Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Round Two: I Found The Copy Paste Site

So I'm tired, a little sick, have a half hour to kill, so what should I talk about today? Ooh I know, let me take a crack at another one of those silly creationist articles that Mogley52 so kindly spammed my creationism video with. This one is called THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION! Ooh, should be good, and why not? It has an oxymoron right there in the title. Turns out, I have found the source from which this particularly annoying creationist has copy and pasted his spamming comments from.

The first paragraph is enough to make a buzzer go off in my head every half a sentence. Mogley, you don't get to redefine the second law of thermodynamics to include "even in an open system". When you make a statement like that you have to show some reasoned scientific evidence to support what is now only your crackpot idea. No Mogley, Stephen Hawking is not an "evolutionary scientist". And why does God not need a beginning exactly, if you claim that everything, even time, must have one? Ugh we're going to have a seperate post about cosmology aren't we? Fine, but let's move on, I'm still waiting for some actual science that supports creation, just as soon as I wake up after knocking myself out from that facepalm.

OK I'm back. The next two paragraphs blather on about thermodynamics (which this guy has taken the liberty of redefining without giving any explanation as to how he got to these conclusions) and how Einstein believed in an Intelligent Creator (which is a hideous argument from authority which we have already established is complete bullshit regardless) so let's get to the good stuff in paragraph 4:

BIG BANG FLAWS: Big Bang scientists extrapolate a hypothetical scenario from a few facts. Yes, some galaxies are expanding, moving further away, but this is not the case with the entire universe. There are galaxies in the universe running perpendicular to the rest of the galaxies. That's contrary to Big Bang. If Big Bang really occurred, there should be a uniform distribution of gasses. 

WHAT?! Now I'm no physicist, by any stretch of the imagination, but I can see from a mile that this is total bullshit. Why the hell do we have to have uniform distribution of gases (and yes, I do know how to spell gases)?! Have you ever heard of, I dunno, gravity? The whole bit about how stars are born? Do me a favor, look it up, there is absolutely nothing incompatable between the big bang and the existence of gravity (trust me, they've notcied gravity exists already).

But from here we jump straight into evolution, so let's have at it!

Only evolution within biological "kinds" is genetically possible (i.e. varieties of dogs, cats, etc.), but not evolution across biological "kinds" (i.e. from worm to human). How did species survive if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems, etc. were still evolving?

You do realize that the idea that biological life is divided into "kinds" is one invented by creationists right? Notice how he stays away from the word "species", as speciation has also been demonstrated numerous times in the lab as well as observed in nature.

Creationists like this guy are fixated on the good old-fashioned Great Chain Of Being, as if evolution was this process with the ultimate goal in human perfection. Sorry to break it to you Mogley, that's an extremely self-centered view that is not remotely indicative of how things actually work. No, worms do not work their way up the chain of being to evolve into humans, that is ridiculous. Worms are very well adapted being just what they are, we are not the envy of the entire animal kingdom.

Animals have evloved as best they could with what they had to work with to fit in to the niche that they occupy. It is because of this that there are constraints on evolution, and there are certain features of certain animals that are not what any intelligent being would design. Why the hell do koalas have upside-down pouches, so that their babies' heads poke downwards? That looks dangerous right? Why on earth do blind cavefish still have rudimentary, yet completely non-functional eyes? Why do whales have completely useless leg bone stubs attached to their pelvis? None of these things would make sense if we are to believe that all creatures were perfectly, intelligently designed.

Look, this is getting really old, really fast. All of his articles are 70% linking to other articles, so none of them actually get into any meat of any sort of argument stating any sort of fact. He likes to just say things with no backup, like

The actual similarity is between 70-87% not 99.8% as commonly believed. The original research stating 99.8% similarity was based on ignoring contradicting evidence

Really? You set up your own Human and Chimp Genome Sequencing Project? Great! Let's see your work!

Nowhere in these articles is there a modicum of argument, let alone a rational one. Every article so far can be summed up as this:

1. I have evidence, these laws of physics I just made up say so!
3. Read all my other articles where I actually talk about these things in more detail! No really, I just need the page hits
4. There is evidence that evolutionists make stuff up! Trust me, there is, some other creationist dude on the internet said so. Faith remember? Have faith that I found out the errors in the science, no need for me to actually tell you how I found them.
4. I am so smart those fancy pants evolutionists wont even talk to me

I've had enough. I want some real answers from you Mogley. Are other "evolutionists" too chickenshit to talk to you? You've "successfully answered" many before? OK, riddle me this:

What makes you think that the big bang is incompatible with the theory of gravity?

Show your work demonstrating that the second law of thermodynamics also applies to an open system

How do you explain the presence of terrible design flaws in animals, like the vas deferens looping around the ureter, the upside down koala pouch or the leg bones in whales?

Why would there need to be "microevolution within kinds" if everything was designed perfectly by an all-knowing, totally awesome intelligent creator? If creation was perfect, why does it need to adjust?

Please explain, in a nutshell, the theory of evolution, so that I can at least assertain that you actually understand the theory that you claim you do not believe in.

I eagerly await your detailed, scientific answers. No copy and pasting allowed.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Racist? The US? But We Have A Black President!

Oooh doesn't this argument get under your skin? Even more annoying is how often I hear it. The US deserves no pats on the back for being able to look past a person's epidermal melanin content when electing one of their own citizens for President. Apparently, though, not everyone can, and there are still people that do not believe people of darker complexion are even allowed to be citizens. So, whenever you hear someone trump out the "but we have a black president" argument, please let them read the story about this asshole, who has actually filed a suit to bar Barack Obama from appearing on the State ballot.

The best part?

As stated above, for an Individual to be a Candidate for the Office of President of the United States, the Candidate must meet the qualifications set forth in the United States Constitution and one of those qualifications is that the Candidate shall be a "natural born Citizen" of the United States. As Barack Hussein Obama II is of the "Mulatto" race, his status of citizenship is founded upon the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Before the [purported] ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the race of "Negro" or "Mulatto" had no standing to be citizens of the United States under the United States Constitution.

Of course. Someone better tell Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Allen West and Herman Cain that none of them are or have illegally held office in the US because guess what? None of them are citizens.

Gordon Warren Epperly, you disgust me.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Repost: No Rights: The Life of an Atheist

It's the Streisand Effect people and it's back with a vengance!

Once again school administrators blatantly violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment try to sweep it all under the rug by silencing those that have concerns about it. I mean, why should prayer in school or Bible quotes on the chalkboard bother anyone? It's not like you're being forced to believe in them or go to church or anything! So long as no one complains or calls attention to the fact that these things are not strictly legal it's all fine, it's all good, we're just expressing the majority opinion anyway. Well fuck that.

