Joy to the World...

...the sun is come.

The days will start getting longer now. Hopefully moods will be lifting as well. Despite the lack of sunlight, and my attendant grumpth, this is my favourite time of year. I spend it surrounded by loved ones, in light and warmth. There is always good food, warm drinks, and conversation around the fireplace. There is always snow and cold on the outside, and blankets and couches on the inside. There are always arguments; there is always strife. But we wouldn't be us if there weren't.

There are dogs to walk, pies to bake, potatoes to mash, and yes, even a turkey to roast.

There are candles to light, and latkes to fry, and chocolates and oranges in abundance.

I'll be there in less than 48 hours. I can't wait.


The Voters Delivered the Jab, Now Judge Jones Gives the Reverse

The Dover ID trial is over and the good guys won. The judge thoroughly spanked the ID proponents, as can be seen from the decision. Here are some of my favourite bits:

...Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God. (P-718 at 705) (emphasis added). As no evidence in the record indicates that any other scientific proposition's validity rests on belief in God, nor is the Court aware of any such scientific propositions, Professor Behe's assertion constitutes substantial evidence that in his view, as is commensurate with other prominent ID leaders, ID is a religious and not a scientific proposition.

It is notable that not one defense expert was able to explain how the supernatural action suggested by ID could be anything other than an inherently religious proposition.

It's so nice when someone really seems to get it.

More from the decision:
The Supreme Court instructed in Edwards that it has been particularly
'vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and secondary schools.' 482 U.S. at 583-84. The Supreme Court went on to state that:
Families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be
used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family. Students in such institutions are impressionable and their attendance is involuntary.

Id. (citing Grand Rapids Sch. Dist. v. Ball, 473 U.S. 373, 383 (1985); Wallace, 472
U.S. at 60 n.51).

After a careful review of the record and for the reasons that follow, we find that an objective student would view the disclaimer as a strong official endorsement of religion.

The decision is a long one (139 pages), but I suggest everyone at least skim it. It's good reading.

I congratulate this judge on a job well done.

(hat-tip, Pharyngula)


Another Meal Born of desperation: An Attempt at Fart Juice Soup

Fart juice, for the uninitiated, is the liquid that's left over from cooking dried beans, so called because of what it makes most people do.

Now, opinions differ when it comes to what one should do with this liquid. Some cookbooks say to strain it off and rinse the beans, lest the fibre that has leached into the liquid cause discomfort and embarrassment, while others claim that much of the beans nutritional value is now it the water and throwing it away is wasteful. I used to abide by the former recommendation, not out of any desire to avoid flatulence, but rather because I would have had no idea what to do with the juice, had I kept it. Until one day I was cooking with Floh. I forget what we were making, but we were cooking beans, and when it came time to strain them, Floh strained the liquid into a container and stuck it in the freezer. In Costa Rica, Floh explained, one *never* throws away the fart juice. No, no. In Costa Rica, one reserves it, along with some beans, to make Fart Juice Soup another day.

"Sounds good," I thought to myself, and the next time I cooked beans I reserved the liquid. Then I called Floh.

"I have three litres of fart juice in my freezer," I said. "What do I do with it?"
"Three litres?!?" came the reply. "Jeez, well, I'll come over and make soup, but I can't use all three litres!"
So, come over she did, and soup she did make. But that was almost a year ago. And I've had two litres of fart juice sitting in my freezer unused ever since. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I was hungry. I wanted something that would make me feel good. Something high in fibre and vitamins and low in fat. I looked in the fridge. I hadn't gotten around to doing a proper grocery shop in a while, and my produce supply was down to two carrots of dubious quality and a few apples.

"But I want vitamins!" I cried, "I want veggies!"

"Well, I'll start making some brown rice," I thought. "It's got lots of fibre in it, and I can eat it with whatever I come up with." So I put 2/3 of a cup of rice and 1 1/3 cups of water in a pot on the stove and set it to boiling. Then, out of desperation, I looked in the freezer. "Fart juice!" I exclaimed. "Fart juice has vitamins! Fart juice has fibre! I'll make Fart Juice Soup!" Then I realized a problem. When Floh made me soup, it contained veggies. It had tomatoes and potatoes and all manner of good and healthful things, none of which were to be found in my apartment. Not to mention beans, to thicken it. But the beans that the fart juice was made from were long consumed. Not to be discouraged, I looked in the pantry, on the legume can shelf. There stood one lone can of chickpeas. "Chickpeas are beans," I reasoned, and grabbed the can.

Still not sure where I was going with all this, I put the yogurt container of fart juice in a pot of hot water to melt, and examined my options in the freezer. There was a bag of freezer-burned corn, some frozen berries, and a plastic bag containing the results of my cleaning my snail tank, which I freeze to kill off the eggs.

Sighing, I pulled the corn out of the freezer. Freezer burnt though it was, I supposed it would do.

The fart juice was now sufficiently thawed that I could get it out of its container, so I poured the water out of the pot, dumped the fart juice in, added my last can of chickpeas and a bunch of corn, and put it on the stove to heat up, along with a bunch of tabasco sauce and some salt. When it all came to a boil I slowly poured in a whisked egg.

Once the rice was almost done I strained the water off and added it to the soup. And you know what? It's seriously yummy!

