Sunday, December 03, 2006

about a lucky man who made the grade (the orphan posts series)

Right, so downloading intewub pron one million times faster is getting a little boring, so I thought I should once more return to enlightening you dirty little savages with my erudite pontifications and breathtaking wit. To start me off, here's an unfinished post from long, long ago. Do me a favour and suggest some extra paragraphs I can insert to make this post make more sense (and if anyone has any links to more bitching about Deborah Coddington over that N&S article way back then, please oblige). Best submission gets a rare, candid picture of Apathy Jack not berating his students about the fact that they are a rancid pack of scrofulous turds.

First, a rant.

One of the things that rips my nightie is how people talk about evolution as if it is an entity in it's own right, and the allied discussions about how our bodies are "designed for x", "not designed to deal with y".

Ass people. Ass. We (and plants, and animals and the deep blue sea) are not designed for anything. We're not freaking designed full-stop. We are "designed" in the same way that a rocky outcrop in the sea is designed to have a hole in the middle just the right size to allow tourist boats to cruise through.

Evolution is the outcome of two things: mutation, and natural selection. As living beings reproduce, errors occur (error is probably a prejudicial word - do me a favour and suggest something better). The resulting offspring then get hit by natural selection (once again, people, natural selection is not an entity) - if the difference between you and your parentals doesn't lead to your death before you can reproduce, and you aren't unlucky enough to be killed by anything else in your environment, then your mutation survives to be passed on to your offspring (unless it's not part of the 50% of your genetic code that you contribute during reproduction. Yes, yes, asexual reproduction is a little different).

Extend the time period hundreds, thousands, millions of years and that mutation may have conferred an advantage that has kept your motley collection of genes alive. Or maybe other gene changes have proved more important and the original gene has been lost or is dormant or otherwise suppressed. Or maybe a comet came by and wiped the whole species out, something that seems to happen a little to quickly for most living beings to evolve a defense to - unless, of course, you have luckily evolved a 1000-feet thick shell without it otherwise adversely affecting your ability to survive in non-comet-strike environments.

The important thing to remember is that you don't get your thousand-feet-thick shell because of comets. You get a thousand-feet-thick shell by effectively random mutation and then you survive to talk about it later because everything else that might have competed with you for resources or preyed on you got killed by a comet. Evolution is, above all, the science of hindsight.

The upshot is this: you're an accident. Deal with it. But for christ's sake stop talking about evolution as if it is an entity in it's own right because you start making it sound like the equivalent of a certain white-bearded old man who lives up in the clouds, watching you all the time, and especially when you're doing that thing in the bathroom (you know, that thing that's going to get you sent straight to hell). It just gets the pCms excitable and they go off on a tangent about how evolution is just another religion and we all know where that leads. Here, here and here.

Second ... a rant.

Good lord, Deborah Coddington is a foul waste of breathing space. I don't pretend to be a good statistician or even a good journalist, and quite frankly, neither should she ... we bitch royally about how politicians never admit they fucked up and do the honorable thing (uh, that means resign, people - not seppuku. Although ...), it would be nice if we held journalists and their frigging editors to the same standard. How about Debs, you could take a nice break from those dreadfully confusing numbers and maybe work a little on not being such an asshole?

Mind you, you've got to love her justification for fucking up the article so royally: She was just opening the issue up for debate.


In this spirit I look forward to her next article on how Jews kidnap Christian children, slit their throats and bake the blood in their matzos during Passover ...

... on other misuses of statistics, Kung Fu Monkey has a little article on the latest urban legend about the murder rate in Baghdad being less than that of Washington DC (spoiler: he calls shenanigans)

... and in other news, The Fundy Post is off hiatus and has it's own shiny new blogspot address.

You always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask:
Is it possible to have too much dietary fiber? I don't like to foreshadow these things, but it has the sentence "McClurken sliced him open and found 'a large amount of bran-like material with a dry, thick, toothpaste-like consistency' in the lower small intestine.", which may be all you need to know.

A Snopes a Day; or, Shit You Should Stop Believing:
Women in Germany face the loss of unemployment benefits if they decline to accept work in brothels.

NASA scientists discovered a "missing" day in time that corresponds to Biblical accounts of the sun's standing still in the sky.
Straight Dope tackles the same shit with Did scientists discover a "missing day" as predicted in the Bible? Best quote comes from Harold Hill, the most committed perveyor of the myth: "[M]y inability to furnish documentation of the 'Missing day' incident in no way detracts from its authenticity."

Goddamn Fucker.

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