The Anti-Obama Flea Circus:

I got the idea to use the term “flea circus” from the Dawkins website: they use that term to describe the deluge of books attacking the recent “atheist” books by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkings and Daniel Dennett.

Well, these books are written in an attempt to “swift-boat” Barack Obama. So my questions are these:

1. How much attention and credibility will the media give to these works of fiction?

2. Will these books be filed under “fiction” or “fantasy”?

3. Does anyone want to take bets on how long before these books end up on the “one dollar or less” section in the sale racks in the bookstores? Sure, they might sell well on Faux News or on the Newsmax web site. 🙂

Note that these books just make stuff up (e. g., publish baseless conjectures)

One such attack: the “authors” of the book says that Obama admits to using drugs in his youth. But they go on to say that he never says “when he stopped”.

That is a bit like my saying: “oh, you stole candy as a kid…but you never said when you stopped being a thief.”

These people are pathetic.


July 31, 2008 Posted by | obama, politics/social, republicans | , , , | 1 Comment

End of July Part II

Workout notes: 4 mile run (39 minutes for about 4.2 miles; this course took me 42 minutes this Monday), yoga-lattes, then 4 mile walk. I had cool weather; the run actually felt good though I broke no speed records.

This has been a weird July for me: 52 miles running (remember that I started from scratch), 149 miles walking, 21.25 miles swimming, and so far (I might ride this afternoon), 86 miles cycling (mostly social cycling with my daughter)

I’ve also added leg weights and these seem to be going well.

Political Humor Democratic Convention Watch asks: Do you Remember Katherine Harris? They go on to post an interesting story about the race for her old Congressional seat:

The 2006 Jennings-Buchanan election actually had input to the 2008 primary season. You may recall that Florida decided to hold their primary a little before the proposed DNC date. The legislation passed the Florida Legislature with support from Florida Democrats. One of the major reasons was that the full bill also included provisions to ensure that all elections have paper trails, to preclude another wholesale theft of 18,000 votes. So here it is, July 2008, and Jennings and Buchanan are having a rematch. I could talk about money, polling and demographics, but why not go straight to the crime?

Vern Buchanan owns car dealerships. According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune:

Two former executives for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s auto dealerships said they were pressured to donate to Buchanan’s 2006 congressional campaign and were offered cash and gifts as inducements, which would violate federal campaign laws.

They actually filed/are filing civil suits, but the upshot here is that if the allegations are true, we’re talking felony.

Hmmm, more family values from the Republican party. 🙂
But the humor isn’t there. The humor was in the headline that asked about Katherine Harris. Actually, she had nothing to do with the above story other than having previously held this seat (prior to running for the Senate, against her party’s wishes).

But when I saw the name, I was hoping for more photos like this one:

I just love tight, white skirts! So what if that butt has a bit of help from strategic undergarments…it is cute all the same. 🙂

Leave Barack Alone!!!

To see what this is a take-off on:

Note that the person in the video is actually a guy. Hat tip to the Huffington Post.

Religion: note that there are more religions in warm climates than in cold ones. Why? Here is a possible answer.

according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences. Dr Corey Fincher and Prof Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, come to this conclusion after studying why religions are far more numerous in the tropics compared with the temperate areas. “Why does Cote d’Ivoire have 76 religions while Norway has 13, and why does Brazil have 159 religions while Canada has 15 even though in both comparisons the countries are similar in size?” they ask.

The reason is that religion helps to divide people and reduce the spread of diseases, which are more common the hotter the country, the research suggests. Any society that increased its coherence by adopting a religion, and dealt less with local groups with other beliefs as a result of cultural isolation, gained an advantage in being less likely to pick up diseases from its neighbours, and in the longer term to have a slightly different genetic makeup that may offer protective effects, for instance by making them less susceptible to a virus. Equally, societies where infectious diseases are more common are less likely to migrate and disperse, not because of the effects of disease itself but as a behaviour that has evolved over time.

This explains why there may be more religions in warm climates, but it doesn’t explain why religion exists at all.

