Friday, December 30, 2005

To Everything There Is A Season, and a Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven

It is often said that religion gives our lives purpose and meaning that would not otherwise be there, and this is one reason why religious people tend to reject the naturalist explanations of science when science conflicts with (or is perceived to conflict with) their religious beliefs. Often, science is seen by these people as atheistic and non-purposeful.

Now it is worth noting that while science is silent on the existence or not of a deity, science does contradict some specific religious beliefs. For example, Genesis runs fairly against science, if it's taken as the literal Word of God. But religion since it does not rest on a solid evidenced-based foundation, is very flexible, and adherents are able, if they choose, to subtly alter their beliefs to synchronize with the findings of science. Going back to Genesis, an adherent could reinterpret the story to be a metaphor or simplification, for early people would not have understood it if it was more complex and incomprehensible; or, alternately, that it really happened in the way described but everything was made such that it would appear to have formed via naturalistic mechanisms, to test their faiths. But some people choose not to alter their beliefs at all in the face of reality, choosing instead to insist that the other is wrong. We see this often with the Intelligent Design movement, but I'll return to that topic in some other post.

If we had science alone and we were left without religion, some think life would be meaningless. Science can only describe those things that exist in nature, and 'meaning' does not exist in nature, and only exists by virtue of human consciousness; that is, 'meaning' is contained within the mind, not out in the larger world. Thus, science, by definition, doesn't deal with or assign meaning. But the very fact that meaning is created by human consciousness allows any human to fill the void of "meaningless existence" however they choose--even something based upon a current religion, if he or she so chooses, but which does not conflict with the evidence that nature provides. Because ultimately, those who deny reality only deny their selves. Let's hold that thought, though, and explore what meaning and purpose is given by religion.

So religion gives us purpose and meaning. I thought about this, and I realized I didn't really know what purpose this was. On the face of it, the obvious purpose under most religions is to achieve a good afterlife of some sort. This allows us to come to grips with the idea that death is an inevitable part of our lives and the lives of people we love. Sometimes people even use it to rationalize every misfortune in their lives, ascribing it to some grand plan on the part of God, a plan which we cannot ourselves envision but in which every event is progress towards the illusive, vague goal. Okay. But what kind of grand purpose requires so much death and misfortune? Indeed, I wouldn't think God would require anything particular to occur on Earth. After all, most of our earthly problems wouldn't exist if we weren't created in the first place. So then, why create humans? Taking the Judeo-Christian view, it seems like the only reason we were created was to worship God. To me, that's not such a great reason to be around. We certainly weren't created to take care of the rest of creation, when the rest of creation could pretty well take care of itself if we simply went away and since we're doing a pretty poor job of it right now. So we're left with the preparing-for-afterlife purpose. Why have a pre-afterlife, anyway? And the afterlife must be a pretty crowded place by now; and unless the world ends soon, there'll be even more people around. Then why will Armageddon come at any particular time? Is there some critical-soul-number Heaven has to reach?

But I'm going off topic here; the point is, the purpose provided by religion isn't all that impressive, even while it may help us come to terms with mortality. But since religion's purposes aren't all that impressive, and, as I mentioned above, humans are able to create their own meaning, we are not doomed to a meaningless existence if science alone is left to us. We can find meaning in our own worlds without the help of centuries-old philosophers. Are your friends and family no longer your friends and family without religion? Does the community service you take on no longer help anyone because you aren't being watched by God as you do it? Does killing someone suddenly become okay without religion? The answer to all of these is no; nothing that gives our daily lives any meaning does not depend on God. One can even find solace regarding mortality without religion, if one looks for it. Note that I am not actually arguing against religion here; I myself am still an undecided Catholic. What I am demonstrating is that meaning and purpose does not necessarily depend on religion.

There is nothing wrong with an atheistic belief. There also shouldn't be any reason for religions to oppose science, because science merely attempts to describe what actually occurs in nature, which doesn't by definition exclude spirituality or religion; however, science does rightly exclude those beliefs which deny reality, and beliefs running counter to reality are false.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The 20-year-old Virgin

Your Ultimate Purity Test 2.0 Score Is...
Your Score:Average For All UsersAverage For All Straight Liberal Single Pink-Skinned 17 to 23-Year old Males
(153 total)
Dating69.23%33.3%33.71%Flirts mildly, then runs away
Self-Lovin'68.18%61.68%53.83%Master of your domain
Shamelessness95.16%78.01%84.6%Has yet to see self in mirror
Sex Drive95.24%76.01%80.75%Monks are envious
Straightness98.15%40.47%38.8%Just go fuck something, okay?
Fucking Sick98.98%90.39%93.89%Refreshingly normal
Gayness100%79.54%93.96%Repressed, are we?
Dominant100%87.55%90.49%Afraid to cross at "Don't Walk" signs
Submissive100%87.98%92.46%Submits to no one... almost
Total Score93.16%74.53%77.55%
Take The Ultimate Purity Test 2.0
and see how you match up!

