Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I'm off again to see the girl I love, who is now only two flights away. If all goes well, in less than 24 hours I can feel happy, not to mention not be crowded on an airplane.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Sublunar Armstrong

Many have become familiar with the work of a religious scholar named Karen Armstrong, a former nun as well who studied at Oxford though not receiving a doctorate in her field of interest. She has written widely on the subject of the history of major religions, especially highlighting the spiritual aspects of the faiths. Most popular is probably her A History of God, but it is her most recent statements and her book, The Case of God, that sparks this post.

Armstrong has tried to save religion both from the conservatives of the faiths as well as the "New Atheists", which includes usually the figures of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, along with Vic Stenger and PZ Myers. She must claim that religion is not what it is for the vast majority of people in the United States and much of the Islamic world, where sciences such as evolution are denied, where people are abused for not conforming to scriptures--the lessening of rights for homosexuals, including death as could happen in Uganda, or death for apostasy in some Islamic corners--but that religious faith is something beyond this world. Her theology is more sophisticated than that attacked by Dawkins and company.

What does she actually believe though? Well, this is the real problem because her beliefs are rather vacuous. The spiritual is quite subjective for her, such that the reality of God or gods is not a requirement for her faith. Now, that sounds like weirded-out atheism to me, when the existence of gods is not needed for belief in God. God is a symbol of things transcendent to us, and because it is beyond our understanding we cannot say anything about God.

Well, if nothing can be said of God, then what does it mean to believe in God? Saying anything about what God is or what he/she/it wants and what happens to us because of such beings would certainly undo this stance. In reality, the position Armstrong seems to take is an attempt to make sure her theology cannot be criticized--there is nothing to critique, as there is nothing at all!

Recently, a great critique by Troy Jollimore, an associate professor of philosophy at California State, Chico, has pretty much laid her work to waste. By wanting to take away all attributed to God, including existence, but still finding the subjective nature as valid as anything else, she undercuts herself. To me, it looks as if the whole effort is a defense mechanism, trying to protect that special feeling she gets when she thinks about God. Even a meaningless word or statement can be powerful to a person, and protecting the idea, the feeling, of God is her mission. It is not about the facts of nature or deep philosophy, but the will to believe. Armstrong only has rhetoric and feels powerful, as demonstrated by a reviewer from NPR, Susan Jane Gilman, but there is no real depth.

Even religious scholars seem to scoff at her insinuations, and not simply from the conservative wing. Robert M. Price, a former evangelical, now an atheist-Christian and biblical scholar, simply cannot stand her, as he has made clear to me; and R. Joseph Hoffman, another New Testament scholar, finds her arguments as little more than cliche. Armstrong, in trying to make religion something new, seems to have dropped everything that made it worth while, all for some new-agey product.

It seems Armstrong is the religious homeopath--the less things you believe in when it comes to religion, the stronger the faith. No matter what is coherent or intelligible, for God is beyond all such things. But with such soaring rhetoric, there is nothing to latch upon, no being that is there, no essence other than shear desire. Armstrong, by her want of transendence, has left the wonders of what can be, which should be upsetting to someone of a Buddhist stance. The self-indulgent narcissism is something that will leave you in Samsara; Nirvana cannot be a state of hoped-for desire, but to be beyond such desires. That must include the desires of transcendence which cannot be articulated. Otherwise, you are stuck with the illusion of reality, that which the Buddha warned against. Armstrong has attached herself to that which is not anything at all, and that is worse than at least those that believe in things that can be seen.

Let's compare this to another Armstrong or two. There is the biking-sensation, Lance Armstrong, overcoming both the competition and mortality to become something we admire. And how could we forget the Armstrong that was truly super-lunar? With our hopes and dreams of becoming more than just a species trapped on the surface of a spinning rock, we truly went beyond this world to touch another and understand our place in it. One day we will repeat this feat on the Moon again, and later to Mars and perhaps beyond. This is growth of the spirit, in the capacity of humankind that we can see. As the plaque on the lunar surface says: We came in peace for all mankind. Not bad, minus the sexist language.

Understanding who we are through the sciences has led humanity to an amazing position. We know that we have a history of 13.7 billion years from the fires of the Big Bang to the collection of dust and gas to form the Sun and the Earth. We have a four billion year history of life on this world, and each of us living today comes from an unbroken chain of the winners of nature, those that succeeded in making it to the next generation. We know that we are composed forged matter from stellar furnaces. We are children of the stars! This is all objectively known to be true, not simply a feeling or a desire.

