Recent Articles

Neil deGrasse Tyson comment on GMOs blows up into a detailed discussion

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has been criticized by the anti-GMO crowd for not condemning GMOs during an interview during a book signing. He has now expanded his comments, as reported by Raw Story:

If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-perennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing — and will continue to do — to nature so that it best serves our survival,” he advised. “That’s what all organisms do when they can, or would do, if they could. Those that didn’t, have gone extinct extinct.

August 3, 2014 | By | Reply More

Double standard regarding drugs

Marijuana is constantly attacked by many politicians, even though use by adults (use by children is a different story) rarely if ever results in a visit to the hospital. This makes me conclude that the problem with marijuana is that users and producers need more expensive lobbyists. I write this based on an eye-popping article on the well-established dangers of LEGAL drugs in the September 2014 edition of Consumer Reports. Here’s an excerpt:

OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin–prescription narcotics . . . can be as addictive as heroin and are rife with deadly side effects. Use of those and other opioids has skyrocketed in recent years. … 46 people per day, or almost 17,000 people per year, die from overdoses of the drugs. That’s up more than 400 percent from 1999. And for every death, more than 30 people are admitted to the emergency room because of opioid complications. With numbers like that, you would think that the Food and Drug Administration would do all it could to reverse the trend. But against the recommendation of its own panel of expert advisers, last December the agency approved Zohydro ER, a long-acting version of hydrocodone.

Almost as dangerous is a medication renowned for its safety: acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic). Almost 80,000 people per year are treated in emergency rooms because they have taken too much of it, and the drug is now the most common cause of liver failure in this country.

If lawmakers put all drugs under the same scrutiny as far as safety, it would turn the drug world upside down.

August 3, 2014 | By | Reply More

Rambo, the name and the apple and the name

Last night at an art gallery, I met a woman named Jan, who mentioned that her middle name was “Rambo.” Guaranteed conversation piece. I bit. “Any relation to the Sylvester Stallone movie?” She explained that her great great great . . . . grandfather was a neighbor of William Penn, and was somewhat famous for developing the “Rambo” apple, quickly a prized species that can still be bought today.

Fast forward to recent times, and I’m quoting from Wikipedia now: “According to author David Morrell, the apple provided the name for the hero of his novel, First Blood, which gave rise to the Rambo film franchise. The novelist’s wife brought home a supply of the fruit as he was trying to come up with a suitable name for the protagonist.” Who would have seen that path from the name Rambo to the movie character.

August 2, 2014 | By | Reply More

Coca Cola and obesity

Coca Cola has been forced to reckon with the elephant in the room. Healthy people do not guzzle Coca Cola, as discussed by this article in Bloomberg.

Americans may not have figured out the answer to the obesity epidemic, but for years they’ve pointed to Coca-Cola and other soda as one of the causes. Coke has tried fighting against this. It’s tried ignoring it. Now it accepts this as a reality. This is the problem Douglas has to confront. He has to persuade people to drink Coca-Cola again, even if they don’t guzzle it like water the way they did before.

Cultural shifts don’t happen overnight. They build slowly—a sip of coconut water here, a quinoa purchase there, and suddenly the American diet looks drastically different than it did 10 years ago. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the $75 billion soda industry. For decades, soft-drink companies saw consumption rise. During the 1970s, the average person doubled the amount of soda they drank; by the 1980s it had overtaken tap water. In 1998, Americans were downing 56 gallons of the stuff every year—that’s 1.3 oil barrels’ worth of soda for every person in the country.

August 1, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

What is Atheism?

New video on Atheist TV feature video statements of prominent atheists, including an address given by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists at the group’s 1990 convention. The clips start at about 5:30 min. These were radical statements in the United States in 1990. They are much more commonplace today, though they still aggravate many believers.

July 30, 2014 | By | 6 Replies More

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse sets the record straight on climate change

I couldn’t agree more with what Senator Sheldon Whitehouse had to say on climate change. Here’s an excerpt:

Let me tell you some of the government agencies who are so-called colluding together. How about NASA? We trust them to send our astronauts into space. We trust them to deliver a rover the size of an S.U.V. to the surface of Mars safely and drive it around, sending data and pictures back from Mars to us. You think these people know what they’re talking about? … How about the United States Navy? The commander in chief of our Pacific Command? Is he colluding when he says that? …

If you want to ignore the federal government, if you live in a world in which you think the federal government colludes with itself to make up things that aren’t true, okay. But look at the property casualty insurance and reinsurance industry. They’re the people with the biggest bet on this. They have billions of dollars riding on getting it right, and they say climate change is real, carbon pollution is causing it, we’ve got to do something about it. So does the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, because they care about the poor and the effect this will have on the people who have the least. So does every major U.S. scientific society. Every single one.

Now the extraordinary part. Here is the proposed resolution:

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that global climate change is occurring and will continue to pose ongoing risks and challenges to the people and the Government of the United States.

Here is the full resolution. 

Despite Whitehouse’s argument, however, the resolution — which required unanimous consent — failed with Inhofe’s objection. So as demonstrated by that non-action, the Senate has no official position on whether climate change is real or not, much less whether it poses a threat to American citizens.

