Thursday, August 30, 2007

The "Surge" That Is Working

It's the Propaganda Surge!

For months we've been hearing that even if we are against the war we have to admit that the Surge has been working. Cenk Uygar of The Young Turks completely tears this to shreds.

Honestly, I wonder if it were not for the Internet and a handful of radio stations, if we would get a bit of truth delivered to us about anything.

Propaganda - It's not just Faux News.

The Youngs Turks can be heard on Air America radio, weekdays from 6 AM to 9 AM, Eastern Time. Pod Cast and replays at

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Plate Tectonics - 4.6 Billion Years in 5 Minutes

Some of the things we know, and don't know, about plate tectonics.

Even if you believe god created it, it certainly has changed a lot since then. In fact, it's changed many times and continues to do so.

When viewing the split up of the super-continent of Pangaea into the world that we would currently recognize on a map, take note of India. you will see it racing up the Indian Ocean from Southern Africa to slam into the Asian continent. This is what created the Himalayas (one of those things I mentioned that we DO know).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'd Like to Have Faith, But... I Have THOUGHTS!

OK, time to mix it up again with a little comic relief from Lewis Black.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Science Closes In On Near-Death "Out of Body" Experiences

The nature of consciousness has often been touted as one of the primary "untouchable" cornerstones of the theological argument for a supreme being. Since science has yet to even come very close to explaining it, they declare, it is unexplainable and must have been brought about by the work of a "creator". How little they have learned from the history of science and religion. Do they realize how many times some aspect of the unknown has been used as "proof" only to have science explain it?

From the other side of the argument, we must realize that even a full explanation of sentience will not close the door on religion - just as proof that the earth is not flat, that it is not the center of the universe, that it has changed greatly over time through plate tectonics, that life has evolved via the process of natural selection, that humans share a common ancestry with every other life-form on earth as proven through DNA, has not ended faith in the supernatural.

Nevertheless, with each new piece of the puzzle, more and more people have moved to a naturalistic view of the universe. A comprehensive explanation of consciousness would be a huge such piece of knowledge to add. And while we are still a very long way from having a theory any where near as robust as the theory of evolution, progress is being made and great leaps are likely in the coming decades.

Many have heard about this recent study, in which scientists were able to recreate an out of body experience (known by aficionados as "OBE") for subjects in a study performed at University College London, UK, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and described in a recent issue of the journal "Science". They believe they have clearly demonstrated that the OBE has a neurological explanation. They did it with an interesting use of virtual reality goggles, tricking the brains of subjects into thinking their bodies were somewhere different from where their minds were at. You can see a short video clip of the experiments here.

This is simply the latest assault on a previously "unknown" aspect of consciousness. An experiment from 2002 is described here. And, in 2005, another study in which, "we aim to take the theory a stage further, by looking at the way people see and experience their bodies, and how - through perfectly ordinary psychological processes - these images and experiences may create the impression of seeing their bodies from the outside."

Philosopher Paul Churchland says that all of this work on consciousness is not "reductionist", although he is somewhat sympathetic to those who feel threatened by it. In fact, he assures, the opposite is true and his reasoning on it is quite impressive. His wife (and partner in philosophy) Pat Churchland says that "The problem of consciousness is not going to be explained by any one experiment". You can find a highly enlightening video interview on this with the husband and wife philosopher team from the University of California, San Diego on this page, about half way down on the right.

All of this work on explaining OBE's is one of many areas of the study of consciousness in which science slowly but inexorably closes in on an understanding of the natural evolution of the unique sentience of Homo sapiens. The great news is that based on these successes, we can expect so much more in the next 20 to 30 years.

The Doubts of Mother Teresa

Naturally, we are hearing all of the usual rebuttals to the recent news that Mother Teresa apparently lost her faith many years ago. The theist conclusions go along these lines:

"There's nothing unusual about this. All people of god struggle with their faith at times in their lives. It's part of the process. It makes you stronger in your relationship with god. Look at all the wonderful things she tried to do even though she was having these personal struggles - it's due to god!"

I can accept that nearly all people of faith struggle with it at times. The "personal god" hypothesis is so absurd, how could you not ever doubt it? Most of us were not raised as atheists. Some were, but the majority of present day atheists were brought up in some sort of religious tradition. Therefore, at some point we had "doubts". Instead of quashing those feelings, we examined them and concluded that our faith was erroneous.

Most believers continue on despite their doubts. I would guess that many of them actually find a way to rationalize the doubts out of existence, as easily as they initially rationalized god into existence. Apparently, though, Mother Teresa was not one of those! To say that it somehow ultimately made her faith stronger and her relationship with god a closer one, is highly disingenuous in this case. Had her letters revealed that she ultimately came back to her original position, then I would be mistaken in this assertion. However, it looks like she didn't. It looks like she lost her faith many years ago and never recovered it - right up to her death.

