Saturday, September 30, 2006

Explanation please

Walter pointed me to this Newsweek page by way of this blog post pointing to that blog post.

I suppose the Newsweek link will change, so here's what it looks like now. The snag of Newsweek's cover thumbnails in those other blogs is for real, as can be seen in the snag of the whole page below if you click on it (note the URL in the address bar):

It would be interesting to know Newsweek's rationale for the different covers. Maybe it has more to do with foreign readers not knowing of Annie Liebovitz and less to do with glossing over bad news for American readers. In any event, the difference in edition covers looks really bad, and it raises the question of what other differences exist between US and foreign editions.

I'm dropping that question, though, because the time I allotted to answering it has expired.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Cigarettes, Global Warming, Propaganda and Slime

As I type, Drudge and NewsMax are reporting that Al Gore, addressing the UN, claimed that cigarette smoking is a "significant contributor to global warming!" Really!

Somehow I just don't think Gore actually said that, but we'll see. On the other hand, it doesn't surprise me very much to see this kind of thing in Drudge and NewsMax.

Who knows where the links below will lead down the road, so here's where they lead now (my emphasis):

Fri Sep 29 2006 09:04:05 ET

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore warned hundreds of U.N. diplomats and staff on Thursday evening about the perils of climate change, claiming: Cigarette smoking is a "significant contributor to global warming!"

Gore, who was introduced by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said the world faces a "full-scale climate emergency that threatens the future of civilization on earth."

Gore showed computer-generated projections of ocean water rushing in to submerge the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, parts of China, India and other nations, should ice shelves in Antarctica or Greenland melt and slip into the sea.

"The planet itself will do nicely, thank you very much what is at risk is human civilization," Gore said. After a series of Q& A with the audience, which had little to do with global warming and more about his political future, Annan bid "adios" to Gore.

Then, Gore had his staff opened a stack of cardboard boxes to begin selling his new book, "An Inconvenient Truth, The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It," $19.95, to the U.N. diplomats.


Gore Warns U.N. on Climate Change

Stewart Stogel
Friday, Sept. 29, 2006

UNITED NATIONS -- Self-proclaimed "global warming warrior" Al Gore came to U.N. headquarters Thursday to lecture on the "perils" of climate change.

The former vice president and U.S. senator spent


Catholic Muslim

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Space tourist in Earth touchdown
However, the first female Muslim space tourist insisted that 'this 10 days has been magnificent for me'.
I don't know Anousheh Ansari, but it seems to me that she's about as much a muslim as I am a catholic. While seemingly sufficient for some people, that my grandmother was a catholic, that I was baptized and had my first communion as a kid, and that I was raised around catholics in a mostly catholic country isn't remotely enough to make me a catholic.

Pasting Ansari with the label of "muslim" stands out because, if anything, she seems to avoid the subject. Not that I looked all that hard, but the closest thing I've seen to any sort of self-characterization by her with respect to religion was a USA Today article containing an aside that Ansari calls herself a "liberal Muslim".

Whatever the meaning of "liberal muslim", the label seems safe enough. In the present context, though, "liberal Muslim" and "Muslim" probably mean two entirely different things.

I think Anousheh Ansari is a thoroughly modern, fully secular human being who thinks she's got to tread lightly. In her shoes I, too, might leave people to their illusions.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

CS Monitor: The war on SOME drugs: Ambushed in Jamundi

The war on drugs: Ambushed in Jamundi |
"Three thousand Americans a year die from Colombian drugs," says US Ambassador to Colombia William Wood. "That's like suffering a World Trade Towers attack every year."
No, it's not!

Mr. Ambassador, you cannot be as completely stupid a man as one who would believe that bullshit. Come on!

There is no similarity, none at all, between 3000 or so innocents killed in a major act of terrorism, and the similar number of people you claim, who die essentially at their own hand.

