Monday, September 8, 2008

What world do these people live in?

I'm talking about supporters of ID over at Dumbski's blog, UncommonlyDense.

A recent poll showing McCain gaining in the elections is quoted over at UD as saying:
Obama is losing badly among Catholic voters - by double digits now according to the pollster’s findings. The significance is that Roman Catholics make up about 40% of the Pennsylvania vote, slightly less than that in Michigan and are strong percentages in other states of the old rust belt running from Michigan, down through the Great Lakes and up into Ohio.

Their reasoning for why Obama is losing the Catholic vote?

Someone (their site has Pharyngula Watch where they normally attribute authorship) claims that PZ Myers is to blame for his little stunt a few weeks ago:
Paul Myers has not been at all bashful about aligning the flagship website of Science Blogs with Barak Obama and bashing Sarah Palin at the same time. As many of you know Paul went far above and beyond the call of duty recently by publicly desecrating the Catholic Eucharist and thereby making himself the enemy of Catholics everywhere.

So thanks, Paul, for doing such a bang-up job associating Obama supporters and Palin bashers with enemies of the Catholic Church. With friends like you Obama doesn’t need enemies!

PZ Myers's blog is very popular and attracts a lot of readers (including those who hate him and his views), but even his blog -- which has --- hits daily, has that kind of influence on the polls. Sorry, too much preaching to the choir (as it were) to think that he could be changing the course of the election (not to mention that he's not sold on Obama, though he views the Dems as a lesser evil sort of vote in general).

Denyse O'Leary, she of several blog posts cross referenced on several blogs, notes that many IDiots are upset at Ben Stein for criticizing Sarah Palin as the VP nominee for the GOP. As if ID were the only issue.

Delusions of grandeur. You would think they would have learned something after the box office failure of Expelled. Then again, they haven't even learned Biology 101.
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Sick drivers

Here's a video from CNN about a guy on a bike getting run over by the driver of a minivan at a gas station.

As the video notes, the driver fled the scene and has not been identified, much less found.

Here's to catching the sick bastard and sending him to prison for a while -- as well as his accomplice who hasn't turned him in.

The guy could've died.
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Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Onion satirzes; UncommonlyDense misses joke

The well-noted satirical paper recently published a piece called, "Evolutionists Flock To Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain" on September 5. It includes the following graphic:

But does the article make fun of supporters of evolutionary theory? It reads:
A steady stream of devoted evolutionists continued to gather in this small Tennessee town today to witness what many believe is an image of Charles Darwin—author of The Origin Of Species and founder of the modern evolutionary movement—made manifest on a concrete wall in downtown Dayton.

"I brought my baby to touch the wall, so that the power of Darwin can purify her genetic makeup of undesirable inherited traits," said Darlene Freiberg, one among a growing crowd assembled here to see the mysterious stain, which appeared last Monday on one side of the Rhea County Courthouse. The building was also the location of the famed "Scopes Monkey Trial" and is widely considered one of Darwinism's holiest sites. "Forgive me, O Charles, for ever doubting your Divine Evolution. After seeing this miracle of limestone pigmentation with my own eyes, my faith in empirical reasoning will never again be tested.

Take a look at the language in the above passage as well as this one:
Since witnesses first reported the unexplained marking—which appears to resemble a 19th-century male figure with a high forehead and large beard—this normally quiet town has become a hotbed of biological zealotry. Thousands of pilgrims from as far away as Berkeley's paleoanthropology department have flocked to the site to lay wreaths of flowers, light devotional candles, read aloud from Darwin's works, and otherwise pay homage to the mysterious blue-green stain.

Everything is written as if it were the site of a religious image where its followers go (The Onion does this often; its previous article was "Bret Farve Getting that Retirement Itch Again").

Scientists don't (usually) act this way, but some religious people do.

And ID supporters criticize supporters of modern evolutionary theory (my term, the correct term is the modern evolutionary synthesis; in the US critics of the theory refer to it as Darwinism and its supporters as Darwinists -- calling the modern evolutionary synthesis is reductionist, as the theory has surpassed Darwin's original formulation) as being followers of a religion.

Hence the joke is lost on them: the article is presented on Uncommonly Dense as an example of Poe's Law, a law understood as such:
Without a blatant display of humour, it is impossible to tell the difference between religious Fundamentalism and a parody thereof.

Hence the suppositions that this one blog (run by an apparently mental ill fellow who's been banned from several blogs -- Panda's Thumb, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Pharyngula, and apparently other science blogs) is actually a parody. Another example, read Welcome to the PlainDrome -- a note on the side says it's a parody and is not Sarah Palin's official site.

Supporters of the modern evolutionary theory are not fundamentalists -- quite the opposite, in fact. They (we) know that the theory as surpassed Darwin's observations and that they do not depend on the opinions of one man (one reason given as why not to support or "believe in " evolution is that Darwin supposedly "converted" on his death bed, recanting his theory of evolution). And no one goes to see a stain of Darwin on the wall.
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Friday, September 5, 2008

Why discrimination will never end, unfortunately

I found this letter to the editor by a halfwit who lives in Wisconsin.

He writes,

Let us for the sake of argument say that homosexual behavior is a civil rights issue. If we pursue that argument, we will eventually run into the morality aspect, as which point it comes into conflict with biblical teaching. Already there are individuals who are trying to make any pronouncement against this behavior as a hate crime. Now we come to the point where the pastor, priest or rabbi becomes the lawbreaker when any condemnation is preached from the pulpit. This will result in a perverted judicial system because of a perverted philosophy.