Krystal Myers, a high school student at Lenoir City High School in Tennessee, attempted to do just that by writing an opinion piece in the school newspaper about the discrimination and unequal rights of atheists compared to Christians in her school. The administrators shut her down of course, not allowing her to publish the piece saying they wanted to avoid the "potential for disruption".

But this is the internet, and it is time that these people realize that it takes a hell of a lot more to sweep something under the rug nowadays. If they had just shut up about it and let it be published, a few students would have read it and no one in the country would have ever heard about it. Now, her piece has reached more people than it ever would have before, bringing Lenoir City High School under scrutiny.

So thank you, school administrators, for helping Krystal Myers in her efforts to shine a light on the problems with the separation of church and state that you have in your school. Of course thank you PZ for getting your hands on a copy of her piece and posting it for all of us. I would also like to repost it here.

No Rights: The Life of an Atheist
By Krystal Myers

The point of view expressed in this article does not necessarily reflect the point of view of the Panther Press, its staff, adviser, or school.

As a current student in Government, I have realized that I feel that my rights as an Atheist are severely limited and unjust when compared to other students who are Christians. Not only are there multiple clubs featuring the Christian faith, but youth ministers are also allowed to come onto school campus and hand candy and other food out to Christians and their friends. However, I feel like if an Atheist did that, people would not be happy about it. This may not be true, but due to pervasive negative feelings towards Atheists in the school, I feel that it would be the case. My question is, “Why? Why does Atheism have such a bad reputation?” And an even better question, “Why do Christians have special rights not allowed to non-believers?”

Before I even begin, I just want to clear up some misconceptions about Atheism. No, we do not worship the “devil.” We do not believe in God, so we also do not believe in Satan. And we may be “godless” but that does not mean that we are without morals. I know, personally, I strive to be the best person I can be, even without religion. In fact, I have been a better person since I have rejected religion. And perhaps the most important misconception is that we want to convert everyone into Atheists and that we hate Christians. For the most part, we just want to be respected for who we are and not be judged.

Now you should know exactly what an Atheist is. says that an Atheist is, “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” However, this does not mean that Atheists do not believe in higher causes; we just do not believe in a higher being.

With that being said, I can move on to the real issue. Before I begin, I want you to think about your rights and how your perceived “rights” might be affecting the rights of others.
There are several instances where my rights as a non-believer, and the rights of anyone other than a Christian, have been violated. These instances inspired me to investigate the laws concerning the separation of church and state, and I learned some interesting things. However, first, I would like you to know specifically what my grievances are against the school. First and foremost is the sectarian prayer that occurs at graduation every year. Fortunately, I am not the first one to have thought that this was a problem. In the Supreme Court case, Lee v. Weisman, it was decided that allowing prayer at graduation is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Special speakers can pray, but the school cannot endorse the prayer or plan for it to happen.

Public prayer also occurs at all of the home football games using the public address system. This has, again, been covered by the Supreme Court case Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. The Court ruled that school-sponsored prayer is an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. If a speaker prays, it is fine. However, as soon as the school provides sponsorship, it becomes illegal. Sponsorship can be almost anything, even something as simple as saying that the speaker can pray or choosing a speaker with a known propensity to pray or share his or her religious views.

However, it is not just the speakers who we have to fear at Lenoir City High School. We also have to fear some of the teachers and what they might say about their own religious beliefs. On at least two separate occasions, teachers have made their religious preferences known to basically the whole school.

One teacher has made her religious preferences known by wearing t-shirt depicting the crucifix while performing her duties as a public employee. Also, Kristi Brackett, a senior at Lenoir City High School, has said that the teacher, “strongly encouraged us to join [a religious club] and be on the group’s leadership team.” Yet again, this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. When asked if this was true, the teacher replied, “As a teacher I would never use my power of influence to force my beliefs or the beliefs of [a religious club] on any student in the school.” Regardless, the religious t-shirts are still inappropriate in the school setting. Teachers are prohibited from making their religious preferences known; the Constitution requires them to be neutral when acting in their capacity as a public school teacher.

Not only are religious preferences shown through shirts, but also through a “Quote of the Day” that some teachers write on the boards in their classrooms. One teacher has Bible verses occasionally as the teacher’s “Quote of the Day” for students. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment has been violated, yet again with no regard for non-believers.

But perhaps I would have more hope in our school and the possibility of change on the horizon if our own school board did not open their meetings with prayer. A person who wished to remain anonymous that has been present at school board meetings says, “They do have prayers. They pray to ‘Our Heavenly Father’ and end with ‘In Jesus’ Name We Pray.’” Not only is this a violation of Supreme Court law, but also a violation of the board’s own policy that prohibits prayer at school-sponsored events. The whole foundation of how our school is conducted is established by obvious Christians. Somehow, this is unsurprising. If our School Board chooses to ignore the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court, then it is no surprise that teachers choose to do the same.

I know that I will keep trying to gain my rights as an Atheist and as an American citizen, but I also need your help in educating other people to realize the injustice done to all minority groups. The Christian faith cannot rule the United States. It is unconstitutional. Religion and government are supposed to be separate. If we let this slide, what other amendments to the Constitution will be ignored? I leave you to decide what you will or will not do, but just remember that non-believers are not what you originally thought we were; we are human beings just like you.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

In Russia, Plants Genetically Modify YOU!

OK, so I made a little outdated joke, bear with me. In fact it's not just in Russia, and it's not just people. Apparently, eating plants will influence an animal's genes.

First, a little background lesson in micro RNAs. miRNAs are very short sequences of RNA that do not translate into proteins. Instead, they have different regulatory roles within the cell, aiding or silencing the transcription of certain genes, and more and more of them are being discovered every year with ever more important roles. This year, a paper was published in Cell Research that found evidence that when animals eat plants, miRNAs from those plants can have a role in regulating the genes of the animals that ate them.

Plant miRNAs and animal miRNAs have some distinct differences that allow us to tell them apart. Plant miRNAs have a modification that makes them resistant to periodate, while mammalian miRNAs are not. Researchers thus extracted miRNAs from humans and tested them for sensitivity to periodate, and concluded that approximately 5% of the miRNAs in humans are originally from plants.

More evidence for this hypothesis comes from the fact that mice fed on rice have elevated levels of periodate-resistant miRNAs than mice fed on chow, which fits with the hypothesis that these periodate-resistant miRNAs originate from plants in the diet. Strangely, cooking the plants did not have an effect on the levels of plant miRNAs assimilated from the diet, indicating that these miRNAs are also heat-resistant.

OK so plant miRNAs can survive in animals without being digested and degraded. So what? What evidence is there that these miRNAs actually do something in animal tissues, rather than just float around passively?

