Monthly Archives: December 2006

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Well, it appears that moments after my previous post, news of the monster Saddam’s execution hit the airwaves. It should be a lively day in Iraq.

Front-Page Noose

It appears, in case you have not heard, that the ruthless tyrant Saddam Hussein — under whose monstrous and sanguinary reign hundreds of thousand were tortured and killed, including entire villages upon which he unleashed chemical weapons — is to be hanged within the next few days. At the risk of startling my friends on both the left and the right, I must say that I rather wish he weren’t.

R and R and R

We are in Wellfleet tonight, after a long day on the road. It’s mighty quiet out here, as you would imagine — which is just what the doctor ordered, here in the final days of a difficult and sorrowful year. Reading, rest, and quiet reflection top the agenda (and perhaps scooping an oyster or two out of the bay), so do forgive me if waka waka waka operates on a reduced schedule for the next few days.

Food for Thought

Yesterday evening, having spent more than a week unable to work out as usual due to back trouble, and feeling, consequently, a little in need of some exercise, I decided to walk for while before getting on the subway to go home. My office is on Park Avenue just south of Grand Central Station, and I thought I might stroll down as far as Union Square, or perhaps even Houston Street. It being an unusually mild evening, however, I decided to press on, and wound up walking the whole way back to Park Slope: a distance of about 7.62 miles, according to Google Earth.

A Bag of His Own

We must note with sorrow the death of James Brown, progenitor of an entire species of music, an awful lot of which has been running through my head, and through my speakers, these past couple of days. He was no saint, especially if you happened to be married to him, but the man invented funk, and we mourn him.

Jailhouse ‘Raq

The front page of today’s New York Times featured an account of heinous abuse of prisoners at a jailhouse in Basra, Iraq. The suffering captives were delivered from their abusers by a British-led military operation that culminated, after the building’s evacuation, in its destruction. The suffering inflicted was truly awful, according to the report:

More than 100 men were crowded into a single cell, 30 feet by 40 feet, he said, with two open toilets, two sinks and just a few blankets spread over the concrete floor.

A significant number showed signs of torture. Some had crushed hands and feet, [a British military spokesman] said, while others had cigarette and electrical burns and a significant number had gunshot wounds to their legs and knees.

The responsible parties were not U.S. soldiers or other infidels, Iraqi police.

I await, with hand cupped to ear, the incendiary storm of outrage from the Islamic world that Muslim prisoners might be abused in this way.

There May Be No Heaven,
But We Still Have Noel

To all of you, Merry Christmas!

Was It Something I Said?

Having spent a couple of years working at the tragically self-immolated “prospective Web search” company PubSub, where we were among the first to gather comprehensive real-time statistics about blogs, I occasionally poke around a bit myself to see who is linking to whom — and in particular, to me. In a visit to Technorati a few minutes ago, I saw that I had been linked to, back on December 2nd, by a writer named “Sini”, at a blog called Jusiper. Here is the text of the post, in its entirety:

I suppose this is the adult version of fratboys who party to “Trenchtown Rock”: a Republican, warloving Fela fan.
Presumably the best time to do a line is right after they kill Fela’s mama.

I don’t know anything about “fratboys” who particularly enjoy Jamaican music; presumably there are some, as appreciation of good music transcends political allegiances. I do feel rather misunderstood, however.

A Shattered Visage Lies

We note with interest the passing of Sapurmurat Niyazov, supreme ruler of Turkmenistan. I’ve had my eye on him for a while; he established total control of that Central Asian country upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was the object of a textbook personality cult, right down to writing the textbooks.

Let’s Get Real

Readers will have noticed that I have been posting a little more often lately about the “science vs. religion” debate, and that I have perhaps seemed rather more on the side of the skeptics than the believers. Well they’re right, and in private correspondence I have taken, lately, an even more partial view. I think I am going to have to come right out and be a bit of a Grinch about the whole business, even though Christmas is right around the corner.

Cold Comfort

You may already have run across this item, but it appears that a Japanese man recently survived a three-week exposure to the elements, without food or water, by doing something that primates aren’t usually thought to be capable of: hibernation.

Deja Vu

To kick off the holiday festivities, my mother-in-law, ancient of days, has, for what seems like the fortieth or fiftieth time, fallen and broken her leg, and is once again in hospital. Service at waka waka waka may be light for a few days as we cope.

Pod People

It might seem odd, given my background as a recording engineer, but I don’t own an iPod or similar device. I admire their sleek and efficient design, and the sound quality is acceptable, but I haven’t got one.

God of the Gaps

Friday’s post (sorry for yesterday’s service interruption; I had a very long day of recording and mixing) mentioned the “Beyond Belief” convention sponsored by Edge.org, and alerted readers to the availability of streaming video feeds of the presentations. I’ve been watching them as time permits, and the discussions, if not exactly balanced — the speakers generally regard the influence of religion on society as something that we ought be outgrowing sometime around now — are calm, thoughtful, and considerate of the centrality of religion in many people’s lives.

