Saturday, September 30, 2006
Adams regularly tackles philosphical and political issues with a combination of humor and cynicism that I find to be insightful. At times, anyhow. The other times, I find him to be . . . less than insightful.
In any event, he's having yet another discussion on free will (or the absence thereof) over at his blog.
Worth a read if you're interested in that sort of thing.
I could make a theological argument here, but I don't think that would be very helpful. Not only because most of my readers aren't Christians, but also because it would make for a very short post. A quick reference to the first few chapters of Genesis, and there you go. Humans > animals.
For the philosophical, non-religious approach, I can sum up my argument in two words: Intellectual Capacity.
Though humanity displays varying degrees of it, intelligence is the factor that distinguishes us from the lower life forms. A few different manifestations of this capability of humanity are worth expanding on:
Science, Art/Music, Culture - Some of the greatest accomplishments of mankind are summed up in those concepts. The quest to explore the natural order and better the lot of humanity through those discoveries is only possible because of mankind's capacity for rational thought. The fine arts are sometimes rationalized as being evolutionarily similar to mating rituals in other species, be it colorful displays or sound-based mating calls. I think, however, that the reliance of abstract principles in art and music take it well beyond simply an attempt to impress the opposite sex and increase mating potential.
Conservation - Mankind is unique amongst the denizens of this planet in its approach to conservation. Yes, people do argue over the best way to implement conservatory principles. Some want to consume away and let scientific advancement deal with the consequences. Others would prefer that we level our cities and do nothing to disrupt the natural balance anywhere. But inbetween those two extremes, mankind agrees that nature should be preserved in some way. We recognize that our dependence on the world around us requires us to ensure its survival so that we, as a species, will also survive.
Contrast this with animals. Nature has many controls built in so that most ecosystems are in balance. Food supply, predatory population, reproductive capacity; these things keep animal populations in check. But as we see with deer, as an example, if you remove one of those controls, the animals have no sense of conservation. They will eat and breed until their territory can no longer sustain them. They then either die or spread out. Mankind, at least in part, recognizes that it cannot live in that manner.
Morality and Ethics - I'd consider this one of the most important aspects of intellectual thought that sets man apart from animals. Animals are driven, by and large, by physical and instinctual impulses. The questions an animal usually has to answer at any given time mostly consist of, "Am I hungry? Am I safe? Am I in danger? Am I bored? Could I be mating?" Ethics and morality do not enter into this. A bear will not wonder about the ethical ramifications of eating a smaller animal. Its thoughts, I can only assume, center around satiating its hunger and finding an animal small enough to kill but large enough to satisfy.
That mankind can ponder the morality of animal life is a sign of its superiority. And part of what sets human life above animals is that we recognize this capacity in others. When we consider our actions, we do not account only for how it affects us. We also account for how it affects those around us. Any number of specific examples could be cited to contradict this, but it is the case in general.
I could write more. The point is that mankind's intelligence sets it apart from the animal kingdom, and it is the value of this capacity, and also a function of it, that sets the value of a human life above that of an animal.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
The "blog-out" lasted longer than I expected. You can thank my sinusitis for that one. I spent the last two days anchored to the couch, and just didn't feel much like posting.
My body is still attempting to force me to hack up a lung, but I'm bored enough to post at this point. At least until I part with any internal organs.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Bloggerato informs me that's a problem between IE and Blogger's Beta. So . . . until then, I recommend switching to FireFox.
Friday, September 22, 2006
In a paper published online yesterday in Stem Cells, the researchers report that they succeeded in generating pluripotent human ES cell lines--i.e., cells that can develop into many different kinds of cells-- from one of the 13 late-arrested embryos. To ascertain that they had stopped growing permanently, the scientists waited up to 2 days after the last cell division before trying to cultivate them. They then plated the embryos on a growth medium. Five of the 13 cultures generated outgrowths. And of these, two developed cells with ES cell characteristics. One of these was cultivated into a "fully characterized" human ES cell line, proving that it could differentiate into all three germ layers both in the dish and in live mice. The earlier-arrested embryos did not produce ES cell lines.On the one hand, this seems like a decent compromise. They only use embryos that had ceased to divide, meaning that potentially viable embryos are spared the treatment.
On the other, there's a whole host of other concerns. There's always the fear that scientists or doctors will simply make embryos wholesale to be used for research. Alternatively, researchers might artificially "arrest" the development of the embryos to make them qualify for research. And for people who find IVF morally untenable, this is just another unfit solution.
If this is the best compromise we can get on ESCR, then I suppose I'll take it. The biggest issue will be regulating the harvesting. Time, and more research, will show the potential of this new development.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
I'm a science nerd, I admit it. Still, things like this are cool. I'd like to come up with something like this someday.