Plan Colombia has cost the US $4.7 billion, of which 75-80 percent has gone to the security forces.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

War on Fundamentalism

War on fundamentalism

I don't know who wrote it, but I second this emotion.
And if you are incapable of accepting the simple message of tolerance then yes, you are immoral, you are evil, you are a fundamentalist. You are at war with the world, you are at war with humanity, you are at war with God, you are at war with messages in the sacred texts of your religion.
Sounds good to me. I'm not into wearing symbols, but so does this:

Wear this symbol on your person. It is not a religious symbol. It does not replace Christianity or Islam. It does not conflict with any valid message in Christianity or Islam. There is no agenda behind this symbol. The purpose of this symbol is one single solitary message: I reject you, fundamentalist. And I embrace my fellow human being, regardless of religion. The belief in multiple paths to God does not reduce the majesty of your religion. It does not nullify it. It does not supplement it either. It merely underlines a message already existing in your religion. There are cultural differences in the paths to God. But none of them counteract the basic truths we all believe in, regardless of culture.
The way I see it, if people of the book really believe what they say about their god being omnipotent, then who are they to limit that god's power to be all things to all people?

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave � Blog Archive � The Great Debate: Heads vs. Feds

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave � Blog Archive � The Great Debate: Heads vs. Feds

What she said!

Her description of this "debate" reminds me of the Timothy Leary - G. Gordon Liddy road show, not a debate as much as bullshit for entertainment.

A Fantasy

Bolivia Reaches for a Slice of the Coast That Got Away - New York Times

One of my fantasies is that nations start acting with unilateral good will and in each others' interests in order to cultivate and cement friendliness. Along those lines, Bolivia would ceremoniously hurl the detestable bayonet statue into the bottom of Lake Titicaca, and Chile would reciprocate by giving Bolivia a relatively small swath of land for access to the sea, and the two nations would lead the world in promotion of oceanic sustainability.

There would be ceremonies, declarations, treaties and celebrations in favor of friendly relations forever.

On second thought, they might want to keep that sculpture, but change it so that the bayonet is shown being thrust into the throats of nationalistic ideologues and those who would use such arguments to bolster dominance.

Well, it is just fantasy. Sorry.

Update: I tried to find a picture of the monument with the bayonet, the one the Times says bears the words “What once was ours, will be ours once more”, but I didn't find one. Along the way, though, I found this picture by Tim Hilliard showing the Titicaca naval base and a sign that says: The sea is ours by right. Recovering it is a duty. I am not respectful of beligerent sentiments like that. They are counterproductive at best.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Going With a Flow

So I saw that Kurt Cobb was back from vacation with an interesting post about the Romans and their long view. One of Kurt's commenters quibbled a bit and concluded by offering up his own post about Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion at EnergyBulletin. I enjoyed Kurt's piece but agreed with his other commenter about Tainter and complexity. (Tainter paper).

I'm not a fan of OTEC, but I decided to go look at the post at EnergyBulletin, then followed their link to The Oil Drum to look at some commentary. Commentary immediately went off-topic but held my interest anyway. One of the commenters along the way offhandedly referred to an article, Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War.

Well, the title was certainly intriguing, but I wasn't familiar with the author or the website. Thought I'd try to find out a little bit about both before actually reading the article. To make a long and entertaining (but you probably had to be there) story short, the author, Keith Henson, has had some run-ins with the scientologists, has testified before congress, and is an electrical engineer with some other claims to fame.

When I googled the title of Henson's paper I wound up looking at a Wikipedia article on memetics which included two links to the paper, one at Kuro5in and the other at The Mankind Quarterly. As I did a little checking on each of those (enough to conclude that they're both done by smart people and probably worth reading), I landed on a now defunct parody site, (Archive)(Wikipedia), that gave me some exposure to smart mischievous people who like to troll post apparently for the hell of it. Some of it made me smile.