(By The Ferrett)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

An Objective View of Reality

The other day my friend Miki and I got into a debate over whether there is such a thing as an "objective reality." She was telling me about a discussion about altered states of reality in her Antro class.

Example: In order to pass into adulthood, males in a certain Native American tribe went out into the wilderness, in solitude, to fast until they entered an 'altered state of reality' in which they have visions which tells them something about themselves.

Another example: this certain other group of people built granaries, and often people would rest under them for shade. However, termites often eat away at the structures and occasionally the structures would collapse on a person underneath. Despite knowing about the termites, the people still come up with some other reason to satisfy their need of needing meaning in reality, needing to know "why me?".

In both these examples, Miki contends, all that matters is how real the belief is to the believer. Everyone has different beliefs and no one belief is more or less valid than any other as long as the believer finds validity in it. Therefore, everyone experiences "subjective reality," based on each individual's perceptions. In addition, she claimed that science is no more or less valid than any other set of explanations; that is, "starvation-induced hallucination" is as correct as "starving yourself allows you to see a higher plane of existence that can only be detected when you are in that state", just because the latter seems real to that person and that tribe.

If you know me, you won't be suprised to find out that I largely disagreed. To the latter, I responded that what they see isn't telling them anything about a separate, external reality but rather is telling them something entirely about their own internal nature. Put another way, no two people in the same state would agree on what they're seeing; the hallucinations are not real objects on some higher plane of reality. Rather, they're generated by the person's mind even though they are percieved as existing outside the person. Further, psychologists studying phenomenon like this have looked at the brain's activity, and are discovering what happens in a person's brain in one of these alternate states. And with the granaries, what happens is that the termites are busily chewing away at these structures nonstop, and eventually they'll weaken it to a point where it can no longer hold itself up. Since people often rest under these, probability dictates that sometimes the structures will collapse when someone is underneath. Wrong place at the wrong time.

At this point, she replied that while she personally believes that my logic is probably correct, the worldview of science is not any superior to any other worldview and it is entirely possible that some other worldview is more correct than science. Hence, no objective reality.

This cannot possibly be true, and there must be an objective reality in which we all exist. Indeed, we could not possibly exist if there was not an objective reality. Consider color. Look at the trees outside; assuming it isn't fall, the trees are green. Now get a friend and ask what color the trees are, and she will agree that they are green. Two separate people, two separate minds, agree about some property about something that exists external to either mind. Expand this to all other things around you, and you will find that there is a hell of a lot that you both agree about regarding the world around you. Now add a third person, and you will find he also agrees with your observations. Expand this to the entire human population and you will find that almost everyone agrees on almost everything that you previously observed with your one friend. Now I say almost everything and almost everyone because there will be some people who cannot detect the things that other humans can. For instance, some people are color-blind, fully blind, or deaf; obviously they won't agree on things they can't detect in the first place. And further, the things that people disagree on here (remember, we're only talking about physical external environment) are not due to some "alternate reality," but rather are due to some difference in the way they detect the outside environment. While I would agree that, to those people who, for instance, are blind, all that matters to them is what they experience themselves, as that the reality they must navigate in is without light. However, that does not mean they can conclude that there is no such thing as light; they just have no way to detect it. Similarly, just because someone is having some spirtual vision after starving and isolating themselves, doesn't mean that the vision is part of some external reality that someone only in that state can detect. The sheer number of things that so many humans can agree on about the world we live in suggests that there is an objective reality in which we all exist. If there was not such an objective reality, it would be absolutely incredible that any two people could agree on any one thing about the outside world, let alone several billion people agreeing on a near-infinite number of things; even groups of people who have been isolated for a long time from other people can still agree on all of these things. Indeed, it would be suprising that we aren't each our own world.

The central assumption of the science "worldview" is that we all live in an objective reality. If we didn't live in such a single, consistent reality, it should become immediately apparent in the unexplainable inconsistencies in the set of all observations made about one aspect of the world. But this isn't so: we see that things behave very consistently. Science would not exist if this central assumption wasn't true. However, science itself isn't the objective reality. Science is the attempt to describe that objective reality, looking for more consistencies about the external world more obvious than the color of trees. This description of the objective reality is true, on the whole, regardless of anyone's subjective perceptions and beliefs.

My example was gravity: we see that all objects cause all other objects to accelerate toward them in proportion to their masses and the inverse square of the distance between them. Scientists call this phenomenon gravity, and attribute it to a not-entirely-understood phenomenon called the gravitational force. Miki suggested that another worldview might have another reason for why things are that way. At that point, though, the other culture's reason and science's reason are just two names for the same observation. (Until, that is, we find that gravity is related to other things which that culture's explanation doesn't describe.)

My next example was a common plastic cup. We can all agree that it looks like it does, and that it has the shape it does, and science can take atoms and molecules and build them up into such a cup. Miki then said that other cultures may not agree with that. But lets look at a nuclear weapon. Scientists know very well how atomic bombs work, and it depends entirely on the existence of atoms of certain sizes and properties. If I were to detonate an atomic bomb in the village of a culture which doesn't believe in the existance of atoms, their belief wouldn't keep their village from being incinerated and their region from being saturated with lethal levels of radiation in exactly the way our science describes. One's subjective beliefs do not affect the reality they live in. There is an objective, shared reality.

