Saturday, June 30, 2007

Primary Contenders

I happened to see Dennis Kucinich on Letterman's show last night, and I thought it was about time I weighed in on the Presidential primaries, especially since Illinois moved its primary up and my opinion will actually matter. Incidentally, it was not what you would call a "hard hitting" interview, though it doesn't really matter; Dennis Kucinich is not a realistic primary candidate.

Democrats
John Edwards has caused too many problems for himself so far to be a contender, as far as I can tell. It's hard to take his poverty-focused campaigning seriously when he boasts $400 haircuts, but more so because a lot of the ideas he campaigns on have already been tried and found wanting. His incidental problems can't be denied either; though people won't vote against him because his wife has cancer, it will certainly affect his overall performance.

Barack Obama hasn't done enough yet to distinguish himself from the other candidates. He still has that "generic Democratic politician" air about him, despite his general popularity in the media and overall charm. It just doesn't seem to me that he's done a very good job of answering the question, "Why should we vote for you instead of Clinton or Edwards?"

I don't take his lack of national political experience to be a bad thing. I favor term limits for politicians, so inexperience is no big deal to me.

Hilary Clinton, despite her very strong negatives, strikes me as being the "inevitable" candidates amongst the Democrats. Love her or hate her, she's well established and has the connections, and money, to pull it off. However, I don't think she can win in November '08. While she might be able to pull the majority votes in the Democratic primaries, I think she'll spur the conservative movement enough, and alienate the center, to disqualify herself.

The only wildcard in this race would be Father Gore descending from the heavens on a cloud of greenhouse gases to throw his name in the hat, but it seems unlikely at this point. He seems to have too much going for him in the private sector to risk it all in politics again.

Republicans
I'm sure I've said it here before, though I can't find the post(s), but John McCain will never be the Republican candidate. He has never acted in a way that conservative voters could say, "This is a man who has our best interests in mind." Though McCain votes mostly conservative, his behavior indicates that his chief constituency is the media, and his major interest himself. The BCRA was a joke, causing more problems that it solved, and riling up conservative bloggers. His "gang of 14" deal left a lot of conservatives with a bad taste in their mouths, considering how he threw so many judicial nominees to the wolves. His latest blunder, the "comprehensive immigration reform," will probably be the nail in his Presidential coffin.

Mitt Romney hasn't struck me poorly so far, but I'm not sure he'll sway the voters. I'm not sure he'll be able to shake the "flip-flopper" accusation that haunted John Kerry. It seems to come off as, "I'll tell the primary voters exactly what they want to hear." Is this a politician bowing to the will of his constituency, or a man say what he has to, they "growing in office?" It's hard to say, but I don't think a lot of people will be convinced.

Rudy Giuliani seems to be the most likely Republican candidate so far, though I'm not sure I'd vote for him in the primaries. His stance on abortion makes him unpalatable, but if it's him or Clinton, I will certainly vote for him.

The wildcard for the Republicans? Fred Thompson. He hasn't even declared or raised money and he's doing very well in polls. This isn't surprising, considering how he's been positioning himself as an ideological candidate, writing articles and giving speeches that make conservative hearts swoon. If/when he does actually commit to running, I think he stands a very good shot at being the Republican candidate. He'll be a fresh face in a Presidential race that's already getting old (and with so much yet to go!), and I think he'll appeal to a lot of voters, both conservative and otherwise.

Update
It would be silly of me to make my first mention of the primary candidates and not specifically mention Jim Geraghty's blog (now The Campaign Spot). I've found no other blogger who has his fingers as firmly on the pulse of the race, in both parties, as this man. Seriously worth your time if you're interested in following the Presidential race.

Friday, June 29, 2007

S

I've seen journalistic malfeasance in my time, but this is the shoddiest piece of punditry disguised as journalism ever. Seriously.

(If it's fixed, this is what I saw)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What is the definition of awkward?

Awkward adj.

6.hard to deal with; difficult; requiring skill, tact, or the like: an awkward situation; an awkward customer.
7.embarrassing or inconvenient; caused by lack of social grace: an awkward moment



Example: Woman orders her husband, in a coma, taken off of life support. Two weeks later, he wakes up.

Awkward . . .

Monday, June 25, 2007

I'm a Rocket Man!

Well, no, that's not true. But NASA's tour of the Kennedy Space Center makes me think about it all the same.

I thought I'd put some pictures on here for you to see. Looking through what we took, some of them are cool, and some . . . well, I don't think anybody out in the intertubes really cares about some of these shots. Click on the photos to see the full-sized image.


This isn't technically where the tour started, but it's a good enough pictures to begin with. This is the bottom of a Saturn V rocket, the type of rocket used through the Gemini and Apollo programs, up until the space shuttle was developed. It's hard to tell from the picture, but those exhaust ports there have a diameter of about 7 feet (IIRC). You probably don't want to be anywhere near one when it's firing.


This structure, as seen from the tour bus (the other views aren't nearly as good) is the Vehicular Assembly Building. The VAB is supposedly one of the largest buildings by volume in the world, the largest until a few years ago. I don't know what surpassed it. However, it can supposedly hold 3.75 Empire State Buildings, so it's pretty big. And that flag on the building's side? When it was first painted a few decades ago, it took 60,000 gallons of paint to complete it.

