Who Needs Fingers?
I believe this company also makes the ever popular "Razor Wire Knitting Kit" and "Fun with Crushed Glass" baking sets.
Thoughts and ideas for the everyday person.
I believe this company also makes the ever popular "Razor Wire Knitting Kit" and "Fun with Crushed Glass" baking sets.
I love proclamations. Just think of how much better life would be if I could just "declare" that things were going to be a certain way (My desire to do this explains my lust for absolute power).
This is a wonderful review by Terry Eagleton of a new book on one our great thinkers. Here are a few snippets,
"Wittgenstein had no time for the notion that philosophy was a set of propositions about the world; it was more a demystifying practice or therapeutic intervention than a system of doctrines. Like the Freudian analyst, its task was not to make propositions but to elucidate them."
"...it is salutary to be reminded that Wittgenstein, unlike Stanley Fish or Jacques Derrida, by no means believed that interpretation goes all the way down. On the contrary, he taught us that the word has force only in situations where there is genuine doubt over meaning."
No wait, it's just another one of CNN's incredibly sensationalist headlines. Don't worry, the FBI can't hear you on Mars (yet).
I am going to break the current silence on the greatest problem facing the
I know you don’t want to believe that grand mom has been plotting against you this entire time but it is an unfortunate fact. How many times have you arrived at her house to find her “just taking the cookies out of the oven”? How many cookies can she possibly bake? Grand mom isn’t baking cookies, she’s formulating detailed issue papers, calling congressmen and congresswomen, and perpetuating the myth that older Americans are somehow in special need of society’s largess. Did you know that the poverty rate of those 65 and older is lower than that of the population as a whole and has been that way since 1974? Did you know that in 2000 35% of ALL federal spending dollars went to social security/Medicare and by 2040 that number will be something like 60%? Older Americans do have to deal with “huge” medical bills due to their deteriorating health (A fact you will often see played up in the media) but the average medically related bankruptcy filer is a 41 year old home owning woman, not a 77 year old male shuffleboard player. The unfortunate side-effect of the New Deal and the Great Society was to inculcate an idea among American citizens that the
So, where did we go wrong? A major problem is that the age limit to Social Security was enacted at a time when CT scans were science fiction and cancer treatment consisted of morphine and a “Good to know ya.’”. I admit that it is unfortunate that all of the oldies out there have banked on social security for all of their retirement needs but I’m sorry, for the health of society we are ALL going to have to sacrifice, you included. I can think of several changes we could make right now; first, no more bullshit “old people” wheelchair seating on flights. Is it just me or does every single old person now require a wheelchair to get on a freaking plane? I saw one guy lug his golf bag in from his huge Cadillac (of course), stroll to Cinnabon, then request a wheelchair and priority seating due to his arthritic hip. How about this Oldie Oldstein, if you can play golf you can sure as hell walk the 100 yards to the gate and wait with the rest of us. And no, I don’t care if you have a colostomy (although I pray I don’t sit next to you).
Even shopping is now a hazard because, in a fit of genius, stores have begun to provide people who can barely handle a car with motorized electric wheelchairs. They then set them loose along narrow aisles filled with people. Let’s be honest, most of these people are either fat (I see plenty of 40 something fatties in those things) or just lazy. What did old people do 5 years ago before they filled the stores with those things? I’ll tell you what, they drove to the store in their monstrous cars and walked down the aisle to get their batteries, milk, and bread (because it’s going to rain 0.5 inches three weeks from Tuesday) on their own two feet. And do they require any proof of driving ability to use one of those things? I saw a 65 year old guy take out a seven year old at Wal-Mart. It was ugly, the guy had glasses on so thick I think he could see the future but somehow he missed a huge preteen in the middle of the candy section (In
If we just added on a few years to the Social Security age limit maybe we could pay for 1/100th of that generous new prescription drug benefit that was never meant to be a part of Medicare. But, our politicians have forgotten how to lead and only remember how to follow (particularly the wishes of a large, well coordinated voting block such as, say, OLD PEOPLE). Someone needs to stand up and say “Enough” to these people. We have given away the store (In the form of vast entitlements, privileges, and motorized wheelchairs) and now are left holding the bill but they still ask for more and yet want to pay less. I do find it difficult to say all of these things to people who spent 2 years of their life in Europe or the Pacific defending my freedom but call me crazy, all of those people in the senior citizen line couldn’t have been at Bataan. Personally, I’m not going to go around kicking senior citizens in the shins (although I think about it) but I don’t think I’m going to be able to hold back next time I sit down next to one and they begin to pontificate on what they “deserve”.
Seriously, why are they still crowding my pocket? I despise those little copper craps more than heel blisters which is why I’m starting a country wide boycott. I will no longer deal in pennies. Heretofore all of my purchases will be rounded (in my favor). I suggest you all join the movement.