OK, time to go read the paper at Kuro5in. (Mankind Quarterly is a subscription only journal of anthropology, and this paper is not one of their free samples.) Make that tomorrow. I had too much fun today checking out the background and writing this post, and now it's way past my bedtime.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Question 7

Home | Regulate Marijuana in Nevada

I wish these people all the success in the world on November 7, even though I have a quibble with one of their FAQs:
If Question 7 passes, won’t the feds just come in and shut it down?

It is within Nevada’s power to pass this law. Back when Nevada’s medical marijuana initiative was on the ballot, federal authorities threatened to shut it down if it passed. It’s been in effect now for over five years, and these threats never materialized. In an age when the federal government cannot manage to inspect even five percent of containers coming into this country or adequately respond to a hurricane, one would hope they have better things to do than prosecute Nevadans who are abiding by state law.

Not that it affects my support for their effort, but if Question 7 passes in Nevada, prohibitionists will almost certainly find a way to squash it.


BBC NEWS | Technology | Global web celebrations under way
The organisers are planning to create what they hope will be the largest global online photo collaboration.

Web users are being asked to tag their pictures with OneWebDay and upload them to photo-sharing sites Webshots and Flickr, to create global photo albums.
Well, OK, here's my contribution.

The organisers are also encouraging people to post entries to their blogs on Friday which reflect on how the web has changed their lives.
Well, OK, let's see... I didn't have a personal domain, web page or blog before Sir Tim and his colleagues came around with their good ideas, so I credit them and the Web with putting me in contact with some good people I'd never have known otherwise. I also, though, spend a lot of time using the computer, whereas in times past I might have spent that time interacting with people more directly. Who knows?

I'm sure others will go into such things as how the Web has had an impact on political life. Aside from things like Howard Dean leading the race for the Democratic presidential nomination early on largely as a result of Web activism, now we have fundie jihadi's using the Web for their purposes. Ayatollah Khomeini became HMFIC of Iran without the Web, so maybe the jihadis would be where they are today without it, but the Web seems to have had a significant impact on radical jihadi operations. (The embrace of the Web by 7th-century-minded people seems ironic to me.)

I used to have some hope that the Web would lead to a complex interconnectedness from which might emerge a sort of global consciousness, a global brain along the lines described by Howard Bloom and others, that would somehow help humanity's lagging evolution to catch up with present conditions to which we seem so maladapted. More recently, though, I've come to think Cas Sunstein is right when he worries about increased polarization as a function of the Daily Me. "The imagined world of innumerable, diverse editions of the "Daily Me" is the furthest thing from a utopian dream, and it would create serious problems from the democratic point of view." Maybe the global brain will suffer a form of schizophrenia (before getting better, one hopes).

The Web has given me new tools at work. I'm pretty sure I was the first engineer at work to publish a report on the intranet, rather than on paper, some years ago. I keep a little web site on my employer's intranet where I keep job-related reference material, reports and so on. I also have a fledgling online forum for people at other companies involved in my line of work, and searching the Web is a useful tool in my job from time to time.

I guess the Web is like any other tool, available for good or evil. Like a gun, I'd much rather have it than not.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Scientific American: Fiddling While the Planet Burns

Scientific American: Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Will the Wall Street Journal's editorial writers accept a challenge to learn the truth about the science of global climate change?
I don't believe for a second that the Wall Street Journal's editorial board are ignorant here. I think they are, at best, in amazing denial, at worst, liars.

The WSJ's adoration of Bjorn Lomborg, and later their coverage blackout of Lomborg's censure by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (not one syllable in the WSJ) cost them my subscription some time back.

Reporters for the Wall Street Journal routinely distance themselves from the editorial page. Many of the paper's own reporters laugh or cringe at the anti-scientific posture of the editorials, and advise the rest of us simply not to read them. Nevertheless, the consequences of those editorials are significant. The Wall Street Journal is the most widely read business paper in the world. Its influence is extensive. Yet it gets a free pass on editorial irresponsibility.

