Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Beauty of Science

To me, science can be summed up as thus: a tool that may allow us to appreciate the supreme beauty of the universe.

The natural world has fascinated me as long as I can remember. From observing various creatures I would stumble across, both in their natural setting and in captivity, to laying outside for hours just gazing at the beauty of night sky. I grew to love knowledge as a key to wonderment that no novel could hope to match.

In the years since, I have never lost that spark. It has driven me and consumed me. Every time I learn something new about the universe, I cannot help but be struck by the beauty of it all. This feeling is always coupled with a fervent desire to explore the idea more. Knowledge is addictive. I always need to have more, for each piece unveils a new shade and texture to an already breathtaking image.

Take the idea of evolution. All life, no matter how familiar or strange, simple or complex, rare or populous, is all connected. Bacteria activity converting the sulfides belched out by the Earth itself into energy and myself, a complex and awkward primate subsisting on the labours of other life forms are, in a very real way, one and the same. That if you look back far enough into time, you shall find a moment when our last common ancestors thrived and took its first tentative steps in the different directions that would lead to two vastly different organisms.

Or the idea of Dark Matter. That there are mind boggling amounts of a substance that is invisible to light, but whose gravitational affects can shape the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets, and in turn, the rise of life itself.

Our understanding of the universe around us has changed drastically with each piece of the puzzle. Each part builds upon the natural tapestry that would, without the tool of science, be forever invisible to us. No matter how strange or unfamiliar a new idea may be, if it stands up to the rigors of the scientific method, it will shape all that it touches. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything is a part of something else, and those other somethings are, in turn, a part of an even larger world. Something as simple as an annoyingly persistent radio interference can lead to an understanding of the formation of the universe itself

In a world filled with hate, bigotry and horrendous suffering for countless peoples, the idea that we can overcome all our tribulations to uncover the inner workings of the existence around us proves to me that, perhaps, we as a species can correct the errors of our past. That we can become more if only we set aside our petty hatreds and work together to find our place in a universe more vast and diverse then we can ever hope to fully comprehend. We shall never be the center of the universe, but we do have the potential to be the center of its comprehension. To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, “We are not simply in the universe, we are part of it. We are born from it. One might even say we have been empowered by the universe to figure itself out—and we have only just begun.”
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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ten (idiotic) reasons why Christianity is superior to any other religion

Ah, lists.  They are so often written with complete sincerity, with the author seeming to believe that a few lines will convince anyone of their point.  They appear to believe that by using a series of numbers or bullets that their stated reasons will be built up into an insurmountable wall of truth.

Then, after taking so much time to compile their compelling reasons, some asshole such as myself comes along to burn the whole thing to the ground while dancing upon its ashes and laughing maniacally the whole time.

