Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Surviving The Singularity

If you have not seen this short video, it's highly recommended.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hangin' Out at the Wedge

Do any of you have a problem with an undocumented gay Mexican biologist, earning a living here doing stem-cell research while moonlighting as an atheist high school evolution teacher who mocks Intelligent Design, married to his life-mate and then protesting U.S. policies by refusing to say the words "under God" in the Pledge and then burning the flag?

I don't.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Gore's Movie

"An Inconvenient Truth" is apparently doing surprisingly well at the theatres. Although currently showing in just 77 theatres nationwide, it came in 9th last weekend, taking in over a million bucks and was, in terms of dollars per screening, well ahead of the number 1 movie. It did over $17,000 per screen vs. about $12,000 for "The Break-Up".

My wife and I, along with a couple of friends, went to see it on Sunday. I give it a strong recommend regardless of your political background or your thoughts on global warming. He isn't hysterical at all and simply points out the inescapable truth that there is a problem. He doesn't wildly predict the "end of the world", although he certainly points out some of the possibilities while pointing out that these are highly unpredictable. He concludes by providing a number of solutions, so it isn't just a bunch of hand-wringing.

The most clear scientific evidence is presented and I'll just touch briefly on three of the points that I found most interesting.

First, he talks about the much discussed historical temperature variations. Going back and graphing it over the past millennium, it is clear that what has transpired in the past 2 centuries is totally beyond in normal fluctuation that has been seen previously. We are actually in a warming trend that goes nearly quadruple anything in the past 1,000 years.

Next was an independent study of the science, and of media reports in connection to the topic. Of over 900 climate studies on global warming that were peer reviewed, not a single one disagreed with the fact of global warming. However, the media coverage shows an approximate 50/50 split of opinion on the subject.

Finally there was a chart of the United States showing various states that had independently enacted various statutes that reflect the heart and soul of the Kyoto Accords that our country has not ratified (by the way, we and Australia are the only two to have so failed). Gore didn't mention it in the movie, but I can't resist pointing out to you how similar the map was to the famous Blue/Red States map following the last presidential election.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Unexpected, but Welcome

It seems from this article and other recent developments that the Bush Administration may be getting the message from the American people that we want diplomacy FIRST. I'll will be cautiously optimistic for now. More interesting to me will be what goes on after November.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Or just have a little insect knowledge? I was curious about this one. My friend, Bob The Bug Guy, was doing a little work in his yard today in Palm Desert, CA. He is a bit of an insect expert himself, as he is the owner of a pest control service out in the desert here in Southern California. He saw a red dragonfly and asked his daughter to come outside and photograph it for him. I think it's a very cool photo and worth sharing. He mentioned that he had never come across one before and I was wondering if anyone can give us any insights about it. Click on the picture to enlarge and look a the face. It's just incredible.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Problems of Life...

Sorry for not posting lately. That Da Vinci Code story must be getting pretty stale if you've been stopping by. We've had a load of problems here in West L.A. My 90 year old mother (who lives with my wife, daughter, son and self - along with my 92 year old aunt who lives out in one of our back houses, and a nephew living in another) had a bowel obstruction last week due to a herniated large intestine. We rushed her to UCLA emergency and they operated early on Tuesday morning last.

The operation was entirely successful. The next day she was having some problems with an irregular heartbeat. They followed the standard protocol for it, but she had a really bad reaction to the medication. Her heart suddenly started getting slower and slower and slower. While they scrambled the ICU staff, she was calmly giving me all of her final words - how to handle the funeral ("don't spend too much money"), who to tell that she loved and appreciated, etc. She was totally tranquil and ready to depart. In fact, she was entirely convinced that she was going. They had the pads on her and were ready to jolt her if she flat-lined. She didn't and her heartbeat slowly returned to normal. Unfortunately, her mind has not recovered nearly as well as her body in the last few days. It's partly a case of mom already being a little neurotic to begin with, combined with the surgery, the psychosis producing effects of being in ICU for 3 days and then her not "going" when she fully expected to. Now she thinks she was either in Madera, CA or Palm Springs, thinks they operated on the wrong person, believed that the morticians were standing by her bedside, etc.

Never the less, they released her to us this evening since physically she is doing as well as can be hoped for and there is no reason for her to remain hospitalized. Anyway, I'm kind of tied up with everything that is going on and I hope you'll understand that I may not be posting much in the next week or so.

As long as I'm here though, I'd like you to take a look at this story and explain to me how in the HELL this can happen. I just read it and shook my head. There is just so many reasons why this story is wrong and why we should never have to read something like it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Demystifying The Da Vinci Code "Controversy"

A ficition writer named Dan Brown wrote a novel about an utter fantasy written by a whole bunch of authors, and told his story differently than the believers of the fable like to tell it.

Now it's a movie so the fantasy crowd is REALLY stirred up because those who are most likely to believe their myth don't read many books but they DO go to movies. Because of all the commotion, many more people will see the movie than would have if the the defenders of the faith hadn't said a word but that's ok because, as Buridan's Ass aptly points out, it's really just another chance for the fable-disabled folks to discuss their god and show "moral outrage"; meanwhile ignoring the really pressing moral issues of our time - like always.