I read an excellent article this morning at the American Chronicle. In it, author Dale Netherton says:

"More than the physical misery she experienced and the suffering she alleviated Mother Teresa must be commended for exposing what all honest humans experience when dutifully sacrificing their inquiry for the dogma thrust upon them. Her doubt cannot be dismissed as being sustained by faith. Unquestioning belief is faith and Mother Teresa had many questions. This was the humanity that she should be honored for, not the handouts and charity. Any foundation could help the needy but how many could challenge the doctrine they accepted and eventually honestly question it? Very few.

"Of course Mother Teresa could have openly stated her doubt but like so many she was willing to live under the canopy of dogma that daily challenged her to sacrifice more and more. For not questioning she received the suffering that could have been quelled. Perhaps it was solace to know she was practicing what she truly thought would bring her the peace of mind she sought. She was fooling herself and she knew it and this is why she expressed her honest doubts. The price she paid was the life she sacrificed. It was not happiness she gained. A stature of saint awarded by the living is hardly rewarding to the dead. It is fodder for future flocks to live a life of pretense."

High recommendation for the entire article. This should particularly be read if you disagree with my view on faith.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Impressed By Akai MPD24

I have to admit, it's really a skill. I've always shrugged off electronically created music as being a lazy way of achieving, when others have dedicated years to the piano, flute, violin, etc. But seeing this video certainly gives me a new look at this type of music. It still doesn't match up to attending an orchestral concert, but it deserves some respect.

The performer had this to say about the work:

"Recently, I noticed there were hardly any videos on youtube showing the new AKAI MPD24 so I took a few hours to make this one. It isn't perfect and I know that the pad scratching is kind of cheesy but it was a new i recently learned so I ended up using it in this little video."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bush Articulates His Strategy

I've had many doubts about the current administration. I was glad to see Bush say this, because it really goes a long way toward clearing up those doubts. I think you'll agree.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Genocide and Atheism

I decided to post this after a little inspiration from “the other John”. You might know him better as The Spanish Inquisitor. If you have never checked out his blog, this would be a good time to do so. You could start by reading his post:

Atheism is responsible for the deaths of 100 million people in the 20th Century.
Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot killed millions of people in the name of atheism.
Atheism is the cause of the most repressive, murderous regimes in history.

Don’t prejudge it based on the title – As a free thinker, John would never take such a ludicrous position. He’s deconstructing it in a very effective style and I would not be surprised to see it end up on one of the secularist carnivals in the next few months.

One of his excellent points was,

“Atheism is not a movement. No government or country effectuates policy in the name of atheism. Atheism is not even a a proper “ism”. It has no guidelines, rules, tenets, or practices. It has no rituals, dogma, holy books or scripture. It cannot replace religion, because it is merely the vacuum created when religion disappears from one’s personal beliefs”

This is important when blaming anything negative on the atheism of the individual involved. Since atheism is not a belief, there can be nothing to kill “for”. Even if claiming that the person was doing so in order to enforce a godless society, then you run into this part of The Spanish Inquisitor’s rebuttal:

“Atheism in Stalin’s Russia, then, was a mere tool used by Stalin, for the greater good of the state, imposed on the structure of society. It’s effect was to strip away the power of the church to oppose his power. It was not a mere lack of belief in gods. Stalin could care less about the individual beliefs of the peasant, his focus was on destroying organized religion”.

Indeed, this is the case with all of the so-called atheist dictators responsible for genocide. I challenge anyone to go through their writings, or the writings of their biographers, and find any references to genocide on the grounds of a belief in god.

I agree with John on all of the points he scores so effectively, and yet I do think he missed a couple of things. So I’m going to look at two things in particular. The first is an extension of arguments against atheism that John has dealt with and how he (and I) might respond. The second thing I'll write about is my own method of dealing with this line of debate.

There are some reasonably good theistic thinkers who would quickly admit The Spanish Inquisitor’s points, and that arguing would be nothing more than logical fallacies. However, they would still reason that while the killings perpetrated by these leaders were not done specifically in the furtherance of atheism, it is still because of their atheism that their moral depravity reached the depths witnessed by the entire world. But this still leads to logical fallacy. The world has never experienced a government conceived entirely on the notions of Hume, Spinoza, Paine, Jefferson, Einstein and other free thinkers. I would love to see the grand experiment and would bet dimes to dollars that it would not end up in a genocidal regime. But such an experiment has never been done, so it’s impossible for the theist to argue that the result would be a negative one. Further, we have for millennia had societies run on one theistic notion or another. We know how poorly that has turned out. Again and again, throughout history, it’s been one warrior nation after another conquering and, in turn, conquered.

Now I come to my response to those who want to equate atheism with these horribly repressive regimes. The problem with everything that Spanish Inquisitor said, everything I agreed with him on, and everything I added is that we are, as usual, using the tools of reason and common sense in defense of our position. People who like to play games with logical fallacies to score points will simply keep ducking and slipping and, indeed, it gets to be, as John put it, a bit of “a schoolyard spat: 'Your mom’s ugly! Oh yea, well, your mom’s uglier!'”

There is a way to short-circuit all of the logical fallacies. It’s an argument I almost hate to use because it is based in cynicism. But there is no denying my cynical side. And so whenever this debate arises I nearly always go straight to what I call the argument of irrelevancy.