July 31, 2008 Posted by | humor, mccain, politics, politics/social, religion, republicans, running, training, walking | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Last Day of July 2008

Workout notes: I’ll run, lead the yoga class, then walk some. I’d like to total 7 miles to get 200 for the month, but that isn’t all that important.

John McCain: details? I don’t need no stinkin details! Sure, every candidate makes a slip of the tongue (Obama’s “57 states”, or “Israel is a friend of Israel” remark), but in McCain’s case: often, he just doesn’t know. How you can tell that? He was given time to correct himself but couldn’t.

This is a lack of knowledge and not a slip of the tongue.

Attack on Obama. A minister compares Obama to Hitler because Obama….draws large crowds? There is a video here. Clearly, this minister is an idiot.

Note: this is not from the McCain campaign; I want to make that clear.

Science Avenger: rips apart a statement from Catholic clergy. They were upset that someone desecrated a communion wafer and showed this desecration on their blog.

Ok, freedom of speech cuts both way. Say someone desecrated a copy of The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and posted photos. I could say that I didn’t like it.

So far, so good. But were I to go and say that the actions of those who did the desecration was unconstitutional? 🙂

We find the actions of University of Minnesota (Morris) Professor Paul Myers reprehensible, inexcusable, and unconstitutional. His flagrant display of irreverence by profaning a consecrated Host from a Catholic church goes beyond the limit of academic freedom and free speech.”

OK, from their point of view, reprehensible and inexcusable make sense. But unconstitutional? Since when does the constitution say “the right of wafers to not be tossed in the garbage impaled by a nail will not be infringed”. Truly, this statement is daft, and calls into serious question the credibility of this group.

“The same Bill of Rights which protect freedom of speech also protect freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers did not envision a freedom FROM religion, rather a freedom OF religion.”

This is nonsense. In order for me to have freedom of religion, I must be free from your religion, and all others, just like everyone else’s freedom of religion means they must be free from mine. And of course, the atheist needs to be free of all religions. One cannot have freedom OF religion without freedom FROM religion.

There is more there.

July 31, 2008 Posted by | mccain, obama, politics, politics/social, religion | , , , , | 2 Comments

Is McCain trying to throw this election?

Here is one of his latest attack ads:

Remember that people often focus on the images.
Oil? Uh, what might come from offshore drilling will take a decade or more to impact current prices. Besides, on whose watch did these prices go up? Who is saying that “effects beyond our control” are driving prices up? (hint: current President).

My guess is that McCain wants to try to lose while appearing to try to win.

You know that a political ad is bad when your opponents gleefully spread them around! 🙂

Obama’s response:

July 30, 2008 Posted by | mccain, obama, politics, politics/social | Leave a comment

Essay on Being Open Minded

A recent post by a local blogger got me to thinking about the term “open minded”. Often the term is used with a positive connotation as in this example (where the local UU minister is describing his church in the context of the shooting at the Knoxville UU Church):

“We’ve never had anything remotely like this happen at our church,” Brown said. “We are dedicated to the resolution of problems by peaceful means.”

Brown said he grew up Baptist but found the religion less meaningful as an adult. Services at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Peoria, which has more than 300 members, include discussion of the Bible, Brown said, but it is not the focus of his sermons.

Though Peoria is largely conservative, that doesn’t necessarily equal greater risk for the Unitarian Universalist Church, he said.

“Progressive churches in conservative areas become a haven for people,” he said. “We have a real ministry of folks who want an open-minded approach to things.”

So, what does this term mean?

I think that this term can be taken in many different ways.

1. This term can mean that one is willing to question one’s basic assumptions if the need arises.
Example: I had a grad school friend who grew up in rural Louisiana. He told us (back in 1985) that he still felt an internal twinge when he saw a black man with a white woman even though his intellect told him that there was nothing wrong with that.

Another example: I grew up being homophobic…sort of. Yes, I cheered on Anita Bryant in her crusade to get an anti-discrimination bill defeated in Florida; I just “knew” that homosexuality was wrong and that I didn’t like homosexuals.