Thanks, Floh!

(x-posted to Knife-Wielding Feminists)


Knitblogging III - Christmas is a'coming and there's yarn in the air

I was looking over this blog and I realized I haven't knitblogged in for*ever*. Well there's a reason for this.

Since Christmas is on its way, most of what I'm knitting now is gifts. Since I don't know which of my family members read this blog, I don't want to report on what I've made until it's been distributed. Don't worry, though, I'll be taking plenty of pictures before I give things away, so you'll get to see what's what.

For now I'll just give you a teaser and say that all my presents are being made from the coloured versions of Cascade Yarns' Eco wool

Purty colours!


Can You Laugh So Hard Your Lungs Come Up?

This quote, from Fundies Say the Darndest Things, via Pharyngula, made me laugh so hard I thought I'd puke. Ready for it?

Remember, this is said in complete seriousness. Really.

Okay, here it is:

One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn't possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.

For those who don't believe me, here is the quote in its original context.

Let's all join PZ and point and laugh at the stupid people.


Breaking My Heart into Little Pieces

I know I've been posting more links than content lately, and I don't generally like to do more than one link post in a row, but I think everyone needs to read this most amazingly powerful post over at Baghdad Burning about how war destroys the human soul.

From the post:

In war, you think the unthinkable. You imagine the unimaginable. When you can't get to sleep at night, your mind wanders to cover various possibilities. Trying to guess and determine the future of a war-torn nation is nearly impossible, so your mind focuses on the more tangible- friends. Near and distant relations. I think that during these last two and a half years, every single Iraqi inside of Iraq has considered the possibility of losing one or more people in the family.

I try to imagine what would happen to me, personally, should this occur. How long would it take for the need for revenge to settle in? How long would it take to be recruited by someone who looks for people who have nothing to lose? People who lost it all to one blow. What I think the world doesn't understand is that people don't become suicide bombers because- like the world is told- they get seventy or however many virgins in paradise. People become suicide bombers because it is a vengeful end to a life no longer worth living- a life probably violently stripped of its humanity by a local terrorist- or a foreign soldier.

I strongly encourage you to Read the whole thing. And then come back here and tell me this war was justified.


I learned something from Jesus

Well, not from Jesus directly, but from his General. And since the General is a manly heterosexual man who loves Jesus in a purely heterosexual way and claims to speak on Jesus's behalf, well, I have no reason to doubt him.

Anyway, this is what I learned from him:

  1. I learned that the Leader of the decreasingly Free World has a blog. And some thieving thiever has thieved his strawberries!
  2. I also learned about another Mr. Manly Man who went to a Promise Keepers meeting and touched other men only in appropriate ways.
  3. In addition to that, I learned that I still find jokes about Bill O'Rielly's falafel funny.

Okay, that last one is a bit embarrassing to admit, but overall I'm quite pleased. If the General keeps being this informative I may have to add him to the blogroll.


Consent Talking

I apologise in advance for the writing in this post. I'm usually careful to craft my posts; I'm picky about how my writing sounds. This time I had a rant that just needed to come out and I knew that if I tried to craft it I would just end up stifling it. So here it is in its raw, unedited form. Be kind.

I want to talk about sex. In particular, I want to talk about consent, and how it's given, or, more frequently, not given.

I want to share a quote from a training I received recently. This training was for becoming a facilitator for workshops that raised awareness of, among other things, sexual assault, and during this training there was one thing that was said that I want to share. Ready? Here it is:

'No' is an answer to a question that's almost never asked.
I had never put it in those terms before, but it immediately rang true to me.

The fact is that we almost never say 'yes' to sex. Yes is considered to be the default answer, and we're expected to speak up only if the answer is no. I find this to be deeply disturbing. I think it sets us up for a situation where we are constantly risking violating each other's boundaries, and are only informed of a problem when it's already too late.

I think silence should default to 'no'. I am made exceedingly uncomfortable by people who hit on me and who take my lack of response as an invitation to push further. I am not comfortable with a dynamic that forces one person to say "back off" rather than expects the other person to say "is it okay if".

I'm not saying we can't flirt or hit on each other, or that we have to stop and ask explicit permission before each activity from eye-contact onwards (although I certainly don't think that talking deserves the bad reputation it gets). What I'm saying is that we need to be aware of each others' reactions. We need to pay attention, and if we're not getting an explicitly welcoming or inviting response we need to back the hell off and wait for one.

I've put this in gender-neutral terms because I think it is one of the few things about sex and consent that really are gender-neutral in terms of roles. I don't, however, think that it's gender-neutral in terms of context.



It's snowing!! Enough to accumulate!!

Check out the back staircase:

And this car:

And the grass of a neighbour's backyard:

Winter's really and truly coming!



There are three things I have to mention here. I've made a minor change to the template, and added a few things to the sidebar (that's two), and a post of mine has been chosen for the 21st Skeptic's Circle (that would be the third).

Firstly, template. The time of posting at the bottom of the posts no longer links to the post. Instead, the title of the post does. I find this much more intuitive.