Last night at 11:45 p.m. my television committed suicide. It is true. I was moving it from a place of honor in my living room to its small alter in my bedroom when it leapt out of my hands to the cold, hard floor below. I am still not sure why it would do this. Was it too many hours of “American Chopper”? Is it possible that my television could not stand yet another night of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”? I can’t believe it. We had such a wonderful relationship. I would turn it on whenever I was even close to hear that soft soothing hum of C-SPAN in the background. I couldn’t dream of going to sleep without the flickering light and hushed voices it provided. Why have you left me television? What am I going to do now?
I am unabashedly in love with television. You will find many Americans who deny the fact that they even watch television let alone kneel in front of it to be enveloped by its soft purple haze and vibrant timbre. I can’t even sleep without the television in the background. Last night I re-read the entirety of Kant’s “Fundamentals” and was still up until 3 a.m., absently reaching for the remote in the vain hope that with just one more click she would come back to life. I have since given up all hope of resuscitation. I must reconcile myself with the fact that my television is gone; that it would rather rot in the technological junkyard with mainframe computers and outmoded fax machines than provide me with just one more episode of “Nature”. Where we went so wrong I will never know.
I am consoled though by the flashy websites containing a multitude of beautiful new televisions. Why, for only a few dollars more than I paid for the 25’’ TV/VCR combination that committed seppuku in my living room I can have a gleaming 27 inch model with picture in picture, flat screen, S-video, and of course, the sleep option. I am already dreaming of the time we’ll spend together. Nights with Bravo, mornings with C-SPAN, and all of the infomercials I can stand in between! Perhaps this loss has really been for the best. Maybe my previous television relationship wasn’t as healthy as I once believed. It did often take several “clicks” of the remote to come to life and the picture was often a little fuzzy toward the end of the day. Those scratches I once referred to as “character marks” really didn't do much for the aesthetics of my room. I suppose picking up and moving on, trading in the old for the new is just a part of life. It’s possible that the television knew this even more than I and decided that rather than undergo the pain and humiliation of my direct rejection that the floor was the best option.
I am sure I don’t have to overtly convey the implications of this nuance piece but think how lucky we are that we don’t treat humans as we do other objects, using people to our own ends then discarding them at will.
I have been a bit stressed lately and a friend of mine suggested that I “Pray to God for guidance”. Apparently things weren’t going too well in his life so he said a few prayers and voila; he awoke the next day to a job offer. I wish I could believe that I could “hand all my problems over” to the J-man and kick back and wait for the good times to roll. There have been a few times in my life when I was worried about a big test or making that last payment and I said a quick prayer to hedge my bets. Strangely though, not much happened until I started praying with my head in a book or by writing a prayer down in the form of my signature on a check. In reality if I’m going to ask God to perform some miracle on my behalf via his omnipotence I’m definitely asking for something big. I’m going straight for X-ray vision, laser beam eyeballs, or the ability to read minds. That way on the off chance he does decide to fulfill my wish I will have hit the jackpot. On second thought, I can think of something I need more and won't so obviously contravene the laws of physics. God, if you're reading this and aren't too busy increasing the penis size of some fat rich kid in Kuala Lampur I'm hereby saying a prayer for a completed thesis. You can just put it on my desk....
I don’t know what Burger King was thinking but the new plastic/serial killer “King” they have hawking their burgers is like Deep Woods Off for customers. In case you haven’t seen it most commercials involve a guy waking up and strolling out of bed to the sound of rapping at his window. Upon opening the curtains he sees what looks like some combination of the killer from “Valentine”, Mike Meyers from “Halloween” , and that creepy ass plastic family from the Duracell commercials (I think people actually went back to wind powered radios after those ads). Now, the king is holding a sandwich and the guy just smiles and opens the window. This is totally ridiculous. If some huge plastic guy (He has to be huge, he’s tall enough to be head level with this guy’s window) dressed as a king with a maniacal look on his face (see above) came to my window in the morning the last thing I would be doing is eating the chicken sandwich, it’s way, way too early for that. It would be much more realistic if he showed up with a croissan’wich, some French toast sticks or maybe even that new breakfast whopper that has so many calories you actually don’t have to eat for an entire month after gulping one down (Supposedly it’s made specifically for people who want to hibernate as well as the entire mid-west).