Then I met some, and even saw some men kiss each other. My internal reaction was “oh, that’s it?”; I honestly just didn’t care one way or the other; “it is their business” I said to myself.

There was a time when I associated gayness with pedophilia; I came to understand that I was merely ignorant.

So, it can be good to question one’s basic assumptions, especially when there is a good chance that there is evidence against one’s assumptions, or if there isn’t good evidence for one’s assumptions.

2. On the other hand, some think that it is a sign of open-mindedness to accept fantastic phenomena with scant or non-existent evidence, or at least to suspend judgment.

For example, I had a friend from grad school who wasn’t a Mormon, but told me that the only thing to do with the “gold plates” story was to suspend judgment. I told him that was absurd.

In fact, the proper response to fantastic claims is to dismiss them, unless strong evidence is presented.

Now “wait” some might say; isn’t it true that at one time, nuclear theory, quantum mechanics, evolution and germ theory were all considered “fantastic”?

Sure! But, the difference was this:

1. The claims were made by world class scientists.
2. The claims were published, along with evidence, in peer reviewed publications.
3. The claims were checked, cross checked, and cross checked again by other smart people.

As far as point 3: remember what happened to the claim of “cold fusion”? Yep, that paper appeared in Nature, but subsequent cross checking brought this claim down.

The one thing to remember is that the overwhelming majority of fantastic claims are indeed false; hence it is best to dismiss these claims as “nonsense” unless evidence requires further examination.
And no, the fact that a fantastic claim appears in religious writings does not constitute “evidence” for that claim. I find it very interesting is that all of the so-called miracles “happened” thousands of years ago.

Side note the shooting at that UU Church in Knoxville might well be the one thing that drives me back to going to church. I know; that is a bit ironic; after all I have no intention to be “open minded” about the type of nonsense that is accepted in those circles (for the unfamiliar: in UU churches, standard religious nonsense is usually rejected. But all too often, “alternative” nonsense is accepted. That is, no “Jesus dying for our sins”, but “magic”, “dousing” and other wacko stuff is ok.

If you are curious as to what holds UU churches together, it is NOT common theological beliefs; in fact there is no demand that one adhere to any theological creed at all. Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, humanists, neo-pagans, liberal Christians and liberal Jews are openly accepted. What holds UU’s together is “religious freedom” principle and 7 principles. These are the principles:

“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote

* The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
* Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
* Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
* A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
* The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
* The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
* Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”[16]

Of course, a responsible search for truth means calling “BS” when one encounters BS. THAT sort of attitude is inconsistent with being a full fledged member.

Update: Jed Rothwell has made some interesting comments on the state of cold fusion; basically he states that experiments in cold fusion research has appeared in peer reviewed scientific journals and claims that the results of these experiments shows that there is some nuclear process going on. I lack the expertise to comment on these results though others who have the expertise have.

But this exchange is a nice example of how science works; on one can make an “Ex Cathedra” statement that “this is so”; people do experiments, attempt to replicate them, and then argue about what the results mean. 🙂

I’d be interested to see who among the great research departments is working on cold fusion; here is another reference from a reputable source, and another which clears one of the founders of this area of scientific misconduct.

Bubble fusion, back with a pop

* 19 February 2007
* news service

Reports that the bubble had burst for a form of cheap, table-top nuclear fusion may have been premature. Rusi Taleyarkhan, the physicist at the centre of a furore surrounding so-called bubble fusion, was last week cleared of scientific misconduct.

In 2002, Taleyarkhan, then at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and now at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, published a paper in Science claiming that bombarding a solvent with neutrons and sound waves produced tiny bubbles that triggered nuclear fusion reactions. Then in March 2006, Purdue began investigating allegations of misconduct against Taleyarkhan, amid accusations that the evidence of fusion he reported was actually caused by a radioactive isotope of californium.

However, on 7 February, Purdue absolved Taleyarkhan’s group of any misconduct. The verdict follows independent verification of Taleyarkhan’s results by Edward Forringer of LeTourneau University in Texas and his colleagues last November

Keep in mind that LeTourneau is a fundamentalist Christian institution.