Secondly, sidebar. I've removed the Einstein quote, because it was getting on my nerves. I had intended to collect a number of them and ask Dave or Q. Pheevr to write something that would display a different quote each time the page was loaded, but I've changed my mind. Instead I'm providing links to resources for women in North America who need a bit of help. The abortion in Québec link points to the Morgentaler clinic's homepage, and the one for the rest of Canada points to Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada's find a clinic page. I also provide a couple resources for women in the US who need emergency contraception. Those last two links, as well as the idea of providing these resources, were stolen directly from Bitch, Ph.D.'s sidebar. The button that serves as a heading was made with Adam Kalsey's button maker.

I've also added Pharyngula and Pooflingers Anonymous to the Us section of the blogroll. These are two excellent science blogs that inspire me to keep thinking and acting and stay skeptical.

And, thirdly, Skeptic's Circle. I submitted my posts In Defense and Why do we Bother to the Skeptic's Circle, and the latter one made it in. This is very exciting to me, as I only learned about the Skeptic's Circle very recently and am still not a hundred percent sure what it is. Being part of something I don't entirely understand is always fun! As far as I can tell, the Skeptic's Circle is a monthly (weekly?) collection of skeptical posts by skeptical people about things of which they are skeptical. It's not at all clear to me how the posts are chosen, but I understand it's quite popular; certainly having been chosen has driven more traffic to this site than anything else. My daily hit count has just about doubled! For a little while I was considering holding a silly contest, a la litigious moron and offering to send a cookie to my thousandth visitor, but then I realised that that was too silly, even for me, and furthermore it wouldn't work because if my thousandth visitor was Australian (you never know!) then I would have to insist that they send me a cookie instead because we can't get Tim Tams in Canada and it's just Not Fair. So that put an end to that idea.

Ultimately I decided that the only thing to do was to write another post. This one doesn't count, obviously, as it's rather devoid of content, but I've had one brewing for a while about why providing women with the resources mentioned above is so damned important. I have thrown reams of metaphorical crumpled paper over my shoulder in trying to compose that post and I make no promises about when it's coming, but it's definitely brewing.

And that's all she wrote.


Snail Porn

By popular demand, here is a picture of my snails doin' the nasty:

And the results thereof:

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the truly revolting intermediate stage (100+ slimy, shiny eggs that seem to just ooze out of the adult), but I'll get a picture next time it happens (which it will, have no fear).

See the mole-like lump on the side of the snail's neck in this picture?

Well, that lump is what eventually develops into the white stabbing spear you saw in the first picture. They only have that lump when they're horny.


Why Do We Bother?

This is a companion post to In Defense of Reasoned Inquiry below. I want to talk more about why it's so important to keep creationism out of science classrooms.

First, let's take a gander over to a fundamentalist Christian blog. Rand, of A Form of Sound Words said this

As for these millions of years of evolution scientists love to throw around so much, here's a quick thought for you: can God create a mountain that has all the physical properties of being millions of years old? If He can, then the evolutionist doesn't have the "proof" he thinks he has.
Leaving aside for the moment the small matter of evolution and geology being different fields of study, let's take a good look at this quote. If we accept, as Rand does, that God is omnipotent, then it does of course follow that He can create a mountain with all the properties of being millions of years old. If we furthermore accept that the bible is the word of God, and meant to be taken as literally as possible, then we are left with this one, inescapable conclusion: God is willing to deceive us. The account in the bible and the evidence we see before us simply don't match. If God was responsible for both, then God has lied to us.

Now without getting into a discussion about whether God would or should lie to us (such hypotheticals bore me to tears), I just want to discuss the implications of the fact that God (if such a being exists, and is responsible for the bible in the way Rand claims He is) *has* lied. This means that we cannot trust our senses. We cannot trust the results of our experiments. If we cannot trust the world to be as our senses perceive it and our reason deduces it to be then we can't investigate anything. Let me say that again. We can't investigate anything. If we presuppose the existence of a God that falsifies evidence, the entire field of science is moot. Moot. Hell, even if we didn't have proof that this God falsified evidence, the mere fact that He could would suffice. The musings of Descartes and Hume are fun for keeping ourselves up at night, but the scientist must proceed on the assumption that her results are reliable, or she may as well not bother.

This is precisely why creationism, Creation Science, Intelligent Design, or whatever you want to call it, does not belong in the classroom. By presupposing an intelligent guidance of natural phenomena, it flies in the face of everything science is trying to achieve. It states that things are the way they are, not because of the immutability of natural laws, but because they were arbitrarily designed that way. If that is the case then there is nothing to be learned from studying them and we may as well all go home. I'm not interested in that. There is certainly the possibility that Rand or Descartes or even David Hume were right. That the universe our senses show us bears little or no relation to the universe as it really is, but as there is no possibility of bringing evidence to bear on that conjecture, it does not belong within the realm of science. Take your ID and shove it up your philosophy teacher's ass. It has no place in a science classroom.

(Thanks to my father for providing the main idea behind this post)


Wow. Um ... Wow.

It would appear that my post In Defense of Reasoned Inquiry has been nominated for the Best Blog Post award in My Blahg's 2005 Canadian Blog Awards.

I have no idea who nominated that post but, well, thank you. I'm not sure what to say... I'm certainly flattered.

Round 1 of voting is supposed to run from November 24th to 30th, and round 2 from December 3rd to 9th. It would appear that the results will be announced on the 11th of December.

So, yes. Thank you, whoever nominated me.