Science however, doesn't depend on human experience and perception for their observations. Science understands that parts of the world are not observable with our limited senses. For example, the light we see by is a select range of frequencies of electromagnetic waves, and color itself is only a result of how our detection apparatus works. Thus science uses nonbiological apparati whose workings we understand very well in the context of the many consistencies science has previously described.

As we all live in the same objective reality, our detection systems all receive the same input from the world. And as we are all humans, our detection systems all function in the same way. Since we all receive the same input, where does the variation come from? Where do our different perceptions arise? The mind. Each one of us has a unique mind which is shaped by numerous factors, including our genes, our prenatal environment and the culture we grow up in, as well as additional experiences we accumulate through our lives. Perception comes from the application of our unique minds to the incoming stimuli from the world. In cognitive psychology, this is called "top-down processing"; that is, we apply our mental structures to the incoming stimuli, which results in perception. Therefore if the stimuli is the same and the perception is different, it arises from our differing mental structures. And if something is in our minds, it's not in the world, regardless of how real something may seem.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Bureau of the Public Debt : FAQ 4.2 - How do you make a contribution to reduce the debt?

This is just too good. ^Click the title^

As of 9/16, the debt was $7,919,996,476,821.03, aka ~$7.9 trillion.

Can you imagine Bush going door-to-door asking for donations?

"Your $100 contribution will bring us just $7,919,996,476,721.03 away from our goal! If you donate right now, we'll also throw in bioweapons-certified duct-tape, science-proof earmuffs, and a box of official Presidential M&Ms!"

Oh man... and this guy refuses to repeal his tax cuts even in the face of what we'll have to pay with both Katrina and Iraq on our hands. So where's the money coming from? China, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the UK. Woohoo! Buy American! Oh... wait...

This is ironic... really it is. Bush wants to separate from the international community and wants to basically end any international agreements, doesn't want the UN to have any force (despite claiming he thought the UN should be stronger... guess that's only when it's aligned with US interests). And yet, with all this borrowing from other countries, with the oil we depend on from the Middle East, we're becoming ever more dependent on the rest of the world financially while at the same time trying to distance ourselves from the world politically.

Looks like democrats are waking up. Along with the interview Bill Clinton gave linked above, John Kerry and John Edwards both gave awesome speeches recently. I'm sorry, but at least Edwards can speak well spontaneously, and either of them would be better Presidents. I reserve judgement on what policies they might or might not have done, but in terms of the President's responsibilities and such, I'd be willing to bet both of them would be more Presidential than our current one.

And it looks like Americans are starting to think the same thing. Too bad they couldn't have realized this just a year ago, or we might have improved things some.

One last note... again with the appointment of political hacks by this administration! Bush wants to appoint Julie Myers to be head of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency. Funnily enough, she just married Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff's chief of staff, her uncle is Air Force General Richard B. Myers, and she has no experience with immigration or customs.

That's all I have for right now. Maybe next time I'll post something more my-life and not current-news.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Taming of the Shrub

Contracts are being handed out by the military to help restore their bases in the South. Guess who? Yup, that's right, Halliburton, the company that Cheney had never told to stop sending him money. And another thing, do you know why those people stuck in the convention center in New Orleans didn't have any food or water? The so-called Department of Homeland Security ordered the Red Cross not to enter the city, because it would "make people not want to evacuate and cause more people to enter the city" Take a look.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are witnessing the worst presidency in American history. Some of you may have been shocked by how long it took to get relief and help into New Orleans, and how Bush went to gave his VJ-day speech more importance than rushing to the disaster area. You may have scoffed whenever someone brought up how everything he does is politically-driven (where I mean 'politics' in the worst sense) and his public appearances are highly controlled and scripted, or how any protesters are forced into a fenced-in zone far away from where the president actually is. Maybe you've dismissed seeming character flaws as "charming" and "he's a man of the people." Perhaps you've overlooked some bad moves just because he's part of your party, or supports some policies you like. Well guess what? Just as we had plenty of warning of what a hurricane could do to New Orleans, we could have had plenty of warning about Bush from his years as governor of Texas, which were enshrined in Mary Ivins's book Shrub: The Short and Happy Political Life of George W. Bush. What she reported there has been carried over verbatim into the federal government, with little or no exception; but even worse, because the Texas governorship is one of the least powerful in our country, while the Presidency is extremely powerful, and he's been increasing it even further. And it doesn't help that Republicans in Congress are putting politics and party above the best interests of the nation, and have stood behind Bush in lockstep until recently. Bush hasn't changed any, it's just that this horrendous disaster and the stress that has been placed on him by Cindy Sheehan's rekindling of the anti-war movement is pushing him to the breaking point, causing him to lose his cool and to start making political mistakes.

