Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

He is risen! He is risen!
Tell it out with joyful voice.
He has burst his three days' prison;
Let the whole wide earth rejoice.
Death is conquered; man is free.
Christ has won the victory.

Come with high and holy hymning;
Chant our Lord's triumphant lay.
Not one darksome cloud is dimming
Yonder glorious morning ray,
Breaking o'er the purple east,
Symbol of our Easter feast.

He is risen! He is risen!
He hath opened heaven's gate.
We are free from sin's dark prison,
Risen to a holier state.
And a brighter Easter beam
On our longing eyes shall stream.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1818-1895
Hymn No. 199 in the LDS Hymn Book

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Orwellian Side to the Gay Marriage Debate

Rush Limbaugh recently announced that when it comes to gay marriage, resistance if futile. (Although some people disagree). Limbaugh said:
... This issue is lost. I don’t care what the Supreme Court does, this is now inevitable — and it’s inevitable because we lost the language on this. I mentioned the other day that I’ve heard people talk about “opposite-sex marriage,” or you might have had heard people say “traditional marriage.”
... I maintain to you that we lost the issue when we started allowing the word “marriage” to be bastardized and redefined by simply adding words to it, because marriage is one thing, and it was not established on the basis of discrimination. It wasn’t established on the basis of denying people anything. “Marriage” is not a tradition that a bunch of people concocted to be mean to other people with. But we allowed the left to have people believe that it was structured that way.
I would go so far as to say that there are some people who think marriage is an evil Republican idea, simply because they’re the ones that want to hold on to it. So far as I’m concerned, once we started talking about “gay marriage,” “traditional marriage,” “opposite-sex marriage,” “same-sex marriage,” “hetero-marriage,” we lost. It was over. It was just a matter of time. This is the point a friend of mine sent me a note about.
“Once you decide to modify the word ‘marriage,’ then the other side has won, or at least they’re 90% of the way home. The best thing that ‘marriage’ had going for it was basically what they teach you the first day in law school: ‘If you hang a sign on a horse that says “cow,” it does not make it a cow,’ although today it might.” That’s where we are: 5 + 5 could = 11, if it works for the Democrats. A cow could be a horse, if it works for the Democrats. The thing is, discrimination has never been a part of marriage.
It evolved as the best way to unite men and women in raising a family and in cohabitating a life. It’s not perfect. The divorce rate’s what it is. But it evolved with a purpose. It was not a creation of a bunch of elitists wanting to deny people a good time. It was not created as something to deny people “benefits,” but it became that once we started bastardizing the definition. But discrimination is not an issue, and it never was. No one sensible is against giving homosexuals the rights of contract or inheritance or hospital visits.
There’s nobody that wants to deny them that. The issue has always been denying them a status that they can’t have, by definition. By definition — solely, by definition — same-sex people cannot be married. So instead of maintaining that and holding fast to that, we allowed the argument to be made that the definition needed to change, on the basis that we’re dealing with something discriminatory, bigoted, and all of these mystical things that it’s not and never has been.
 If it is not about discrimination, why are progressives so obsessed with gay marriage? Is it to distract the public from our slowly deflating economic system? Or to make us overlook that the Middle-East is about to explode into total war? That the EU is on the verge of collapse or China is teetering on the edge of a demographic, monetary, and pollution cliff?

First of all, because gay marriage is, at heart, a leftist endeavor, it is rooted in a desire for power. Daniel Greenfield explains:
The only question worth asking about gay marriage is whether anyone on the left would care about this crusade if it didn't come with the privilege of bulldozing another civilizational institution.
Gay marriage is not about men marrying men or women marrying women, it is about the deconstruction of marriage between men and women. That is a thing that many men and women of one generation understand but have trouble conveying to another generation for whom marriage has already largely been deconstructed.

The statistics about the falling marriage rate tell the tale well enough. Marriage is a fading institution. Family is a flickering light in the evening of the West.
... There are two ways to destroy a thing. You can either run it at while swinging a hammer with both hands or you can attack its structure until it no longer means anything.
The left hasn't gone all out by outlawing marriage, instead it has deconstructed it, taking apart each of its assumptions, from the economic to the cooperative to the emotional to the social, until it no longer means anything at all. Until there is no way to distinguish marriage from a temporary liaison between members of uncertain sexes for reasons that due to their vagueness cannot be held to have any solemn and meaningful purpose.
... Every aspect of marriage is deconstructed and then eliminated until it no longer means anything. And once marriage is no longer a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman, but a ceremony with no deeper meaning than most modern ceremonies, then the deconstruction and destruction will be complete.

... In the world that the deconstructionists are striving to build, there will be marriage, but it will mean nothing. Like a greeting card holiday, it will be an event, but not an institution. An old ritual with no further meaning. An egotistical exercise in attention-seeking and self-celebration with no deeper purpose. It will be a display every bit as hollow as the churches and synagogues it takes place in.
The deconstruction of marriage is only a subset of the deconstruction of gender from a state of being to a state of mind. The decline of marriage was preceded by the deconstruction of gender roles and gay marriage is being succeeded by the destruction of gender as anything other than a voluntary identity, a costume that one puts on and takes off.
Destroying gender roles was a prerequisite to destroying gender. Each deconstruction leads naturally to the next deconstruction with no final destination except total deconstruction.
Gay marriage is not a stopping point, just as men in women's clothing using the ladies room is not a stopping point. There is no stopping point at all.
The left's deconstruction of social institutions is not a quest for equality, but for destruction. As long as the institutions that preceded it exist, it will go on deconstructing them until there is nothing left but a blank canvas, an unthinking anarchy, on which it can impose its perfect and ideal conception of how everyone should live.
Equality is merely a pretext for deconstruction. Change the parameters of a thing and it ceases to function. Redefine it and expand it and it no longer means anything at all. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but if you change 'rose' to mean anything that sticks out of the ground, then the entire notion of what is being discussed has gone and cannot be reclaimed without also reclaiming language.

The left's social deconstruction program is a war of ideas and concepts. Claims of equality are used to expand institutions and ways of living until they are so broad as to encompass everything and nothing. And once a thing encompasses everything, once a rose represents everything rising out of the ground, then it also represents nothing at all.
Deconstruction is a war against definitions, borders and parameters. It is a war against defining things by criminalizing the limitation of definitions. With inclusivity as the mandate, exclusivity, in marriage, or any other realm, quickly meets with social disapproval and then becomes a hate crime. If the social good is achieved only through maximum inclusivity and infinite tolerance, then any form of exclusivity, from property to person to ideas, is a selfish act that refuses the collective impulse to make all things into a common property with no lasting meaning or value.
As Orwell understood in 1984, tyranny is essentially about definitions. It is hard to fight for freedom if you lack the word. It is hard to maintain a marriage if the idea no longer exists. Orwell's Oceania made basic human ideas into contradictory things. The left's deconstruction of social values does the same thing to such essential institutions as marriage; which becomes an important impermanent thing of no fixed nature or value.
The left's greatest trick is making things mean the opposite of what they do. Stealing is sharing. Crime is justice. Property is theft. Each deconstruction is accompanied by an inversion so that a thing, once examined, comes to seem the opposite of what it is, and once that is done, it no longer has the old innate value, but a new enlightened one.

To deconstruct man, you deconstruct his beliefs and then his way of living. You deconstruct freedom until it means slavery. You deconstruct peace until it means war. You deconstruct property until it means theft. And you deconstruct marriage until it means a physical relationship between any group of people for any duration. And that is the opposite of what marriage is.

The deconstruction of marriage is part of the deconstruction of gender and family and those are part of the long program of deconstructing man. Once each basic value has been rendered null and void, inverted and revealed to be random and meaningless, then man is likewise revealed to be a random and meaningless creature whose existence requires shaping by those who know better.
The final deconstruction eliminates nation, religion, family and even gender to reduce the soul of man to a blank slate waiting to be written on.
That is what is at stake here. This is not a struggle about the right of equality, but the right of definition. It is not about whether men can get married, but whether marriage will mean anything at all. It is about preserving the shapes and structures of basic social concepts that define our identities in order to preserve those very concepts, rather than accepting their deconstruction into nullification.

