Wildlife park official arrested in deaths of gorillas

The problem with authority is always “Quis custodies custodiet?” (Who will watch the watchers?)

Authorities in Congo have arrested a senior park official in the killings of ten mountain gorillas at Virunga park.

Honore Mashagiro, the former chief of the park, was arrested earlier this month at his home in Goma in eastern Congo.

He appeared in court last week, charged with the deaths of gorillas and illegal charcoal burning.

Apparently a crackdown to protect the gorillas was interfering with his lucrative charcoal-smuggling operation.

gorillas killed at Virunga, July 2007

(These four mountain gorillas were illegally killed in Virunga National Park, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during the week of July 26, 2007.)Here’s more of the article:

Last Gorilla Habitat

The 2-million-acre (800,000-hectare) Virunga, a UN World Heritage Site, is home to about half the world’s 700 remaining mountain gorillas.

Since the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, the park’s dense forests have become a battleground and refuge for myriad rebel groups. The park is also under threat by traders who destroy its forests to make cooking charcoal, conservationists say.

Officials with the Congolese Nature Conservation Institute (ICCN), who had employed Mashagiro, suspect that he was involved in the eastern Congo charcoal trade, which is worth more than 20 million U.S. dollars a year and is threatening the park’s resources.

Conservationists say that the gorilla killings in Virunga last year were meant to be a message to rangers who have sought to crack down on the trade.

“What happened in a nutshell was that the rangers started to quite effectively protect the gorillas and the forest as gorilla habitat and that meant less charcoal was coming out,” said Emmanuel de Merode, director of the Nairobi-based conservation group WildlifeDirect.

“So to undermine their efforts they started killing gorillas. If they kill all the gorillas, there’s no reason to protect the forest.”

 Now can we please donate a million suitcase solar stoves to ease up on the need for charcoal?

Cream of tiger soup

Humorous Pictures
see more LOLcats
…stir carefully!

Miss Quote-mine is at it again

Dense O’Leary, a dim-bulb journalist and cdesign proponentist, has been regaling anyone who will listen with tales of the dangerous PZ Myers who might have plotted to disrupt an advance screening of the movie Expelled , in which he was featured, and for which he had registered under his own name. Diffidently I point out that she wasn’t there. By all eye-witness accounts, the assistant producer vetted the guest list and decided to turn Prof. Myers away at the door. That was an ill-judged show of spite and cowardice that violates the registering site’s privacy policy. But the producers have tried to hide their movie from both movie reviewers and the scientifically literate.

Dense quotes something about PZ breaking out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, trying to imply that he was talking about the movie. But that would be a lie. The quote-mine queen had to go back to 2005 to find something that sounded vicious enough for her. And naturally she dug it out of a completely different topic, one that is worth getting passionate about, even if the boots are rhetorical.

Of course, she’s just following her mentors at the “Discovery” institute. Jonathan Witt used the same quote about disagreements in evolutionary theory. PZ reports:

Because we think the unqualified lawyers, philosophers, bibliolaters, and kooks of the Discovery Institute deserve no place in the curriculum, we must also be planning to snuff out other unconventional thinkers.

“According to the Darwinists’ Ohio logic, scientists who merely point out weaknesses in Darwinism (Stephen Jay Gould, Franklin Harold, Stuart Kauffman, etc., etc.), are arguing for intelligent design, are card-carrying design theorists. That means they’re fair game: break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles. (See “No more coffee for Mr. Witt.”)

funny pictures
(More funny pictures)

What Prof. Myers actually said, after he discovered that he’d been lied to and tricked into doing an interview for a pro-ID propaganda movie, was that he’d go to the movie and cheer loudly at his 30 seconds onscreen. And I think he was kidding.

PZ Myers
I will go see this movie, and I will cheer loudly at my 30 seconds or whatever on the screen, and I will certainly disembowel its arguments here and in any print venue that wants me. That’s going to be fun.

Here’s the original context of the ‘steel-toed boots’ remark:


John Hawks thinks there’s too much “foaming at the mouth” over Bush’s support for Intelligent Design creationism.

I want to improve the teaching of evolution. Taking an adversarial position toward religious viewpoints or political parties is not the way to make education better. Sometimes such conflicts are unavoidable. Some religious beliefs are just scientifically wrong. The Earth was not created 6,000 years ago, and any scientific understanding of the past must repudiate this particular religious view. But many deeply religious people, and entire faiths, have no conflict with evolution. Even so, they may believe that alternative views should be available in schools.

Would it help to have a biology teacher call a child’s parents “lunatics”? Certainly not. But parents, community members, churches, and other people that children know and respect are precisely the people that one is attacking, when one uses derisive rhetoric. —John Hawks

PZ MyersThere is a bit of truth here terribly wrongly applied. It is correct that if I were talking to a student or a parent, trying to persuade them to abandon misbegotten notions of creationism that are affecting the student’s ability to be a good biologist, I wouldn’t call them lunatics. It isn’t very effective to try and persuade an individual by calling them idiots, and in most cases I don’t think the creationist students I occasionally get are idiots—just sadly misled.

However, I was not attacking such individuals, but the president of the US and the preachers at the Discovery Institute. You know, the responsible people who are lying to the public or working to disseminate destructive delusions.

Oh, but Hawks has that covered; his last sentence suggests that the people they “know and respect” should not be so harshly criticized, lest we alienate them. I strongly disagree. It is the leaders and enablers who must be vigorously attacked, the ones who abuse those positions of authority and respect to poison minds. When thinking people abstain from criticizing religious or political groups out of some abstract notion that responsible intellectuals are aloof from sectarian or party arguments, they are betraying the principles of their discipline.