Isn't that simple? Now, go enjoy a good action/thriller at your local theatre or just wait for the DVD like me. If you need to engage your moral sensitivities on an issue, allow me to assist you.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Science is Self-Correcting

The recent rift in evolutionary science over "The Hobbit" (Homo floresiensis) is a good example of why, generally, the scientific explanation of evolution is correct. Because when there is a problem, it ends up being corrected - by other scientists who fully support evolution. No one says that everything is known about our past. But the fact of evolution should be beyond debate at this point. The only thing that needs to be discussed are the specifics of it.

It wasn't religion that showed Piltdown Man (read the section "The Exposure) to be a fraud. It was evolutionary scientists. It won't be creationists or supporters of Intelligent Design who show that The Hobbit was not another species of Homo (if, indeed, anyone does. The jury is still very much out. I'm just pointing out once again that the subject is under intense debate WITHIN the community of evolutionary science).

From "Business" to "Vacations"

Reader Tom L. points out that, like you, apes have been shown to plan ahead.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More Monkey Business

Not a huge surprise in this story, but certainly you can see how this would have been an early evolutionary step that our own species must have gone through a few million years ago. There is nothing "irreducibly complex" about speech.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Monkey Business

This is kind of a cool story. New species are constantly being discovered and named. There are perhaps still millions that have not been discovered (how many cubits long was that ark again)? But it is rare that a new African primate would be found. The last one was in 1923! (Click on the picture to the right of the story to see a short video of the little fellow in action).

Friday, May 12, 2006

What YOU Can Do Right Now

This suggestion will do little to change the political direction we are going in. But it sends a message and it can benefit you personally as well.

Most of the major phone companies are complicitous in this by turning over our phone records to the NSA. They didn't have to do it. ATT, BellSouth, Sprint and Verizon COULD HAVE taken a moral stand but went along like sheep. But Denver based Qwest DID show some intestinal fortitude! Qwest, with 14 million customers in the Western United States, was “uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants,” USA Today said - and they refused!

I switched my long distance and local service to Qwest this morning. It took 2 minutes. I got a better deal than I was currently getting. I suggest you look into it!
UPDATE: Don't let anyone use a diversion tactic on you! Remember - stay focused on things that actually IMPACT your life.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Impeach Bush!

I don't need to know what Bush was "thinking" (in fact, that's becoming a bit scary to contemplate. As I heard about him once; he was lost in thought - it was unfamiliar territory). I don't need to know "what he knew" or "when he knew it". I don't care how "valid" he or anyone in the administration "felt" this was (an Administration official defending it today by saying, "Afterall, we're at WAR"). All I need to know is - "Is it TRUE"? Because if it is true, combined with everything else, this is the last straw and people need to stand up and ask for this guy to go away quietly.

As always, I give you the right to disagree with me without me ranting and raving over it. Live your life as you see best for you and yours. But I will tell you that you either learned nothing from the history lessons of The Third Reich, Stalinism, McCarthyism, Viet Nam and Watergate - or you learned all the wrong lessons.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Oil at $100 a Barrel - or Higher?

It's not the projections of "environmental crackpots" or "end-of-timers" - this comes from corporate America, and is not based on "peak oil" scenarios .

So, what do you figure a gallon of gas will cost? I'm thinking around $5.00.

Of course, there are a lot of possibilities, and as soon as someome tells you they KNOW what's going to happen, you can usually figure it will be the opposite. Nevertheless, the trend is there and while gas prices could well come down significantly just prior to the election, you can bet they will go up again. The question is how much and how soon - not "if".

Friday, May 05, 2006

War Heat

The administration has been getting this kind of heat abroad for a long while. Now it's really warming up at home.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Different Kind of Blog?

I don't know, I thought my idea for a blog was worthwhile, but I think I'm kidding myself. Maybe I'll just start a "Happy BS Blog" and talk about basketball, video games and movies. The endless nature of these kinds of articles really makes me wonder. Then again, I do enjoy my primeval scream as I fall into the void!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Political Misdirection, Common Sense and Money

I watch the television and scan the internet, I listen to the radio are read magazines and newspapers - and all I see right now are people yelling back and forth about immigration.

It reminds me of many other things that occupy our nations' undivided attention. Things like abortion, teaching creationism, capital punishment, prayer in school, gay issues, etc. All of these periodically pop up and become centers of great debates. These debates take millions of man-hours of activity. Seldom is any real consensus reached. We will all have our various points of view on all of these and many more issues. But I wonder - why do we spend so much time on these, when there are such huge matters that require our attention?

The planet is melting, but we spend time worrying about whether Jose Garcia is working on this side of Tijuana, Mexico or that side. (And, please, when I say "the planet is melting" please don't try telling me about wacko liberal leftist science. Global warming is a fact. The legitimate questions are 'how much (if any) of it is man's fault', 'is there really anything that humans can do about it', 'is it just a periodic climatic change that will bring some differences to our life-styles, or is in something more cataclysmic'?)

The main point of this short look at wedge issues is to say this - if you are reading this blog, chances are that being on either side of these wedge issues and spending hours of your lives debating them is a waste of your time. If you want to be a part of something important, then don't let the issues be dictated for you. You can see what really has an impact on your lives and the lives of those you love. If your son or daughter might have to go fight in the desert, THAT IMPACTS YOU. If gasoline is $5.00 a gallon and gasoline is the only feasible way you have of moving about, THAT IMPACTS YOU. If catastrophic climate changes make life as we know it impossible, THAT IMPACTS YOU. And when you get around to debating these, or any issues, always think about who is gaining financially from a status quo that IMPACTS YOU.

