Thursday, August 31, 2006

Putting a New Face on the Clones

Friday, August 11, 2006

Good Math, Bad Math, Bible Math

Whether you're new to the world of math, just looking to refresh your memory, or a lost soul in need of salvation, Professor Sharon K. Robbert of Trinity Christian College is here to assist.

Join Professor Robbert as she presents the basic lessons of single-variable calculus in a bible-friendly fashion that will be sure to confuse and startle you, but won't leave you corrupted by any heathen mathematical principles. Lessons include: "Does God Change?" (or Development of the Derivative); "God's Surgical Improvements of Our Actions" (or Function Operations); "God's Zero Tolerance for Error" (or Numerical Integration and Error Bounds); and many, many more!

If you're still not convinced, here's a sample instructional lesson from Robbert's unparalleled curriculum:

Secant Lines and Sanctification

Ps. 119:33-40

In differential calculus we study how a slope of a linear function can be generalized to the slope of a function whose graph is curved, creating the derivative of the original function. The definition of derivative uses a sequence of lines (secant lines) drawn through two points on a function that are approaching each other and a single point on the function curve. The derivative value or tangent line slope is defined to be the limiting slope value of this sequence of secant lines.

Once a person has been called to be a Christian, we are redeemed by Christ but not released from following the law of God. We are justified once but continue with the process of sanctification for the remainder of our lives. This sanctification process is like the limit process of the secant lines approaching the tangent line. There is one distinction between the concepts of sanctification and secant line limits, however. In the mathematical contexts, we accept results that are "sufficiently close," results that are in an epsilon-neighborhood of the desired quantity. While in our quest for perfection, the "better" we get the further we realize we are from satisfying all aspects of the law.

And remember, these amazing lessons can be yours for free!* Visit now: Christianity and Mathematics: Single-variable Calculus.

* No payment required, but we do get your soul.

Blogs' Day in Court?

Blogosphere, meet Judge Clement James. The retired associate justice of the Oregon Supreme Court lashed out at bloggers today, declaring that it is "high time to fill the gap in a system that allows defamation in the blogosphere to go unchecked."

It's hardly surprising that, as blogs rise in prominence, they will be met with a growing call for regulation and for accountability. Judge James isn't going to be the man to bring the hammer down, but methinks the next few years will bring the courts and the blogosphere together in some less-than-pleasant confrontations.

A Modest Proposal: "Vote - or Else"

Norman Ornstein's op-ed in today's NYT laments the low voter turnout in the Connecticut primary, and across the country, and suggests an interesting solution: mandatory voting. It's not going to happen, as Ornstein is quick enough to acknowledge, but it's an intriguing idea and his discussion of the pernicious effect that non-voting has on the political process are spot on.

More Green: Footballs and Helmets

LGF with more dirt, this time on the seemingly omnipresent "Green Helmet Guy," who is shown in a clip from German TV staging (and re-staging) a shot of a dead child on a stretcher. Don't even know why I bother posting these updates here, just go over to LGF yourself.

Not surprising that this isn't getting more coverage, given the events of today, but the cinematic war story doesn't look like it's going anywhere soon...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

50-30-42: The Combination to the Mind of Mainstream America

Crunching the numbers is painful these days. If this keeps up I'm going to need at least a root canal, if not a lobotomy, before too long. At any rate, after a long day what better way to blow off some steam than by taking a look at some recent poll results that are so mind-bogglingly absurd they could almost be funny. Almost. Unfortunately, they're actually quite depressing.

Here are the numbers:

First, in Iraq, (1) WMDs are making a comeback. 50% of Americans believe that Iraq had WMDs in 2003, up from 36% last year. This might be slightly less shocking when you consider that (2) fully 30% of Americans can't even remember in what year the impetus for that fruitless search for WMDs, the September 11th attacks, occurred. But asking people to contemplate 2001 is still comparatively easier than asking them to contemplate something even older like, say, the origin of mankind. There (3) 42% still believe that "life on Earth has existed in its present form since the beginning of time."

The numbers speak for themselves, and what they say about Americans is far from flattering.

Dirt Digging in Lebanon with Little Green Footballs

Little Green Footballs, the blog that first broke the Adnan Hajj photo-doctoring story earlier this week, is at it again. This latest post shows how the same bombed out Lebanese building has been used in a series of photographs over a period of several weeks. Each caption indicates that the building was flattened by a recent Israeli attack.