We'll see if I don't get sidetracked working in some lab on some non-descript project.
Ever wondered whether the classical music aficionado next door has had a bit more schooling than the guy blasting rap from his car? New research suggests you may be on to something. A lot of the stereotypes concerning musical taste and socioeconomic status appear to be true.Of course, some of the data doesn't fit stereotypes. Opera fans are listed as being the least likely to shower. Odd.
Psychologist Adrian North of the University of Leicester, U.K., wanted to test musical stereotypes. So he and David Hargreaves of the Open University in Milton Keynes, U.K., conducted an extensive survey in the United Kingdom. The researchers buttonholed more than 2000 fans of 35 different musical styles in various places such as campuses, shopping malls, and train stations and asked them to fill out a questionnaire detailing their jobs, relationships, beliefs, and consumer habits.
As stereotypes might suggest, those with the most education were also the main fans of opera, classical music, and jazz. For example, 8.5% of the classical music lovers had Ph.D.s, compared with 1.4% of those who favored disco music. And classical music lovers' incomes averaged $66,000 compared to $44,000 for lovers of popular dance music. Classical music buffs were also inclined toward intellectual fare, such as current-affairs magazines, whereas the rap/pop crowd favored magazines about cars, women, or celebrities.One "clear pattern" to emerge was a clustering of antisocial tendencies among young fans of pop, rap, and rock. For example, 53% of hip-hop fans admitted to having committed a criminal act, compared to 18% of fans of musicals.
I wonder how I'd fall into that progression. I have a rather eclectic mix of music on my iPod.
Well, that makes me feel better. No chance whatsoever of mad scientists destroying life as we know it.
But the chance of planetary annihilation by this means "is totally miniscule," experimental physicist Greg Landsberg at Brown University in Providence, R.I., told LiveScience.
If you'll excuse me, I have some panicking to do. Right after a fresh change of pants.
Okay, I do believe them when they say that the chance of destroying the Earth is very, very small. Still, why does it feel like they're trying?
Would you stupid physicists please stop trying to blow up the planet/collapse Earth into a quantum singularity?
Since Topinka won the GOP primary, she's been trailing Blagojevich in polls anywhere from 10-20 points. I take that seriously, but the fact of the matter is that only recently did the actual race begin. Topinka's campaign ads against Blagojevich only recently started, while the incumbent Governor has been running ads for several weeks.
The significant news here is that a recent poll shows Topinka behind by only 6 points. More than a month out from the election, that's not a bad deficit.
Let's not forget the problems that Topinka still faces. Her campaign has coffers that are just a drop in the bucket for Blagojevich. She also lacks the name recognition that is the incumbent's advantage. Still, I would attribute the rise in polls to a growing exposure of her campaign as well as continuing revelations of scandal and corruption in Blagojevich's administration.
The latest scandal is an extension of the charges of corrupt hiring practices. As the story goes, shortly after Blagojevich gave a woman a high-ranking job in the administration, her husband gave the Governor's 7-year old daughter a birthday check of $1500.
That's big spending for a $43k/year job.
Of course, other scandals or issues seem to be engulfing Blagojevich at an expanding rate: His program of importing Canadian drugs has been shown to be cost ineffective, continuing allegations of illegal hiring practices, blatant "Santa Claus" style political spending, raiding state pension funds to pay for said spending, and on and on.
Blagojevich has been avoiding major embarrassment on a lot of these issues so far, so I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for these to boost Topinka ahead of him in the polls. I maintain my opinion that the reason he'll be re-elected is because of the "D" next to his name on the ballot.
My point is that The Simpsons actually had some political humor in it. I never realized back then. It was subtle, but now I can actually appreciate.
For example: There is an episode where Bart gets an elephant (which also happens to be the title of the episode). At one point, the elephant goes on a rampage through the town. In a bit of humor, you see the elephant go stamping into a GOP convention. The crowd cheers as the elephant runs through the room, but the humor comes from two banners hanging over the stage: "We know what's best for everyone!" and "We're just plain evil!"
At first, you think it's over, but then you see the elephant run into a Democratic Party convention across town. The crowd boos as it runs through the room. The banners over the stage: "We hate life and ourselves!" and "We're unfit to govern!"
My other favorite joke is from an episode where Bart and Lisa begin writing scripts for their favorite cartoon, but do so under their grandfather's name. Their grandfather ends up being hired by the studio, and Bart and Lisa discover what's happened. When they tell him what they've been doing, Lisa asks, "Grandpa, didn't you think it was weird that you were receiving checks for no reason?" He responds, "Well, I figured the Democrats were back in power."