Even if you think the immigration issue is worth spending time debating, look at THAT from a financial standpoint. Who makes it possible, desirable, for illegals to come across the border?Again, if you are reading this blog, it probably isn't you. It's the business community of America, that wants that low-wage labor force here, and the government that collects taxes from those illegals and never gives a refund on it. Don't spend your time arguing over what language the national anthem should be sung in. Use your common-sense about what issues really effect you, and to understand why they effect you the way they do - think about who benefits from you concentrating on non-issues, and watch the money flow.

(Additional information from today on global warming)

Blog Recommendation

I just found out that Big Al now has a blog and read his first entry this morning - an interesting take on the current immigration debate. For those of you who don't like my mild style, you'll love Al. He is thoughtful, but also very forceful. Knowing Al's contrarian views on a number of subjects, I could see this blog becoming quite the hot-spot for political discussions in coming months. Welcome to the blogosphere, Al. Let 'er rip!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Get Out of Iraq and Start Fighting Terrorism

There was another huge anti-war protest in the streets of New York today. The usual suspects were there, and that only makes the majority of Americans automatically think they are on the opposite side of whatever is being protested. There is a large segment of society that is automatically diametrically opposed to anything that someone like Rev. Jesse Jackson is for. This is a logical fallacy on their part.

The Bush administration has made a tactical error in the war on terror. This is not a traditional war, but the Administration insists on having our military fight it that way. The very use of the word "war" is probably inaccurate. Battle is probably a better choice. Much as the words "war on drugs" created false expectations along with the unrealized "victory", calling this a "war" on terrorism made it possible for our government to launch us down this path, with hardly a voice raised in opposition, by creating a false expectation of the necessary response. What else do you do in a "war" that you are trying to win other than invade the enemy's country?

Even if the absolutely best possible consequences ensued from invading, conquering and setting up democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and whatever other countries end up on the agenda, it will not impact the problem with terror. The best you can hope for is a relatively low loss of innocents in those countries, along with a relatively low loss of our own young people and then those countries rapidly installing democratic systems and the majority being satisfied with the changes and not upset with our country (and pushed further toward siding with terrorists). That's the BEST. And that isn't bad! The problems are:

A) There is no guarantee that all of those good things will come to pass - ever. In fact, some of the more negative potential consequences are almost a certainty.

B) When you invade a country, you are fighting primarily with the armed forces of that society. In the case of Islamic societies, those soldiers you are fighting are not usually associated with terror. In fact, many times the terrorists residing within that country hate the armed forces as much as they hate America.

leading to the most import problem -

C) The people who already hate us, and the western world, enough to wage a war of terror will be almost completely unaffected by this! There will still be 10's of thousands of militant, fundamentalist, islamofascists living in those countries and all over the world. These folks are largely hidden in their beliefs and lives and you only find out about them either after they have taken violent action or after you hear about us breaking up one of their cells.

As we run around doing nation conquering, our government not only creates the illusion of actually fighting a war on terror, but wastes an incredible amount of resources doing it. We could fight the real war at a fraction of what we spend now. The saving of thousands of innocents and U.S. ground soldiers is a pretty hefty coincidental benefit to this proposal.

This battle is not about "countries". There is not a "country" to conquer to end our problems. In fact, doing so can complicate some very tricky issues and actually make them worse. Then again, if you are more interested in creating capitalistic democracies than in ending, or lessening, terrorism - then I guess Bush is doing exactly the right thing.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Metaphysical Is a Non-Answer

I’m glad I posted my thoughts on the possible evolution of belief recently. First of all, I received some great references to check into further. One of those, in particular, will be discussed in this post. Also, I received this comment from a bit of a regular around here, McKiernan, who was gently poking at me:

For improvements to one's ontological (mis) understandings try reading:Gagdad BobIt might help you make it through the day, Middleman. On the other hand monkeys do no evil, see no evil and hear no evil. That could have been the evolutionary jumpstart on homo religiosis. Only kidding of course. McK

Well, I would hope he's kidding! Especially considering a) we didn't evolve from the monkeys of the world any more than they evolved from us. We're both here, in the present, aren't we McKiernan? And b) whoever came up with the image of "see no evil" etc. and adjoins it to our primate cousins, hasn't followed the studies on them. They can certainly be “evil”. Here’s an interesting story along these lines recently about apes (not monkeys). Here’s another from last year.

I like the present. It's all I have. I know I won't have it for long. I don't worry about it. I just try to find out a little here and there about the reality of the present - how the past connects to it - how the future may play out from it. It's no big deal and I'm not on a hunting trip to bag the ultimate truth – as if there were such a thing.

I read the two most current posts over at Gagdad Bob. I wouldn't presume to judge him based on that because I wouldn't want anyone to read the last two posts here and pretend, from that, to know all about The Evolutionary Middleman. Those 2 posts, however, represented a line of thought that I would describe as follows: strongly disliking the current popular expressions of religion in what they have done to the 'good name and nature' of higher (and true) religion and an attempt to resurrect what this "higher religion" should be, which is simply a way to live life and a mechanism for exploring those things we can not (and probably never will) know through science.

I don't have a huge problem with this. I can understand why even a highly intellectual mind needs to believe there is some "vast unknowable" that our limited consciousness can never grasp. It might even be true. I just don't care. Life, for me, is too short to spend more than a few weeks of it contemplating these things. I am more interested in what science can teach me. I am interested in exploring the outer edges of those possibilities, but always within a scientific framework.

