February 08, 2006

Lost World' amazes scientists

Pristine forest: In an area of rich biodiversity, the expedition saw no sign of past human contact

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Soon after scientists landed by helicopter in the mist-shrouded mountains of one of Indonesia's most remote provinces, they stumbled on a primitive egg-laying mammal that simply allowed itself to be picked up and brought to their field camp. Describing a ''Lost World'' - apparently never visited by humans - members of the team said Tuesday they also saw large mammals that have been hunted to near-extinction elsewhere and discovered dozens of exotic new species of frogs, butterflies and palms.
more here, continue reading "Amazing"
Posted by Norm at Permalink 11:03 AM | Comments (8)
Looney Tunes

Jon Stewart walks us through the problems created by the Danish cartoons and Stephen Colbert offers a solution.

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February 07, 2006
Evolution In Utah

You have to love it. The author of the piece correcting the obvious misstatement of the Senator with a clear accurate description of exactly what evolution does say about our ancestory. I'm for more of this and less faux and balanced.

Evolution Measure Splits State Legislators in Utah - New York Times

The Utah bill's main sponsor, State Senator D. Chris Buttars, a Republican from the Salt Lake City suburbs, said he was not surprised by the debate it had inspired. He said ordinary voters were deeply concerned about the teaching of evolution.

"I got tired of people calling me and saying, 'Why is my kid coming home from high school and saying his biology teacher told him he evolved from a chimpanzee?' " Mr. Buttars said.

Evolutionary theory does not say that humans evolved from chimpanzees or from any existing species, but rather that common ancestors gave rise to multiple species and that natural selection — in which the creatures best adapted to an environment pass their genes to the next generation — was the means by which divergence occurred over time. All modern biology is based on the theory, and within the scientific community, at least, there is no controversy about it.

(Via Leiter Reports.)

The Word

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February 06, 2006
Civil Liberties

The Daily Show tackles the serious issue of civil liberties. Sad though that this demonstration of free speech took place in Maryland rather than Miami I would have loved to title the post "Moon Over Miami"

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Posted by Norm at Permalink 10:18 AM | Comments (7)
Links With Your Coffee - Monday

The CIA Leak: Plame Was Still Covert
Newly released court papers could put holes in the defense of Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, in the Valerie Plame leak case. Lawyers for Libby, and White House allies, have repeatedly questioned whether Plame, the wife of White House critic Joe Wilson, really had covert status when she was outed to the media in July 2003. But special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done "covert work overseas" on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion.

Bottled Water: Nectar of the Frauds?
''There is no question that clean, affordable drinking water is essential to the health of our global community,'' Arnold said. ''But bottled water is not the answer in the developed world, nor does it solve problems for the 1.1 billion people who lack a secure water supply. Improving and expanding existing water treatment and sanitation systems is more likely to provide safe and sustainable sources of water over the long term.''

Worldwide, bottled water consumption surged to 154 billion liters (41 billion gallons) in 2004, up 57 percent from 98 billion liters in 1999, EPI said in a written analysis citing industry data.

By one view, the consequences for the planet and for consumers' purses are horrifying.

''Even in areas where tap water is safe to drink, demand for bottled water is increasing--producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy,'' said Arnold. ''Although in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can cost up to 10,000 times more.''

A Brit's thoughts on the War A response to the news of 100 British Dead ( mp3 )
Kodachrome Bush Parody

White House Staff Hit Hard By Human-Animal Hybrid Ban

Rangel on the SOTU

George Bush is breaking the law. Good Move On ad.

Texan Converts to Islam or fundamentalist Christian not fundamentalist enough. video (tip to Adam)

Eden and Evolution
Religious critics of evolution are wrong about its flaws. But are they right that it threatens belief in a loving God? (tip to Richard)

Posted by Norm at Permalink 12:15 AM | Comments (6)
February 05, 2006
Faith or Reason

Faith is a Moral Failing
Let's be brutally honest. To describe FAITH as a "failure of reason" is a half-truth at best.

There are those who assert that their religious convictions are grounded in reason and evidence alone. But I've never actually met such a rare creature myself. Even the most cunning Jesuitical sophistry seeking to rationally justify religion does not entirely leave out faith as a component. And not faith in the sense of "hope" or "confidence" or any other wishy-washy alternate definition. By "faith" in this context, I mean (and honest believers also mean) believing something because one chooses to believe it, without regard to the absence of evidence/reasons to believe. (Sometimes, faith even entails believing something without regard to the presence of counter-evidence/reasons to believe otherwise. But the absence of positive evidence is quite problematic enough, so let's leave the presence of counter-evidence aside.)

