17 November 2007

Darwin Disproved?

I've been amused by the complete lack of discussion, in all the usual places, of this experiment. To summarize, in 2004, geneticists found some fairly long stretches of DNA that are identical among humans, rats and mice. This means that these genes have not been subject to any viable copying errors or mutations over millions of years. Since as far as we know all genes are equally subject to change, that would seem to indicate that these genes do something rather important such that any change is selected out. Because genes that important must to something interesting, scientists excised them out of some lab mice to see what they would get. What they got was, so far as they could tell, perfectly normal mice. The ultraconserved genes don't seem to do anything at all.

To put it in a nutshell, if this is right than the theory of natural selection has to be wrong. One experiment is obviously not enough to bring us to that conclusion and yet we might want to get ready for the possibility that one of the pillars of modern thought is about to come crashing down.

10 November 2007

But Can They Duplicate That Sweet, Sweet Guilty Aftertaste?

Seattle soda-maker promises ham flavor will be kosher (AP)
Jones Soda Co., the Seattle-based purveyor of offbeat fizzy water, said Friday that it was shelving its traditional seasonal flavors of turkey and gravy this year to produce limited-edition theme packs for Christmas and Hanukkah.

The Christmas pack will feature such flavors as Sugar Plum, Christmas Tree, Egg Nog and Christmas Ham. The Hanukkah pack will have Jelly Doughnut, Apple Sauce, Chocolate Coins and Latkes sodas.

"As always, both packs are kosher and contain zero caffeine," a Jones news release noted.
The rules for land animals are simple: Jews can eat them if they have a completely split hoof and chew their cud. Pigs have split hooves but don't chew their cuds. Jews being Jews, we're already arguing about whether a pig genetically engineered to chew its cud would be kosher.

05 November 2007

Shakespeare and Relgion

The poet's basic Christianity is very beautifully expressed in Measure for Measure, where the genuinely saintly Isabella reminds Angelo, the self-righteous Pillar of Society, of the divine scheme of redemption and of the ethical consequences which ought to flow from its acceptance as an article of faith-ought to flow but, alas, generally do not flow!
Alas, alas!
Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once;
And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy. How would you be,
If He, which is the top of judgement, should
But judge you as you are? O, think on that;
And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
Like man new-made.
These lines, I would say, express very clearly the essence of Shakespeare's Christianity. But the essence of Christianity can assume a wide variety of denominational forms. The Reverend Richard Davies, a clergyman who flourished toward the end of the seventeenth century, declared categorically that Shakespeare had "died a papist." There is no corroborative evidence of this, and it seems on the face of it unlikely; but almost anything is possible, especially on a death-bed. What is certain is that Shakespeare did not live a papist; for, if he had, he would have found himself in chronic and serious trouble with the law, and vehemently suspected of treason.... (The casuists of the Roman curia had let it be known that the assassination of the heretic Queen Elizabeth would not be a sin; on the contrary, it would be registered in the murderer's credit column as a merit.) There is, therefore, every reason to suppose that Shakespeare lived a member of the Church of England. However, the theology which finds expression in his plays is by no means consistently Protestant. Purgatory has no place in the Protestant world-picture, but in Hamlet and in Measure for Measure the existence of Purgatory is taken for granted.
I am thy father's spirit, says the Ghost to Hamlet,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin'd to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg'd away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul;
freeze thy young blood;
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start
from their spheres....
In Measure for Measure, Claudio gives utterance to the same fears. Death is terrible not only in its physical aspects, but also and above all because of the awful menace of Purgatory.
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thoughts
Imagine howling! 'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature, is a. paradise
To what we fear of death.
In King Lear, the poet presents us with another world-picture that is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Purgatory exists, but not hereafter. Purgatory is here and now.
I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead..........
Whatever else he may have been, Shakespeare was not a precursor of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Indeed, during the years of his artistic maturity-the years that witnessed the production of Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, and King Lear, he would seem to have passed through a spiritual crisis that made any facile kind of positive thinking or positive feeling impossible.

-- Aldous Huxley

The National Pixie Counsel Strikes Back

Of all the dumb things people I disagree with say -- obviously, an innumerable list -- this may be the agonizing nails on the chalkboard worst:
Fighting Talk [John Derbyshire]

David: Is it really correct to call Ron Paul an "anti-war" candidate? He's not against war, which is what "anti-war" means; nor even against this Iraq war, which is what we all suppose it means in today's context. He just thinks that the U.S.A. ought not go to war without a declaration of war from Congress. Which is, after all, what the Constitution says.
Here's what the Constitution actually says:
Article I, Section 8: The Congress shall have power ... To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.
It does not say that "Congress shall have the power to invoke the powers of our dark Lord by enacting the ritual words of power 'The United States hereby declares war.'" Congress has authorized every war we've been it; it has recognized it, funded it, passed resolutions about it and threatened to walk away from it. It has declared war in every sense but the ritual (other than in five specific cases). When the Framers wanted officials to use a particular form of words, they said so; what they wanted from the war powers clause was to make clear that Congress must agree to our waging a war. When Congress makes clear it does agree, by, say, authorizing the use of force in advance of the war, it is silly and childish to suggest that it hasn't done what the Constitution requires.

04 November 2007

Total Number Of Natural Resources Exhausted During All Of Recorded History?

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have discovered metal-rich sedimentary deposits in a New Hampshire lake that grow faster than any other deposits found in the United States. Understanding the environmental conditions that aid in the creation of the structures, which contain copper, iron and other heavy metals, could be helpful in discovering new metal sources.

01 November 2007

That's Two

The American Prospect argues for abolishing the Air Force, an argument that the Secret Blog has also made. Hard to imagine this juggernaut being stopped....