In this building, the shuttle is assembled with the secondary rockets. Neat.


In case you don't know what the secondary rockets look like, there they are. That's actually the display at the front of Kennedy. I guess you can't just put those things out for trash pickup.


Here's one of the launch platforms. It's not a great view, but this was as close as we were gonna get.


This is one of the things we were lucky to see that day. Lumbering away from the launch pad, you see the shuttle platform/crawler.

This monster of modern engineering essentially consists of four trucks carrying a massive array which will hold the shuttle and ferry it to the launch platform. Weighing anywhere from 6 to 9 million pounds (I heard both numbers), it is truly a sight to behold. Moving at speeds up to 1 mph, it can position itself to +/- 1 inch, which is necessary in lining the shuttle up properly at the launch pad.


You really don't get an idea of how massive this thing is until you see it closer up. Those spots down there by the treads are people. They look like toys next to the thing. Those treads? Each weighs one ton. Truly enormous.


The next set of photos comes from the portion of Kennedy devoted to the International Space Station. There's an observation deck where you can watch the work on portions of the station that will be going into space. No flash photography, of course, but you can still take normal photos. Not that there's anything spectacular to see here, but it's neat all the same.


There are some things I wanted to have pictures of, but the opportunities were lost. Atlantis was to land on the day we were there, but it was too overcast for the shuttle to land and was delayed by a day. I'm not sure there would have been much to see, as you can only be so close to the landing site and it's not nearly as dramatic as a launch, but it still would have been cool. Ah well. The trip was still worth it. I highly recommend you take the tour if you're ever in central Florida.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Return to Origin

Ah, vacation . . . what fun.

I'm back now, slightly more rested, although if you asked what I was resting from, I might be hard-pressed to give you a solid answer. Still, I'm back, and I'll have some photos to post. I saw some neat things while in Florida.

In the meantime, I wanted to share that I've been reading through Francis Collin's book, The Language of God. Collins was the leader of the Human Genome Project and wrote this book discussing the intersection of science and faith.

It's an interesting book, for sure. It's mainly written for the laymen, with a rather breezy style of philosophical argument that you find in most mass-consumption books on religion or philosophy these days. He borrows a lot from other authors to make his points, so the book almost acts more like a review than a new collection of ideas.

I'm about 2/3 through the book, and I've mixed feelings on it so far. Some parts of the book are well argued, or at least uses arguments I'm familiar with and consider them to be handled appropriately. On the other hand, there are some sections where I think he either misuses information in an argument or doesn't give certain arguments due consideration, especially in anticipating counter-arguments. Since I'm not finished with the book, I'll hold criticism of specific sections, since I can't say he won't revisit those ideas in more depth later on.

Still, if you're looking for a place to start in exploring these themes, this isn't a bad book. I'll give further assessment when I'm finished.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

Site News and Maintenance

You probably realize this, but I've been trying to look for a good (free) alternative to Blogger for a while now. I like the ability to manipulate the template graphically that Blogger started with their upgrade to 2.0, but it has become nearly impossible for me to manipulate the site in other ways. The whole widgets thing? I have only the most basic understanding of how it works. So, mostly I try stuff, break the site, and then give up and pine for a site that's as cool as everyone else.

I'm considering a move to mee.nu, but it's just going to depend on whether or not the other website is user-friendly. There's no point in escaping from the widgets if I'm still unable to do what I want with the website out of ignorance.

The only drawback I'm thinking of is that I'll have to redirect everyone to the new site if I move. I don't know how to do that, but I can't imagine it to be terribly difficult. Another consideration is that I do get some traffic from random Blogger/Google searches. Will Google still list me if I switch? Will my traffic plummet even further? Does it even matter?

That's the news that isn't really news. Stay tuned for more.

Most Ethical Congress . . . in Washington

Slublog's a bit ticked off. Not that I blame him.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Miller Time

Wow. I've never seen Dennis Miller as upfront as he is in this video. Perhaps I just don't pay enough attention.

Who said Mondays have to be boring?

Cue the Crickets

Sorry for the lame-o blogging lately. The news has just been rather boring to me lately. I don't care to cover the primary candidates much at this junction. The recently defeated immigration bill? It didn't really stay static long enough for me to figure out if I supported it or not. Is there anything else big happening in the news that I should know about? Probably not.

Now, if one of you, dear readers, should happen to find something neat out there, and think to yourself, "Gee, I wonder what Hal's moronic opinion on this is?" feel free to send me a link or a topic in the comments.

Deja Pew

I swear I've had this conversation before.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Stem Cell Solution?

Here's a very interesting tidbit of news: Some scientists have developed a method for turning adult cells into "embryonic" stem cells.

Nature reports that the scientists have manged to turn fibroblasts, a type of skin cell, into pluripotent cells. Pluripotency is the ability to transform into any cell type, and it's the major attraction to embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells can transform into other cell types, but not into any type.

The method works by transduction of four genes into the fibroblasts. These genes code for proteins which transform the cells into pluripotent cells.