Snail Reference Post

Remember the knitblogging reference post? Well this is like that, only for snails.

Two Thousand

Much has been made in the lefty blogosphere lately about the fact that the number of American deaths in Iraq has recently passed two thousand. The best post that I have seen so far was by P.Z. Meyers of Pharyngula, so I'll just refer you there. Here's a particularly poignant quote:

I think we're supposed to console ourselves with the idea that they accomplished so much more by dying in a foreign land than they could have achieved by living in their own.

I've noticed a distinct lack of mention of the number of Iraqi civilian deaths which, by conservative estimates, has already well surpassed 25,000, so I'm mentioning it now. What this war amounts to is throwing good money after bad. But in addition to money, they're trowing lives.


Letting My Curiosity Get the Better of Me

I'm going to be putting Google ads in the sidebar. They won't stay there long unless they end up being a significant source of income (which, given this blog's stats, they won't), I'm just really curious about how they work, and there are things they won't tell you (like how much money you get per view/click, how they pay you, etc) that they won't tell you unless you sign up. So, yeah, signing up. But, like I said, it won't last long. Please be patient, and remember, this is *my* webspace, to do with as I please.

UPDATE never mind. They want permission to use and publish my name in their marketing materials. Fuck that.


Knitblogging, a reference post

Because Blogger doesn't have the option of creating categories, the way WordPress does, and because I want a way to collect all the posts about one subject into a single link I can put on the sidebar, I'm creating this post. I'll put a link to this post in the sidebar, and every time I blog about knitting I'll put a link to the post in this post, at the top of the list.

Oh, and when I finished the Rogue, I promised a picture of myself wearing it, and then never delivered. Well, here it is:


Knitblogging, part II - Slipper Socks.

When I was in the 11th grade my class went on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. Because it was autumn, cooling down, and likely to rain, my mother loaned me a pair of heavy wool socks. Wool, she said, was essential for this sort of trip, because it retained its ability to insulate even when wet. These socks, she said, would keep my feet warm even if I fell out of the canoe (although she made no promises about the rest of my body). So I wore the socks, night and day, for the full three (or was it four?) days of the trip. I loved them. True to my mother's word, these socks stayed warm even when drenched. We won't discuss what they smelled like by the time we got back to Toronto. I loved the socks so much that when I moved to Montreal a year and a half later, I asked my mother if I could take them with me. She had two pairs, and so was happy to let me have one. I kept wearing these socks. I wore them in the house, in place of slippers; I wore them inside my oxblood, steel-toed Doc Martins (which are very sexy, but don't insulate very well, and are too big for me besides). I wore them inside my hikers during winter, because I'm too cheap and lazy to buy proper winter boots. I wore these socks all the freaking time. I figured they were heavy wool, they could take it. Well, they are heavy wool, and they did take a lot, but eventually they started to lose their battle with friction. The bottoms started to go at the heel, and then at the ball, and eventually they made very poor slippers, because they let my bare heel come into full contact with the cold wood floor. I wasn't ready to throw them out (they still did a good job of keeping my feet warm under the blankets on particularly cold nights), but I was forced to admit that I was going to need a new pair.

I waffled. Being cheap and lazy, and hating shopping in general, I wasn't inclined to buy a new pair. Then, a little over a year ago, I took up knitting again in earnest, and that reinforced my desire not to buy a new pair. After all, I could knit a pair! But I didn't. Every sock pattern I looked at was either intended for a much lighter yarn, or waayy too complicated, or both. I got increasingly frustrated with the situation, but then my aunt got me a pair of fleece slipper socks for christmas, and that held my frustration in check for a while. But only for a while. The fleece socks, while nice, couldn't hold a candle to the look and feel of socks made from real, heavy, good quality wool.

Finally it happened. I had finished the Rogue. I was casting around for a new project. My confidence in my knitting skill was high. I had some spare, good, heavy wool yarn on hand. And I came across this pattern. At first I wasn't sure, but once I looked at the pattern and realised how trivial it would be to get rid of the godawful moon-and-stars design I was sold. I did it. It took about a week. I am now the proud owner of an incredibly comfy pair of slipper socks, pictured below:

Here's a detail shot of the heel. The picture links to some notes on the construction.

The slipper socks were made from Knitting Pure and Simple's free pattern, on 3.75mm Brittany birch needles, with Cascade Yarns's Ecological Wool, shade 8061 which just happens to be almost the same colour as the original wool socks my mother gave me all those years ago.


In Defense of Reasoned Inquiry

Nominee, Best Post

I don't know if it's only recently come to my attention, or if there has actually been an increase in recent years, but it seems to me that science is under attack in the USA. Despite having the good fortune not to live in that country, I nonetheless feel that I have a certain responsibility, as an educated, reasonable member of this global village, to help my allies south of the border to defend this most precious technique against the attacks it has been the target of.

Why is the scientific method so precious? Because it is the *only* way we have of really knowing things. Without the scientific method all we have are superstition and common sense, neither of which have particularly good track records with getting things right. The scientific method, on the other hand, with its emphasis on testing and evidence, has an excellent track record. One might even say that "getting it right" is defined by the scientific method.