As a neighbor to the paper at Columbia University, the Earth Institute has repeatedly invited the editorial team to meet with leading climate scientists. I've offered to organize such a meeting in any way that the editorial board would like. On many occasions, the news editors have eagerly accepted, but the editorial writers have remained safe in their splendid isolation.

Let me make the invitation once again. Many of the world's leading climate scientists are prepared to meet with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, and to include in that meeting any climate-skeptic scientists that that the Journal editorial board would like to invite. The board owes it to the rest of us to make the effort to their own "open-minded search for scientific knowledge." If only for the sake of their own sweltering hometown, it's time they accept the invitation.
Good luck.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Volokh Conspiracy - The ONDCP on Marijuana (Ads):

The Volokh Conspiracy - The ONDCP on Marijuana (Ads):

What he, and most of the commenters, said.

I wish people would stop refering to the so-called War On Drugs as such, and instead heap scorn on this idiocy by referring to it more accurately as the War On Some Drugs.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Distributed Backups and Monty Hall

Mozy Blog: Probability is Fun

So I was wandering around looking at stuff having to do with distributed backup storage. One of the solutions available that seems highly regarded is Mozy. I don't know much about Mozy yet, such as where they actually store your stuff, but I looked at their blog and found this Monty Hall post.

Since the Monty Hall problem twisted my brain pretty severely back when Marilyn Vos Savant raised hell with it in Parade Magazine a dozen or more years ago, and this is about the best explanation I've seen, here it is.

Now to check out Mozy some more. So far my backups are primarily periodic disk images and differential updates, with a few files also backed up online using GoDaddy's Online File Folder service. This works fine but it seems Mozy, AllMyData and various others have good ideas, too.

Anticrepuscular Rays

APOD: 2006 September 17 - Anticrepuscular Rays Over Florida

NASA's "Astronomy Picture of the Day", APOD, is my first stop on the Internet every day. Every selection is worthy. Accompanying explanations are always interesting, thought provoking and linked to other interesting stuff.

For example, the explanation for today's picture of anticrepuscular rays states that the rays appear to converge due to the straight lines of light being projected onto the spherical sky forming great circles.

Hmmm... Something twists my rusty spatial visualization gears. I can't help but think that, while true enough that a plane projected through a spherical shell forms a circle, it's not great circles that we're seeing.

If the earth were flat (and it is pretty flat from our human perspective) we'd see the same thing. The rays would converge just like railroad tracks running off to the horizon.

I'm splitting hairs again, and I could be wrong, but hey, it beat the hell out of moving on to see how many people were killed in Iraq overnight or what religionist pissed off how many others of his ilk, how we've got to get involved in Darfur or what a war with Iran would look like.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Nerd Score

I am nerdier than 70% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Make that low mid-rank nerd, and I think I agree with the fellow who thought the test actually ranked geekiness. Kind of fun either way.

I would have thought there'd be a question or two to gauge one's interest in sports, but no.

Hat tip Deltoid via Rabbet Run.

Leaked memo

AP Wire | 09/15/2006 | Leaked memo bolsters image of Kline fostered nationally
Attorney General Phill Kline is frustrated that, as he seeks a second term, the national attention he has received for fighting abortion and championing conservative causes may overshadow his crime-fighting and other activities.

That has come to the forefront since a campaign memo he wrote in August, outlining an aggressive plan to court conservative Christians, was leaked anonymously to reporters. Kline's memo discussed political receptions held after services, directing his staff to get friendly pastors to invite 'money people.'
Hmmm... Making contacts at church. Sounds like my old realtor buddy.

"My position on the life issue is not born out of my faith but out of what I view the role of the government to be - to protect the most innocent and the most vulnerable," Kline said.
Is he blind to the contradiction or just acting that way?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Underprotected: Advocates for Muslim Women Face Constant Danger - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

Police Protection: Advocates for Muslim Women Face Constant Danger - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

What do do?
Those who take a stand for the rights of Muslim women -- by criticizing the practice of forced in marriage, for example -- put themselves at considerable risk in Germany. Murder threats and attacks by conservative Muslims are common, and the police can offer only limited help.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Stupid Judges Contemptible Decisions

USA v. $124,700 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is not exactly new, but it is highly offensive none-the-less. That a subjective measure such as "preponderance" can justify the taking of substantial valuables absent actual evidence of wrongdoing, and in the face of plausible explanations to the contrary, is disgusting.