The question on the table is whether the institutions that give us meaning will be allowed to retain that meaning. And that question is a matter of survival. Societies cannot survive without definitions. Peoples do not go on existing through the act of occupying space. The deconstruction of identity is also the destruction of identity.
And that is what we are truly fighting against.

Global Warming Fail

Drudge had linked to an article at the Australian discussing the 20-year "hiatus" in global warming. From the article:
In a lengthy article this week, The Economist magazine said if climate scientists were credit-rating agencies, then climate sensitivity - the way climate reacts to changes in carbon-dioxide levels - would be on negative watch but not yet downgraded.
Another paper published by leading climate scientist James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the lower than expected temperature rise between 2000 and the present could be explained by increased emissions from burning coal.
For Hansen the pause is a fact, but it's good news that probably won't last.
International Panel on Climate Change chairman Rajendra Pachauri recently told The Weekend Australian the hiatus would have to last 30 to 40 years "at least" to break the long-term warming trend.
But the fact that global surface temperatures have not followed the expected global warming pattern is now widely accepted.
Research by Ed Hawkins of University of Reading shows surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range projections derived from 20 climate models and if they remain flat, they will fall outside the models' range within a few years.

"The global temperature standstill shows that climate models are diverging from observations," says David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
"If we have not passed it already, we are on the threshold of global observations becoming incompatible with the consensus theory of climate change," he says.
Whitehouse argues that whatever has happened to make temperatures remain constant requires an explanation because the pause in temperature rise has occurred despite a sharp increase in global carbon emissions.
The Economist says the world has added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010, about one-quarter of all the carbon dioxide put there by humans since 1750. This mismatch between rising greenhouse gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now, The Economist article says.
"But it does not mean global warming is a delusion."
The fact is temperatures between 2000 and 2010 are still almost 1C above their level in the first decade of the 20th century.
"The mismatch might mean that for some unexplained reason there has been a temporary lag between more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures in 2000-2010.

"Or it might mean that the 1990s, when temperatures were rising fast, was the anomalous period."
What it means is that there are still too many questions remaining to support the imposition of wide-ranging political and economic policies, or refocusing of government and societal priorities. Unfortunately, like many other leftist delusions, global warming has become more than a scientific theory--it is a religion. And one that can bear no dissent, as this article at Forbes makes clear:
Fox News Channel apparently invited [Michael] Mann to appear on the air and debate climate scientist Roy Spencer on the topic of global warming. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is one of the most knowledgeable climate scientists in the world. He has been a Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, receiving NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for his global temperature monitoring work with satellites. Spencer currently holds the position of U.S. Science Team leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite. He is frequently invited to testify before Congress and in state legislatures regarding climate science.
Spencer’s scientific research leads him to be skeptical of the assertion that humans are causing a global warming crisis. He is also well-known among climate scientists for being an evangelical Christian.
Mann declined Fox News Channel’s invitation to debate Spencer. Not content to be a gracious invitee, Mann took to his Twitter account to pour out venom at Fox News Channel, Roy Spencer, and Spencer’s religious beliefs. “No, @FoxNews, I’m not interested in ‘debating’ #climatechange and #evolution denier Roy Spencer on your ‘news’ network,” wrote Mann.

Within the global warming debate, it is well understood that calling a global warming skeptic a “denier” is a deliberate attempt to demean and disrespect him or her on a personal level. Global warming skeptics were universally labeled “skeptics” until a handful of particularly aggressive warmists began drawing asserted links between global warming skeptics and “holocaust deniers.” Soon thereafter, the most aggressive warmists lumped the two groups together and began referring to global warming skeptics as “deniers.” Mann was quite aware of the insulting and disrespectful nature of the term when he called Spencer an “evolution denier.” Indeed, shortly after refusing to debate Spencer and calling him an “evolution denier,” Mann punctuated his use of deliberately disrespectful language by tweeting, “Getting on a debate stage signals that, while you might disagree, you respect the position of your opponent.”

Friday, March 29, 2013

Turin Shroud May Be Older Than Previously Thought

Researchers have dated a sample of the 14ft linen sheet to anything between 300BC to 400AD.

They used forensic tests to compare fibres from the shroud with a range of ancient fabric samples. And they discovered that the material could have been made in Jesus’s lifetime.

Their results contradict a landmark 1988 study, spearheaded by the British Museum, which used carbon dating to examine the cloth.

It said the shroud, which has an imprint of a bearded man with wounds consistent to being nailed to a cross, was actually made in the Middle Ages – more than 1,000 years after the Crucifixion.

But scientists at Padua University believe the original results could have been skewed by centuries of water and fire damage.

The Amityville Horror True?

Daniel Lutz, who was 10 years at the time of the alleged events in the Amityville Horror, claims that the events in the book were substantially true.

Daniel Lutz, a ten-year-old boy at the time but now a spooky-looking, middle-aged man with deep-set, piercing blue eyes and an unsettling smile, insists he was menaced by spirits in the house and that his family’s stay there has ruined his life.

And he blames the evil presence on his stepfather George, a man whose occult dabblings, says Daniel, opened the gateway to dark forces he couldn’t control.But the controversy has now been given new life by the re-emergence of Daniel Lutz.

A clearly troubled individual, he left home at 15, spending some time living homeless in America’s south-west.

Estranged from his wife and two grown-up children, he now lives in Queens, New York, where he works as a stonemason.

His side of the story would probably have remained secret had a friend not contacted a young film-maker, Eric Walter, who had set up a website devoted to the Amityville saga.

He persuaded the reclusive Lutz to speak in a new documentary, My Amityville Horror.

And given how much he says he loathed his late step-father, a domineering ex-marine who Daniel says would beat the children with a wooden spoon, one might expect him to want to rubbish George Lutz’s tale of demonic possession.

But instead he insists it was substantially true, even down to being levitated in his bed and seeing a demonic figure in his little sister’s bedroom.

‘I just wanted somebody to believe me. It has been in my dreams my whole life,’ he said, his expression looking tortured as tears welled in his eyes. But then, he is asking us to believe a lot.

He recalled seeing his step-father’s bookshelves lined with titles on Satanism and magic. And he even claimed he saw George Lutz move a spanner telekinetically in his garage — before the family ever moved to Amityville.

‘George’s beliefs and practices triggered what was going on in the house,’ he said, his voice shaking. ‘It was like a magic trick gone bad that you couldn’t shut off.’
 Read the whole thing. The article gives more details of the alleged events.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dark Matter, Faith and Group Think

... Wherever dark stuff accumulates, so the standard story goes, normal matter meekly follows, irresistibly drawn in by its overbearing gravity. This matter forms stars, and then galaxies are born – meagre pricks of light in a domineering dark empire.
But the confidence of such statements now has Frenk worried. "I suddenly realised that young scientists were taking dark matter for granted, and was absolutely scandalised," he says. You can see his point. Experiments that are supposed to conjure up dark matter have so far produced nothing. Searches for its particles streaming through the Earth have thrown up confusing, contradictory results. Models of how the stuff shapes the visible cosmos veer between triumphant confirmation and abysmal contradiction.
As a young theoretical cosmologist myself, I am among dark matter's disciples. To my mind there is just too much in the universe we can't explain without the stuff. But there is perhaps a way out of its worst dilemmas. Dark matter really does exist; we just need to rethink the idea that it holds all the power in our star-spangled cosmos.
It was about a decade ago that my undergraduate physics lecturer casually introduced me to the idea that five-sixths of the matter in the universe is invisible. Dark matter was originally invoked to explain the observation in the 1930s that clusters of galaxies whirl around too fast for the amount of ordinary matter in them. In the 1970s it was also used to explain why galaxies themselves are spinning too fast, as if subject to an extra gravitational tug. Even so, I recall thinking that you might as well base explanations of the cosmos on magic fairy dust.
But experience made me a true believer. The way galaxies and other massive objects bend light vindicates the idea that there is more to the cosmos than meets the eye. Patterns in the cosmic microwave background, the big bang's afterglow, reveal matter in the early universe caught in a finely balanced competition between gravitational contraction and expansive pressures in a way that agrees with dark matter theory in stunning detail. In my own research on how galaxies form, to reproduce anything like the web of galaxies spun across the cosmos we need dark matter just as Frenk and others ordered it: a cold soup of stuff that barely moves at all.

