Carnival of The Elitist Bastards Sails Again Friday, Jan 8 2010 

“Arrrrgh, you be late.”  The Admiral had obviously had a good Christmas, waving a brand new cutlass in one hand, and a half empty bottle of rum in the other. “We should have been set sail these 8 days hence, you scurvy dog”.

“A number of points there, Admiral”  Hussar said. “One- I had to get a new uniform made.  I refuse to captain the ship looking anything other than absolutely spiffing. Two- there are other battles to be fought, by land as well as sea.  I have just been part of a lengthy campaign as part of a multi-national force giving unreason a good kicking”

And Three- you decided to sail just before Christmas.  Like many other northern Europeans I was engaged in rituals to remind the sun to stop going to bed early.  That, and I had some fine wines in.”

“Ye cur, that bain’t be no way to talk to an Admiral.”

“And that’s another thing.  For this voyage at least we are not going to be having with all this pirate nonsense.” The admiral spat a mouthful of rum out. “Instead I have a letter of Marque signed by a servant of the Crown, instructing us to fight ignorance and pigheadishness where ever we find it.”

“And this Servant of the Crown, would he be standin’ before me in a brand new, and rather foppish, uniform?”

“Might be”

“And could we infer that neither Her Majesty, nor her government know anything about said letter?”

“Ah, but at least it’s officially unofficial!”

At that point the discussion was interrupted by Decrepit Old Fool waving from the gangplank.  “Have I missed the sailing?”

“Well as you seem to be standing on the gangplank, it is safe to assume we are still moored.  You seem anxious to get aboard.”

“Save me from Liberals.”

“We are Liberals.”

“But you don’t put ideology ahead of rational thought like this lot

Ropes were hauled, cutlasses were placed in scabbards with satisfying ‘snick’ noises, and meaningful looks were exchanged as the wind filled the sails, and “HMS Elitist Bastard” pulled away from the quay. Winter clouds scudded across the sky as the ship pushed its way through leaden seas.

“Make a signal Bo’sun – ‘England Expects Every Man Shall Stand His Round.'”

Suddenly from the Crows Nest the lookout ***Dave gave a cry.  He passed a link down, how the Global Warming deniers had accused a childrens website of politicising the debate

“Run out the Carronades, I intend to give them a shot across the bows ” barked Captain Hussar

“I think the The International Conspiracy of Mad Scientists are going to want more that that Captain.”

 The Captain looked at ICMS. “What you got in mind?”  ICMS indicated the fully loaded cannons.  The Captain smiled “Make Ready for Action. Drummer-boy; Beat To Quarters.  Run out the cannons.  Mr ICMS, fire your broadside.”

 “Oh Huzzar!”

 “Cap’n.  They’re making a signal”.

 “Pass me your spy-glass, let me read it – ‘Ha. Ha. Did. Not. Hurt. Us. In. Fact. You. Like. Us. More. Now. Than. You. Used. To.’  What in the name of all that is provable under reasonable controlled conditions are they talking about?  Every one can see the anti-science stand of the American Right is in tatters!”

“Sir, If may have a word” said the maths-geek standing by the ship’s biggest gun, nicknamed ‘Correct Methodology’.

 “Speak up Mr Ecstathy.”

 “I believe they are using an old ploy known as ‘selective statistics’.  Permission to blow a hole in it sir?”

Fire away“.

“Mr Cujo, do you have some shot and shell to add to this little fracas?”

“No Captain, but I know a man who has some tactics worth listening to

Suddenly Captain Hussar fell to the deck, grasping his chest.  “Kiss me Hunter” He gasped.

“Nice try sunshine.  That one isn’t going to sail.  Faking your death isn’t going to get me to kiss you, or disguise the fact you’ve written yourself into a corner.  Do you know how we are going to end this?”

Hussar stood up.  “We could offer them Tim Minchin’s wife.” 

“Don’t seem to be able to rise to that challenge Captain” confirmed a lookout.  “They are retreating while they argue about it”

“The problem is they are like zombie ships. No matter how often you fill them full of holes, and sink the arguments, they keep coming back, having learnt nothing.  What we need is some entertainment.  Lud In The Mist- see if you can get together some kind of Guitar Group.  Something that pisses off the “War, War” crowd.  Tonight we party!”

“The Greatest Show on Earth” Review of Dawkins’ latest book. Wednesday, Sep 23 2009 

Prof. Richard Dawkins, one of the worlds most famous atheists, has published a new book- “The Greatest Show on Earth” subtitled “The evidence for evolution”. (UK 1st edition Bantam Press, £20, 467 pages plus 32 pages full colour photos, as well as line drawn illustrations, bibiography and full index)

“Another Dawkins book? What can he add?” you may ask.  He has his sights set firmly on the evidence, and delivers broadside after broadside into forces of what he calls “history deniers”- in a way a title more satisfying than calling them ‘science deniers’ or ‘Creationists’.  That gives an indication of his target.  He isn’t ‘going after God’ as such, though he makes it clear where his thoughts on the subject lie, but rather those who deny evolution to be true.