For a comprehensive definition of the scientific method, I suggest you read Wikipedia's page on the topic, but I'll give the gist of it here:

  1. You start off with observation. You see what's going in the world and you notice patterns, or interesting and unexpected deviations from patterns. You collect information on these patterns until you feel you have enough information to move on to step 2, which is...

  2. Formation of a hypothesis. This is where you use the information available to you to make an educated guess about why or how the things you observed happen. Now you need to...

  3. Test the hypothesis. A hypothesis is only as strong as the predictions it makes, and a hypothesis that only seeks to explain given observations without making any predictions about what further observation will reveal has no value at all. (We who are interested in actual evidence call these hypotheses "just so stories," with a hat-tip to Rudyard Kipling.) What your hypothesis should do is give you some idea of what to observe next, and how to go about observing it (again, for examples see the wiki article). It is very likely that, once you've performed these new observations, you will find that your data doesn't jibe 100% with your hypothesis. That means it's time to...

  4. Revise your hypothesis. See if you can come up with a (testable) idea that explains your new data while still being consistent with your old data. And once you've done that, you go back to step 3.

Now, what a lot of people don't seem to understand is that you never stop repeating steps 3 and 4. There is no point at which a hypothesis is considered proven and observation and experimentation can stop. What can happen, however, is that experimental data can bear out a hypothesis's predictions over and over, so many times, with so little need for revision, that it becomes very hard to believe that a reproducible experiment will ever be performed that disproves the hypothesis. At this point the hypothesis can graduate to the rank of theory. It becomes accepted as true by a majority of members of the field, and it can be used as a jumping-off point for new hypotheses. However, it remains falsifiable. It always remains falsifiable.

Now, I hope I don't have to explain why this technique is so damned important, and what a shame it will be if a majority of Americans reject it outright, and explicitly accept the practice of creating public policy based on conclusions not reached through this technique. I hope I don't have to explain why it's so important that children be taught this technique in school. Be taught that conclusions reached through this technique are superior to conclusions reached through other methods. I hope I don't, but if I do please say so. I'll be happy to oblige with another post.

It's with this in mind that I've weighed into the evolution/creation debate. My goal is not, and has never been, to convince creationists that they are wrong. My goal is to reach those who are undecided. Those who are at risk of being convinced by the arguments of creationists (arguments that, with their logical fallacies and factual errors, can seem quite sensible on the surface). I hope to do my part to create a more scientifically literate populace, which is, in the end, the only thing that will keep creation "science" and other such nonsense out of government, and out of the schools. Call me crazy, but I'm convinced of the capacity of science to build a better world.


Status of Canadian Women

I would encourage all Canadians to go fill out Status of Women Canada's Gender Equality Consultation. Please tell our government how you think they can best encourage equality between the sexes in this country.


Should auld acquaintance be forgot an..

Oh wait, wrong tradition.

Well, happy new year, everyone. I wish you all many carrots and apples with honey.


They'll Put The Onion out of Business

Imagine the horror. You're a serious journalist, or at least you pretend to be. You work for Reuters, CNN, or the Washington Post. You value your reputation, and you want to command respect. You want to be taken seriously by the public. And then you have to report stories like this. And you have to do it with a straight face.
"No one's going to believe this bullshit," you say to yourself. "If I'd wanted to write this sort of thing, I would have worked for The Onion."

A week ago I would have laughed if The Onion had run this story. FEMA fucks up. FEMA's director resigns in disgrace. FEMA rehires former director as a contractor and tasks him with investigating his own fuckups. Former director finds himself not to blame.
This, my friends, is funny. What it should not be is real news.

Does anyone remember when Bush was first appointed president five years ago? Remember the article The Onion ran? You can no longer find it in their archives, but luckily Echidne of the Snakes has a copy in her archives. It's fantastic.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

Bush had equally high praise for Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, whom he praised as "a tireless champion in the battle to protect a woman's right to give birth".

Unfortunately for The Onion (not to mention the rest of the world), this turned out to be more prescience than satire. This administration is going to make the entire genre obsolete. We must not let that happen.


Evolution at Home

Much to my chagrin, my snail tank appears to have become a prolific fruit fly breeding ground. Now, there's no way for me to permanently solve this problem, that I can think of. I can clean the tank, but as soon as I do, some of the many flies that have escaped will get back in and start breeding again. And I can't effectively get rid of the population outside the tank with newly hatched flies coming out of the tank at a steady pace. My only hope is to do my best to encourage any fruit flies in the tank to leave, and then try to reduce the population outside the tank to manageable levels. I would try putting the tank outside for a couple days but it's supposed to be in the teens and low twenties and I'm afraid that would kill the snails (10tacle, care to weigh in on this?).

So. To get rid of insects inside the apartment the safest, cleanest, cheapest, and most effective way to do this is with diatomaceous earth. It's best suited for walking insects, but it also works with flying ones, just more slowly. The primary disadvantage to this method is that it makes your apartment look like a five-year-old has been scribbling on bits of it with chalk. Much as this may fit in with my decor theme (mess, mess, and more mess), I'd rather avoid it, so I decided to start with some very clever fruit fly traps a friend told me about.

You take some small, shallow bowls, fill them most of the way with a liquid the fruit flies will like (I used hot chocolate - dairy free so it wouldn't stink), and cover them with saran wrap. Then cut a slit in the saran wrap, so the flies can get in but, because they're flies and therefore stupid, can't get out again.