We need no "deepity", to use the phrase from Dan Dennett. In fact, he has given a wonderful lecture of this subject recently:

Note: Dan is the Man!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Seeing is Believing

Often I hear someone mention a line from the letters of St. Paul, namely Romans 1:20
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.
That is, the ways of God are manifest in all the things of nature. Open your eyes and you will see the ways of the Lord.

Yet, I think it is important to remember how open things are to interpretation. For example, if signs from God are visible in nature, what is the message from this?

Perhaps one will say that this is just a random formation of birds, not a deliberate insult to humans who have randomly take the middle finger to be an insult. If that is so, then doesn't that apply to all things? We see messages in the noise of existence and place purpose there--see the effects of pareidolia for example.

Perhaps instead it is better to make a purposeful noise in this universe rather than trying to find someone else's, especially if they are rude.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Advent

Christmas time is fast approaching, and the old story is being told again, along with the celebrations with reindeer, Santa Claus, and of course the Nativity.

But myths have a way of changing with time to better reflect the culture's values. And sometimes the stories change just for the heck of it:

I would guess that Jabba would be King Herod.

So, enjoy hearing the stories of the birth of Jesus. But there is a lot more...

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Day in the Life

Today I'm thinking that I should be 25. I'm not sure why I feel that way. Since it's a feeling then it will probably change. Maybe I will feel different in about a year.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What do you call someone who lies? Ray Comfort

As many know, notorious Ray "Banana Man" Comfort has come out with his version of Darwin's classic Origin of Species since it is in public domain after 150 years of existence. The primary advertised difference between most versions of the book and Comfort's is the inclusion of an introduction that tries to say that "Darwinism" is a false religion, and all of the creationist canards that have become familiar to those that read the works or talk to those that are believers in creationism, especially the young earth variety (YEC for short). By calling Darwin a racist, a misogynist, and the philosophical influence to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, Comfort's introduction is both a long ad hominem as well as scientifically dubious.

Previously I had written on the subject of Nazism and Darwinian evolution in response to the movie Expelled. I noted that Darwin's book had been banned in Germany, that Hitler was himself not an atheist or "Darwinist", but instead a Catholic creationist. In other words, Comfort is absolutely wrong about the connection between Darwin and Hitler, and it is painful to keep hearing that Hitler was an atheist and "evolutionist" when it is so demonstrably wrong.

But I have learned something else that is quite upsetting to any critical mind. Comfort has said that he wants his readers to read past his introduction and read Darwin's book, which Comfort had made easy for the reader. However, as I had suspected, it is an abridged work. So when Comfort claims that there is no evidence for evolution, he is correct because he edited out the evidence! This has been noted by Eugenie Scott: chapters about biogeography, one of the strongest pieces of evidence in Darwin's day and today for common decent with modification, as well as chapters on embryology, morphology, and classification, are missing, as well as Darwin answering some of the objections to his theory, such as concerning transitional forms. Scott does not say if Darwin's response to the evolution of the eye is intact, but part of that passage is a favorite for creationist quote-mines, including Ray Comfort (see Nothing Created Everything, p. 18). One can view Comfort's book online, and the part about the eye evolving in Darwin's book is intact; however, in the introduction Comfort does a massive quote-mining operation (from a physicist, no less) to "prove" the eye could not have evolved (which the author does not say, but instead says the eye evolved!) rather than, say, read about the evolution of the eye in Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), Land's and Nilsson's Animal Eyes (2002), or more recently in Science a paper by Fernald and Russel (2006). The 1994 paper by Nilsson and Pleger showing a pessimistic calculation that the eye could have evolved in a few million years (in ~364,ooo generations). See an nicely condensed version of these results here and here.

What Comfort has tried to do is leave Darwin's thesis with the appearance of a few hundred pages of speculation, when in reality he came up with this theory of natural selection and published on it 20 years later all the time in between collecting more evidence. Darwin also delayed publication due to his fears of religious upheaval, but nonetheless Darwin also continued to reinforce his ideas with evidence from a diverse number of fields. By editing out these chapters, as well as being behind the times on the evidence for evolution (by, say, 150 years), Comfort shows himself to be not simply ignorant, but a deceiver. Selectively removing some of the most important chapters from Darwin's book cannot be accounted for except by conscious dishonesty. After all, one should not say "look at the evidence" and then hide it away to "prove" there is no evidence.