I'd have never gotten that joke when I was 10.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Copies of several different local papers from the day Kennedy was shot, and an American flag with 48 stars.
This leads me to wonder . . . how long do I have to hang on to my junk before it becomes a historical treasure? Or, at least a collectible artifact?
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Known as Loft-Right, the mod-looking structure has all the amenities: expansive city views, granite countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms, modern designer furniture and satellite TV hookups. The lobby lounge - like something out of a hip hotel - has a pool table and fireplace, and soon will have a Starbucks and tanning and hair salons next door. . .
Students at Loft-Right each pay more than $1,000 a month for a private bedroom in a two- or four-bedroom unit, with bathrooms shared by no more than two people. . .
This fall, his company added one-off limousine rides so student customers can arrive at school "like a rock star." The company also plans to offer grocery delivery and cleaning and laundry services - something other companies, such as Valet Today and DormAid, already do.
First, I think the people who can actually afford to live like that are getting their money from Mom and Dad. If that's the case, then usually Mom and Dad pay for them to keep up that kind of lifestyle anyhow, so I'm not sure I see much of a change there except putting it all in one package.
I guess it beats living in a small, cement cell for four years.
Still, how much more than $1000/month? In Chicago and parts surrounding, most lofts will start ~$500/month rent. A single bedroom apartment might cost ~$800/month, and a 2 bedroom will be ~$1000-1200, depending on how nice it is. In some neighborhoods, it can go higher, but let's call that the median.
The point I'm going with is that it might not be too much of a price increase, maybe $200-400 more each month, to go with much nicer living quarters. I guess if you don't mind sacrificing the spending money for that month.
Of course, if you think you're so great that you have to show up for class in a limo, then that money probably means nothing to you. Or your parents.
I'm going to offer my final thoughts and be done with it.
The issue at hand was how terror support rallies were protected free speech while handing out "anti-gay" religious pamphlets was not. Instead it turned into a debate about how British muslim support for terror is the same as American Christian support for violence against homosexuals.
The statistics about terror-support amongst British muslims is based on polling data. You can argue that the polls were not conducted properly in some way or another, but the data is there.
On the other hand, there is no polling data offered to suggest that Christians are just itching for somebody to show those nasty gays a good what's-for. None is offered, and I doubt it exists. So then what is the evidence that such an undercurrent of violent sentiment exists? Opinion and a misinterpretation of Christian scripture. That is a level of proof that is usually classified as "laughable."
Incidentally, I and the rest of mainstream Christianity believe that violence against homosexuals would not be Biblically condoned, and would in fact be a very bad thing. Shouldn't this be considered a good thing?
What do I base my opinion on for that? Connection to the culture. I have been in churches all over the country. I read and listen to some of the most influential people in the American Christian culture. Never have I heard anybody advocate violence against homosexuals. I'm not even sure pyschopath Fred Phelps advocates it, though I know he applauds it.
That being said, you can understand why I do not take that claim seriously in the slightest. But I'll give the benefit of the doubt; what if that statistic was true? Well, compare the situations:
Britain: ~16% Muslim support for terror, history of terror attacks and terror arrests.
America: ~10% Christian support for violence, statistically insignificant history of attacks against homosexuals.
If you can't see the difference between those two situations, then you are beyond my help.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The only way blogging will occur any other time today is if I forgo grading papers after the exam for computer time. Not completely unlikely, but we'll see.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Sunday, September 10, 2006
To be perfectly honest, I don't remember much about that day. That may sound silly, but other than a few key moments, the rest of the day didn't stand out much.
I spent the morning preparing to head to a meeting with a professor. I was only a college freshman, having been at Illinois State University only a few weeks. As I left, some people were watching a television intently. I didn't pause long enough to see what was on. I saw a news channel and lots of smoke. I assumed it was a volcano or something to that effect.
Arriving at my meeting, the professor, told me that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. We couldn't get any more information than that since the news sites were all jammed with traffic. We finished our meeting, and I just assumed it was a tragic accident, some guy in a Cessna who'd had something go wrong.
I'm not sure how things proceeded after that. Obviously I found out the real story and was utterly horrified. I remember, vividly, some of the things that happened in the proceeding weeks.
I remember my friend Beth being quite sad because her birthday was 9/13 and she didn't feel right celebrating.
I remember wondering whether this would be the first of many attacks, whether planes would be falling out of the skies, whether any city was safe anymore. I'm glad I was wrong, but the feeling of dread that first week was palpable.
I remember the feelings of resolution as the marching band prepared a patriotic show for one of the first football games.