However, many of the Democrats are no better, Hillary Clinton one of the worst among them. She's as politcal and scripted as any number of Bushes. We need real leadership in this country. We need to boot out our representatives who are placing politics at the forefront and show them that we will not tolerate a government run by elite, calculating politicos jostling for power first and doing their jobs second.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What God giveth, God can taketh away

Update: I left out how Bush has cut funding for the Veterans Administration and has cut veterans benefits since he came into office, while we're starting to see the first homeless Iraq vets on the streets. There's just so much he's done that one can't even begin to list everything they've done which is dragging us down.

A man who claims to be doing God's work and who claims to talk to Him personally is being brought down by his Creator.

This is the worst disaster we've ever seen as a country. We knew, however, that this was a danger, and Americans all over are asking why the levees in New Orleans failed and why our President didn't mobilize our forces quickly or rush to the scene immediately. European countries, including the Netherlands which faces the same problems as New Orleans, don't understand this either, because a disaster of these proportions is not something you'd expect to see in a very wealthy, powerful nation which has known of the danger for a long time. Meanwhile over $70,000,000 has been donated to the Red Cross by Americans, $100,000,000 donated by businesses. The American people are doing there part, but where's our president? Why are we facing such a horrible disaster we've forseen?

Take a look at these editorials:
New York Times: "Waiting for a Leader"
Washington Post: "A Dearth of Answers"
Manchester Union Leader (a conservative paper, folks): "Bush and Katrina"

We also have to ask oursleves about where we've placed our priorities. We've spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq. Most of our armed forces, including our National Guard who are supposed to be on-hand for situations like this, are tied up in Iraq as well, let alone those who have been killed over there. Getting involved in Iraq has weakened our country. Iraq and the all-important tax cuts were directly blamed by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Bush Administration's cuts in funding for New Orleans' levy reinforcement and for the Federal Emergency Management Administration's Project Impact which was supposed to help us prepare for such a hurricane hit. And what have we gotten in return for stretching ourselves so thin? World opinion has turned against us, and some people have turned so far as to be susceptible to recruitment by terrorist organizations. Iraq is unstable, and it's turning into an Islamic republic and an incubator of hatred for America. We've killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and thousands of Americans. Many thousands of lives both here and there have been scarred forever, and many communities are badly wounded as well. We've employed contractors in Iraqi prisons who've been getting away with raping and murdering and torturing the captives. No weapons of mass destruction were secured, and it sounds like we didn't make a big attempt to secure those UN-sealed facilities which were in Iraq or the nuclear scientists there, possibly making it easier for other countries to get WMDs. Iran and North Korea have become more determined on the Nuclear front just because they want a deterent against US invasion. Saudi Arabia is still considered one of our biggest allies. Afghanistan is still not entirely stablized and we still haven't caught Osama bin Laden and the Taliban is still in the country in force.

We've had so many problems here we should be spending our resources on, and it's so apparent that there wasn't any urgent need to attack Iraq; how can anyone now think that Iraq was a good idea? At least with Saddam in power the Mideast was more stable, and we were succeeding in keeping him in check, yet Bush took us to war, wouldn't tell us how much it would cost while cutting taxes massively, he wouldn't say how long we'd be there, told us Iraq's oil would pay for the war, told us Iraqis would welcome us with open arms, told us Saddam was a wildcard who had secret WMDs and was in cahouts with terrorists (as if Saudi Arabia and Pakistan weren't), told us that it didn't matter that we weren't able to catch Osama, told us that Afghanistan was doing just great, told us war was the last resort against Iraq, opposed the creation of the 9/11 Commision until it became politically expedient, puts political friends in positions of power regardless of whether they're actually qualified for the job, and has been consistently doing things to the benefit of large corporations without regard to what is actually good for our country and the people. Something's fundamentally wrong with this administration, and it needs to go.

Of course, none of this mentions peak oil. Peak oil is the point at which no matter how many oil wells we drill, no matter how fast we pump oil out of the ground, the amount of barrels filled per day will not increase, and will begin to decrease. Almost everyone agrees that it will occur within 50 years. Some experts think we may have already reached it, but most predictions put it within 15 years. Think about how high gas prices have gotten already. Then look at how a disaster has affected that price. Now imagine that supply starts decreasing while demand keeps increasing. Unless we make a major initiative to break free of the grasp of oil and to start using renewable sources of energy and to push fuel efficiency as far as we can until we can find some non-oil method for fueling cars, we may not be able to survive the peak. Such a change in the economy has the potential to be catastrophic, especially for those below the current poverty line. I think we can, and we will survive it. But we have to make the necessary changes now, before it becomes a problem.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Weird Dream

I had a really weird dream last night, which involved an adobe city and people going around with assault rifles, constantly fearing being attacked by snipers. I had bad aim, as it seemed like I was aiming with a mouse and not with my arms. Along the way I saw someone on the rooftops and it was someone from my high school, who also had a gun, and we were both wary of each other even when we recogonized each other. So I moved away carefully and somehow ended up in this base-like place, down aisles that seems like library shelves without books, ending in a slight rectangular depressed room that had this metal net over most of it, as a shield of sorts. It was rectangular and cluttered, with a bunch of other people I recognized but couldn't name now for the life of me. There was a door just opposite from the netted part, and people were going in and out. Then somehow the net fell down, I almost feel was the result of an attack. Then I helped reattach it to the openning, on someones' shoulders. There was a ladder just outside the doorway, and people were going up and down that too. I saw a few people I didn't recognize and thus was suspicious of... and then I think that's when I woke up.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Boston Globe Letter to the Editor Regarding Intelligent Design

The Boston Globe - Intelligent design's doubt: Is evolution the full story?