Ray, that is why you were awarded by the Golden Crocoduck this year.

And here is a bit more from another intellectually honest YouTuber:

So Ray, what do you call someone who lies? Did I hear "A liar"?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Monster

Out of shear appropriateness, I decided to watch some of the classic horror movies from Universal Studies in the 1930s, namely those of the most famous movie monsters, Dracula and Frankenstein. I wish to focus more on the latter, namely because it is the less supernatural and had the greatest intersection with science.

In Bride of Frankenstein (1935), the sequel to the first, a character is introduced known as Dr. Pretorius, who becomes the quintessential mad scientist--white lab coat, fairly long white and unkempt hair, maniacal laughter, and of course little sense of morals with murderous desire. Along with beakers, henchmen, and crazy electrical equipment, the stereotype was complete. Such mad scientists would become a staple in American horror films, especially low budget films (the Ed Wood film Bride of the Monster with Bela Lugosi comes to mind). Of course, Dr. Frankenstein fits into this archetype as well, a scientist that tries to play god. Ultimately, the plans of these crazed men are defeated and the scientist destroyed, often by their own creation. They reap what they sow.

Most importantly, the Frankenstein films have the common theme that there are things that humans should not explore and should not know. This is hardly isolated to the horror genre, since it is also apparent in, say, Jurassic Park. However, when one crosses the ocean, things change.

Instead of American monsters, who are often created by men and defeated by the people or folk wisdom (i.e. Van Helsing fighting off Dracula with folk remedies), and creating an antagonism between science and society or God, let us look to the king of the monsters: Godzilla. This creature is created not by some wilful act a mad scientist but by a military that had used atomic weapons on Japanese cities and tested them in order to possibly use them on the USSR or other nations. The monster is a product of accident and foolishness. Ultimately, the creature is defeated, not by the military, but by science. Dr. Serizawa in his own elaborate laboratory, discovers a secret power in oxygen. However, he tells no one of this "oxygen destroyer" expect his fiancee because he has not yet discovered a constructive use for it. In its current form, it is an awesome power, as terrifying as the bomb itself. Reluctantly, the good doctor cannot stand what Godzilla had done to Tokyo and what it continue to do until it was stopped. Crafting his weapon, Serizawa dives down to where the monster is to be found in Tokyo Bay, uses the weapon to kill Godzilla, and then commits suicide to guarantee that no one can learn how to have this weapon.

In Japan, the scientist is not mad, but is noble, moral, and uses his powers for the good of all. While Dr. Frankenstein discovers a color beyond violet to create life in order to have a society of slaves, Dr. Serizawa discovers a power for the good of all and kills himself to avoid its possible devastation on the world. Could there not be a stronger contrast?

Now, in some later Godzilla movies, the mad scientist plays a role, such as in Godzilla vs. Biollante where a scientist creates a monster out of Godzilla cells, plant cells, and the spirit of his daughter through DNA (?) because plants have psychic powers (???). However, his intentions are not malicious and it is another scientific effort, the creation of cells that will suck the power out of Godzilla, that is a major focus. The true mad scientist stereotype isn't really here.

The point of this contrast is this: in some contexts, the scientist is seen as treading where they do not belong into the territory of the divine; however, in other stories, the scientist is the hero and even kills a god-like creature. This contrast comes across most strongly to me between American and Japanese culture. Similarly, robots in American cinema often has a menacing role (i.e. The Terminator, The Matrix) but the opposite in Japanese film and television (i.e. Gundam, Astro Boy).

Why is this? Perhaps the American culture with a general distrust of authority poo-poos the scientist because they are elitist and think they know better than others when they lack what most consider common sense and morality. In Japan, with so much focus on the honor of being an engineer or scientist, this may be a possible reason for the positive role that scientists have in their entertainment products. It is science that saves the day. Religiosity also has a role in this, since Americans are very religious overall and many claim that morality and social cohesion comes from on high, so treading on that is blasphemous. Japan is more secular, but the relation between the old belief systems and the new ways of thinking I am not familiar enough to say anything. However, the differences are striking, and one must wonder if the effects of society on the movies is reciprocal. In other words, if the movies and TV series paint a different picture of science and scientists, will that change the ways of the society?