The result of all this will be loss of tax benefits for churches and charitable institutions that hold at its core value that homosexual behavior is intrinsically wrong. At that point, we will continue to see a moral collapse in this country.

Wake up, America, and see the slippery slope.

Let's start off slowly. First he writes,
Let us for the sake of argument say that homosexual behavior is a civil rights issue.

It is. So?

we will eventually run into the morality aspect, as which point it comes into conflict with biblical teaching

So his problem is that his god tells him that gays are yucky. Too bad. Maybe his god shouldn't have made gay people or gay penguins or gay cats or gay.... lots of gay animals, too little time. Besides, what special authority does the bible have in American law? That's right, none. So we're back to: his god apparently thinks that gays are yucky. Well, I think bigots are yucky, but that's not a jailable offense.

Already there are individuals who are trying to make any pronouncement against this behavior as a hate crime

So? Behavior. Actions. Not words. Words in conjunction with action determines a hate crime. I tend to agree, but worry that it may be abused and have not studied the matter closely enough to say that hate crimes are definitely or even probably good laws.

Now we come to the point where the pastor, priest or rabbi becomes the lawbreaker when any condemnation is preached from the pulpit. This will result in a perverted judicial system because of a perverted philosophy.

No, no pastor, priest, or rabbi becomes a lawbreaker by preaching anti-gay hate. They may be despicable, but that's no crime. Even most hate laws that I'm aware of. Freedom of speech allows the bigots to spew their garbage. No hate laws change that, though some college campuses have tried to prohibit this kind of speech. I'm not aware if these statutes have survived legal challenges. I am pretty certain they wouldn't outside campuses.

So no, "This will" not "result in a perverted judicial system because of a perverted philosophy." The judicial system will not change because the first amendment guarantees freedom of speech. As much as I despise bigots and their bigotry, I'd prefer they espoused their ignorance openly so that I would know who they were. Maybe I could even do something. Maybe not. But at least I'd know who they were and could try to change their views.

The result of all this will be loss of tax benefits for churches and charitable institutions that hold at its core value that homosexual behavior is intrinsically wrong

Unfortunately not. I wish. They're allowed to espouse their ignorance just as this imbecile is allowed to do so. You can think it's wrong all you want. But they have every right to live their lives as they wish -- it's implied in the "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" phrase from the Declaration of Independence (even if it has no legal value whatsoever).

At that point, we will continue to see a moral collapse in this country.

Amazing, just being gay is a threat to biblical teachings and modern Christianity. I wish I were gay to be part of this. Instead, I have to settle for "straight but not narrow."

And not being a moron.
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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin helps Obama, again

While conservatives seem to be pretty happy about the choice of Sarah Palin, some (including me) have noticed that choosing her smacks of desperation and hurts McCain numerous ways -- she nullifies his criticism of Obama's lack of experience since she has little, to name but one example.

A pretty good influx of cash went into McCain's campaign after he nominated her for the vice-presidency (there is plenty of speculation that the GOP is going to drop her pretty soon; not sure that's going to happen), about $10 million worth.

But now the same amount has gone into Obama's coffers. Since her speech. About 24 hours ago as I write this:

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is bringing in campaign cash for the Democrats as well as her own party.

Barack Obama, 47, reported raising at least $10 million from more than 130,000 donors today after Palin, the Alaska governor, addressed the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, and criticized the Democratic presidential nominee.

``Sarah Palin's attacks have rallied our supporters in ways we never expected,'' Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said. ``And we fully expect John McCain's attacks tonight to help us make our grassroots organization even stronger.''

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"Judge" Roy Moore on going back to school

Too bad he's not going back to school -- he still needs to learn a few things.

In a new post over at the WorldNutDaily, he writes:

Most of the public school students will return to a world without prayer or the Bible and where God is mentioned in some schools only in the Pledge of Allegiance (for now). For those of us who can remember, however, we know that it has not always been so.

He's wrong about the basic facts: kids can have a Bible in school (and even study from it). Kids can pray too. They just can't pray during class (unless they do so silently; unless teachers develop ESP or the student advertises the fact, I doubt anyone will know, not that it matters) or in a disruptive manner. In other words, if kids want to pray before eating lunch in the cafeteria, they can. If they want to pray in the hallway between classes, they probably can (maybe if they block the hallway or access to a room, they would have to move, but the problem wouldn't be the prayer itself, though some school officials may not know that).

So what is "Judge" Moore upset about? (As far as I can tell, he is not a judge anymore).

Part of it is his childhood:

In 1952, President Harry Truman declared a National Day of Prayer so that annually the people of the United States would turn to God. In 1954, when I was just 7 years old and in the second grade, Congress added the phrase "Under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance so that "the children of our land, in the daily recitation of the Pledge in school, will be daily impressed with a true understanding of our way of life and its origins." By 1955, "In God We Trust" was placed on all our currency and coins because our government wanted to reflect "the spiritual basis of our way of life." By the time I was in the fourth grade, "In God We Trust" had become our National Motto by joint resolution of Congress.

Obviously, things were much different in schools in the 1950s. We began each day with a prayer and a Bible verse or two. Then we stood facing the flag and, with our hand over our heart, pledged our allegiance as "one nation under God." Nobody was ashamed or embarrassed to acknowledge a belief in God – and the ACLU was not lurking near every schoolhouse and courthouse to be offended and file suit at the slightest mention of God.

