Monday, 29 September 2008

Nobel Laureates for Obama!

Perhaps it's Obama's science-friendly stance, or perhaps it's the McCain campaign's blatant anti-science (particularly Palin's creationist and anti-global warming sentiments), but a large group of Nobel laureates have gotten together and drafted a letter endorsing Obama for president. A total of 61 laureates have signed the letter, which is more than any other candidate in history (apparently John Kerry got 48 endorsements from prize winners).

As some people have pointed out, though, the 61 laureates are those from the science categories. No laureates from the economics category were represented. Does this say something about Obama and his platform (Nay-sayers would say yes)? Or did those in the sciences simply get together and write up an endorsement letter, and not tell the economists about it (more likely, in my opinion)? Does it even matter (the Nobel Prize in Economics isn't even a real Nobel Prize ;) )

I'm familiar with a good number of names on the list. Some interesting things I noticed though:
  • The list includes H. Robert Horvitz, but neither Sydney Brenner nor John Sulston (the three of them won the 2002 prize in Medicine for their work on genetic regulation of apoptosis and organ development). Brenner is by far the most well known of the trio and his signature would carry more weight than Horvitz' or Sulston's. Brenner is also a liberal guy so his absence from the list is a bit surprising.
  • The ever infamous James Watson gave his John Hancock. Many commentors seem surprised to see his name on the list, given his recent comments regarding race and intelligence. However, anyone familiar with Watson and has read any of his biographical works knows that he's far from the conservative side of the spectrum. Watson would endorse Obama on his stance on science alone.
  • There are very few female laureates on the list - only one by my count: Linda Buck, who won the prize in Medicine for her work on the olfactory system. True, there are very few female laureates ( and even fewer that are still alive to sign the letter!) but I would have expected at least to see Christiane Nusslein-Volhard on the list.
The original PDF of the letter can be found here.

Shall we write Chapters a letter?

There is a reason why I don't shop at popular music stores: they don't seem to be able to get their genres right. I'm a bit of a "genre Nazi", and it annoys me to see breakcore albums placed under "techno" or albums by pop groups placed under "punk" (HMV is the worst for this kind of thing), so I do my music shopping online. This goes for books as well as music. One place where I'm satisfied with the sorting of the stock, though, is Chapters. Chapters usually does a good job. Usually.

I was browsing at Chapters yesterday when I noticed something a bit disheartening. They had a table with a pile of books on it, under the header "Ideas and Opinions". They had Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great, along with Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation and some Christian apologetics books, which is fine. A lot of those matters are ideas that need to be shared and some of them boil down to personal opinions. But what really irked me was their inclusion of On the Origin of Species.

Darwin's seminal work is not merely an "idea" or "opinion". It is the genesis of the foundations for all of modern biology. To call it an idea does not do it any justice, and to call it an opinion is to do it an incredible disservice! Yes, the book was built upon ideas that Darwin had while journeying on the Beagle, but calling it simply an idea has the connotation that it's something unsupported by evidence; it's tantamount to saying evolution is a mere hypothesis rather than a scientific theory. Calling it an opinion is blatantly wrong; there is a fine distinction between fact and opinion, and evolution is as much of a scientific fact as you can get.

What's more is that, upon looking through Chapters' science section (where Chapters usually puts On the Origin of Species), I came across copies of Michael Behe's IDiotic Darwin's Black Box and The Edge of Evolution. Perhaps the bigwigs at Chapter's are unfamiliar with the Dover trial, but Intelligent Design is certainly not science and should not be found under the Science section. If any book should be found under "Idea's and Opinions" then Behe's trash would be it. The girlfriend and I just happened to have a pen and a sticky note on us, so we left a message for the Chapters staff, asking them to move it to a more appropriate section, like philosophy or religion.

Alas, I think it will go ignored.

