Archive for August, 2009

Conspiracy theorist convinces Neil Armstrong that moon landing was hoax

August 31, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Conspiracy theorist convinces Neil Armstrong that moon landing was hoax

This is quite amazing. A conspiracy theorist has now convinced astronaut Neil Armstrong that claims of moon landings are hoaxes. The Onion reports:

Apollo 11 mission commander and famed astronaut Neil Armstrong shocked reporters at a press conference Monday, announcing he had been convinced that his historic first step on the moon was part of an elaborate hoax orchestrated by the United States government.

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Craigslist: a most unusual near-monopoly

August 31, 2009 | By | 6 Replies More
Craigslist:  a most unusual near-monopoly

Wired’s Gary Wolf gives a detailed look at Craiglist. This is truly a remarkable story of a business that is not in it to gouge consumers. Quite the opposite. Consider the eccentricities of the founder, Craig Newmark:

Newmark’s claim of almost total disinterest in wealth dovetails with the way craigslist does business. Besides offering nearly all of its features for free, it scorns advertising, refuses investment, ignores design, and does not innovate. Ordinarily, a company that showed such complete disdain for the normal rules of business would be vulnerable to competition, but craigslist has no serious rivals. The glory of the site is its size and its price. But seen from another angle, craigslist is one of the strangest monopolies in history, where customers are locked in by fees set at zero and where the ambiance of neglect is not a way to extract more profit but the expression of a worldview.

The axioms of this worldview are easy to state. “People are good and trustworthy and generally just concerned with getting through the day,” Newmark says. If most people are good and their needs are simple, all you have to do to serve them well is build a minimal infrastructure allowing them to get together and work things out for themselves. Any additional features are almost certainly superfluous and could even be damaging.

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Missouri’s Turn for Anti-Science Ridicule

August 31, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More
Missouri’s Turn for Anti-Science Ridicule

A minor brouhaha erupted over a t-shirt in Sedalia Missouri. But this isn’t about an uppity student. The band director designed an official band t-shirt to illustrate the evolution of brass music. What image did he choose to evoke the idea?

Yep, a common ascent-of-man icon from the early 20th century.

After some parents saw the shirt proudly worn at the Missouri State Fiar parade, they complained. From the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch:

“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt,” said Sherry Melby, a band parent who teaches in the district. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

What sort of science program do you think she had? What sort do you think she would vote for?

The school quickly recalled the t-shirts, eating the cost of their production, and will be designing new shirts that don’t offend by presenting an image that obliquely refers to actual science.

Naturally, Pharyngula jumped on it.

And in the Sedalia Democrat, they quote the assistant band director about pulling the shirts,

“If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing,” he said.

Apparently there is a strong belief that science is a religion that should not even be tangentially promoted over any other belief.

And people wonder why I sometimes write that I live in the state of Misery.

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Depression as an adaptation

August 30, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Depression as an adaptation

According to the latest edition of Scientific American Mind, new research suggests that depression is not necessarily a a disease or aberration. In many cases, having a depression might increase your chances of survival.

[D]epression should not be thought of as a disorder at all. In an article recently published in Psychological Review, we argue that depression is in fact an adaptation, a state of mind which brings real costs, but also brings real benefits.

The researchers go out of their way to acknowledge that depression is a terrible problem for many people who should seek out help. Nonetheless, they also suggest that the mode of thinking characteristic of many bouts of depression is focused, highly analytical and systematic:

Analysis requires a lot of uninterrupted thought, and depression coordinates many changes in the body to help people analyze their problems without getting distracted . . . [D]epression is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving. Therapies should try to encourage depressive rumination rather than try to stop it, and they should focus on trying to help people solve the problems that trigger their bouts of depression . . . [D]epression . . . seems . . . like the vertebrate eye—an intricate, highly organized piece of machinery that performs a specific function.

For further reference: I first rand in to this idea that many bouts of depression might be useful in a book called Why We Get Sick, by Randolf Nesse.

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Studies show that texting while driving is dangerous

August 30, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Studies show that texting while driving is dangerous

According to the NYT, studies have shown that texting while driving is dangerous because those who text take their eyes off the road for extended periods while reading or sending a text.

Hmmm. Why did it take a study to come to this conclusion? Why not simply follow this logic:

A) You need to take your eyes off the road to read or send texts.
B) This is dangerous.

