Sunday, August 31, 2008


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Is Faith Good for Us?

By Phil Zuckerman is an associate professor of sociology at College in California

Whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Sikh, there is one common belief that all religious fundamentalists share: worship of God and obedience to his laws are essential for a peaceful, healthy society. From Orthodox rabbis in the occupied West Bank to Wahhabi sheiks in Saudi Arabia , from the pope in Vatican City to Mormons in Salt Lake City , the lament is the same: God and his will must be at the center of everyone's lives in order to ensure a moral, prosperous, safe, collective existence.

Furthermore, fundamentalists agree that, when large numbers of people in a society reject God or fail to make him the center of their lives, societal disintegration is sure to follow. Every societal ill-whether crime, poverty, poor public education, or AIDS-is thus blamed on a lack of piety. A most disconcerting example of this worldview was expressed in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001 , when Jerry Falwell blamed the terrorists attacks on America 's "throwing God out of the public square," further adding that "when a nation deserts God and expels God from the culture . . . the result is not good."

If this often-touted religious theory were correct-that a turning away from God is at the root of all societal ills-then we would expect to find the least religious nations on earth to be bastions of crime, poverty, and disease and the most religious nations to be models of societal health. A comparison of highly irreligious countries with highly religious countries, however, reveals a very different state of affairs. In reality, the most secular countries-those with the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics-are among the most stable, peaceful, free, wealthy, and healthy societies. And the most religious nations-wherein worship of God is in abundance-are among the most unstable, violent, oppressive, poor, and destitute.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Windows Media Player

It won't play my playlists.

Monday, August 18, 2008


After denying Javon Thompson food and water for two days because he wouldn't say "Amen" after meals, the one-year-old's caretakers waited for a divine sign that their message had been heard: a resurrection.

For more than a week, police say in charging documents describing the scene, the child's lifeless body lay in the back room of an apartment. Queen Antoinette, the 40-year-old leader of a group that called itself 1 Mind Ministries, brought in her followers and told them to pray. God, she said, would raise Javon from the dead.

Instead, Javon's body began to decompose.


1.96 miles

Friday, August 15, 2008

Science and human rights

This is one of the best articles I have every read, it is not merely good, it is magnificent. Excerpts below, however please read the whole thing.

...As Alan Cromer put it in his book Uncommon Sense: the Heretical Nature of Science: "All nonscientific systems of thought accept intuition, or personal insight, as a valid source of ultimate knowledge. Indeed, the egocentric belief that we can have direct, intuitive knowledge of the external world is inherent in the human condition. Science, on the other hand, is the rejection of this belief, and its replacement with the idea that knowledge of the external world can only come from objective investigation - that is, by methods accessible to all."


What truly set Greece apart from other cultures was the respect granted the debater. Argumentative and logical skills were put on the same footing as courage and bravery in battle, and this factor stood out among ancient societies. "A debate is a competition of minds, in which contestants must counter one another with arguments designed to persuade their peers. The key words are competition, argument, persuasion, peers - all aspects of what we mean by objectivity, and, ultimately, science."(Cromer)

In science, as in debate, dissent must be met by beginning on common ground and carefully leading the critic step by step to a different conclusion - and being willing to do the same thing oneself. We're not searching for a final higher Authority above humanity, but a provisional common Consensus among equals. As Daniel Dennet might say, we're building cranes, not seeking skyhooks.


Under the theory of authority, rights are seen as privileges or benefits granted from a greater power to a lesser, and they're secured by an ultimate promise of force. It begins with the given that it's the right of the ruler to rule, and the duty of the inferior to obey. ...

The second way to ground an understanding of human rights is to build it up from the bottom, from a rational analysis which engenders a broad negotiated consent. ... Philosophers such as John Locke changed the way we thought, by reasoning from authority to agreement as the basis for law and obligation.


Science and democracy are interdependent, in that they both rely on many of the same assumptions about values and people - and thus entail the same kind of ethics. ...

First and foremost is the "habit of truth." From this comes a commitment to avoid self-deception as much as possible, and a sensitivity to how very easy it is to fool ourselves. We need checks and balances; we cannot test what is true by consulting no one but ourselves, and nothing but our own personal experiences and interpretations. Thus, a society of assumed equals is formed, bound to each other by a mutual obligation - or social contract -- to tell the truth. Peer review is not an afterthought of science, but indispensable.

