasonable party and a nutty party.

In a way, it's a relief to know that Harper got a minority last night. Because if he can't get a majority under last night's circumstances (weak Liberal leader, NDP and Greens pushing hard to split the vote, poor economic conditions that the Conservatives are reputed to be good at fixing), he'll never get one. Ever. And considering the fact that he ended his victory speech with "God bless Canada", I feel like that says a lot for the ability of my fellow Canadians to judge when someone is putting on a nice face until they get enough seats to impose biblical rules on us. We won't put up with that Christian-agenda-pushing Republican-esque shit up here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 4

A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.
~Albert Einstein

I have always thought it was bizarre and illogical that very religious people should claim that they have the moral superiority over me because they have religion to provide their moral guidelines. When pressed, they will almost without fail insist that without God to tell them what to do, they would lie, cheat, steal, and harm others. So, then, who is the better person deep inside: the very religious, who require the constant threat of punishment to prevent them from doing wrong (or who require the dangling of eternal reward in order for them to do good); or me, who is moral out of a sense of inner ethics, who wants nothing more than a stable, peaceful society, and who expects no reward and fears no punishment?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 3

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
~Aldous Huxley

I think it must be easy to tell when I've been watching BBC specials on atheism and evolution for a week.

Note to creationists: creationism (or its identical twin with a face lift, "intelligent" design) is not science. Science is the sum total of facts and evidence gathered together, and the conclusions drawn from that indisputable data. There is no evidence and not a single piece of factual data that promotes the acceptance of the hypothesis that the Earth was created by anything intelligent. In fact, as a biologist, I would say that nothing intelligent would have ever created humanity with so many obvious design flaws (food and air sharing a tube is a very bad idea) and completely useless parts that can blow up (hello, appendix). So either this "creator" is a complete moron or we developed without a plan, directed only by which traits helped us survive in our environment at the time. And the evidence supports the latter.

Since I was in university, I have been collecting research papers from scientific journals that explain some of the tougher things about evolution. I have detailed data on the evolution of bacterial flagella, complex eyes, hind limb loss in marine mammals, hormone receptor complexity, and many other complex traits that creationists try to argue are "too complicated" to be attributed to the forces of nature. To paraphrase Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame), I say, "Evolution. It works, bitches." All the most complex traits humans have down to the cell walls of bacteria - it can all be explained by billions of years of slow changes and tough selection pressures. Who needs God? I can explain why I'm here and why my body works the way it does without needing to believe that some intelligent thing chose humans to be its favourites.

What a juvenile thing that belief is, really... it's so transparently due to a need to feel reassured that people are somehow special. Why else would it be so important to them to deny all the facts of evolution and insist on believing mythological nonsense that has been proven wrong again and again? Clearly they are insecure, and it's too bad, because the elegant simplicity of the natural selection concept makes the world seem more miraculous than any religious bedtime story ever could. I appreciate my existence because I know that the odds against me being here are astronomical. The fact that life is hardy enough to exist at all, and that human beings survived a near-extinction and thrived, and that my ancestors managed to remain healthy and safe long enough to reproduce without fail - those are real miracles.

I can't understand the fear and disgust at being labelled an animal, either. I'm an animal. I eat, drink, have sex, excrete waste, and someday I'll die. Sentience is, in a way, irrelevant. It hasn't freed us from the basic bodily functions every other animal has to perform, and in terms of evolution it was more or less a fluke. It's the byproduct of an evolutionary pressure to be innovative enough to survive in an incredibly hostile environment. In order to be creative enough to not starve to death, our frontal lobes had to develop. We lived in groups, so our social and communication skills had to be excellent in order for the whole tribe to work together to eke out a living. At some point, that became complex language, altruistic behaviour, and extreme creativity in the form of arts, and we became aware of ourselves like no animal ever had before. We were the first to wonder why we existed and ask how our world worked. Nothing designed us to be this way; being smart was a survival skill, and some part of that just went far enough to push us out of the rules all other animals live by. I'm not ashamed that I can think enough to write this sentence because of a quirk in our adaptation to our environment. It overwhelms me with how amazing it is.

Who wants to be a pawn in some spiteful god's game when the evidence tells us that we're some of the heirs to a genetic lineage that has lasted 3.8 billion years, and the only survivors that can comprehend the significance of that? What a waste of the brains we have to refuse to acknowledge that it was the pressures of nature that gave them to us.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

When I'm Sick, Everyone Suffers

...at least, the boyfriend does when it comes to meals. Since last Thursday we've been living on a steady diet of soup, store-bought pasta dishes, and, one lucky day, some of the meatballs I froze last week. (He gave me the cold, so don't feel too bad for him.) Finally, today I'm feeling better (and we're running out of easy meals in the freezer), so I'm making real food.

Specifically, I'm making chicken thighs in the slow cooker with the Brown Sugar Chicken recipe from Crockpot 365. It smells good right now (it's been in there for three hours or so on high), but I have no idea how it's going to turn out. I had to improvise on several fronts: first of all, my chicken was completely frozen and has bones in it, creating considerably more meat mass than the recipe calls for; also, I had no fresh garlic so I used a bunch of granulated garlic instead; finally, I only had about a third of a cup of brown sugar, so the rest of the cup was made up of white sugar and a tablespoon of molasses. This is going to be interesting. It is highly recommended on Crockpot 365, and I've loved everything I've made from there, so I'm sure the recipe is great when made correctly. My "what I had in the cupboards" version, however, may not be.

Also, since Thanksgiving is traditionally a really big holiday in my family, we're seeing the boyfriend's family this coming weekend for an early Thanksgiving. I think I'm going to make the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies from Dozen Flours to contribute, and that means a big shopping trip because my baking supplies are severely depleted.

A couple of weeks ago, I made up a bread machine recipe that I need to write down before I can't remember what I put in. I used the basic part of a buttermilk bread recipe, then added some spices to create something that sounds weird, but it tasted great (which surprised me more than anyone, let me tell you). It was a bit of an odd greyish colour, but that didn't stop it from disappearing! Introducing:

Buttermilk Chai Bread

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cardamom
3/4 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups flour
2 1/4 tsp yeast

  1. Place ingredients in the bread maker in the order written above, being careful not to let the yeast touch the liquid or the salt while it's being put in.
  2. Set bread maker for 1 1/2 - 2 lb loaf (I did 1 1/2, but this should work on a 2 lb setting as well), light crust. Run on white cycle, ensuring that the dough is not too wet or too dry during the initial mixing. It should stick to the sides of the pan a bit, but peel itself off of them cleanly and regularly during mixing. (I added a little more buttermilk, I think, but I'm also a little haphazard with my flour measuring, so no guarantees that more liquid will actually be necessary.)
It was kind of a greyish colour inside when I cut into it, but that's just from the cardamom. It tasted great warm with butter - but hey, what doesn't?.