Kudos to LGF, which has certainly captured my attention this week. And, again, you have to wonder how deep the iceberg goes. It's hard not to wonder about the accuracy of the "news" that we see, hear, and read about these days...

[Update: Here's Ace of Spades HQ with a nice account of why Reuters, and other MSM outlets, are so susceptible to the fakeries offered up by the likes of Mr. Hajj. In case you're too lazy to click through, here's the one character summary: $ ]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Elizabeth's Story

One woman's story about her struggle to die on her own terms. I see no need whatsoever to add any of my own commentary, Elizabeth's story stands on its own. Everybody, whether they support or oppose euthanasia, would do well to read this.

Made to Order (if you're lucky)

It appears that the first genetic supermarket has opened its doors, here in the United States, where an embryo bank in San Antonio, Texas is offering customizable embryos for infertile couples.

The clinic "allows couples to buy fresh embryos that fit their requirements but which have no biological link to either of them." Seems like a recipe for designer babies, no?


While there's currently a "waiting list for Aryan children," what's going to happen when the first couple that requested a blond haired blue eyed child winds up with brown hair and green eyes on their hands? Let's all keep in mind that selecting gametes on the basis of the phenotypic traits exhibited by their originators provides no guarantee about the phenotypic expression of the offspring, especially for multifactorial traits (like hair color).

While this process may raise the odds that a couple that desires a child with a specific hair color will receive it, in reality this is like going to the produce section of Nozick's genetic supermarket only to find that everything is wrapped up in thick brown paper. Sure, you can separate the watermelon from the blueberries, but the apples and the oranges look an awful lot alike don't they?

People are bound to get their hackles up over the ethics of even trying to select traits in this matter, and it's a reproductive decision about which reasonable people are entitled to disagree. But try to remember that what's happening in Texas is no different, ultimately, than what's been going on (often unconsciously) since time immemorial: the pairing of physically similar males and females with the hope, but without any guarantee, that the offspring will resemble the parents.

[Update: Law professor John Robertson, guest blogging over at the AJoB blog, is also wondering what all the hubbub is about. Robertson points out that what's happening in San Antonio is just another example of gamete brokering, which is happening in various forms all over the country as we speak.]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

There's Informed Consent and There's Too Much Information

Seems like Britain's NHS has swung the pendulum too far in the direction of the latter. To wit:
In 2004 the BMJ produced a special issue listing ethics committee horror stories, including a 64-page form which took 40 hours to fill in. The journal concluded that ethics committees had "swung out of control".

I'm a firm believer in the importance of truly informed and valid consent. But if that's what the NHS is inflicting upon potential research participants I have no doubt that ongoing and prospective studies are being held up due to a lack of volunteers. Furthermore, I have to sincerely question the validity of any consent that comes after a 40 hour session of paperwork.

Intelligent Design At the Checkout Line

Yesterday, standing in the supermarket checkout line, the woman in front of me turned and presented me with a pamphlet.

"The end of all suffering is at hand," said the pamphlet.

"Do you have any thoughts on this topic?" asked the woman. I told her I thought that'd be awfully swell but, unfortunately, I didn't believe that the end of all suffering was actually all that imminent. She plowed ahead with a plug for the creator and when I quickly interrupted her to clarify - "I don't believe in a creative god" - she went on the defense.

"Well," she said, "there is actually lots of evidence in a creator. Did you know that the creation is proof that there is a creator?" Momentarily stunned by this vicious tautology, it took me a second before I could inform her that, while that may be technically true, I didn't believe in creation either. I preferred evolution.

"Well," she countered, "did you know that most scientists see design in evolution. That it's just, well, so complex that there must be design. That's what all the good scientists believe."

She paid for her groceries while I attempted to explain that, actually, nearly every scientist worth her salt thought exactly the opposite and that the problem with the intelligent design theory she was advancing was precisely its unscientific character. Then we wished each other well and she went on her way, thus concluding my first face-to-face encounter with a non-academic intelligent design pusher. Fun times.

In honor of that checkout line encounter, here's a recent LA Times review of three recent books that each debunk, in their own way, the myth of intelligent design. For those who wish to go straight to the source, the books are:

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution
David Quammen
Atlas Books/W.W. Norton: 304 pp., $22.95

Intelligent Thought: Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement
Edited by John Brockman
Vintage: 258 pp., $14 paper

Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
Michael Shermer
Times Books/Henry Holt: 202 pp., $22

Have Another Scoop

And make that doughnut burger a la mode while you're at it. Why? Because research scientists at UCLA have found a way to turn fat cells into muscle.

