Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Salman, Storytelling, and Videogames for Iran


"As you journey through life take a minute every now and then to give a thought for the other fellow. He could be plotting something."  - Hagar the Horrible

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reducible Complexity

Telomerase Reversed Premature Aging in Mice

Ewen Callaway in SciAm:
Premature aging can be reversed by reactivating an enzyme that protects the tips of chromosomes, a study in mice suggests.
Mice engineered to lack the enzyme, called telomerase, become prematurely decrepit. But they bounced back to health when the enzyme was replaced. The finding, published online November 28 in Nature, hints that some disorders characterized by early aging could be treated by boosting telomerase activity. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)
It also offers the possibility that normal human aging could be slowed by reawakening the enzyme in cells where it has stopped working, says Ronald DePinho, a cancer geneticist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who led the new study. "This has implications for thinking about telomerase as a serious anti-aging intervention."
Other scientists, however, point out that mice lacking telomerase are a poor stand-in for the normal aging process. Moreover, ramping up telomerase in humans could potentially encourage the growth of tumors.

Wikileaks Reactions

conveniently aggregated by the Daily Dish.

Friday, November 19, 2010


"Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration--courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth. "  -  H.L. Mencken

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Irony Fail

The famous-overnight term-quitting former governor turned TV personality Sarah Palin:
writes in her new book that it was "disgusting" to watch Johnston, the estranged father of her grandson, exploit his sudden fame after she was chosen as U.S. Sen. John McCain's running mate in the 2008 election.
Seriously.  (From AP/Huffpost.)

Harvard Biovisions: Mitochondria

(h/t io9)


"Religion and science have a common ancestor - ignorance."  - A.C. Grayling

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hitch on the Bitch, Ctd

Christopher Hitchens talks to Tony Jones for ABC Lateline (P.1, via Reddit).   (Parts 2, 3, and 4).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Darwinian Theory of Beauty

The Craven Deal with Israel

I'm with Hitch:
Now we read that, in return for just 90 days of Israeli lenience on new settlement-building (this brief pause or "freeze" not to include the crucial precincts of East Jerusalem), Netanyahu is being enticed with "a package of security incentives and fighter jets worth $3 billion" and a promise that the United States government would veto any Palestinian counterproposal at the United Nations. Netanyahu, while graciously considering this offer, was initially reported as being unsure whether he "could win approval for the United States deal from his Cabinet." In other words, we must wait on the pleasure of Rabbi Yosef and Ministers Atias, Yishai, and Lieberman, who have the unusual ability to threaten Netanyahu from his right wing.
This is a national humiliation. Regardless of whether that bunch of clowns and thugs and racists "approve" of the Obama/Clinton grovel offer, there should be a unanimous demand that it be withdrawn.
The mathematics of the situation must be evident even to the meanest intelligence. In order for any talk of a two-state outcome to be even slightly realistic, there needs to be territory on which the second state can be built, or on which the other nation living in Palestine can govern itself. The aim of the extreme Israeli theocratic and chauvinist parties is plain and undisguised: Annex enough land to make this solution impossible, and either expel or repress the unwanted people. The policy of Netanyahu is likewise easy to read: Run out the clock by demanding concessions for something he has already agreed to in principle, appease the ultras he has appointed to his own government, and wait for a chance to blame Palestinian reaction for the inevitable failure.
Full article recommended.

Monday, November 15, 2010


"There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."  - Gore Vidal

Friday, November 12, 2010


"A magician pulls rabbits out of hats. An experimental psychologist pulls habits out of rats."  - Anonymous

Behind The Mysterious Fog

'Restoring Sanity' Not So Much

Jon Stewart holds a rally to restore sanity in Washington D.C. and who appears onstage?  Cat Stevens a.k.a. Yusuf Islam, supporter of the fatwa suborning the international murder of Salman Rushdie for the crime of writing a book, and an advocate of stoning women for adultery.

Of the spectacle, Rushdie said in a message to Nick Cohen, “I’ve always liked Stewart and Colbert but what on earth was Cat Yusuf Stevens Islam doing on that stage? If he’s a ‘good Muslim’ like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar then I’m the Great Pumpkin. Happy Halloween."

Rushdie then contacted Stewart to voice his disappointment.  Cohen:

Salman has messaged me again and says,
I spoke to Jon Stewart about Yusuf Islam's appearance. He said he was sorry it upset me, but really, it was plain that he was fine with it. Depressing.
"Pathetic" is the word I would use. If members of the Tea Party said that American intellectuals who renounced Christiainity deserved to die for their apostasy would Stewart be fine with that too? Of course he wouldn't. His eyes would roll, his voice would thunder and that charming schoolboy smile would vanish from his face. He would never forget, until they repudiated.
With intellectuals from the Muslim world, it is a different matter entirely. Stewart does not seem to mind that Cat Yusuf Stevens Islam has never apologized for his support for Salman's murder...
 So, in one of the only stunts presented without irony during a rally for restoring civility in the face of extremism, we got Yusuf Islam.  Andrew Anthony, of The Observer, describes an encounter to Cohen: 
He told me in 1997, eight years after saying on TV that Rushdie should be lynched, that he was in favour of stoning women to death for adultery. He also reconfirmed his position on Rushdie. He set up the Islamia school in Brent, which is currently undergoing council-backed expansion. Its mission statement three years ago explicitly stated that its aim was to bring about the submission of the individual, the community and the world at large to Islam. For this aim it now receives state funding. Its an incubator of the most bonkers religious extremism and segregation, and is particularly strong on the public erasure of women. Why do people go to such lengths to ignore these aspects of Yusuf Islam's character and philosophy?

I like the Daily Show, and the Colbert Report, but this criticism cannot go unmade.  The 'Rally to Restore Sanity' turned out a wet, masturbatory, false-equivalence-fest in which Stewart, by design, paraded himself the pied piper of sanity and civility, all the while happy to appear with an Islamist reactionary who is violently against freedom of speech.  It does wonders for that message of tolerance, doesn't it?

Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.  Freedom of speech is everything.

(h/t Book Haven)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stenger, Stinger

Victor Stenger cross-publishes an interview he gave to Greek weekly EleftherotypiaQuestion 4:
So what is faith?

Faith is belief in something in the absence of empirical evidence or reason for that belief. It provides no information about reality and no basis for human action. Science is not based on faith since it relies on observations and reason.
Why should "people of faith" be deferred to on matters of morals? This deference is based on the false assumption that morals come from God. In fact, a study of history amply demonstrates that morality arises when humans, and even some animals, need to have rules of behavior in order to maintain the cooperative society necessary for survival. Believers have been led to think that morality comes from God and that it is not possible to be an atheist and be moral. The observed fact is that atheists are at least as moral as believers, perhaps even more so.
While the Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim scriptures contain some excellent moral teachings, they are not original with those writings. For example, the Golden Rule taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount goes back thousands of years earlier and can be found in the writings of many ancient sages such as Confucius and Isocrates, and in the Hindu Mahabharata.
Ethics and morality come from humanity, not God. They are rules of behavior needed for a functioning society. Even many animals have a primitive morality, such as altruism.
Those nations without dominant God-belief have far less murder than the God-smitten Unites States and are healthier in many other respects.
Not only can we be good without God, we can be better without God.

Young Man Arrested by Palestinian Authority for Atheistic Facebook and Blog Posts

Diaa Hadid reports for the Canadian Press:
Residents of Qalqilya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was leading a double life.
Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father's barbershop, Husayin was secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time.
Now, he faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for "insulting the divine essence." Many in this conservative Muslim town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.
"He should be burned to death," said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqilya resident. The execution should take place in public "to be an example to others," he added.
Over several years, Husayin is suspected of posting arguments in favour of atheism on English and Arabic blogs, where he described the God of Islam as having the attributes of a "primitive Bedouin." He called Islam a "blind faith that grows and takes over people's minds where there is irrationality and ignorance."

Scientology, The Quiz

Think you know Scientology?  Test your knowledge.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


"There's a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good."  - Burton Hillis

Fermi Discovers Huge Gamma-Ray Bubbles in our Galaxy

Image Credit:  NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

From nasa.gov
WASHINGTON -- NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has unveiled a previously unseen structure centered in the Milky Way. The feature spans 50,000 light-years and may be the remnant of an eruption from a supersized black hole at the center of our galaxy.

"What we see are two gamma-ray-emitting bubbles that extend 25,000 light-years north and south of the galactic center," said Doug Finkbeiner, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., who first recognized the feature. "We don't fully understand their nature or origin."

Monday, November 8, 2010


"This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer."  - Will Rogers

Machines Mourn the Passing of People

Friday, November 5, 2010


"It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this."  - Bertrand Russell

IQ2 Interview: Goldacre

Full interview here.

Monday, November 1, 2010


"This sentence contains two erors." - Doug Hofstadter

"Fucking Brilliant"

What gives swear words their effect?

Part 2:


SciAm reviews a study showing an emotional response to the minor third in both language and music:
Almost everyone thinks "Greensleeves" is a sad song—but why? Apart from the melancholy lyrics, it's because the melody prominently features a musical construct called the minor third, which musicians have used to express sadness since at least the 17th century. The minor third's emotional sway is closely related to the popular idea that, at least for Western music, songs written in a major key (like "Happy Birthday") are generally upbeat, while those in a minor key (think of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby") tend towards the doleful. 
The tangible relationship between music and emotion is no surprise to anyone, but a study in the June issue of Emotion suggests the minor third isn't a facet of musical communication alone—it's how we convey sadness in speech, too. When it comes to sorrow, music and human speech might speak the same language.

Hitch on the Bitch, Ctd

Hitch talks Tumortown with NPR.