Because we were taught that we were created in the image of God and that He alone was the judge of our hearts and minds, we had respect for our teachers and they seemed to care about us. Of course, there were student fights, gossip and rivalry, but we never heard of students killing each other or their teachers.

Note that he remembers when "one nation under God" was added to a pledge written by a socialist (!). And when "In God we trust" was adopted.

That's right -- they weren't there before. If there weren't there, then how does that support Moore's contention that associates this "acknowledgment of God" with "hav[ing] respect for our teachers and the[ir] seem[ing] to care about us"? Did teachers suddenly care about students because an acknowledgment of God was added to the pledge? or because "In God we trust" was added to our coins?

And if these acknowledgments weren't present before the 1950s, wouldn't the US have suffered some dreadful consequences -- perhaps losing a war? Against a religious country -- like Mexico or Spain -- just to teach us a lesson. Hard to see then his slippery slope fallacy:
I am very concerned for our future and believe that unless we restore the foundations of faith, family, freedom and law, we will continue to suffer the consequences of turning from God.

If God governs all, then perhaps we're losing not because we're turning away from God (no evidence of this happening, unfortunately), but because we're not a Muslim nation. I wonder...

Anyway, he also has quite an idyllic vision of schools: "we never heard of students killing each other or their teachers." While kids coming to school and shooting several kids or teachers may be a recent phenomenon, Richard Rothstein notes in The Way We Were? that there were violent incidents with students rioting -- in the early 20th century!

My classrooms were always relatively tranquil too. At least no one was shot or physically attacked (well, not with weapons anyway). There were fights. Rumors. Gossip. Girls probably developed eating disorders. Boys got high. Some girls probably got high too. Hmmm. Maybe not very idyllic....

Anyway, Moore is dead wrong when he writes:
No one ever imagined that the courts or our government had any intention of banishing the acknowledgment of God from us

because "the acknowledgment of God" has not been "banished" "from us" or anyone. You are free to do what you want. What is forbidden is the imposition to acknowledge God from anyone in authority.

He wouldn't want to be forced to worship a different God. Why should Baptists be forced to pray Catholic prayers? Or Jews forced to pray Christian prayers? Or Muslims...? Why should non-religious people (even those who believe but don't pray or don't want to pray) be forced to be religious? Is that something in the "Christian" spirit of things?

Or is being Christian forcing your neighbors to be like you?

Especially if you're a hypocrite.
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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

WorldNutDaily's nutty advertizing

Here are some products that the wnd has on display:

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The largest source of weight-loss info
What diet or pills or other products will work the best for you?

Has location of lost Ark of Covenant been found?
New best-selling prophecy book claims resting place is Mt. Nebo

From what I gather, this is supposed to be a serious news site. Or at least it tries. With political commentary from Pat Boone and Chuck Norris, it usually misses.

With ads for products that are get-rich-quick schemes and snake oil products, it's hard to believe that anyone with an IQ above room temperature takes them seriously.

The last one was hardly an ad -- it was actually an article based on a stupid book that ties in a misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar (supposedly it ends in 2012) and biblical references to note where the ark of the covenant should be. Not surprisingly, the book references the Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think there's a good chance that the producer, writers, director, and actors all new it was fiction. Neither the wnd writer nor the author of the book figured that out.

These product placements are not the ads off to the side or at the top of the page -- I excluded them since they could be placed there by someone else and not subject to the approval of the wnd folks.
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Obsolete republicans

So says Jack Cafferty.

In a post on CNN, he writes:

Republican Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia said it best: "The Republican brand is in the trash can. If we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf."

It is so bad that more than 10 percent of the Republican members of the United States Senate aren't even bothering to attend their own party's convention. They recognize dog food when they see it.

Could this be "the beginning of the end of the Republican Party as we know it"?

And if so, why?

Some reasons:

It's more than symbolic that when a million Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure, the Republican candidate for president has lost track of his holdings.

That's the same problem the Republican Party has. It has lost track of what it used to stand for: small government, a disciplined fiscal policy, integrity.

In a way, the perfect storm of a rapidly changing population -- old white people aren't going to be in the majority very much longer (and isn't that who most of the Republicans are?) -- has combined with the total abdication of principles, Republican or otherwise, of arguably the worst president in the nation's history

And it almost doesn't matter who the next president is. We are witnessing the beginnings of a sea change in this country.

A wakeup call has sounded for young people who are suddenly interested enough in politics to make a difference. New voter registrations across the country are making a mockery of the old polling models.

Voter turnout in the primaries was staggering. Blacks and Hispanics feel they have a real stake in things -- and as their numbers continue to grow as a percentage of the population, their voice will only get louder. The march of the next generation is underway and the older generation has no choice but to eventually get out of the way.

Could this be a moment of significant change? The US has had a two party system for basically its entire existence (Washington was the only president elected as an independent, though he seemed to agree with the Federalist party). Curiously, many of the founding fathers were opposed to political parties, including Washington and Jefferson themselves (Jefferson supported the Democratic-Republican Party in an effort to counteract the potential influence of the Federalists, whose positions he opposed). The system has been transformed several times, giving us Republicans and Democrats in the 1850s. Reagan swept the country to the right in the 1980s after it was swept to the left in the 1960s. And if it does change, will the Republicans go away? Or will they refashion themselves? How? Their principles of small government and fiscal responsibility generally sound nice, though they haven't been practiced since...........
As I wrote earlier, the federal debt has grown astronomically under Republican administrations. The government may not have grown, but the scope of what the government can do seems to have done so. Its influence in the economy is still large, even if it's not directly involved in it (spending provided to contractors, etc.).