I remember the fury I felt when we learned that Osama bin Laden was taking credit for the attacks, that he was hiding in Afghanistan, and that we'd known he was there for many years.
I remember the completely unanimous support that everyone, on campus at least, felt towards a campaign in Afghanistan. We would bring to justice those involved in the attacks.
I remember my skepticism at the cynics. They supported the campaign but knew the support for defending America and bringing such criminals to justice would fade into political gamesmanship.
I remember my sorrow when I realized they were right.
Before I left for college, I was a fairly "moderate" person. Conservative on some issues, liberal on others. The attacks of 9/11 made me ever more conservative because as the months passed, I came to realize that many on the left no longer took the matter seriously. If you ignored it, if you could pretend like it didn't happen, then you could simply re-align it into a political weapon to use against "Bushitler and the Rethuglicans."
We live in general harmony in our country. September 11th showed us a glimpse of what some in other parts of the world must live with every day. We've all sworn that we wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't let that ever happen on US soil ever again.
I may not remember much of that day, but I haven't forgotten what that day really means.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Christian faces court over 'offensive' gay festival leaflets
How Britain is turning Christianity into a crime
Both involve the same incident:
A police force was caught up in a freedom of speech row after its officers arrested an anti-gay campaigner for handing out leaflets at a homosexual rally.
South Wales police admitted evangelical Christian Stephen Green was then charged purely because his pamphlets contained anti-gay quotations from the Bible.
Mr Green faces a court appearance today charged with using 'threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour' after his attempt to distribute the leaflets at the weekend 'Mardi Gras' event in Cardiff.
A spokesman for the police said the campaigner had not behaved in a violent or aggressive manner, but that officers arrested him because 'the leaflet contained Biblical quotes about homosexuality'.
This is a disturbing instance. I'm not big on handing out flyers, mostly because people treat you like a nuisance (and more often than not, you are). I'm even less excited about very confrontational handouts, though that's mostly due to my somewhat mild-mannered persona.
However, arrest? Charges filed? From what I've gleaned from the article, the pamphlets didn't threaten death on homosexuals. It just pointed out the Biblical verses on the matter. I suppose you could consider eternal damnation a threat, but I don't think the law applies there.
I won't oversell the point. But keep this in mind: The actions of this man were considered too offensive to be protected by freedom of speech. However, this:
This is protected speech.
If you're not worried about the future, you're not paying enough attention.
Hat tip: Dr. Mohler
They, we, all assumed that if the shackles of legal discrimination were removed, black Americans would swiftly distribute themselves acrossAnd this just seems related:
’s class, income, and status structure in the same proportions as their white fellow-citizens. Why should they not? Human beings form a single biological species. Given a level playing field, any group should perform as well as any other, in any kind of endeavor, shouldn’t it? . . . America
Yet the numbers did not come out right, not at all. With black people at thirteen percent of our population, we should, if the dreams of the Civil Rights Movement had come true, find that thirteen percent of our engineers and airline pilots, thirteen percent of our storekeepers, contractors, and entrepreneurs, thirteen percent of our prisoners and unwed mothers, are black. This is not, of course, what we find; and the numerical discrepancies are not of the kind called “statistically insignificant.” Not at all. Not at all.
In the meantime, I've been messing around with the features, changing some things about the blog. I've been meaning to do this for a while, but my HTML skills aren't "l33T", so the short-term is mostly simple changes.
Still, at least it's something different from what I've been using for the last few years. Enjoy the new look, and excuse the mess if some of the code starts to collapse.
Still, if your career has landed you in a cube farm, then these cool tech improvements can turn your cube into a home away from home.
My personal favorite? USB beverage chiller. What can't you hook up to a USB port anymore?
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Oh yeah, I've hit the big time now. Two hundred in one week . . . I might have to celebrate.
Thanks for stopping in, I hope you come back.
You know what this calls for?
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
This sorry tale begins in the early 1970s. At that time, Canadians enjoyed one of the highest physician-to-population ratios in the developed world. It was a good time for physician training in Canada. In response to a 1964 federal-government commission’s call for a doubling of Canada’s capacity to train doctors, four new medical schools had been built and twelve others expanded significantly. In light of recent evidence showing that higher physician-to-population ratios are related to lower mortality rates, such generous access to physicians was good for Canadians. . . .
The original intention to maintain a physician-to-population ratio around the 2-per-1,000 mark may well be short of what is actually required — at the very least it is well short of the physician-to-population ratios in other developed countries. In addition, much of Canada’s past discussion surrounding physician supply has ignored the dynamics of physician supply, including increasing future retirements. . . .