As John Dewey once pointed out, science and democracy spring from the same soil. They both require open inquiry, diversity, respect for logic and evidence, and an awareness of the tentative nature of all knowledge. Both allow the empowerment and participation of ordinary people within a disciplined process; both test results by consequences, and allow for self-correction. Both rely on arguments capable of convincing their public. And both science and democracy assume a common ground of equality between their members.

Neither system can hold an authority or dogma as "sacred." Therefore, they value originality - which is a departure from most of human history, where originality was not seen as growth or improvement, but a sign of decay, or disobedience from an original perfection. Progress is a relatively new ideal. So is tolerance. Above all, both science and democracy are social systems that respect - and require -- dissent.


Contrary to some of the modern apologists, then, it doesn't seem to me that a real foundation for human rights can be firmly grounded in any belief system ultimately based on mysticism. Benevolence and fairness - certainly - love and kindness - sure - but a system that relies on hierarchal and elitist claims of connection to a sacred authority will end up being closed and divisive as soon as it meets with dissent. It can't place and meet its critics on an even ground, because it's modeled on higher and lower, Enlightened and Unenlightened, parent and child, king and subject, God and Man. And where there is the authority of certainty, there is no need for - or possibility of -- debate.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vista Crash

Windows explorer crashed.

Repulician War on Science

It was that the Bush Administration, in pushing its side of the debate, falsified the scientific evidence regarding the feasibility of stem cell research under the rather bizarre compromise policy it pursued (for more of the details, see Stem Cell Century by Russell Korobkin. This was, and remains, Standard Operating Procedure for Republicans on all topics - science is just another arena for political debate, in which reality is what you make it.

Science has never been more crucial to deciding the political issues facing the country.
Dir: Books Yet science and scientists have less influence with the federal government than at any time since the Eisenhower administration. In the White House and Congress today, findings are reported in a politicized manner; spun or distorted to fit the speaker’s agenda; or, when they’re too inconvenient, ignored entirely. On a broad array of issues stem cell research, climate change, abstinence education, mercury pollution, and many others the Bush administration’s positions fly in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus.
In The Republican War on Science, Chris Mooney tied together the disparate strands of the attack on science into a compelling and frightening account of our government’s increasing unwillingness to distinguish between legitimate research and ideologically driven pseudoscience.

America is already known across the world for having an irrational disdain for science. Not to mention the fact that our country produces so few scientists of its own, we’ve depended on foreign-born scientists to help as along our treasured road of progress for decades. Isn’t it ironic that, despite all of the ‘progress must continue’, ‘don’t take away our technology’ anti-global warming talk, our leaders look down their noses at those who produce this technology?

The past seven and a half years under Bush have made the situation (as with many other situations – really, can we name one thing he actually improved?) much worse. The ‘war on terror’ has produced a convenient cover for the Bush administration to attack foreign-born scientists.

The Huffington Post quotes William A. Wulf, Ph.D., president of the National Academy of Engineering:

Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of Ph.D. scientists and engineers employed in the United States who were born abroad has increased from 24% to 37%. The current percentage of Ph.D. physicists is about 45%; for engineers, the figure is over 50%. One fourth of the engineering faculty members at U.S. universities were born abroad. Between 1990 and 2004, over one third of Nobel Prizes in the United States were awarded to foreign-born scientists. One third of all U.S. Ph.D’s in science and engineering are now awarded to foreign born graduate students. We have been skimming the best and brightest minds from across the globe, and prospering because of it; we need these new Americans even more now as other countries become more technologically capable.

Dr. Moniem El-Ganayni is one of the scientists you’d think America would want to hold on to. The nuclear physicist has been an American citizen for 20 years and worked at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory – that is, until his security clearance was revoked. The reason? He’s an Egyptian-born Muslim. Dr. El-Ganayni’s efforts to get his clearance back have been fruitless, and he thinks he’ll have to move back to Egypt with his American-born wife.

The decision to revoke Dr. El-Ganayni’s clearance without holding a hearing was made by acting Deputy Secretary of Energy Jeffrey F. Kupfer, a Bush administration insider …. [who] certified that the appeals process set forth in DOE regulations “cannot be made available … without damaging the interests of national security by revealing classified information. …

Furthermore, he stated, his decision is “conclusive,” meaning the matter is officially closed.

