This Weeks Reader April 13, 2008  

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bill Maher is a crank
Bill Maher is a Luddite, who has tried to blame the death of bees on cell phones has engaged in anti-vaccine wingnuttery, routinely complains of mysterious "toxins", supports animal rights extremists, and generally has a disgusting "blame-the-victim" mentality towards health. Lung cancer may be a largely self-inflicted illness, but the other big cancer killers? Breast cancer? Prostate cancer? Pancreatic and colorectal cancers? Each may have a small environmental component, but most cancers aside from those caused by cigarettes have much more minor contributions from lifestyle and environment. That is not to say these contributions do not exist, but compared to cigarettes the relative risks of misbehavior are astronomically smaller. Most of these cancers have overwhelmingly genetic risk factors and the number one risk factor is almost always family history. Maher's statement that cancers are "hatched" or that there is only "some" genetic component is typical of his ignorance of medicine, his blame-the-victim mentality towards disease, and is just as despicable as his depiction of medicine as a killer.

Baby... burrito.. same thing

Evolution on the table top
Evolution has taken another step away from being dismissed as “a theory” in the classroom, thanks to a new paper published this week in the online open-access journal PLoS Biology. The research article, by Brian Paegel and Gerald Joyce of The Scripps Research Institute, California, documents the automation of evolution: they have produced a computer-controlled system that can drive the evolution of improved RNA enzymes—biological catalysts—without human input. In the future, this “evolution-machine” could feature in the classroom as well as the lab, allowing students to watch evolution happen in their biology lessons.

LittleBigPlanet coming to PSP
LittleBigPlanet is currently in development for PSP at Sony Studio Liverpool, a source has told CVG today.

No further details were offered as to how the game will work on the PSP, but if true, we'd expect the portable edition to feature link up options with the PS3 version, set for release in September.

Games for Windows magazine shuts down, staff moves online
Unfortunately, it looks like the realities of the marketplace has caught up with Games for Windows magazine: the print magazine will be shutting down, although the staff will continue writing for the 1UP Network, and the Sims 3 issue will be its last in print.

Upstart Gamer Doc to take on GameStop with themed stores
Huether is blunt with what he sees as the problem with existing retail stores. "There is too much merchandise packed into too little space with too little differentiation," he told Ars. Gamer Doc wants to be more of an experience than other gaming stores, and the company hopes that its unique store themes will help in that regard. "We are fully developing three designs that will be turnkey for our franchisees," he says. "In addition, they will be able to personalize the look of each of the designs to incorporate unique aspects of their market into the look and feel of their store and our brand." He cites Disney as an example of how to build a "consistently strong brand."

The sacred right to rape children
His logic goes like this: because the United States federal government sends troops to foreign lands to fight wars, and because these troops engage in violence and sometimes to terrible things to innocent people, therefore the police officers of Texas have no right to point fingers at religious wackos who think God wants them to rape little girls. Indeed, although “there is no moral defense one could possibly make” of raping children, nevertheless, it is “difficult to tolerate” the “self-righteousness” of the state police or prosecutors who would insist on intervening to protect children from rape, given that federal officials sometimes endorse violent warfare. After all, the U.S. has “killed over one million” people in Iraq (we’ll put aside asking where that number comes from) and is now threatening “innocent” Iran*—and “such practices appear to be occurring, once again, on the plains of Texas.” Shaffer, of course, isn’t defending child rapists, no no. He’s just calling them “innocent” victims of unfair government aggression.

Why I Have Not Participated In Any Tax Evader’s Project
Perhaps you’ve been told that you don’t have to pay the Income Tax. I’m sorry to be the one to break the bad news to you, but all of the theories floating around are based on misguided or dangerous interpretations of the income tax rules. And, as I’ll demonstrate later in this article, they’re not the best way to end the Income Tax and win a much smaller, constitutionally limited government.

Brain Gym

Editor's Note: Hmm.. where did this come from? I didn't hear Kansas OR Arkansas, but I thought I heard California.

Shock at polar bear's carp kill
Germany's celebrity polar bear Knut has triggered a new controversy by fishing out 10 live carp from his moat and killing them in front of visitors.