Can we ever know the evolutionary causes of human consciousness? I don’t know. Perhaps the question I raised is one of those that you will never get an answer through science. But I think it’s worth exploring and not just throwing up our hands and declaring, unequivocally, that science can never define the evolutionary process of aspects of consciousness – such as a need for religion. Thanks to readers, I did find out who is working on these ideas, the books published on it and interviews with those who are studying it. I find their thinking fascinating and I'm excited that there is a sector of science that is exploring these things.

From the linked interview, here are a few questions to and answers from Harvard Biologist, Edward O. Wilson. (If the name rings a bell of controversy – this is covered in the article. It’s a good read).

Suppose, miraculously, there was proof of a transcendental plane out there. Would you find that comforting?
Wilson: Sure. Let me take this opportunity to dispel the notion, the canard, that scientists are against transcendentalism, that they want to block any talk of it, particularly intelligent design. If any positive evidence could be found of a supernatural guiding force, there would be a land rush of scientists into it. What scientist would not want to participate in what would be one of the greatest discoveries of all time? Scientists are simply saying -- particularly in reference to intelligent design -- that it's not science and it's garbage until some evidence or working theory is produced. And they are suspicious because they see it coming from people who have a religious agenda.


I think this is actually of great importance when we're talking about science and religion. There are a lot of people who discount the literal interpretation of the Bible because it does not square with modern science. And even God is such a loaded word. What if we put that word aside? Can we talk about energy or some sort of cosmic force?
Wilson: That's why I say, I leave this to the astrophysicist.

Not the religious scholars?
Wilson: Oh, of course not. They don't know enough. Literally. I hope I'm not being insulting. But you can't talk about these subjects now without knowing a great deal of theoretical physics, particularly astrophysics and developments in astronomy concerning the origins and evolution of the universe. But one thing we may very well be able to understand from start to finish -- we haven't done it yet -- is the origin of life on this planet. And that's what counts for human beings. Where we came from. And it's beginning to look -- it's looking pretty persuasively -- that we are in fact ultimately physical and chemical in nature, and that we evolved autonomously on this planet by ourselves. There's no evidence whatsoever that we're being overseen or directed in our evolution and actions by a supernatural force.


This is not a view that all scientists subscribe to. Stephen Jay Gould famously talked about how science and religion are two entirely separate spheres. And they really didn't have anything to do with each other.
Wilson: Yeah, he threw in the towel.

He dodged the question.
Wilson: He dodged the question, famously. That's no answer at all. That's evasion. I think most scientists who give thought to this with any depth -- who understand evolution -- take pretty much the position that I've taken. For example, in the National Academy of Sciences, which presumably includes many of the elite scientists in this country, a very large number would fully accept the scientific view. I know it's 80 percent or more who said, on the issue of the immortality of the soul, they don't care.


His answers are spot-on. When it comes to these types of questions, I don’t really care and, to the degree I do, I’ll read what the astrophysicists have to say before I spend 2 minutes listening to Deepak Chopra and others.

It gets back to the basic question that must be posed to the proponents of Intelligent Design – if you are correct, what does it tell us that in any way helps us through our life here on earth? How does simply saying that there are things so great and awesome that we can never know about them through the scientific process, teach us anything of value?

In my mind, 2 hours of jogging, 2 hours of helping out at your local park and 2 hours of blogging on these subjects has more value in the real world that we reside in than a lifetime of prayer or meditation. I’m not critical of those who choose the latter, because we do what we have to do, to make it through another day. I just know what makes sense for me. People fascinate me and that’s why I appreciate McKiernan’s comments and the link he provided.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Incredible Juxtaposition of News!

Too humorous! Tonight on the MSNBC homepage:

What's this?
Scientists take the ‘toot’ out of beans
Microsoft, EC claim innovation at stake
Bush seeks to ease gas pressure

No further comment!

Is "Belief" an Evolved Characteristic?

Someone wrote over at another blog that religion has been used to promote and justify tyranny and the enslavement of people. I think this is true, but I think religion has probably been primarily beneficial to most people.

It's not true for me, and obviously not for the guy writing, but some people can not come to grips with a godless world, even though it seems like it would be easy enough. But maybe it shouldn't be so easy. A while back I was chewing over the idea that our brains may be evolutionarily hardwired for religion and it still does not seem like that incredible of a notion to me.

The essence of what I'm saying is this: As the brain of Homo, and probably Australopithecus before him, started rather rapidly increasing in size and especially once abstract thought was occurring, you would imagine that the fears of the unknown (most specifically death of loved ones and self), would have been among the primary thoughts being contemplated in detail (unlike any other animal). This could have been emotionally, psychologically and even physically so overwhelming to these creatures that only those who were able to buy in to the tribal myths could survive. If true, then everyone alive today is the descendant of a creature that actively accepted the supernatural.

I'm sure someone must have written extensively on this and I'd love to see what they came up with. I’m asking for a little help here - anyone know of a book that covers research on this concept?