Perhaps we should write Chapters a letter. I can understand their wanting to be impartial in the current culture war over evolution and putting Origin in a neutral category, but it's simply wrong. Evolution is science. Evolution is not "just a theory" or "idea" or "opinion". Writing a letter will probably do nothing - and maybe I'm just being a "genre Nazi" again - but maybe it's something we, the secular and scientific community, should consider.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Sarah Palin: Certifiably Insane

It's been fairly well known for some time now that Sarah Palin is a little loopy. She wants creationism taught in schools (in science class!) and is rumored* to be a Young Earth Creationist. She allowed Wasilla municipal police to force rape victims to pay for the kits used in investigating rapes while she was mayor. She believes that the war in Iraq is part of "God's Plan". Her former church seriously believes that Alaska is going to be a refuge where people will flock during Armageddon and that the president is a representative of God. She thinks that global warming is entirely a natural process. And she lies through her teeth.

But now she's doing something that makes her eligible for a straight jacket and padded walls. She's suing the federal government because the polar bear is an endangered species. Video below (for those of you who can stomach Glenn Beck - I can't), Palin starts spouting inanity at 4:30:

Polar bears are in a lot of danger. Habitat loss due to climate change is a reality for polar bears and it's having a direct impact on polar bear populations. Here in Canada, they are listed as a "species of concern" and listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union of Conservation of Nature. While they are not listed as "endangered", the status they are given means they will become endangered soon if we don't take the steps necessary to protect them. Unfortunately, "vulnerable" and "species of concern" mean nothing to the bigwigs in Washington or to the oil industry: people only listen if something is "endangered".

The US federal government is now trying to have polar bears listed as threatened/endangered, so they are covered under the Endangered Species Act, the first step in making sure polar bears get the protection they need. This is a simple matter of protecting the diversity of nature on the planet. As governor of Alaska, a state ripe with natural beauty and majestic wildlife, Sarah Palin should be the first name on the list to support such a chance in the polar bear's status. However, the draconian Republican cluster in the deep recesses of her mind has kicked in and the paranoia juices are flowing; this isn't a matter of conservation, she says, it's the "extreme environmentalists" trying to use the polar bear as a means of stopping us from drilling our "God given" oil reserves! They must hate our country and want us to depend on foreign oil! And, in typical republican fashion, she's suing the government over it.

If this doesn't qualify her for shock therapy, then I don't know what will.

Hey, Palin. Can't you see we're trying to save the planet? What's the point in drilling for oil when we're not going to have a planet left on which to use it if things keep going the way they are?

But really, what else do you expect from someone who doesn't know what the job she's running for is all about?
*I say rumored because I cannot find a credible source that cites her views on Y.E.C. If anyone knows of one, let me know.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Review: Spore

Spore has seen a lot of media attention in the last few weeks, mostly due to the apparent "controversy" over its "Darwinian" contents. However, I feel that there really hasn't been a lot of focus on the game itself and so I decided that a through review was needed.

Both the girlfriend and I very eagerly awaited this game for months and we both bought it the day it was released (well, the day after for me, since Future Shop is so slow at putting their stock up on the shelves). The hype around the game was immense, and having played with the Creature Creator, we had high hopes for a spectacular game. It was purported to contain elements of great games like Civilization, and all tied around a central theme of evolution - so how could it not be a great game?

Well, frankly, it isn't.

Spore is an innovative creation - there is no doubt about that. But as a game, it simply leaves you feeling unfulfilled and wishing you had your $50 back.

The game is broken up into five stages. It begins with the cellular stage, then progresses into the creature stage, the tribal stage, the civilization stage and ends off with the space stage. All of these stages put together are supposed to feel like one large, epic game of galactic conquest, starting from the humble beginnings of a single celled organism and culminating with the foundation of a vast galactic empire. Instead, Spore feels more like five mediocre mini-games loosely strung together.

The cellular stage plays sort of like an oldschool arcade game. You guide your cell around in a top-down perspective, eating resources which give you DNA points, with which you can add new "parts" to your cell. You can chose to be either a herbivore or a carnivore at the very beginning, but the two options are hardly balanced. As a herbivorous cell, you must eat plant matter, while avoiding the carnivorous cells trying to eat you. As a carnivorous cell, you focus on killing and eating other cells. The very nature of this set up makes it much harder to play as a herbivore than a carnivore, even on the easiest difficulty setting. Players choosing the herbivorous lifestyle have to be prepared to die a lot, while the more meat-minded player can breeze through the stage in a matter of minutes, eating everything in sight.