Editor's Note: Good for you Knut. After all, why should a wild animal act like humans want him to just because he's hand reared?

Tibet’s Olympian opportunity
The torch will arrive in New Delhi in less than a week. Considering the large Tibetan population in India, a serious security problem is anticipated and well, the protesters are determined to disrupt the march. I can’t help but wish them the best of luck, because all they want to do is stop the march. They don’t intend to indulge in any violence. They are simply using the Olympics to draw attention to their cause. Which is not necessarily a separate homeland for Tibet, although some radicals demand this. It is important to remember that the Dalai Lama has agreed that Tibet is a part of China. All he is asking for is autonomy but the Chinese are not agreeable to this either.

Commentary: What is this thing called religion?
Moreover it is not clear that "primitive" religions were religions at all, as we have come to understand the concept; they were more like rudimentary forms of science and technology. It seems likely that their espousers did not regard gods and spirits as supernatural, but as straightforward parts of nature, operating in fairly systematic ways as instigators of wind, thunder and other natural phenomena, and amenable to manipulation through sacrifice and observance of taboo. There is a marked difference between someone who holds contemporary Christian evangelical views and an ancient Egyptian who literally felt his god on his back - Ra, the sun - every day of the week.

The different epistemologies of science and religion
So the next time you hear someone say that religion and science do not conflict, the key question to ask is: which religion? The speaker's? Of course they would say that. But is it true? Science constrains rational religion, while no religion, Plantinga notwithstanding, constrains rational science. So when the two conflict, as they must given that they often attempt to explain the same phenomena, which one is it rational to adopt and teach?

A Cult By Any Other Name
One observation I made while reading the various news reports as the story unfolded this weekend was how the cult was described by the media. For some reason, the media is afraid to call them what they are: a cult. CNN described them as a “rogue church”. USA Today calls them a “polygamist-sect”. The Associate Press reports that they are “a congregation.” This is utter political correctness at its absolute worst. FLDS and The YFZ Ranch are a cult, and to call it anything else is insulting to those that know better, including experts on destructive cults such as The Rick Ross Institute, who has been accurately reporting the despicable conduct of this particular cult for a decade now. It is even more insulting to the living victims of cults, and it is entirely disrespectful to the memory of those that have died at the hands of cults.

Bring on the McGay, Bitch!
I hate to break it to the children of born-again parents, but you will never be allowed to have another Happy Meal again. Wanna know why? Mostly because your parents are batshit crazy, and think that because McDonald's is now a corporate sponsor of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, if you eat a Happy Meal you will instantly turn into a homosexual. But not just your run-of-the-mill homosexual, but instead, a raging, maniacal, crazy-eyed homosexual with an agenda. THAT GAY ONE! Then after you've tried turning everyone else into a raging, maniacal, crazy-eyed homosexual, you'll be damned to hell for all eternity. All because you ate a Happy Meal! Way to go, kid. I hope the crappy toy was worth it.

Thomas Jefferson Endorses Rev. Moon
From beyond the grave. Yes, it sounds like a bad movie. But the moonies seriously claim this. In fact, they claim that damn never every famous dead person in history with any tie to religion or politics has endorsed Moon in the "spirit world" where they are apparently convinced of the truth of Unificationism by Sang Hun Lee, a dead Moon. And yes, this would be a bad joke if I was actually making it up. But I'm not. Seriously.

A New Planet?
Yet the questions become greater and hold more intensity if it turns out there is life on a distant planet. What if there are beings with consciousness who are similar to us (whether more advanced or not) who never even heard of a religion or a god? Or have a god or gods that are laughable to modern Christians, Jews, Muslims, and/or Hindus (etc)? Imagine a Christian trying to "save" a distant planet inhabitant with the words of Jesus and the Bible and being heartily laughed at. Here, we know better; we respect mass accepted beliefs* (to a point).

It’s My Fault Indonesia is Totalitarian
If Muslims really want to say that Fitna is wrong, the best thing they can do is send death threats to people who post the film stop supporting people who blow things up. Or, if they already don’t support people who blow things up, they can actively speak out against the people who blow things up.