Related Posts:

The Dumbing Down of America Under Bush
Fallujah Doctors Claim Increased Deformities in Babies After ‘Special Weaponry’ Used by US
U.S. Stops Solar Energy Projects Over ‘Environment Fears’
White House Buries Report on Possible Climate Change Death Toll
White House Suppressed EPA Report on Car Emissions

The Republican war on science is systematic and multi-faceted and very difficult to keep up with.  One episode which recently came to my attention involves my favorite technical journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), which is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and best of all, is open access.  Now, more than ever, we need research on the risks from toxic substances in the environment, global climate change and other environmental health problems.  EHP is a high-quality provider of peer-reviewed research papers and articles for the general public on environmental health topics. Yet, the Bush Administration is trying to neuter this important source for environmental health information through privatization, outsourcing and budget cuts (the funding level is being cut to the same amount that the NIEHS director spent remodeling his office).  They don't like the news, so they're killing the messenger.

According to a post in the public health blog Effect Measure, the NIEHS originally attempted to privatize EHP and, when that move encountered strong resistance from the scientific community, has tried to outsource it's functions, and cut the journal's budget.

More of the story comes from the Society for Environmental Journalists.  In November 2006, the SEJ wrote NIEHS, expressing its disapproval of the agency's plans for the journal.  According to SEJ's newsletter:

Effect Measure picks up the story again....

According to a SEJ tip sheet published April 4, 2007, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, and full Oversight Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), have launched an investigation of the controversy over EHP.  On March 30, the committee wrote to David Schwartz, requesting by April 20, 2007 a wide range of documents related to the outsourcing of EHP and also to Schwartz's conduct as director of NIEHS. On April 9, 2007, Representatives Kucinich and Waxman wrote a letter to Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health requesting that the contracting for EHP be postponed until these irregularities have been resolved:

At the same time, budget cuts at EHP appear to be moving ahead.  According to the SEJ tip sheet Schwartz said he wanted to privatize EHP because its budget could be better spent on other things — especially research. The plan is to cut EHP's annual budget from over $3 million in 2005 down to about $500,000. That is about half of what Director Schwartz spent remodeling his office after he arrived at NIEHS — an office that had just been remodeled.

Some of the changes for EHP expected in coming months include:

  • Beginning with the May issue, EHP will reduce the number of features it runs monthly from three to two.
  • Schwartz will be removing his "Director's Perspective" column from the magazine and moving it to NIEHS' website. In his April column, he says the reason for doing this is to enhance the editorial independence of the magazine.
  • Time available for editing articles, especially research articles, has diminished with contract support. Further reductions may show in quality of content.
  • EHP is moving away from its longstanding practice of re-drawing figures submitted by research authors to make them easier to read and understand.
  • EHP has ceased publishing its Student Edition in print (it has gone to the Web), and will soon stop publishing lesson plans for its student edition.
  • The Chinese edition of EHP is no longer being subsidized by NIEHS. The Shanghai Center for Disease Control has paid the full cost for the last two issues, although it is not clear how long this will continue.
  • The "Extramural Update" and "NIEHS News" articles will no longer be published in the print edition. They will move to the Web.
  • The magazine will be cancelling free subscriptions to readers in developing countries.

In addition, staffing is being reduced, and the periodical suffers from the lack of a permanent managing editor.  The position of science editor also has been vacant for a year.

Last week, in his State of the Union address, the President pointed to scientific research as the way to "lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come." Yet growing numbers of researchers, both in and out of government, say their findings--on pollution, climate change, reproductive health, stem-cell research and other areas in which science often finds itself at odds with religious, ideological or corporate interests--are being discounted, distorted or quashed by Bush Administration appointees.

Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him - New York Times

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s testimony has once again highlighted the extent to which the Bush administration suppresses and manipulates science to fit their narrow ideological view. Whether it’s stem cell research, global warming, the Plan B contraceptive, or abstinence-only education, they consistently put appeasing their extremist, fringe base over the interests of the country at large. CNN’s Christine Romans details the many battles in Bush’s War on Science.

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2.56 miles

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Genius of Charles Darwin

Excellent Video.

Monday, August 04, 2008


2.23 miles


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Edward A. Villarreal. Powered by Blogger.


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