Another gripe I had with the cellular stage was the lack of variety in parts you can chose from to "evolve" your cell. By killing other organisms, you can find new parts, but the cellular stage only has six parts to unlock. All herbivores become variations on the same thing- lots of fins and jets to move fast - while all carnivores become the variations on another - lots of mouths with which to eat and lots of (the same few) weapons with which to kill.

Eventually, once you've eaten enough and your cell has grown large enough, the game informs you that you can attach a pair of legs and leave the primordial ooze behind. This begins the creature stage.

Those of you familiar with the Creature Creator will be somewhat familiar with how the creature stage plays out. Once you move onto dry land, a small population of your creatures set up a nest which will be your homebase for the stage. From there you can explore your world and come into contact with other species. The objective of the stage depends on whether or not you chose to be a carnivore or a herbivore; herbivores have to befriend the other species and carnivores have to kill the other species. And that's pretty much all there is to the creature stage. The game's GUI lets you keep track of "missions" that you can do, but the missions are always the same: "Impress X number of Species A" or "Kill Y number of Species B". Once in a while, your species will migrate to a new nest and you have a mission to find it, but that is the only break you get from the kill/impress routine. Each time you complete a mission, you gain DNA points, which you can use to evolve your creature after you click the "Mating Call" button and seek out a mate. You can then equip your creature with new parts that you've unlocked, either as rewards for killing/impressing other creatures or from digging up piles of bones scattered about the landscape. Unlocked parts, besides adding visual flair, make it easier to impress/kill things. The cycle then repeats itself.

The creature stage gets bonus points for having so many different parts to unlock, allowing you to come up with some really creative and neat looking creatures. However, the absolute repetitiveness of the "missions" really detracts from what little fun there is at this stage. This is compounded by the fact that all other creatures on your planet are either indifferent to you or seriously want to make you extinct. The aggressive creatures seem to have a vendetta against you and only you; countless times I have been standing in the middle of a neighbouring nest, trying to impress a whole heard of creatures, when out of nowhere, I get attacked by a savage beast, who kills me and then completely ignores all the other creatures around. Even if you get slaughtered in front of a group of creatures you have befriended, don't think that they will come to your aid; they'll just stand by while your hit points drop. Thankfully, if you get killed, you can hatch from an egg at your home nest and start where you left off, but this is of little solace on a planet driven by the binary choice of Apathist or Asshole.

Having collected enough DNA points, your species obtains sentience and you can continue to the tribal stage. The tribal stage plays in a very similar manner to Populous. You control a tribe of your creatures and have them interact with other tribes of different creatures. Again, the missions here are of two kinds - either destroy the other tribes or befriend them. You can equip your tribe members with one of three different kinds of weapons (stone axes, torches, or spears) or one of three kinds of musical instruments, and these can be used to take over another tribe or befriend them, respectively. Your tribe only starts off with the ability to produce one kind of weapon and one kind of instrument, however, and you must take over/befriend other tribes in order to receive the others. On top of this, you have to harvest food, which is used to upgrade your main hut (allowing you to produce more tribe members) and build buildings. You can also use food as gifts for other tribes to help befriend them. Moreover, you can outfit your members with new clothes, masks, and decorations, which increases their social, warfare and resource gathering skills.

There is a major difference between the tribal stage and Populous, though. Populous was actually really fun. The tribal stage is more tedious than it is enjoying. Other tribes will attack you without having ever come into contact with you (something that also happens in the civilization and space stages). Not only this, but each of your tribe members also has a "hunger" bar below their health bar. If they get hungry, they need to run back to the village and eat or else they'll die. This is especially annoying when you're attacking an enemy village on the other side of the continent; you'll move your tribe members over to the enemy village only to find that they're on the verge of starving to death after the journey and have to run back home before you can do any real damage.