To the Editor:

In Sunday’s article “Intelligent design’s doubt: Is evolution the full story?” the writer states that “even if it were accepted that evolution had been assisted by some designer, intelligent design cannot say who or what the designer is.” This statement is misleading on its face and is used by intelligent design advocates to attempt to get around the barriers traditional creation stories have had. It is true that it does not say whether the designer is God, Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, or Queztalcoatl, and so does not endorse any specific religion. It may not say who, exactly, the designer is; but when you carry intelligent design out to its logical conclusion, it does declare that some supernatural intelligence exists. One might argue that maybe the designers were aliens; but then how did the aliens become complex enough to have intelligence and manipulate our evolution? No, the only possible designer is some form of God.

Intelligent design basically says using mathematics what creationists have always been saying; specifically, that everything works too perfectly and is too complex to have not been designed. However, there is much evidence that things don’t work all that perfectly; they just work, period. And if things were so perfectly designed, there shouldn’t be any evidence, at all, that the components of these ‘perfect’ mechanisms had any other function in the past. If all life is so perfectly designed, why are we humans imperfect in so many ways?

We must remember that even the simplest bacterium we study today has been evolving for around 3.5 billion years. When animal-like cells developed from bacteria, bacteria had already been around and evolved for 1 billion years. When multicellular organisms first appeared, the animal-like cells had around 1.5 billion years to evolve and diversify prior. In contrast, human civilization has only been around for the last 30,000 years, 0.0008% of the total time life has existed. Science has only been around for maybe the last 300 years, 0.000008% of the total time life has existed. Given the very fast reproductive cycle of single-cell organisms, it’s entirely possible that seemingly irreducibly complex structures could have developed in those inconceivably long periods of time.

At worst, intelligent design would halt research into other ideas of the origins of life; as intelligent design, like all creationist theories, is not falsifiable. At best, intelligent design would have science taught and researched as normal, with the caveat that some kind of God exists. At worst, it interferes with science. At best, it inserts religion into science classes. When it comes down to it, intelligent design is no better or worse than other creationist theories and, like them, it has no valid place in our research labs or our science curriculum.

Nicholas Bauer

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Revolution is Now

Everyone (and I know there aren't many of you), go check out that website and see what this one woman is doing. Cindy Sheehan is the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq, and she is camping outside of Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch until he meets with her. Why is she doing this? Because she wants to know why Bush sent her son to die in Iraq, she wants to know what the "noble cause" is which Bush keeps referring to. A lot of people are starting to join her there and support her in this. She's been there for several days now and plans to stay there until she gets her answer. She's starting to attract huge amounts of attention; Google had counted 609 articles written about her all over the world. Is it possible that she, along with the indictments that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald might hand down to people in the Bush administration, will be the key to unraveling this administration only 8 months into its second term? We can only hope, but I will definately try to help her if I can, and I plan to donate some money once they have the website set up to accept PayPal payments.

Here's to the beginning of the end of the Bush administration.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

"We are the Counterculture. You will be made an individual. Resistance is futile."

One of my friends was complaining on her blog that the counterculture people she knew were critical of some of the things she did which were 'mainstream', that she wasn't being an individual. I posted a really long comment on her blog, and as she and I both loved my use of metaphor in my description of what was going on, and as I in general was happy with my reply, I thought I'd post it here. Not that many more people see this blog that don't see hers... but we'll ignore that for now. ;-)

Basically what's going on is a "mainstream counterculture", and this same thing is going on in other areas, such as "reverse racism" that is sometimes talked about. The counterculture developed as a reaction to what they saw as bad traits of society; and they're certainly right to do so if they choose. But now the "counterculture" is established and defined, and thus if you aren't completely and totally rebelling against the "mainstream" in every way under your control, you're not "one of them", not an “individual”. The same thing has happened elsewhere. Some black communities are just as racist against whites as whites have been against them and would paint a black who is friends with a white a traitor. Some feminists find a woman who decides to forgo her career to become a housewife to be repulsive. These movements become so entrenched in themselves that they loose sight of their real aim. Their originally diffuse mass starts to coalesce and define itself as a distinctive body and, like a planet forming around a star, you can either be pulled completely by the planet, or completely by the star, but there’s no place for balance, as many may see it. Of course, not everyone, thankfully, falls into an entrenched mindset, but it sounds like many of the people you’ve heard from, the part of the counterculture you’ve interacted with, is part of that mindset, and by doing so they’re really just enforcing a new conformity instead of encouraging people to be their own agents. I think you should be proud, because you’re much more of an individual than anyone suggesting you have to be more like someone else.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Requiescat in Pace

I've never really known anyone who has died. My grandfather died about 8 years ago, but I wasn't very close to him. One of my second cousins died last year of brain cancer, but I also only knew her a little bit. Death has never really touched me close to home before.