Here is the entire proposed resolution, which failed:

[More . . . ]

July 30, 2014 | By | Reply More

Chris Hedges v. Sam Harris on Israel

Everyone agrees on one thing. The situation in Israel is horrific. Something should be done. We disagree on the proper frame for understanding the situation and what needs to be done. The debate is an endless shifting of frames, much like the debate on abortion. The logic of the debates comes after it is too late for logic, because it is the underlying assumptions that determine one’s position. I offer two contrasting positions.

Chris Hedges has recently written of the need to implode the myth of Israel:

Reality shatters the fiction of a peace process. Reality lays bare the fact that Israel routinely has used deadly force against unarmed civilians, including children, to steal half the land on the West Bank and crowd forcibly displaced Palestinians into squalid, militarized ghettos while turning their land and homes over to Jewish settlers. Reality exposes the new racial laws adopted by Israel as those once advocated by the fanatic racist Meir Kahane. Reality unveils the Saharonim detention camp in the Negev Desert, the largest detention center in the world. Reality mocks the lie of open, democratic debate, including in the country’s parliament, the Knesset, where racist diatribes and physical threats, often enshrined into law, are used to silence and criminalize the few who attempt to promote a civil society. Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves. Strike at the myth and you unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism.

In contrast, Sam Harris has recently discussed the need and right of Israel to defend itself:

Needless to say, in defending its territory as a Jewish state, the Israeli government and Israelis themselves have had to do terrible things. They have, as they are now, fought wars against the Palestinians that have caused massive losses of innocent life. More civilians have been killed in Gaza in the last few weeks than militants. That’s not a surprise because Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Occupying it, fighting wars in it, is guaranteed to get woman and children and other noncombatants killed. And there’s probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes. They have been brutalized by this process—that is, made brutal by it. But that is largely the due to the character of their enemies. [Note: I was not giving Israel a pass to commit war crimes. I was making a point about the realities of living under the continuous threat of terrorism and of fighting multiple wars in a confined space.]

Whatever terrible things the Israelis have done, it is also true to say that they have used more restraint in their fighting against the Palestinians than we—the Americans, or Western Europeans—have used in any of our wars. They have endured more worldwide public scrutiny than any other society has ever had to while defending itself against aggressors. The Israelis simply are held to a different standard. And the condemnation leveled at them by the rest of the world is completely out of proportion to what they have actually done. [Note: I was not saying that because they are more careful than we have been at our most careless, the Israelis are above criticism. War crimes are war crimes.]

July 30, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
Time to discard the Myers-Briggs test

Time to discard the Myers-Briggs test

This article at VOX points out numerous problems with the test. Erika Price, a friend of mine who has a Ph.D in psychology (and who has written articles for this website), summed up the criticisms as follows:

-Myers-Briggs is based on an old, fringe, untested hypothesis
-The categories do not naturally occur in any sample data
-The test itself was formulated by people with no psychometric training or experience
– It divides people into categories when really every trait is a spectrum
– People are divided into binary categories even though most people are near the middle of the spectrum.
-Individuals do not consistently get the same type. (i.e. it is unreliable)
– It does not predict behavior
-It is not used in mainstream psychological research

The article itself concludes:

It’s 2014. Thousands of professional psychologists have evaluated the century-old Myers-Briggs, found it to be inaccurate and arbitrary, and devised better systems for evaluating personality. Let’s stop using this outdated measure — which has about as much scientific validity as your astrological sign — and move on to something else.

July 27, 2014 | By | Reply More

Bill Maher on Religion – Collection

I just ran across this collection of Bill Maher stand-up routines on religion. I agree with most of his observations–cleverly presented. I found myself wondering what would go through the mind of a committed conservative Christian viewing this–I assume he or she would have an response to every particular jab, but I’m wondering whether any of this would get through and cause some need to rethink things, especially after a full hour of this. I know a least a couple Christians who write off Maher by simply stating he is “snarky” or “arrogant.” That cheap ad hominem serves to kick the can down the road, and avoids the need to consider his arguments which, though they are dressed up in comedy, are serious challenges for Christians to rethink their religion from the ground up.

Then again, people don’t adopt a religion through intellectual evaluation. They don’t shop for religions like they shop for cars, critically and skeptically examining the claims. It’s not surprising, then, that they don’t re-examine religion based on intellectual grounds. Further, blunt attacks on religion of the type the Maher is delivering will cause believers to circle the wagons and dig in. It is not Maher’s sole purpose to de-convert–he’s working primarily as a comedian. But he is clearly provoking people to reexamine their supernatural (and often oxymoronic) claims. As I viewed these clips, I wondered how Maher would adapt his presentation if his sole purpose were not to work as a comedian at all, but to cause Christians to reconsider the believes they have been repeating ever since they were taught these things as babies by their parents.

I should add that I don’t consider religion to always be a bad thing. As I see it, religion serves as a tool for social collaboration, tapping into subconscious tribal instincts. Good-hearted people use religion to collaborate to do impressive social good. Cold-hearted people use religion to collaborate with people like themselves to spread their social dysfunction. I see religion as a tool for social coordination, good or bad, and it’s never actually about the core beliefs–public declarations regarding these core beliefs (e.g., dead people waking up) simply mark social territory–they serve as radar to tell members of congregation who is loyal to the group. I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere.

July 26, 2014 | By | 14 Replies More