It'll be interesting to see if Cafferty is right. Maybe the US will even wind up with a true left wing party.

Another advantage: if the Republican brand disappears, so do Rush and Ann Coulter.
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Monday, September 1, 2008

Sarah Palin: has McCain given up?

As you should know by now unless you live outside the US or in a cave the Republican presidential candidate (it'll be official in a couple days) has selected the governor of Alaska, a young woman named Sarah Palin, to be his running mate. She's only been governor for about two years is a former beauty pageant contestant and mayor of a small town. She's pretty conservative on their key issues: abortion and, well, abortion.

She's younger than Obama, so it's hard to see how she helps him criticize Obama's lack of experience (though she is only running to be vice president, though if McCain were to win, he would be the oldest elected president in US history, at least the first time; not sure if Reagan was older for his re-election, though I don't think so).

Without going into any issue, I wonder if McCain is giving up. I wonder if he thinks he can really win this election. His choice of vice president makes me think he can't and that he knows it.

The polls have a virtual tie right now. With the Republican convention getting cut short and Gustav getting all the media attention, I'm not sure that the republicans will even get a boost in the polls after the convention has ended (as is normally the case).

She doesn't help lure undecideds (polls seem to indicate this), though that may be McCain's role. Her job may be to shore up the conservative vote, which is not too thrilled about McCain. Of course, I wonder how many of them want a woman one step from the presidency, a concern that could be pretty big given McCain's age. Of course, Thatcher had a pretty good run in the UK so maybe voters won't care.

The overall reaction seems to be negative except among conservatives, so it doesn't look like she helped. We'll see if that's the case.
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Nirvana's saddest song?

This song sucks. It's "Seasons in the Sun," first recorded in French, a huge hit for Terry Jacks. Nirvana covered the song, video below the fold. They even played it in concerts, at least once in Sao Paulo. This website describes one technique used in the song as a "truck driver's gear change." It's when the artist(s) repeat a verse or chorus in a different key, prolonging the song and usually the agony of its listeners. It frequently winds up with singers out of key and makes the mess of the song, as is the case with the performance in Sao Paulo. I think the only Nirvana song (by this, I mean a song they wrote) where this definitely happens is "Lounge Act" from Nevermind. I'll have to listen to "School" and "Negative Creep" to see if they used one of these truck driver's gear changes there; the songs are pretty repetitive so I wouldn't be surprised.

Any way, when I saw the video for the first time a few months ago the song evoked a strong sense of sadness. It is a sad song and perhaps Kurt Cobain, one of the saddest artists of all time (maybe that's a bit hyperbolic, we'll see), captures it beautifully in the home video version.

Here's the home video:

That's Kurt playing the drums (just in case you were in a hole fifteen years ago, he was the guitarist), David Grohl, normally the drummer, plays the bass, and Chris Novoselic, the bassist, plays the guitar here. Kurt still sings this version, though in Sao Paulo, they all sing and the song breaks down:

The only other Nirvana songs that could be quite this sad our Nevermind's "Something in the Way" or In Utero's "Milk It" (more depressing than sad; "Look on the bright side is suicide") or "Pennyroyal Tea" (pretty depressing too). Of course, Kurt wrote all the lyrics and was bipolar (that used to be called manic-depression), so the depression shouldn't be much of a surprise.
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Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to get to heaven. Not.

Here's a nice video that looks at Jesus's teachings on how to get into heaven.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Race and track & field revisited

I asked the question why supposed racial groups don't perform the same across the male-female divide. Two different bloggers questioned some of my examples and pointed out that women face more obstacles in participating in sports. Regarding the latter, this is valid even in the United States. Also, countries where female runners have dominated, besides the US and the UK, are China, Russia, and other ex-Soviet or ex-Communist regimes like East Germany and Czechoslovakia. A number of records set by women have been unchallenged for many years as well, pointing to doping questions as well as perhaps suggesting a somewhat uneven playing field for women (although more records might suggest the same).

Two suspicious records are close to being challenged or broken. I'm talking about the 800m, which hasn't been broken since Kratochvilov√°'s 1983 record performance of 1:53.28, and the 10,000 meters, which hasn't even been remotely challenged since Yunxia Qu knocked around 40 seconds off the previous record in 1993 (one blogger mentioned that he read that there were suspicions that this was run on a short track; I found nothing on the internet, which neither supports nor detracts from the question of the record -- it just makes it harder to research for a part-time blogging enthusiast).

Pamela Jelimo just ran 1:54.01 in the 800m and looks poised to challenge the record. The record is certainly suspicious -- East European athlete sets record in the early 1980s when steroids were apparently undetectable. I found no mention of a controversy with her. Compared to the men's 800m record, the women's record is actually simliar: since 1981 the record was tied one, then broken twice -- all three performances by the same man, the same summer (within 5 or 6 weeks of each other). The record hasn't been challenged since. This doesn't mean that Kratochvilov√°'s record isn't suspect, it just means that the women's race has followed a similar patter as the men's -- a plateau has been reached and now (as opposed to 11 years ago) is being challenged.