Pleasingly, particle physics supplies a ready recipe for this soup. The theory of supersymmetry is a favoured step beyond our current "standard model" of particles and their interactions. It holds up a mathematical mirror to reality by asserting that every particle so far discovered has a generally heavier partner. Some of these super-partners are weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. These have mass (and so produce and respond to gravity) but do not interact with light (and so can't be seen). The number of WIMPs that should have been created in the big bang coincides tidily with the density of dark matter inferred from cosmological observations – a happy conjunction sometimes known as the WIMP miracle.
But do miracles really happen? No experiment that might have produced supersymmetric particles, not even the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland, has seen a hint of them so far. The simplest supersymmetric theories have already been ruled out, and more complex versions await their fate when the LHC restarts at a higher energy, probably in 2015. "After that, if they don't find supersymmetric particles within about a year, I think it'll be dead," says Ben Allanach, a particle theorist at the University of Cambridge. "I'll start to work on something else, and I think a lot of other people feel the same way."
That's not the only difficulty. Fiddly experiments looking for the fingerprint of cosmic WIMPs as they stream from space are producing highly confusing results. The DAMA experiment at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in central Italy has seen a signal that changes on a yearly cycle. That is what we would expect if Earth is moving relative to a placid cold dark sea as it trundles round the sun – but other experiments flatly contradict the finding. Space-based missions such as the PAMELA satellite and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) aboard the International Space Station have measured excesses of antimatter particles that might be produced when two WIMPs collide – but these don't really fit our expectations. Overall, "there's huge scepticism about the claims of dark matter detections because other experiments rule that out," says Frenk.
Perhaps the most damaging blow, however, is that when we look at the details WIMP-based cold dark matter doesn't seem to be the consummate galaxy sculptor we thought. Last year Michael Boylan-Kolchin, a cosmologist at the University of California, Irvine, was running simulations of standard cold dark matter's effect on the formation of dwarf spheroidals, mini galaxy-ettes that swarm around the Milky Way. Boylan-Kolchin could infer the dark matter content of these dwarf galaxies by watching how stars move around inside them (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol 415, p L40). "It didn't seem to make sense: things were more massive and dense in the simulation than the things we see in the real universe," he says.
Pontzen goes on to note several other theories of dark matter--hot and luke-warm--which solved some issues, but not all of them.
... So we are at an impasse. Cold dark matter does not quite do all the jobs we ask of it – but then again, nor does anything else.
My own hunch is that, oddly, cold dark matter might be the right stuff after all. The price we must pay is to stop assuming that it is the totalitarian force in the governance of galaxies. Stars generate huge amounts of energy in their lifetimes. When their time is up, they explode in supernovae. Gas spiralling into black holes generates vast amounts of heat. The energy from either of these sources is enough to send enormous quantities of gas swirling violently around inside a galaxy. Dark matter is not immune to these huge gravitational ructions: it begins to move in concert. Simulations I and a number of colleagues have been performing over the past few years suggest that, if the normal gas is shaken enough, it sends dark matter into a real funk, swirling it around like snowflakes in a snow globe (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol 421, p 3464).
Dark matter particles could then be cold and supersymmetric again, and simply get hot under the collar when bullied by exuberant normal matter. The increased energy of this protogalactic soup stops it coalescing too densely, so the structure of the Milky Way's dwarf satellites makes sense again. The only remaining puzzle is why direct searches for dark matter have produced such ambiguous results so far. Perhaps cutting-edge particle physics experiments are just hard.
 Pontzen then describes some experimental and modeling data that suggest that cold dark matter is still correct. However, he ends by noting:
So, all is well with standard cold dark matter, as long as you factor in the effects of normal matter. Not so fast, says Frenk. If supersymmetric particles annihilating each other were the source of the gamma rays, they would be producing them not with one standard energy, but with a spread: the annihilation mechanism generates electrons and positrons, which gradually give up their energy in unpredictable fits and bursts. "The case is absolutely fascinating, but I don't think we've found anything yet," he says.
Things might change in a moment if the many experiments looking for dark matter were to start producing consistent results. But that will take years at best. In the meantime, the discord is music to Frenk's ears. "We don't know whether cold dark matter's right," he says. "If everyone just buys into an idea, things don't progress."
Although Pontzen describes the problem with dark matter research and theories--that too much is accepted on faith rather than challenged or supported with empirical data--he ultimately doesn't accept it. He believes that it is just a question of time. Thus, the statement above, that "[p]erhaps cutting-edge particle physics experiments are just hard." However, the issue reminds me of that raised in Lee Smolin's book, The Trouble With Physics. Smolin's book is about how "string theory" has become almost a religion, stifling exploration of possible alternatives. Pontzen's description seems to describe similar thinking as to dark matter--it is the only answer, but have faith and, in time, there will be evidence. There are other theories. It would be a pity if they were abandoned or left unexplored because it didn't fit the consensus.

Neutral Biodiversity

Wired Magazine has an article on an almost heretical idea--that evolution is not just a product of natural selection and survival of the fittest, but may just happen because it can. From the article:
What explains the incredible variety of life on Earth? It seems obvious. Evolution, of course! But perhaps not the evolution most people grew up with.
Some ecologists say the theory needs an update. They’ve proposed a new dynamic driving the emergence of new species, one that doesn’t involve adaptations or survival of the fittest.

Give evolution enough time and space, they say, and new species can just happen. Speciation might not only be an evolutionary consequence of fitness differences and natural selection, but a property intrinsic to evolution, just as all matter has gravity.
“Our work shows that evolution wants to be diverse,” said Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute. “It’s enough for organisms to be spread out in space and time.”
In a March 13 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, Bar-Yam and his co-authors, Brazilian ecologists Ayana Martins at the University of Sao Paulo and Marcus Aguiar at the University of Campinas, modeled the evolution of greenish warblers living around the Tibetan plateau.
The warblers are what’s known as a ring species, a rare phenomenon that occurs when species inhabit a horseshoe-shaped range. Genes flow around the ring, passing between neighboring populations — yet at the ring’s tips, the animals no longer interbreed with one another.
By the usual standards, these end populations have become new species. According to the researchers’ model of the process, no special adaptations or differences in reproductive fitness are needed to explain — or at least to computationally replicate — the greenish warblers’ divergence.

“This sounds kind of crazy, right? We normally think of species as being adapted for particular functions. They have their own role to play in a community. That’s the standard wisdom,” said theoretical ecologist James O’Dwyer of the Santa Fe Institute, who was not involved in the study.
Instead, over 2,000 modeled generations, a time frame that fits with the 10,000 years that greenish warblers have ringed the Tibetan plateau’s slopes since their exposure by retreating glaciers, random genetic mutations drifted through the birds’ populations, ultimately clustering in diversity patterns resembling what’s seen in reality.

