Growing up you believe the world is meant to be the way it is. The older I get the more I realise that this is not the case. The world is full of injustices and atrocities that governments and the voice of faith expect us to accept, though with each passing year they grow fewer and fewer, at least one would hope. I have created this blog as a space for me to rant about all things science, politics, philosophy and religion, before it’s too late and the vessel of new atheism propelled by a growing surge in secularism solves all of the world’s problems for good.

Monday, 15 August 2011




Friday, 12 August 2011

Is incest immoral?

When incest is brought up in conversation it is normally met with utter revulsion. What are the main reasons for this and are they connected with morality at all? Is incest immoral?

From an evolutionary point of view the avoidance of incest as well as communal condemnation makes a great deal of sense. If you have children with a close relative then there’s a higher chance of the children dying at birth or suffering from some form of congenital disease that may have previously lain dormant within a family’s genes. The chance of this occurring decreases as relatedness decreases, though it never reaches 0 (I will comment on this later).

For instance, if one’s father was heterozygote (had two different alleles) for a gene that when homozygote (having two same alleles) gave its owner a congenital heart disease that was terminal. That is to say that he had one normal allele (dominant) that prevented the expression of that disease, as well as one deleterious mutant allele (recessive) that when in duplicate (homozygosis) gave its owner the disease. If he has two children, there is a 50% chance that either child receives the recessive allele. If both children end up heterozygote for this gene like their father and decide to have children together there is a 25% chance that their child will receive 2 of the recessive alleles (homozygosis) from its parents, and the will then suffer from the disease.

It’s almost a certainty that everyone has a recessive allele in his or her genes that would express a disease if it were in duplicate, homozygosis. This is one of the main reasons it has become culturally unacceptable in almost every corner of the globe to commit incest.

But is this a moral issue? Incest doesn’t necessarily entail the production of children. Incest is the act in and of itself and not the result. So if two consenting adults for whatever reason decide to delve into an incestuous relationship without the wanting of children, taking adequate steps to actively avoid this. Is this still immoral?

You may argue most incestuous relationships aren’t consensual. You may be right, but such relationships aren’t immoral because they are incestuous. They are immoral because one person is taking advantage of the other. Such relationships are immoral because of the abuse incurred on one of the persons involved, physical and/or psychological. Whether they are related or not isn't what defines it as immoral, it's the abuse of power used to hurt another.

Thus I don’t believe it is immoral for consenting adults to enter into and incestuous relationship, assuming the absence of abuse and if they avoid having children. However, that raises another question. Is it immoral to have children even if there is a higher than average chance that the children will receive a debilitating disease or could die at birth?

There are many people out there who have acquired homozygosis for certain congenital diseases. There are also many people who know they may carry one allele for a specific disease that has run through their family, some may know that they carry it. There are women out there who have trouble finishing pregnancy, where their children die early on, though they continue to try to have children. There are also plenty of women who cause their children to suffer disease and addiction when they use drugs irresponsibly while pregnant. Nonetheless, in most of the aforementioned cases it's not regarded as immoral to keep trying to have children, let alone illegal for them to do so. Yet it is illegal and judged immoral for close relations to attempt a similar act, where the fetus or child is at the same amount of risk.

Who would dream of denying a couple the ability to have children even if there's a large chance their children will be disabled or have a disease? Especially if the parents are willing to care for the child anyway. Who would tell these people that it's immoral for them to have children knowing that there’s a risk of disease or disability? If it’s not okay for close relatives to produce children because there’s a higher risk of disease or disability, then why is it okay for people to do the exact same thing with non-relations? If we were to follow the same line of logic, wanting to prevent children being born with disease or disability, then it would be as illegal for non-related couples carrying bad genes as it would for closely related couples. 

I just find it a little bizarre that two couples could carry exactly the same allele for a disease in each one of their genetics. Both couples, should they have children, would have the same 25% chance of having a child with the disease. However, if one couple is brother and sister it is a jail-able offence, whereas for the other couple it is perfectly legal.

It would then be reasonable to conclude that the resulting act of an incestuous relationship by consenting adults, even if they choose to have children, is not in and of itself immoral. Especially when you consider that a non-related couple with the same chances of passing on the disease are considered far from immoral if they choose to have children. Incest may not be immoral, however, it is much more likely that circumstances surrounding incidences of incest make the relationships immoral when compared with non-incestuous relationships.

What are your opinions?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Business of Religion

Here's a really interesting article I was sent today examining some of the richest religions and their relationships with wealth.

Geeeeez I hate scientology...

Humans, Neanderthals and now Denisovans!

So the lonely two has now potentially scored a third cousin on the hominin evolutionary tree. Give a warm round of applause to the Denisovans... at least, we hope? Recent findings give strength to the hypothesis that there was a third major group of hominins inhabiting Eurasia at the same time as early humans and our cousins the Neanderthals. It may even show that all three groups were interbreeding.

Fossilized remains have been found in western Siberia in the Stone Age Denisova Cave. Most recently a toe bone was found that is between 30 000-50 000 years old. Studies of the toe, alongside a previously found finger and tooth fossil, indicate a more primitive morphology and suggest that Denisovans split from the Neanderthals around 300 000 years ago. The scientists involved believe that they came to occupy a vast area of Asia while Europe and western Asia were being dominated by Neanderthals. We know that at about 40,000 years ago Homo sapiens were also inhabiting the same regions. However, the Denisovans remain somewhat of an enigma while we only have a few fragmented bones to analyse. More information is definitely required before giving them the status of their own species.