The level of disparity between the rich and the poor in the
While it is true that the distribution of wealth in the United States is much less "equitable" than its European counterparts it is worthwhile to note that the average standard of living enjoyed by U.S. citizens is much higher than every country in the EU (excepting Luxembourg). For example, the standard of living (as measured by the average GDP per capita) in the United States allows the average American to spend $9,700 more per year in consumables (cars, electronics, etc..) than their average European counterpart. In 1959 22% of Americans were considered to be living below the poverty line while today that figure stands at 12%. In addition, in 1999 25% of Americans were classified as “low income” while if
The ability of the European economies to focus on those “quality of life” issues such as 6 weeks of annual vacation, 35 hour work weeks, and “universal” health care is possible only by accepting a de fact lower standard of living and, even then, is only enabled via huge indirect subsidies from the U.S. economy. These soft subsidies are transmitted in several ways. The most often cited is the
In addition to defense spending, the healthcare system in the
Yet another major subsidy provided by the
Thus, the “leisure” and “quality of life” emphases of the “European model” discount the fact that the E.U. can afford to have high unemployment rates and “generous” social welfare systems as they are handing off many of the costs to the U.S. marketplace and, in effect, to United States taxpayers. So, should the U.S. choose to disincentivize production and innovation via an attempt to create an absolute equality of wealth distribution the question must be asked, who would provide the market necessary to induce the innovations on which the world relies to maintain the constant increase in quality of life? I submit that the market would stagnate, that innovation across all industrial/service sectors would be significantly curtailed, and that we would soon have to make due with life “as it is” rather than “how it could be”.
The moral case against market dynamism and the resultant wealth distribution asymmetry argues that society should completely provide for the least able before allowing investment in products which may be deemed to be superfluous. This argument is valid although it assumes that the provision of goods and services to the least able would be adequate in an economy without the market incentives present in the
I must emphasize though, even if the
I know it's been a few days since my last update. I have been knee deep in weddings, graduations, and jousting. I have just finished a compartive report on the operational theory of the European versus American economies. I'll post it soon. Til' then check out www.aldaily.com. It's the best.
I usually don't post simple links but this page is hilarious.
Why do we trust “experts” to tell us what is “great”? Gastronomes sing the praises of escargot and foie gras, things that were only ever eaten because snails were slower than deer and if you could catch a duck a few hundred years ago well, you might as well eat the whole thing. Oenophiles tell us that we aren’t living unless we’re drinking that $100 bottle of Chilean Merlot we probably can’t distinguish from the $9 version at Sam’s Club and movie critics call us “coarse” and “unrefined” if we don’t immediately proclaim Sideways the greatest movie of the past 25 years (Obviously it’s Roadhouse) I am sorry but other than the naked guy (which I won’t go into detail on but it was fairly funny), the movie just wasn’t that great. It actually combines two things I can’t stand, pretension and overweight people who constantly end sentences in prepositions.
Seriously, who gave the green light to this movie and why are they not on the unemployment line? The original show wasn’t funny, Pam Dawber wasn’t hot, and every show had some incredibly not-at-all insightful comment on humanity made by Robin Williams (Ironically, while he was blowing through a kilo of coke a day) to some invisible guy in a dark room. Maybe that is the key to appreciating the show; lot’s and lot’s of drugs. I’ll tell you what isn’t the key to the show, the writing and acting.
Speaking of acting I have to state the obvious here; Robin Williams is not funny. I must apologize to all of you who find someone acting as if they had just mainlined a triple speedball hilarious but his act doesn’t do it for me. About the only thing I find humorous about Robin Williams is that he’s so hairy it looks he’s half wombat. He must never be cold. If he ever runs out of cash he should shear himself like a lamb and make and sell thousands of sweaters (Or maybe knit a blanket that I could put over my head whenever “Patch Adams” comes on TV). I’ll admit that he isn’t bad a dramatic actor but I think it might just be that I’m relieved he isn’t jumping around the room shouting in the voice of Popeye.
There are a million better ideas for TV Movies than “Mork & Mindy”. Why don't they remake “The Fall Guy”? They could fuse it with “The Six Million Dollar Man” and the real life story of Lee Majors. The story would involve a bounty hunter who spends his days nabbing criminals on the lamb, crushing tennis balls in his hand, and bionically banging every chick in Hollywood (The bionic sound would be especially effective in the sex scenes). No, the geniuses who cancelled “Mr. Show”, didn’t turn the “Tenacious D” shorts into a full running program, and cancelled “The Upright Citizen’s Brigade” would never give this a go. I suppose I’ll have to sit through the “Facts of Life” reunion sequel currently gaining momentum and the inevitable dramatic miniseries based on “ALF”
Seriously, they are super cool. Take for example my 3 year old nephew (shown above). He is undoubtedly a genius. Whenever I see him he has somehow managed to finagle huge amounts of candy from my sister (The only woman I know who is strong enough to live in a house with three men) while simultaneously discussing the apparent moral/classist conflicts inherent in the Power Rangers television series (“Power rangers only shoot the ugly people.”). It is no surprise to me that someone who at least tangentially shares my genetics expresses such gifts at a young age. His brother happens to be one of the best baseball players in the country under the age of 17 (He’s 6). He is less than 1⁄4 of my age yet his athletic ability exceeds my own. I am not kidding, he swings a bat like Barry Bonds but the only juice he uses is Mott’s. My nieces are just as talented.