Well I tried it, and the damn things work like a charm. The two in the living room and one in the bathroom are filling up with flies (don't ask me what the flies are doing in the bathroom, where there's never any food. Flies are stupid). The one in the kitchen is still pretty empty but the kitchen is actually where the problem is least serious, so that's okay.

In observing my little fly traps, though, I noticed something. I appear to have two kinds of fruit fly. Anyone with high-school level biology (and probably most people without) will be able to guess what the two kinds are. Yup, red-eyed fruit flies and black-eyed fruit flies. BUT, I noticed something else. Now, I don't know if these traits are generally linked, or if it's just a coincidence of my populations, but the red-eyed fruit flies are tending to be less than half the size of the black-eyed ones. What this means is that the little buggers can make their way out of the traps. So while the traps are filling up quite nicely with large (relatively speaking), black-eyed fruit flies, they're just providing most of the little rede-eyed ones with a nice snack. Sure, a few of the stupider, less lucky red-eyed ones die, and a few of the smaller, luckier, black-eyed ones escape, the overwhelming majority of dead flies are the black-eyed ones. I predict that, although I started off with a large majority of black-eyed flies, in a couple days I will end up with a population that is overwhelmingly red-eyed and small flies. So what, you may ask, it shouldn't make a difference what color/size the flies are. But you'd be wrong! What, I ask you, is the defining characteristic of these red-eyed flies? It's not their eye colour, or even really their size (although that's relevant). It's their ability to survive my traps. In laying out these traps I am, pretty much by definition, creating an environment that selects for flies that can survive those traps, thereby making the resulting population harder to kill. To put it in more familiar (though less accurate) terms, I've created trap-resistant flies. Well damn.

And this evolution, yes evolution, of the fruit flies in my apartment is a fact. Not a theory, but a directly observable FACT. And anyone who can observe this phenomenon and not realise that the same forces driving it exist in nature, not realise that when you come down to it, the world we have (maybe not the exact world we have, but a world that shares the key property of being teeming with hugely varied life) is the highly likely, possibly INEVITABLE, result of the advent of a molecule that just happens to replicate itself (which in and of itself isn't a particularly surprising occurrence when you think of the sheer size of the universe) is a COMPLETE and UTTER MORON!!

(Sorry, I try not to get that heated on my blog generally. I guess I've been reading way too much Creationist nonsense lately.

Frakking dumsnuts.)

In response to Q. Pheevr's response in the comments: It's true that this specific example is one of not-so-natural selection, rather than speciation, but speciation is the obvious and inevitable result of this process being repeated over and over, with multiple simultaneous selection forces, over a long period of time. There's no logical way around that, and it's the people who can't see that who are morons.



The Rogue is finished. It's been nearly a year since I started it, and now it's done well before the weather turns cold again.

It was my first attempt at cabling, but I think I did okay. Check out the sleeve:

And the side panel:

For more pictures of the work in progress you can check out my Flickr set here.

I'll post a picture of myself wearing it on Monday when I'm back in Montreal.


Make the Protesters Work for Us.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania has come up with a great way to raise money, as well as morale.

Now, I don't know what the numbers are, but it seems to me that most Planned Parenthoods in the US have problems with protesters standing outside, hurling insults at staff, volunteers, and patients alike. Not only does this cause distress (and occasionally physical harm, if things get violent) to the staff, it greatly increases their needed volunteer base, because they need people who will accompany patients past the protesters, and it makes some patients less likely to come to PP to get the care they need.

This may strike some protesters as a good thing, but what they probably don't realise is that when they heckle and shame people who cross their picket line, they're preventing more than just abortions. For many women, too poor to pay for health insurance, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, Planned Parenthood is the only option they have for healthcare, period. When you picket a PP clinic you make it harder for a lot of women to get basic medical care. And when you cause a PP to close, you make it impossible.

So, in order to raise morale, and make it easier for the staff and volunteers to face the stream of insults and epithets every day, PPSP has come up with the Pledge-a-Picketer program. From the website:

You decide on the amount you would like to pledge for each
protester (minimum 10 cents). When protesters show up on our sidewalks, Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania will count and record their number each day from October 1 through November 30, 2005. We will place a sign outside the health center that tracks pledges and makes protesters fully aware that their actions are benefiting PPSP. At the end of the two-month campaign, we will send you an update on protest activities and a pledge reminder.

If you pledge 30 cents per protester, and PPSP has 100 protesters in October and 160
protesters in November, your donation would be 78 dollars for the entire two-month campaign.

Similar to sponsoring a runner in a charity marathon, your pledge total can be capped at a pre-set amount, if desired.

I think this is a brilliant idea, and I encourage anyone who cares about women's health to give what you can, or at least spread the word.

(Via Chris Baldwin)



Yummy garden

Because I am the coolest ever, I actually managed to grow my own dinner. Go read about it


Home, sweet home

Our plane landed in Toronto at 11:30 yesterday evening, and we arrived back in Montreal just under 24 hours later.

Although more detailed posts will follow, I just wanted to start out by saying that it's good to be home. In the past 24 hours I have:

- drunk numerable glasses of unadulterated tap water, and used it to brush my teeth;
- eaten produce that had not been soaked for 20 minutes in a disinfectant solution;
- carried on a whole conversation with a perfect stranger in a language I actually speak;
- showered in water that did not smell of sulfur;
- flushed my used toilet paper directly down the toilet, instead of leaving it in a pail.