There's a bit of controversy over the findings and the subsequent conclusions drawn, especially when it comes to making conclusions from morphological analysis. For me to be fully convinced of this being a distinct third species of hominins I'd want it to be backed up with some solid DNA evidence. Some DNA was extracted and examined from a finger bone last year supporting their hypothesis. So here's hoping that the same can be done with the toe bone that becomes further support for the third hominin. Would be nice for two to become three!

Meanwhile, it's nice to note there's still so much out there that we don't know and is waiting to be discovered.

Mosquitos that shoot blanks, I think it'll miss the target of curing Malaria

A recent study has been published where a group of scientists bred a sterile strain of the mosquito that caries Malaria.

In short, they bred 100 of these male mosquitos up and found that when females bred with them they ended up laying infertile eggs. Females only mate once in their lifetime, and thus will produce no offspring if they make the mistake of pairing up with a dud male. The males are expected to also potentially have a benefit over other male mosquitos who do produce sperm. The sterile mosquitos may invest their energy into other areas of their survival if they aren't able to invest it into sperm production.

The trouble is that one needs to breed up effectively millions and millions of these males and then release them into the wild in the hopes of outcompeting fertile males. Assuming this could be done, the numbers bred up and then released into every area where Malaria exists, there would still be at least a small portion of fertile males mating with females. The sterile males would die and not pass on their sterile genetics (because they can't produce sperm to pass on their genes...). So all you'd need is just one fertile male mating with a female and Malaria could still be spread, however the million or so annual death toll from Malaria would definitely be substantially reduced.

Treating any pest problem with genetically infertile individuals is very difficult as they can't pass on this trait.

I think they need to focus on breeding a mosquito that has a genetic mutation that disallows transmission of Malaria. In other words, they can't carry the parasite. If you could their introduce this strain, after having decimated wild mosquito numbers, hopefully it would become the dominant strain of mosquito. That or work on a vaccine like treatment.

Plasmodium flaciparum

I might add just as an FYI, that Malaria is a unique disease because it is caused by a protozoan parasite that gets into your blood named Plasmodium flaciparum. At our university one is able to study the species through the botany department.

Obesity threatens to lower life expectancy, so what?

FYI this is going to be a bit of a pessimistic rant, but it's been frustrating me recently. I'm going to be honest, I have no sympathy for overweight or obese people at all. Yes some people have less control over their weight than others, I do concede this fact. However, it all comes down to self control. The more garbage you shovel into your mouth, coupled with very little or no exercise, then the fatter you'll get. It is a life choice and it's time those who choose to be fat take some responsibility for it. If you want to thin down then eat less and do more exercise fatties! You just simply can't stay fat if you eat healthily and get off your arse for 30 minutes a day and exercise.

I can't stand people blaming advertisement, the cheapness and availability of junk food, and our more sedentary lifestyle today, among other things. We all have the ability to eat well and eat less, to exercise daily and stay at a reasonable and healthy weight. If you want to be fat, that's fine. I don't have a problem with it other than how visually offensive it can be when coupled with inappropriate attire, it's your choice though. Just like smokers, if they want to get lung cancer, emphysema and any of the other numerous and terrible diseases linked to the habit, be my guest. But don't complain when a life long bad habit leads to illness, especially when it's so well known and advertised. If you want to base-jump, and eventually end up a paraplegic or worse (as a huge portion do), go for it! But don't complain when and if it happens, and don't blame everything else but yourselves. You who choose this lifestyle, being more than sufficiently educated about the risks, must deal with the consequences should they arise.

The main reason for my posting this is that I am so sick of hearing about the obesity epidemic and how for the first time in 1000+ years the life expectancy of western people is expected to decline. Good! Why give a monkey's? It means more air, more food and most importantly MORE ROOM ON THE TRAIN for me and the rest of us who live healthy lifestyles to enjoy (train anecdotes below)!

Why do the rest of us have to worry about how long others live? Since when was it high priority to make everyone live as long as physically possible, whether their personal choice of lifestyle allows it or not? If people want to reduce the length of their life expectancy, that's their choice. We shouldn't be worried about this, nor should we be trying to avoid it or force them to live longer. To the contrary, we should be facilitating this obesity movement. Let all the fatties have as much food as they want. Let's give them housing next door to Maccas and KFC. Screw it, we'll put down those flat escalator things, moving walkways I think they're called? Let's give them all the food in the world, let's keep them from exercising, and get them to lower their life expectancy as much as possible and as soon as possible.
Historical U.S. Obesity Rate, 1960-2004

It's a good thing if they shorten their life expectancy. Most of us in the west probably haven't really noticed, but food is actually becoming more scarce, let alone more expensive, as our population increases. We're well on the way to running out of fossil fuels that we so heavily rely on for generating and transporting the world's food, that the sooner our population growth slows, reaches equilibrium or even declines, the better! So we should be happy that such a large portion of our western world's population is willing to take it upon themselves to die earlier. It would be more fortunate if it didn't require using up our food resources, but you hey we can't have our cake and eat it too, the fatties need it. On top of that the obese are less able to have sex, less attractive and less fertile anyway... three more helpful attributes for curbing population growth.