One niece, for example, dances as well as any prima ballerina I have seen, sings mellifluously in the choir, yet manages to hold discussions on the epistemology of death matched only by Edgar Allen Poe (“Caroline is sick. Is she going to die? How do we really know someone is dead?”). Her younger sister has the patience of Job. I have witnessed her rebound from a particularly nasty rotavirus with nary a complaint. She also has the incredibly rare ability at the age of three to play quietly while making few demands on her mother (who is a saint). My other nieces are no less amazing. One has more library books out than I do. Her mother (a genius) encourages her voracious appetite for reading. I will see her next week and would not be a bit surprised if I found her in the living room of my parent’s house perusing the op-ed section of the Wall Street Journal (Oops, sorry Moe, the New York Times). Her younger sister, who is but three years old, has somehow managed to develop her vocal skills to a level only achieved by yodelers in the Alps while exhibiting a fearlessness around people (and swimming pools) that fates her to a career in international politics. So you see, when I say they are awesome it is a factual statement, not simply my opinion.
(Addendum: Even with their near perfect children I must admit that my sisters display superhuman powers in parenting. Let’s hope we all get it this right when the stork comes knocking on our door.)
I would LOVE to say that this story was fictional but it’s not. If you don’t want to click on the link because you are using Internet Explorer and don’t want to deal with the extra windows (Please, get Firefox.) just read the first sentence of the story.
“A man trying to pay a fee using $2 bills was arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail after clerks at a Best Buy store questioned the currency's legitimacy and called police.”
I am sure this is a reaction to the widely distributed story concerning a woman who attempted to pay for her purchases at Wal-Mart with a million dollar bill but it is still just sad. The fact that they handcuffed the guy, took him to jail, and then had to wait until a secret service agent got there before he was released is a study in idiocy. There wasn't one person among the many people dealing with this criminal who had ever heard of a 2 dollar bill? I hope that this guy sues and gets millions upon millions of dollars paid of course, in two dollar bills.
Today is lab clean-up. This entails taking all of the noxious chemicals sitting in the back of my hood (A big box with a fan on the top so I don’t have to breathe in toxic fumes) and either putting them into waste containers or placing them into someone else’s area so they have to deal with them. The latter is my method of choice for dealing with things such as metallic mercury and hydrogen chloride lecture bottles. It is also a prime opportunity to expose oneself to some really mutagenic, carcinogenic chemicals. Over the past 5 years I have spilled benzene on my pants, absorbed countless liters of methylene chloride through latex gloves, inhaled just about every volatile mutagen known to mankind, and virtually bathed in pyridine. This does not bode well for my genetic makeup.
After spending this much time around teratogens my chromosomes most likely resemble rotten spaghetti while my Cerebus-like 6-headed sperm would be lucky to make it to an egg with the help of a motorized wheelchair. Of course, if by some miracle one of my crippled sperm should reach a female ovum it will surely result in some abomination of genetic abnormality. At this point I can only hope that my child’s deformity will only be superficially disgusting so that I can launch him/her/it into a lucrative career as a sideshow performer. Graduate school has a way of lowering one’s expectations. A few years ago I might have hoped for a son who would become a football star or maybe a daughter who would turn out to be a radiologist but now I am just hoping that the hours at the bat-boy tent aren’t too long.
I used to be under the impression that taking the train was efficient. I no longer hold that belief. I have been sitting in a station for the past 3 hours waiting for a train that looks like it may never come. How many things can possibly go wrong? I suppose the engine could go down but if 1000’s of airplanes can fly around the globe without an engine failure it seems that a few locomotives that aren’t suspended in mid-air could be similarly reliable. Is an entire flock of spotted owls perched on the track? I would love to know. Fortunately I have taken advantage of this gift of time to keep everyone updated with the minutiae of my life. Now, if I could just upload this work of genius I would be happy. I could take advantage of Cingular’s incredibly generous offer of 24 hours of internet access for the rock bottom price of $9.95 (only at a single location mind you) but I think I will pass. It is more than a little chintzy to demand 10 bucks then limit the accessibility to one station. If I had to spend 24 hours at ANY Amtrak station I think I would commit seppuku in the coffee shop before I could get my money’s worth.