While the experiments were done in mice, similar techniques have so far been unsuccessful in humans. Still, these results hold the potential to allow for pluripotent "stem cells" to be made from a patient's own cells, without the need to destroy embryos or clone them for the purpose of destroying them.

Again, the process isn't perfected yet. Transplantation of these cells into the mice resulted in cancer in ~20% of the test animals. As I recall, this kind of result is not unusual for implantation of embryonic stem cells into an adult subject. Still, there is promise to these results, and as the authors conclude, should have immediate application in the lab.

The political implications of this research could (or should) be far reaching. Embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) should become less necessary. Without any need to destroy embryos, there is no reason for anybody to object to the areas of research previously considered taboo.

Hopefully, this will also apply to those supporters of ESCR whose rhetoric displayed what seemed like a creepy eagerness to destroy embryos for the sake of research. I'd prefer that changes in political policy such as this be directed by a change in respect for the sanctity of life. However, I'm a pragmatic man, and anything that will ultimately help save lives that might have been sacrificed on the altar of science is a good development to me.

PvP vs. PCG?

Are you familiar with the phrase, "a tempest in a teapot?"

That pretty much sums up, to me, a bit of a spat that's started in the computer gaming world

Penny Arcade, the biggest gaming comic on the web, has started work on a video game of their own. This is pretty big, and kind of cool in a geeky sort of way.

PC Gamer, the premiere gaming magazine, made the new PA game their cover story for this month. There's a great article about the game. In the issue, the editor-in-chief used his "From the Editor" column to mention that he wasn't a big fan of PA. When I read it, I thought it a bit tasteless but didn't think much of it.

Apparently I wasn't paying much attention.

Scott Kurtz, author of PvP, another huge gaming comic, is pretty irate about the whole affair. He uses the analogy of asking someone to the prom, only to get there and find out your date did it on a dare from his buddies.

I'm still not sure I see the big deal. Sure, it was a bit of a faux pas on the part of the PCG editor. I just don't get the "fire and brimstone" response of Kurtz and the PvP community. The PA guys are still going to be wildly popular and their game will sell like hotcakes (well, a video game about hotcakes). PCG is still going to sell issues and sometimes people will disagree with their opinions.

Life goes on.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Knocked Down

I've no intentions of seeing Knocked Up. Even as far as comedies (does this count as a romantic comedy?) go, it's too weird for even me.

However, if it's your thing, there's a review up on NRO, focusing mainly on the link with abortion in the movie.

Origins of the Blogger

I was listening to Dr. Mohler's radio program the other day. (Side note: I'm not really as obsessed with him as my blog may indicate. He just provides me with plenty of blogging material.)

Dr. Mohler spent the episode discussing theistic evolution based on a letter he'd received. The entire episode was, well, painful to say the least. Evolution is already a tricky subject for Christians, and Christians who are scientists (distinguished from Christian Scientists) run a funny path. Affirm evolution, and you risk losing credibility in the Christian community; deny evolution, and you risk losing credibility in the scientific community.

The point of this post is to explain why I thought Dr. Mohler was wrong on his radio show, while explaining, to the extent possible, my own current thoughts on the matter. I preface it like this because my own thoughts are not static. A few years ago I didn't hold the same ideas I hold now, and I can't guarantee it won't change in the future.

Dr. Mohler's argument was that evolutionary theory and Christian faith are mutually exclusive; there can be no compromise, which would disqualify theistic evolution as a legitimate idea. His basis for this is citing the naturalistic, atheistic basis of natural selection. If life came about based on no outside influence, then God is removed from the equation (and thus explaining Dr. Mohler's position).

To me, this explanation lacks imagination. There is nothing, to me, that necessarily links the philosophical portion of the above argument (God can't be the interaction) with the scientific explanation (small changes over time, survival of the fittest, etc.). What blocks one from saying (aside from being an atheist) that the scientific explantion above is due to God's interaction with his creation? If you believe God created the universe, what gives you explicit knowledge of how he did so? Why can God's hand not move through natural means rather than "magic"?

As a scientist, I get frustrated when people who don't understand the field try to pontificate on findings and evidence. This isn't to say that people can't try to figure things out for themselves and have opinions based on their understandings, but many Christians seem ready to completely dismiss mountains of evidence without considering them at all. Equally frustrating is the people who automatically dismiss God based on scientific theories which have no way of addressing the supernatural at all.

Of course, associating God with evolution is not without its problems.

The main problem is what to do with Genesis. If it is a literal account of things, then evolution is off the table. If it's not literal but figurative, then some "fudge room" is available. However, anything less than a 100% literal interpretation makes for complicated theology. To what degree is it literal and to what degree is if figurative? Was Adam a real person? Cain and Abel? Abraham? And if Adam is not a real person, then what is the role of the fall of man? Or is that real at all?

I'm not going to say that I have any of those answers. To be honest, I don't even have answers for those questions myself. But the lack of answers does not automatically disqualify the main idea. My lack of imagination doesn't make an idea impossible.

I may come back and add more to this post later. In the meantime, I leave you with my conclusion that Dr. Mohler holds to a false dichotomy; it doesn't have to be just evolution or God and not both.