Once you've befriended/destroyed the enemy tribes, you can continue to the civilization stage. This stage plays much like a modern RTS game. You get to produce units which you can use to other civilizations on your planet, or you can chose the diplomatic route and befriend them (are you seeing a trend here?). There is an obvious Civilization influence in this stage (and should be, since one of the devs was a former Civ. dev), but what it basically comes down to is the same destroy/befriend theme. Anyone expecting the RTS influence to run deep, however, will be disappointed. The number of units you can produce depends on how many cities you can control, and you can only produce two types of units: military units (to destroy cities) and religious units (to convert cities), and each type can be broken down into three unit classes - land, sea and air. This comes out to a mere total of six unit types you can build, hardly competition for even the most simple of RTS games. And, much like the tribal stage before it, before long you'll find yourself besieged by civilizations you've yet to have contact with.

The one area that the civilization stage does well in, however, is customizing your civilization. You can design exactly how all six units look and how all the city buildings look, allowing your civilization to become distinct from any other civilization in the game. These can be changed at any time during the stage. I had more fun designing how my civilization was going to look than I did taking over the planet. Unfortunately, I think that says a lot about the flaws of this stage of the game.

Once the planet is yours, you can proceed to the final stage of the game - the space stage. This is by far my favourite part of the game. After designing your space ship, you fly into the interstellar void and begin visiting new worlds. This portion of the game is quite complex and you'll find the learning curve take a sharp rise. You can find new planets to colonize and terraform - a complex activity in itself, involving collecting species from other planets to create a stable food chain, introducing plants to create a stable ecosystem, and tweaking the atmosphere. You can contact other space-faring species and set up trade routes, forge alliances, or wage war. To make money you can take on missions that - unlike the other stages - have a variety of objectives, such as exterminating a pest species from a planet, retrieving a lost artifact, or defending a besieged colony. You can find powerups for your ship or terraforming tools scattered on worlds across the galaxy, making exploration rewarding as well as entertaining. Throw in fighting off space pirates to the mix and you have a deep, complex, entertaining game.

This stage is not without its flaws, though. On hard difficulty, defending your colonies become an almost impossible task - pirates and enemies will attack a planet, you'll defend it (after dying a dozen times) and before you've even left the planet's solar system, the same planet will be under attack again. Try dealing with this on multiple planets at once - it's a futile endeavor. It feels like all other space-faring civilizations in the galaxy are out to get you since they are never friendly and often attack unprovoked. Also, once in the space stage, you no longer have control over unit production of your colonies; it becomes automated by the computer. This makes it really difficult to defend your colonies when the computer decides that only a single tank is sufficient instead of churning out a battalion.

There are several general issues that keep Spore from becoming a fulfilling game. The choices you make during the evolutionary progression of your species really have little impact on the game since you can decide to change your creature in any and all aspects at any time during the creature stage. The anticipated and overhyped "evolution" portion of the game lasts only for one stage, which can be completed in about half an hour. And even if you decide to have six arms and a trunk like an elephant, that has no bearing whatsoever on how the later stages of the game are played. The game does give you different abilities/powers in the later stages depending on whether or not you were a carnivore or a herbivore, whether or not you were peaceful or warmongering, but the actual evolutionary choices you make really don't matter one bit. You can spend the whole creature stage as an eyeless blob with a snout and then "evolve" into the spawn of Cthulhu immediately before progressing to the tribal stage. You'll get the same benefits either way.

That isn't to say the game doesn't do anything right. The game is possibly one of the most innovative games I've ever played. The amount of customization in the game is impressive, and you'll never see two creatures or civilizations that look the same. The game also introduces a new form of peer-to-peer sharing of user content; all creatures, buildings and units are stored online in a database called the Sporepedia, and each game world is populated randomly with automatically downloaded user content (this option can be turned off, of course, if you tire of encountering large penis monsters).

Spore was supposed to be more than just a game, but rather a simulation of life from humble beginnings to immorality amongst the stars, but unfortunately it falls short of this goal. As I stated before, it feels more like five loosely connected mini-games than it does one grand game. It's sort of like a marshmallow and soda cracker sandwich - at first it seems unique and innovative, but after only a little while you realize how bland it really is. Only the space stage saves this game from being a total letdown.

Because we atheists are the petty, immoral ones, right?

In what can only be called a display of true Christian values, our lovely bunch of freethinkers on campus have just been hit with a bit of a shock: the large poster for our University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics group has been vandalized.

