Archive for January, 2010

Wikipedia’s Species Directory

January 31, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Wikipedia’s Species Directory

I didn’t realize that a spin-off project of Wikipedia is, Wikispecies, a free directory of life, that already includes 209,875 taxonomic entries.

For instance, would you quickly like to review the taxonavigation of Homo Sapiens? It’s all here, all the way up from eukaryota.

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Expensive CEO’s of charities

January 31, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Expensive CEO’s of charities

How can one really justify a salary of $1 Million to run a charity? Consider the case of Brian A. Gallagher, who is paid $1,037,140 to run The United Way. Or consider the American Red Cross, which pays its top person, Gail J. McGovern, $495,187 per year. These are stats from 2009 provided by Forbes.

Here’s how you fix this problem: Pass a law to make all charities disclose the salaries of its top ten highest earning officers and employees on all solicitations for donations.

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Cost of our new high-speed trains is dwarfed by the tax dollars we waste in our Afghanistan and Iraq “wars.”

January 31, 2010 | By | 15 Replies More
Cost of our new high-speed trains is dwarfed by the tax dollars we waste in our Afghanistan and Iraq “wars.”

President Obama has recently announced that he will allocate $8 billion ($4 billion each year, over two years) to develop a new system of high-speed passenger rail service. This is an excellent idea. The new rail lines will be created within 10 geographical corridors ranging from 100 to 600 miles long.

Note, however, that the high-speed rail line system will be an extremely expensive project, and that the $8 billion bill will need to be paid by 138 million tax-paying Americans. Dividing the $8 billion cost by the number of taxpayers, we can see that, on average, each taxpayer will pay almost $60 ($30 per year, for two years) to support this massive new high-speed rail service.

Again, this high-speed rail project will cost an immense amount of money. Consider, though, how small this pile of rail money looks when compared to the amount of money we are wasting in the “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan. For 2009, the United States spent approximately $87 billion for Iraq and $47 billion for Afghanistan. The fiscal 2010 budget requests $65 billion for Afghanistan operations and $61 billion for Iraq. the cost of these two “wars” together is $126 billion for 2010.

Compare these expenditures on a bar chart:

Graph by Erich Vieth

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New graphically illustrated book is filled with sex and violence.

January 30, 2010 | By | 9 Replies More
New graphically illustrated book is filled with sex and violence.

R. Crumb has recently released his illustrated “The Book of Genesis.” Caveat for parents of small children: No visual detail is left out. As Crumb indicates on the book cover, “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors.”img_1972

Crumb used the actual words from commonly used translations of the Bible, and simply interpreted what was going on, illustrating each passage with a cartoon-like drawing–the book is filled with many hundreds of drawings, quite a few of them explicit in their sexuality and in their violence. Crumb worked hard to show the expressions you might expect on Bible characters facing the situations they allegedly faced. Notice, for example, the expression on Noah’s face (in the thumbnail at right), when hearing God disclose His genocidal intentions.

Crumb is a well-known artist and illustrator, “critical, satirical, subversive view of the American mainstream.”

Reading Crumb’s book makes me wonder whether Crumb is being sincere or coy in his claim that it was not his intention to ridicule or make visual jokes. There’s a hint in Crumb’s Introduction: “If my visual, literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis offends or outrages some readers, which seems inevitable considering img_1971that the text is revered by many people, all I can say in my defense is that I approached this as a straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes. That said, I know that you can’t please everybody.”

In an interview published by USA Today, he gives more hints, but nothing definitive. Consider this: “So much of [the Bible] makes no sense. To think of all the fighting and killing that’s gone on over this book, it just became to me a colossal absurdity. That’s probably the most profound moment I’ve had — the absurdity of it all.” But also consider another Crumb quote from the same article: “[The Bible] seems indeed to be an inspired work.” My suspicion is that Crumb is at his subversive best in writing drawing The Book of Genesis, and that the commentary he offers in his book is his attempt at plausible deniability. Just my suspicion, based upon my belief that the best counter-argument to “inerrancy” is to encourage people to actually read the Biblical text, combined with the fact that illustrating Genesis will make it more likely to be read by many people, especially teen-agers and young adults.

Crumb’s book fascinates me. I read/viewed a big chunk of it today, and wondered whether any folks who believed that the Bible is inerrant would dare have their young kids read this version, even though its text matches commonly used translations and even though the drawings fairly match the text. There’s an awful lot of senseless sex and violence in the Bible, which is even harder to ignore in Crumb’s edition than in the versions of the Bible that lack drawings. But ignore these parts many religious folks do. Most Believers with whom I’ve spoken freely admit that they cherry pick when they read the Bible. Statistics bear out that great numbers of Believers fail to read the Bible carefully.

