Hitchens on saturation with Christmas

PZ reprises an article by Christopher Hitchens on the annual, culturally compulsory saturation with the Christmas message: Bah, humbug!

When I pointed out… that Christmas trees, yule logs, and all the rest were symbols of the winter solstice “holidays” before any birth had been registered in the greater Bethlehem area, I was greeted by a storm of abuse…. This was a useful demonstration of what I have always hated about the month of December: the atmosphere of a one-party state.

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New phylogeny research for seed-bearing plants

A massive analysis of 23,000 sets of genes representing most genera of plants has produced what the New York Times calls a makeover for the tree of life. They used the genomes from 150 plants but used supercomputers to identify groups of genes to compare. The seed-bearing plants go back 300 million years, to cycads and conifers, which are gymnosperms–plants with naked seeds unprotected by tough coatings. Those with protected seeds are called angiosperms.

The computer flagged certain proteins as having special significance for the functioning of plants, which could be the keys to important evolutionary relationships. Of the hundreds identified, the scientists randomly selected a few for testing, which confirmed their hunch that those proteins were responsible for plants’ following different evolutionary roads. Some of these relationships date back 300 million years, when the first gymnosperms, the group that includes pines and ginkgos, appeared.

Among other things, they’ve solved the position of gnetophytes.

The scientists organized the results into a phylogenomic tree according to their evolutionary interrelatedness, which included some surprising insights. For example, gnetophytes, a group that consists of shrubs and woody vines, are the most primitive nonflowering seed plants, according to the researchers’ analysis. Those plants date back to the Mesozoic “age of the dinosaurs” and form the base of the evolutionary tree of seed plants.

Here is one of the phylogenetic trees that resulted from this massive re-analysis:

Seed-bearing plants

Amusing bio: J.T. Eberhard

Here’s the biography supplied by the author of  the blog “What Would JT Do?

JT Eberhard is humanity’s best chance in a zombie apocalypse. Less importantly, he is a campus organizer and high school specialist with the Secular Student Alliance. Once an opera singer, he now resides in Ohio where he occupies his time by helping atheist students to win at activism! In 2008 JT brought the gold medal in cuddling back to the United States and is presently in training for 2012. Eberhard also spent eleven years on the Candy Land pro circuit before retiring in 2010. Hate mail, overt gratitude, religious people trying to convert me, marriage requests, threats and all other non-comment material should be sent to wwjtd21[at]gmail[dot]com.

JT’s Christmas eve piece is, “How do atheists handle death? Holiday edition.”

Posted in humor, people. Tags: . 1 Comment »

Religion and violence

Quoth SUIRAUQA,

It is a real pity, a shame, that the believers choose to base their ‘identities’ on the rather shaky foundation of religious belief, when religion has been the single most divisive force in the history of humankind. Forget about the Crusades in the medieval times, or the calls to Jihad by several Islamic leaders between the 7th and the 20th century; the Thirty years War in early to mid-17th century were between Christian sects over doctrine. Sunni and Shia Muslims are engaged into terrible, violent hostilities even today, because of a disagreement over religious leadership that dates back to the 10th century! In the middle ages through modern times, Christianity in its various forms has been a major driving force for virulent anti-semitism.

North Korea by night-South Korea by night

This is a scary image: North Korea by night.

In North Korea, only Pyongyang has lights

Posted in science. 1 Comment »

Man burns woman to death in elevator

Hello, Richard Dawkins! Let’s hear you be sarcastic about this as you convey that Muslim women have it worse so the problem doesn’t exist. Let’s hear you explain how safe elevators are because a woman can always press the stop button if she wants to get away from someone: Man burns Dolores Gillespie to death in elevator. He waited on her floor and then stepped into the elevator when she tried to get off.

The woman, who had grocery bags in her arms, turned about 180 degrees and then crouched in an attempted to protect herself, he said. But the man sprayed her directly in the face and continued to spray her “sort of methodically” over her head and parts of her body as the bags draped off her arms. She turned around and retreated to the back of the elevator….

Neighbors reported a fire in the building, unaware that the woman, whom police declined to identify, was burning to death in the elevator.

Human sacrifice in the Bible

In Second Samuel, chapter 21, seven men are sacrificed to avert God’s anger and ensure a good harvest. This was after three years of bad harvests. The men selected were two sons of Saul and five of his daughter’s sons, who were killed together and hung up so that God could see them.

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