With estimations above 50-60% for obesity rates in adults from the US, Canada and Australia, we should be positive about things. The average life expectancy will decrease as the majority of people are obese and their life will loser between 6-20 years. This however is misleadingly scary for the average person, who sees "decrease in average life expectancy" and thinks it applies to EVERYONE. No! It applies to the population as a whole, only the fat people are losing years of their life. If you're healthy and eat well, your life expectancy won't decrease at all. In fact it is likely to increase with time as medical science breakthroughs continue.

People will complain about all of the health costs, and beds taken up in hospitals, etc. However, the obese pay their taxes, have health insurance and medicare as well, so they have as much right to health care as the rest of us. And when it comes down to it, they're really just going through these medical issues sooner in life. They'd be in the hospital later on if they weren't fat as a result of something else towards the ends of their life anyway. The sooner these people end up in hospital with obesity related diseases and subsequently die from them, the faster we free up beds in hospitals to other people.

So bring on obesity, fill the streets with them. It'll suck hard for the rest of us in the short-term, losing seats on the train, having to wait hours in queues at Hungry Jack's, and having to watch these people blob around in public. But in the long-term it will be of great benefit to the healthy portion of the population. Living in a fat world will be a temporary inconvenience that will be better of us and the planet itself in the long run! So do your part and buy a fat friend a cheese burger and make this world a better one!

Anecdote 1: I have a not so fond memory of waiting for the train to Geelong one afternoon with a very obese woman on the platform next to me. The train pulled up and she pushed in front of everyone to make sure she'd get a seat (or perhaps two as she would require). She had to step through the train door sideways, without realising the next door was even thinner (these carriages were reminiscent of those in the Harry Potter movies when they head to school. Old and quaint. Anyway, in her haste she pulled the second door open, stepped through and it closed on her wedging her in the door. The three adult men who she'd pushed in front of, including myself, had to open the door and push her through it in order for us to board the train.

Anecdote 2: I was on the same train to Geelong one day when another more than portly woman was waddling sideways down the isle bumping into everyone. I was asleep until her right breast struck the side of my head. I woke up suddenly and she asked if I was able to move elsewhere to another seat. The offensive thing to me, was the fact that I was sitting beside an empty seat, however she clearly required both of the seats and thus wanted ME to move somewhere else.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Embiggen Books in Melbourne!

Some of Embiggen Books' rationally expansive literature

A few days ago saw the opening of a brilliant new bookstore in Melbourne! That's right guys, a new safe-haven for all you skeptical, rational, secular, humanist, scientifically inclined, atheistic ninjas. Embiggen Books has arrived!

I popped down today to make my first purchase and had a grand old chat with none other than Mr Warren Bonnett himself, editor of The Australian Book of Atheism and owner of the store. He and the family are still getting settled in and the store's coming together beautifully. So I thoroughly recommend you all head down at some point, have a browse and say hey!

Embiggen books also has guest speakers and book signings from time to time, and post blogs and videos of these events online. For more information go check out their website (linked above).

Hempcrete, what's all the fuss about?

Hempcrete block
This stuff is uber cool, it's concrete made from Cannabis. It's called hempcrete and is made of hemp hurds and lime. It's awesome because it's much more durable than concrete lasting many more decades than standard concrete. It's 15% the density of concrete and a single metre cubed of the stuff can sequester 165kgs of carbon, which is a very important fact in the face of climate change. So it's carbon negative, which concrete is most definitely not with buildings in the US accounting for 30% of their carbon emissions. It also works as a great insulator and moisture regulator, keeping the cool air out and warm air in in winter, and the visa versa in summer.

It has the same aesthetic look is much the same as concrete, so I definitely think that it provides only positives when compared with concrete. We should really be taking full advantage of this stuff!

Hempcrete building foundation
Hempcrete house

Monday, 8 August 2011

Malaysian rainforest gliders

Uhh, wait! Not this kind!
I was watching TV recently and chanced upon an epic doco about the Malaysian rainforest and its numerous inhabitants, which have evolved to glide from tree to tree. It's believed so many species have co-evolved this ability as the rainforest in south-east asia is so complex with a multilayered canopy of some of the world's tallest trees. This has resulted in a wide range of taxa, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, that have all conquered the age old problem of getting to food sources at the tops of trees by gliding. It's a great deal more efficient and safer than descending down a tree, walking to its neighbour and climbing many metres up it to reach one's food. Jumping would have presumably been the first attribute mastered by these animals. However, those species who had the winning numbers in the evolutionary lottery gained the primary traits such as slightly larger membranes between toes or under arms, or who could compress their bodies to provide great air resistance. They would have been able to leap further and fall more slowly and reach more distant trees and thus had an advantage over their counterparts.