The women's 10,000 meter has stood since 1993. I suspect that Yunxia Wang was clean, since athletes like Ben Johnson had already been caught (back in 1988). If the track was short, then the record obviously is a farce. The only women under 30:00 (almost 30 seconds slower than the record race) were in this year's Olympics final! The winner, Tirunesh Dibaba holds the world record in the 5,000m and her time, by various calculators, is just under or just above Wang's record time for the 10,000m. According to McMillan's "World famous" calculator, her 14:11.25 (I had to enter 14:11.0 as the site doesn't allow fractions of a second) is equivalent to a 29:28 over 10,000 meters. The different calculators here give the following equivalents: 29:43.77, 29:30.54, 29:33.20, 29:34.80. Only one of those would lower the world record, two are just short, and one is well back. She's closing in but still has plenty of work to do.

Of the track events (100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, mile, 5000, and 10,000), only one record has been set after 1996: Dibaba's 5000m record from this year. On the other side, men's records have been set this year in the 100 and 200, the 400 record is from 1999, the 800 from 97, the 1500 and mile in the late 1990s, while the 5000 and 10000 have been set recently.

Some records have rarely been broken on the men's side:

The 200m record has been broken 4 times since 1968: twice by the same man the same summer.
The 400m record has been broken twice since 1968.
As mentioned earlier, the 800m record has been broken twice since 1983 (both by the same man, the same summer).
The 100m record, on the other hand, has been broken 13 times in the past 20 years.

To summarize: the women's records set by Flo-Jo in the 100 and 200 are suspect (in part given her untimely death, but also due to ties with known dopers; on the other hand, her 200m record is similar to the men's 200m record -- broken few times), the 400 is definitely dope-driven; there are records of Marita Koch participating in studies of steroids for East Germany. Kratochvilov√°'s record is suspicious, but at least follows the trend of the men's 800m). The Chinese records from 1993 may be suspicious (1500 and 10,000). The mile record was set by Masterkova in 1996 -- at a slower pace than the 1500m record.

Back to the question of race: the thinking on racial advantages shows West African men performing well in the springs (100 to 400m, more common among men of West African descent) while the long and middle distances are dominated by East Africans, with some notable north African runners (namely the world record holder in the 1500m and mile). This tendency bears out in the world records and World and Olympic champions in most cases, but there are some notable exceptions: the dominant 400m runner the past few years has been Jeremy Wariner, a white kid from Texas who Michael Johnson thinks will even break his record some day. Alan Webb, while performing poorly in big meets like the Olympics and World Championships had the fastest time in the world last year in both the 1500m and the mile. He's white too. And why was the world's best hurdler the past few years Chinese?

On the women's side, the middle distances have been dominated primarily by Russians and other East Europeans in the middle distances, though several African runners have done really well - Mutola from Mozambique and a couple Kenyans, including this year's find, Pamela Jelimo. In the last Olympics, a Bulgarian sprinter won the 100m as well. One of the top 400m runners was Ana Guevara from Mexico (not sure she won a gold medal; I'll have to check that).

Genetics obviously have plenty to do with athletic performances. It's why I'm not a professional athlete and the genetic tools have made it possible for people like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to be top performers in their fields. One doesn't set world records or win elite-level races on genetics alone (or even make it to the NFL or NBA or MLB, etc.). I wonder how much local competition has in helping athletes reach their full potential. A few years ago, Alan Webb could easily beat pretty much any American miler without a problem. But when he raced in Europe and in the Olympics...a different story. He's improved as a result and I hope it's just a matter of time before we wins a World Championship or an Olympic gold. The US is the only country in the world to have 400m runners under 44 seconds. If someone wants to make the Olympics in that event, they have to be able to run under 45 seconds (better if they can run under 44, obviously, but very few people can at a given time).

It's also hard to see the genes lined up by racial categories, since the three different regions (in Africa) that have produced or are been "held responsible" for the best runners, are categorized by radically different genetic populations -- one that isn't even "black" -- north Africans are often categorized as Caucasian! Also, which genes do these athletes possess that are strictly "African" genes?

Unless studies show that a certain genetic pattern, unrelated to training regimens and geographical advantages, show a clear advantage for those who possess those patterns -- and evidence showing that this pattern is concentrated in certain geographical areas, I'm assuming the difference between runners like Wariner and Merritt are due primarily to their training and their mental focus, and only secondarily on their genetic makeup, which has nothing to do with one being light skinned and the other dark skinned.
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Friday, August 29, 2008

Why are Americans obese?

Apparently it's because they (we) eat too much (I'm not overweight, much less obese, but I'm a yank).

On CNN they have a health quiz up and the answer to "how many calories does an average American consume?" is about twice the recommended average: 4,000 calories.

Even if these people are somewhat active (say an hour or so of exercise daily), that's at least 1,000 (probably 1,500 or more) calories per day -- that generate excess weight (in other words, fat). That's two pounds a week in pure weight gain! (Almost one kilogram, for most of the rest of the world).

I wonder how long it will be before Americans have two classes of people: fit and fat. The fat have the numbers. The fit will live longer.

It was really depressing to see this but it explains a lot.

