Sunday, September 14, 2008


We've gotten a couple of emails, from some overseas fans, asking if we're all okay in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Thanks for your concern, and the short answer is: yes. In fact the storm avoided Austin entirely, except for a light shower that popped up at about 11:30 last night and went away just as quickly. After slamming Galveston, Houston and Beaumont, Ike's remnants shuffled on up the Texas/Louisiana border. My parents live in Jefferson, about a 45-minute drive from Shreveport, way up in what's called the ArkLaTex, that area where the three states meet. They reported fairly heavy rains, really heavy winds (an entire oak blew down at their lakehouse), and a power outage that lasted until about 4:30 this afternoon and even affected other nearby towns like Marshall and Longview.

Last weekend when I was on the show, someone called in asking some vague question about the severity of hurricanes lately, and I pointed out that this was a pretty clear sign of global warming, as it's the function of hurricanes to act as a heat sink, channeling excess heat from the equatorial regions towards the poles. So if you have more heat sending more evaporation into the weather systems, presto, big hurricane. My use of the word "function" got the knickers of one viewer in a twist, who felt that word was inappropriate to use when referring to a natural phenomenon. Well, "function" can be used that way, and does not imply that the thing in question was designed, nor does it impart any teleological purpose to it. Basically he was in the mood to gripe about semantics that day, I guess. Not to say that's an invalid gripe, as people frequently will misrepresent the intent of words in conversation. After all just look how enthusiastically creationists distort the words of Gould and Dawkins. It's practically a sport. Still, I don't think too many people were confused about what I meant when I was discussing the function of hurricanes.


  1. I was sickened when an old school friend wrote in her facebook status update
    "(name) is finding joy in natural disasters...go figure!"

    You guessed it, she's a raging christian - at least she was ten years ago when I saw her last, and by her appalling status update I assume she still is.

    Being a gay man, I feel like responding to her status update with something along the lines of "You should get a group of homosexuals together so you can direct the flow of hurricanes, then I imagine you'll find even more joy!"

  2. You could also have pointed out that in this case, "function" was in the form of a verb, not a noun, as in, "My blender will function if I plug it in and push the buttons; in the same way, hurricanes function as..."

    But I agree - picky, picky!

  3. Well, I'm pretty sure I did say something like "it's the function of hurricanes to etc etc." Still, your description is more along the lines of what I meant. In any case, you could just as easily say, "It is the function of your stomach to digest your food," and be correct, and still not be implying some intelligently designed purpose. You're just using the word to mean "digesting food is what your stomach does." Whether that's the semantically ideal way of phrasing it is something I suppose a linguistics expert could straighten me out on.

  4. Glad to hear you made it through okay. I guess it is a good thing that there were so many Christians praying, huh? I'm sure that was what made the difference.

  5. I too was a little uncomfortable with the talk of the "function" of hurricanes. Even without the teleological meaning, using the word "function" implies that there's some regulatory process that the Earth has set up.

  6. Darnit, its a shame you made it without a scratch. I guess the flying spaghetti monster spared you but not me for a reason, but having to get a new roof is almost enough to make me disbelieve in such a cruel god...oh wait, gods plan.

    Good to hear you are okay, I wasn't praying for you but you were the first people I thought about when I heard it was going to hit texas. It only Ohio had gotten so lucky...


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