This Weeks Reader January 5, 2008  

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Are you being watched?

Animal Rights
We debate with ourselves about these things and to illustrate the good arguments, we have committed a fallacy of transference of ourselves onto the subject, animals. This may be helpful in driving home a point, but it is not accurate in my opinion, because in dealing with the ethical treatment of animals it is ourselves that should and could change, not the animals. They pretty much are going to continue doing what they do no matter if we leave them alone or cause their extinction. I don’t believe that animals need rights, which is demonstrated with evolution and nature. The dinosaurs didn’t need to exert their right to survive the extinction process, even though it was natural and other animals profited. No court existed to appeal to, so by claiming that animals have rights, we must condemn evolution and nature for arbitrary crimes which inevitably resulted in ourselves.

I Am Legend (but not the same one)
The novella is a pure 1950's style piece of science-fiction horror; the threat was caused by mankind's war-like nature and the book ended basically with the destruction of the species. The movie is a somewhat conflicted story where both the threat and the cure are created by science and the military is cast as heroic, yet the end is very religious, with the angry-at-God Neville finding belief in the end, our salvation "is in the blood", and a church prominent in the colony of the immune. The novella was about the end of us; to our replacements we were the misfits, the evil to be destroyed. What would follow us was completely alien. The film is about arrogance and redemption. What follows the plague is a reborn humanity.

Nonbelieving Literati
The Lonesome Sparrow
As it turns out, there was no ulterior reason. The Ranao just sang, and I wanted to scream at them, every time they pointed to god that it was so obvious that there was no god driving them to discover this new world, that it was their own, innate human quest for knowledge that pushed them. I sensed that the author wanted us to arrive at the conclusion that God does have a plan, but in the end, her sole surviving believer seems to question not only the plan, but the existence of god. Or does he?

Caucus Conundrum: Considering Compelling Candidates
Which brings me to yesterday. Although I had not paid much attention to Bill Richardson so far, I saw that he was in town giving a speech and attending a few house-parties. So I decided to go and see for myself. I was impressed. I asked him about education and he was right on the mark. He knows that we are in dire straights for science and math teachers. When I asked Bill to guess how many of this year's ~60 student class that I teach (mostly junior/senior biology majors) were planning to be teachers, he correctly stated "zero" (usually 2-4 in previous years). This is scary—where will the next generation of teachers come from?? Richardson's plan includes a national minimum salary for teachers ($40K), which is a great start. Bill has a national service plan that would pay college tuition in exchange for voluntary national service. He's not just talking military here, either. His credentials in the international diplomacy arena (where we have lots of catching up to do) are really amazing. When I asked him about Science Debate 2008, he was interested and asked me to forward some info to the campaign (which I did).

Gamers: POTUS candidates hate you for your freedoms
Since Romney was the only Republican to weigh in, it's hard to sum up general Republican attitudes. It's possible to sum up Romney's, though: Get Tough on Filth. "I want to restore values so children are protected from a societal cesspool of filth, pornography, violence, sex, and perversion," he said. "I've proposed that we enforce our obscenity laws again and that we get serious against those retailers that sell adult video games that are filled with violence and that we go after those retailers."

I Need a Hero
What I want, in the words of Bonnie Tyler, is a hero. I'm holding out for a hero. I'm holding out for someone whose goal is to lead the country, not simply be the leader of it. I have to believe there's someone out there who can protect us without hovering over us like helicopter parents. I have to believe there's someone who will "triage" the issues by order or urgency, focusing on keeping the country safe from terrorists and corporate misconduct funding research for cures for diseases, not preventing two consenting adults in love from marrying. I want to make medical school an option again for the best and brightest, who have long abandoned 6-figure medical school debt and insurance company mayhem in exchange for the high life on Wall Street.

Exploiting Death: A Christian Funeral
It is that last point that brings me to the funeral, because for some two hours I endured shameless exploitation of my aunt in the name of advancing religious belief. Not one but two pastors spouted a stereophonic cacophony of christian bullshit and propaganda that made me ill, with brief intermissions for a mediocre singer running down the christian death hits like Amazing Grace, which I had no idea had so many verses. Now for the record I should say that my family is very religious and my aunt was a regular at church. There were two pastors because the first was hers for some 40 years and the second was hers of the last 10 or so after she was forced to move to the suburbs by her kids after she had her incident fending off burglars in her home in South West Philly. The newer one was younger, very energetic, and on a mission to use this event to spread the fucking good news quoting scripture after scripture of not just the guarantees of salvation after death but of how if you don't accept the J man, you're doomed. But of course, a large part of these things is to bring comfort to people by blowing hot air into that fantasy balloon of the great afterlife awaiting us all. In fact, the term he used for the service to kick off his sermon was that this was a "resurrection celebration" and later a "graduation ceremony". There was plenty of nonsense about the joys awaiting us and how we should be so happy for her now but first and foremost was always pushing the importance of "giving yourself up" to Jesus, "serving" Jesus, "being faithful" to Jesus, and of course how the only way to god is through the J man.

Laws of Nature, Source Unknown
Steven Weinstein, a philosopher of science at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, termed the phrase “law of nature” as “a kind of honorific” bestowed on principles that seem suitably general, useful and deep. How general and deep the laws really are, he said, is partly up to nature and partly up to us, since we are the ones who have to use them.

Wallace podcast
The man who almost scooped Darwin. Redmond O'Hanlon chooses naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace as his Great Life. When you compare their jungle adventures, there's a similarity between the two. Dr Sandy Knapp adds to the general enthusiasm for beetles, butterflies and bugs, and Matthew Parris presents.
Note: Here's a working link.

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