At bottom, Crumb’s work seems accurate, perhaps too accurate, to be recommended to members of most congregations, but it’s a fascinating thought experiment to imagine a preacher conveying such graphic details of the Book that irritates me mostly to the extent that it is considered inerrant. After all, if the Bible is really inerrant (or even if it is only somewhat inspired), and if it’s authored by the Creator of the Universe, why would anyone skimp on any of the the inconvenient details?

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Pun time

January 30, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Pun time

My 9-year old daughter Charlotte likes to draw. She came up with this drawing totally on her own and gave me permission to share on DI. Click to enlarge this drawing she calls “Soap Opera.”

soap-opera-jan-2010

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Corporate persons

January 30, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Corporate persons

You’ve gotta watch those corporate “persons” carefully, as described by the cartoon Big Fat Whale.

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Wikileaks struggles to stay alive

January 30, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Wikileaks struggles to stay alive

Wikileaks has shut down, hopefully temporarily, for lack of money. Here’s what you’ll see if you visit the site:

The Sunshine Press (WikiLeaks) is an non-profit organization funded by human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public. Through your support we have exposed significant injustice around the world—successfully fighting off over 100 legal attacks in the process. Although our work produces reforms daily and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the 2008 Economist Freedom of Expression Award as well as the 2009 Amnesty International New Media Award, these accolades do not pay the bills. Nor can we accept government or corporate funding and maintain our absolute integrity. It is your strong support alone that preserves our continued independence and strength.

To help out, visit Wikileaks and make a donation. I just donated, because Wikileaks has proven itself to be a critically important resource for allowing us to really know what is going on and I wanted to do my part.

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Temple of Disinformation

January 29, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More
Temple of Disinformation

In America’s heartland there is a modern temple to the denial of five nines (99.999%) of what we’ve learned about the universe in the last couple of centuries. The Creation Museum is a sleek, elegant, well presented indoor theme park almost entirely lacking in actual knowledge. It is derided worldwide, and is a source of shame for our once forward thinking nation. It is also, I grant, an edifice to the principle of free speech.

The ham, showman and charlatan who created this institution in Kentucky after he was laughed out of his Australian homeland seems to be quite sincere about the project. Ken Ham is actually his name. And he has been raking in major profits for nearly three years from this place, well beyond even his early hopes. Apparently there is more than one born again every minute.

Busloads of young Christians long to go on pilgrimages to shore up their Young Earth ideology. The younger ones (under 12) can even get their picture taken on the back of a dinosaur, just like those that people rode. That is, before the old west cowboys killed the last of them off. That’s why all those T-Rexes are found out on the great plains.

You don’t have to take this from me on faith, follow the links from the Wikipedia article on the Creation Museum. See actual video tours.

So, why am I venting my bile right now? Wasn’t this already adequately covered on this site?

I just learned that a young collateral relative, a bright young man, is looking forward to his trip there this weekend! Half a dozen years ago, he was in public schools, in every advanced program they offered. Advanced science and math and lead cello in the district orchestra. Then his parents removed him from all that intellectual wealth to put him in a small Christian school. He still excelled, eventually garnering college board scores that got him invitations to Harvard and Yale and such. But he wants to go to a small school with an influential chapter of the Campus Crusade. Sigh.

Most of this is re-posted from this FaceBook note.

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Judgment In Wichita

January 29, 2010 | By | Reply More
Judgment In Wichita

After 37 minutes of deliberation, a Kansas jury has found Scott Roeder guilty of first degree murder in the death of Dr. George Tiller, who Roeder shot at church, claiming that he was preventing future deaths of unborn children. Roeder’s defense wanted a lesser charge, voluntary manslaughter, but Judge Warren Wilbert denied the motion, stating that Roeder was not permitted to use the necessity defense.

Roeder seems to think he was justified. Years of debate over abortion has led to some people immersing themselves so deeply in the conviction that a fetus is fully human, with all the rights of someone walking around, talking and interacting with others, that it inevitably results in the emergence of those who feel justified in acting as if they were engaged in a geurilla war against an occupying force. They will see themselves as heroes. They will not see how such actions are themselves violations of the very standards they uphold and claim are superior to the law of the land.

At many points along the way since Roe v. Wade there have been opportunities for the two sides to come together to find a middle path. The simple expedient of increasing sex education and the availability of contraception would have, over the last thirty-plus years, alleviated a great deal of the necessity for practices many—even supporters of the right of a woman to choose—find troubling.

But that was not to be. Those, like Randall Terry of Operation Rescue, see contraception as another form of abortion. A ridiculous stance, but one that has poisoned many chances for accord.

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