Let’s, for sake of demonstration, concede that the Stalinists, Maoist and, again quoting John, “the Polpotists” were not only atheists, but what they did was either for the promotion of atheism or because their minds were irreparably warped by atheism.

The supporter of "faith" has proved nothing by this!

Either it’s true that there is god, or it is not. We know there are bad atheists. We know there are good ones. We know there are good theists and bad ones. "God exists" is a true statement or a false one. Regardless of what some people do with their atheism, if there is indeed no god then so be it. There is no point in deluding ones self simply because some people are evil. It’s better to deal with the evil of man through the sweet fruits of knowledge than by the rotten fruit of superstition.

As a final note on the Existence/Non-existence dilemma: the average theist is in an even more precarious situation on this matter than the atheist. While it has to be one of the two ("god" or "no god"), this does not mean it's an even odds proposition. Billions of people have claimed "knowledge" of god and yet none have mustered an iota of scientific evidence that such an entity exists, while science provides some very realistic theories of life requiring no god. While an atheist can never claim to "know" that there is no god, we can and do claim that the odds are overwhelmingly in our favor, in the same way that we can't know that leprechauns don't exist, but the odds are in our favor. And even if god exists then also only one religion or possibly no religion accurately represents and honors god. So not only would all atheists be on the wrong side of the argument, so would every living and dead practitioner of every faith that has ever existed be on the losing end – save one. So for any one practitioner of a given faith - overwhelming odds that they are wrong and there is no god and then, if there is a god, overwhelming odds that they are not worshipping correctly.


UPDATE 8/27 - For further thoughts on the subject go to PhillyChief's blog, You Made Me Say It, and see "Valutation of an Idea".

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Monkey Business Revisted

This is a video I ran into on another blog some months ago. I wish I could remember who posted it, so I could credit them. I absolutely love this. I didn't post it at the time because it was already "out there", but in case you missed it here's your big opportunity. Don't blow it. This is great!

Secularists Contact CNN

I read an interesting post over at this morning. CNN is doing a report on faith and is requesting feedback from viewers. Here is the format:

How strong is your faith? Are you one of the millions of people who live by faith? Do you believe religion is under attack in modern society? Have the lines blurred too much or not enough between religion and politics? Share your thoughts about faith and the state of religion in the world. Plus, send us your photos and video to show others how you worship. Use the form below to send files from your computer, or e-mail from your cell phone. (Need help? Check the Toolkit.)

Click here for the CNN form.

I'm suggesting two things. First, go fill out the form. Second, blog about it.

Here was my brief comment to them:

FAITH - I have none. I think it's one of the most badly over-rated "virtues" of them all. It basically implies that you are willing to believe, based on no (or extremely shaky) evidence, in some unseen, intangible power - and, worse, that the holder of such faith KNOWS exactly what that power is, what it expects, how it judges and what laws we should live our natural lives under.

I think there are a lot of problems in our world, but the fact that religion is "under attack" from secularism is most definitely not one of them. It's like saying global warming is "under attack" from those who modify their life styles in a way that lowers their carbon footprint, that the war in Iraq is "under attack" by those who would like to see the United States withdraw troops from that region of the world or Intelligent Design is "under attack" by the forces that insist that the proponents of it provide actual scientific evidence to back up their position.

I'm not suggesting anyone keep it as short and sweet as I did (I'm busy today). If you have the time and inclination - Go for it! Someone please send a video of yourself reading "Origin of Species"!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Don't Be Fooled By FOX

This is a chilling comparison of the Fox News complacency in getting us involved in Iraq, with what they are now doing concerning Iran.

Don't get fooled again. There's plenty of blame to go to our government and to the media. But ultimately we can only be responsible for our own actions and inaction.

Every indication shows that the Bush administration wants to go to war with Iran prior to the end of Bush's term in office. A few days ago they took the unprecedented action of declaring a large segment of Iran's military to be a "terrorist organization". No one can fail to grasp the meaning of this. Combined with the assault on reason carried out at Fox News, they are softening America's resolve against further war in the Middle East.

Anyone who sees the world like I do can get a clear view of this from the Fox commentator near the end of the video. He claims that Fox is on the side of the American people while the "SECULAR LEFT" is dumbing them down. Oh... REALLY? I'd be happy to field any comments from those who suggest that this blog attempts to "dumb down" people who come here. Be aware of the facts this time BEFORE it happens.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Science In Silico

Computer simulations and visualizations are performing the thought experiments of the 21st century and pushing the limits of human vision and imagination.

This is a very cool look at the third way of doing scinece, beyond induction and deduction. Video from Seed Magazine, it's a thing of beauty. I'd love to see a feature length presentation on IMAX.

City Farmer

Beefmaster Tomatoes - about 5 pounds all from one plant

One of my hobbies, especially in the summer months, is vegetable gardening. Although we don't have a great deal of open yard space, I think I have made the most of what I have and pretty proud of this years results thus far. I might even try to do some winter crops this year. Southern California is one of those places that you can do a certain amount. The area I live in (a few miles from the Pacific Ocean) never gets to freezing, and seldom gets below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 degrees Celsius, during daylight hours.