Perhaps that is, so maybe shows like House and The Big Bang Theory can change this. It is certainly worth considering.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blasphempy Day

Though the news has gotten around, I should do my bit to participate and let it be known that September 30th is to be a day of sacrilege. On this day in 2005, the infamous Danish cartoons were published, eventually inciting hatred, protests, and violence in the Islamic world because the cartoons depicted the prophet Muhammad is a negative light.

The event is also in protest to actions by the United Nations allowing religion a free ride in the world of speech, namely because of Islamic nations trying to make their beliefs insulated from criticism. Further, Ireland has passed law to make blasphemy a crime, so this is hardly a one-religion problem. All beliefs should be subject to criticism, especially when they propose things demonstrably wrong and all the worse when harmful. When some area because free from critical thought, it is degrading to being human. It's degrading to religion itself, because if it needs to be protected it must be a most pitiful institution. I don't think AIG gained reverence when it received bailout money; why should religious institutions be seen differently?

I am certainly a critic of religion, both in an academic as well as less-than academic manner. If such beliefs are actually correct, they should be able to handle the hardest hits any pathetic human can through at the mantel of gods. Or are the gods just clay idols? What is someone's faith if it can only survive by protectionism and twisting facts and truths?

Thus, I am dismissive of the dogmas of institutions, and I think that the reprehensible actions of such attitudes and organizations speak for themselves. If child-molesting priests are defensible because they are "men of God", don't expect me to accept such lunacy.

And in the spirit of the challenge issued by the Rational Response Squad some time ago, I deny the Holy Spirit.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back at CERN

Well, I have decided to cross over the ocean again and come to CERN where they hope to get started up in November. I have been working with the ATLAS group at my university, particularly with some of the optical electronics that will next to the beam of ions traveling through at nearly the speed of light. The plan is that CERN will begin late this year, starting at about half power, move up in energy, start accelerating hydrogen first and then later lead ions, and finally (by 2011) reach full power. This gives time to test everything and let the users get a handle on the machine while also getting some data. Once it does start, it will blow Fermilab out of the water when it comes to power, but it will be some time until enough statistics can be gathered to rival the Tevatron.

Until then, there is work to be done.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Speaking of the anniversary, I was able to see the movie Moon, which was an amazing bit of SciFi. I don't want to give away much, considering how much effort the director took in making the movie unfold the way it did, but it deals with a single person living on the Moon for the sake of harvesting helium for fusion reactors on the Earth. The plot is heavy, but the way it came off was brilliant.

It has been in the theaters for a long while now, so showings are slowly disappearing. I recommend seeing it sooner than later. And how about in two days when the solar eclipse happens?

We Chose to Go

Forty years ago today (Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play)...

No, forty years ago today, we landed on the Moon, the nearest natural satellite to the Earth.

And amazingly, today we can still view where the Apollo 14 astronauts first took their steps.

One day, perhaps in my lifetime, similar video and pictures will be seen, but on the surface of Mars. Maybe we need to listen to those that went boldly where no one had gone before.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fiat Vita!

A recent article in Nature has just blown me away. Apparently, scientists at the University of Manchester have been able to produce ribonucleotides in the lab under pre-biotic conditions. That means that the building blocks of RNA, a building block of DNA, can be produced in the chemistry and conditions of Earth before life began. This is even bigger than the Urey-Miller experiment in the 1950s, not only because the chemistry more accurately represents the early Earth, but also because this was a major hurdle to the RNA world hypothesis, that life began with self-replicating RNA molecules. See the summary here.

I'm only a small bit weary because it is said articles in Nature have a tendency to be wrong because the magazine is so prestigious that scientists feel inclined to extend the results of their experiments beyond what the data allows. However, this seems to be a bit more direct.

So, this means that this is a new piece of evidence that strongly indicates that the Earth had the chemistry to allow life to originate on the planet without outside sources, be that panspermia or divine intervention. It's studies like this that make me wish I took more biology. This is simply awesome.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Republican "History"

I don't watch too much TV, in part by not having a TV and also because I prefer much of what I can get through the Internet. At least then I can choose what I want to see, not have to wait long, minimize commercials, and check for accuracy if I am trying to get information. If I had watched certain TV networks, I would probably be way off kilter from reality, something I prefer to know.