I contemptuously dissent. This is the sort of thing that creates scofflaws.

Here is the decision straight from the Court.

The War on Some Drugs is far more expensive than we think.

Friday, September 08, 2006

House votes to outlaw slaughter of horses for human consumption

House votes to outlaw slaughter of horses for human consumption
Despite the lopsided vote in favor of the measure, some lawmakers mocked GOP leaders for using one of the few days left on Congress' short fall calendar to address horse slaughter.

'With all the pressing political issues that confront our nation ... I do not think this is the issue the American people expect their elected representatives to be considering,' said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the House Democratic whip.
This is ridiculous.
Backers of the bill showed photos of stallions that were bloodied when crammed into trailers during transport to the plants. During slaughter, a bolt gun drives a metal rod into the horse's brain to stun it before the animal is hoisted by a leg to have its throat severed.

"It's brutal," said Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., a chief sponsor of the bill. "We need to bring an end to this practice."
Why is it so brutal that it needs the attention of the federal government in the case of horses but not cattle?

I'm in favor of standards of treatment to avoid unneccesary suffering prior to or during slaughter, but there are already animal cruelty laws that could be enforced.

That's not what it's really all about, though, is it?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Good for Melinda Gates

National Catholic Register:
Another major beneficiary of the Gates Foundation has been International Planned Parenthood Federation, the world’s largest private abortion business.
"Abortion business". I stopped reading right there, having made it past
Melinda Gates is a Catholic who attended high school at Dallas’ all-girls Ursuline Academy. But she’s anything but Catholic in her position on condom use.
Not only do condom promotion programs fail where abstinence succeeds against AIDS — but souls as well lives are at stake.
"Abortion business." Right.

Monday, September 04, 2006

War on Terror vs. War on Drugs

The Volokh Conspiracy - -

What he, and most of the commenters, said.

Australia mourns 'colourful son'

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Australia mourns 'colourful son'
Mr Irwin, 44, was struck in the chest by a stingray's barb while filming a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef.
What a shame. And what a shame that the man and those around him were so reckless.

I almost wish all these animal-handling TV people would attend STOP training and think more about the possible consequences of unanticipated contingencies like sting ray barbs to the heart.

Steve Irwin's death was entirely preventable, and I don't think his show would have suffered much, if at all, had he displayed more safety consciousness.

Beyonce Knowles, freedom fighter |

Beyonce Knowles, freedom fighter |
This month, Beyonce and Jay-Z's 'Deja vu' is No. 1 on the top 40 of the biggest Muslim nation in the world, Indonesia. Nine of the top 10 songs on the United Arab Emirates singles chart are hip-hop or R&B. Earlier this year Egyptian rappers MTM -- whose hit song 'Ummi Musafra' ('My Mother's Away') is about a teenager who holds a dance party while his mother is away on holiday -- were voted best modern Arab act at the first Arabian Music Awards. Several journalists have reported on the vast Iranian black market in Western music and movies of all sorts. And everyone seems to agree that youth in Iran are engaged in widespread rebellion against Islamic sharia law. Tattoos, sneakers, platform shoes, belly rings, and public displays of affection are ubiquitous in the most militantly Islamic republic.

Hmmm... I could almost become a hip-hop fan.

Hat tip: The Revealer - Amoral Infection

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Temptation of Leviathan; A Lengthy Reply

Stop The Spirit Of Zossen - Temptation of Leviathan — A Lengthy Reply
Are you a 'Cultural Hobbesian'? Or a 'Neo Lockean'? My guess is that we both will be encountering that question under various guises in the future. Alot.
I landed on this "Stop The Spirit of Zossen" blog the other day, and here I am again. I don't know who these people are, but clearly they are way over my head. Still, every so often I pick up a crumb here and there that appeals to me.