Besides our trees - fig, avocado, apricot, orange, lemon and loquat - I have a decent little veggie patch. This year I have bell peppers, corn, green onions, broccoli, okra, peas and 6 varieties of tomatoes (15 total tomato plants). I really like tomatoes, as you can see by how many I have planted. We eat them with every meal. This morning I made fried eggs with thick slices of "Better Boy" tomatoes and toast. We make salsa and also tomato juice. If you have only eaten tomatoes purchased from a market, I pity you! Seriously, there is no store-bought tomato that compares to one picked ripe from your garden, washed off and eaten. Once you have tried it, you know and will never look at market tomatoes quite the same.

I've been bringing in 3-7 pounds of tomatoes daily. The ones above were half of what I harvested today and all come off a single tomato plant of the variety "Beef Master". The site I linked says that they can get as large as 2 lbs! I haven't had any that big, but the one on the back right with a smaller tomato sitting atop of it weighed close to a pound. All of them are about twice the size of most regular store tomatoes. But, once again, it's not the size that counts!

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Question of "Arrogance"

In my previous post there was a reference to what I HOPE is a mistaken impression of me as being arrogant.

I also referred to the fact that videos I post are ones that I hope are accurate reflections of my own point of view.

This covers both topics!

Anniversaries, Birthdays and Blogging

24 years ago today my wife and I were married up in the Hollywood/Griffith Park area of Los Angeles. It was my 30th birthday. I thought it was a clever way never to get stuck (like so many a married man before me) coming home to an angry wife one day, having completely forgotten the old anniversary! Now, if you actually care about your birthday, this is just a stupid idea because you never really have your special individual day anymore. Think about it and you'll completely understand. Fortunately, I haven't really cared about my birthday, probably since I turned 21. At first they were a mild annoyance. Then they became a tiring reminder of my aging process. Finally, I just don't care anymore. Obviously I'm not writing this because I'm looking for a "Happy Birthday, John"!

"Happy Anniversary" is probably more in order. My wife is a wonderful human being and really much too good for me. I married "up"... way up! So, on the surface it's no particular achievement that I remained married for 24 years. But understand a few things - I'm not "built" for relationships. I'm a loner and a hermit. My wife is a Christian, so you can imagine the potentiality for conflict in this rather major area of philosophical difference. So on these counts it is mildly impressive that I have been able to keep it together with her for 24 years and raise a couple of great kids.

I also thought I'd take today to give a little insight or two into my blog. I think I'm a decent writer, but know that I'm nothing special. I have some things I'd like to share and that's what I do. The reason for the frequent video posts is that the one thing my writing absolutely is not - is prolific! I could go a week to 10 days at times without feeling a compulsion to write about anything. I could even go longer at times. If you scan back through the past two years of this blogs existence, you'll see exactly what I mean. That's no way to maintain a blog. If you are going to do it you have to continually provide new material for people, or you really can't expect them to stop by.

So several months ago I decided to go this direction. I post videos that speak to something that is inside of me. I might have found it funny, educational or interesting in some other way - but if you see a video on my blog it speaks to my way of seeing the world. And you can be sure that I don't just toss something up there as "filler". I spend hours viewing videos and see a lot of trash - hey, it's my job and I do it! I also come across material that's "OK", but never makes it to the blog. If I post it, I really like it for some reason and hope visitors will also.

I realize that I have a very bad habit of sounding arrogant. I honestly do not feel arrogant. I have no reason to be. I don't think I have all the answers or that I ever will. In private, I constantly doubt myself and second and third guess myself. I'm open to being proven wrong and I always hope I can admit it when it's the case that I am. That said, I do feel I have one fairly uncommon trait that is worthy - I always try to live my life and view the world through a lens of reason. I think it's the only way to go and I try to encourage people I come in contact with to do likewise. I think it would be a better world if more people did this. That's primarily the focus of Evolutionary Middleman.

If you took the time to read my words today or have done so in the past - thank you.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dennett Explains Dangerous Memes

From a TED Talk given in 2002 but just recently made available on the net.

Dennett first explains how organisms can be "hijacked" by parasites with the parasite using the organism to further its own genetic goals. Then he applies the principle to memes in humans.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

Intriguing Evolution

Here's the evolutionary story of a cheating wife, who lives a longer life and induces males who are not the fathers of her children to help raise them. All of it allows her to pass on more of her genes.

Intrigued? Read it here.

Dick Cheney - Irony

Many have probably seen this, but it's worth watching and thinking about again.

10 years prior to our invasion of Iraq Cheney gives a clear and concise rebuttal to the notion that us invading Iraq and taking out Sadaam was a good idea.

I can imagine how he spins this now - that in 2004 "things were different than during the Desert Storm days.

No they weren't! We were told the invasion was about WMD. He had none and was developing none and the administration KNEW IT. We were told he was allied with Osama Bin Laden in the attack on 9/11. No he wasn't, and the administration KNEW IT.