That changed when I looked at the front page of today's paper. I took the paper out of it's plastic bag and set it down to peruse. I looked at the headlines, and the really cool pictures someone took of lightning in the bad storms last night, but then my eyes glanced just below and breifly glanced over the headline--something about a crash and UNH professor--and locked onto the picture. It was a picture of the professor I completed my Biotech III internship with, Dr. Charles Warren. I wondered briefly why he was in the news, and then I looked back up at the headline, and my heart stopped when I saw it: "Paraglider crash kills UNH professor"

Crash kills UNH professor. Crash kills. Kills... Kills? UNH Professor... Killed? Death... He is dead. Dead? UNH Professor... Dr. Charles Warren; someone I knew; someone I highly respected. Is it possible? Of course it is; no one is exempt from the laws of nature, the law of mortality. But in the prime of one's life? From an accident while doing something you love? It's truly tragic. This might take a while to sink in completely; death had never before hit so close to home.

He was a very kind, genial man, and very smart. It was easy to get along with him, he hated being called Dr. Warren, preferring Charles. I enjoyed very much working with him on his research over those three weeks two summers ago. When I started that internship, he had just come back from a paragliding competition in Australia, something he seemed to love. I had hoped to perhaps work in his lab again over a summer, if briefly. I'm sure he will be missed.

RIP Dr. Charles Warren

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Heavens Are Shifting

Major news in space this week. We now have a 10th planet, and a lake of water ice has been found in a crater on Mars. Just look to the left! Incredible sight, isn't it? Water does exist on Mars, and that means it's very likely that we might find evidence of old life, or possibly even life living deeper in the soil. (story)

And yes, we do have a 10th planet too! 2003UB313 is it's current name, although a more pronouncable name is being considered. I'll update this when it is named. The body is at least the size of Pluto, though it has a very eccentric orbit at a high angle to the orbital plane of our solar system. It, along with Pluto, are thought to be objects from the Kuiper Belt, which is a sphere of icy, rocky objects at the outer edge of our solar system. Of course, this also calls into question whether objects the size of Pluto and this new object should actually be considered planets. But either way, it's pretty cool, and sobering, to know that there are still things in our own solar system we don't know about yet.

Update: As a point of interest, a few days before, there was an object 70% the size of Pluto found. Many months ago an object 50% the size of Pluto was also found, named Sedna by its discoverers. Wrote Shakespeare: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Update 2: I've been recuse in forgetting to mention that there is much consternation about the status of Pluto and objects similar in size to Pluto, and whethe they should be considered actual 'plantets'. I must say I'm on the side of considering objects like Pluto to not be planets. However, if we are going to consider Pluto a planet simply because it's always been considered as such, then it must be argued that objects bigger than Pluto must be considered planets as well. However, it's also predicted be some that Mars-size objects are lurking out there as well. Now, I'm not sure how easy it is for bodies bigger than Mercury to be knocked into orbits outside of the orbital plane, but I think I good operational definition is to say that planets are bodies large enough to become spherical due to gravity and whose orbits focus around a star and lie in the same plane. Of course, I could be wrong, but given our model of planet formation, it is likely that most planets will originate in the same plane.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Help! I'm drowning in idiocy and ignorance!

I can't believe this. I just can't believe this. How can there be so much idiocy in the world? How can people possibly think like this?

Here's an example, one person's response to the Doonesbury comic I mentioned previously which was posted on Doonesbury's website (
"I was disappointed in today's strip. You place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Bush administration for "causing" the war in Iraq. Reacting to the war already declared on us by terrorists would have been more accurate (or did you forget about 9/11)? Also, did Tony Blair cause London to be bombed by terrorists? There is a war going on, that you can be sure of. But to blame GWB for "causing" it? You're reaching, and I fear it's in the wrong direction."
Or how about this one?
Sir, I know your political leanings are liberal, but in today's strip your humor was lost on me. I find it incredible that you suggest that the President of our country does not care about the soldiers that have given their lives fighting terrorism in Iraq. Sir, have you forgotten about 9-11? Do you want to see that repeated on our soil? I have in the past laughingly looked past your political leanings. Today was too much. I want to continue enjoying your comic strip, but if this keeps up, I'm done. Thanks for all your crazy humor.
Forgive my language, but how in hell can these people possibly think that attacking Iraq had anything to do with 9/11? I mean, they can't be blamed entirely because Bush and Cheney kept saying that they were (or rather, alluding to it enough times to allow people to come to that conclusion theirselves, which is all the more insidious). However, you'd think people would be smart enough to realize that Iraq only now has terrorists because we invaded! And invading Iraq has given terrorist groups a potent recruiting and training tool, one which wasn't there beforehand. If we had stayed out of Iraq and focused on Afgahnistan and al Qaeda, we'd be much safer today. We'd have more money to spend on security, and would be able to devote more resources to tracking down Osama bin Laden and others who were plotting against Western countries. I mean, look, it's one thing to have a conservative ideology, and it's valid to think that way. But it's quite another to be ignorant of the facts and think that 9-11 was linked to Iraq, because that's not conservative, that's just stupid.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

St. Paul's Alumni Day!