I think these people might be academic philostophers or political skyentists. Historians perhaps. Whatever. They seem to have a sense of humor to go with their RSS feed.

Last time I was here I wondered if my leg was being pulled. I don't think so, but I'm pretty sure that if they wanted to pull my leg I might not notice.

As to the question above, probably more the former than the latter, but frankly, I'm just an ignorant nihilist.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What should I call this post?

This comment to this post at Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory blog led to this post at Daily Kos, in which a blogger referred to this post on a vast right-wing conspirator's blog called Swords Crossed.

The point of the post at Kos was that Republicans know how to play the game and Democrats had better learn. The post at Kos had been updated to include the text of an email from the vast right-wing conspirator bearing congratulations for a nice post, thanks for kind words and a few points of clarification. Really. It's all very civil.

The vast right-wing conspirator's post is about the so-called "Overton window", a model for public attitude manipulation named after another vast right-wing conspirator, formerly vice-president of another vast right-wing conspiring think tank.

The point of Greenwald's post, by the way, was about how influential this yet other vast right-wing conspiring think tank is, how they want us to bomb Iran and so on and so forth.

I don't have anything constructive to contribute. What I have is a recollection of the distaste I felt in the company of some politically active friends of my Mother's who were gleeful about voting in the other party's primary in order to vote for the candidate most likely to be beaten by the guy they wanted to win from their party. Struck me as a dirty pool mentality then, and it all strikes me as a dirty pool mentality now. Too bad it doesn't really matter.

Probability of razor-thin national election results

Is Mexico going the way of Venezuela, with political violence leading to a hostile government next door?

BBC NEWS | Americas | Mexico deputies stop Fox speech
The original count saw Felipe Calderon - of the National Action Party (PAN) - win just over half a percentage point more support than Mr Lopez Obrador, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
I am highly suspicious of razor-thin national electoral results. I'm no sadistician, and probability gave me a headache in college, but I can't shake the sense that razor-thin national election results are very low-probability events with chicanery the most likely explanation.

It's easy for me to sympathize with a Mexican citizen who voted for Lopez Obrador as he heads out to raise hell at the demonstration.

If there is a good explanation for razor-thin national election results I have not found it. The closest I've found had to do with the likelihood of razor-thin results occurring in a small number of political subdivisions of a larger electorate in which a close election is forecast, but that's not the same thing.

Do razor-thin national election results indicate a high likelihood of chicanery? Is there a better electoral system?

So far I think the answer to both questions is Yes. I'm not particularly hopeful though.

"Risible Sprint" - Sam Harris has a way with words


The Language of Ignorance
by Sam Harris

In this essay, the bestselling secularist author of “The End of Faith” delivers a scathing review of “The Language of God,” a new book by Human Genome Project head Francis Collins that attempts to demonstrate a harmony between science and evangelical Christianity.

And it is scathing.
While the mere sighting of a waterfall appears to have been sufficient to answer all important questions of theology for Collins, he imagines himself to be in possession of further evidence attesting to the divinity of Jesus, the omnipotence of God and the divine origin of the Bible. The most compelling of these data, in his view, is the fact that human beings have a sense of right and wrong. Collins follows Lewis here, as faithfully as if he were on a leash, and declares that the “moral law” is so inscrutable a thing as to admit of only a supernatural explanation. According to Collins, the moral law applies exclusively to human beings:
Though other animals may at times appear to show glimmerings of a moral sense, they are certainly not widespread, and in many instances other species’ behavior seems to be in dramatic contrast to any sense of universal rightness.
One wonders if the author has ever read a newspaper. The behavior of humans offers no such “dramatic contrast.” How badly must human beings behave to put this “sense of universal rightness” in doubt? And just how widespread must “glimmerings” of morality be among other animals before Collins—who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes—begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn’t these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution?