Low Density Lipoprotein Receptor Adapter Protein 1 (LDLRAP1) is a protein that facilitates the removal of Low Density Lipoproteins from the circulatory system. Plant miRNA miR168 seems to be particularly good at binding the mRNA of LDLRAP1, which by doing so would lead to the organism making less LDLRAP1 protein. In fact, it was shown that those rice-fed mice had lower levels of LDLRAP1 than the chow-fed mice.

This indicates a far more direct role for a diverse diet for human health that goes beyond just getting the right level of nutrients. Eating too much of one thing can actually lead to things like the downregulation of certain genes that are needed for good physical health. There is still very much research to be done on this subject of course, but I personally found this fascinating.

The idea that genetic manipulation is so commonplace that it can happen even from the food that we eat is astounding. There is nothing "unnatural" about genetic manipulation or gene transfer from one organism to another, we're just starting to scratch the surface of how often it really happens.

Reference: Vaucheret and Chupeau (2012). Ingested plant miRNAs regulate gene expression in animals. Cell Research 22: 3-5

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Personal Reasons For Disliking The Vatican

Of course there are numerous reasons that people don't like the Vatican, and rightfully so. There is the whole pedophilia scandal, but I've talked about that before. There's the stealing babies scandal in Spain, but I've talked about that as well. There's the way they preach against the use of condoms despite the spread of AIDS, and the way that they are bigotted and hateful towards homosexuals. All of those things are excellent reasons to hate on the Vatican, but I wanted to tell a little story of my own. I am lucky enough to never have been abused by a priest nor do I have AIDS. I am not a homosexual nor was my baby stolen from me. I can however relate to another insidious aspect of the Vatican which is not often talked about, but to me demonstrates that as an institution they believe in nothing they preach.

When Catholics are approached with the terrible scandals that their church has to apologize for, they have a certain way of sidestepping the issues in order to protect the "integrity" of their sacred institution. Well the nuns that stole babies from liberal mothers in Spain were terrible, of course, but the Pope never sanctioned such a thing. They were misguided, maybe a few of them were bad people, but you can't say they reflect on the entire church. The pedophilia scandals were horrible, agreed, but they were the actions of a few, they just wanted to protect the name of the institution, not all priests are rapists you know. You can't judge the entire insitution by the actions of those bad eggs. And sure the Pope tells people not to use condoms, but what do you expect? He's a Pope, not a scientist or a President! He tells people to abstain from sex too, but if people are not going to listen to him about that then they'll not listen to him about the condoms either right? It's not like condoms are illegal or anything! Same goes for gay rights. The Vatican can keep them out of the clergy and not let them get married in their churches, but after that you can't blame the Catholic church for the state of gay rights in your country.

Now I know very well that each and every one of those arguments is flawed. But let's suppose for a moment that it was true, and that the Vatican as an institution has clean hands on all of these issues. Let's say that, despite its (albeit monumental) cockups, the Vatican still believes in charity and wants the best for its followers. Let's say that it is grossly misguided in some respects due to its antiquated views that have not yet caught up with modern times. Why do I not believe that? I have a story from my own family that leads me to believe that it is not the core of the institution itself that is fundamentally good, but rather there are a few good people thinking they're in a safe place when in reality they are tangled in a spiderweb.

I know that taxing religious institutions in the US is something atheists talk about but that many theists think to be a silly issue, especially with regards to the Catholic Church. Tax what, donations? Sure they make money in their private schools, but they have to pay for the living expenses of their teachers, they do a lot of charity work, it's silly to consider making a poor sweet old nun file a tax return!

While that is also a flawed argument, it is still not relevant to the fact that, in Rome, the Vatican owns a shitload of apartment buildings. And no, they don't pay the yearly taxes that everyone else pays on their property. Mario Monti tried suggesting they do, but I'd like to see if he manages to get that one past Parliment. One of the buildings that they own is the one that my grandmother lives in, as she has for the past thirty years.

In her contract, my 88 year old grandmother has a fixed rent, and as luck would have it she is also living in a prime piece of real estate. So of course, what does the Vatican want to do? They want to get rid of her so that they can rent it at 3 times the amount she is currently paying. Therefore, for the past three years, they have been trying to boot my grandmother out on her ass.

First they took away her ability to watch satellite TV, despite the fact that it is her right as an Italian citizen to have access to television. They called her repeatedly, attempting to make it uncomfortable enough for her so that she might leave on her own. She didn't budge, it being far too difficult for a woman in her late eighties to undertake a massive move.

So they took her to court in an attempt to evict her, despite the fact that they do not have a legal leg to stand on.

My grandmother has been paying legal fees for the past two years, fighting the Vatican for her right to live in her home. She has been terrified, for the past two years, that she would have to find another place to live, throw away all of her posessions because she would not be able to bring them with her. She has been selling her books, her furniture, because she does not trust the legal system to be fair when under fire from the Vatican's legal team. So far the law continues to be on her side, but she lives in fear that her luck will run out and that she will have to leave the home she shared with her husband and find somewhere else to live. She has never, in thirty years, been late on her rent. She has never, in thirty years, been a nuisance or complained about a single thing. But they want more money in the bank, so the old lady's gotta go.

Does these sound like the actions of an organization with charity in mind? Keep in mind this is the Vatican itself, not some rogue priest that got a touch of the greedies. The Vatican is trying to kick an elderly woman out of her home to make an extra buck, and they don't even pay a cent in taxes on the property to begin with.

The glaring hypocrisy of it all is they don't pay taxes or contribute to our society, but they think they have the right to dictate how our society should behave.

Because of the Vatican's influence, divorce is very hard to come by in Italy. Because of the Vatican's influence, there are few research institutes that can carry out stem cell research. Because of the Vatican's influence, IVF laws are also restricted. And we have it pretty good, considering that in Ireland you can't even get an abortion.

This, to me, indicates the true motives of the Vatican's exsistence are power and money. I agree that there are some nuns and priests that truly join the church because they have stars in their eyes, they want to help others and think that it is the best way to do it. But I see them as people who go and work for what they think is a charity, but in reality is a corrupt company that is robbing their doners blind. I do not refute the fact that there are idealistic and good people that are part of the Catholic Church, but I think that it is rotten at the core.

Those that really want to do good in this world will find a way to do so, with or without the Vatican. To those that have amassed power for themselves in the Holy See, I think that it is time for them to get the fuck off their high horse.

Either start contributing to society in a meaningful way, or disappear to your private independant state. You will not be missed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Carnevale People! Now Go Eat Some Cake

Today is Mardi Gras and the day before Ash Wednesday. It is for this reason that Mardi Gras is a day for going batshit insane. For kids, it's the day you dress up in a costume and throw paper confetti and silly string all over the place (see? we have a kind of Halloween too). For teenagers, it's a day to pull pranks on your friends and egg a few people. For adults, it's a day to throw a very decadent (and often a raunchy sex) party and get smashed. For everyone it's a day to eat as much shit as you want, because tomorrow is supposedly the first day of lent and so all this decadence will not be allowed. I of course will not be participating in lent this year, but as I said before, I'll take a holiday as an excuse to do something fun any day. I didn't get an invitation to an exclusive Venetian party, but I'm sure I'll find something to do tonight.