As an aside, just keep reading Doonesbury here to get your day-by-day dose of thought about just what's wrong with things today.

Yesterday was St. Paul's School Advanced Studies Program Alumni Day (what a mouthful!). Unfortunately it was extremely hot and humid out, and I was in it for way too long, and probably hadn't been drinking enough water. So for the better part of the last two-thirds of the day, I had a heat headache, and probably getting heat sickness as my stomach wasn't feeling all that settled either; I barely ate any dinner. Luckily though, I ran into my sister's friend Morgan and her friends on the way into the talent show, so I got to hang out with them through that and at the dance later! At the talent show I was able to close my eyes and rest during a few performances, and with the slight breeze created by the huge fan oscillating way up at the front, I started feeling a little better. However, the heat in the dance created by dozens of human bodies was nearly as bad. It felt cool outside at that point, but then there the swarms of mosquitoes were in search-and-suck mode, which made getting some fresh air a risky endeavor. All that, though, was well worth being there and to meet a cool girl, to dance and actually learn that I'm not as bad as I thought, and to get people to swing to "Jump, Jive, and Wail". :-D

On another note, I recommend Philip Pullman's series "His Dark Materials," which starts with the book The Golden Compass. I liked it a lot, and it's a pretty good epic-type adventure with some pretty cool concepts. And I can't leave you without mentioning Harry Potter. I had to bring it up to my sister yesterday, and as such I won't be reading it until mid-August, when she gets back from St. Paul's and the college trip she's taking. But that's alright, I guess I can wait. (*imagines the looks of horror of any Harry Potter fanatics reading this*) But I'll have plenty of time to re-read the series in preparation then.

And on yet another note, I started my unpaid lab job at UNH. It seems to be going alright, but I think I messed up my first experiment... though it's entirely possible that something else didn't work out. But otherwise it seems like it'll be a good way to get out of the house and do something, and it'll be good experience.

And I still need a new title for this whole thing... no one has any ideas?

Friday, July 15, 2005

It's the stem cells. I hear their cries.

If you haven't read it already, check out this Doonesbury comic from last Sunday.

Stem cells hold much promise for many treatments for debilitating diseases, and our country is falling behind in stem cell research. Even if other kinds of stem cells which "don't involve the destruction of an embryo" might be possible, it is ludicrous to categorically rule out stem cell research before it is actually known what is possible.

So many Congressmen who know virtually nothing about a topic think they can talk for hours about morality and ethics and what's good for people. How hypocritical can these people get? "I respect life," they say, " and we must build a culture of life!" Of course by that they mean "We must end abortion! We must protect the life of embryos!" Yet these same people seem to have no qualms with throwing away the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of non-Americans in a war we've been duped into and which has subsequently been bungled so badly. What about their lives? Shouldn't a "culture of life" also mean a "culture of peace"?

There was absolutely no reason we had to go into Iraq when we did. Iraq had little to no connection with al Qaida, unlike Afghanistan, or with 9/11, much less than, say, Saudi Arabia. And we know that Iraq wasn't necessary and was pushed for no other reason than to get rid of Saddam, even though he posed no real threat to us or almost anyone, from leaked documents such as the Downing Street Memo, among other things. Explore that website to find out what it's all about, and tell me you see nothing wrong with it, especially with the changing rhetoric the administration was using. Going to war with Iraq has resulted in a damaged economy at home, instability in the Middle East, and a new training ground and more reasons extremist leaders can give to gain converts to terrorists organizations. All the money we're now spending in Iraq could be going to many better pursuits.

But speaking of abortion, anyone who considers themselves "pro-life" must realize that a full-out ban of abortion will not work. All such a thing would achieve is to push desperate women to illegal clinics or to attempt to perform abortion themselves. This would lead to a very dangerous situation for these women, and for pro-lifers to be taken seriously, they must want to protect these women at least as much as their fetuses.

The goal of pro-lifers should be to reduce the number of abortions, and any pro-choice supporter should recognize this as a noble and ideal goal. To do this, however, not only should options such as adoption be promoted, birth control must be promoted as well. Unfortunately, many pro-lifers also fall on the side of abstinence-only education, which, it is shown, doesn't work effectively enough to protect people when they finally do have sex, even though it is effective in delaying a person's first time. This is why comprehensive sex-ed, emphasizing abstinence but including birth control, is a much better idea. But many pro-lifers basically want to force abstinence on people and then want to punish them for having sex by forcing them to give birth. This is a sad worldview, and it won't help pro-lifers achieve their goal of reducing the number of abortions.