Some other reasons why Americans are fat:

-- food subsidies make fattening foods cheaper (dairy, meat, bread) while fruits and vegetables are expensive
-- serving sizes have grown (a small drink at restaurants is the size of an extra large from twenty or thirty years ago)
-- cheap meals are fattening: fast food meals are extremely unhealthy and have far too many calories
-- having so many overweight people around makes healthy people look (too) skinny (the Wall Street Journal ran an article asking if the healthy physique of Obama made him un-electable since he's "out of touch" with overweight American voters; of course, Bush was elected twice, but maybe his lack of intelligence made him appear "one of us" to the idiotic masses)
-- of course, busy workdays make it hard to find time to exercise.

I'm sure there are more. I'm simply in total shock at the consumption of calories by Americans.
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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Catholic church strives to remain relevant; no speeches for you

This news reports notes that the Wilmington, Delaware, archbishop says
will not permit the Senator even if elected Vice President of the United States of America to speak at Catholic schools.

The Catholic church has tried to remain relevant in recent years, hardening its position on politicians who don't support church positions, most notably on abortion.

The article continues:
When asked for the Bishop's take on Senator Biden and his stand in favor of abortion, Krebs directed to Bishop Michael Saltarelli's 2004 statement on 'Catholics in Political Life' which, said Krebs, "very plainly states Bishop's position in this matter."

In that document Bishop Saltarelli notes that, in line with the US Bishops Conference policy, "Our Catholic institutions will not honor Catholic politicians who take pro-abortion legislative positions or invite them to speak at our functions or schools."

I'm curious why Catholic bishops and archbishops emphasize the abortion issue as opposed to the death penalty (which the church opposes) or even capitalism (the church nominally opposes this as it derides materialism).

In making these statements against pro-choice candidates, the Catholic leaders unwittingly seek to ally with Republicans who support the sort of unregulated capitalism that has frequently shown the world the worst side of capitalism and materialism, as well as allies Catholics with protestants and Christians -- many of whom hate Catholics (are you Catholic or Christian?, for example). Not all Christians feel this way, of course, but at least two universities associated with evangelical groups do not allow Catholic faculty (Wheaton College in Illinois fired a couple professors for converting to Catholicism and at Liberty University, the late Jerry Falwell's university, faculty reportedly sign a statement accepting that the Pope is the Antichrist).

The position of the church privileges one issue (while a hotly contested one, far from the most important issue in the US) at the expense of its general platform (at least of what they pay lip service to). Furthermore, their position of allying Catholics with a large and motivated group that despises them -- one that opposes many tenets of what the Catholic faith is supposed to represent.

I suspect that one of their main motivations is to remain relevant in the lives of individuals who live in an increasingly secular world. It's probably a losing battle -- especially in light of what happened in Europe, where church attendance is practically non-existent and where even Catholic Spain has legalized marriage for gays and lesbians --, especially should Catholics have to coexist with those who despise them and realize that they were simply pawns in the bid of the so-called Moral Majority to establish a theocracy in the US.

In light of this, a few lines from the Dead Kennedys' song "Moral Majority":

Circus tent con-men and Southern belle bunnies
Milk your emotions and then they steal your money
It's the new dark ages with the fascists toting bibles
Cheap nostalgia for the Salem Witch Trials

Stodgy ayatollahs in their double-knit ties
Burn lots of books so they can feed you their lies
Masturbating with a flag and bible
God must be dead if you're alive

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Running, race, and genetics

I stumbled on to a discussion about the relationship between race and running, with genetics often generally substituted for race (it certainly entered the debate in these discussions). I came across the discussion here, which was written as a response to this one; this is another scienceblog response to the question.

First, while race is a contentious issue, it is fair to say that it is much more than a social construction. If it were a social construction, then it would be something that we can choose not to have exist. While racial differences are genetically insignificant for the most part (sure, some genes are found more often in certain groups than others, but that is explained in large part through geographic isolation and other historical consequences). On the other hand, race is a legal matter in many cases in the United States, making it much more than an illusory social construction. One drop of "black blood" (sic) has made a person black for at least decades. Even a fairly recent case in Louisiana of a woman who thought of herself as white, had white friends (maybe even a husband), had parents who were thought of as white was listed as black on her birth certificate (I believe that Louisiana is the only state to state the race of a newborn; I may be mistaken), and sued to be recognized as white instead of what was on her birth certificate. She lost (I know about the case through Walter Benn Michaels's book, Our America, you may want to look there for more details).

A social construction also assigns a way of acting to members of a race. In the case of this woman, she "acted" or "lived" as a "white" person but was still ruled to be black. Is it necessary for all members of a "race" to act a certain way, listen to certain music, etc.? Of course not -- our multicultural education has taught us at least that much.

And on a genetic level (from what I've been able to gather; I'm not a scientist) differences between the races are overall very insignificant -- no more than two unrelated people (of a given ethnic or racial group).

How then to approach the dominance of African athletes at short sprints and long marathons?

1) Sprints have been recently dominated by athletes of West and maybe Central African descent, especially by their descendants in other countries (US, Jamaica, Canada, and Great Britain, but other Caribbean islands as well).

2) Long and middle distances (800m and up) by north Africans (primarily the middle distances -- 800m and 1500m/mile -- and east Africans (primarily long distances, 3000m steeplechase, 5000m, 10000m, and marathon), especially Kenyans and Ethiopians.

Jim Fiore states
Distance running is all about conditioning and little about technique. In other words, you can get quite far on raw, natural talent.

He's comparing running to sports like swimming and gymnastics, so his point is largely valid.

Or is it?