And it's been very nice.

I don't want any of that to give the impression that I didn't enjoy Guatemala. Quite the contrary, it was fun, relaxing, exciting at times, and overall an excellent experience. I saw, tasted, and experience many new things, and developed at least two new skills of which I am very proud. I also met more of Dave's family and cuddled with some very cute dogs.

I think two weeks was the perfect length for this vacation. I wasn't sick of Guatemala when we left, but I am definitely happy to be home, and looking forward to getting back to work.




I'll be in Guatemala for the next two weeks, and won't have internet access for most, if not all, of that time.

If I don't respond to emails, comment on blogs, or post here, that's why.

I'm excited and nervous as hell, and just hoping my allergies are better there than they are here (I would say they can't be worse, but experience tells me that's just not true). I'll post pictures and exciting stories when I get home.


Cleanliness is next to...

Flohdot is living with me for the next couple of weeks. She got here late Monday night, and the first thing she did Tuesday morning was start helping me clean.

We decluttered together, then she vacuumed the bajeezus out of the place and decluttered some more while I was working. She also bought groceries and made me dinner and today I mopped.

Floh stated reason for doing this was that she'd just spent two months in Costa Rica, where her parents have maids, and she was itching to do some housework, but we both know that the real reason was that she couldn't stand to live in the disaster area I had allowed my apartment to become.

Regardless of the reasons, the place now looks great. Not perfect, but much better than it was.

Danke vielmal, Flöchen. Ich habe dich viele Liebe.


Rain! Sweet rain! My vegetable garden can grow, the heat can break...
Oh, how I love the rain.


I dreamed of my maternal grandfather last night.
In my dream I was still in bed, with my sister, in the basement of my parents' house. My mother came downstairs and told me that grandad was visiting. She told me that he was going to drive her to work, but that if I got up I could see him once he got back.

After she left I got up. I was cold, but I only wrapped myself in a sarong, and I went out to the garage to wait for him. Before long he arrived. I watched him turning the steering wheel as he manuevered the car into the garage. He got out of the car and said "Hello, dear" just like he always did. I said hello back and got up to hug him. I commented to him that he hadn't visited us in several years, and he said yes.

His arms had strength as he wrapped them around me, and in my arms he felt fuller than he used to. He was thin, he always has been, but he didn't feel like he'd snap in half if I hugged him too hard. He told me I looked tired and asked if I'd like a cup of coffee. I said yes. We both headed back into the house, him to the kitchen to make coffee and me to the basement to get dressed.

Then my alarm went off and I started to wake up for real. I put a shirt on and headed for the kitchen. Still half asleep, I half expected grandad to be there with coffee for me, and eggs poaching on the stove.

Once I reached my kitchen the sight of it woke me up the rest of the way. It wasn't my parents' kitchen in Toronto, it was my own kitchen in my apartment in Montreal. And then I remembered. I remembered why the strength of his arms had surprised me, why the fullness of his shoulders had seemed so odd.

I remembered why it's been so long since I've seen him.

It was a good dream, though, and I feel more peaceful than sad. It was nice to have one more chance to say goodbye.


Wanna See a Wet Pussy?

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Again via Bitch Ph.D., the flying cats take a bath.

All together now: Awwwwwwwwww.

Doing 43 Things

Dave pointed me to the 43 Things website today. It's kind of a cool concept, you create a list of up to 43 goals, not day to day goals like doing dishes, but bigger goals, like finishing a degree or eating better, and then you can be in touch with other people with the same or similar goals, and you can post entries about how the goal is going, and you can check it off with a sense of accomplishment once you've done it. I'm very excited. These are my goals:

  1. learn to drive

  2. become a paramedic

  3. meditate daily

  4. eat well

  5. get in shape

  6. live simply

  7. have a farm

  8. live off the grid

  9. grow my own food

  10. eat organic food only

  11. go hang-gliding

  12. see the aurora borealis

  13. hike from the Italian Dolomites to the Austrian alps

  14. visit a 3rd world country

  15. save a life

  16. speak French fluently

  17. spin my own yarn

What do you want to do?


I'm Bad At the Cool-Down Period

I've dealt with it twice today. Over the course of yesterday and today, Dave and I made Mushroom and Spinach Stuffed Zucchini from the Low-Fat Moosewood Cookbook. We quadrupled the recipe so that there would be enough for both of us to eat them for lunch all week. Once they came out of the oven this afternoon I had to leave the room and fool myself into thinking I was busy so I wouldn't eat our lunches right away.

Then, this evening, since I have a houseguest coming tomorrow and should be cleaning the apartment, I decided to bake. I made Tracy Jorge's Oatmeal Raisin Bars. They just came out of the oven and they're sitting on the stovetop, cooling. I'm *terrible* at this moment in baking. I hate it every single time I bake. I know that if I don't wait for them to cool properly they won't hold together when I cut them into bars. I know that I'll just burn myself if I try to eat or cut them now. I know that they'll still be yummy and warm, but not scalding, if I can just wait a little bit. But it's SO HARD! The whole apartment smells like yummy and the batter was SOO GOOOD.