Sunda Flying Lemur or Colugo
First I'll start with the mammals who commonly known as flying lemurs or Colugos. The name flying lemur is a little misleading as they're not lemurs nor primate, however they are believed to be on the closet living relatives of primates. This group of gliding mammals are freaking cool, despite looking like the love-child of a sloth and a bat. And they are probably the most evolutionarily advanced of all the gliders mammal or not. That may be a big call, but wait until you have a look at the extent to which they have adapted their body for gliding through the rainforest canopy. The membrane they use is called a patagium and has evolved to be as large as is physically possible for the animal. It spreads from the neck and shoulder blades to the fore-paw, from the tip of the last finger to the tips of the toes, and from the back legs to the tip of the tail, which is unlike any other gliding mammals in the world. You may think the Australian sugar glider could hold a flame to these guys, but alas their membrane spans only from their hands to their feet... Clearly they are gliding noobs in anyone evolutionist's books!
Australia Sugar Glider

Unlike Sugar Gliders, which are marsupials and thus have a pouch for their young to comfortably enjoy their flights in, the Colugo is a Eutherian and has no such useful baby pocket. Instead its young have to cling tightly around their mother's waist during her nocturnal tree gliding. Perhaps this is a secondary evolutionary trait that has made the young into a make-shift airbag for mum's tummy when she lands on a tree?
A Colugo in full spread with its young holding on

Amazingly enough it's thought that the majority of Colugos never touch foot on solid ground. Instead they are able to live their entire lives arboreally, up in the trees, gliding from tree to tree when they are avoiding predators or looking for food or shelter.

What I found most astonishing about these guys was their ability to maneuver whilst moving through the air. A PhD student in the doco had caught a wild Colugo and put a camera on its back and released it. He could track the camera and waited for a few days until it had fallen off the animal, then watched the footage. It was insane seeing the first footage from a Colugo's perspective as it glided from one tree to another, while being able to move left and right and dodge obstacles in its path... truly epic considering it is unable to fly!

Flying Dragon skeleton
Next here are the reptiles, which include a snake and a lizard that have both acquired the skill of gliding by using their ribs. The lizard, Draco Volans or Flying Dragon, lives high up in the trees and is insectivorous feeding mainly off termites and arboreal ants. Evolution has given these lizards a number of very long ribs that can be flexed outwards and turn them from a normally shaped lizard into one that appears to have swallowed a frisbee. It is also able to flatten out the sides of its neck to give additional gliding surface area.

Flying Dragon in full spread
For these guys the ability to glide is important for getting from one tree to another to find food, but possibly even more so for avoiding predators, one of which is also a gliding reptile. To aid in subterfuge they have brilliant camouflage making them almost invisible when sitting still on a branch.

Their would-be assassins are a group of snakes in the Chrysopelea family known more commonly as Flying Snakes (wow, back in the day people had such imagination when it came to naming animals, bet you can't guess the common name of the amphibian coming up!). These snakes are mildly venomous to humans and only grow to about 1m in length. The guy in the doco studying them just grabbed one from a tree and got bitten but ignored it, so pretty piss weak I'd imagine, not that I'm signing up for a test-drive of their toxin.

These guys feed off small animals, which obviously includes the Flying Lizard. They're believed to be in an evolutionary 'arms race', which effectively means one's evolving attributes that allow it to better catch its prey, whilst the other is evolving attributes that allow it to better evade its predator. As one gains an advantage over the other, it forces the other to catch up, leading to a very slow evolutionary game of cat and mouse.

Flying Snake gliding
So these Flying Snakes would have learned over a great deal of time that they could throw themselves (don't think you can call it jumping when it has no legs) from one tree to another when in hot pursuit of a meal. This would have eventually lead to those who could move further through the air because they were able to better compress their ribs, just like the Flying Dragons, to flatten themselves out and slow their descent and further their leap. This has lead to a snake that now turns itself into an S shape after each jump, and compresses its body into the shape of an airplane wing. This makes these guys almost more amazing than the other gliders as by turning themselves into a wing shape with the top being curbed and the underside being flat, they are able to generate lift much like a plane does. Whereas the other gliders don't appear to be able to do this. All the more awesome is that the snakes can judge what they'll land on and can change their body's orientation/shape in order to deal with it. When they want to land on a branch they shape themselves in mid-flight like a hook to catch onto the branch, whereas when they know they'll land on the ground, they stay more in the S shape and lift their head while throwing their tail down first. This allows their body to do the "worm" break dancing move when they impact, and thus their head is the last thing to hit the ground and no single part of the body absorbs all of the impact and avoids damage.

Another interesting thing to note about these guys is that you can see their heart while they're flattened out in gliding mode. In the above picture you can just see it about a foot back from the head of the snake.

Wallace's Flying Frog
Last of all we have the Flying Frogs. Again, these guys are pretty unique animals, as they rely solely upon the webbing between the toes of both their front and hind feet for gliding, though what they do is referred to as gliding, it's more like controlled parachuting. They also have lateral skin flaps that run down the sides of the legs and arms, but no where near to the same extent as the Colugo. Similar to the lizard, it has most probably evolved its gliding traits in order to reach trees while look for food or avoiding those pesky Flying Snakes!

There are numerous Flying Frogs, however the best glider is Wallace's Flying Frog, which is able to glide as far outwards as it falls. In other words it can fall at a 45 degree angle to the ground.

A future flyer?
Interestingly enough they weigh comparatively less than do other frogs of the same snout-vent length (perhaps following those dinosaur like birds who first became light in weight and gained feathers/wings to become airborne fully fledged flyers! Perhaps keep your eyes pealed for this guy to the left in a few short million years.

When compared to the other gliders, they're probably bringing up the rear with regards to mastering this ability of gliding, though nonetheless it is impressive to see an amphibian joining the mile-high club! And when it comes down to it, they've mastered the ability of surviving so what else can you say!