I’m not sure when John Stewart decided that his show should be used as a soap box for his own “enlightened” views on politics but recently I have felt like I’ve been watching a comedy act sponsored by the DNC rather than a television news spoof program. I understand that some people don’t like President Bush and I certainly disagree with more than a few of his policies but the Daily Show has gone from light hearted lampooning to a constant tirade against the “Republican Menace”. I wouldn’t have a problem with this (Although I think it’s a mistake in terms of direction) if many of the viewers of the Daily Show didn’t receive the totality of their news from this cable comedy program. John Stewart offers editorials on the ineptitude of the administration while resisting real criticism by hiding behind the cloak of “the show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls”. Sorry John, if you are going to get into the political analysis game, and freely admit that many of your viewers look to you as a “source of news”, you are going to be held to a higher standard. I agree with Mr. Stewart that most “news” these days is simply party line analysis performed by political hacks which offers little in the way of an honest discussion of the issues but I don’t believe The Daily Show is any better. It used to be tongue in cheek but has now come to take itself much, much too seriously.
With all of the problems I have with The Daily Show I must admit that there are still sketches I love and John Stewart is still an amazingly funny talent (With a gift for playing to the audience). I just wish that he’d realize that he’s a comedian who is dangerously close to becoming a preacher. John, do me a favor and step back a bit. Make fun of the President, lampoon speaker Hastert, do the interviews about the kid with the head so big he couldn’t find a football helmet to fit it, but just please stop pontificating. If you do feel some responsibility to your viewers to present political information then please make an attempt to be at least less biased. I’m only writing this because I love(d) your show and want you to know that you are dangerously close to becoming the James Carville of Comedy Central; funny and interesting to be sure but a party hack nonetheless.
Most Americans do not understand science. I really think I don’t need more proof than the fact that the 1-800-ASTROLOGY lines are still in business but just in case that isn’t enough check out our ranking among industrialized countries (I think the only way we would fare better is if we were compared to countries still using the abacus and worshipping tree gods. Think about our per-pupil spending and then let me know why we are doing so poorly.). I don’t want to condemn superstition or entertaining beliefs but if you are throwing salt over your shoulder, burying statues in your lawn to sell your house, or giving people money to lift curses off of your family something, somewhere has gone seriously wrong. So, to all of this why don’t we allow a few religious zealots to teach 4th graders that the earth did not “evolve” but was created just thousands of years ago! We could relate how the devil, being the great trickster he is, buried dinosaur bones to fool us into believing in the evil theory of evolution (I once went out on a date with an absolutely beautiful nurse who told me that she didn’t believe in evolution. She actually pulled out the “dinosaur bones are tricks by the devil line”. Hey, I’m a guy and I can overlook A LOT when it comes to an attractive female but that date ended with a puff of smoke and a me shaped hole in the restaurant wall.). We could then use the bible in all sorts of fun ways to teach children facts about history (That was one hell of a boat Noah!), how to stay safe in a whale’s digestive tract (Just ask Jonah), or even methods of levitation (If you just have enough faith you can sprint across water like Carl Lewis on a track). Why demand scientific rigor, or even simple evidence in our classrooms ?(I’m not saying that religion isn’t useful in relaying moral values but scientifically it’s less than useless.)
I suppose this would make things easier on the people who hold our nation’s future in their hands. Should any of them disagree with a question on an exam they could look up a related verse in the bible, twist it to fit their interpretation of an event, and then say “God says it’s so. Prove me wrong.” (Sound familiar, creationists?). Relating that evolution is “just a theory” and that creationism is a “viable alternative” is not an innocuous act. Children will soon learn that the rigor of the scientific method is interchangeable with belief without proof. This could easily backfire on creationists by inculcating a sense of relativism (The very thing creationists hate but something which inevitably results when one bases “factual” information on a text very open to interpretation). I can see it now, a debate at Harvard between scientists who believe that volcanoes are due to plate tectonics versus fundamentalists who state that there are invisible rock demons who vomit fiery retribution onto the wicked of the earth (Funny how those guys are always invisible. Just like the tooth fairy.).
Of course it could be that we are just “shifting the mystery”. By offering a scientifically based explanation for a miraculous event (spontaneous remission of cancer for example) with no absolute “proof” are we performing the same act as hypothesizing that it was a “miracle of god”? Of course not, the fact is that the scientific hypothesis is based on internally self-consistent and experimentally verifiable theories and laws. For example, if 400 years ago we had happened upon a dead man in the woods with no apparent physical damage one might say that god hated the man and struck him down while another might postulate that he died of a physical ailment. At the time there was no way of determining between the two but does that make the former proposition just as acceptable as the latter?
So what does this mean for society? So we have a few kids who believe that the field of evolutionary biology is akin to phrenology, what is the harm in that? Well, when you are attempting to maintain a functioning society along with a functioning economy it helps to be productive. And guess what folks, calculators aren’t “made by God”, and all of those new medicines, they aren’t miracles. They were all formulated following those rules of science about which we are becoming so cavalier. So, if you’d like to allow creationists equal access perhaps you should also prepare to substitute praying for aspirin, chants for surgery, and maybe when your car breaks down just sprinkle on a little eye of newt. After all it can’t hurt, can it?