Beyond Belief

I’ve mentioned Edge.org previously; it is one of my favorite spots on the Web. The site’s purpose is to provide a forum where scientists, philosophers, and other thinking types can discuss topics at the intersection of science, technology, and culture, and it attracts some of the world’s brightest minds.

All Things Being Equal

I call the attention of readers to two recent posts on the subject of “equality”. The first is by Dr. William Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher; the second is by the inimitable Deogolwulf, writing at his website The Joy of Curmudgeonry. Both make the same excellent point, which I shall reiterate here.

Carry On Regardless

One does not usually think of two-wheeled vehicles as being particularly well-suited to transporting cargo, but where there’s a will there’s a way. From my co-worker Jay Chang comes an amusing collection of photographs from Vietnam, showing what can be done when need impels.

Dairy Selection

In yesterday’s post we noted the difficulty people naturally have in grasping the immensity of the timeframe at which evolution occurs. But despite the zoomed-in view our fleeting lifespans impose upon us, we can still detect the occasional tick of the evolutionary clock. Just such an observation has recently been made regarding the genetic trait known as lactose tolerance.

Time Trouble

I often wonder why some people are so resistant to Darwinism. The idea, once grasped, would seem to have everything going for it: it is elegant and simple, but despite its simplicity has amazing depth and explanatory power. It has been abundantly confirmed, by a diverse yet mutually supporting body of evidence, and provides a sturdy framework for our understanding of all life on Earth.

Nevertheless, the fact of Darwinian evolution is flatly rejected by a majority (!) of Americans. One obvious reason for this is the pernicious persistence of fundamentalist Biblical literalism in our country, with its irrational insistence upon the Old Testament creation myth. But the acceptance of such folklore as fact is abetted by another, quite natural difficulty: people have, generally, absolutely no concept of deep time.

No-Win Situation

Once again, the chess World Champion has played a match against a computer, and lost. This time the victor was Deep Fritz 10, and the victim was the 31-year-old Russian Vladimir Kramnik.

A Diablo, Amigo

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has died in Santiago at the age of 91.

It’s supposed to get up to around 86° in Santiago today, but it will be even warmer where he’s going.

Period Piece

As I have mentioned before, my house in Brooklyn is just a few paces away from Prospect Park, a lovely, rolling expanse of forest, lake, and greensward landscaped by the great Frederick Law Olmstead.

It’s Not Rocket Science

I receive a number of daily newsletters. Among them is one from Physorg.com, a website that serves as a clearinghouse for news on various scientific fronts. The stories are generally brief, rarely very technical, and their purpose is simply to alert the reader to the fact that that some new development or other has occurred in the field at hand; the curious reader may then, having been given the scent, follow it to its source on his own initiative. The whole thing is usually very professionally done, and is an excellent way to keep abreast of current events in science and technology.

Imagine my disappointment, then, to observe that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, the utter incomprehension of which we may sadly take as a “given” among its many detractors in religious circles, is also a source of confusion, even at the broadest and most superficial level, to the editors of the Physorg newsletter. I refer to the following headline, found atop a story in yesterday’s issue:

Do galaxies follow Darwinian evolution?

What is it that bothers me so? Read on.

Times Two

It’s been an awfully busy week both day and night — I’ve had scant opportunity to write, and probably won’t get much of a break until the weekend. So for today, we will simply comment briefly on two items drawn from today’s issue of Gotham’s paper of record.

Man of Letters

Poking around at Mangan’s Miscellany a moment ago, I saw that Dennis had linked to a blog maintained by Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak. I dropped by for a visit, and Mr Sajak’s musings are whimsical, thoughtful and articulate. It is gratifying to see solid evidence of a Hollywood celebrity with a rational mind. Onto the sidebar it goes.

Let Us Now Lift Our Voices

If you haven’t noticed, there are a growing number of scientists, authors, and other thinking sorts who have decided to stand up in public and question the enormous influence that religion still exerts in 21st-century affairs. Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, and, of course, Richard Dawkins are leading the charge, but others are growing bolder as well, and are adding their intelligent and articulate voices to the gathering chorus. One of these is Natalie Angier, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her science writing at the New York Times, and author of several outstanding books.

Fourth Reich?

The gist of the essay is that the current administration, rather than being incompetent, or overweening, or imperialistic, or all three, is in fact a gang of Nazis, and we’d better wise up. The author, aghast at our complacency, seeks to rouse us from our stupor by pointing out – breaking news! – that the Germany of the 1930′s became utterly evil, in large extent, of its own volition, and suggests that the same is happening here.

Fides et Ratio

In a characteristically pointed essay, Steven Pinker comments on Harvard’s forthcoming Report of the Committee on General Education. While he is generally laudatory, he has “two reservations”: first, about the characterization of the place of science in a general eduaction, and second, about the “Reason and Faith” requirement in the core curriculum.