My current target is entitled "Ten Reasons Why Christianity if Superior to any Other Religion".  When I saw the title I knew I had a winner and it certainly did not disappoint.
1. Christianity is the only religion in which God reaches out to man. All other religions are attempts by man to reach up to God.
Apparently, no other religion ever claims to be divinely inspired by this god person.  All the others were just written by ignorant humans trying to understand the world around them through allegory and myth.  But not Christianity!  God specifically took time out of his busy day to talk to them directly and anyone else hearing god's voice is just schizophrenic or are hearing the devil.  And they know this because their book tells them so of course!  Just like god did for the Judaic peoples, and the Muslims, and the Hindi, and the Janis, and the....
2. Christianity is the only religion that fully deals with sin because of Christ’s atoning work on the Cross.
And what great work it was.  I was really impressed by his ability to bleed profusely as he slowly suffocated.  As god knows, nothing makes up for the actions of millions like crazy people's blood.  So next time you feel horrible for stealing a candy bar, just bath in the blood of that hobo on the corner who hears god through his shoe and all will be amended!
3. Christianity is the only religion that allows followers into the presence of the Father.
We get to go to heaven and you don't!  Ha-ha you stupid heathens!  What, the other religions often have some sort of heaven as well?  Well they aren't the real heaven.  Ours is better and has a super cool club house that you aren't allowed inside.  We have a slide and a tire swing and the Virgin Mary bakes us cookies every day!
4. Christianity is the only religion that offers its followers true assurance of salvation because our salvation is based upon Christ’s works, not our own.
So don't worry about that prostitute rotting in your basement or the alter boys you 'blessed with your holy water', as long as you say the magic words Jesus will vouch for you!
5. Christianity is the only religion in which the Holy Spirit is promised to us, and dwells in us.
So, this Holy Spirit is some kind of eldritch horror that is implanted within us on the day of conversion and feeds off our intellect?
6. Christianity is the only religion in the world where its leader is the judge of all mankind.
Because Christianity is the only religion that thinks it holds the secrets to the universe and all of humanity must bow before its wisdom.  It is as if this person thinks Christianity is the only Bond villain to try and take over the world.
7. Christianity is the only religion in which our leader was raised from the dead.
Am I the only one who thinks that Christianity is the hipster of religions?  They are constantly going on about how they were into zombies before it was cool.  Thankfully due to the internet and lax gun laws, if Jesus ever rises forth once more to feast upon our brains he will discover a legion of fanatical George A. Romero fans ready to stop him.
8. Christianity is the only religion in which death is truly conquered.
And what a glorious battle it was! Hundreds fell before Death's scythe, but even the mighty reaper was no match for for Jesus' mighty Kung Fu!
9. Christianity is the only religion in which it’s leader was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life according to God’s Law, and fulfilled countless Old Testament prophecies.
So Jesus is the result of holy parthenogenesis? Does this make Mary some kind of divine Komodo Dragon, because I would could totally get behind a sacred monitor lizard.
10. All the leaders of every other religion, need Christ as their Savior as well as their followers.
Translation: I ran out of ideas but still wanted to tell the followers of all other religions to suck it.  Such a classy and logical way to end such a wonderfully stimulating and well thought out list.
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Friday, March 2, 2012

The Green-Banded Broodsac - Leucochloridium paradoxum

The Green-Banded Broodsac is name that is equally horrifying and mysterious.  The fact that they were given the descriptive title of 'green-banded' suggests that we live in a world so full of organisms befitting the name of a broodsac to need clarifiers.  This alone should be enough to haunt your dreams for weeks to come. But it does leave one with the simple question of what it could possibly be, other then horrifying.

The Green-Banded Broodsac (Leucochloridium pardoxum) is a trematode, a class of flatworms (phylum Platyhelminthes) known for their exclusively parasitic nature.  Trematodes, more commonly known as flukes--and in the case of the Broodsac, a Digenean--go through a series of developmental stages that take them through multiple host species.  In  L. pardoxum, the lucky contenders are the Amber Snails (genus Succinea) and various species of shore birds.

The Broodsac's primary hosts are the shore birds. Here they live in the digestive tract like many other Trematodes, feeding off of allthe extra nutrients. Other than depriving their host of some nutrients, they don’t really hurt the birds, which is good for the Broodsac as if the bird dies, so do they. 

The adults live out their lives passing their eggs out through the digestive tract of the infected birds. They are monecious, meaning they possess both sexes and can either self-fertilize or cross fertilize when multiple individuals are close enough together, so there is always a 'healthy' supply of eggs.

The eggs lie in wait for a hungry snail to come along to feed on the bird droppings that they reside in.  Once consumed, the eggs hatch into the initial larval stage, the miricidia. These miricidia start out by thriving in the gut but soon begin to spread through the body of the snail as their numbers grow, with the luckiest finding themselves near the head.  It is here that they metamorphose into their next stage, the sporocyst.

While the miricidia are capable of movement, the sporocyst is not.  At first they begin to rapidly reproduce themselves until they have developed into a large ‘brood sacs’.  It is from this stage that they get their shiver inducing name.  As the brood sac grows in size, it begins to invade the eye stalks of the snail, preferring the left one for some utterly unknown and possibly terrifying reason, though it is not uncommon to see snails with both eye stalks infested.

The sporocysts within the brood sac can either divide into more sporocysts or they can produce for yet another stage, known as the cercaria.  The brood sac quickly becomes filled with hundreds of cercariae which are the final larval stage of these horrors, and the first stage that can actively infect their primary hosts.  Many of the cercaria will encyst themselves, becoming metacercaria, to preserve themselves for when they enter a more suitable habitat, namely the gut of a bird.