Recently there has been an organized effort by creationists (I refuse to call them “proponents of Intelligent Design” as it only feeds into their public relations efforts to rename themselves and thus escape the criticism they deserve) to insert what amounts to astrology into science education. In their current guise creationists describe themselves as “scientists” who offer “scientific” objections to the theory of evolution. In fact, they describe it as “incompatible” with the observed complexity of life. Creationists cleverly avoid associating themselves with religion by sophistically attacking the scientific basis of evolution by calling it “just a theory” while implying that if evolution can not successfully explain the origin of life a supernatural force must be at work. Unfortunately the scientific literacy of the American public is such that the attacks of the pseudo-scientists have taken hold on a number of fronts. I will discuss their objections to evolution specifically then, in a later article, discuss the disastrous consequences possible should their efforts to alter science education succeed.
What is a “theory”? The normal usage of the term indicates something that is unfounded, in fact just an idea that someone has offered with little or no evidence. The scientific use of the term is much different. Theories in science follow “hypotheses” which are more closely related to the general usage of the word “theory”. When a process is noted in nature scientists offer ideas, or “hypotheses” that could potentially explain the observation. Following this conjecture they experimentally test their hypothesis via the normal scientific process, by proposing experiments which would eliminate alternative theories while buttressing their own idea. These experiments are then published in the scientific literature, complete with the researcher’s hypothesis. Subsequently, other scientists in the area attempt to replicate the researcher’s data while possibly offering competing hypotheses which would also explain the event. After a period a single “theory” usually emerges which best explains the observation. This “theory” has been exhaustively tested in the laboratory and has withstood scrutiny from experts on a number of fronts. Thus, the attempt to use the term “theory” as a pejorative by creationists may gain traction with the scientifically unversed but sounds much like fingernails on a chalkboard to those familiar with the practice of science.
The theory of evolution has recently been attacked by creationists by rehashing an old argument made by William Paley which states that the very complexity of life evidences a designer. Paley asked that if a person should find a pocket watch in a field would it not make the most sense to assume that someone had fashioned it and then left it in that place (Rather than it had formed there spontaneously)? He predated Darwin (Who read, and appreciated, Paley’s work) and thus was not familiar with the theory of natural selection. Ostensibly, his argument makes sense. In our limited time on this earth how often have we seen complex structures formed by what seem to be random processes? Have we ever dropped a coffee mug to see it form a saucer on the floor? Not likely. Darwin’s Black Box, a book written by Mike Behe, uses this visceral reaction to summative processes to “prove” evolution wrong. He states that some portions of animals, plants, even bacteria, would not possibly function in a useful manner if they were missing a single part. For example, what possible function could bacterial flagella (The rotating tails which aid in the movement of certain bacteria) have predating their current form? By implication he states that they could not have possible “evolved”, they must have been created fully functional, in their current form.
This creation argument seems reasonable, doesn’t it? What good would an eye be if it couldn’t see things? What possible good could blood clotting proteins be before they quelled bleeding? The problem with this line of argument is the limits of Professor Behe’s imagination (And, apparently, his intellect). A number of articles have offered possible, even probable, usages of these and many other processes and structures in the body as they evolved (Including evidence for these past uses). For example, there are a number of cells in organisms which respond to the stimulus of light. It is quite possible that these cells became centralized and associated within the organism conferring an evolutionary advantage by allowing, for example, photosynthetic organisms to move to areas with higher intensities of light. It is difficult for all of us to imagine evolution on a macroscopic scale. How is it possible for “random” genetic mutations to produce phenotypical advantages that make one organism better suited to life in a certain environment? The problem is that the human lifespan is rather short and we tend to view all things through the lens of our own history. Over millions of years it has been shown (and even observed) that genetic mutations do lead to additive changes in organisms which allow populations to adapt to a changing environment. I know it is difficult to imagine this occurring. It is quite often the case in science that the explanations for phenomena are counter-intuitive. In fact, many initial “common sense” hypothesis turn out to be incorrect. I am reminded of quantum mechanics. I have yet to understand how something could be in two states at one time or randomly “pop” through a wall and appear on the other side. Fortunately, I am not alone in this difficulty.
Yet another canard employed by pseudo-scientific creationists to “disprove” evolution, or in reality to necessitate a creator, is the “Thermodynamic proof of Design”. This is an especially embarrassing misuse of science as it is so obviously misguided. Certain creationists postulate that as the 2nd law of thermodynamics (explained in detail in this link but, in a bit of simplification, states that a system tends towards an increasing state of disorder. That “disorder” is called entropy and given a value in energy. A more positive value means less order, a more negative value means more order.). From this law creationists postulate that, since life requires so much organization that a higher power must be working against the 2nd law to “create” and “design” these living beings.