Ironically, this short video provides, from the mouth of Cheney, the best argument against the current war in Iraq that one could muster in a minute and half!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

God of the Gaps?

The battle - from "Creationism" vs. evolution through "Intelligent Design" vs. evolution as explained by comedian Robin Ince and company.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Is This "The Endarkment"?

We had the "Enlightenment". It's because of the Enlightment that we live in a world filled with medicines, medical technology, advanced transportation systems, fresh water and sewage systems, computers and communications, and on and on.

But something is "in the air". Is what we have witnessed in the past few decades a return to something akin to what existed prior to the Enlightenment?

Here's some thoughts from David Colquhoun, writing for Guardian Unlimited:

"The past 30 years or so have been an age of endarkenment. It has been a period in which truth ceased to matter very much, and dogma and irrationality became once more respectable. This matters when people delude themselves into believing that we could be endangered at 45 minutes' notice by non-existent weapons of mass destruction"


"A minor aspect of the endarkenment has been a resurgence in magical and superstitious ideas about medicine. The existence of homeopaths on the high street won't usually do too much harm. Their sugar pills contain nothing and they won't poison your body. The greater danger is that they poison your mind."

Worse, as he sees it

"The University of Central Lancashire's justification for its BSc in homeopathic medicine consists of 49 pages of what the late, great Ted Wragg might have called "world-class meaningless bollocks". All the buzzwords are there: "multi-disciplinary delivery", "formative and summative assessment", log books and schedules. But there is not a single word about the fact that the course is devoted to a totally discredited early 19th century view of medicine, not a word about truth and falsehood. Has it become politically incorrect to question things like this?"

And finally

"if all we had to worry about was a few potty homeopaths and astrologers, it might be better to shrug, and get on with some real science. But now the endarkenment extends to parliament, universities and schools, it is far too dangerous to ignore.

As they might say in a different venue - PREACH IT BROTHER!

You can read the entire spot-on article.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Intelligent Designer Speaks

There were aspects of The Creation I really didn't understand until I saw this. But the great Designer gives the inside scoop in this rare interview!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Why Are There No Giant Insects?

Is it because my friend Bob The Bug Guy has ruthlessly sent them to extinction? Is it because god didn't want them large?

Noooo, it's because bug breathing is done with a whole different system than with vertebrates. In an ancient atmosphere, with a much higher oxygen content than we have now, it was possible and there were such creatures (though not quite like in the picture)!

Robin Lloyd, LiveScience Senior Editor, has the full story.

Gore Vidal

If you have never heard American treasure Gore Vidal speak, here's your chance. If you have, I probably don't have to convince you to click on it.

He has come back to his native country and has a lot to say about the problems we face.

Some interesting points - we are in the "worst phase of our history" and "this is a dictatorship", Gore would like to see "cousin Al" run for president (I agree), concerning his writing he uses it to "contain anger", And the one book of his that he wishes everyone would read is "Creation".

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Evaporating Privacy - Stand Up

Rights to privacy have been under assault for a number of years. It's the dark side of the great high-tech devices we have all come to depend on and appreciate. Just because we have the technological ability to do certain things doesn't mean we should. Like so many other things that have been going on in the past decade, we just let the potentially bad stuff keep happening without raising holy hell. Soon, personal privacy could be gone and we'll all wonder what happened.

When the Bush administration was found to have unconstitutionally tracked the phone calls of millions of Americans in the name of national security, it was basically greeted by a collective yawn. (Not from everyone. I blogged about it at the time here). Most peoples reaction was along the lines of, "I know I'm not a terrorist so I don't care. If it helps stop a terrorist strike, go ahead". Wrong response.

First, it doesn't matter whether you are innocent of terrorism or even any other offense. If you don't protect your rights, you lose them. For instance, because you don't commit crimes doesn't mean you agree to give up your right to habeas corpus... oh... my bad. You did! Secondly, and more insidiously, once you have allowed a government to begin a program like this without any legal safeguards, it is disingenuous to expect that it will only be used for what it is ostensibly meant for. Opponents of the government will, and should, expect to be targeted for surveillance - in any aspect of their private lives. Even average Americans could fall victim to someone in a position to spy on them, assuming that person holds a real or imagined grudge.

This chilling story comes from China. But based on the direction we have been headed for some time, it's reasonable to assume that similar things are on tap for us right here in Western democratic societies. Ask yourself - is this something you would want the present administration implementing on the streets of America? I'm guessing that most clear thinking folks living under any government, in any country, would not want it. Speak up or it will happen. It's coming.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Good Science - California Edition

This morning's Los Angeles Times had a good story about molecular science. Here's the link to the full article but be aware that the L.A. Times is one of those annoying sites that requires a (free) registration. The story is:

"Science begins at home"
"Unwilling to let his wife down as she suffered through chemotherapy, a Caltech chemist shifts his molecular focus to find an easier treatment."