I run and know that there are three key training runs for success in middle and long distances: interval workouts (sprints of 200m to mile or even three-mile repeats for marathoners with breaks), tempo runs (run slightly slower than the anaerobic threshold, generally a bit slower than 10k race pace for most runners), and long runs. Each run has a different purpose: teach body to use lactic acid (or to resist it, as most people think), increase body's ability to use oxygen, improve stride/mechanics (there is plenty of "technique" here), hold a steady pace, improve anaerobic capacity by challenging body near race pace, etc., and overall muscle-skeletal development through the long runs.

Short on technique? Perhaps compared to other sports, but in order to train one needs 1) good shoes (there are many kinds of feet; the wrong shoes will cause injuries), 2) a stopwatch (a heart rate monitor would be ideal, but may not be necessary), 3) ideally a track or some fairly flat area whose distances can be easily measured, 4) a place to run. Not a lot, but sometimes not all of these are present. A fairly flat place to run for tempo runs, ideally with distances vaguely known, is extremely useful too.

Just two observations here:

1) What about the difference between men and women? If it is a racial or ethnic genetic trait that is making athletes from West Africa better in the sprints and athletes in the middle distances from North Africa in the middle distances and East African athletes in the long distances, then why is this phenomenon not nearly as notable on the women's side?

Case in point: only two different African women have ever held the record in the marathon (one broke her own record); the record is currently held by Paula Radcliffe, a light skinned woman from the UK (after first breaking the record, she again broke her own record). This year's marathon at the Olympics was won by Constantina Tomescu from Romania -- another European woman (East European at that).

Another example: the 2004 Olympic 100m (women's) was won by a runner from Bulgaria. She's light skinned too.

Asian women have also done well at long and middle distances: the women's record in the 10,000m is held by Junxia Wang of China (set in 1993; I'm assuming there's a good chance she was clean; Jim notes that the record may be tainted; most of the women's records set in the 1980s most likely are, given where runners have been recently it very well may be). The African record is almost 23 seconds slower (but if the record is tainted, then this point is moot).

2) How much of the difference is psychological?

A lot of races, especially the longer ones (but apparently the sprints as well -- look at Asafa Powell's performance at the World Championship last year and the Olympics this year), come down to strategy. Some examples: Wilson Kipketer, a Kenyan born runner from Denmark holds the record in the 800m (the previous hold was from Britain); he doesn't have an Olympic gold despite being the top of his generation. Another example: Alan Webb ran the fastest 1500m and mile time (as well as the second fastest 800m time) last year; finished 8th at the World Championships last year in Helsinki, didn't even qualify for the US Olympic team this year. And I already mentioned Asafa Powell, who, as current world record holder last year at the World Championships, lost to Tyson Gay (who recently ran the fastest 100m time ever under any circumstances -- it was wind-aided).

Why did these people lose their races? In the cases of Kipketer and Webb, it was poor race strategy/tactics. Kipketer was boxed in (surrounded by other runners) and couldn't get around, much less past, them to win. Webb wins a lot of races because he's faster than the other runners. But speed (in 800m or 1500m) doesn't always win -- especially in championship races where the pace is slower (kind of like the last couple minutes of a basketball game), plus by the time of the championship race, they've already run a couple races over the previous days -- few records are set in those circumstances (the last time the 800m record was set at the Olympics was 1976 when a Cuban runner won both the 400m and 800m.

Why did Jeremy Wariner (a white kid, by the way) lose to LaShawn Merritt in the 400m? Poor strategy at the US Trials, after the loss at the Olympics he said his legs gave out -- he still finished second. It could have been poor training (too hard too close to the Olympics), a bad day, psychological (he had lost very few races the past few years), or even a poor lane assignment (he was in lane 7 -- the best lanes are 3 to 5, from what I've heard).

Considering the level of competition, if someone admits, even on a subconscious level, that the runner next to them is more naturally endowed, most of the time, he or she lost the race before the gun sounded.
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Siberia earthquake

Reuters is reporting a strong earthquake hitting Siberia. Fortunately almost nobody lives there -- it seems to be close to the border with Mongolia.

A picture by the story gives it a score of 9 on the Richter scale. That doesn't seem very precise and it may change as they learn more about it. If a 9.0 holds up, that may make it the fourth most powerful earthquake measured.

Update: I read two reports that have listed it as a 6.3 or magnitude-7, in either case, considerably weaker than the nine (9) mentioned earlier. That's still a pretty strong earthquake.

I read up on the region. It took place near Lake Baikal (Baykal is an alternate spelling) which is the deepest freshwater lake and the largest by volume -- it has more water than the US Great Lakes combined! It also freezes from January to May (at least the top of the lake).

The most powerful:

Chile, 9.5, May 1960
Indonesia (the one that causes the tsunami), 9.3, December 2004
Kamchatka, 9.3, 1737
Alaska (US), 9.2, March 1964
Russian Federation, 9.0, November 1952
Cascadia subduction zone, approximately 9, 1700
The tsunami earthquke's measurement was on a different scale than the other three, so its place may actually be different (I'll look more into it in a few hours). Hopefully I'll have an update on the Siberian quake as well (not that I'm a news source).
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stats about atheists via video

I saw this on Midwest Atheist.

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Some atheism statistics via video

A video with some stats about atheism. Thanks to the Midwest Atheist. He posted the other video and I found out about this one after viewing that one.

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DaveScot and religion, again

DaveScot responds with a blog post to a comment made over at UncommonlyDense that argues that religious belief is the motor behind ID.