We certainly don’t need studies to say equally obvious things, such that it is dangerous to drive while

A)watching Youtubes on your smartphone,
B) eating corn on the cob;
C) reading novels on your Kindle; or
D) playing the trumpet.

An easy test for me is to ask whether you would mind riding on a public bus on which the bus driver was both texting and driving. I’m fully in agreement that no one should be texting while driving–I’m glad that the issue is getting some attention.

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Spotting fake libertarians

August 30, 2009 | By | 10 Replies More
Spotting fake libertarians

Darksyde at Daily Kos presents 10 clues for spotting fake libertarians (Republicans). Here’s one of the clues–you are a fake libertarian:

[I]f you think government should stay the hell out of people’s private business — except when kidnapping citizens and rendering them to secret overseas torture prisons, snooping around the bedrooms of consenting adults, policing a woman’s uterus, or conducting warrantless wire taps, you are no Libertarian.

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How to not conduct an interview of Dick Cheney

August 30, 2009 | By | 8 Replies More
How to not conduct an interview of Dick Cheney

Andrew Sullivan puts a bright spotlight on Chris Wallace, who pretended to interview Dick Cheney. I agree with Sullivan that this is not journalism at all. It should get Wallace fired immediately. Except, perhaps, if those who employ Wallace like it when Wallace merely pretends to interview controversial public figures.

Visit Sullivan’s post at the Daily Dish and be amazed and appalled.

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John Adams and Modern Perceptions

August 30, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More
John Adams and Modern Perceptions

We just watched the last episode of John Adams. I got the DVD from the library and we went through it in one week, all seven installments. I have to admit, the last episode brought tears. The partnership between John and Abigail was well-portrayed and deeply moving. The older I get, the more I find the strongest story resonance with depictions of deep, deep friendships, especially those that exist between lovers, spouses, life partners. I cannot imagine losing Donna, who has become exactly that for me, in spite of the fact that I have friends of longer acquaintance, good friends, too.

The casting was incredible, the make-up superb, the writing first class.

What struck me most about this as well was the marvelously-nuanced dramatization of the fundamental differences in political philosophy between Adams and Jefferson. I can’t help but think that when Adams declared that “the true history of our revolution is lost” he must have been thinking of the initial partnership and later dissolution of like-mindedness between himself and Thomas Jefferson, whom Joseph Ellis depicts an an American Sphinx.

Adams is here portrayed as an idealist who cannot separate his philosophy from his pragmatism. In the first dozen years of the new republic, there was enormous public sentiment for France and when that country descended into the frenzy of its own revolution gone mad, that sentiment demanded that we support the revolutionaries. The irony that France supported us when it was still a monarchy and now those very people that had backed us (granted, as a move in their own war with England) were the victims of the mob ascendant was lost on most people, and apparently even Jefferson, who wanted us to embroil ourselves immediately and deeply in support of the revolutionaries. Washington—how lucky they were to have him—refused. He was a militaryman by training and he understood how to assess the chances of success and how to go about surviving a conflict in which you are outmatched. He had seen more than his share of defeat in a long career and knew well that ideology needed a strong hand to keep it in check, lest it carry you over the precipice. He refused to side with France, believing that neutrality was the only way for the United States to survive. Adams shared that belief.

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Moyers: On health care reform, the Democrats are their own biggest enemy

August 29, 2009 | By | Reply More
Moyers: On health care reform, the Democrats are their own biggest enemy

Bill Moyers, spoke about the problems passing health care reform on Bill Maher’s show (as reported by Glenn Greenwald):

I don’t think the problem is the Republicans . . . .The problem is the Democratic Party. This is a party that has told its progressives — who are the most outspoken champions of health care reform — to sit down and shut up. That’s what Rahm Emanuel, the Chief of Staff at the White House, in effect told progressives who stood up as a unit in Congress and said: “no public insurance option, no health care reform.”

And I think the reason for that is — in the time since I was there, 40 years ago, the Democratic Part has become like the Republican Party, deeply influenced by corporate money. I think Rahm Emanuel, who is a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama’s re-election will come from the health care industry, from the drug industry, from Wall Street. And so he’s a corporate Democrat who is determined that there won’t be something in this legislation that will turn off these interests. . . .

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