As a biology student, you’ll look at things up close that the rest of the world will only glance at, or will never see at all.

At LETU, you’ll learn biology from the main-stream, evangelical, interdenominational Christian perspective. We firmly believe in a Trinitarian God as the Creator and do not believe in theistic evolution or neo-Darwinian evolution. We believe and teach a sanctity-of-life morality of bioethics.

Of course, if the science is correct, it is correct, no matter the beliefs of the person doing it (e. g., the universe is only 6000 years old!). But this does not help me with my skepticism.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | politics/social, religion | 14 Comments

Too Good to Pass Up: stick figure cartoon of the mortgage mess

This was posted in Edge of the American West.

I laughed my head off all the while knowing that this isn’t funny. Click this link to get to the googledoc slideshow. It doesn’t take long.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | humor, politics/social | 1 Comment

They Just Make Stuff Up

Workout notes Good news: I had a good swim: 5 x 100 warm up, 500 drill/swim: 10 x 100 on the 1:45 (finished in 17:20), 10 x 50 on the 1 (all 47 except for one 48); no flip turns in any of these. 50 back, Then 10 x 50 (paddle/free), then 500 worth of strokes.

Bad News: nada left for running afterwards; I just gave up after a couple of steps. But leg weights went fine.

They Just Make Stuff Up

Some of McCain’s attack ads: nonsense.

For four days, Sen. John McCain and his allies have accused Sen. Barack Obama of snubbing wounded soldiers by canceling a visit to a military hospital because he could not take reporters with him, despite no evidence that the charge is true.

The attacks are part of a newly aggressive McCain operation whose aim is to portray the Democratic presidential candidate as a craven politician more interested in his image than in ailing soldiers, a senior McCain adviser said. They come despite repeated pledges by the Republican that he will never question his rival’s patriotism.

The essence of McCain’s allegation is that Obama planned to take a media entourage, including television cameras, to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany during his week-long foreign trip, and that he canceled the visit when he learned he could not do so. “I know that, according to reports, that he wanted to bring media people and cameras and his campaign staffers,” McCain said Monday night on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

The Obama campaign has denied that was the reason he called off the visit. In fact, there is no evidence that he planned to take anyone to the American hospital other than a military adviser, whose status as a campaign staff member sparked last-minute concern among Pentagon officials that the visit would be an improper political event.

“Absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mail after McCain’s comments to Larry King.

Despite serious and repeated queries about the charge over several days, McCain and his allies continued yesterday to question Obama’s patriotism by focusing attention on the canceled hospital visit.


The McCain campaign has produced a television commercial that says that while in Germany, Obama “made time to go to the gym but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.” The commercial shows Obama shooting a basketball — an event that happened earlier in the trip on a stopover in Kuwait, where the Democrat spoke to troops in a gym before grabbing a ball and taking a single shot. The military released the video footage. […]
A reconstruction of the circumstances surrounding Obama’s decision not to visit Landstuhl, based on firsthand reporting from the trip, shows that his campaign never contemplated taking the media with him. […]

“We got notice that [Gration] would be treated as a campaign person, and it would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn’t on the Senate staff,” Obama said. “That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political, and the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not, or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns.”

Obama’s explanation, which came after more than a day of controversy, was the clearest in noting that it was Pentagon concerns about Gration accompanying him to the hospital that forced Obama to reconsider and, ultimately, cancel the visit.

Gibbs was asked yesterday about the continuing allegations from McCain that the real reason was a desire to bring a media entourage to the hospital.

“That’s completely untrue, and I think, honestly, they know it’s untrue,” Gibbs said.

So, McCain really is “more of the same”, up to including Rovian campaign tactics.

But McCain isn’t the only person just making up stuff against Obama:

Right now, the Washington Post report about Barack Obama is now being slammed by House Democrats as being taken wholly out of context. The Washington Post story reads like this:

Obama’s Symbolic Importance

By Jonathan Weisman

Perhaps he’s beginning to believe the hype.