Adaptation and natural selection certainly played a part in the warblers’ evolution, said Bar-Yam, but they weren’t necessarily the driving forces. And though geography is involved, it’s very different from the population-isolating physical separation created by mountain ranges or islands.
“The plateau plays an important role in the formation of the ring species, but it does not block gene flow,” said Aguiar. “No barriers and no specific selection processes are required.” Rather than adaptation, distance is the driver.
That notion falls under the umbrella of neutral biodiversity theory, a dry-sounding name for a dramatic challenge to the notion that adaptation is biological diversity’s wellspring. First articulated by University of California, Los Angeles ecologist Stephen Hubbell, who in 2001 published The Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography, it’s a challenge occasioned by the surprising difficulty of explaining biodiversity, or why life is arranged the way it is.
Neutral biodiversity doesn’t reject the usual evolutionary drivers of adaptation and geographic isolation, which are clearly at work in shaping species traits and generating diversity. But these drivers don’t seem to explain many big-picture patterns. It’s not just ring species that are perplexing. Tropical forests, which originally inspired Hubbell’s theory, seemingly have far more species than there are niches to adaptively inhabit. Common patterns of species distribution also occur in disparate places, such as rain forests and coral reefs. The usual evolutionary models didn’t fit these phenomena.
Some under-appreciated forces seemed to be operating, which Hubbell identified as neutral genetic drift: the flow, at landscape-level scales, of random genetic variations that emerge in individuals and spread through populations, but are ‘neutral,’ having no biological function.
Read the whole thing.

NYT Inspired Newton Shooter

Search warrants from the second-worst school shooting in American history revealed that the home Lanza shared with his mother in Newtown, Conn., was a veritable arsenal: Authorities found at least nine knives, three Samurai swords, two rifles, 1,600 rounds of ammunition and a 7-foot, wood-handled pole with a blade on one side and a spear on the other.

Authorities also recovered a certificate in Lanza’s name from the National Rifle Association, seven of his journals, drawings that he made and books from the house, including books on living with mental illness.

... Among other items seized from the home were a holiday card containing a check from his mother to buy a firearm, an article from The New York Times about a 2008 school shooting at Northern Illinois University and three photographs of what appeared to be a dead person covered with plastic and blood.
The books included “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s” and “Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant.”
(Emphasis added).

OMG!!! Nine knives (mysteriously found in the kitchen?), three samurai swords (those are weapons of war that have no place on our streets, even if they are crappy wall-hangers that couldn't be sharpened into a decent edge), two rifles (what type of hunter or avid shooter would have two rifles?), 1,600 rounds of ammunition (.22 is sold in boxes of 330 or 500 rounds, so how many boxes are we talking about?), and a 7-foot something (pruning tool? pole arm?). What? No chain saw, pointy scissors, or hedge clippers that they could have added to the list?

The reporters are really having to stretch to support this whole "arsenal" thing. I thought from prior news reports that the mother was an avid shooter, but the amount of ammunition found makes it sound as though as she was only an occasional shooter. Probably stocked up because of Obama's reelection.

Obama Causes Oil Spill

A mile-long train hauling oil from Canada derailed, spilling 30,000 gallons of crude in western Minnesota on Wednesday, as debate rages over the environmental risks of transporting tar sands across the border.

The major spill, the first since the start of a boom in North American crude-by-rail transport three years ago, came when 14 cars on a 94-car Canadian Pacific train left the tracks about 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis near the town of Parkers Prairie, the Otter Tail Sheriff's Department said.

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, the country's second-largest railroad, said only one 26,000-gallon tank car had ruptured, adding it was a mixed freight train.

CP spokesman Ed Greenberg said he did not know if the crude was from Canada's tar sands or from conventional oil fields.
What if somebody invented a giant tube or pipe--a "pipeline," if you will--that could transport that oil safely, instead of having it transport it by rail?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Biden Says That Current Anti-Gun Measures Are Just the Beginning

Vice President Joseph R. Biden rallied gun control advocates Wednesday ahead of a “day of action” organized by a prominent advocacy group, telling supporters that bans on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines would be followed by further gun controls.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke similarly, predicting that whatever bills pass Congress this term will not end the issue from her perspective. 

Cyprus Imposes Capital Controls

Not-so-fun times for residents. From Reuters:
The east Mediterranean island fears a stampede at banks almost two weeks after they were shut by the government as it negotiated a 10 billion euro ($12.78 billion) bailout package with the European Union to escape financial meltdown.The rescue deal is the first in Europe's single currency zone to impose losses on bank depositors, raising the prospect that savers will panic and scramble to get at their cash.
Authorities insist that strict rules imposed to prevent a bank run will be temporary, but economists say they will be difficult to lift as long as the economy is in crisis.

... Strict controls, contained in a Finance Ministry decree, limit cash withdrawals to no more than 300 euros per day, ban the cashing of cheques and bar businesses from transferring money abroad unless they can show it is for imports.
The island's central bank will review all commercial transactions over 5,000 euros and scrutinize transactions over 200,000 euros on an individual basis. People leaving Cyprus can take only 3,000 euros with them.
Once your money is in a bank, it is no longer your money.

Mass Murder the Media Doesn't Like to Talk About

In Brazil, a doctor has been accused of killing upwards of 300 patients to free up beds. From the Huffington Post:
A doctor is suspected of intentionally killing close to 300 patients to free up hospital beds at Hospital Evangelico in Curitiba, Brazil.

The Mirror reports that Virginia Soares de Souza was initially arrested last month for "administering fatal doses of a muscle relaxant or cutting off patients' life support" in seven cases, but that number skyrocketed after investigators started noticing a similar pattern of deaths in the hospital.

Dr. Mario Lobato, who is leading the investigation, reportedly told Brazil's Fantastico TV that de Souza "played God" by deciding which patients she would kill.

"There are 20 cases which have already been closed, and we have nearly 300 cases still open which we are looking at," Lobato said, according to the Daily Mail. "In each case, the testimony of people who worked inside the hospital confirmed what we have found on the patient records."

Some of the patients, Lobato said, died moments after being conscious and talking.

De Souza's lawyer, Elias Mattar Assad, has maintained his client's innocence.

If the allegations turn out to be true, it would mean de Souza could become the deadliest serial killer in history.

That distinction currently belongs to another doctor, this one of British descent, Harold Shipman.

Shipman reportedly killed between 215 and 260 people before he was convicted in 2000 of killing "15 patients while working in Hyde, Greater Manchester," according to the BBC. He hanged himself in prison in 2004.
Strangely absent from the story, or any other I came across, was why would she have needed to free up hospital beds. Because Brazil has a national health care system which, according to this article from last year:
While the government has certainly been committed to providing a public option, it is simply overstretched. Federal health care spending is minimal at best, failing to meet ongoing needs, while several managerial, human resource and infrastructural problems remain.
Meanwhile, Mark Steyn has penned this op-ed on the mass murder at Kermit Gosnell's abortion clinic. The media can't even bring itself to call the victims "babies," but must resort to "viable fetuses."

The Expansion of U.S. Support of Syrian Rebels

Just a couple articles on this point. First, from the New York Times:
With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.
The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.

As it evolved, the airlift correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria’s army from territory by the middle of last year. And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than “nonlethal” aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments — albeit mostly in a consultative role, American officials say — has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.

From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. The C.I.A. declined to comment on the shipments or its role in them.
 What other help can we give them? According to NBC, the rebels would like us to use our Patriot Missile batteries in Turkey to shoot down Syrian warplanes.
A Syrian opposition leader said Tuesday that he had asked the United States to defend rebel-held areas with Patriot missiles.

NATO already has Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries in NATO-member Turkey to help defend the country from potential airstrikes by President Bashar Assad's regime.

Syrian opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib — who appeared Tuesday as the representative of Syria at an Arab League summit meeting following the Assad regime's suspension — said that he had asked Secretary of State John Kerry "to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover the Syrian north and he promised to study the subject," Reuters reported.
This assistance will not end well. No matter how carefully the CIA vets the groups receiving the weapons, there is nothing that can be done to control the subsequent movement of arms to the Al Qaeda groups. We are merely arming and empowering the enemies of the United States and Israel.

