Archive for March, 2011

Front row seat at the grand jury

| March 28, 2011 | 1 Reply
Front row seat at the grand jury

What’s it like for a self-described liberal to sit on a grand jury? Over at Occasional Planet, Gloria Shur Bilchik describes her experience.

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Snowy shades of gray

| March 27, 2011 | 3 Replies
Snowy shades of gray

St. Louis had a late-March snow yesterday, leading to some grumbling about the interruption of the long-anticipated Spring. But this was a wind-blown sticky snow that gave rise to some extraordinary photo opportunities. Many of these photos were color photos that looked as if they were taken with black and white film. For instance, this photo of a side entrance to the St. Louis Zoo.

My favorite photo, however was taken by my 10-year old daughter Charlotte, who gave me permission to post it here. This is a completely unretouched photo of a statute in Forest Park. It had a startling 2-D look, especially in this photo (click to enlarge):

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Federal Reserve ordered to disclose recipients of bailout funds

| March 27, 2011 | 4 Replies
Federal Reserve ordered to disclose recipients of bailout funds

Here’s some good news from the U.S. Supreme Court:

The Federal Reserve will disclose details of emergency loans it made to banks in 2008, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an industry appeal that aimed to shield the records from public view.

The justices today left intact a court order that gives the Fed five days to release the records, sought by Bloomberg News’s parent company, Bloomberg LP. The Clearing House Association LLC, a group of the nation’s largest commercial banks, had asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

It takes some real chutzpah to deny the public the right to know how $3.5 trillion in public funds were used.

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Is religion an evolutionary adaptation or a byproduct?

| March 27, 2011 | 2 Replies
Is religion an evolutionary adaptation or a byproduct?

I just finished reading “The Adaptationist-Byproduct Debate on the Evolution of Religion: Five Misunderstandings of the Adaptationist Program.” The article was written by Richard Sosis, a professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut, and it was published by the Journal of Cognition and Culture 9 (2009) 315-332.

This article will mostly consist of a summary of Sosis’ article (I am putting page numbers from the Sosis’ article next to various parts of my summary). Sosis is convinced that the often contentious debate as to whether religion is an adaptation or a byproduct, and the premature declaration that it is a byproduct, is hampering serious interdisciplinary efforts to scientifically study religion. He holds that these disagreements stem largely from disagreements as to the meanings of “core ideas upon which the evolutionary study of religion is founded.” Nonetheless, he is hopeful that these debates can be largely resolved after we take the time to clarify these core ideas.

Many people will probably not take the time to read Sosis’ fine article because they will presume religion could not possibly be an adaptation because the practices and beliefs of many people strike them as bizarre (I also find many such practices and beliefs bizarre). Richard Dawkins and many other prominent writers have taken this position that religion is not an adaptation; rather, they find it to be an annoying and sometimes dangerous byproduct of evolution (I’ve written about this byproduct position here and here). In fact, this byproduct position is the dominant position among scientists studying religion from an evolutionary perspective.

[More . . . ]

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Ham and Eggheads

| March 25, 2011 | 31 Replies
Ham and Eggheads

Ken Ham is the head of Answers In Genesis, an organization that promotes and perpetuates the Creationist view that the Earth is less than ten thousand years old, that homo sapiens sapien trod the same ground at the same time as dinosaurs, the the story of Noah is literally true, and that evolution is All Wrong. He’s an Australian and a biblical literalist. He built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, in 2007. Check the link for an overview by an (admittedly) biased source, but for simple clarity is hard to beat. It is a fraud of research, flagrantly anti-science, and laughable in its assertions (in my opinion).

Ken Ham is one of the more public figures in our current national spasm of extreme religiosity. He’s attempting to have built another show-piece in Kentucky, a theme park based on Noah and the Flood. The problem with this, however, is that tax dollars are being used in its construction and it is a blatantly religious enterprise.

In the meantime, Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis have recently been disinvited from a conference on homeschooling.

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How to amend the U.S. Constitution in light of Citizens United

| March 24, 2011 | 2 Replies
How to amend the U.S. Constitution in light of Citizens United

Democracy is for People” is floating two candidates for Amending the U.S. Constitution to course correct after Citizen’s United.

We’ve suggested a couple of possibilities at this point. One would state:

The freedoms of speech and the press, and the right to assemble peaceably and to petition the Government for the redress of grievances, as protected by this Constitution, shall not encompass the speech, association, or other activities of any corporation or other artificial entity created for business purposes, except for a corporation or entity whose business is the publication or broadcasting of information, when such corporation or entity is engaged in that business. A corporation or other artificial entity created for business purposes includes a corporation or entity that, although not itself engaged in business pursuits, receives the majority of its funding from other corporations or artificial entities created for business purposes.

Another possibility would be:

Congress and the States may make laws imposing reasonable restrictions on the speech and association of corporations and other artificial entities created for business purposes. This article shall not authorize restrictions not otherwise permissible on the freedom of speech or of the press enjoyed by a corporation or entity whose business is the publication or broadcasting of information, when such corporation or entity is engaged in that business. A corporation or other artificial entity created for business purposes includes a corporation or entity that, although not itself engaged in business pursuits, receives the majority of its funding from other corporations or artificial entities created for business purposes.

These two possibilities would have somewhat different implications in practice, but both would permit Congress to regulate political spending by business corporations. There are other possible approaches. These suggestions are just the beginning of what must be a thoughtful discussion to determine the best language to protect real people’s right to speak freely and to protect the press from government censorship, while making clear that these rights do not extend to corporations’ speech (except for speech by the media).

Democracy Is For People is a project of Public Citizen.

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Shaken man-child syndrome

| March 24, 2011 | Reply
Shaken man-child syndrome

The Onion reports on “shaken man-child syndrome”:


Cases Of Shaken Manchild Syndrome On The Rise

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Beware the dance assassin

| March 23, 2011 | Reply
Beware the dance assassin

Beware . . .

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Politicians try to clarify their confusion

| March 23, 2011 | 4 Replies
Politicians try to clarify their confusion

It’s amazing that someone as incoherent on Libya as Newt Gingrich is being considered to be presidential material. Gingrich is as incoherent on this topic as Barack Obama who, for the past few weeks, has been saying that Gaddhafi has got to go.

Until today, when his press secretary (I just saw this on CNN) stated that regime change is not a goal of the military action in Libya.

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