By living in Dublin for 5 years I actually missed Carnevale/Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras every year, because I never knew what fucking day it was on until it was all over. I know it's 40 days before Easter, but how the hell am I supposed to know when that is either? Have you ever wondered why Easter changes every freaking year, and how the hell they decide when it's going to be, and why is the Orthodox Easter different than the Catholic one, and who the fuck can keep up?! Well, have yourselves a little history/theology lesson, on me:

Apparently, Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, or March 21st. Phew! The reason the Orthodox Church has a different Easter Sunday is because they use the Julian Calendar when calculating their dates, instead of the Gregorian Calendar that we all know and love.

Sounds weirdly arbitrary doesn't it? Not to mention a little pagan? Bah who cares, it's not like anything these institutions do or believe makes any sense anymore...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: Sister

I felt it was time to read me a little thriller with a twist for a change, and so I wound up landing on Sister by Rosamund Lupton. Hey it was cheap, it had some decent reviews and it was referred to as a "psychological thriller" (which is usually code for "slightly more effort was put into this" thriller) so I figured I'd give it a try.

All in all I suppose I enjoyed it, if for no other reason than it was written in a slightly different fashion and thus giving it a spark of originality. The main character is far from likeable, she's overbearingly snobbish at best and outright racist at worst, and it makes me sad to think that there would be numerous English people that would relate to her brand of snobbery or at least know someone in their family that is like that. However the point of the book is her growth out of that mentality, something she learns to do to emulate her lost sister, which is a slow and laborious process but one she undertakes nonetheless. It is this emphasis put on her struggling to leave her ignorance behind that makes me forgive its presence in the book, however annoying it sometimes was.

I would recommend this book to someone who enjoys the genre and is looking to wile away a few hours. I only unmasked the killer a few pages before the author revealed him and never saw the second revelation coming, which for me is quite good. There is nothing that I hate more than reading a predictable thriller that you keep reading just to finish it and get it over with, and this one definitely kept me engaged until the last page. For the biologists out there like me be prepared to give the author a little artistic liberty in the matters of science, but not so many that it becomes an eye-roller. In the words of a good friend of mine: "More of a Jurassic Park, not an Angels and Demons" :)

Please tell me you have at least read those two books so as to get that reference

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mario Monti: An Update

I haven't written about the Italian government or the economic crisis in a while, mostly because of the conflicting stories, the misinformation and the fatalism that afflicts this country can be incredibly overbearing. However, I read a great article on my friend's webpage the other day, and surprise surprise not only was it a tad optimistic, it suggested that Italy might finally be getting over the bad rep it has in Europe, but some of the most fatalistic Italians I know didn't shit all over it! Berlusconi was famous for telling everyone that everything was going juuust fine, while not even hiding the fact that he was robbing the country blind, which contributed a lot to the mentality in Italy that whatever they say on TV the reality is surely 1000 times worse. However, it seems as though this university professor may actually be the first level-headed guy we've had in a while. Whether or not his intentions for the country are good remains to be seen, but at least we seem to be at least taken slightly more seriously as a country again. I thought it was time for an update, let's see where we go from here:

Mario Monti: Italy's global player with the ear of Obama and Merkel

Italian PM's standing in Washington and Berlin gives him a great deal of clout as he seeks to negotiate eurozone crisis
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L), Fra
taly's prime minister, Mario Monti (right), is in stark contrast to his flamboyant and controversial predecessor. Silvio Berlusconi. Photograph: Michel Euler/AFP/Getty Images

It is a long time since Washington said anything nice about Europe's handling of its debt crisis. Publicly – and even more so in private – US officials have been withering about efforts to stare down the bond markets, save the euro and avert a new slump in the west.
But the criticism abated last week when a priestly, ascetic 68-year-old Italian went to the White House in the latest attempt to shift the terms of the argument raging over Greece, his own country, and the fate of the single currency.
Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, was garlanded with the kind of praise that may elevate hope over reality as he grapples with the third biggest sovereign debt in the world.
"The prime minister came in at a very difficult time," said Barack Obama. "We appreciate the strong start and the effective measures he is promoting inside Italy … He's also been able to generate confidence throughout Europe."
Confidence has been in short supply in Europe for two years, not least this week as the debt drama in Athens hurtles towards its denouement.
But Time magazine put the former economics professor on its cover and dubbed him "the most important man in Europe" and that "the fate of the world economy rests in Mario Monti's hands".
That may be overwrought, but there is little doubt that Monti's arrival as Italian PM in November has changed the political dynamic among Europe's leaders in their longrunning struggle to resolve the debt crisis. "The situation in Italy is not good, but it is manageable," said a minister from one eurozone country. "Monti is trusted by European partners."
In this, as in character and temperament, he is the very opposite of his flamboyant and discredited predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi. And paradoxically, Italy's weakness makes Monti more influential and powerful for the simple reason that the European elites believe he is their best hope of reforming Italy, bringing down its €2 trillion (£1.66tn) debt (120% of GDP), and reviving the eurozone's third biggest economy.
The European hopes lend Monti a lot of clout, not least in his ability to emerge as the first authoritative challenger to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, over her stewardship of the euro crisis.
"Monti is the new factor in the equation," said a senior EU official. "He's listened to in Berlin." And he is not shy about spelling out what he expects of Germany if his ambitious plans to retool the Italian economy are to bear fruit.
Last week in Washington he called for Germany to liberalise its services sector, do more to spur domestic demand (echoing US calls), and act more resolutely to save Greece even if Athens was not fully complying with new bailout terms set in Brussels, Berlin, and Frankfurt.
Monti has previously told Merkel, bluntly, that regardless of the success or failure of his domestic reforms, Italy would be hobbled by the high cost of its borrowing. Only Germany could fix that by vastly increasing the eurozone's bailout fund to deter the markets from betting against Italy.
Criticism of German policies on the euro is common, but carries more weight coming from Monti. Senior diplomats say some in the German government are starting to bristle with indignation at his demands.
Monti has already passed an austerity package designed to eradicate Italy's budget deficit by 2013. But critics pointed out that cutting spending was easy compared with kickstarting Italy's moribund economy, the acid test for Monti.
As Monti was being feted in the US, political parties in Rome were trying to water down his bill liberalising parts of Italy's closed shop economy with hundreds of amendments. Around 200 were designed to ringfence Italy's privileged professions. One analyst argued that even if he pushed his bill through, Monti's reforms were mere window dressing. "The way to lift the economy is through real incentives to companies and lower taxation and I don't see that," said Raffaele de Mucci, a politics professor at Rome's Luiss University.
"Monti is lucky that as a technocrat prime minister he does not have to worry about consensus and that is a big difference with the Greek government, but he could yet risk problems when he tackles labour reform."
Monti is embroiled in tricky talks with unions to make hiring and firing easier and has promised to introduce legislation by the end of next month.
"This is the first real test – if he can get through that he will make it to the end of his mandate in 2013," said Roberto Perotti, a professor of economics at Bocconi University in Milan. "Next comes reform of the legal system, which is perhaps the major problem, which no one has been able to change in 30 years and for which he will need the reluctant help of magistrates and lawyers."
If a faster legal system would attract more foreign investment, then so would a reduction in bureaucracy, starting with the scrapping of provincial authorities, which sit between town councils and regional governments. Although they are protected by the Italian constitution, the Monti government intends to hand over their powers to towns and regions, leaving them as "empty shells", according to Treasury undersecretary Vittorio Grilli. Only by making such meaty reforms stick between now and 2013 can Monti hope to have any impact on sluggish growth.
In the meantime, despite winning plaudits for his professorial demeanour – a relief after Berlusconi's clowning – Monti has risked alienating voters by describing the culture of jobs for life so prized by Italians as "monotonous". But no politician, least of all Berlusconi, is keen to oust Monti while he pushes through tough legislation they have spent careers avoiding. And while Berlusconi's party splinters, the centre-left Democratic party is riven by a financial scandal.
"If Berlusconi did the dirty on him it would be the only way to ensure Monti would go into politics, and that would be a disaster for Berlusconi," said James Walston, professor of politics at the American University in Rome.
"Monti's biggest obstacle is bureaucratic inertia, helped by vested interests with key people in ministries who can stop pieces of paper being passed. Compared to that, Berlusconi or the unions can be dealt with because they are visible."
Perotti recalled studying under Monti when the PM was a professor at Bocconi in Milan and said he had brought an enlightened feeling to the university. "He was one of the few who had studied in the US and he encouraged us to do so to make us less provincial."
Decades later, the rest of Italy is also ripe for change, said Walston. "Italy changes when there is a huge stimulus from outside, it happens every generation and it does not happen gradually."
Berlusconi, who degenerated into an international laughing stock and a European pariah, was fond of urging US business to invest in Italy because of the prettiness of the country's "secretaries". On Wall Street last week, Monti appealed for US investment based on his economic and financial reforms.
Already the cost of borrowing for Italy has fallen almost two percentage points to around 5.5% since he took office. That is still expensive, but out of the bailout danger zone. Time may be Monti's biggest enemy since he has pledged to stand down at next year's elections.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Playing Devil's Advocate... Again