Monday, April 24, 2006

First Monday

What is "First Monday"? Their self-description is " of the first openly accessible,
peer-reviewed journals on the Internet, solely devoted to the Internet." I went there because I was interested in finding out what the most current data reveals about "who" is using the internet. I was curious because of something I said, without checking on, in a recent comment about realizing that I'm an older guy in what is, basically, a younger persons domain. You can find the answer to this and much more here, within the site. About 72% of people 18-29 use the internet (I would have guessed higher) and about 20% of people 65 and older use it (which sounds about right). Of course statistics can be deceiving. For instance, how many people are there between 18 and 29? How many 65 and older? Percentages are one thing, totals are another. But there is a lot of data at First Monday regarding age, sex, marital status, race, area of country, etc. So give this site a browse.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Check Those Gas Prices!

Got this link from Big Ant, back east. Just click on the link and enter your zip code. It will give you a list of gas prices in your area so you can, hopefully, choose the lowest priced one (it even provides a map). I know people are going to keep buying gas and there is no way to make one of these online sponsored "boycotts" work. But if you just make sure you are buying from one of the least expensive stations then you are helping your own pocketbook and it may have some effect on the competition in your area. Who knows? Save some money!

Rumsfeld going "Middleman"?

Here's an interesting one. For anyone who is in disagreement with my criticism of how the war on terror is being fought, along with telling me that I'm naive in that it simply HAS to be fought the way our government has done it up until now, you might want to think again. After all, your Secretary of Defense seems to be doing so.

Details of the plans are secret, but in general they envision a significantly expanded role for the military -- and, in particular, a growing force of elite Special Operations troops -- in continuous operations to combat terrorism outside of war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Developed over about three years by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, the plans reflect a beefing up of the Pentagon's involvement in domains traditionally handled by the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.

It's not EXACTLY what I'm asking for. But it's a move in the correct direction.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bye, Bye Birdie! (or, Don't Fear the Flu)

The national and international media have proven their power. Much of the world's population has been frightened by them into believing there is an imminent health threat to them from birds. It's primarily an international problem right now, but as soon as you start seeing the first headlines screaming "BIRD FLU ARRIVES IN NORTH AMERICA" (sadly, even NPR news, which you would expect better from, is subject to the "ratings wars"), you'll find the same thing here as in other places. People are afraid to buy chicken. They are afraid of ducks in ponds. They are worried about their pets coming into contact with birds. A meat trucker lost his job in Italy because people weren't buying chicken, and he killed himself and his family!

In a world with bird populations in the 10s of billions, and the human population exceeding 6.5 billion, 103 people have died since 2003 from the H5N1 virus and all of them lived their lives with birds all around them (as pets and livestock).

Unfortunately, many people don't read very far beyond the headlines and if that were all you read, you would have good reason to have these fears. I don't blame the medical establishment for this nearly as much as I do the free press, which is all about selling copies and garnering viewers. A scary headline is much more effective than a truthful one. Hell, if I wanted more people coming to my blog, I would be wise to write terrifying articles about the end of the world. (And, in fact, I will have an upcoming story in which I will tell everyone exactly when the apocalypse will be. I do know and I will reveal it. So keep coming back)!

The fact is - IF avian flu were to mutate to a flu that could easily be passed human to human and IF the H5N1 virus were to, in the course of evolving, retain it's current mortality rate, THEN you would have something to be concerned with. None of this has happened, and there is nothing the average person can do to effect, one way or another, it happening. And the fact is, the world is over-due for another flu pandemic. The last one was in 1968 (the Hong Kong Flu), rushed around the world, and was roughly as deadly as our usual seasonal influenza. It just infected a lot more people worldwide. And the next pandemic, whenever it comes, may not be based on birds or H5N1. There could be another flu virus, even as I write, that is out there and mutating into a flu that will infect many people. No one knows.

It's good to be informed. But being informed means reading beyond the headlines, and usually means digging deeply into a story and finding out what multiple sources say about that story. Here is what you need to know about this particular story right now. Read it (but even here, don't just read the headline - take 3 minutes of your time and read the whole story), and then go about your life and concentrate on some REAL health issues in your life - like what you are stuffing into your face today, how much you plan on exercising, your exposure to excessive sunlight, and how much time you waste watching mind-numbing television "news" shows.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Little SoCal Culture Shock

For those of you from points East of Los Angeles, this one will probably take your breath away. The gas station closest to my home in West Los Angeles had the following gas prices posted as of last night (April 19).

Regular - $3.32
Mid - $3.52
Premium - $3.72

Shortly after 9/11 I was paying .89 a gallon for regular.

On the one hand, I always argue that one of the reasons we get so upset about gas prices is that they are "in our faces". Wherever you drive, every corner, has stations with the prices up there starring at you. The reality is, that if you assume an average price of somewhere around .30 a gallon back in pre-energy crisis days of the early '70s, then gas at around $3.00 is not terribly out of line with price increases in just about every area of our lives. However, when I think of the movement in prices in just the past 3 years, it looks a lot different.

The main thing to take from this is our need as a civilization to develop and implement alternative fuels. Not just as a pocket-book issue, but also as an environmental concern.



Well, that's a bit of a stretch in this case. But a company has devised a technology that will freeze your TV on the station you are watching until the commercial has completed.

I'll start worrying when they can freeze me in my seat.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Earliest Known Snake

The fossil of a 90 million year old snake has been found in the Patagonia region of South America. How do they figure it is the oldest known snake fossil? Because it had a sacrum, which helps support a pelvis, which would mean - legs. No living snake or other snake fossil has this.

