Long Weekend Roundup

Ok, so I haven't posted much of late, but the wife was back in town for the long weekend, a friend needed some help getting moved, a poolie in the FUNHL is having cold feet about sticking around, and my invasion of the Japanese was in full bloom (Civ3:conquests) so I just didn't get it done - mea culpa.

Here then, is a backlog of stuff that I have been meaning to post as individual items, but to clean out my files, I am presenting them all here to you now, in one giant post. Feel the love!

How many planets are there in the solar system?
You'd figure that a grade schooler would be able to answer this question, right? Wrong. Astronomers are discovering that there are planetary sized bodies (i.e. bigger than Pluto) further out in the Kuiper belt. Do we count these as planets? Or do we create another classification for them? How far away do we make the cut-off?

How did life evolve?
Natural History Magazine takes a look at the current science on the origins of life. Contrast that marvelous essay with this video clip by Kent Hovind, defending the biblical time-line on origins of life. If you can sit through the entire thing without hurling either insults or something more tangibly heavy at the screen you are a better man than I.

Remember the 'Hobbit'?
Anthropologists are struggling to classify the ancient bones of a female with a remarkably distinct skull formation discovered on the remote island of Flores. Is it a potentially explosive example of Homo Erectus - one that inexplicably uses tools and other technology? Or is it simply the skeleton of a poor human woman who suffered from microencephaly?

Is belief in God(s) an evolutionary adaptation?
Daniel Dennett thinks so, and so do these guys. I suspect that they are correct, but not in the religion specific manner the way the question itself begs. I am betting that we are all wired to make inferences - some good, some bad, but more good than bad (because if they were more bad than good, we wouldn't survive so well as we would if we selected for good inferences) and the god question therefore arises from making an inference about causation where the cause inferred is some 'ineffable intelligent agent'. In other words, the way our brains are wired to succeed in the world (making more good inferences about causation) unfortunately leads us to make inferences about the supernatural that can't be proved or disproved - and so they linger.

The war against the Infidel:
It seems Americans trust atheists the least. But given that a reported 71% of Americans believe in the existence of the Devil, with a full third believing in UFOs, Astrology, and that old standby, ghosts, perhaps the problem doesn't lie with the PR representation of atheists. Me thinks instead that the real problem lies with Americans.

Interestingly enough, one potential answer to the problem of intolerance in relgion isn't to resort to my preferred secular atheism, but rather to promote what I call the 'Battlestar Galactica' solution.

Can Michael Ignatieff be rehabilitated?

IMO Yes, and he will be the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada - and subsequently, he will eventually be PM. Sorry, but Ken Dryden doesn't have enough, and everyone else is too small fry.

Shadia Drury throws down the gloves and attacks the notion of activist Judges.

One of my former profs, and easily one of my favourites. I could never have tackled the convoluted moronism of Michel Foucault without her.

The Future of Books. The Future of Movies.

On Gay Marriage and Polygamy: One of the classic rebuttals by those who don't wish to legalize Gay Marriage, is that it will lead us down the slippery slope to Sodom and Gomorrha. Usually, the argument goes like this;

"If we allow two men to marry, or two women, why not two men and a woman, or two women and a man? Why not marry your dog?"

It's a blast of horror at the notion that once a standard is revised or changed, or even examined closely, it will be undermined until all that is sensible and sacred is tarnished. Of course, it's pure bunk. There are however some serious concerns with polygamy, but they are distinct from the Gay Marriage debate entirely. As a theoretical notion, polygamy has an appeal for legal recognition, but I will argue from a practical standpoint, it is doomed.

First, here's how the two are different. Gay Marriage is still between two people, what has changed is that the barriers placed on the sex of the participants has been removed. Is this a moral relativisim that irrevocably leads us to legalizing polygamy, does changing the sex part of the marriage equation make the number of members also open to change?

By changing the laws to allow gay marriage, no existing marriage is changed, but the definition has been broadened to include those it previously didn't. My relationship with my wife is not impacted one iota by allowing others previously excluded from marriage to participate - indeed, I would argue that if the institution of marriage didn't recognize gays, a legal marriage simpy isn't worth the paperwork, and I'd have been happy to live in sin rather than support the open bigotry of marriage under those conditions.