OK so Whitney Houston has died, I'm sure the entire world has heard by now. I still have the same opinion as before on how obsessive people seem to get when a celebrity dies, but this time I wanted to address the opposite extreme. I don't know if it's just the people that I know and hang out with or if it's my entire generation that tends to be this cynical, but the overwhelming number of comments and statuses that I've seen on this go something like this:

Ya I heard, so sad,
like I know all those children that died from malnutrition or war or poverty or whatever,
but I mean,
I know she was addicted to all manner of things and recently, 

But still,

Now I don't think that this argument makes any fucking sense, but I hear it all the time. Yes, Whitney Houston was just one person. As was Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and Heath Ledger. Yes, it is true that there are millions suffering and dying around the world that we tend to care far less about, if at all.

But this argument doesn't make sense because human emotion is not governed by numbers. You could also say that your mother, your sister, your cousin, your friend or your lover are just one person, one in the millions that die around the globe, so why the hell don't you care about their death 1/1,000,000th of what you feel for the million children that died in the world? Of course you're going to care more about someone you knew and cared about, regardless of why they died, because you have an emotional attachment to that person. It's a bond, it's the monkeysphere, it just matters to you more. So how does this translate to celebrities?

Just because you have probably never met them does not mean that a number of artists are not very important to most people's lives. As a species we have this amazing artistic side, and there are some forms of art that touch us, move us. For most people, music is an integral part of development and finding yourself as you transition from childhood to adulthood, when you lock yourself in your room and it seems as though only this one song will help you through this terrible moment. It's the music that you played full blast when you were furious, when it seemed that only that could calm you down. It is the song that someone who loved you dedicated to you, because it sung the words that they could not tell you themselves. It is the music that moved you to tears in your moments of loss. The people that brought us this music mean something to us, because their art means something to us. It was crucial to our development as young adults, and for many it continues to be a source of comfort, relaxation and enjoyment well into their old age.

To some like myself, actors in films can be just as important, if not more so. For kids especially, actors are often your first crushes. They are the protagonists of your very first fantasies, they are the subjects of your first lust when you are still unsure as to what it even is, and that fucking means something. That has emotional value to us. For me, as someone who always relied on films more than music for my development, Patrick Swayze was one of my first real crushes. When I watched dirty dancing after he died and knew that not only was he gone but that he died of a terrible painful illness, I was literally in tears. It didn't matter that he hadn't made movies in a while, or that dirty dancing is now dated and representative of a more melodramatic time of cinema, because that movie meant so much to me growing up that that is what I was grieving for. I wasn't upset that someone famous had died, nor did it matter in the slightest that he wasn't the greatest actor on the planet. I was grieving for what losing him meant to me, I was grieving for the loss that I felt. I know that sounds selfish, but that is a huge portion of what grief is. If you lose a friend, you grieve because you wont be able to talk to them anymore, see them anymore, you grieve for your loss.

Not all celebrities have this effect on people, and not everyone is affected by music or movies or novels or art the way others are, and I suppose they'll never get it. I, for instance, was never influenced or fond of Michael Jackson, but I understood that he touched millions of people so I understood their grief even though his death didn't affect me in the slightest. Whitney Houston definitely meant something to me, but she wasn't so important to me that I felt devastated. I am objectively sad that she is gone, I am sorry that she will have no more music to give, my thoughts go out to her family, as it is never easy to lose someone you love especially to drugs, but I am not affected the way others were.

I suppose my point is that there is a healthy middle ground, with many people on either extreme. There always are going to be people that think that either you obsess over everything that is celebrity and venerate all that is famous as if they were demi-gods, or you're a nihilistic party pooper that refuses to acknowledge any legitimate reason for being upset when an artist has died. I find myself in the middle, I think I have sufficiently explained how I got here and I wont be pressured into joining either extreme end.

Let me ask you, what artist influenced you most growing up? Which celebrity death do you think will most upset you?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Catholics In A Huff Over Contraception

I think ProfMTH asks some very good questions in this video, so I decided to take a few moments to voice my opinion on the subject, despite being quite ignorant of US law.