Wallace's Flying Frog, base juuuuump!
I'll throw up some videos below of these magnificent gliding critters for all you doco junkies out there! For those with a keen eye, watch for the wagging tail of the Colugo while gliding, and also check out how the snake positions itself into a J-shape before throwing itself into the air.

 The Colugo

The Flying Dragon and Flying Snake

The Flying Frog

Saturday, 6 August 2011

That's one small step for education, one giant leap for secularism!

A Perth primary school, which until recently had its students recite the Lord's Prayer at assemblies, has suspended the practice after complaints from parents. Though 70% of parents believed the practice should continue, 24% believed it should be stopped complete, and 6% had mixed feelings. WOOOO! Now to hit high schools right in the school chaplaincy program!

The Imaginary Friends Show official podcast for Think Inc.

So I got some really good news today about the podcast I appear on each week, The Imaginary Friends Show hosted and created by the splendiferous Jake Farr-Wharton. My segment is called "The Miracles of Modern Day Science" where we chat about anything scientific and interestingly awesome! The past few weeks have covered topics ranging from botox and botulism, cannabis and kronic, poisonous birds, splitting the atom in your kitchen and achieving supercentenarianism (living to 110+ years old).

Anyway, the good news was regarding the Think Inc. conference coming up in Melbourne on the 18th of September, where The Imaginary Friends Show will be hooking up with Think Inc. to do some amazing things, which shall be announced in the coming weeks! Speakers at the event include Christopher Hitchens, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tim Flannery and many more. It should be a brilliant event so definitely look into it!

We're going to hold preview sort of event prior to Think Inc. where we record a podcast live, and it would be great if any of you guys who live in Melbourne can make it. The venue's yet to be worked out, but I will keep you all posted.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Students friending teachers on FB now illegal in Missouri

Simply put... WHAT THE FUCK? The Government now apparently has taken it upon themselves to decide who we can and cannot friend on Facebook? Seriously? Will this be the latest US war, "the war on innappropriate student-teacher relationships"? How long has this been a serious epidemic, specifically on Facebook, that requires legislation to control it?!

This is as pathetic, if not more so, as the "war on drugs". If people want to have inappropriate relationships with their teachers, or students, they'll find a way to do so with or without being allowed to be friends on Facebook. How on Earth could anyone have thought this was a good solution to any sort of problem haha... honestly?! The worst thing is that the people who wanted this as well as those who brought the legislation in were grown adults... I can just see them now patting one another on the backs thinking "Yay, we've saved our children from predators, we can sleep at night now!".

Before thoroughly researching this event I definitely predict a single case where a student-teacher relationship had some connection with Facebook in Missouri. Therefore the public and Gov's first knee-jerk reaction is to ban friending one's student or teacher on Facebook. When are we going to wake up and realise that banning things, anything, doesn't stop the real problems themselves. It doesn't address issues of pedophilia or inappropriate relationships, it doesn't address gambling issues, drug addiction, speeding or riding without a helmet... This all still occurs whether or not certain things are heavily regulated or banned outright. Time to really tackle the issues at hand with better education and well thought out regulation.

The Westboro Baptist Church is unbelievable

I couldn't really imagine these guys doing much worse than what they already do on a day to day basis in the US picketing funerals of any so-called "gay enablers" (effectively anyone who doesn't actively hate and attempt to oppress homosexuals), soldiers and many other celebrities. They also make videos full of hate, which are published online quite often, condemning America, americans, gays, all other non-WBC Christians. So yeah pretty much anyone who isn't part of their specific church is in the firing line for their picketing and public abuse.

Anyway, if appears they've recently raised the bar after announcing that they are planning a trip to Norway to picket the funerals of many of the deceased children.

I'm desperately hoping that at the very least Norway denies them entry to the country, and at most... well I won't go there. Though a lonely cell in jail would suit their behaviour rather well I believe. These guys have been tolerated for so long, and really don't deserve to be a part of our society the way they treat others.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Pika Pika!!!

I was watching a David Attenborough documentary the other day (yes I'm an addict) on the life of mammals and there was a section on this weird and wonderful little mammal called a pika (only now did it just click that this is why the pok√©mon Pikachu was named so!). There are quite a few species but the one in the segment was the North American pika.

These guys are diurnal herbivores, living solitary lives but for in the breeding season. They live in rocky environments up in the high altitude regions where it gets really cool, but interestingly enough they don't hibernate during winter. Instead they spend a crap load of time prior to winter collecting all sorts of vegetation and stock piling it. Over time it turns into hay, which they can use for bedding, insulation as well as food. What was really cool about the segment was when David Attenborough put down a bouquet of flowers on a rock, with no other vegetation anywhere near by it was no time before the pikas came out and pillaged this precious resource, adding it to their piles.

Furthermore, there are many plants in their habitat which are poisonous, yet are still added to the piles of pikas for the winter. These poisons act as a natural preservative for the vegetation, obviously nothing wants to eat it while the poisons are still present. So over time they poisons break down as the vegetation becomes hay and are then safe to be eaten. Amazingly, the pika collects different plants with different amounts of poison that require different times to break down and can thus always have food available at any one time during the winter. Evolution for the mofo win!

Here's the clip from Youtube of David unleashing with the pikas!