However, allowing polygamy to be legal would definitely change my marriage. Whereas before there was no question that it was just the two of us moving forward, now the contract I agreed to has had one of its underpinings removed - the exclusivity of our relationship, and that has consequences for both of us.

That's more of a legal technicality as objections go, but there are serious policy consequences of allowing Polygamy. In theory, allowing Polygamy would create as many multi-male relationships as it would multi-female, but the facts say different. From an historical standpoint, marriage was less a romantic development than a property exchange - the security of the man's income and labour for the reproductive right of access to the woman. (Sure it's sexist, but this is the history of sex we are talking about, and I didn't design the plumbing). But we can already see how polygamy plays out in the real world - a tendency of rich men to collect as many females of breeding age as possible - with the extraneous males punted out of the commune, and the flip side, where two men marry a woman, is all but non-existant. This leads inevitably to a socio-political nightmare - few men marrying many wives leaving many without any.

My main objection though is how Polygamists 'recruit' new brides, usually by coerced marriage of a sister or relative of a current wife, often taking place well before any reasonable notion of adulthood has been reached by the potential bride.

My conclusion on the subject is this; Polyamory is fine (so long as it is above board), but legal recognition for the third or fourth party isn't, not because it violates the spirit of marriage (it clearly doesn't - lots of biblical polygamy as evidence), but because it violates the social fabric of existing marriages, and because in practice it leads to both coercion and in the harshest light, pedophilia.

In any case, there are some excellent writings on the subject, here, and some much less excellent writing here.

We Can Build You: Two very interesting developments in gene-tech.

First; what kind of pet do you want?

Second; what kind of baby do you want?

Funny enough, but the first question is probably a lot more explosive than the second. Designing the genes for a new kind of pet, is still speculative, but I suspect there would be much more opposition to my owning a genetically designed dragon, than having kids born without the genes that cause systematic blindness. Which sort of typifies how the debate on genetic modification goes. On the one hand you have people making all sorts of sci-fi claims, like the designer pets story, but on the other hand you have the practical application of science in rooting out genetic demons that plague us.

I'll paraphrase a friend of mine when I say this, but, we humans are some damn clever monkeys.

10 Things I hate about Commandments:

Check out the video, here. Hilarious!

Two Sports Questions:

Is Doug Flutie worthy of the Football Hall of Fame?

How many career home runs would Barry Bonds have if he hadn't started injecting the juice around 1998?

Debate Club News!:

No, I'm not going to talk about Liberty College and how their debate team has had it's win stats improperly construed to make them 'the top debate team in the US' - others have crapped on that analysis enough. No, the news is more disturbing than the unrelentingly polyanna PR a Christian university is getting for their debate team. It's called the 'Louisville Project' and it's about as disturbing a trend as I've ever heard of in the world of speech and debate.

As with all the walkways to hell, this one is also being paved with good intentions.

Star Trek vs. Religion and Kirk vs Picard!

In both cases, it's obvious who wins (ST and Kirk), but here are some of my favourite reasons (there were more than 1900 last I checked) given for preferring the balls-out cowboy Kirk to the mincing diplomat Picard;

1872. Kirk's first order as captain of the Enterprise: "Take her out of the Galaxy, Mister Mitchell." Picard's first order as captain of the Enterprise: "We surrender."

1821. When Kirk finds a mother alien defending her young, he saves her even at great risk to himself ("The Devil in the Dark"). When Picard meets the same, he kills her ("Galaxy's Child").

329. Picard has his girlfriend transferred. Kirk had to watch his girlfriend die in order to save the future.

133. Two Words: Comfortable Velour.

41. Kirk plays god with lesser cultures, then exploits them for resources.

9. Kirk had Yeoman Janice Rand.

2. Kirk beat up Soran. Soran *easily* beat up Picard. Therefore, this proves that Kirk could easily beat up Picard.

Speaking of loving a good fight:

Hitchens vs Cole

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