Court Protects Curtilage

The United State Supreme Court has issued a ruling protecting a person's curtilage. From the Huffington Post:
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police cannot bring drug-sniffing police dogs onto a suspect's property to look for evidence without first getting a warrant for a search, a decision which may limit how investigators use dogs' sensitive noses to search out drugs, explosives and other items hidden from human sight, sound and smell.

The high court split 5-4 on the decision to uphold the Florida Supreme Court's ruling throwing out evidence seized in the search of Joelis Jardines' Miami-area house. That search was based on an alert by Franky the drug dog from outside the closed front door.

Justice Antonin Scalia said a person has the Fourth Amendment right to be free from the government's gaze inside their home and in the area surrounding it, which is called the curtilage.

"The police cannot, without a warrant based on probable cause, hang around on the lawn or in the side garden, trawling for evidence and perhaps peering into the windows of the home," Justice Antonin Scalia said for the majority. "And the officers here had all four of their feet and all four of their companion's, planted firmly on that curtilage – the front porch is the classic example of an area intimately associated with the life of the home."

He was joined in his opinion by Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
This is consistent with prior precedent limiting police ability to enter property and limiting police from using means of conducting searches that fall outside normal senses (e.g., using thermal imaging devices). It doesn't appear that this will have any impact on cases involving drug dog sniffs in public areas (such as an airport, or sniffing around a vehicle stopped in a public location).

Have the Russians Already Pulled Their Money from Cyprus?

As new President Nicos Anastasiades hesitated over an EU bailout that has wrecked Cyprus's offshore financial haven status, money was oozing out of his country's closed banks.

In banknotes at cash machines and exceptional transfers for "humanitarian supplies", large amounts of euros fled the east Mediterranean island before and after Cypriot lawmakers stunned Europe by rejecting a levy on all bank deposits.

EU negotiators knew something was wrong when the Central Bank of Cyprus requested more banknotes from the European Central Bank than the withdrawals it was reporting to Frankfurt implied were needed, an EU source familiar with the process said. "The amount the Cypriots mentioned... on a daily basis was much less than it was in reality," the source said.

... No one knows exactly how much money has left Cyprus' banks, or where it has gone. The two banks at the centre of the crisis - Cyprus Popular Bank, also known as Laiki, and Bank of Cyprus - have units in London which remained open throughout the week and placed no limits on withdrawals. Bank of Cyprus also owns 80 percent of Russia's Uniastrum Bank, which put no restrictions on withdrawals in Russia. Russians were among Cypriot banks' largest depositors.

While ordinary Cypriots queued at ATM machines to withdraw a few hundred euros as credit card transactions stopped, other depositors used an array of techniques to access their money.

Companies that had to meet margin calls to avoid defaulting on deals were granted funds. Transfers for trade in humanitarian products, medicines and jet fuel were allowed.

Chris Pavlou, who was vice chairman of Laiki until Friday, said while some money was withdrawn over a period of several days it was in the order of millions of euros, not billions.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the bank closure had limited capital flight but that the ECB was looking closely at the issue. He declined to provide figures.
While we are looking at what the EU is doing to Cyprus' depositors, we should keep in mind that the theft of deposits in the United States is much greater.

China Asserts Its Claim Over the Spratly Islands

China's increasingly powerful navy paid a symbolic visit to the country's southernmost territorial claim deep in the South China Sea this week as part of military drills in the disputed Spratly Islands involving amphibious landings and aircraft.

The visit to James Shoal, reported by state media, followed several days of drills starting Saturday and marked a high-profile show of China's determination to stake its claim to territory disputed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei amid rising tensions in the region.

What's the Problem?

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday on California's Proposition 8. The initial take on the questions and comments from the Court is that the Court seems reluctant to force "gay marriage" on the states. However, as other commentators have pointed out, the initial take on the challenges to ObamaCare was that the Court would strike it down--and they were wrong. Plus, Justice Kennedy made some comments that suggest he would support gay marriage for the sake of the children adopted by such couples.And you know what happens when the "for the sake of the children" is made--bad law justified for the most altruistic of reasons.

There are conservatives (i.e., fiscal conservatives or libertarians) that believe that fighting gay marriage is a waste of time and resources. One argument is that the economic issues facing the country are so serious that it is pointless and counterproductive to fight over social issues. (Although this forgets that the "conservative" tent encompasses people with different interests and goals). Roger L. Simon argues that the real problem is marriage, or rather, the decline in marriage. He opines that gay marriage will do nothing to harm traditional marriage. And, in a way, he is correct. Traditional marriage is not in decline because of gay marriage.

But that is not the point. It is a continuation of the erosion of the importance society places on marriage--it trivializes marriage. Arguments supporting gay marriage denigrate the special relationship between a man and a woman in marriage, and the benefits traditional marriage provide to the children of such a relationship in particular, and to society generally. Gay marriage is another way point in the decline of marriage.

It is also a wedge in the doorway that will allow government to further dictate religious belief and private action. We see this already by the fact that opposition to gay marriage is vilified--in some countries, speech in opposition to gay marriage is considered "hate speech" and punishable as a crime.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Libyan AA Missiles Still Missing

The U.S. has been unable to secure thousands of potentially dangerous shoulder-fired missiles known as "MANPADS" that were leftover from the Qaddafi regime in Libya, CBS News has learned.

MANPADS stands for "Man-portable air-defense systems." According to a well-placed source, hundreds of the missiles have been tracked as having gone to Al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Algeria-based Sunni Muslim terrorist group fighting for control in Mali.

"I would imagine they're trying to get their hands on as many weapons such as MANPADS as they can," says CBS News national security consultant Juan Zarate. "It's a danger both to the military conflict underway in Mali and a real threat to civilian aircraft if, in fact, terrorists have their hands on these MANPADS."

Before his overthrow and death in the fall of 2011, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was believed to have purchased 15,000-20,000 Soviet MANPADS. Concern over the whereabouts of the missiles - and the possibility that terrorists could buy them on the black market and even use them to shoot down American passenger jets - drove a U.S. effort to recover as many as possible. But only about 2,000 were accounted for prior to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on Benghazi, Libya, according to the source. He describes those working to locate the missiles as "beside themselves" and "frustrated."

The program to recover MANPADS in Libya was funded by the U.S. and said to have been run by South African contractors. The contractors attempted to appeal to Libyans, many of them ex-Gaddafi loyalists, to turn over or destroy the MANPADS as a matter of patriotism and pride.

"We told them that 'if planes start dropping out of the sky, it will trace back to you and you'll have the international reputation for terrorism,'" says the source. "We offered them money, we tried talking them out of it ... The only successes they had were in western Libya, the Tripoli area. In the eastern half toward Benghazi, they were getting nowhere."
 The story goes on to describe MANPADS being smuggled into Syria, Algeria, and, of course, south into Mali. But that is not the extent of it:
For U.S. officials, the biggest fear is that terrorists or drug cartels would acquire black market MANPADS and use them in South America or even in the U.S. That was the burden borne by Ambassador Bloomfield in the mid 2000's. At that time, Bloomfield says there were estimates of upwards of a million MANPADS in the world. Most were presumed to be in "responsible military hands." However, an undisclosed number was known to be in countries under little to no official control.

During the Iraq surge, Bloomfield says many pilots sighted shoulder-fired missiles being launched at them. In 2007, he says the terrorist group al Shabaab in Somalia used a very sophisticated MANPAD to shoot down a U.N. transport plane and posted video of it on the Internet.

"These are missiles that can hit an airplane from any angle. They don't have to be lined up behind the head of the engine. They can reach 10,000 feet," says Bloomfield.

More recently, a source who was on the ground in Libya says Mexican crime syndicates were looking for MANPADS to purchase there.