Aussie census will recognise gay marriage

So apparently the Australian Census to be completed this month is going to recognised same-sex couples who've been married elsewhere in the world, though still same-sex couples are unable to wed in Australia. Yet one more sign that we the public want same-sex marriage to come in asap, it's a basic human right these people deserve to have recognised by the Government. Suck it up Julia! You've made enough unpopular decisions so far as PM, it's about time you made a popular one!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Catholic Church in spotlight again over child abuse

An inquiry has been instigated into numerous reports of sexual abuse in Ballarat and other areas of Victoria by members of the Catholic Church (surprise, surprise.). More evidence of the widespread problem of pedophilia in the Catholic Church and how they always, without fail, work their arses off to cover it up and keep it under wraps. Apparently doing right by your flock comes second to doing right by your shepherds...

As a result of these terrible acts it's believed 30 or more men have committed suicide. To my shock, the majority of cases occurred in Catholic Boys schools. Are we ever going to hear the end of these sorts of stories...?

Jedi joke is over! Mark 'no religion' on this year's census!

With the upcoming census on the 9th, just one more reminder to all those non-religious, agnostic, atheist people out there to be sure to mark 'no religion' on this year's census. Over 70 000 people marked Jedi as their religion on the last census.

"If you put down Jedi, you are marked no response and all you are doing is handing religion your power over yourself," says David Nicholls of Atheist Foundation of Australia.

The same goes for 'Pastafarians'. So let's stop giving more tax payer's dollars to religious organisations than they deserve!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Why I have such distaste for religion

Just one more example on the pile of those good people who are forced to do terrible things in the name of their religion.
"The winning picture of the World Press Photo of the Year shows Bibi Aisha, an 18-year-old woman from Oruzgan province in Afghanistan, who fled back to her family home from her husband’s house, complaining of violent treatment. The Taliban arrived one night, demanding Bibi be handed over to face justice.
After a Taliban commander pronounced his verdict, Bibi’s brother-in-law held her down and her husband sliced off her ears and then cut off her nose. Bibi was abandoned, but later rescued by aid workers and the American military. After time in a women’s refuge in Kabul, she was taken to America, where she received counseling and reconstructive surgery. Bibi Aisha now lives in the US."

Once she arrived in the US she was given reconstructive surgery to give her back her face :D

Ricky Gervais is pure gold

Apparently this was submitted by Ricky Gervais for a Rolling Stone cover (says I haven't checked if it's true.). Either way, funny as hell! Almost funnier than his take on Easter where he has a similar idea for a card.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Atheists have better sex!

A study carried out by psychologists Darrel Ray and Amanda Brown from Kansas University has found that atheists have better sex than the religious. Not that this is surprising, or was ever a secret. However, at least now we have the empirical to wave in their faces! Muahahahaha.
Both groups of people admitted that they carried out the same activities such as masturbation, watching pornography, having oral sex and pursuing affairs.
But followers of religion did not enjoy the experiences as much due to the stigma created by their belief systems, the study found. It left them with intense feelings of regret after they had climaxed 
Darrel Said: 'Our data shows that people feel very guilty about their sexual behaviour when they are religious, but that does not stop them: it just makes them feel bad. 
'Of course, they have to return to their religion to get forgiveness. It's like the church gives you the disease, then offers you a fake cure.' 
 Some really interesting findings in this article so definitely go have a thorough read if you're interested.

Beautiful 'stampede' of dolphins!

What else needs to be say, just have a watch! It's absolutely amazing. Every time I see dolphins or whales swimming they beat their tail and their back bone moves exactly like a terrestrial mammal when it's galloping/running. A clear give away at their ancestral form.

Brilliance's arch nemesis is arrogance

All I can do is laugh at this clearly very clever but moronic David Cecil who's an unemployed truck driver turned self-taught internet hacker who was brought down today. Police smashed into his house and apprehended him after 6 months of watching his hacking exploits online, most recently of internet company Platform Networks. He'd been openly boasting on online social websites the entire time too... What an idiot. Who are the best hackers in the world? We don't know. They don't boast, they don't openly talk about what they do and they don't get caught. Haha arrogance fail.

Poor Bernie

Poor prize winning bull Bernie has been trapped on a recent hilltop turned island in the middle of Lake Buloke in Victoria, Australia. He's been stuck there for 6 months even though he's only a mere 1km swim from 50 cows waiting for his.... prized genes shall we say! On your boat mate!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Should South Park touch the Norway massacre?

A Norwegian cartoonist and writer has sent an open letter to the creators of South Park encouraging them to create an episode on the recent and tragic killings in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik. What do you think, and how soon is too soon? Or is it a necessary task to disintegrate the iconisation of this right-wing, bigoted murder?

Catholic church says sorry again, again, again...

It seems like we're getting apologies from the Catholic church on a monthly basis these days, almost as often as John Farnham announces his final tour again, again...!

Sorry for the past sins of Catholics,
Sorry for the church's involvement in the african slave trade,
Sorry for inactivity during the holocaust,
Sorry for what happened to Galileo and the inquisition,
Sorry for not accepting evolution sooner,
Sorry for injustices against women,
Sorry for the conquest of Mesoamerica by the Spanish in the name of the church,
Sorry for the execution of Jan Hus in 1415,
Sorry...  Sorry... Sorry...