But how can such tiny creatures hope to go from their comfy, bloated sack of a home inside the head of a snail to the promised land that is the intestines of a bird?  Once again the titular broodsac comes into play.  There is a reason why the broodsac forms specifically in the eye stalk and head.  As it grows in size, it begins to gain a very specific coloring, hence the green-banded portion of L. paradoxum's common name.  The bands of green and yellow very closely resemble the markings on certain species of caterpillars.  Particularly, species of caterpillars that are commonly fed upon by birds.

But the broodsac doesn't stop there.  It has already reduced the vision of the snail enough to hinder its ability to hide but evolution was not content with merely impairing the depth perception of the hapless snail.  Instead it begins to alter the behavior of the snail.  Snails naturally prefer the dark; this is because there is more rotting detritus for them to feast upon and fewer predators to eat them. But L. paradoxum wants desperately to get back into its primary host. So it over rides the snails preference for the dark and causes it to seek out the light where it will be more noticeable to birds.

Once in the light, the brood sac begins to twitch.  The more light it is exposed to, the more rapidly it will convulse in a way that, to a bird, resembles a snack that cannot be turned down.  This behavior, known as aggressive mimicry, is usually reserved for predators so that they can sneak up on their prey, but here, the broodsac has used the technique to attract its future primary host.

Once the snail is eaten--or just the infected eye-stalk which can potentially grow back and become re-infected by the miracidiae still thriving inside the snails gut--the cecariae collect inside the intestines and develop into the adult form.  Any metacecariae will come out of their stasis as the surrounding tissue they have encysted themselves within is digested away and the remaining sporocytes will develop into cecariae as well, which in turn also develop into the adult form; thus creating a large and stable population.  

The adult worms, then go about their happy lives doing little more than reproducing and feeding off the various nutrients they are constantly bathed in.  Spewing out a steady stream of eggs that, with any luck, will go on to infect and deform other helpless slime crawlers.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rush Limbaugh calls Sandra Fluke a prostitute

Rush Limbaugh once again proves to the slightly more sane of us that he is still a raving idiot.  I'm sure for most of you reading, this is far from a revelation.  But there are times when someone says something so horribly wrong and offensive that they must be called out on it.

It is all the more important to bring this quote under scrutiny as it very clearly states what many of the religious 'right' and their puppets in the GOP have been stating as of late.  If this has been done by someone else, I would probably consider it a great sardonic remark against such idiocy.  But instead it shows that Poe's Law is alive and well. 

In a comment in reference to Sandra Fluke's being refused the chance to speak before a congressional committee on contraception, Rush stated:

"What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex -- what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute."
When I first read this line, I was unsure of exactly how to react.  I was torn in equal directions of being disgusted, furious, and trying my best not to laugh.

I was disgusted because this is purest form of the current Republican view on women's rights.  It is everything they have been striving for against about half of the human population under the guise of 'morality'.  When the rhetoric is removed, this is what is left.  The view that if any woman dares to want to take control of her own body and what could happen to them if they dare to speak out.  After all, to such individuals they are nothing more than dirty, filthy whores.

I was furious because I know that Rush Limbaugh is not some crazy living in a box somewhere talking about how his underwear is blessed by Jesus (that would be closer to Mitt Romney, now wouldn't it).  He is listened to by many and there will be quite a few who will believe his blatantly offensive and painful inaccurate remark.  And his remark will be used by others to continue to perpetuate the mistreatment and oppression of millions.

I nearly died laughing because the statement and its sentiment are so utterly disconnected from reality.  In my head, I could see Rush hiding under his bed in terror because the evil feminists might come for him in his sleep.

This is the mentality the rational of this country are up against.  It is equal parts vile bigotry and pant staining lunacy.  In a world where the secrets of the universe are being unveiled through massive particle accelerators and we combat diseases through our understanding of evolution, the sentiments such as those espoused by Rush Limbaugh and his ilk should have no place other than the scrawling found on a bathroom wall.  But, unfortunately, this kind of hatred is alive and well.  It threatens all we have and will work for. 

It must be raged against, it must be demonstrated against and it must even be lampooned.  There may always be those who vomit forth such bile as Rush Limbaugh has spewed here, but we can make such individuals so utterly non-relevant that laughter and/or pity become the only appropriate responses.
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