For those who can't or won't go to the link, Mark Davis was a professor of chemical engineering at Caltech when his wife was afflicted with breast cancer a number of years ago. During her horribly painful experience with the chemotherapy treatment she once cried out, isn't there anyone at Caltech capable of designing a less ravaging drug?

This changed his life, as he moved into a different field and started dealing with molecular biology. He was a "problem solver" by nature and had won some acclaim in chemical engineering. He started reading every piece of scientific literature on the subject he could lay his hands on. He was constantly seeing things that he thought might work, only to find out that in many cases they had been ruled out decades earlier.

He finally came up with an ingenious idea for linking the cancer-killing chemical to an agent that was too large to invade the cells of normally functioning organs - but small enough to get in to the cancer. He got a working prototype of the new drug, IT-101, and last summer began testing. The first 5 patients (all terminals) have had mixed results. None had the horrible side effects of the old treatment but two of them also received no benefit. However, the other three had the cancer stabilized and it did not progress.

Mark has now established a biology lab at Caltech and is working on other drugs as well. The tests on IT-101 continue. He was elected to the National Academy of Science last year. His wife, Mary, has been in remission for about a decade, but still worries about it recurring or that their daughter might someday be a cancer patient. The Times story was well worth reading in entirety.

For another "Good Science" story done U.K. style, go to "Why Don't You Blog" and check out Saturday's offering from Heather.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Faith Exposed Part 5

Derren Brown - Messiah

Derren Brown completes his attempt to convince the medium of his powers.

Finally a summary of all of Derren's work during the "Messiah" program exposing faith.

Faith Exposed Part 4

Derren Brown, in his Messiah program, now go to a prominent UFO investigator and attempts to convince her that he was once abducted and can now give a medical diagnosis to a person by physical contact. He then begins attempting to convince a medium that he can do powerful psychic readings.

Faith Exposed Part 3

Derren Brown - Messiah

In this part Darren finishes his work with the minister and then moves on to a New Age publisher. He tries to convince her that he has created a "dream-catcher" machine.

Faith Exposed Part 2

Derren Brown - Messiah

Now Part Two of Messiah where Derren Brown attempts to convince a minister that he can convert atheists with just a touch.

There has been some interest in the Derren Brown "Messiah" program, so I'll go ahead and post the remainder of it immediately. If you missed Part one, go back to my Aug. 2 post.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

G-String Theory (A Brief History Of God)

We're all just musical strings in God's big guitar!


OK, I'm exaggerating. But at 1:00 AM, just as I logged off my computer and headed to bed I got a decent jolt:

Magnitude 4.5 Quake Jolts LA Area
Updated: 1 minute ago
CHATSWORTH, Calif. - A magnitude-4.5 earthquake struck the Southland today, setting off hundreds alarms, knocking hangings and knickknacks to the floor and waking up thousands of people but causing no significant injuries or damages.

(The link takes you to the full article with video and pictures).

So... how jaded am I? I looked at the computer and hardly gave a thought to logging back on to quickly share my experience (8 seconds of house rocking east and west, adrenaline first rushing and then dissipating, checking on screaming wife and barely waking 18 year old daughter).

I've been through too many of these in 53 years. As I crawled into bed, my wife asked how strong I thought it would be. "3.5 if it was really close, 4.5 if it's 20 miles or so, if it was in Frisco, Northern California is a separate state now". I turned out the light and went to sleep. Jaded.

Habilis Isn't My Great Grand Daddy?

Some new fossil finds have once again tossed a wrench into the effort at tracing our exact origins. In this article. from the BBC, we now find out that Homo habilis existed for several hundred thousand years right along side of Homo erectus. It's always interesting when you find hominid fossils of different species living at the same time. It's hard to imagine. Here we are, and every one of us on earth is of the same species. There is less genetic variation between two Homo sapiens than there is between an African and Indian elephant or between a horse and a zebra.

But the really interesting part of this is that it had been thought by many that Homo habilis was the first in the line "Homo" and possibly led directly to Homo erectus. The fact that they lived at the same time makes this increasingly unlikely.

The problem with tracing our evolutionary roots is that there really isn't a whole lot to go on besides fossils. And only a tiny percentage of life ever ends up as a fossil and even a more minute amount is ever discovered. However, paleontologists have gotten very good at what they do best, and more and more are found every year. It will be interesting to see what the next great fossil find turns up in the story of origins.

Are You a Fundamentalist Christian?

You probably already know if you consider your a born-again Christian. Want to know how the rest of us look for signs that you are? Here's a hint - it's not because we see you giving away your worldly possessions and dedicating the rest of your life to easing the suffering of your fellow human beings.

Yes, I know "we" don't do that either. Then again, "we" aren't saying that we model ourselves on the teachings of Christ.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Why No God Was Necessary

This is not my usual comedic video offering, though it is funny at points. It is simply a concise explanation of how the origin of life could have started without a celestial kick-start.

This is not about evolution, which is what happened once life somehow got a cell-hold - which is all we need to end up where we are. It is a brief encounter with some of the modern theory of life.