This find is leading researchers to the conclusion that snakes may have evolved from land lizards, rather than from sea creatures - although I can certainly visualize scenarios that could have led to a sea evolution and a later residence on dry land.


While it is difficult to rationalize why a designer would have created the most ancient snake with a completely unnecessary sacrum, it is exactly what you would expect to find through an evolutionary process.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

From Inside Iran, a Woman Speaks

She was asked in this article, "Aren't you really ashamed of yourself, talking about benefits of dancing and opening a discotheque when our country is under the threat of war?"

and I like her answer.

Also I can really relate to a couple of sentences from the middle of her article where she says, " And now with this 'nuclear business' the whole world seems insecure. We all know it even if we are not aware of it! It is far different from that 'paradise' called womb, whose memory is surely recorded somewhere in our bodies."

I relate to the feelings I had as a 9 year old in 1962, living right here in America.

ANOTHER 9/11 Conspiracy?

This might not be new to all readers, but I hadn't heard this one. Apparently, some folks believe that it wasn't Flight 77 that plowed into the Pentagon on 9/11/01. See their "evidence" of it here.

My questions are - Where is the missing jet from that morning? Where are the folks who were on board? And what would be the purpose of the presumed cover-up?

The web site Truth or Fiction deals with this and provides some answers.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

All Fossils are Missing Links

Last week Nature Magazine had a story announcing the most recent fossil find, this one linking sea dwelling animals with land animals. The fossils are dated to about 375 million years ago and are apparently in remarkable condition. You can read about the discovery here. Also see this story which shows how the evolution of fins to feet could have occured.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Would You Support Nuclear War for "Regime Change"?

I don't comment much on this blog about U.S. policy other than some that concerns science. I'm going to make a small detour into territory that I usually prefer not to tread. The reason is two-fold. As you can tell by reading this blog, I've been spending quite a bit of time recently over at Dean's World. Dean has an excellent blog that really sets you thinking. In this particular case, Dean got me considering some issues concerning U.S. foreign policy where he and I definitely diverge a bit. I'll go into that a bit further down in this post. The second (and primary) reason is that after reading this article that was posted today from the current issue of The New Yorker, I felt compelled to comment. The article was offered to me by one of my most knowledgeable friends on matters political - Big Al. He sent it in an email to me entitled, "Scary". After reading it, I replied to him with:

"On the one hand, I know that if they are using "tough diplomacy" they would choose certain credible publications to drop stories like this in to try to shake up Iran and bring them to their knees. On the other hand, Bush and pals are so trigger happy, out of touch, and reluctant to use negotiations in the past that this seems VERY credible. Especially since Bush has exactly 33 months of presidency to do whatever he wants without having to worry about getting re-elected. And he IS a true believer and thinks he's doing god's work. Yeah. We'll nuke 'em. Never thought I'd say that in an off-hand way but REALLY MEAN IT. As you say, "Scary".

Dean and I kind of parted ways during the following discussion from his post entitled, "Shocking The Pessimists". The article should be read, but was basically a well-worded defense of our "successes" in Iraq that aren't very well recorded by the press corps and certainly not reflective of how a lot of people feel about the war in Iraq. In the comments, I said:

"I don't disagree that we won the war, and are winning in our ultimate goals for Iraq. I just don't agree that it is how we should be fighting against terrorism. Due to the disagreement with our friends, allies, semi-allies and people who don't like us all that much, but might otherwise have leant a hand, I think we are pretty much on our own in the battle against terrorism. If we focus on killing terrorists and not trying to set whole countries (and regions) on to the democratic path, we would have better chance in accomplishing what really needs to be done."

Dean questioned me:

"We have an awful lot of friends who are helping us, John, but I have to ask: which friends aren't helping that you would expect WOULD help if we'd left Saddam in power? And do you really think we'd be safer if he were still there? Do you really think our prestige would be higher if he were?"

To which I replied:

"1. It's more of a gut feeling than specific countries. I know I'm on shaky ground here. I think a lot of our friends disagree with what we are continuing to do and it would effect their willingness to help in future conflicts.

2. No. I don't think we would be safer. This is one of the problems of summing up my point in a few sentences. OK, I was ALL FOR TAKING OUT SADDAM. My problem is in fighting a war in which you attempt to take control of another country and install democratic values. Remember the first night of the war when Saddam got a tomahawk missile down his throat? That's the kind of war on terrorism I want. And I'm not just talking about lobbing missiles. I'm talking about a covert war (for the most part) with specific terrorist targets, utilizing among other things, technology, intelligence, Special Forces. And Saddam was a legitimate target of that - to my way of thinking.

3. Depends on how you define prestige. More people admire us, perhaps. More people hate us or, at least, have a higher neg opinion. We are feared somewhat more by "the bad guys", but I also think they believe (correctly) that Bush is somewhat of a different character than whoever will be in charge next time. My bottom line is that I don't believe the war on Islamic terrorism is like any other traditional war we have ever fought in our country's history. Baseball calls for a bat. Tennis calls for a racquet."