These bars are basically butter and sugar with enough oats and flour to hold them together. They use brown and raw cane sugars, rather than white sugar, and I'm kind of curious how that will taste and what kind of difference it will make.

You can listen to the oatmeal rasin bar recipe here or subscribe to The Vegan Cooking School's podcast here.

EDIT/UPDATE: I just wanted to say that creating this post took care of the cooldown period for me, and now I'm eating a bar and it's delicious. (Okay, so I didn't wait quite long enough, since it fell apart as I was taking it out of the pan, but still. I didn't burn myself!)
I also wanted to let you know that the baking time Jorge gives in her podcast (30 - 40 minutes) is way too long. I took these out after 20 minutes and they're already starting to get crispy at the edges.

(Cross-posted at Knife-Wielding Feminists)


Flying Cats!!

Bitch. PhD. links to this amazing slideshow on Flickr

The images are all copyrighted, so I can't show you one here, but Bitch has one on her blog.


Food is good

I just posted on Knife-Wielding Feminists for the first time in months! Frog has been getting on all our cases about not posting there enough, so there have been a few updates lately.

Go read it.


The thing about abortion

The thing about abortion is that it's not just about the zygote/embryo/fetus (henceforth abbreviated to zef). There's a whole nother human being involved in the equation.

Pinko Feminist Hellcat and Nick Kiddle of Alas, A Blog have written excellent posts recently, reminding us of this fact.

Nick Kiddle's post (which I can' t quote from directly because Alas appears to be down) reminds us that pregnancy isn't a passive state that leaves a woman unchanged except for the knowledge that there's a zef inside of her. Pregnancy, Kiddle reminds us, is a process. One that often has enormous, almost devastating, consequences on the body of the pregnant woman. Pregnancy causes permanent changes to your body. It causes you to go through nine months of hormonal fluctuation that can lead to nausea, drastic mood swings, exhaustion, soreness, headaches, and swelling of various body parts, among other things. Giving birth can be an extremely traumatic event. Complications at any stage can lead to anything from miscarriage, to a requirement of bed rest, to the death of the woman.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't want to over-medicalise or pathologise the process of being pregnant here. Pregnancy is an entirely natural process that women have been doing successfully for millenia. What I'm trying to emphasise here is how involved a process it is, and how profound an effect it can have. Many people in the enforced-childbirth camp would have us believe that pregnancy is not a process. That the only thing required to maintain a pregnancy is to not abort it. That a woman's right to bodily autonomy doesn't trump the zef's right to exist is only a valid argument if you don't see the pregnancy as particularly infringing on that autonomy. But it does.

Would men in the enforced-childbirth camp support a legal requirement to give up a kidney, or donate bone marrow, or even blood, for everyone who qualified, and whose body parts were needed by someone else? Should women who aren't already pregnant be required to undergo implantation of excess zygotes produced in vitro?

The fact is that every person should have veto power, up to the last possible moment, for anything that might infringe on their autonomy. Anything from playing contact sports to having sex to being pregnant to having surgery. Would we claim that a person who has agreed to donate a kidney should be legally forbidden from changing their mind? Even if without that kidney someone else would surely die?

So why would we treat pregnant women any differently?



Snails make good pets. They're unobtrusive, quiet and very low maintenance. They need food and water a couple times a week, and a clean tank and new cuttlefish bone every month or so, and that's about it. Snails are also very low cost pets. Once you've got the snails (which you should be able to do for free or close to it, see my third paragraph) and the tank (mine came to just under 60$ all told for a tank big enough to hold 2 - 4 large snails plus corrugated plastic signs as a lid) they're almost free. They eat vegetable table scraps (they're especially fond of cucumber and zucchini), and the cuttlefish bones and moss they live on are dirt cheap.

Snails are fascinating creatures, too. You can see their muscles expand and contract as they move, and if the tank you keep them in is transparent (highly recommended) you can see the ripples on their bellies as they climb the walls. Their eyestalks are cute as anything, and they make a neat little scraping sound when the eat. I like it best when my snails hang upside down. It seems so contrary.

There are only two problems with snails. One is that they're kind of boring. If you want a pet that will interact with you, recognise you, and play with you, snails are probably not the best bet. This also means that it can be easy to forget about them and forget to feed them. Which is why it's good that they only need food every couple of days. The second problem is that snails are horny little bastards. They reproduce like *crazy* and they make tens of eggs in one clutch. It can be hard to unload the little ones too, because not everyone wants snails as pets. This is why it can be easy to get them for free, though. Anyone who has more than one snail living in the same tank is probably desparate to get rid of the offspring, and will pay you to take them away. This is even more problematic because snails are hermaphroditic, so all it takes is two.

The snails that I have are Giant African Land Snails and are illegal in the USA because they're an introduced species that could wreak all sorts of havoc on the ecosystem. This means that when my snails do reproduce I can't just release the offspring into the wild. Generally I take care of the problem by either crushing or freezing the eggs and then throwing them out. I feel kind of callous for doing this but, well, it's either them or my ecosystem, and I choose my ecosystem. What can I say?

New Blog

I'm starting up a new blog because LJ is starting to get on my nerves. Right now I'm creating this post so that I can see how it looks and change the template around a bit.