Sprawled across the canvas in what appears to be Sharpie, some "tolerant" person has written "God loves you!" and "Jesus is coming!", and added a couple of hearts and crosses to top it all off. Admittedly, it's not as harsh as something like "Burn in hell, atheist scum", but nevertheless, this is a blatant display of the hypocrisy in the Christian community: they talk about love and peace and tolerance, and in the same breath someone vandalizes a completely inoffensive poster of their opposition.

Perhaps it was simply done by some random person "for teh lulz". Perhaps not. Undoubtedly, the Christian groups on campus will dismiss this as an act by someone who isn't "a true Christian" (and frankly, I don't think any of the groups were involved - I'd like to think they have a bit more maturity than to resort to petty vandalism).

This is the first real act of disrespect (I hesitate to call it "hatred", since, for all we know, this could have been done by someone who really thought they were trying to save us from hell and were committing an act of "love") that our group has faced. Now that our group is becoming more vocal about different issues, I doubt it will be the last. Let's hope it's the worst.

EDIT: Looks like the bottom portion of the poster, containing our group email address and website address, was cut off as well. Not content with simply vandalizing our work, they took it upon themselves to censor and silence us as well. Incredibly sad and pathetic.

EDIT 2: Seems like PZ Meyers has caught wind of our issue. Pretty awesome. He reaches a much wider audience than our group can, and it's important that we show people what kind of intolerance religious thinking leads to.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


I recently came across a neat site called StumbleUpon. It's basically a tool that you download, which adds a Stumble toolbar to your web browser. Any time you get bored, you can click the Stumble button and it'll take you to a random site that falls into your interest categories. You can rate sites (its a binary rating system; either you like the site or you don't) and this will help StumbleUpon further refine the types of sites it sends you to. You can submit new sites you come across to StumbleUpon by rating them (and in a fit of shameless self-promotion, I submitted my blog).

It's kinda fun and I've found some interesting sites through it. Check it out.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Kaprekar Numbers: Kinda cool and totally useless*

*not totally useless, I guess. Please, if you're a mathematician, don't send me angry letters.

I like math. I don't write alot (re: ever) about math, but I find it absolutely fascinating. As a mathematics layman who loves trivia, I get a kick out of mathematical "oddities" and neat little patterns - things that seem to have little practical value but are interesting nonetheless.

One math fact that I'm particularly fond of are called Kaprekar numbers. They can be defined as follows:

Take a number, a with n number of digits. Square a and write out the result. Add the right n digits to the left n (if it's even) or n-1 (if it's odd) digits. If the sum is a, then a is called a Kaprekar number.

For example: 703 is a Kaprekar number.
703 has 3 digits (n = 3)
7032= 494209
494 (the right n digits) + 209 (the left n digits) = 703

The largest Kaprekar number I can find after a very rudimentary search is 533170. I haven't the capacity for math to work out any numbers larger than that.

Also, I really don't know if determining Kaprekar numbers has any sort of practical relevance. Perhaps some mathematician out there could shed some light on them.

This has got to stop. Seriously.

The alarmists crying out over the LHC "destroying the Earth" need to stop. Despite repeated attempts from the scientific community assuring the public that the Earth is not going to be destroyed, people still worry that it will be.

It wont. Seriously.

And even though there is nothing to worry about, we need to stop the antiscience crowd from getting the public all worked up. This is why:

"A TEENAGE girl in central India killed herself on Wednesday after being traumatised by media reports that a "Big Bang" experiment in Europe could bring about the end of the world, her father said.

The 16-year old girl from the state of Madhya Pradesh drank pesticide and was rushed to the hospital but later died, police said."
This is incredibly sad, not just at the needless loss of life, but also because someone died believing in the words of uneducated antiscience non-experts.

I don't know how many times I need to say it: irrational beliefs HURT PEOPLE.
Tragic events of this nature happen when people hold irrational beliefs, be it religion or antiscience sentiments.

Although, if you ask me, killing yourself because you think the world is going to be destroyed seems kinda, well, futile.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Someone buy me some Sulfur Hexaflouride, STAT

Everyone knows about the old trick where you inhale helium and it makes your voice sound really high pitched. The reason is because helium is much less dense than air, and it makes sounds travel through it faster, increasing the pitch.