Rising Crime in Egypt

Loss of confidence in the police and declining public order has led to an increase in crime in Egypt. This story describes armed gangs hijacking cars for ransom and increased sexual assaults, and that Egyptians are increasingly relying on "self-help" to deal with crimes.

A Haircut for Bank Depositors in Italy, Spain and Greece?

The Telegraph is reporting that "[s]avings accounts in Spain, Italy and other European countries will be raided if needed to preserve Europe's single currency by propping up failing banks, a senior eurozone official has announced." 
The euro fell on global markets after Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch chairman of the eurozone, announced that the heavy losses inflicted on depositors in Cyprus would be the template for future banking crises across Europe.
"If there is a risk in a bank, our first question should be 'Okay, what are you in the bank going to do about that? What can you do to recapitalise yourself?'," he said.

"If the bank can't do it, then we'll talk to the shareholders and the bondholders, we'll ask them to contribute in recapitalising the bank, and if necessary the uninsured deposit holders."

Ditching a three-year-old policy of protecting senior bondholders and large depositors, over €100,000, in banks, Mr Dijsselbloem argued that the lack of market contagion surrounding Cyprus showed that private investors could now be hit to pay for bad banking debts.
As an aside, the article also notes that banks in Cyprus will remain closed until Thursday. (See also here). My guess is that they want to avoid a bank run, and want the time to arrange the "capital controls" that will be imposed in Cyprus and, perhaps, throughout the EU, to prevent deposits being transferred to other countries.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Has the Red Line Been Crossed?

House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers said this morning on CBS that "it is abundantly clear that that red line has been crossed." ...
"I think that it is abundantly clear that that red line has been crossed," said the House Intel chair, about chemical weapons being used in Syria. "There is mounting evidence that it is probable that the Assad regime has used at least a small quantity of chemical weapons during the course of this conflict."

President Obama has maintained that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line. But he is not yet willing to say whether chemical weapons were used last week in Syria.
With all due respect to Mr. Rogers, though, the recent chemical weapon attack does not appear to have been by Assad's forces. The Telegraph observes:
Whatever happened last week in the town of Khan al-Assal, west of Aleppo, it achieved something extraordinary in the Syrian civil war: unity among Washington, Moscow and Damascus.
All welcomed the rapid decision by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, to investigate an alleged chemical attack that reportedly killed 26, including Syrian soldiers.
Unusually, the request for that investigation came from the Syrian regime, which claimed that Islamic jihadist rebels launched a chemical weapons attack. Since then, precious little evidence in any way has come from the area despite an awful lot of diplomatic noise around the world.
However a senior source close to the Syrian Army has given Channel 4 News the first clear account of what he claims is believed to have occurred on Tuesday. He is a trusted and hitherto reliable source who does not wish to be identified.
The Syrian military is said to believe that a home-made locally-manufactured rocket was fired, containing a form of chlorine known as CL17, easily available as a swimming pool cleaner. They claim that the warhead contained a quantity of the gas, dissolved in saline solution.
 Obama's statement, if it can be trusted any more than anything else he says, was premised on Assad being the one to use chemical weapons, not the rebels.

Morsi Warns of Unspecified Action to "Save" Egypt

Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi warned Sunday of taking unspecified measures to “protect the nation” following violent clashes two days earlier between opposition demonstrators and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo.
“I am president of all Egyptians and I will not allow anyone to tamper with the nation,” President Mursi said in statement posted on Twitter, adding: “If I am obliged to do what is necessary to protect this nation, I will do, and I fear I am about to do that.”
On Friday an office branch of the Brotherhood in Cairo was torched and ransacked in the clashes, while the Justice and Freedom Party (JFP) building in Alexandria was also looted. The party is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Opposition activists had called for the protest a week after they battled with the Islamists near the same building in Cairo. The movement vowed on Thursday it would protect its headquarters and bused in hundreds of supporters.
He's about to lose control, but I don't think he likes it.

Karl Rove on Gay Marriage

Hot Air notes that Karl Rove's statement that he could imagine the next GOP nominee supporting gay marriage. Since Rove views himself as the kingmaker within the Republican party, what he is really saying is that he would back gay marriage. Remember, however, that Rove has led the GOP to disastrous results in the last two presidential elections--his ideas embody what is wrong with the GOP, and why it has alienated much of its base or potential base.

"The Heretic"

Or, how the intellectual elite have made an orthodox religion of Darwinism. From the Weekly Standard.

“Evolutionists,” one reviewer huffily wrote, “will feel they’ve been ravaged by a sheep.” Many reviewers attacked the book on cultural as well as philosophical or scientific grounds, wondering aloud how a distinguished house like Oxford University Press could allow such a book to be published. The Philosophers’ Magazine described it with the curious word “irresponsible.” How so? In Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, the British philosopher John Dupré explained. Mind and Cosmos, he wrote, “will certainly lend comfort (and sell a lot of copies) to the religious enemies of Darwinism.” Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University made the same point: “I regret the appearance of this book. It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of ‘intelligent design.’ ”
But what about fans of apostasy? You don’t have to be a biblical fundamentalist or a young-earth creationist or an intelligent design enthusiast—I’m none of the above, for what it’s worth—to find Mind and Cosmos exhilarating. “For a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe,” Nagel writes. “It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection.” The prima facie impression, reinforced by common sense, should carry more weight than the clerisy gives it. “I would like to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life.” 

The incredulity is not simply a matter of scientific ignorance, as the materialists would have it. It arises from something more fundamental and intimate. The neo-Darwinian materialist account offers a picture of the world that is unrecognizable to us—a world without color or sound, and also a world without free will or consciousness or good and evil or selves or, when it comes to that, selflessness. “It flies in the face of common sense,” he says. Materialism is an explanation for a world we don’t live in.
Nagel’s tone is measured and tentative, but there’s no disguising the book’s renegade quality. There are flashes of exasperation and dismissive impatience. What’s exhilarating is that the source of Nagel’s exasperation is, so to speak, his own tribe: the “secular theoretical establishment and the contemporary enlightened culture which it dominates.” The establishment today, he says, is devoted beyond all reason to a “dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against attacks from religion.” I’m sure Nagel would recoil at the phrase, but Mind and Cosmos is a work of philosophical populism, defending our everyday understanding from the highly implausible worldview of a secular clerisy. His working assumption is, in today’s intellectual climate, radical: If the materialist, neo-Darwinian orthodoxy contradicts common sense, then this is a mark against the orthodoxy, not against common sense. When a chain of reasoning leads us to deny the obvious, we should double-check the chain of reasoning before we give up on the obvious. 
Nagel follows the materialist chain of reasoning all the way into the cul de sac where it inevitably winds up. Nagel’s touchier critics have accused him of launching an assault on science, when really it is an assault on the nonscientific uses to which materialism has been put. Though he does praise intelligent design advocates for having the nerve to annoy the secular establishment, he’s no creationist himself. He has no doubt that “we are products of the long history of the universe since the big bang, descended from bacteria through millions of years of natural selection.” And he assumes that the self and the body go together. “So far as we can tell,” he writes, “our mental lives, including our subjective experiences, and those of other creatures are strongly connected with and probably strictly dependent on physical events in our brains and on the physical interaction of our bodies with the rest of the physical world.” To believe otherwise is to believe, as the materialists derisively say, in “spooky stuff.” (Along with jumped-up monkeys and moist robots and countless other much-too-cute phrases, the use of spooky stuff proves that our popular science writers have spent a lot of time watching Scooby-Doo.) Nagel doesn’t believe in spooky stuff.
Materialism, then, is fine as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go as far as materialists want it to. It is a premise of science, not a finding. Scientists do their work by assuming that every phenomenon can be reduced to a material, mechanistic cause and by excluding any possibility of nonmaterial explanations. And the materialist assumption works really, really well—in detecting and quantifying things that have a material or mechanistic explanation. Materialism has allowed us to predict and control what happens in nature with astonishing success. The jaw-dropping edifice of modern science, from space probes to nanosurgery, is the result.
But the success has gone to the materialists’ heads. From a fruitful method, materialism becomes an axiom: If science can’t quantify something, it doesn’t exist, and so the subjective, unquantifiable, immaterial “manifest image” of our mental life is proved to be an illusion.
Here materialism bumps up against itself. Nagel insists that we know some things to exist even if materialism omits or ignores or is oblivious to them. Reductive materialism doesn’t account for the “brute facts” of existence—it doesn’t explain, for example, why the world exists at all, or how life arose from nonlife. Closer to home, it doesn’t plausibly explain the fundamental beliefs we rely on as we go about our everyday business: the truth of our subjective experience, our ability to reason, our capacity to recognize that some acts are virtuous and others aren’t. These failures, Nagel says, aren’t just temporary gaps in our knowledge, waiting to be filled in by new discoveries in science. On its own terms, materialism cannot account for brute facts. Brute facts are irreducible, and materialism, which operates by breaking things down to their physical components, stands useless before them. “There is little or no possibility,” he writes, “that these facts depend on nothing but the laws of physics.”  