DaveScot replies:

Guilt by association is a logical fallacy.

You can’t ask any ID proponents to give up their religious faith anymore than you can ask an atheist Darwinist to acquire some religious faith. That isn’t how science works.

However, since I’m not a religious person I can quite easily give up any notion that the designer of either the universe or of life itself is a deity. I have no data on the nature of the designer other than what I can determine through the nature of the design.

As far as criticizing ID based on the religious beliefs of a number of its proponents (nearly all of them, actually), DaveScot is correct, it is a logical fallacy. This doesn't mean that ID isn't some sort of religious belief (it is, as I argue below), but it means we shouldn't determine that based on the beliefs of its supporters.

For the same reason, modern evolutionary theory shouldn't be criticized for being supported by a number of atheists (of course, not all supporters are: Ken Miller, Brown University professor and author of one of the most popular biology high school textbooks, is a Catholic -- as is Michael Behe, supporter of ID, to name but one example).

But DaveScot says "I’m not a religious person," a claim that rings hollow given his recent post that correlates ID as proof of God's existence and his claim that ID has a creator.

Here he supports that there was a designer and that designer, while he does not (he compulsively cannot) say it, is a stand in for God. It is an argument from ignorance as well (logical fallacy):

The counter-claim that chance & necessity is capable of the necessary tasks has not been demonstrated. It has not been shown that small mutations can ever accumulate into significant novel functional architectures that we observe in living things today. It has not been shown feasible by computer simulations of population genetics, in a laboratory, or in field observation.

Yes because something "has not been demonstrated" doesn't mean it didn't happen (he applies this rule to ID as well). Science does not work by giving up and suggesting that something supernatural (by definition, the designer is supernatural since there are no "natural" (naturalist is perhaps more appropriate) proofs of its existence) accounted for

directing or steering the course of organic evolution.

In accepting the concept of ID and the concomitant designer behind it, DaveScot is showing that he may not be religious (i.e., he doesn't go to church, pray, read the Bible, what have you), but he certainly believes in something.

In a previous post (commented here on this blog), he states,

So what exactly do they “see” that convinces them that God’s hand is all over the place? Obviously it isn’t rational evidence that can weighed, measured, or otherwise rationally evaulated because that would be science and furthermore it would be the science behind intelligent design.

Here he unequivocally connects "God's hand" with "the science behind intelligent design." If "the science behind intelligent design" shows its supporters "that God's hand is all over the place" -- then why doesn't he believe in God? He may say he doesn't believe in God and he may not even be lying (he may be confused; in order to lie one has to have awareness of an objective reality), but he is certainly confused, unless he doesn't really "believe" the science behind ID. If that's the case, he's just feeding off the money of Christians, just like the televangelists, et al.
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Monday, August 25, 2008

Stupidity is now a crime

Nigerian high commissioner Olu Agbi has made stupidity a crime. Okay, he blames greed.

You've probably received a letter dealing with millions in frozen accounts and your help is necessary to access the money. You pay a small fee (small in comparison with the millions in the account) and the person who sent you the email promises you a percentage in return for your favor.

The scam predates the internet and has had high profile victims recently. This article mentions some:

New revelations in the trial of Mary Winkler, the young American woman who shot and killed her pastor husband at point-blank range, show that the couple had been caught up in a Nigerian scam that no doubt boosted marital tensions. Winkler was in contact with the scammers, who eventually sent her checks totalling US$17,500 from both Canada and Nigeria. When the checks arrived, she was supposed to send thousands of dollars back to the scammers in "processing fees." She apparently did so without waiting for the checks to clear; of course, they bounced.

In New Zealand, a recent Labour Party candidate named David Maka is in disgrace after being caught up in a similar scam, though he took it one step further by soliciting cash from friends in order to "free up" millions of dollars in an offshore account. The 49-year old pleaded guilty in court and is due for sentencing in the next few months. Maka eventually paid all the money back, though he had to sell his home to do so.

Here in the US, a Florida lawyer stole US$300,000 from a client's estate, but when hauled into court to face judgment, claimed that she had lost most of the money in a Nigerian 419 scam. She told the court that the scammer "had a contract with the [Nigerian] government of $38.6 million, and he needed my participation... I was not thinking clearly." Indeed.

These and other similar scams related to Nigeria (apparently there are many fake Nigerian mail-order/internet brides as well, just like Russians) have made it tough for the country to attract investments:

Nigeria. This has, unsurprisingly, cast Nigeria in a negative light. Olu Agbi said that Nigeria's reputation for being involved with the scams has even hurt the country's ability to land business deals. "[T]hose who want to transact business with us are always very suspicious," he told the newspaper.

The newspaper article mentions that Australians

lose at least $36 million a year to the online scams,

serving as a sign of their stupidity.

Despite their losses of a lot of money, he posits that they as just as guilty as the scammers and should be jailed. He told the paper,

He likened victims to gambling addicts. People were in denial about the scams even after being warned because the thrill of a possible windfall at the end raised their excitement and they became emotionally involved.

By this logic, he contends

THE Nigerian high commissioner says people who are ripped off by so-called Nigerian scams are just as guilty as the fraudsters and should be jailed.

Good luck trying to get other countries to jail their citizens for stupidity. I'm not sure any addiction is strictly illegal (though possession of drugs may be, depending on what country you're in -- but that's not jailing you for your addiction per se either).

And here is the rest of it.
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