In a personal aside to Dean, I added:

"If you are concerned about my feelings towards helping other countries become democratic, I'll only say that had there been no terrorist attack on the US then we WOULDN'T be fighting in Iraq to help them become democratic. Further, you would NEVER get an American consensus for fighting a war if it was presented to the public as a war to help others become democratic. I would certainly be one of those very deeply opposed. The war is against terrorists, specifically Islamic terrorists. They don't come from any one country. No one country is run on the principle of terrorism nor do the majority of any country's people support terrorism. So why make it "about countries"? You are rightly suspicious of "who stands to gain financially from the war on HIV". Don't you have a little of your suspicious nature left for 'who stands to gain financially from a war in Iraq'? "

After reading the recent article in the New Yorker, I saw a new post over at Dean's that was glorifying the day that Saddam's statue was torn down in the streets of Baghdad. Is it just me, or was this the only moment of the war that just about everyone feels good about? Anyway, having read the New Yorker article, I couldn't resist this comment:

"How long until we're tearing down statues of the Ayatollah Khomeini, in Tehran? Take a look at this rather scary and not so shocking article from the New Yorker.

"This kind of ties back with the discussion we were having earlier on your post "Shocking the Pessimists". This part of the article refers to our relationships with our allies -

"The Europeans are rattled, however, by their growing perception that President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney believe a bombing campaign will be needed, and that their real goal is regime change. “Everyone is on the same page about the Iranian bomb, but the United States wants regime change,” a European diplomatic adviser told me. He added, “The Europeans have a role to play as long as they don’t have to choose between going along with the Russians and the Chinese or going along with Washington on something they don’t want. Their policy is to keep the Americans engaged in something the Europeans can live with. It may be untenable.”

“The Brits think this is a very bad idea,” Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staff member who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, told me, “but they’re really worried we’re going to do it.” The European diplomatic adviser acknowledged that the British Foreign Office was aware of war planning in Washington but that, “short of a smoking gun, it’s going to be very difficult to line up the Europeans on Iran.” He said that the British “are jumpy about the Americans going full bore on the Iranians, with no compromise.” And... Any American bombing attack, [former Bush Ass't Sec. of State]Richard Armitage told me, would have to consider the following questions: “What will happen in the other Islamic countries? What ability does Iran have to reach us and touch us globally—that is, terrorism? Will Syria and Lebanon up the pressure on Israel? What does the attack do to our already diminished international standing? [my emphasis] And what does this mean for Russia, China, and the U.N. Security Council?”

"And I ask... Is this really Bush's idea of a "war on terror"? As you read the article, keep thinking about these words - 'Regime change'."

How about YOU? If the Bush administration had come to you and said, "we really don't know if Iraq possesses WMD's, in fact the best intelligence shows they probably don't, but we want to invade the country, depose Saddam and install democratic reforms. This is how we will fight the war on terrorism". That would have at least been a fairly honest appraisal of our position leading to the invasion. Would you have still supported the war? What if they come to you now and say, "We know Iran is working on nuclear power. We don't have absolute evidence of weapons development, they haven't been actively engaged in known terrorist activities that we are fighting against but they (the Revolutionary Guards) do have some past and present links to terror and we want to unseat them, install democratic reform in our fight against terrorism. And by the way, it may require tactical nuclear weapons" Would you support that war? And this assumes the "fairly honest appraisal" without bringing up the possible underlying issues of our government's desire to secure Middle East oil fields.

Yes, Al... Scary.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Someone Call Bill Gates for Me

Over at Dean's World there is an interesting post by Scott Kerwin entitled "Laziness: The Unappreciated Virtue." It concerns, in part, hand held electronic devices and their ability to make our lives easier (or not). In the comments section, I left the following:

I want a single portable device that can be my "everything" - a phone, two-way radio, computer, camera, TV, UMD player, universal remote, credit card, car key, garage door opener, emergency alarm and self-defense taser-like weapon. I'm thinking something on the lines of the "Dick Tracy Walkie Talkie Watch" only it would, by necessity be somewhat larger - maybe 4"X6", extremely FLAT and flexible, that could be strapped comfortably to my left forearm, but easily removed so that I could work it with both hands in front of me if I desire. When's THAT coming out? I'd gladly pay $400 a month and junk a bunch of other expenses.

Has anyone heard of anything along these lines being developed? If not, just remember you heard it here first because I want my intellectual royalties cut. It will eventually come and it won't be too soon for me.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

TIME OUT!!! (for the NCAA National Championship)

I try to keep sports off this blog - for the most part. But with my UCLA Bruins one win away from their 12th National Championship I just want to ask a quick question:

Regardless of what happens against the University of Florida Gators tomorrow night in Indianapolis, the very young Bruins team, who will certainly be back strong again next year, are the premier defensive team in college hoops. How much does it annoy those of you who enjoy basketball, and are from back east or other parts of the country, that the toughest, hard-hat, blue-collar, down 'n dirty, defensive team in the nation is from Southern California? Huh? How bad does THAT ONE stick in your craw?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Evolution of Christ

It's been nearly 150 years since Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species and the debate rages on between those convinced of the fact of evolution (not necessarily the Darwinian vision of it, per se, but 'evolution' in the grand sense of a scientific principle that all present biology is founded upon) and those still convinced that a literal reading of the bible gives them all the answers they need about human origins. You could make a fine argument that because the debate has stormed on, unchecked for all these years, that it will continue ad infinitum - that there will never be a time when all parties are convinced about the truth of our evolutionary past. It will be argued here that this is far from true and that the only way for any church to maintain credibility (and parishioners) will be to come to some sort of accommodation of the biological fact of evolution.