The point is simply to demonstrate that when faced with competing ideas, it is far better to go with the more rational explanation rather than the throwing up of hands and saying, "this is so miraculous, it had to have been God"!

Why invoke an unprovable deity when there is a more ressonable and testable explanation?

Black Sun Journal

I still love it every time I am cruising about the net, going from blog to blog, reading comments and coming across a link that for whatever reason, in a moment of spontaneity, I click on and arrive at something a like this article entitled "Atheist ‘Metaphysics’ and Religious Equivocation".

I might never have become of aware of a blog (out of the millions) called Black Sun Journal. I almost didn't anyway. I was reading an excellent post over at Why Don't You Blog that included a comment with a link that sounded interesting. I thought I would read it later and promply forgot about it. That evening it popped back into my head and I went back to "Why Don't You Blog" and clicked on the link.

Black Sun Journal is one blog I will definitely check out from time to time now. The blog is written by Sean Prophet, who was raised by parents heading up a Buddhist commune. He had every financial incentive for just going along. The religious community, which he became a leader of, was worth many millions of dollars. But he broke free of the choke-chain that held him in a state of faith, and did his own thing.

The article I linked in the first paragraph is a tremendous piece of writing, in my opinion, and deserves to be read more widely. Here's an example of the quality writing and clarity of thought:

Back to the nature of the theistic claim: I posit that this equivocation comes from a deep-seated knowledge that their beliefs are not supportable. The emperor really isn’t wearing clothes, and they know it at some level. The part of their brain which normally would question such belief on insufficient evidence has, however, been shunted permanently into bypass mode. No one wants to feel deficient. So they play up the virtues of this “cognitive bypass” and call it “faith.” They’ve traded truth for comfort as a survival strategy which allows them to maintain the requisite levels of cognitive dissonance.

But they can’t completely shut down their critical thinking–which gives them a permanent inferiority complex, albeit at an unconscious level. Though they may have outer comfort, they still feel the sands shifting beneath their feet, because they know they can’t be sure they’ve chosen the ‘right’ belief system out of the countless thousands possible. The more time they have devoted to the system they chose, the more the bypassed critical thinking skills will have atrophied, and the more likely they are to defend their faith to the death. Knowing they suffer from this insurmountable uncertainty, they simply must attempt to level the playing field. (To do so, many have devoted lifetimes or built entire libraries of theological texts based on their presuppositionalism–essentially intellectual castles in the air.)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Life Beyond Our Pale Blue Planet

This is one of the rare sensible discussions about life in the distant universe. Usually any talk of alien life quickly degenerates into flying saucers, crop circles, humanoid aliens and abduction cases. This isn’t the type of “life” that deserves anything more than a good 2 hour science-fiction movie.
(The Whirlpool Galaxy, M51. Taken by the Hubble Space Telescope)

But the question of whether or not anything is out there continues to enthrall the human mind, and a discovery would certainly be another nail in coffin of the Abrahamic religions, since they all seem pretty certain that their god created this one planet as his lone little outpost of life.

Of course, I’m unduly optimistic. They have already been scientifically proven wrong time and again about various notions that come from their books of absolute truth. This never deters them. They simply end up incorporating the new evidence into their story. This is what will end up happening with evolution ( indeed, it has already happened for many religions, with only the fundamentalists trying to hold the fort against it).

(No, those aren't stars. Each light you see in this picture is a galaxy! Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), the exposure reveals the first galaxies to emerge from the time shortly after the big bang)

It still remains a fascinating topic though. Part of the problem of confirming other life, as I see it, can be found in this from the article “But some exoplanets are wondrously Earth-like. Scientists recently spotted one world only 20.5 light-years away that lies within the habitable zone of its star—the region around a star where liquid water, and thus life, might exist.” So, if we ever get to the point where we can travel at, say, 1/100th of the speed of light, we could have an exploration vehicle there in just 2,050 years! If that’s not bad enough, there is a very good reason that the quote says “only 20.5 light years”. That’s actually incredibly close to us; so hundreds of billions of other possible stars are even further away.

Still, as the article indicates – “"Depending on what level of seeking and finding we are prepared to do, we could make discoveries in the next two decades that entirely change the way we understand the universe and life," said Margaret Turnbull, an astrobiologist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. This is due to the fact that there are, and will be even more, ways of discovering life without actually going there. I’m a probabilities guy, so when I figure that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, each with hundreds of billions of stars, it means the odds are very decent that life exists elsewhere. Hell, we have barely begun investigating our own solar system.

Please look for the poll "Is there life out there" on the side bar and register how you feel about it. Also, to see more awesome Hubble photos, you can find them under "Links You Might Enjoy".

Is "Teacher" Bush?

Kind of looks and sounds like him...

Great little 2 minute animation. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Evolution Disproved - AGAIN!

Well, I've been doing the research I promised and it's not looking good for our side. This doesn't completely clinch it for the creationists, but they strike a mighty blow.

My Personal Global Warming Debate

Hey, who am I to debate anyone on any scientific issue? I'm not an expert on anything. Fortunately, neither are the people I debate with. One guy, who will remain unnamed, is a Southern California television news anchor - so you know he can't possibly be any more intelligent than I am!