He starts this assault with the first chapter title- ‘Only a theory’, one of the Creationist mantras.  Similarly Chapter 6 is “Missing Link? What do you mean missing.

The text as a whole is written in an easy to read style, suitable for the layman, and he assumes no prior knowledge.  Indeed at a couple of points he warns that the following explanation is complicated, and if the reader is tired they may wish to stop at that point until they are more awake.  Although this is a book of biology, he takes time for a ‘beginners guide to carbon dating’ as well as dendrochronology (using trees to date events), to show how we are able to sort fossils into ages.

He explains a number of different experiments showing how we can see evolution happening- from man forced evolution in dogs, to how certain dog like traits emerge in foxes when selected for breeding only on the basis of freindliness- you get dog ears and tail, even though the researchers never selected for this.  He also shows how labatory experimentation has been confirmed and repeated in the wild.  Plus he describes an expriment where E.coli have evolved an ‘irreducably complex’ trait, thus nailing that particular lie from the ‘Designers’.

On the way through he is not afraid to take a swipe at scientists, and how they can add to the confusion, giving hostages to fortune for those who wish to mislead the public. Taxonomy is one of his favoured targets, pointing out if we did have a complete fossil record at what point would we be able to say Austrolopithicus became Homo? Each child must have been close enough to the parent to be the same, but at some point the difference between long dead  ancestor and newly born baby must be big enough to warrant a new name!

The photos, like the text is full of ‘WOW!” factor, and many are beautiful in their own right as pictures.

The whole book is an easy read, Dawkins moving it along with a pace that a number of best selling fiction writers could learn from.  It assumes no prior knowledge, but for those already familiar with evolution is not basic.  Indeed, I found it was clarifying things that I ‘knew’, and may even have been ‘obvious’  but could not have articulated as well.  He also pays credit to other books, such as Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”, not covering subjects too deeply where it has already been done well, and letting you know what to read.

This is very much an ‘everyone’ book- not just for those who already know evolution to be true.  It will cover those gaps left by the time pressured teaching of biology in schools, and any literate teen could read it.  In addition it would be a great book to lend to freinds who are open-minded enough to explore evolution, even if they never understood it beyond the soundbite culture of how it is presented in the modern media.

Go on, give your money to RD, not Dan Brown!

The Burgess Shales- Creationists miss the boat. Tuesday, Nov 25 2008 

Those who try and argue evolution is a myth, and we were all created use all sorts of arguements, that have been refuted time and again.  Oddly none of their so called “scientists” seem to have latched on to the Burgess shales. 

The Burgess Shales are part of the Rockies in Canada.  The area has a rich mixture of fossils, and much of what we know about the “Cambrian Explosion” has come from them.  What paleontologists haven’t been able to explain is WHY the fossils are so well preserved- it has long been thought that the geological processed should have destroyed them.  Two scientists have put in detailed work and found the answer

High above the tree line in the Rocky mountains of British Columbia, on a ridge running between two jagged peaks, a thin strip of slate grey rock breaks the surface.

To the untrained eye this nondescript seam of sedimentary rock hardly rates a second look, but to palaeontologists, it’s worth its weight in gold. The Burgess Shale contains some of the oldest and best preserved fossils anywhere in the world, and offers a unique insight into the blossoming of marine animal life known as the Cambrian explosion some 500 million years ago.

All the more remarkable because the Burgess Shale really shouldn’t be there. Everything we know about the geophysical processes involved in mountain formation tells us the intense heat and pressure generated as the rocky mountains were thrust up should have destroyed these fragile deposits long ago.

Burgess Shale fossilInstead we’re treated to a fantastic array of spiny, bug-eyed and armour plated monsters preserved in the kind of exquisite detail that even includes imprints of their soft fleshy parts – the eyes and internal organs – that almost never survive the process of fossilisation.

So what happened? Why are the Burgess Shale fossils there at all?

To answer that question, Dr Alex Page, at Cambridge University, and Dr Jan Zalasiewicz, at the University of Leicester, have painstakingly re-examined hundreds of Burgess Shale fossils, but this time paying much closer attention to the geophysical processes that were occurring as the shallow seabed these animals inhabited was sucked down into the earth’s crust and then thrust back up again to form a ridge in the Rocky mountains.

They’ve shown that as the delicate organic tissues of these fossilised animals were heated deep in the earth’s crust they became the site for clay mineral formation. These new minerals picked out the intricate detail of gills, guts and eyes we see today, enhancing their preservation.

As Alex Page says: “Far from cremating these unique specimens the processes that thrust up the rocky mountains actually baked the Burgess Shale fossils in.”

See an actual “Huh” bit in Evolution.  Never mentioned anywhere I’ve seen by Creationists, but answered anyway, because scientists (real scientists) like answers, even if it changes what they thought before.

(Article from Radio 4’s “Today” programme, ‘net article.  Another arguement for the Licence Fee and Public Service Media)