The thermodynamic proof of “Design” is, of course, a gross misunderstanding of very basic physics. For example, I was in the supermarket a few weeks ago (A rarity, I buy almost every meal. I believe that most things in life should be done by professionals, including cooking) and as I walked by a very ordered pyramid of oranges collapsed and fell to the floor. As rolled to a stop on the floor they formed an almost perfect star shaped pattern. Does that pattern indicate that some invisible power wanted a star shaped pile of oranges on the floor? No. But, you ask, doesn’t this new shape of oranges violate the second law? No. You see what is often not mentioned by the creationists is that the 2nd law specifies that the overall order of any system tends to decrease with time. If you don’t consider that previously the oranges were neatly stacked you might believe that a “designer” was involved. (I know, this begs the question of “what caused the oranges to fall”. To that I would ask that if you believe that every single thing requires a cause, what caused God? The prime mover argument is old indeed and fraught with errors. I would suggest that we should all consider the possibility of the universe as a vacuum fluctuation, rather than require an infinite regress. And please don’t offer the anthropic argument of design as a valid proof.). The same goes with the argument concerning life, while the overall order of organisms is indeed increasing (By using massive amounts of energy I might add. A former professor of mine once defined life as “The battle against equilibrium”, or the state reached by organisms when they run out of energy), the overall disorder of the universe is increasing (We get our energy from the sun, which burns brightly thereby giving off energy and heat, increasing the disorder of the universe. Now, multiply that by trillions of stars. You get my drift.). Thus, by a slight of hand some creationists offer what is really a risible argument for design.
Creationist arguments based on what seems like science have become more sophisticated but no less incorrect (Do not mistake credentials, especially a Ph.D., as proof of scientific integrity. There are many trained “scientists” who sacrifice their devotion to the rigor of the scientific method in order to pander to their own ideology). Of the most recent “proofs” William Dembski’s mathematical argument for creationism based on information theory is the most likely to confuse the public. I will not spend the time or space here refuting his theory as it has been done in great detail elsewhere. Suffice it to say that creationist theory simply attempts to attack the foundations of evolution (quite unsuccessfully) while offering no legitimate alternative (Other than the implied supernatural “designer”). The danger here is that these authors will be (and often are) cited by the scientifically illiterate as mainline scientists who represent some sort of highly populated cabal opposing evolution on factual grounds. The public (Especially religiously oriented, and intellectually stunted school boards) are beginning to frame this as a real question in science. I am sure I could find an M.D. (Hopefully not many) who believes that voodoo is a valid method of treating cancer. If I trotted this “expert” out would we call for a re-examination of cancer therapy and state that a voodoo versus biochemical controversy was raging in medicine? I would hope not but this is exactly what seems to be occurring in the sciences. The only remedy for this affliction is to ensure that the American public is well versed in science, the very thing that is now in jeopardy should we allow the creationists access to our classrooms. I will devote another article to the potential consequences of giving creationists equal time and thus the air of legitimacy they crave.
I suppose I should say that today was like any other day to me, that the passing of the pope had little effect on my life. After all, I have no special affection for organized religion. I am sure there will be many people who, in their zeal point out how they are “above the fray” as non-believers (Or “brights” as some of my more distinguished agnostic/atheist brethren prefer to call themselves.) will rush to point out the flaws in John Paul’s papacy. You will not find me among them.
In the past the papacy was just as much a political post as a religious honor but, as the power of the Roman Catholic Church receded, the church made its influence felt via less direct means. I suppose that the focus on religious authority as the major sphere of influence for the church necessitated a return to a position of greater moral standing in the papacy. Gone were the days when the pope could live profligately while demanding the obeisance of kings, clergy, and laymen alike. The men who occupied the papacy in the latter half of the 20th century best represented this realization of the limits of power and the necessity of fealty to moral ideals but none more so that John Paul II.
The recently deceased pope represented the courage of conviction that so many politicians were unable, or unwilling to display. Was it his heritage? As a Pole he understood better than most the evils of communism and the hunger of the human spirit for freedom. Perhaps it was his faith? The pope lived through two world wars, witnessed the destruction of
Many horrors have occurred within the church recently but I feel no need to address them here. They are familiar to us all and time will determine the effect they will have on the Church as an institution. I think it is a day to remember a great man, irrespective of his religion. The pope left us in a world better than that which he found. I left my house today to the sound of church bells ringing. As I walked through the rain I realized it wasn’t just the catholic churches marking his death, the bells were ringing everywhere. I found myself overwhelmed by the thought that a man had died who saw in me what I could not see in myself, a person who loved me not because I was a Catholic, but because he felt I was a gift. I remain faithless but I see in John Paul II many of those qualities to which we should all aspire. Thank you, John. Thank you for what you have given to us all.