Too bad Fox News and certain Republicans don't hold to that philosophy. Here are some recent examples with video and commentary by TV figures and myself.

Let's start with the ever-incredibly wrong Michelle Bachmann (R-MN). Previously I noted that she didn't know or care to know squat about global warming and CO2, but apparently her ignorance isn't limited to science. History is also a weakness for her. Here are some excerpts lifted by Keith Olbermann:

Confirming Video

These facts are easily accessible by anyone with the ability to type into Google. Hell, anyone with their high school history book! I remember learning about this act under Hoover back in 10th grade. One would think that if you became a major politician you would at least know the history of the country and its decisions. But not Miss Bachmann.

Moving onto certain "news" outlets, Bill O'Reilly has been a staunch defender of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e. torture), but had to run through the history department at Fox News to see if President Obama, himself a scholar of law, was correct that former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, resisted the urges to torture Nazi prisoners even when London was being bombed by German aircraft, not to mention the fear of an invasion of the homeland in 1940-41. So Bill tried to argue the following:

Note that Bill's source is some professor and a university I'm not greatly familiar with, but none the less Bill is not using primary sources, let alone examining context nor anything else a historian would consider. Note also that Bill has made astoundingly wrong statements about WWII history, such as the massacre of Malmedy, blaming Americans for killing unarmed German soldiers when in fact it was exactly the opposite. Now, I don't consider most journalists or pundits on TV to be historians, but it seems Keith Olbermann was able to do that far better than Bill.

Keith goes to Churchill's own writings, a man who wrote profusely--this guy's history of a cabinet meeting would make Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War seem like a short read. Keith also pointed out the historical context for the positions Churchill took, the only way any historian should consider a moment in time. With better documentation and perspective, Keith produces a powerful rebuttal to O'Reilly and shows a much better wielding of historical methodology.

Finally, the biggest rationalization of all time! What could it be? Well, it's related to the Catholic Church and the heliocentric model.

There you have it, if someone is mortal, then it doesn't matter what happened to them or by whom. This is the biggest moral blank check I can possibly conceive of, and that is exactly what Kilmeade has done. Obviously he didn't take any philosophy courses while at Long Island University. Brian, that was some powerful stupid, perhaps even more so than that said by Bachmann. And that is some stiff competition.

Now, I did include a lot from Keith Olbermann, a big-time liberal, but his videos included the relevant samples that I was interested in, and Keith's commentaries on these points are unfortunately accurate (unfortunate for those at Fox and the GOP, that is). I may not agree with his assessment of a Republican take-over of history for the sake of Orwellian control of the masses, as it could be just plain stupidity and ego. But who knows.

And one last piece of crap from the friends at Fox and Friends. They had on ID proponent Casey Luskin, a person who is not a biologist but knows all biologists are wrong (except Michael Behe). I will let a realy biologist point out the errors in his recent comments on Fox.

This video includes clips from "Flock of Dodos" with another biologist.

It's wonderful how much Steven Doocey plays along with the utterly false statements by Luskin. Does Doocey really remember drawings in his high school biology book, especially since they probably were never there and certainly were not used to prove evolution. The blind lead the blind, hand in hand. Again, promoting the agenda of those that wish to dull the masses? You be the judge.

Nonetheless, stupidity seems to be the name of the game in modern American politics. I'm sure Republicans don't have a monopoly of this, but one must call a spade and spade, especially when this is the party that during the 2008 presidential elections had three candidates openly not believe in evolution (and Ron Paul later), had its main candidate call a planetarium star projector just some overpriced overhead projector, and a vice-presidential candidate who didn't know anything about international politics (such as the Bush Doctrine) and scoffed at fruit fly research, a primary vehicle of genetic research. This makes me want to purchase Charles Pierce's Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free. Because, after all,

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Powerful Crazy in the House--Bachmann is Clueless

It was recently Earth Day, so many had to "think green" because of environmental concerns. The biggest concern recently has been with the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. There is usually some level of equilibrium on sufficiently large scales of the gas in the atmosphere between production and consumption by things on earth, both biological and geological. If such an equilibrium were to be thrown off enough, it could lead to a warming trend in world temperatures which can lead to significant climatological problems for things that depend on its current state, including us humans. Human activity with the burning of fossil fuels, which return much of the stored carbon in the earth back into the atmosphere , has raised CO2 levels to a higher level than has been seen in history and far into prehistory.