First of all, it is important to say that NO religious practice whatsoever should be automatically exempt from the law of the land. I hate to use the slippery slope argument, but in this case I think it’s applicable in that if you just broadly say “yes, anything you want to do for religious purposes is exempt from the law”, you’re giving a carte blanche for everything from drug taking to honor killings. It’s ridiculous to assume that that would be a right and the only reason anyone is even arguing that it is in this case is only doing so because this issue has to do with Christianity and anti-woman legislation.

However, I suppose I’m a “libertarian” in that I’m willing to find a compromise, if such compromise ensures that other people’s safety (i.e. people who did not choose to partake in the religious ritual) is not put at risk. This means that I think that if you have a specific gripe about a law that prevents you from exercising your religious freedom, you should be able to present your case and a compromise might be reached depending on the circumstances.

Our first example involves Muslim women required to cover their faces in public buildings. As I understand it, the reason there is a law banning the covering of one’s face in public buildings has to do with being a potential threat and not being recognizable. This compromise is hard to reach, because it involves the safety of the public. Someone intending to do harm could dress in a burka in order to gain access to the public building without being recognized if such a compromise would be allowed. The only reasonable alternative I could think of is to replace the law with metal detectors, but that comes at significant expense. In this case I would leave the decision to them, although I do not think that a compromise always needs to be reached if one cannot be.

Example two involves a ban on the consumption of peyote, no exceptions for religious ritual. I have to admit a certain about of bias here as I am for the legalisation of drugs in general, but even if drugs remain illegal I think that this argument still applies. The question is why is peyote illegal? How dangerous is it? If it is true that prolonged use is not more damaging thanalcohol abuse I don’t think that a compromise cannot be reached. This may include that they not grow their own, not be allowed to sell it or transport it, receive a controlled amount of it from a controlled source or even have a physician present during the ritual in case something goes wrong (can you even OD on peyote? Pardon my ignorance but it was missing from my big book of drugs). They could require that members be aware of the risks associated with it before partaking in the ritual. It is a reasonable compromise that does not endanger anyone outside the community that knowingly participates.

The third example regards child labor laws, in that Jehovah’s Witnesses might violate them by having their fourteen-year-old children sell books and/or pamphlets for them. While I believe that child labor laws are in place primarily to protect the rights of the child regarding getting an education (and therefore there should be checks to make sure that these children are in fact being educated satisfactorily, this specific issue notwithstanding), I do think that there is a way to get around this law by not having the children sell anything, but rather have them simply hand out free pamphlets after school hours and on weekends.

Example four is a little more tricky because it involved animal cruelty, which is always a gray area under the law. More information regarding the exact practices during the ritual would be needed in order to reach a decision. If it is a case of simply killing an animal as a form of sacrifice, perhaps they could simply be required to comply with US law regarding how animals are killed. If they use the same methods that are legally used for slaughtering animals for meat then I don’t see any conflict between religion and law in this case (based on some videos I’ve seen though, I’m not sure the US has many laws regarding the ethical killing of animals, but that’s something I’ve discussed elsewhere). If the big problem here is not the method of killing which is found unethical but the fact that the animal is not slaughtered for the sole purpose of food consumption, that could easily be gotten around by either consuming the animal themselves or selling it for meat. Anyway, I find it quite ludicrous that, in a country where billions of animalsare slaughtered every year for food, they will draw a line at slaughtering just a couple more of the exact same animal on an altar, but that’s my opinion.

This brings us full circle back to the situation between the Obama Administration’s health care reform and the Catholic Church. From what I understand, a compromise has been reached. The health care reform would require the health insurance companies to pay for the contraception. The Catholic hospitals would not be required to pay for it, hand it out or be directly involved with it in any way. I think that it is a fine compromise and the issue should now be over.

Having said all that, if a compromise cannot be reached, or the religious entity in question rejects the compromise, fuck ‘em. A secular government should not be expected to let anyone do whatever they want simply because they are a religious organization. It puts religion on a pedestal that it does not deserve. I don’t see why, objectively and legally speaking, you should make automatic exemptions for a person’s faith, but none for a person’s morality. If person A doesn’t want to abide by the law for religious reasons, and person B doesn’t want to abide by the law for moral reasons, and person C doesn’t want to abide by the law for cultural reasons, how can you say that there is a fundamental difference between them?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Journal Club: Cure For Alzheimer's?

A couple of days ago I found a post about this paper on Blue Collar Atheist. Well, it was a post about an article about this paper, which is how most people get their science news. After getting a little annoyed with the article in question for not, as is commonplace for the media, giving the reference to the paper (sorry if my comment stating my frustration was a little agro) I finally managed to dig up the paper and have a read myself. Let’s start off the Journal Club with the potential cure for Alzheimer’s Disease!

While the cause for AD still remains to be determined, there is evidence to support what has been referred to as the “amyloid hypothesis”. This hypothesis states that the disease is caused by the build-up of the protein amyloid-β (Aβ) in the brain, forming “plaques” of this protein. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the gene (APP) which codes for amyloid-β is located on chromosome 21, and people with Down’s Syndrome (caused by having three copies of chromosome 21 instead of 2) almostall suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s. Although the cases of inherited AD are very few, those that do have the hereditary form often have a mutation in a gene called PSEN1, which is responsible for cleaving Aβ so that it can then be cleared from the brain. Also, studies have shown that people with two copies of the dysfunctional form (known as APOE4) of Apolipoprotein E (APOE), a protein that later clears Aβ deposits from the brain, are at high risk of developing AD.

The ApoE gene is regulated by other genes, like peroxisome proliferator activated receptor (PPARγ) and liver X receptors (LXR), in coordination with retinoid X receptors (RXR). This means that these genes work together to activate the transcription of APOE, which in turn goes ahead and helps clear these Aβ deposits from the brain. Therefore, the researchers in this case decided to get an already FDA-approved drug called bexarotene, which stimulates the gene RXR, and feed it a few different mouse models for AD.

First, they gave the drug to APP/PS1 mice. These are mice that overexpress the gene that produces AB (which is what we see in patients with Down’s Sydrome) as well as the mutant form of PSEN1. Administering the drug to these mice effectively reduced the Aβ in the brains of young and old mice with these mutations. Also, this treatment seemed to restore cognition and memory problems that these mutant mice have.

Next, these researchers tested this drug in two other mouse models for AD: APP PS1-21, which has similar mutations to the APP/PS1 mouse (only with higher levels of Aβ in the brain) and the Tg2576 mouse, which has a mutation in the APP gene and shows age-dependant memory loss. The drug worked in reducing both Aβ levels and restoring normal behaviour to these mutant mice

It was confirmed that this drug was effective in clearing Aβ from the brain by stimulating APOE production by administering it to mice that completely lacked the gene for APOE. In these mice Aβ levels remained the same, evidently because there was no APOE gene present to stimulate.