But what many people don't know is that the general principal works just as well in reverse, as MythBusters star Adam Savage demonstrates:

I've always wondered what kind of gas I could use to do that. Apparently xenon also works, but it has an anaesthetic effect so it probably wouldn't be a good choice. So it seems SF6 works well.

Apparently its expensive, but I must find some!

Monday, 8 September 2008

A sharp and poignant social cartoon form.

I've never heard of the Dork Tower series of comics but I stumbled upon this one. I think the politician is a pretty good representative of conservative America.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Think the LHC is big? Think again.

The LHC is a massive piece of machinery. With a circumference of 27km, it's the largest machine mankind has ever created and has had lots of press coverage on that detail alone. But it might not be holding on to that title for long.

Meet LISA. LISA stands for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna and is poised to dwarf the LHC when it's launched sometime in 2018. But before I tell you how big LISA is, I need to tell you what LISA does, so you can understand the need for such size.

What does LISA do, you ask? LISA, as the name implies, is an interferometer. Interferometers were made famous by two guys , Michelson and Morley, in the late 1800s when they attempted to find evidence for the luminiferous aether (they found none, and Michelson won the Nobel Prize for this and subsequent research). A classic interferometer is set up like in the picture to the right: A beam of light (like a laser) is intercepted by a half-silvered mirror, which splits the beam in two; half is reflected at a 90° angle and half passes through. Each half then contacts a regular mirror, and get sent back towards the half-silvered mirror, whereupon the beam that was originally reflected passes on through and the one that wasn't gets reflected at a 90° angle. The result is that both halves reach a detector at precisely the same time (since their paths were precisely the same length). The detector can determine how long it took each beam to arrive based on the interference pattern.

LISA uses such a setup to search for gravitational waves. Gravitational waves arrive as a result of Einstein's theory of general relativity. Massive objects warp the curvature of spacetime, and as such objects move around, they can cause the spacetime to ripple like water in a pond. These ripples are gravitational waves. If one could detect gravitational waves, then it would serve as further proof of Einstein's ideas.

How does one go about detecting gravitational waves? With an interferometer, of course! One consequence of gravitational waves is that they cause space time to ripple; to an observer, this would appear as a stretching and shrinking - an oscillation - of space. If a gravitational wave were to pass by an interferometer, the oscillation of space would cause one beam of the interferometer to take slightly longer to reach the detector than the other, resulting in a change in the interference pattern. A sufficiently precise interferometer, then, serves as a gravitationalwaveometer (yeah I made that word up).

Such a device already exists - LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory - consists of three laser interferometers in separate areas of the US (three are used to make sure changes in interference are caused by gravitational waves, which should be recorded by all three, rather than local disturbances). These devices are very large (2-4km in length for each arm of the device), but not LHC-big. And how have the results been so far? Well, lousy. You see, gravitational waves are small. Very very small. Theoretically, they should cause a change in the distance between the arms of the detectors by 10-17m, a fraction of the width of a proton. It is incredibly difficult to measure such a minuscule change, and so far, LIGO has not put out any conclusive data. Perhaps a more precise machine is needed. Or perhaps...a bigger one.

At the scale of 4km, gravitational waves cause a difference in 10-17m, but as the measured distance gets bigger, so does the discrepancy caused by gravitational waves. A bigger device would be able to detect gravitational waves much more easily. Enter LISA.

LISA is poised to be, not just the biggest laser interferometer ever built, but the largest, well, ANYTHING ever constructed. How big is LISA?

Each arm of the interferometer will be some 5 MILLION KILOMETERS long.
That's 5,000,000km.

That is HUGE.

Now, in the LHC's defence, the lasers will pass through empty space rather than down a long tunnel, so the actual physical parts of LISA are not 5 million km long, but still. The ends of LISA need to be placed in space with the utmost precision, and over such a distance, that is quite the task. That's not even factoring in solar winds, and light pressure, which can have a tangible cumulative effect at such distances, and can throw off the lasers.

But at 5 million km per side, LISA is one impressive machine, which might finally give us evidence for gravitational waves and prove Einstein right once again.