And again, I'll express my believe that that's a goal my fellow pro-choicers should aim for as well. We must make abortion a rare last-choice procedure, and to cultivate that as a common view in our society, promoting birth control and informing about adoption. It should be the woman's choice, but we need to decrease the chances that a woman should have to make that choice, and to let her know, without pushing one or the other, of other choices she has.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Summer Update

Soon there are going to be some changes around here... Like my title is too depressing. As this is my blog, representing my life, the title must reflect my current feelings and such. I like the Avalon line and the "nickofcamelot" address only because it's awesome, and picked the title to go with that... I must give this some thought. Any suggestions are welcome!

Of course, any changes here would be just another of my summer projects, which so far are:

1.) Actually learning the stuff from the last half of my Chem class - I got way too behind there and need to be up-to-date for Orgo next year (that's Organic Chemistry for you cool non-scientist types).

2.) Getting a job or other such summer amusement - I'll be volunteering for Children's Museum events, at least, and if no job comes I may be able to work on some research at UNH with the Biochem & Molecular Bio folks. Oh, I should mention that latter possibility is unpaid; ah, money would be nice.

3.) Typing up all my class notes from last year - Okay, so I'm a nerd. But, it'll be very helpful for me to have them on my computer and available to me if I need them in the future. Plus I won't have to keep tons of binders around later.

4.) Working on the website for the Bates College Student Government - I'm the official BCSG Webmaster and I must work on the website. However, the documents and information I need seem to be in some sort of "safe" on the Bates campus that no one seems to have access to. So I'm kinda stuck on this one at the moment.

4.) Catching up on reading. - I have at least 4 more Star Wars books (that's right, Star Wars books... I love Star Wars and I'm proud of it! lol) at the tail end of the series to read, and I'm beginning to accept that I'll have to read the novel versions of the movies and the stuff before the original movies as well. Plus I should work more at other more literary books... maybe Dante's Inferno (Miki says: "it's not fun at all"; so maybe not that) or some such, maybe some of my science books on Conciousness; those should be interesting. See my post about conciousness down there, it's fun!

5.) Various odds and ends. - Keeping my room orderly, paying the town $10 for living here, fighting back my allergies with the help of Claritin, getting in shape so I lose the dreaded 15, and keeping in touch with all my friends from Bates, and re-establishing touch with my Newmarket friends.

So there you have it. My work is cut out for me, as you can tell. Provided I survive the hot muggy weather, the bees (hate them), and my own self-destruction (just kidding), I should have enough time to finish all these. Or so I tell myself; we'll see what the status of these are in the fall before school starts up again.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Short Term!

Ah yes, another post! What a rare sighting this is. Well well... I don't have the patience to write a full update, so here it goes:


Whew, that's it. :-p I'll be more serious in a little bit.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Pet Peeve

I apologize to anyone who may happen upon this, but I feel a need to rant a bit. I talked to two of my friends today, both girls. One mentioned that she weighed enough to give blood, and the other mentioned she couldn't because she didn't weigh enough. The first girl said she was barely over the limit. This led me to mention that I was surprised that the first girl weighed more than the second. Of course, you see my blunder, and you can guess how the second girl reacted. But why the hell does it have to be such a big deal when there's really no insult at all? The first girl in question is approaching stick-thin, and the other isn't quite as thin, but no where near big; it's a visible difference, but we're talking an actual weight difference of maybe at most five pounds around the 110 range. That isn't bad at all. I mean, I'm sure the second girl would admit that the first is thinner than her. All I did was state a fact, which no one should have any disagreement or offense to. Thus, it's only because I stated it, and not her, that she took offense. Now, I could see reason for offense if the first girl was already on the heavier side, because that would mean the second girl looked much heavier than that. But that's not the case. Therefore why should this be so taboo? I mean, I weigh (*gasp*) around 190 pounds, and I know who's thinner than me, and I can accept that someone is obviously thinner than me. So why can't some people not take things so badly? It's because of this stubbornness that guys can 'dig themselves in deeper'... It's only because some girls over-react to some small things and then make it impossible for the guy to explain himself, because any attempt at explanation inevitably invokes the original thing said, and the girl gets more offended.

That's all I got in me. Good night, and hopefully I'll have more over the weekend.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Happy Birthday? And Update

As of 10:57 AM I officially became 19 years old. Why am I not jumping for joy, you ask? Because I'm sick. I feel Not Good. *sigh* Why?

Not much has gone on in the past month, really. I did well in all my classes. 'A's in Cognitive Psychology and Calculus II, A- in Anatomy of a Few Small Machines, and A+ in Atomic and Molecular Structure. I was happy to hear the seminar and psychology were both 'A's. I'll be having fie courses this semester: Linear Algebra, Chemical Reactivity, Introduction to Logic, Animal Development, and Twentieth Century American History. Wish me luck. If I drop any, though, it'll be the history one because I've had AP U.S. History and we covered most of the 20th century there.

Christmas was fun. Got a bunch of books, a bunch of money, and a bathroom scale haha. That last one's meant to help me keep the Freshman 15 off. I'll keep you posted on that.

Well, I guess that about sums it up. Happy New Year to all!