All of the aforementioned apologies are only from a single pope too, Pope John Paul II.

In the latest news here in Australia the Catholic Church has issued a national apology via Catholic Health Australia after ABC decided to investigate into claims and abuse in Newcastle. It's been estimated that 150 000 women had their babies stolen from them by some Catholic churches in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. They were then subsequently given to families deemed better able to take care of the children.

From what I saw on ABC news tonight it seems like most of the women were young and a large portion were probably wanting an abortion. Clearly the church would never have let that happen, instead forcing them to have the children and then taking them without the parents' consent. I've heard too about the disgusting treatment of women patients wanting abortions while in Catholic hospitals and being flat out denied, sometimes not even being informed about the option (I'll attach a speech on the issue at the bottom from Leslie Cannold).
Psychiatrist Geoff Rickarby has treated scores of affected women, and says it is a stain on Australia’s history. “It sounds like some totalitarian country somewhere hundreds of years ago, but in fact it’s Australia only 35, 40 years ago,” Dr Rickarby said. 
Martin Laverty, chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, says he's sorry for what happened, though he didn't even know about the wrongs committed by the Catholic Church until after the practices were brought to light by ABC's investigations.

Surely someone knew about all of this the entire time. The fact that it was so wide spread around Australia, not just in Newcastle, for decades means that someone high up the chain must have been giving the order, or at the very least turning a blind eye to the goings-on in numerous churches. How many more skeletons will we have to discover in the future? How many more apologies are we going to receive? The word is really starting to lose meaning guys, and saying sorry only when you're caught on something is incredibly transparent to say the least. I really wonder why congregations are starting to dwindle. Hopefully the trend continues!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

First same-sex marriage in New York!

The first same-sex marriage too place today between two women Connie, 85, and Phyllis, 77, in New York (there's a video of the ceremony via that link). They had been together for 23 years and after recent same-sex marriage laws were enacted in the state they were finally allowed by law to be wed! Congratulation to them and I hope Australia follows suit soon with such a basic human right all same-sex couples deserve.

Should God be banned for all athletes?

Today, when competing at a high level in almost any field our athletes are expected to stay drug free. They're screened prior to and after big events to make sure they are drug free. They get tested for all sorts of substances from steroids, stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine, even alcohol and cannabis are a no go (though how being under the influence of either of these substances would help you win anything other than heads down thumbs up I don't know...).

Every time you see an American win at any sport, at any level, it's almost a certainty that while being interviewed afterwards about how they got themselves to the top they will mention faith in God and praying to Jesus for success and to win. Is this fair? What about all those religious athletes who don't selfishly pray, or the atheist athletes, who rely solely on training hard to win. Assuming there is a God, as most Americans do at least, if they were right would it be fair of them to ask for an advantage over everyone else simply because they put more prayer time into it? I mean, if you are allowed to ask your almighty God to help you beat everyone else via supernatural means, but you're not allowed to use chemicals to beat others via natural means, how does that work?

I think it's only fair, just in case all us non-believers are wrong, that all athletes from now on have to take a prayer piss test prior to and after competing. Anyone found to fail the prayer piss test should be disqualified and given as much disrespect as dopers. We need to make sure it's a level playing field for everyone! If we're going to be ok with prayer, we should be ok with doping. If you Jesus helps you win, what have you got to be afraid of steroids for? There's a thought, pitting a highly steroid dosed football team up against some pray-happy Christian team. I'd pay good money to see that game! However, I bet Christians and atheists alike would know which team would win... funny that.

Christian gives kind review of Australian Book of Atheism.

A surprisingly objective and respectful review of Warren Bonnett's 'The Australian Book of Atheism' by a seventh day adventist. Very interesting to hear their perspective on an atheist book.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Science fiction needs a facelift

I can't deal with it anymore... I love it, I hate it, I love it, I hate it! IT'S DRIVING ME CRAZY!

Movies and series alike; Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate (SG1/Atlantis/Universe), Farscape (finally no 'star' in the title), the Alien movies, the Predator movies, Avatar, Battlefield Earth (an abortion of a film that on second thought shouldn't even be mentioned here), District 9, Cloverfield, Signs, etc. I love most of these films and series. However, I'm starting to get sick and tired of this genre as it seems to have gotten stagnant. Maybe it has been for a long time, in fact I'm sure that's the case.

I imagine you'll think I'm taking the whole genre too seriously and that it's Science Fiction not Science Non-Fiction. I know this, but for me the best Sci-Fi is that which is most plausible and incredibly hard to find holes in. What do I mean?

Alien double mouth
I'm sick of every fucking alien being bipedal for one. Wow, Alien had a mouth within a mouth and a few extra digits, same with Predator... Wow, every alien in Star Wars was humanoid but with different appendages on their head... This pattern is repeated again and again and again in every Sci-Fi movie and series that is released these days. Surely I can't be the only one noticing this?

Until recent years every bloody alien spoke English, often with no explanation as to how they acquired the ability to do so. Exhibit A, B and C. - Star Wars, Star Trek and Stargate. And every bloody planet has the same North American pine tree forests covering it... ah, but with a more intense green hue, or maybe purple for this world! Clever... Really though, what a monotonous universe we inhabit. Same languages, same humanoid alien forms, and same fucking animals!