Creationist tries real hard, gives scholarly reference, epic failure ensues

One thing that really casts the shadow of doubt across the events depicted in the Old Testament has to do with the story of the Exodus. In case you're not familiar with the story, it goes something like this:

A guy named Moses was born into a Jewish family but his mom stuck him in a basket and floated him down the Nile (he's damn lucky the crocodiles didn't get him). He was found by the Pharaoh's daughter and subsequently raised as an Egyptian until one day he kills a dude and God tells him "SURPRISE YOU'RE A JEW LOL". Moses then attempts to get the Pharaoh to let all the Jews leave Egypt by sending a multitude of plagues to convince him. Once free, they took a trip across the Red Sea by foot and wandered in the desert for 40 years.

No there lies a big problem with this story. A very big historical problem. The Egyptians were incredibly good at keeping records. They recorded everything. And we have lots of those records from the time that the Exodus supposedly happened (somewhere between 1600. BCE and 1200 BCE). Unfortunately for the Moses story, there is no record of it at all.

None. No record of anyone named Moses being adopted son of a Pharaoh, no record of plagues (they most certainly would have some reference to the worst of the plagues, the death of all first born sons in the kingdom!), no record of a mass number of Jews packing up their stuff and leaving, no mention of the Red Sea splitting in half so they could walk across... There is no reference at all to any of the Exodus story in the Egyptian records. And I've never heard of any explanation for why the Egyptians seemed to be too absentminded to record any of these events.

Until today.

From a guy named Enforcer from (of all places) the World of Warcraft forums:

"Totally false. Egypt very much has ancient records of Israelites in Egypt. One example is on the stele (an upright slab or pillar with an inscription) of Merneptah, the son of Rameses II, who reigned as Pharoah in the first half of the 13th century BC/BCE. It was discovered in Thebes in 1896. This is very important historically, as it shows that the Israelites were indeed present in ancient Egypt in significant numbers.

But aside from the artifacts, historians also say you're wrong. at the University of Pennsylvania - An estimated one mil
lion Jews were present in ancient Egypt.

Moses' existence is corraborated with books from other independent authors. You never heard of Isaiah and Corrinthians too I imagine, besides the books of Deuteronomy?"

Will you look at that! A JSTOR reference and everything! How cute. Too bad he misses the freaking point entirely.

First of all, no one argues that there were no Jews in Egypt. There were plenty of Jews there. What we are arguing is that the Jews that lived there didn't gather their belongings one night and leave the next morning. Egyptian stelae showing Jews lived in Egypt does not prove that it did occur. In fact, stelae dating to periods later than the supposed Exodus which tell of Jews in Egypt might disprove the story since all the Jews were supposed to have left by then (assuming the stelae did not depict historical references; the context is important).

The JSTOR reference doesn't help his case. Again, it proves that Jews lived in ancient Egypt, which no one doubts. What it does not show is evidence for the Exodus. This is further evidenced by the creationist's lack of rudimentary reading skills: the paper goes into detail about Jews during the Hellenistic-Roman (aka Ptolemaic) period, which lasted about 305-30BCE. The Exodus supposedly occurred during the time of the Pharaoh's, which ended in the early 11th century BCE. The time referenced in the paper is about 1000 years too late!

And finally, he closes with a classic "using the Bible to prove what's in the Bible" argument. Isaiah and Corinthians might have originally come from different authors, but they're both books in the Bible, and have been subjected to the same mistranslations, twisting and editing that the other books in the Bible have. If you want to use independent sources, you need to look outside of the Bible. Good luck though, because there's yet to be a single independent source which corroborates the story of the Exodus.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Someone explain to these people what "foreign policy" means.

Via Ed Brayton:

Steve Doocy of Fox News, ever the bastion of non-facts and sleazy pseudojournalism, has declared that Sarah Palin is a great pick for VP because of her ample foreign policy experience. Just wait until you hear why:

You heard him right. She has tons of experience with foreign policy because she's from Alaska, which is close to Russia.

I'm dumbfounded. This might be the most idiotic argument I've heard in a long while.

But wait! Fox News isn't alone; here's John McCain's wife, Cindy, offering the same argument:

I'm baffled how people can be so stupid.