Two great past examples of science in conflict with theological teachings are instructive. They are the "flat earth" assumption and the "geocentric" (earth as center of universe) belief. It's hard today for any church-going, bible believing person to grasp the fact, but hundreds of years ago these principles were strictly taught by the Christian church and all followers believed it as the god-given truth. People who speculated otherwise were ostracized by society and even, in some cases, condemned to death for such theorizing. Of course, we have advanced enough as a society (at least in the West) that we don't kill people any more for teaching things that are contrary to biblical canon. But people are still free to believe the biblical version over scientific evidence, and they do. They "condemn", in modern ways, those who would dare to teach version of life other than those that are literally taken from biblical texts.

150 years is nothing in the grand scheme. And if you look just at the biological, paleontological and genetic evidences that have been uncovered in the past 2 decades, it is clear that there will be a continued, exponential rate of scientific evidence ensuing from the next 50 years. The tools available now, and in the near future, permit the guarantee of this with great conviction. The reason that the holders of orthodoxy-past finally accepted the scientific revelations is clear. They could do nothing else. They fought as long and hard as they could and when the overwhelming truth was too much to deny they embraced it, as if they had been the ones to propose it!

They did so because to do otherwise would have been spiritual suicide. They would have seen a constant and increasing attrition of followers, so they simply did what they had to do to survive as institutions. The suggestion here is that it's time for them to begin again. Science will never disprove god. What the fact of evolution brings into question is not god, but a literal reading of any biblical text that holds such truths as the story of Adam and Eve or of Noah's Ark. The sooner that churches portray these stories as parables to teach early man how to live life in harmony with nature and fellow man, and not as literal truth, the sooner they can get back to the business they know best - tending to the spiritual needs of their flocks.

This brings up an interesting point - how to view those presently in the Creationist or I.D. (Intelligent Design) camps. They are not, as popularly portrayed, the enemies of science. They are fellow humans, frightened by a changing world and hopeful of a better life, here on earth, but also after death. They perceive the evolutionary sciences as a threat to that. Those in the lower ranks will find their comfort with this side of science as soon as their elders teach them how to come to terms with it. So it's the "elders" that really need to be talked about here. And when those elders are themselves highly educated, possibly even with scientific degrees, the fight will continue. It's easy to become frustrated with their intransigence. But rather than see the negative in it, I will suggest that we embrace them. The questions and "problems in theory" that they bring to the table are simply things that need further study and clarification. They are gadflies that have the ability to make the science stronger. And I believe that this is what often happens in practical terms. Every problem they push forward is a problem that either has not been solved, or perhaps has been solved, but there is still an inability to clearly demonstrate the evidence of it. It is the job of science to take this challenge up, and do so.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Darwin and Creationists

Over at The Loom this morning I caught this interesting blog by Carl Zimmer about a new movie called "Flock Of Dodos". After reading his review of the movie, you can check out my own response to it at The Loom, or just keep reading this!

(From my Comment at The Loom):

The review gave me a bit of an epiphany on why, 150 years later, Creationists still insist on using the names, "Darwin", "Darwinism", "Darwinist" in their arguments. I used to just kind of shrug, belwildered, that they would continue to talk about him, as if 150 years of continuing science and discoveries are somehow less important for them to try to counter. I suppose I just assumed that maybe they found it easier to critize the errors in Darwin, and act like it was modern evolutionary theory, than to talk about EVERYTHING SINCE. Now, I'm not so sure.

Charles Darwin was a scientist, but not as we know science in 2006. He was more of a gentlemen naturalist who, when it came time to publish his findings, did so for a wide audience, not just for fellow scientists. And stylistically, he was gentle, thoughtful, sensitive (to those he KNEW would be upset by his theory) and PERSUASIVE.

Even though certain aspects of his theory have been since shown to be incorrect, other points improved upon, etc. the FACTS of the basic underlying principles are both undeniable to this day, AND presented in a way that any thoughtful NON-scientist can appreciate and understand. He is STILL the worst nightmare of modern-day Creationist/I.D. PR departments. Even though the science of evolution is only stronger than it was (by far) than back in 1859, the personality of Darwin, combined with the basic theory (decent through modification by Natural Selection) is to this day a much more difficult PR problem (winning the "hearts and minds") than modern evolutionary theory presented by condescending or elitist educators and scientists.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

In just 3 years from today we will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the true giants of Science. It will also mark the 150th anniversary of the monumental work, The Origin of Species. Carry on, Darwin! For much more on the celebration go here.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Human/Chimp Family?

In recent years, fascinating studies have proven that humans and chimps share about 98% of their genes, which is the closest to us of any animal (including other apes). Now, recent work seems to indicate that chimps are closer to man than they are to any other animal (again, even closer than they are to the other Great Apes). This rekindles the debate others had already begun - that man and chimp should be part of a single genus. If chimps are closer to man than to gorillas, why would they be classified with them instead of us? If you thought the cultural wars of evolution and creation were hot before, this is just a little gasoline on the old fire.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Miracle Planet

The Discovery Channel has a six part series that is well worth your time. It's called The Miracle Planet and shown on Discovery HD Theatre. You can find out more about the series here. If you have "On Demand", just go to the Discovery Channel and pick episode one and begin the fun. If not, check Discovery Channel listings for the next showing.

It starts with theories of the Earth's formation and quickly moves in to ancient life. It shows how life may have evolved and how our planet changed in terms of weather and land masses. It's quite riveting.