Harry Reems Dies

This may seem strange to post about, but bear with me. The Daily Mail (and other news outlets) noted the death of Harry Reems this past week. Apparently he was the star of a famous (or infamous) adult movie in the 1970's. However, while that may be what the world remembers, I wanted to note the following from the news story:
Reems spent nearly a decade enjoying a successful career in the adult film industry but alcohol addiction brought him to his knees. A religious conversion was the catalyst for change and since the late 1980s he had worked in Salt Lake City as a real estate agent.
... In a 2006 interview with the Deseret News, Reems described his battles with alcohol and how his life transformed after he became sober.
'I literally should be dead. I know a lot of people who drank a lot less than me, and they are dead,' Reems said. 'God has left me on this Earth for a reason, and I think it's to save lives.'
He reflected on the life changing event in 1989 that inspired him to break free from the chains of addiction - a gracious police officer that encouraged him in his alcohol treatment.

'That police officer treated me with dignity and respect. He told me I was a worthwhile human being and I have a purpose here. Maybe that purpose was to be of service to others with the same disease.'
During his rehabilitation he turned to faith.
'If I didn’t put God in my life, I’d be dead now,' he said in an interview in 2007.
The incident with the police officer caught my attention. It is sometimes easy to decide that someone is too far gone or past redemption to hear the word of God. We are specifically admonished, though, that we are not in the position to make that decision. The Lord taught:
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Matt: 7:1-2. I don't believe that this means that we are never to make character judgments and avoid those that present a moral or physical danger. In the same sermon, Christ also taught:
15 ¶Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth devil fruit.

18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Matt: 7:15-20. Nor does this mean that people who sin will necessarily relieved from the temporal or earthly consequences of their sins even if they repent.

What I think it means is that as believers, we cannot decide who is "worthy" of hearing the Gospel message. Although the report lacks any details, I'm sure that Mr. Reems' encounter with the police officer was not a social visit, and Mr. Reems probably did not present as a sympathetic subject. Yet he was, in fact, at a point in his life where he was apparently willing to put his life in God's hand, and it only took a caring comment from the police officer to put him on the right path. As a result, Mr. Reems fought the good fight instead of succumbing to his personal demons.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Obama Speaks Under Arafat Banner

Speaking to a "Palestinian" audience under a large banner honoring Yasser Arafat, Obama said that Palestinians deserve a state of their own. From the first article:

"Hope everyone saw presser. If not there, it was notable that Obama and Abbas spoke from under a banner bearing pictures of Arafat and Abbas. Also another big banner was hanging on wall nearby with Abbas kind of superimposed on Arafat," the White House pool reporter notes.

Arafat, as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting has noted, "is known to many as the “father of modern terrorism.” Below is a timeline of some of the key events of his life and terrorist acts with which he was associated."
This is significant because appearances by the President are so carefully scripted. Remember, this is the same person who wanted religious symbols covered when he spoke at Georgetown University. (See here and here). He is, in effect, showing his support of, and solidarity with, Arafat--one of the greatest murders of the 20th Century. Why does Obama so readily support tin-pot dictators?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More on the Syrian Chemical Weapon Attack

Western military sources have told DEBKA file that three chemicals were believed present in the Scud B rocket which exploded in the Aleppo neighborhood of Khan al-Assal Tuesday March 19: phosphorus, chlorine and Agent 15 or BZ. Although the Assad regime and the rebels charged each other with firing the rocket, which killed 15-31 people and injured more than a hundred, it was not possible to verify which side was actually responsible. The White House denied it was the rebels, while Moscow insisted that it was, in support of the accusation from Damascus.
The assumption in Israeli security circles is that either or both sides may have tried a one-shot use of a chemical weapon to test the limits of world-power tolerance. The incapacitating Agent 15 which causes choking is the least harmful of Assad’s chemical arsenal. A US army spokesman said the American armed forces had plans for intervening in the Syrian conflict if chemical weapons were used.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

The Washington Times has a piece on the "shadow war" between Israel and Iran. One thing that caught my attention was an unnamed source with the U.S. government criticizing the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, presumably by the Israelis, as terrorist acts. What, pray tell, is the moral difference between the magnetic bombs used in those targeted killings, and a drone attack? This appears to be just another baseless criticism from the Obama administration intended to demonize Israel.

More Push to Intervene in Syria

At the end of December, I posed the question of whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria. I noted that the "anti-war" liberals were pushing for intervention, but, in my opinion, intervention was not warranted. With the recent purported chemical weapon attack, that no one can confirm, progressives are at it again. Breitbart reports:

Amid reports that chemical weapons may have been used in Syria, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is calling for the U.S. to do whatever is necessary to secure remaining chemical weapons in that country--even if that means putting boots on the ground.
Graham said he is deeply concerned that chemical weapons will used by the Assad administration or will fall into the hands "of extremists" mingled in with the Syrian opposition.

He said "America needs to lead" on this.
Graham made it clear that the U.S. needs to try to work with her partners to get the weapons secured. But he said that if no progress can be had through diplomacy then the U.S. must go it alone.

Biden Shows His True Colors Once Again

Vice-President Biden, the same idiot that suggested people should blindly fire through doors at possible criminals, once again shows he is an elitist pig. He is quoted as saying:
"What is the downside of saying, you can have clips with only 10 rounds in it? What does that violate? Hunting? Sportsmanship? If you need more than 10 rounds to hunt, and some argue they hunt with that many rounds, you shouldn’t be hunting. If you can’t get the deer in three shots, you shouldn’t be hunting. You are an embarrassment.”
Yeah, because no one ever hunts anything but deer; no one ever uses a gun for self-defense; no one ever uses a gun for competition, target shooting, or just shooting for fun. When his Secret Service detail is restricted to a single agent with only a double-barrel shotgun or a some other weapon with 10-rounds or less, maybe he will have some moral ground to stand on.