It is the strong consensus of climatological scientists that CO2 levels have increased and are causing changes in the climate, that humans are a primary cause in the increase of CO2 levels, and that the effects will bring harm. However, the scenarios of what could happen do not include Armageddon. There may be increases of famine do to drying conditions, loss of property due to rising water levels, etc. Humans will survive the climate change; we just won't be happy, and the costs of such warming could very well outweigh any costs in trying to prevent or weaken this fate.

So, what the hell is up with Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-Minnesota)?

That is some powerful stupid.

CO2 is natural from nature, etc. Yeah, so is radium. So are tornadoes. So are plagues. What an example of the naturalistic fallacy.

No study to show that CO2 is harmful. Um, the problem isn't that CO2 levels will get to high to be poisonous. That would be a problem with something like mercury. (If the levels of CO2 were high enough, there would be problems, but that isn't the case for what industrialization is being blames for.) CO2 levels on the rise lead to problems with the environment, which then affects us. And if you want to see that CO2 can be harmful in itself, why do you think plastic bags say "Keep away from infants"? Because they will suffocate!

CO2 makes up ~3% of the atmosphere. Rep. Bachmann, ever hear of Wikipedia? If you had, you would know that you are off by two orders of magnitude. Not a trivial error. If she was right, we would all be dead.

Humans have increases CO2 by only 3%. Try ~30%.

And what is the most probable source?
CO2 levels are well away from natural levels for the last ~million years. Human activity is the most likely source, and the effects are becoming known.

So, which this many pictures, I have to include one more, taken from Bad Astronomy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The UN and Religion

Apparently, yesterday the United Nations passed a resolution in the General Assembly that included an amendment to combat the "defamation of religion". Such a title already seems more broad than should be desired by any nation with freedom of speech. When it comes to discrimination of people because of religion, this should easily be called unjust, and the UN already passed such a resolution some time ago.

Okay, first to put this in perspective. The UN has no real teeth. Money and troops come under UN control if other nations are willing to give such things. Much of the money comes from the United States and troops are many from the US and Europe, but hardly exclusively (perhaps not even in the majority?). This resolution was also passed in the General Assembly, not the Security Council which producing much more binding statements. The GA can only produce "symbolic" statements for other nations to take heart, but such resolutions certainly cannot change member-state constitutions. The US can ignore this resolution as it can most things the UN throws out, or as did Iraq according to the run-up statements before the war began in 2003. However, the existence of such a resolution passed by the majority of nations in the United Nations does send out a diplomatic shield to those it would protect. The question is, does the resolution protect those unfairly maligned by the prejudices of kooks and bigots, or does this give cover to nations and organizations with religious zealotry which do harm to citizens of the world?

So, what does the statement even say? Is it going to hinder free speech? I thought that perhaps some had over-hyped the nature of this resolution, making seem worse than it is. I first learned of it through sources such as Christopher Hitchens, a well known opponent of religion, an "anti-theist" by his own admission, so perhaps he was biased in his report for Slate.com. But is he right? Does the resolution want to limit free speech and criticism of religion? Well, yes.

For example, Paragraph 100, Section 5 says that states should
take serious steps to address the contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and in this context to take firm action against negative stereotyping of religions and defamation of religious personalities, holy books, scriptures and symbols.
So, I'm not supposed to defame religious personalities, holy books, and so on. Of course, I can defame politicians all I want. Why can't I say bad things about the Pope or certain Ayatollahs? Does this mean biblical criticism is off now? Bye-bye Documentary Hypothesis.

The resolution also points the blame at right-wingers against Islam who try to use xenophobia to rack up political points. That ignores liberals that attack this religion, such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, etc. (I would probably add myself, since I'm no right-winger, but I'm not a hippy as well.) The Dutch MP Geert Wilders seems to be in view of the UN resolution, whose documentary "Fitna" created a large stir on the Internet. I agree with critics of the film that it is more anti-immigrant than a proper critic of Islam, but we don't need to look far to find a Dutch MP producing a documentary critical of Islam.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali created a documentary years ago with a decendent of Van Goeth, and the director was killed! Ali has been under protection of years from a similar fate in the US. Ali is also part of a liberal party in the Netherlands, the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD); Geert used to be a member of this same part, but changed in 2006 to a right-wing group called the "Party of Freedom". Geert left the VVD because it was favorable to Turkey's inclusion into the EU, so he was much more against Islamic nations than the VVD in general. Ali can also give more valid criticism of Islam having been Muslim for much of her life and even chanted death threats to Salmon Rushdie.