Stargate forest on alien world
This is the thing that annoys me most, all the unimaginative life forms on so-called 'alien worlds'. Little to no thought or imagination is ever afforded alien life forms all across the Sci-Fi board. Most of the aforementioned as well as being guilty of portraying all sentient aliens as humanoid bipeds, all of their other life forms are always total rip-offs of our animals. Granted, where else are we going to draw inspiration from? Still, one could at least try to come up with something unique and really push the boundaries. Every beast always has two legs, two arms, a head with epic teeth and eyes. Might as well have put a dog on steroids and shaved the hair off it.

Avatar did a brilliant job of creating alien animals by cutting Earth animals in half and smooshing them together. A horse with the head of an anteater, ah, but with an extra pair of front legs and trachea that exit through the chest... wow nice. A pterosaur with a velociraptors head... clever. All of the life forms that lit up in the jungle being based upon jelly-fish, ascidians and other marine invertebrates... really nifty? NO... cheap... seriously, any future Sci-Fi writer or producer reading this, and I know there will be 100s of you doing so, please, please, PLEASE, take a subject in biology. Better yet, hire an evolutionary biologist for helping out with alien life form design. They will undoubtedly be able to come up with something more unique, intriguing and plausible than what has been previously, and still is currently, on offer.
Avatar anteater-horse
Don't get me wrong, a lot of imagination still goes into these projects. Stargate has always blown me away with how plausible the technology can appear at times, though most of the time you realise fairly quickly it's complete rubbish. The point is that at least for a moment you are tricked into thinking "WOW, is this possible? Could it be possible one day?!". To me that is the whole point of GOOD Sci-Fi, and we definitely require a lot more like it.

I want to be intellectually stimulated, tested, tricked, made to think outside the box and question what I believe to be possible or true. The predictable is good the first time, but becomes oh so boring the second, third... hundredth time. And the more I see the predictable in every film and show chucked together today, the more I feel I'm being ripped off. Like the experience has been cheapened and that only enough imagination has been pumped into each project to acquire sufficient profits.

As an evolutionary biologist myself maybe I expect too much. However, it does feel like we've given up and are doing only what's good enough as opposed to the doing our best. Time to think outside the box and give Sci-Fi a decent facelift. Really go all out Demi Moore face-lift on the bastard and give it a good look again.

I really hope someone comes along soon and we see a huge shift in the boundaries, like we saw in the mid-1900s once space travel became a possibility, challenging the imagination of everyone. We can do it. We can make Sci-Fi hot again!

Friday, 22 July 2011

'2011 Norway attacks' already has a wiki page

I can't believe the speed at which this wiki page on the 2011 Norway attacks has been put together. There's a huge amount of info on there already and it's just over half a day since the attacks themselves occurred!?

Social media has also come an incredibly long way with regards to spreading news on incidents around the world. I heard about these attacks probably within 30 minutes of them having occurred late last night (Aus time) from my girlfriend who was in France and told me over the phone. I googled the issue and there were absolutely no news stories on the issue anywhere. All I could find were forum posts from Norwegians who had uploaded photos of the buildings and told of their subjective experience.

I jumped on AFA forum, Rationalia and Rational Skepticism and the information about what had happened had hit them at the same time if not earlier than the first news stories uploaded onto the internet. Speaking with friends and other atheists from around the world on Facebook, including Norwegians, a great deal more information was spread around very quickly.

So again, I'm absolutely amazed at the speed at which news travels around the world these days. It really seems like the news of any big event can reach all corners of the globe within 1 hour of happening today. In contrast with 100 or more years ago when the same news may have taken days or weeks.

It's great to see the amount of solidarity in the global community too in such tragic times. Our thoughts are with you Norway.

Messed up times in Norway....

Man arrested over bombing and shooting spree

Here's one of the best articles I've managed to find, which has a great deal on the guy who's been apprehended after he executed up to 87 people at the youth camp in Norway just after the two bombings.

Now the question is was he acting alone, could he have been that well organised...? Absolutely abhorrent and sickening... My thoughts are with everyone in Norway.

Bomb attack in Oslo, Norway

Within the last hour a large explosion was set off within a Government building in Oslo, Norway. Here's another article that's just been published on the incident.

It must undoubtedly be related to the al-Qaeda bomb plot thought to have been foiled last year. There're already stories of injured people in the street, but let's hope that no one has died in this awful event.

One of the articles reads:
A powerful explosion, believed to be caused by a bomb, rocked central Oslo on Friday afternoon, causing extensive damage to government offices and injuring numerous people. Large clouds of smoke rose from the area after the blast, which shook downtown buildings, and caused widespread panic in the streets. The offices of VG, Norway’s largest newspaper, also appeared to be severely hit. 
Shortly after 4 PM, more smoke could be seen and a cloud smelling of explosive gas was hanging over the city. Curtains could be seen flying from broken windows in the main government highrise. Police was busy cordoning off a large part of downtown, while buses were taking injured people out of the area. 
According to the Norwegian news agency NTB, prime minister Jens Stoltenberg was in a safe location.
We’ll be following the story.


At least one person's now confirmed dead... It's expected to most likely be a Kurdish Islamist group after Norway charged the founder with terrorist charges and the minister was then threatened (apparently this happened Tuesday).

Two more bombs have been found, people are being evacuated.