Other unintended consequences are foregone health benefits from a larger physician population and reduced access to health-care services. Access in Canada has gotten to the point where an estimated 1.2 million Canadians were unable to find a regular physician in 2003, and where long waits for medically necessary treatment are alarmingly common. The average wait time for non-urgent medical services hovered near the 18-week mark in 2005.
There is a lot of useful information in that article. If I quoted anymore, you'd have no reason to go read it yourself. And you should. Even if you disagree with some of the author's conclusions, that government control over health care is the culprit, for example, the situation Canada has found itself in is not enviable.
An interesting read for those who take an interest in the medical field.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Those numbers, unfortunately, leave me less than optimistic about our state. Here is why:
In another piece of good news for Blagojevich, the poll indicated that most voters aren’t being swayed ei-ther way by a federal investigation into the administration’s hiring practices.
Federal officials recently have been questioning Blagojevich associates about alleged steering of state jobs to political supporters, an issue that has also dogged the governor in the media.
Not surprisingly, a majority of Republican respondents to the new poll viewed the hiring scandal as a ma-jor election issue (more than half said they were less likely to vote for Blagojevich because of it), while an overwhelming majority of Democrats said it would not affect their vote.
When independent voters are factored in, just 22 percent of all poll respondents said the scandal makes them less likely to vote for Blagojevich, while 71 percent said it would not affect their vote.
Don't get me wrong. While I find much of the evidence to this point very damaging to Blagojevich, I'm always in favor of a "innocent until proven guilty" approach.
However, the sad fact is that too many people in Illinois will vote for Blagojevich regardless of any corruption he may represent simply because he has the "D" next to his name on the ballot. This poll just confirms what I've always said.
It's hard to believe López Obrador can raise his mob of tens of thousands to a fever pitch... and then just walk away without a war.
This affects America hugely: if Mexico degenerates into a civil war, the first thing that will happen is hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of hysterical Mexicans will pour across our border, where we have no hope of stopping them at the moment... particularly since they will claim "refugee" status -- and not without a good case.
But the next problem is that the Bush administration and Congress will have a very difficult decision to make: do we just stand idly by and watch a Communist dictatorship take over our southern neighbor and ally? Or do we take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them -- maybe.
It is worth it to read the entire post. I would like to think that there won't be civil war in Mexico, but all I have to base that on is hopeful optimism. I'm not entirely certain who "controls" the Mexican military, or whether Obrador's supporters in the capital are armed, and to what extent.
But he is right that whatever the outcome, this is important to the US. As porous as our borders are, a flood of war refugees would be an immigration disaster of monumental proportions. I don't really have any solutions, but I hope the governments of the border states, as well as the national government, are keeping that possibility in mind.
Friday, September 01, 2006
For example, Iran has built a heavy water production facility. Heavy water is used in the production of nuclear weapons. You don't need it for nuclear power. What does Iran have to say about this?
Mohammad Sa'idi: One of the products of heavy water is depleted deuterium. As you know, in an environment with depleted deuterium, the reception of cancer cells and of the AIDS viruses is disrupted. Since this reception is disrupted, the cells are gradually expelled from the body. Obviously, one glass of depleted deuterium will not expel or cure the cancer or eliminate the AIDS. We are talking about a certain period of time. In many countries that deal with these diseases, patients use this kind of water instead of regular water, and consume it daily in order to heal their diseases.
In other words, the issue of heavy water has to do with matters of life and death, in many cases. One of the reasons that led us to produce heavy water was to use it for agricultural... medical purposes, and especially for industrial purposes in our country.
For those who don't know much about chemistry, let me spell out to you why the entire preceding paragraph is weapons grade bolonium.
Deuterium is a form of hydrogen. Most hydrogen in the world is made of one proton and one electron, but deuterium is about twice the size, having an additional neutron in its nucleus. This only changes the properties of the molecule very subtlely, but in ways which are still significant. Deuterium doesn't have much of an effect normally because it makes up less than 1% of all the hydrogen in the world.
Water is made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Heavy water replaces one or both of those hydrogens with a deuterium. This change is siginificant in biological systems, because it disrupts the ability of the water to make hydrogen bonds, a weak chemical bond essential in nearly every aspect of biological processes. At some point, I believe 37% concentration, heavy water in the body begins to kill you.
Using deuterated water as a medical treatment? This would be believable if 1) we didn't have reason to suspect ulterior motives from Iran and 2) we didn't already know that D2O has no useful medical application.
We already suspected Iran was up to no good. It doesn't help their case when they use ridiculous excuses for blatant moves. Will the world wise up before something terrible happens?