Even though the UCLA researchers were quick to point out the conversion was from fat cells to smooth muscle cells, not beach-friendly skeletal muscle cells, that's not going to stop me from eagerly awaiting the infomercials touting John Basedow's newest video, "Cheesecake Abs."

Speaking of Doughnuts

Many Medicare recipients are finding their first taste of the so-called Medicare "doughnut hole" to be a decidedly unsavory experience.

A Novel Approach to Orphan Diseases

The NY Times reports on the efforts of a private charity to bring to market a pharmaceutical treatment for a rare disease, Black Fever, that for-profit pharmaceutical companies could not profitably develop.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Fake News: The Only News You Can Trust?

All aflutter today, Reuters announced that it was pulling all 920 photographs by freelance Lebanese photographer Adnan Hajj after it was discovered that he had digitally altered at least two of the photographs depicting the ongoing conflict in Lebanon.

A public that is increasingly skeptical of the perceived slant of traditional news outlets is unlikely to become more trusting when it's unable to authentic even the raw data - images and the like - that it is being presented with. And that's one reason why fake news is so much less stressful and, let's face it, appealing to viewers. Rather than worry about bias or authenticity, when the Jon Stewarts and Stephen Colberts of the world read you the news, you can rest assured you're getting the exact same standard of truthiness each and every night. Which is to say, not a whole lot.

Finally, the Reuters flap takes me back to a Washington Post editorial from this past spring by Michael Kinsley, "The Twilight of Objectivity." There Kinsley suggested (and I'm sure he's not alone in this) that, just perhaps, it is time for mainstream media to move ever-so-slowly away from its faithful (and some would argue futile) attempts at objective reporting.

I can't imagine that the move from objective journalism to opinion journalism would be as painless as Kinsley seems to suggest, and it certainly wouldn't free journalists to alter basic facts as Mr. Hajj apparently did, but as our skepticism of traditional news sources increases, perhaps a reputation for objective reporting will soon be as quixotic as in-fact objective reporting.

Even More Freakish Fauna

Following close on the heels of the recent two-toned Maine lobster is a...Manatee in the Hudson River? Indeed. These giant "sea cows" are typically found in the warm waters off the coast of Florida but, at least for now, one of them has decided to go exploring up the Hudson. Read more...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Janus the Lobster

Janus, the Roman diety version, was typically depicted with two faces which were meant to symbolize, among other pairings, the beginning and the end of life. This incredible lobster, at odds of 1 in 50 million, offers up a similar tableau.

[Thanks to National Geographic for the picture.]

An Inconvenient Spoof: Exposed

There's a little known fact (at least until recently) about the parody of Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, that has been making the YouTube rounds. What was supposedly an amateur spoof, and not even a very entertaining one at that, was actually concocted by the Republican PR firm DCI.

Whatever anti-Gore or anti-anti-Global Warming buzz DCI, and its client Exxon hoped to create with the video is most decidedly being trumped by the backlash this disclosure has generated. To wit:

Proof, once more, that the Republicans are not afraid to cheat to win. And a sober reminder that, for every YouTube clip that is exposed as part of the Republican PR machine, there is almost certainly an unearthened mountain of similarly disingenuous propaganda floating around in the eddies of the internet.

Thank You TBL

On this day, 15 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee publicized his WWW project and took a giant stride toward making this posting possible. Thank you TBL, and Happy 15th Birthday internet.

Dracula, and a Lesson in Stem Cell Ethics

Here's one man's take (Or is it two men? Or is that the entire point? Let's just move on) on the ethics of cloning.

Excellent debate. And I must add that, as a long-time supporter of stem cell research, I was surprised to find myself questioning that stance. I can only attribute this newfound hesitancy to the compelling, and novel, argument put forth by Mr. Colbert (the blue one):

Red Stephen: "But so many people are for stem cell research, even those you think would be against it. Nancy Reagon, Senator Bill Frist, scientists all over the world. We should do it."
Blue Stephen: "Great idea. We'll destroy all the embryos. Life for a life, some must die so that others may life. Know who else feels that way? Dracula."

If only this didn't sound so much like the real stem cell debate. Then it would be funny funny, not sadly ironic funny. Sigh.