Apparently now, if Ali, who was abused under Islam, dares criticize, she can be called a xenophobe because of this resolution. How different from the case of the murdering and raping monster in Austria. Should he be given protections if he declared that his actions were part of his religious tradition? Would criticism of his actions be "backward" and "elitist"? If not, then why not the forced circumsizion of women, the stoning of rape victims, the beheading of homosexuals, the death of apostates? Why does religion get a pass?

Obviously, this resolution is truly backward from what any sensible enlightened institution should produce. Imagine if this was passed in the days of Hume; his discourses on natural religion and human reason would have to be outlawed according to this nonsense. Bertrand Russel would have been sent to jail. The intellectual tradition of Western thought would be against the law, the tradition of free inquiry and the ability of all ideas coming to the free market to see what wins out. Apparently, religion has to be protected. Perhaps because it cannot stand up?

Fortunately, I live in the USA, and my country voted against this resolution, along with Canada, France, Germany, the UK, and even Israel, along with many other European nations. It's odd that nations such as Japan did not vote, and Russia voted in favor. I'm betting any nation I end up living in will most likely be against this piece of tripe. Well, as a citizen of the Red, White, and Blue, I must say, God bless . . . er, good goin', the USA.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Going to the Movies--Science and the Big Screen

Looks likes this is going to be another fun year of cinema with movies about Wolverine, Star Trek, and Transformers. The film "Knowing" also looks interesting, but Nicholas Cage movies can be very hit or miss with me. He also seems to be doing a fair bit of cinema on the occult, such as cryptic symbols in hiding secrets of America and now the hidden dimensionality of causation in the universe found in a time capsule.

Recently, I went to see the highly-anticipated "Watchmen". When it comes to graphic gore, it seems like "300" was a warm-up for this attraction. So much happened that it's hard to keep it all in my head--it was also nearly three hours long, but that didn't bother me since it was all necessary. I also like what this story, as well as "The Dark Knight" have done with the concept of the Hero. These ideas have developed so much from the early days of comics: hero comes, beats up bad guys, all is great, but maybe there is a cliff hanger such as there was at the end of every Batman episode back in the '60s. And for a movie with lots of blood and some sex, there didn't seem to be that much cursing, unlike "Casino" which had a rate of F-bombs per minute. I will now need to read the graphic novel to see what changed, considering the creator of the book was not pleased by the film version.

Also coming up soon is "Angels & Demons", again with Tom Hanks (great actor) and director Ron Howard (director of movies such as "Apollo 13" and "Frost/Nixon"). This one is a must-see for me not because of the novel, but because of CERN. The book wasn't that great to me, and the ending had so many twists Dan Brown made me feel like a ragged doll being whipped about. But the movie crew actually took a trip to CERN to look at the detectors and center, and it looks like they were inspired (taken from this trailer clip).

It looks like the rendered the ATLAS detector pretty well, but this glassed-in section at the bottom? Definetely not there in reality. It had to be there for a part of the book where the scientists and Langdon watch a matter-antimatter collision. Of course, when CERN is running there will be a huge amount of bremsstrahlung radiation. Also, this image only was sensible when the detector was being put together. This is no space to see anything, and all the activity is happening inside pipes and the core of this detector, leaving nothing to see. Besides, the collisions can only be detected with the use of advanced electronics; the eye isn't the best for viewing kaons.

Also, note the fashion of the scientists there. White coats? Total stereotype. These guys are chemists at the lab. When I was at CERN, most everyone was wearing much more casual clothing: blue jeans, tee shirts, etc. But it seems that crazy white hair and a lab coat and a crazy personality it just what Hollywood portrays the scientist as. For example see Doc from "Back to the Future". I don't necessarily mind. Bill Nye plays on the stereotype as well, comically and educationally, so I don't have a problem. But it should be pointed out that the dress of these guys on the set is quite reality.

The antimatter is also comical from a scientific standpoint.