In his closed door meeting with House Democrats this evening, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama delivered a real zinger. According to a witness, he was waxing lyrical about last week’s trip to Europe, when he concluded, “this is the moment, as Nancy [Pelosi] noted, that the world is waiting for.”

The 200,000 souls who thronged to his speech in Berlin came not just for him, he told the enthralled audience of congressional representatives.

“I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,” he said.

So, you see, this is what Obama was accused of saying. What did he actually say?

And now the pushback from House Democrats who were actually at the conference has begun according to Mark Halperin at Time’s The Page:

But, a Democrat who was in the room tells The Page: “His entire point of that riff was that the campaign IS NOT about him. The Post left out the important first half of the sentence, which was something along the lines of: ‘It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have just become a symbol..‘”

Again, they just make stuff up.

Republican Family Values: This is too funny to pass up:

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) says the Las Vegas venue where he held a fundraiser was absolutely not a strip club:

It is what I would call a burlesque show where there’s a woman who comes out and has a dress on… Uh, she never get’s naked. There’s no nudity, there’s no nudity in there.

But the Forty Deuce Web site does not suggest the dancers are nude. And Sessions’ chief of staff, Guy Harrison, tells the Sleuth there was no nudity at the fundraiser at all, just good old fashioned burlesque.

“It was as racy as a 1940’s movie,” Harrison assured us.

Is he right? You be the judge: here’s the club’s photo gallery.

Sessions condemned Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s infamous half-time show as “liberal values.” But he’s already known as a bit of a flip-flopper on public nudity: at 18, he streaked across the Southwest Texas State University campus.

It all kind of reminds me of this old cartoon:

July 30, 2008 Posted by | humor, mccain, obama, politics, politics/social, republicans | 2 Comments

July 29 Evening

Workout update: 10 miles on the bike with Olivia. It was hot and muggy out there; later a thunderstorm came by.

Blog comments:
Postsimian is one of our visitors. He has a nice post about the perils of being too openminded.

Richard Dawkins site: has a feature which they call the “flea circus”. This consists of all of those books that were written to “counter” the New Atheist books such as The God Delusion(Richard Dawkins), The End of Faith (Sam Harris) and God is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens). I have to reread End of Faith .

You have to give the Dawkins site credit: they often post articles which attack the ideas of Dawkins. They are not afraid to read what intellectual opponents think!

Politics (Illinois, Local) You’ve heard this garbage that “governments ought to be run like businesses”. Well, you put the conservatives in charge of the military and what do they do? One thing that they do is they try to recover bonus pay from those who were released from the military with injuries (mental and or physical) that were sustained in combat! Yes, these are the assholes people that claim to “support the troops”. Well, one Illinois representative is doing something about it!

for the Journal Star
Posted Jul 29, 2008 @ 12:27 AM

The government is shirking its duty and responsibility to veterans by misdiagnosing them with personality disorders, ending their service and cutting benefits, U.S. Rep. Phil Hare said Monday.

The government has saved an estimated $12.5 billion by denying benefits to veterans, so Hare introduced a bill that would require fair mental health evaluations for returning veterans. If approved, the legislation would place a temporary moratorium on personality disorder discharges until an independent review board determines the diagnoses are legitimate.

“It’s one thing to put people in harm’s way. But when you do, you take care of them when they come home. You take care of them with their education, you take care of them with their health care and you take care of their families, too,” Hare said Monday from the American Legion Hall.

Chillicothe resident Donald “Louie” Schmidt has been battling the issue since he was discharged Oct. 31, 2006, after completing two tours in Iraq. He initially was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but that assessment was changed to a pre-existing personality disorder just weeks before his discharge, said his mother, Patrice Myers.

The Army wanted Schmidt’s $15,000 re-enlistment bonus back plus interest and penalties. They took $4,000 — his last paycheck — to begin the compensation, and Hare is working to expedite Schmidt’s repayment.

“Four thousand dollars to Louie is a lot of money and it’s his money. He re-enlisted voluntarily and it never, ever, ever should have been taken away from him,” said Hare, D-Rock Island.