After responding as nicely as possible at the scene of the accident (vide infra) I went on my merry way. That, apparently, was a BIG MISTAKE. I found out later that the female who had struck my car (from behind, while I was parked, and hit my back quarter panel BEFORE she knocked my door off to boot) had filed a claim with my insurance company. I am completely shocked. How could she POSSIBLY think that I could have been at fault? I have no idea but the fact that a claim was filed against me, even though it is completely frivolous, will undoubtedly raise my insurance rates. I am absolutely livid but not surprised.
The far-left is continually fretting about how insurance rates are so high and how the “ultra-mega-super corporations” are making millions on the backs of the poor (Let me say here, I have no love for insurance companies) but given the chance to make a fraudulent claim they are right there! Gosh, how could insurance be so high? It’s a freaking’ mystery to me. The claims/deductibles must be set by some pale, white, protestant male in a dark backroom someplace where he makes sure they are just high enough to be out of reach of all those po’ folk. It couldn’t possibly be the fact that it’s a business and they have to attract public capital which requires a little something called profit. And by the way, profit is hard to come by when people are filing claims, going to chiropractors, and claiming soft-tissue injury for absolutely no reason.
How about a little common sense legislation here? Is there no middle ground? Can’t a Republican say “Teflon coated bullets really aren’t necessary” or a Democrat state “Perhaps caps on judgments in certain civil cases really aren’t a bad idea”. Of course not, because every politician, every bien pensant party member, just knows that giving in an inch will cause the whole mountain to crumble. It’s unfortunate that they have become so entrenched in their ideology that there is no room for reasonable compromise. Unfortunately the somewhat simplistic “slippery slope” argument has become overused in politics today. If the democrats would allow, for example, a suspect to be charged with two felony murders when a women is killed along with her unborn child would it truly undermine abortion rights legislation? I am sure the republicans would point a finger and say “Look, they’re saying it’s a human then, but not earlier!”. Of course by that same slippery slope argument the very fact that the 26th amendment reduced the voting age to 18 in 1971 would have us rolling in 3 year olds in strollers to punch the ballot today. There are nuances folks, there are mediums but they are apparently invisible to most people and all politicians.
So, I had innocently parked my car, unbuckled my seatbelt, and had my leg out of the door when something caught the corner of my eye. The flash in my peripheral vision turned out to be a 1988 Toyota Corolla barreling down the street about to take out the left side of my car. Fortunately, I swung my leg back in the car in time as I saw my door being ripped from its hinges and almost thrown onto the street. As the city I live in is filled with miscreants I looked up expecting to see the car proceeding down the street at a faster rate, leaving the scene of the accident. I was pleasantly surprised when the driver slowed down, pulled over, and began to walk towards me. It was at this point that I noticed her car was covered in “Dennis Kucinich 2004” stickers and a few others that more or less condemned meat eaters, war mongers (Code for all Republicans), bigots (Anyone who doesn’t agree with ultra-left viewpoints), and environmental softies (People who don’t agree that an owls life is worth more than the livelihood of 1000’s of people). So, half expecting her to tell me that she doesn’t believe in corporately imposed “insurance” and therefore was willing to barter for the damages in wampum, and half expecting her to berate me for not driving a hybrid vehicle [She would if she could afford one of course. After all, with ultra-leftists sacrifices should be made, but just by those they consider “rich” (You make more than 50K a year)], I approached cautiously.
She immediately (fortunately) admitted culpability but told me that she, unfortunately, did not have her insurance information handy (shocker). At this point I should have called the police and gotten them involved but that would have required more time than I was willing to devote to this event. I copied her information, gave her mine, and left the scene. I must tell you that it is kind of exciting driving around in a semi-doorless vehicle in the city. It is a sort of urban “Dukes of Hazzard”. If there was a “Boar’s Nest” in the area I would have stopped by, slid across my hood, and went in to find Daisy. Of course, in this city the closest equivalent is a crack house (of which there are many) so I decided that, rather than getting shot, I’d just go to the body shop.
Body shop owners are notoriously shady but unlike mechanics, they are shady and on your side. They have become experts by necessity in “negotiating” with insurance companies (I hate them but then, who doesn’t?) to get you the maximum amount for your trouble. I chose a body shop run by a Russian immigrant named “Mike”. I figure if you are going to have someone fighting for you it might as well be a huge Russian guy who sounds as if he can be more than intimidating when he needs to be (Plus, if only half of those stories you hear about the Russian Mafia are true it’s generally a bad idea to go up against a Russian). He told me that the left side of my car would need to be replaced and painted. The door hinges were knocked out of alignment so they need to do some frame work (The kiss of death for a car). I wouldn’t mind a new paint job, or a new car. Of course, the way things have been going I’d settle for a big wheel with a motor. I’ve learned not to expect too much.