That glowing mystery substance? Antimatter? In reality, antimatter is no different from normal matter except that the particles have their opposite charge. Electrons are positive (so called positrons), protons are negatively charged. In a universe dominated by antimatter, I would look the same. The only problem happens when matter and antimatter meet, and when that happens they annihilate and produce pure energy. If this matter was glowing, it would be because the vacuum is not perfect and the stuff is giving off photons, probably some gamma rays. In other words, you can think of the substance as decaying. By the end of the movie, there is no antimatter to "explode", and whoever carried this thing around will suffer a bad radiation dose.

Still, the trailer looks great, even more action-packed than the book it felt. The editors knew what they were doing. I'm also interested to see how much Vatican history the movie will talk about; from what I can gather, it won't be much better than the "history" found in "The Da Vinci Code". I bet the Catholic League will be all up-in-arms again when this movie comes out. Isn't that reason to see the film?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Recent Stellar Developments

It's been a very busy month with classes, labs, and all the things that make graduate student life so much, let's say, fun. Much time gets consumed by homework from classes like statistical mechanics, but there has still been some time at least to travel to someone special and to relax a bit a read a book or two.

More interestingly, there is a comet up in the sky right now, Lulin, but it below fifth magnitude so it's pretty much impossible for me to see in the city. However, if you can, check it out while it's around; the comet is around Saturn right now, close to the constellation Leo, so it is up almost all night.

Speaking of stars, I have perused the Internet to find a website that went after my article in S&T from 2007, along with pretty much all of biblical studies that came down against the historicity of the Star of Bethlehem. I contacted the creator of the long web article about a couple of things that I thought were erroneous, such as comets were not seen as evil omens in Babylon (the Enuma Ana Enlil and MUL.APIN say otherwise), the Greek verb proago does not mean lead or go forward (it does, and it certainly does so in the context of Matt 2:9), epano does not mean to be right over a particular place (completely false), that proago was in the imperfect aorist tense (such a tense is impossible linguistically and logically), and so on. After some exchange the main page of the article has been taken down, for revisions I suspect. Another of his pages mentions revisions, but I haven't noticed any, at least not important ones.

Since our exchange, he hasn't contact me concerning my last statements, but life is time consuming, so I don't necessarily take it to be an attempt to dodge my points. Perhaps he is researching my arguments. Perhaps he will show the errors of my way, along with most of biblical scholarship and all scholars of the world that say comets were almost universally seen as evil omens--in particular, the author does not provide a single primary or secondary source that says Babylonians or Persians saw comets as positive omens, while I have provided primary sources to the contrary.

As for articles, it appears that I will be having one of my own writings published in the Journal of Higher Criticism in the near future. Under the new publishing system, the next issue will come out when there is at least 150 pages of material. Currently, it is up to 94 pages. It makes me so impatient, but good things come to those who wait. None the less, this means that I will have something published in a biblical studies journal! That should already give me more credibility than most all researchers into the Star of Bethlehem who haven't published in peer-reviewed biblical or theological journals in about a generation, and almost never astronomers.

With all that out of the way, it's time to get to work, and travel back to Michigan. Monday night at Michigan State, biologist and well-known atheist Richard Dawkins will begin touring the US on a speaking run. I plan on going. And if someone has a lot of cash, give it to Ray Comfort so he can give it to Richard Dawkins. Well, perhaps not. Why give to Mr. Comfort and give him enough credence, believing that he can actually produce a coherent argument against, well, most anything, let along evolutionary science.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


So far, January has been nice and crazy. The new President certainly is worth talking about, and already the politics is getting hot. The winter storms recently have certainly made life a bit odd, considering the university actually closed yesterday. That never happened when I was at MSU, and the last time it did in 1994 was when the wind chill was 40F below, considered possibly lethal to walking students. It wasn't that bad here in Ohio, but the roads were supposed to have been aweful.

But what is making this month eventful for me are weddings. There are two this month, and in both I'm a groomsman. The first was a couple of weeks ago, and the next is on the last day of the month. This means a lot of tux fitting and a lot of driving. Not to mention lots of bachelor parties, including in other nations--Canada. Of course, I do like looking nice and dancing crazy with my girlfriend, but there is a lot of running around to be done, especially when I have to drive for more than four hours just to get to any one location I need to be in for Michigan events. But, in the end, it is worth it.

Also, the newest issue of Sky & Telescope has hit news stands, so my letter to the editor should be in there, but I haven't checked yet. I wonder what responses I can expect. I bet this will make an interesting February.