“This is one case and there are several thousand others. To treat service people like this and to come up with this scheme is absolutely, to me, just mind-boggling.”

Estimates show the government has saved roughly $12.5 billion by discharging more than 22,000 veterans from 2001 to 2006 with personality disorders and denying benefits.

Kudos to Representative Hare!

Presidential Politics Barack Obama is considering Virginia Governor Tim Kaine for the Vice President spot. Here is Kaine responding to Bush’s state of the Union speech (2006)

Yoga: of use to football players at the University of Illinois.

of GateHouse News Service
Posted Jul 28, 2008 @ 09:43 PM

The latest training tool began earlier this summer with a bunch of Illinois offensive linemen taking yoga instruction from a slender woman who had little in common with the biggest Illini on the block.

The players thought this was going to be more of a waste of time than a learning experience for a team trying to follow up a big season.

Eight weeks later, they’re asking for more. Behind the leadership of Kia Locksley, a yoga instructor and the wife of offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, the Illini linemen improved core strength, endurance and flexibility. The yoga already has paid off in the weight room this summer, and increased flexibility should help the Illini avoid injury this fall.

The non-impact exercise relies upon stretching and posing, moves that build strength by improving balance.

“They thought it was more meditation and sitting quietly,” Kia Locksley said. “We quickly dispelled those thoughts. They wanted to hold the poses as long as I could hold them. At the end of the sessions, they were asking if we could continue – ‘Do we have to stop?’

“They were using muscles they weren’t used to using. They saw the benefits.”

For an example of the multi-tasking workout, Locksley said the Illini would strike a balancing pose on one leg, building leg strength and concentration. Meanwhile, they were stretching the hip in the other leg while strengthening the back as well as increasing core strength while maintaining balance.

The football program first became interested in yoga when former Illini Tony Pashos and Dave Diehl, both NFL offensive linemen, got together with Illinois offensive line coach Eric Wolford.

“I knew they were great players,” Wolford said. “I extended a hand and tried to develop a relationship. I always ask them what they do, about new and different stuff. As soon as you think you know it all, you’re done. When you talk to them, you keep asking, ‘What does it take to keep playing that long?’ ”

Pashos and Diehl mentioned yoga. The Illini turned to Locksley, a local yoga instructor. The sessions were mainly attended by offensive linemen, though some defensive linemen also participated.

The workouts were designed specifically for linemen, who needed work on hip flexibility, hamstring strength and improving the core. Other positions could also have specific yoga instruction. Yoga is widely used in the NFL but rarely seen in college programs.

“They were sore,” Locksley said. “They just didn’t understand why. They couldn’t believe how difficult it was.”

Players asked Locksley if she could hold more stretching workouts on Sundays following each gameday, perhaps relieving some muscle soreness through yoga.

“It’s stretching and a lot of isometrics and holding yourself in positions,” said senior center Ryan McDonald. “Offensive linemen have to bend and play loose. We need to loosen our hips to bend. More flexibility will help us avoid injuries. I got stronger, too, so I can’t complain.”

Linemen Randall Hunt and Jack Cornell made major gains in the weight room because of their work with yoga.

Political Humor

July 30, 2008 Posted by | humor, Illinois, politics, politics/social, religion, republicans, yoga | 1 Comment

seattleforbarackobama: “Obama Counters McCain’s Gas Attack Ad” (video)

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July 30, 2008 Posted by | mccain, obama, politics | Leave a comment

29 July 2008 part II

Workout notes Lead a yoga-lattes class (yoga and pilates mix) and then walked 5 miles outside; I did 11 minutes slowly and then did some 2-1 (two minutes hard, 1 easy) to average about 12:30-12:40 a mile.

The right leg hurt just a bit (calf; behind the knee) but this is somewhat normal give the frequent storms that we’ve had. Frequent weather change bothers my “3 surgery” knee and sometimes the pain shows up behind the knee.