Now for the downside. These mutant mice have a genotype that are more applicable to patients with AD that have it because of too much APP protein, as in the case with Down’s Syndrome patients, or with a mutant form of PSEN1, as is the case of only 1-5% of all AD patients. These results seem far less applicable to patients that develop AD due to a defective form of APOE. This drug works by stimulating the transcription of APOE, thereby making the cells produce more protein that goes and clears the Aβ from the brain. However, in the case of people with a defective form of APOE, all this would do is make more defective protein. The question thus becomes this: how “defective” is APOE4? Is it just less good at doing its job, and therefore producing more of it would help the problem, or is it completely defective and not capable of clearing out the protein at all?

Yes, this is a promising study. However, the human trials that could come of this are trials for only a subset of people with AD. It is common to think that just because a disease has a name it means that there is one cause, one effect, one cure. If only it was that simple! There is no disease where this misconception is more evident than in cancer. Everyone wants “a cure for cancer”, as if there could ever be the one cure. There are hundreds of kinds of cancer each caused by multiple different factors and/or combinations of those factors. When someone comes up with one cure for a subset of one kind of cancer caused by one thing it barely makes news, despite the fact that it is a huge achievement.

Anyway, I’m not shitting all over the paper. It’s interesting, it’s promising and I would love to see how it does in human trials. The only downside is that this study is not so applicable to a significant fraction of patients with AD, so I doubt that it will be the “one and only” cure for it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day! That's Right, I Said It

As the years go by I realize that this holiday has more people who hate it than those who don't. Why, do you ask them? Because it's a made up holiday! It's all about consumerism!! It's the florists and the card companies that profit!!! GRRRRR.

To which I respond yes, that's true. Only thing is, all holidays fit that description!

As most others, February 14th also has a vague religious root, but having a religious reason doesn't make you any more or less of a made-up holiday. The 25th of December was bogarted from the pagans in an attempt to convert more of them to Christianity, the logic behind it being that they would be warmer to the idea if they didn't have to give up the holidays they already had. Halloween is based on the pagan All Hallow's Eve, which was a sort of New Years and when they believed that the veil between the physical world and the spiritual world was at its thinnest. Your birthday is an arbitrary day on which you celebrate having made it for another year on this planet, though in reality you get no older on the day of your birthday than you do any other day of the year. Same goes for January 1st. So honestly, who the hell cares if it was made up or not?

Valentine's Day is a good excuse to do something spontaneous and romantic for your lover, which is especially useful for couples that have been together for the long haul and maybe their romantic life has gotten to be a little routine. Christmas is an excellent excuse to really think about your friends and family, choose a gift you think they'll love, be together with them and have fun. Easter is an excellent excuse to eat a load of chocolate without feeling guilty, and Mardi Gras is a great excuse to have a really raucus partAY. Your birthday is a day for you to feel special, and for you to get to do whatever the hell you want to do and your friends have to go along with it because, after all, it is your birthday. New Years is an excellent excuse to go out with your friends, get smashed and have a blast. Well, can't you do these things on any day of the year? Of course you can! But it's always nice to have a little reminder in the calendar that you are long overdue a nice present for your mom, or a candlelit dinner for two to tell your lover how much you love them.

The holidays you prefer will depend on what they mean to you, what childhood memories you associate with those dates, what you enjoy doing on those specific days. You don't have to love them all, just acknowledge that a specific day of the year is only as special as you want it to be. Nothing more, nothing less.

So please, chill out! Don't want to give your money to that greedy corporate hallmark? Then fucking don't! Make your own card! Or don't give a card at all, just spare me your snide remarks, you who shits all over February 14th but starts putting up the Christmas tree in October.

Disclaimer: I actually hardly give two shits about V Day, I'm just making a point :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Everybody Loves A Fake War

Be it a war on terror, a war on Xmas, a war on videogames, many people, Americans especially, seem to love them a fake war. So when I had my creationism video spammed by a creationsit yet again I was not surprised to see that one of the many creationist articles Mogley52 asked me to read was one entitled WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS! 

I think I know where this is going, but let’s go ahead and take a look shall we? This might be fun!

Slight disclaimer: although this “article” mostly deals with evolution, it also contains digression into abiogenesis, cosmology and the like. I will have another post for other topics, but for the sake of clarity I will be focusing on this guy’s gripe with the mechanisms of evolution.

There is a war among evolutionists. Most evolutionists are Neo-Darwinian, believing in gradual change from one form of life to another, but a good growing minority of evolutionists believe in Punctuated Equilibrium which teaches life forms changed suddenly from one form into another through massive random genetic mutations caused by massive radiation.

But of course, we’re talking about the “war” between gradualism and punctuated equilibrium. For the sake of brevity I will keep this part short, but for a more in depth understanding of the non-issue do read that infamous gradualist’s book Climbing Mount Improbable. All I will say on the subject is that this “war” really is not being waged. Every reasonable scientist understands both mechanisms and no one is exclusively in one camp or the other, it’s just a matter of which occurred more frequently and why. Either way the evolutionary process of random mutation and non-random selection remains undisputed, it’s just a matter of how quickly it certain events came about and how long a species went without evolving.

Imagine a fish with part fins, part feet with fins evolving into feet. What survival benefit would there be? The fish couldn't use its fins or its feet, and there are no fossils showing such a creature existed. They only exist on automobile bumper stickers!

Automobile stickers aside, there are plenty of fossils that demonstrate this elegant transition from fins to the tetrapod leg, and I will be happy to explain.

First of all, we are not looking at fish that magically jumped out of a pond and started to walk on the bare land. We are looking at a boggy environment; one where the distinction between where the land ends and the water begins is not so well defined as the edge of a swimming pool. This indistinct boundary gave several different niches, and not just the two of “water” and “land”.

The most watery niche would have been happily populated by swimming vertebrate fish, let’s call them species A. However, getting closer to the shore, there was a niche that was more murky, more shallow, and probably containing more debris from the vegetation that grew closer to the land. The original species A  would not have been able to inhabit this niche, there being too much crap in their way to swim properly, but a fish with slightly sturdier limbs would have been more adept at moving around the murkiness and pushing itself around the debris. Why would it want to? How is this advantageous? Well, perhaps this area is a great place to hide from predators, if their predators were also free-swimming creatures that would have had a difficult time getting around in the shallows. Maybe there’s a whole bunch of food that the animal likes to eat caught in these shallows, food that other weaker-finned individuals can’t get to. Either of these would give these animals with stronger fins a selective advantage over ones without, therefore natural selection could begin its work selecting for that trait.
Some time passes and now this murky niche is well populated with these sturdier-finned fish, now called species B. Getting closer to the shore, there is yet another niche just waiting to be populated, one with even more shallow water and larger debris, rocks and other such inconveniences. This new niche is still too hard to manage for our species B, but fish with even sturdier limbs could get around it, propping themselves up over the rocks and crap in order to slither past the large debris and into more protected pools with more food. This would again be advantageous, and natural selection would select for such a trait. We now have something that can be called a “half-fin half-leg” in our species C, because while it is still not strong enough to support the weight of the animal on dry land, it is still much more of a leg than the fin we started out from, being able to at least propel the animal over stones and wood in the water.
We have now arrived at the edge of the water. Guess how much food and protection being able to leave it would give! We now have all the makings of a good limb, it having gotten stronger and sturdier over evolutionary time, it just needs a bit more support. This new species of animal probably still reproduced and lived in the water, but it was able to make brief expeditions onto the land, much like modern amphibians do today.
What is the discussion between gradualism and punctuated equilibrium here? It has more to do with how quickly these events came about, how constant the rate of evolutionary change was over time. It does not have anything to do with the mechanism itself that I have described, which has evidence to support it. Not the least of which are transitional fossils:

Evolution is possible only if there’s information (genes) directing it. Only variations of already existing genes are possible, which means only limited evolution and adaptations are possible. Nature has no ability to invent new genes via random mutations caused by random environmental forces.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no scientific evidence that random genetic mutations caused by unthinking environmental forces such as radiation can or will produce entirely new genes for entirely new traits. Mutations only produce more variations of already existing genes. For example, mutations in the gene(s) for human hair may change the gene(s) so that another type of human hair develops, but it'll still be human hair!

Well that really depends on what you mean by “invent” and “new” now doesn’t it!

Genetic duplications happen often for a varitey of different reasons. Sometimes an error in the copying mechanism of DNA causes large chunks of it to be copied twice, and in these chunks of duplicated DNA there can be a gene that actually has a function caught inside. Now the organism has more copies of a gene than it needs to make an adequate amount of protein needed for its survival, so a mutation in this copied gene that might have been fatal to the organism can in fact happen in this duplicated gene with no harm done, seeing as the animal still has enough of the original protein to survive. This allows for more mutations in this gene to be passed on, since the animals containing them are not adversely affected and therefore can reproduce as well as the next guy. Occasionally, these mutations can cause the gene to create a different protein, one that folds in a different way and therefore can have a different function, and this new protein can give the animal that has it a selective advantage. One great example of this happening is seen in the Lenski experiments. Another is seen with the evolution in the lab of bacteria being able to digest nylon. When this happens, the mutated gene in question is referred to as a “new” gene, because it codes for a new protein that has a new function. As you can see, it is very possible indeed.

Because mutations are accidents in the genetic code caused by random environmental forces they're almost always harmful. They damage the genetic code similar to how the random energy from an earthquake damages a building. Even if a good mutation occurred for every good one there would be hundreds of harmful ones with the net effect, over time, being deleterious to the species, even causing extinction. Even "neutral" mutations will become harmful when enough of them accumulate and are passed on. Mutations may also trigger the duplication of already existing traits.

Actually, they’re almost always neutral, but even if they were almost always harmful this argument still makes no sense.

Let’s say that for every hundred mutations 99 are harmful and 1 is beneficial. Let’s say that mutations like these occur in 1 out of 10 animals. If you have a population of 1000 animals, 100 of them will have mutations. That means that 99 of those will die, and 1 will have a trait that is selected for by natural selection. Well, what the hell is the problem here?! You still have 901 animals around to mate and have babies, the ones born from the parent with the advantageous gene will be more likely to have more babies in the future, evolution by random mutation and natural selection happens. Random mutations are just that, random. The individuals that have the beneficial ones are not constrained by the ones that have harmful ones, they are free to evolve and mutate independantly of one another.

What about "Junk" DNA? The latest science shows that "Junk DNA" isn't junk after all! It's we who were ignorant of how useful these segments of DNA really are. Recent scientific research published in scientific journals such as Nature has revealed that the "non-coding" segments of DNA are useful, even essential, in regulating gene expression (how, when, and where in the body genes are expressed) and various intracellular activities. Just because these segments don't code for protein doesn't mean they're not useful or that they don't code for something else.

Gee, I wonder why he didn’t give us the reference to that revealing Nature article? Oh that’s right, because it doesn’t exist. I think he’s vaguely referring to recent discoveries in microRNAs and the like, but that doesn’t mean that there our genomes are still not largely composed of junk DNA. It just means that they have discovered a function for another teeny tiny percentage of our genome.

Many people have wrong ideas of how evolution is supposed to work. Physical traits and characteristics are determined and passed on by genes - not by what happens to our body parts, as Darwin believed. For example, if a woman were to lose her finger this wouldn't affect how many fingers her baby will have. Changing the color and texture of your hair will not affect the color and texture of your children's hair.

No asshole. The father of the Inheritence of Aquired Characteristics was Lamarck, not Darwin, and his hypothesis has been refuted as false since the 1800s. Catch up.

At this point he does gripe on about human evolution, but seeing as he links to another article where he supposedly talks about that in more detail, I’ll skip it here in order to approach it exclusively in another post.

Just a few more words from our friend before concluding this ever-growing response:

A true transitional form wouldn't survive. It would be unfit for survival. Remember the example of the fish with part fins, part feet? Natural selection would have eliminated any such forms of life, if ever they even got to that point!

Well yes, I do remember explaining how well those transitional forms got on! So let’s continue:

DO EYES CARRY SCARS OF EVOLUTION? Read this fantastic Internet article by biologist and creationist Brian Thomas. Thomas refutes every argument of a "flawed" design for the eye, and explains how and why the so-called flaw is actually the best thing for the eye.

Sorry, quoting a creationist’s internet dribble is not the same as giving a scientific source for your argument. But hell, if we’re allowed to link to people talking on the internet as opposed to hard scientific papers, I’ll let NonStampCollector explain the "scars of evolution" the human eye posesses.

He then goes on to whine about how real famous scientists wont talk to him. None of it is relevant to the topic at hand, but this little lie and argument from authority still stuck out:

Einstein didn't believe in a personal God like Christians do, but he did believe science pointed to the existence of an all powerful and intelligent Creator!

HA! Bullshit! Besides, even if it was true, so the fuck what? There were very intelligent people once upon a time that believed that the Earth was flat, but that doesn’t make it any more true today than it did back then, regardless of how smart or famous the person that believed it happened to be.

Let’s conclude now shall we?

I have given lectures defending scientific creationism before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. At the end, I opened up for comments, questions, rebuttals. Very few of the evolutionist science faculty criticized what I had to say, and, when they did, I successfully answered them.

OK, I may not be part of the faculty at my university (yet?) but I’ve answered you. I’d like to hear your “successful reply”.

Until then, I’ll take a look at the other articles he quoted on my video, try to put them in some kind of rational order by topic and rebut in the most concise and clear way I can. If anything I said was too concise and you would like further explanations please feel free to comment and ask me to elaborate.