I am a biologist. Like it or not, the Republican party is being led by religious zealots who are anti-biology, who publicly and vigorously oppose reason and knowledge and evidence in my field of study. This hasn’t always been true, and it may not always be true (I hope), but right now and right here, it is inarguably the case. I will not throttle my criticisms of the despicable gang of anti-intellectuals who run this country because it might irritate all those millions of people who voted for George W. Bush; they were wrong and he is wrong and it is my responsibility as a scientist to oppose ignorance, especially ignorance that has power and influence. Let them find comfort and forgiveness for stupid mistakes in their religion, because I sure as hell am not going to give it to them.

Don’t tell me to be dispassionate or less unreasonable about it all because because 65% of the American population think creationism should be taught alongside evolution, or that Americans are just responding to common notions of “fairness”. That just tells me that we scientists have not been expressing our outrage enough. And yes, we should be outraged that the president of our country panders to theocrats, faith-healers, and snake-oil artists; sitting back and quietly explaining that Bush may be a decent man who is mistaken, while the preachers are stridently condemning all us evilutionists to hell, is a damned ineffective tactic that has gotten us to this point.

I say, screw the polite words and careful rhetoric. It’s time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots. If you don’t care enough for the truth to fight for it, then get out of the way.

However, I will concede that there are reasons to argue that the worries of scientists are overblown. There is the matter of perspective.

The fate of science in our country is a small thing (but it is my small thing, so be understanding when it is the one I harp on) compared to other issues. For instance, consider Gary Farber’s accounts of our soldiers, also summarized by Digby. Our people are killing Iraqis by beating them with a rubber hose while tied up in a sleeping bag, or pounding on them with sledgehammer handles. We are aggressors who have launched an unjust war and are committing atrocities against a civilian population.

So, yeah, that argument would give me pause. It is relatively unimportant to bash on the Republican party as a scientist, for betraying the promise of the Enlightenment.

We should be marching in the streets as self-respecting human beings because the Republican thugs have betrayed the cause of civilized humanity. We should be yelling EVEN LOUDER.

Goddamn, but don’t even suggest that we’re being too partisan. I am on the side of reason and human rights, and my only failing is that I’m not partisan enough. —PZ Myers

Most of the bolding is mine. Now, isn’t that worth getting pasionate about? A strong human disgust for lying, pandering, torture and atrocities. And that’s the person the Expelled producers (and others) slander and want to shut up!

PZ Myers Expelled by creationists

How about a Maurice Hilleman Day?

photo of an aged Maurice HillemanHow many lives has evolutionary theory saved? Here is the contribution of one scientist, Maurice Hilleman: 27 million lives and still counting.

Hilleman became a scientist because as a youngster he read Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which had been overlooked by a committee bent on making the local library safe for Creationism. He grew up and developed more than forty vaccines. His sobriquet, given by his contemporaries, was “The Man Who Saved Your Life.”

Here’s a link to his story from the New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research.

His credits include not only the preventive vaccine for mumps, but also vaccines for measles, rubella (German measles), chickenpox, bacterial meningitis, flu and hepatitis B….

Many of the diseases that Hilleman’s vaccines helped bring under control have been all but forgotten by a well-immunized generation of Americans. But not that long ago in this country, these diseases not only kept children home from school, they also sent them to the hospital and even the cemetery. Today Hilleman’s measles vaccine alone prevents an estimated one million deaths around the globe every year.

In my new calendar of nerd holidays, I think we should add Maurice Hilleman’s birthday.

Quoting Adolf Hitler

science blogger Allen MacNeillAllen MacNeill of The Evolution List does us all a favour and counteracts some of the lying propaganda of a claptrap movie called Expelled. The movie constantly and inaccurately links Charles Darwin to Adolf Hitler, World War II, and the Holocaust. Their thesis is that without Darwin, the Holocaust would never have happened. Apparently Martin Luther’s hate-filled rants against Jews, Christian Biblical justifications of persecuting Jews, and a long history of anti-Semitism weren’t enough. Allen’s article is called, “Godwin’s Hitler.” It refers to Godwin’s Law, which states “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

He notes that Hitler shared several characteristic opinions with creationists and even compared himself to Jesus:

Like a creationist, Hitler claims that God made man:

“For it was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties.” – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. ii, ch. x.

Like a creationist, Hitler claims Jesus as his inspiration:

“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them.” – Adolf Hitler, speech, April 12 1922, published in My New Order.

Creationists, you are known by the company you keep.

Everyone, read “Godwin’s Hitler.”

What’s killing our bats?

flying bat

Bats have been an unappreciated insect control for many years. Now, last winter and this winter, little brown bats in the Northeastern U.S. have been coming out of hibernation early and dying in the snow.

I have a guess as to the cause. Our autumn season has been consistently longer and finer since 1995. It was especially so that year, but every year since then the oak leaves have hung on long enough to develop bronzy, red, and purplish colours instead of just mud brown. The last two years we’ve had a green Christmas or snow has come just a few days before Christmas. (I’m in Ontario, similar enough to the northeast U.S. and Quebec.)

I think that October, November, and most of December have become too warm for the bats to hibernate but too cold for their insect prey. They are burning energy by staying awake and unable to eat enough to compensate. The result could be starving and early awwakening. It’s just a hypothesis. Can we set up some bat “aviaries” to test it?

dying bats on snow

Creator gods: Brahma

Brahma is one of the great Hindu trinity: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer, who among them account for the great workings of cosmology.

When one looks at the glories of Nature, one realizes that Brahma must exist and have created this all for us. Or for bony fishes. Or bats. Or beetles. Or bacteria. Or for the inhabitants of some other planet.

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