Posts will be all over the place today.
Here is the rough order:
1. Shooting at hte Knoxville UU church: another UU church holds a vigil.
2. Troublesome incident in Peoria; a Peoria UU is murdered under weird circumstances.
3. National politics: factcheck calls “foul” on a McCain attack ad.
4. Science: the “nature of glass” remains a scientific mystery!
5. Religion: yes, a recent survey shows some Muslim college students too comfortable with killing for a religious cause. But this attitude is not exclusive to Muslims.
6. Yet another new blog: though I surf for various topics, I often end up on blogs written by scientists or other academics.
7. Trivia about Monty Python’s film Life of Brian
8. Comments of books that I’ve recently finished: God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb, One Car Caravan by Walter Shapiro.

Shooting at the Knoxville UU church: a UU on the Daily Kos reacts. This type of candlelight vigil is typical of what a UU congregation does, in terms of prayer services and the like.

Peoria, IL area UU- related issue. A new church member has been murdered by her son. That is bad enough; unfortunately some other ugly details are coming out.


Bond was set at $2.5 million Monday for a Peoria man accused of strangling his mother last week.

The death occurred sometime Thursday, when John Finnegan, 20, entered his mother’s room, found her sleeping and “swiftly killed her emotionlessly,” Peoria County State’s Attorney Kevin Lyons said in court, repeating what Finnegan reportedly told detectives.

Mary Finnegan, 43, was found dead around noon Friday, when her other son, 23, stopped by her house and found her naked and wrapped in bedding.

During a five-minute bond hearing in Peoria County Circuit Court, Lyons said the situation had “peculiar” overtones. He cited a “consensual but inappropriate” sexual relationship that had existed between John and Mary Finnegan for about four years. John Finnegan said he and his mother had sex the day before he allegedly killed her.

Finnegan initially denied killing his mother but later told police he felt like he was “bottled up with rage.” He also told detectives he sexually assaulted his mother’s body and then tried to kill himself.

Lyons said Finnegan first tried to drown himself in the bathtub before trying to overdose on various household medications and pills. When that didn’t work, he grabbed some money and left the house in his mother’s car.

Of course, I have not read any place where evidence for this “relationship” has been confirmed by evidence. The mother had been bi-polar.

She had been a Roman Catholic but since had started attending the local UU church as was a casual friend of people that I know.

National Politics

Factcheck shows that McCain’s latest ad has a false insinuation.

A new McCain ad says Obama “made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.”

McCain’s facts are literally true, but his insinuation – that the visit was canceled because of the press ban or the desire for gym time – is false. In fact, Obama visited wounded troops earlier – without cameras or press – both in the U.S. and Iraq. And his gym workouts are a daily routine.

The Obama campaign canceled the visit with wounded troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Obama says, when he learned that the Pentagon would not allow him to bring along a retired Air Force major general who is serving as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. Obama says that “triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political.”

Not much has changed; as Obama claimed (while campaigning in the South Carolina primary): “they just make stuff up”:

Science Glass is, of course, common. But why does glass form? Believe it or not, this process is not as well understood (on a molecular level) as you might think.

It is well known that panes of stained glass in old European churches are thicker at the bottom because glass is a slow-moving liquid that flows downward over centuries. Well known, but wrong. Medieval stained glass makers were simply unable to make perfectly flat panes, and the windows were just as unevenly thick when new. The tale contains a grain of truth about glass resembling a liquid, however. The arrangement of atoms and molecules in glass is indistinguishable from that of a liquid. But how can a liquid be as strikingly hard as glass? They’re the thickest and gooiest of liquids and the most disordered and structureless of rigid solids,” said Peter Harrowell, a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney in Australia, speaking of glasses, which can be formed from different raw materials. “They sit right at this really profound sort of puzzle.”

Philip W. Anderson, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at Princeton, wrote in 1995: “The deepest and most interesting unsolved problem in solid state theory is probably the theory of the nature of glass and the glass transition.” He added, “This could be the next breakthrough in the coming decade.” Thirteen years later, scientists still disagree, with some vehemence, about the nature of glass.