NY To Reverse Magazine Ban

Bowing to physical reality, New York will likely amend its newly enacted gun law to allow magazines of up to 10 rounds. Cuomo explains:
"There is no such thing as a seven-bullet magazine. That doesn't exist, so you really have no practical option," Cuomo said. He told reporters that any suggestion this will be a rollback of the law is "wholly without basis."
Cuomo said the state needs to allow the sale of handguns and rifles with 10-shot magazines, but New Yorkers will still be required to keep no more than seven bullets in them, except at shooting ranges and competitions. Violating the seven-bullet limit is a misdemeanor, but a violation if the magazine was in the owner's home.
He says the law is still enforceable. The law was the first gun control measure passed in the nation after the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., beating release of the Obama administration's proposal by a day.
Cuomo minimized the cleanup now needed in the bill as addressing "ambiguities" and "grammatical errors" and routine for complex measures. They include exempting police and their weapons and allowing Hollywood to continue to film violent movies and TV shows in New York using weapons outlawed under his measure.
In Cuomo's world, passing a law is like producing a stool sample--you have to pass it to know what is in it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

DNA Analysis of Giant Squid

Interestingly, the animals seem to have just one global population. This has never been seen before in ocean-living species. Usually animals that live in the oceans end up genetically segregating into sub-species over time as they spread out around the globe. Not so for the enigmatic giant squid.
... The researchers studied 43 specimens from from all over the world — New Zealand, South Africa, Florida, California and more — to analyze their DNA. They relied on the genome of the mitochondria — the cells' powerhouses — to compare individuals. These genomes live outside of the nucleus — the brain of the cell — and are passed down from mother to offspring.
They found that no matter where the animals washed up they seem to be very similar, genetically.
The researchers think that the squid might live in shallower waters while they are younger, floating the global ocean currents. When they get old enough they sink down to deeper waters to mate and live and feed off of larger prey, releasing their offspring into the global currents once again to repeat the cycle.

So Now What With Cyprus? (Updated)

Business Insider seems to have the most stories, if not some of the most recent, on the Cyprus issue. As most of you probably have already read, the Cyprus parliament voted down the proposed bail-out plan, with zero (0) votes in support--although there were 19 abstaining votes.  The reaction from the EU is somewhat mixed. There are reports that the ECB (European Central Bank) may make use of its Emergency Liquidity Program to assist Cyprus. However, German officials seem less sympatheticReuters reports:
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Tuesday he regretted a decision by Cyprus's parliament to reject a proposed levy on savings in banks as a condition for a European bailout."We regret the decision," Schaeuble told ZDF television. "Cyprus requested an aid programme. For an aid programme we need a calculable way for Cyprus to be able to return to the financial markets. For that, Cyprus's debts are too high."
Schaeuble added that it was a "serious situation" now in Cyprus and said the country had no one to blame for its situation other than itself. He said he doesn't think its "business model" works anymore and warned Cyprus must act quickly.
Whatever, the outcome, it won't be pretty. David Zervos is reported as stating:
The die is cast. There is no going back for the Cypriots or the Eurozone leaders. As soon as the banks open in Cyprus there will be billions in withdrawals. The question of course is - "where will the money come from?". Well, if the parliament votes YES, then the Euros will have to come from the Eurosystem. But there is a glitch. The Cypriots have already borrowed 10b euro via the ELA and Target2. How can Mario just wire over 20 billion more (less the 10 to 15 percent haircut) for the Russians, and another 20 to 30 billion for the wealthy Greeks. What collateral will an economy with 20b in GDP post to get this cash? Unless Mario violates every collateral rule at the ECB, the Cypriot financial system will collapse even with a YES vote. Its a wonderful life - Cyprus style.
There are reports that Cyprus' banks will now remain closed until Tuesday of next week. (See also here for some possibilities for Cyprus).

Something I haven't seen, however, is that this is a perfect example of how a service based economy does not necessarily result in prosperity.

Update: The Daily Mail reports that Russia may use the crises to expand its influence in the Mediterranean.
Russia could use the crisis in Cyprus to secure a military foothold and energy rights in the Mediterranean, it was claimed last night.
President Vladimir Putin called the decision to seize money from savers’ bank accounts as ‘unfair, unprofessional and dangerous’.
But in a move that has raised eyebrows, the Russian energy giant Gazprom offered Cyprus a plan in which the company will undertake the restructuring of the country’s banks in exchange for exploration rights for natural gas on the island.
Representatives of the Russian company submitted the proposal to the office of Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Sunday evening.

It is also rumoured that the Kremlin is privately offering to help bail out Cyprus in exchange for the right to use a naval base in the Greek part of the island.
Moscow has already handed over £2billion to prop up the economy of Cyprus and is now in talks to restructure the assistance programme.
Russia currently has the use of only one foreign base at Tartus in Syria and docked warships in the Cypriot port of Limassol last year.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cyprus Fall-Out

Just a quick review of Drudge paints a picture of a bail-out plan for Cyprus that was not well thought out, and which may be revised before the week is through.

CNBC News reports that:
Cyprus will put forward a new proposal on Monday under which a tax-free threshold or a lower tax rate for smaller depositors could be introduced, media reports said on Monday, in a move aimed at easing the pain of a bailout agreement which will impose an unprecedented tax on savers.

Banks in the country were shut on Monday for a public holiday, and would remain shut on Tuesday and Wednesday, the agencies said. The news comes amid fears that the decision to force uninsured depositors to fund part of the country's bailout could many prompt savers to withdraw their holdings.

Reuters cited a government source in Cyprus as saying that the country is mulling a tax-free threshold on the bank deposit levy for smaller deposits. It cited a parliamentary official as suggesting that deposits up to 20,000 euros could be exempt. Remaining deposits up to 100,000 euros would be taxed at 6.7 percent and those exceeding that amount at 9.9 percent, the official told the news agency on condition of anonymity.

Earlier Dow Jones cited two unnamed European officials as saying savers with 100,000 to 500,000 euros would face a 10 percent tax, while those with savings over 500,000 euros would be taxed at 15 percent. Those with savings up to 100,000 euros would be taxed at 3 percent, according the report.
Under the original plan, every depositor under 100,000 euros would be taxed at 6.75 percent and those over that amount would face a 9.9 percent tax. The Cypriot Parliament has delayed a vote on the plan to Tuesday, an EU official told Reuters, "to allow time for more negotiations".
Germany also wanted to make clear that taxing the smaller depositors was not its idea. I think this is a P.R. battle that Germany will lose. And the Euro has declined.

Wolfgang Münchau, writing at the Financial Times,warns that taxing the smaller depositors will lead to a bank run in Cyprus, and perhaps elsewhere:
The Germans rejected a loan which they were certain Cyprus would invariably default on. So the sum was cut to €10bn. A depositor haircut was the only way to co-finance this. When they did the maths, they found the big deposits would not have sufficed.

So they opted for a wealth tax with hardly any progression. There is not even an exemption for people with only very small savings.

If one wanted to feed the political mood of insurrection in southern Europe, this was the way to do it. The long-term political damage of this agreement is going to be huge. In the short term, the danger consists of a generalised bank run, not just in Cyprus.

As in the case of Greece, the finance ministers said: “Don’t worry, this is a unique situation”. This is true only in a very narrow legal sense. The bond haircut in Greece is indeed different to the depositor haircut in Cyprus. And when they repeat this elsewhere, it will be unique once more.

Unless there is a last-minute reprieve for small savers, most Cypriot savers would act rationally if they withdrew the rest of their money simply to protect them from further haircuts or taxes. It would be equally rational for savers elsewhere in southern Europe to join them. The experience of Cyprus tells them that the solvency of a deposit insurance scheme is only as good as that of the state. In view of Italy’s public sector debt ratio, or the combined public and private sector indebtedness of Spain and Portugal, there is no way that these governments can insure all banks’ deposits on their own.

The Cyprus rescue has shown that the creditor nations will insist from now that any bank rescue must be co-funded by depositors.
... There are some institutional impediments against bank runs within the eurozone. Some countries impose daily withdrawal limits, ostensibly as a measure against money laundering. Nor is it easy to open a bank account in a foreign country. In many cases, you need to have residency. You may need to travel there in person, and you need to speak the local language – or at least English.

But I would not take too much comfort from those impediments. Once fear reaches a critical mass, people will act, and then a bank run becomes a self-perpetuating process. There has been a lot of complacency about the eurozone crisis in the past eight months.

Many people even thought the crisis was over because Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, gave a lender-of-last-resort guarantee. Bank depositors now understand that if the crisis was over, then that was only because the eurozone had found a new source of funding: their savings.

I have no idea whether or not there will be a bank run in the next few weeks. But surely it would be rational.