Water's benefits questioned by scientists
Now there's no reason to feel guilty for not hydrating during aerobics class because there's not much evidence showing that drinking "lots" of water will improve our health, according to the editorial "Just Add Water" by University of Pennsylvania researchers in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

That means excessively hydrating won't necessarily clear toxins from your system, keep organs healthy, curb hunger pains, reduce headaches and improve your skin tone, said authors Dan Negoianu and Stanley Goldfarb of Penn's Renal, Electrolyte and Hypertension Division.

Mysterious White Rock Fingers on Mars

Brain Dead
A PET scan was performed at 36 hours. PET scanning (technically referred to as Technetium-99m hexamethylpropyleneamineoxime brain scan) is a measure of blood flow to the brain. Zack’s doctor, Leo Mercer, showed his parents the scan - his brain was entirely black. No blood flow. This was sufficient to meet criteria for brain death. The process of organ donation began.

About four hours later, while the family was saying their goodbye’s, Zack moved his foot in response to his cousin rubbing a knife blade along his foot. His responsiveness was confirmed by squeezing his nail-bed - he moved his arm with clear purpose. The diagnosis of brain death was set aside, and the process of organ donation was stopped, Zack was returned to full care and he slowly recovered. Zack’s story came up in the news again recently following a TV interview in which he said that he was doing OK.

A Mutual Affair
The front entrance of the burrow is often reinforced with bits of shell and coral — all of which is done by the shrimp. The goby just sits in the entrance of the burrow, keeping guard and warning the shrimp, which is nearly blind, of danger. At any sign of danger — a diver coming too close, a passing predator — the goby darts into the burrow. If the goby zooms in, the shrimp hastily retreats deep inside. And before the shrimp emerges from the burrow, it touches the goby’s tail with its long antennae. To show it’s safe to come out, the goby gently wiggles its tail. When the shrimp is out of the burrow, it keeps one antenna touching the goby. If the goby suddenly retreats, so does the shrimp.

Ancient serpent shows its leg
A fossil animal locked in Lebanese limestone has been shown to be an extremely precious discovery - a snake with two legs.

Scientists have only a handful of specimens that illustrate the evolutionary narrative that goes from ancient lizard to limbless modern serpent.

Researchers at the European Light Source (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, used intense X-rays to confirm that a creature imprinted on a rock, and with one visible leg, had another appendage buried just under the surface of the slab.

At first, he couldn't see the Moon

Explaining (Away) Women Geeks
The article on Mayer follows this pattern, simultaneously overexposing her - a female Google VP must take some explaining! - and erasing her, attributing her success to powerful male associates and focusing on her looks and "womanly" hobbies. Thus, she can be celebrated even as she is diminished. In the end, we need not be threatened by her; she is an aberration, she's still a real woman despite that odd love of technology, she didn't really do that geeky stuff all herself anyway. Technology remains firmly enshrined as a masculine domain, and Real Women don't do technology.

The Skeptologists

The Divergent Brain
I mean, consider some simple facts about the current state of our civilization. We can solve problems with computers billions of times faster than we ever imagined possible. We can create a means by which we leave our planet, venture out beyond gravity’s reach, experiment in the weightlessness of space, and return home safely. We can load a thousand jukeboxes worth of music onto a device the size of a matchbox and listen to the studio-quality sound through earphones the size of pinto beans. We can organize hundreds of thousands of jet take offs and landings everyday without major incident. We can track storms and predict the weather with great accuracy. We can generate and regulate the energy flowing through entire countries. We can develop vaccines that cure little buggers that only a few short decades ago would kill us. We can stand in Houston, Texas and talk to someone on the other side of the globe with a wireless phone no bigger than a box of Tic Tacs. And we can pipe high quality pornography right into our homes over satellite feeds, cables, and telephone wires.

Yet there are many millions of people in the United States that, though they’ve seen the monumental successes of science, and though they proudly use the applications of those successes every single day, refuse to turn loose archaic ideas of how we came to be here and where we might be going.

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