Collins’ case for the supernatural origin of morality rests on the further assertion that there can be no evolutionary explanation for genuine altruism. Because self-sacrifice cannot increase the likelihood that an individual creature will survive and reproduce, truly self-sacrificing behavior stands as a primordial rejoinder to any biological account of morality. In Collins’ view, therefore, the mere existence of altruism offers compelling evidence of a personal God. (Here, Collins performs a risible sprint past ideas in biology like “kin selection” that plausibly explain altruism and self-sacrifice in evolutionary terms.) A moment’s thought reveals, however, that if we were to accept this neutered biology, almost everything about us would be bathed in the warm glow of religious mystery. Forget morality—how did nature select for the ability to write sonnets, solder circuit boards or swing a golf club? Clearly, such abilities could never be the product of evolution. Might they have been placed in us by God? Smoking cigarettes isn’t a healthy habit and is unlikely to offer an adaptive advantage—and there were no cigarettes in the Paleolithic—but this habit is very widespread and compelling. Is God, by any chance, a tobacco farmer? Collins can’t seem to see that human morality and selfless love may be derivative of more basic biological and psychological traits, which were themselves products of evolution. It is hard to interpret this oversight in light of his scientific training. If one didn’t know better, one might be tempted to conclude that religious dogmatism presents an obstacle to scientific reasoning.
One of the more memorable experiences of my life occurred one day about 30 years ago while I was taking a drive in the San Gabriel mountains near Los Angeles, California. Having spotted something occupying the curb half of the driving lane ahead, I slowed down to move into the opposite lane of this narrow, twisting mountain road. As I drove slowly by, I looked at what turned out to be a group of a dozen or so squirrels huddled around a recently car-killed associate. They did not bound off the road into the bushes as my car approached. They just sat there, erect on their haunches, in a circle around their dead comrade. As I drove past, I received an overwhelming sense of their sorrow. They were mourning. A couple of them turned their heads to look at me as if saying, "Do you mind? We're praying here!"

It was a very touching scene and a highly spiritual experience, but I figure it probably had about as much to do with anything as would a vision of a frozen waterfall.


Collins’ sins against reasonableness do not end here. Somewhere during the course of his scientific career, he acquired the revolting habit of quoting eminent scientists out of context to give an entirely false impression of their religious beliefs. Misappropriation of Einstein and Hawking, while common enough in popular religious discourse, rises to level of intellectual misconduct when perpetrated by a scientist like Collins. Where either of these physicists uses the term “God”—as in Einstein’s famous “God does not play dice…”—he uses it metaphorically. Any honest engagement with their work reveals that both Einstein and Hawking reject the notion of Collins’ God as fully as any atheist. Collins suggests otherwise at every opportunity.

I wonder if there's some way for people who are deliberately mis-quoted, or their heirs, to sue people for twisting their words into something opposed to what was plainly meant?

If one wonders how beguiled, self-deceived and carefree in the service of fallacy a scientist can be in the United States in the 21st century, “The Language of God” provides the answer.
Maybe it's just bullshit in mistaken service of bridging a culture gap? If so, I prefer Wilson's approach:

While the scientist believes in evolution, the evangelical Christian interprets the Bible as the literal word of God.

"I may be wrong, you may be wrong. We may both be partly right," Wilson writes.
Naa... That's the devil talking.

Friday, September 01, 2006

... they won't do it


I don't know who the author, "A Marine in Iraq", is, and I don't know who the retired Marine said to have received and quoted the email is, but Soldiers for the Truth doesn't strike me as anything other than what they say they are. The message doesn't strike me anything other than what it appears to be: the assessment of a man on the scene. It would be nice to know the date of the email (the story is dated not quite a month ago). Still...
The biggest lesson I have learned over 6 months here is that the Iraqi culture is incapable of sustaining a western style military. The Arabic style military it can function with is distasteful to western soldiers: officers who hit their men, officer and senior enlisted men who regularly steal from their men, using leadership to openly grant yourself more food and standard of living items while your men go without, taking food from civilians while searching their houses, taking food from crops while searching for weapons caches, and all the while professing to be men of God.
Hat tip: Winds of Change