Faith is not a mere failure of reason: Faith is the willful abdication of reason. Faith isn't a mistake along the same lines as a logical error such as affirming the consequent. It is not simply an oversight of evidence that ought to be under consideration. Faith is the declaration that reason may be all well and good in other areas, but reason ends here where the believer says it does! No argument can conceivably be given for not adhering to the standards of reason on any given subject, because argument itself must adhere to rational standards. Otherwise, it isn't argument - it's shouting, empty noise, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

Let me more-or-less directly quote various things I've actually heard people say along these lines:

"This isn't about reason. You have to feel it."

"Believing isn't about reason or argument. You can't argue about God because God is beyond all arguments."

These need not be statements from rabid fundamentalists, but from the sweetest, kindest-natured and live-and-let-live believers you can imagine. But the statements still embody a willful abdication of reason. . .

February 04, 2006
The Post-Modern Age

"Don't talk to me about the post-modern age. We're not even in the modern age yet for Christ's sake. There are still 150 million people in America who believe in Genesis" — Simon Critchley


Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy
Democracy in a Cartoon
So they have thin skins. That shouldn't stop us poking fun at them.
The Case For Mocking Religion Christopher Hitchens

Since when does belief in a god trump the belief in freedom of speech as enshrined in the 'sacred documents' of Western Democracies; and doesn't the muslim world's reaction to the cartoons confirm much of the criticism the cartoons express? We don't give others with strong beliefs a free pass from criticism, or from ridicule, why is it that the muslims think their beliefs should be immune to such criticism? The idea that any religion should get a free pass from criticism is absurd. Those who claim they believe in free speech, but who accept the boycotts, the threats of violence, the intimidation as legitimate are liars. The only legitimate response to free speech is the exercise of one's own free speech. Those who attempt to destroy those whose speech they disagree with are bullies and have no place in a civilized world. It is the response of totalitarians who fear open and honest debate. Here is a Nightline report on the controversy.

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Intelligent Design? The Wisdom of Parasites. The Loom: A blog about life, past and future
She finds a cockroach to make her egg's host, and proceeds to deliver two precise stings. The first she delivers to the roach's mid-section, causing its front legs buckle. The brief paralysis caused by the first sting gives the wasp the luxury of time to deliver a more precise sting to the head.

The wasp slips her stinger through the roach's exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently use ssensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach's brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.

From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach's antennae and leads it--in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex--like a dog on a leash.
February 03, 2006

BBC Radio Five Live Interview with Richard Dawkins about the documentary "The Root of All Evil?" Listen 27'49 I've included a portion of the transcript I found most interesting. The distinction Dawkins makes between faith and religion, and the fact that the interviewer never quite seems to get it. If faith, belief without evidence, were not such an integral part of religion it would be much easier to engage in rational discussion with its members.

Simon Mayo I mentioned the question mark at the end of your title "The Root of All Evil" which of course the Bible suggests is the love of money. You're suggesting that it is religion, but the fact that the question mark is at the end there does that suggest your copping out is it or is it not the root of all evil?

Richard Dawkins
Of course it's not the root of all evil nothing is the root of all evil. The question mark is a sort of invitation to the audience to look at the two programs and make up their own mind about how much evil religion is responsible for. My view is it's responsible for quite a lot of evil in the world today, but you would have to be mad to suggest it was responsible for all evil in the world.

Simon Mayo
There was an article you wrote in the Independent a few days ago talking about this very subject , and I'll forgive you for doing it in the style of imagine by John Lennon, but you say imagine no suicide bombers no 9/11, no 7/7 no crusades no witch hunts, no gundpowder plot, no Kashmir dispute no Indian partition, no Israel/Palestine wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no Northern Ireland and so on. Nowhere on that list of problems and troubles and disuptes and murderous incidents do you include things like, for example we interviewed Yung Chung on the program a few months ago on her book on Mao I don't know if you've seen that she talks about the thirty eight million people who died in the greatest famine in history. Mao was responsible for 70 million deaths in total in peace time an atheist of course. Stalin purges and collectivisation responsible for more that the Nazi holocost. Where does that put these arguments. Does it have any effect on them at all.

Richard Dawkins
Well the big difference between saying that Mao and Stalin were atheists and saying that they did these appalling things because they were atheists. I mean Stalin and Hitler and Saddam Huessin all have mustaches but one wouldn't say therefore that it was because of their mustaches that they did the terrible things that they did. You've got to provide evidence not that they just were atheists but that it was their atheism that motivated them to do these terrible things.

more here, continue reading "Irrelevant"
The Party of Integrity

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February 02, 2006
Cut His Mike

The interview with comedian David Cross playing liberal radio host Russ Lieber was damn funny. For more on Lieber scroll down to Running gags

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