He loves going on and on about the "liberal" global warming conspiracy. First there was no global warming. Then there was, but it wasn't the least bit due to humans. Then there's this story about a brown haze that hovers over the Indian ocean and adds about 50% to the warming problem in Southeast Asia. Because it is caused by wood-burning fires, he takes this as an example that the warming is not caused by increased CO2, conveniently ignoring the fact that it's only 50% of the increase and that wood-burning fires are still something that humans are contributing to problem!

Here's his latest showing the temperature in our local deserts about 15 degrees below normal.

My reply was There you go with your logical fallacies again, *****. You are giving a [university] education quite an undoing.

"red herring -- An attempt to divert attention away from the crux of an argument by introduction of anecdote, irrelevant detail, subsidiary facts, tangential references, and the like."

My point is simply that anecdotal evidence is virtually useless while stories like this from the BBC that show patterns from well-documented studies are all that we can reasonably rely on.


UPDATE (9/5/07 9:00 AM PST)

Newsweek just released a feature on Global Warming Denial. It's long, but very revealing.


Sgt, Joe Friday Tackles Bush

and tries to save the Constitution.

This video taken from actual police files. The names were not changed, because no one is innocent.

Friday, August 03, 2007

2 Incredible Miracles for Your Judgement

First up, an Islamic miracle.

Second, an American humanist miracle.

Was either a miracle? Which one was better?

I leave it to you.

Love Those Bonobos!

John Hawks blogs about a great article on Bonobos in the New Yorker. You can read the full article here.

One of the things Hawks quotes from the article is, "Captivity can have a striking impact on animal behavior. As Craig Stanford, a primatologist at the University of Southern California, recently put it, 'Stuck together, bored out of their minds -- what is there to do except eat and have sex?' "

Yes. It would be like a researcher looking into human behavior by studying prison populations. Not that you couldn't find out some important things from such research (many such studies have indeed been done), but it hardly gives you a handle on their true nature.

If you aren't particularly familiar with the Bonobo, they are a species of Chimpanzee, Pan Paniscus (also known as Pygmy Chimps, found in Central Africa). Pan Paniscus lives a strikingly different life style from their cousin Chimps (living in western Africa), the Pan troglodytes. These have always been thought of as our closest genetic relatives. They are, genetically, closer to us than they are to gorillas. They were thought to be only two species of Pan. Now there may be a third that makes a living partly by feasting on big cats!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

PART 1 - Science Made Irresistible

This is one of the talks from the 2006 Beyond Belief Conference that I mentioned in an earlier post. If you are a Homo sapien you will get some goose-bumps while watching these. I hope.

Neil de Grasse Tyson explains why science, even for us non-scientists, can be a way toward fulfillment of our lives. For reasonable human beings, religion is fading as a way of making sense of all of this. I realize that in my lifetime there will be no "end of faith". But it has dimmed and will continue to do so. This is no reason to give up hope. Quite the contrary. Please enjoy.

PART 2 - Science Made Irresistible

PART 3 - Science Made Irresistible

I've Been Beaten - This Guy Disproves Evolution

I have to admit, he makes a great case. I'll be doing Google searches tonight and rethinking my position.

By the way, we've had day after day of 80 degree weather here in Southern California. I'm having doubts about Global Warming. Wonder if this guy has done any research...

Can Science DISPROVE God? NO! but...

Neil deGrasse Tyson and V.S. Ramachandran respond to a question from a guy from the Templeton Foundation, "what scientific evidence can you point to that there is no personal god"? This is from the 2006 Beyond Belief Conference held in San Diego. I will be posting other clips from this great conference in the future. Additionally, there will soon be a 2007 conference to look forward to.

deGrasse Tyson's two talks are must-see for anyone who needs to be convinced on the absolute wonder of science. He can be seen on the regularly running PBS series, Nova Science Now.

Faith Exposed

Derren Brown - Messiah

Here in Part One of Messiah, Derren Brown attempts to convince pyschics of his own pyschic abilities in an effort to gain their endorsement. Read about Derren and the "Messiah" program here -

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

You Like My Big Red "A"?

Right there, on the upper right!

It means that I have "come out" as an atheist. Actually, I did that about 35 years ago and have never been shy about it. I don't make a big deal about it, but I've certainly made it clear here on the blog and in my personal life as well. If someone asks, I don't hedge with "I don't really believe anything", I just say I'm an atheist. If they want to know more, I tell them. If they want to convert me, I tell them even more. For me it's as simple as rejecting all supernatural.

I'm not sure where the campaign started; whether it was with PZ Myers at his blog Pharyngula or if it started over at the Richard Dawkins site, but you can read words of encouragement regarding it from both of them by clicking on the links.

For me, I just like the idea of being in solidarity with a lot of bloggers who really do put their careers and sometimes even their lives on the line by declaring that they are atheists. That's a good enough reason for me to proudly sport the Scarlet Letter. I don't think I'll be getting the T-shirt though.