So after 6 months we've:
  • taught them techniques for planning operations...they won't do it.
  • shown them how to conduct weapons sustainment ranges...they won't do it.
  • we've shown them how to conduct convoys...they won't do it.
  • we've taught them moral and ethical behavior required of soldiers...they won't do it.
  • we've taught them how to manage logistics...they won't do it.
  • we've taught them personnel and administrative management...they won't do it.
  • we've taught them how to operate tactically...they won't do it.
  • we've taught them how to sustain the life support systems on the camp...they won't do it.
Basically we have taught them how to be a self sufficient battalion, but unless the Marines do it for them, they won't do anything. They ALWAYS revert back to the "Iraqi way" when we are not around and that involves DESTROYING and WASTING everything they get their hands on.

But other than all that they say they are "dedicated" to the future of Iraq...should be a bright and wonderful future.

Aimlessly Wandering

Der Spiegel's email said

New Book on Nazi-Era Humor: “Did You Hear the One About Hitler?”

A new book about humor under the Nazis gives some interesting insights into life in the Third Reich and breaks yet another taboo in Germany’s treatment of its history. Jokes told during the era, says the author, provided the populace with a pressure release.,1518,434399,00.html

which sounded interesting so I clicked it.

It was interesting. Then it prompted me to wonder about the state of contemporary Iraqi humor.

My quick but essentially fruitless google was cut short when I clicked on a hit that said
Stop The Spirit Of Zossen - History's Cruel Humor
Do you think the rumors about Bush bad sense of humor are just the fevered ... It's possible that someone studied a book called the “Arab Mind,” and thought ...
Well, I have no idea about the Spirit of Zossen, but the hit looked promising and SiteAdvisor had a green checkmark next to it, so I clicked it and landed here to see a blog post about the credibility of a story about Kola Boof being Osama bin Laden's mistress.

I'd never heard of Kola Boof, but the discussion following the post kept me reading. At one point a commenter gave me pause by writing that Hizbollah was "a part of the coalition of the Cedar Revolution gov that was once hailed, before it was bombed." That didn't square with my recollection, which is that Hezbollah sponsored massive pro-Syrian counterdomonstrations during the Cedar Revolution. Maybe I'm mistaken. Whatever.

So what about this Spirit of Zossen? I clicked on the title link at the top of the page and was taken to the current blog page, which as I write is a post with an interesting perspective called Returning to See Charred Boats. My interest was further engaged by the moniker at the bottom of the post: DrLeoStrauss, whose contact page refers one to the web site (watch the speaker volume if you click), where the blog is hosted.

Woah! What's that all about?
The Leo Strauss Stiftung is a global leader offering militarized solutions in defense of Freedom, Liberty and Democracy. Since 1936 our clients have benefited from our esoteric commitment to the Athenian ideal.

* Our Award-Winning "Militarized Solutions Now" (tm) product offers immediate results from Low Intensity Conflict to Regime Change.

* International Cadre Identification and Recruitment.

* Transforming Societal Consciousness One Mind at a Time.
Nuts? Crazies? A bit over my head and outside my scope, so back to Google to find this blog post from The Remedy (the Claremont Institute's blog) saying it's parody. I was thinking it might be parody, but I can be pretty dense and couldn't tell for sure. Guess I hadn't looked enough. Anyway...

So what's up with this parody site that seems to host a serious highbrow blog? (I say "seems" because I still wonder if they're pulling my leg in the blog and I'm just too stupid to realize it. I'll have to read some more, which probably marks them as pretty good memesters.) It turns out their registrar is the same one I use, GoDaddy, and that they've used GoDaddy's "Domains By Proxy" service. Dead end there.

Enough already. This guy thinks the Strauss site is great. Good enough for me.