Killing in the name of god. Friendly Atheist points to a survey taken in a British university which surveys the attitudes of Muslim college students. 60 percent of students in Muslim student societies say that killing for one’s religion could be justified (remember this is the subset of students in these societies). That is troublesome. But is this unique to Islam? A study suggests otherwise:

In this extended quote I have taken from the book (starting on p. 255), Dawkins summarizes the results of what he calls “[A] horrifying study by the Israeli psychologist George Tamarin”:

Tamarin presented to more than a thousand Israeli school children, aged between eight and fourteen, the account of the battle of Jericho in the book of Joshua:

Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout; for the LORD has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction. . . But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.’. . . Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword. . . And they burned the city with fire, and all within it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.

Tamarin then asked the children a simple moral question: ‘Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not?’ They had to choose between A (total approval), B (partial approval) and C (total disapproval). The results were polarized: 66 percent gave total approval and 26 percent total disapproval, with rather fewer (8 percent) in the middle with partial approval.

But when these same acts were done by a fictional Chinese general:

Tamarin ran a fascinating control group in his experiment. A different group of 168 Israeli children were given the same text from the book of Joshua, but with Joshua’s own name replaced by ‘General Lin’ and ‘Israel’ replaced by ‘a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago’. Now the experiment gave opposite results. Only 7 per cent approved of General Lin’s behavior, and 75 percent disapproved. In other words, when their loyalty to Judaism was removed from the calculation, the majority of the children agreed with the moral judgments that most modern humans would share. Joshua’s action was a deed of barbaric genocide. But it all looks different from a religious point of view. And the difference starts early in life. It was religion that made the difference between children condemning genocide and condoning it.

Note about my source: this is yet another good blog that I’ve stumbled onto. Here is an interesting post from this blog:

Are people in the US too sensitive?

British actor and writer Stephen Fry recently had an interesting take on the difference between arguments in social settings in England and the US.

I was warned many, many years ago by the great Jonathan Lynn, co-creator of Yes Minister and director of the comic masterpiece My Cousin Vinnie, that Americans are not raised in a tradition of debate and that the adversarial ferocity common around a dinner table in Britain is more or less unheard of in America. When Jonathan first went to live in LA he couldn’t understand the terrible silences that would fall when he trashed a statement he disagreed with and said something like “yes, but that’s just arrant nonsense, isn’t it? It doesn’t make sense. It’s self-contradictory.” To a Briton pointing out that something is nonsense, rubbish, tosh or logically impossible in its own terms is not an attack on the person saying it – it’s often no more than a salvo in what one hopes might become an enjoyable intellectual tussle. Jonathan soon found that most Americans responded with offence, hurt or anger to this order of cut and thrust. Yes, one hesitates ever to make generalizations, but let’s be honest the cultures are different, if they weren’t how much poorer the world would be and Americans really don’t seem to be very good at or very used to the idea of a good no-holds barred verbal scrap. I’m not talking about inter-family ‘discussions’ here, I don’t doubt that within American families and amongst close friends, all kinds of liveliness and hoo-hah is possible, I’m talking about what for good or ill one might as well call dinner-party conversation. Disagreement and energetic debate appears to leave a loud smell in the air.

I think Fry is on to something. There does seem to be a hypersensitivity in social settings in the US to not say anything that might be seen as contradictory to what someone else has said or might feel on highly charged topics, or if one does feel compelled to say something, to say it so carefully and genteelly that the listener sometimes does not even realize that she is being disagreed with, or if she does, takes it as a cue to drop the topic entirely and move onto something that is uncontroversial. I am guilty of this too. I have been in social situations where people have said things that I strongly disagreed with but have hesitated to express my opinions for fear of causing offense or creating tension. Have any readers of this blog had a similar experience, where they have held their tongue at the time and regretted it afterwards?

I am trying to overcome this tendency and more directly challenge people because being silent is not a good thing since this means that the ideas that people care about most passionately, and which may have important consequences, are never exposed to critical scrutiny.

Here is something interesting: I find that I have my most open disagreements with those I am closest to. For example: I’ve frequently spoken of my friend Tracy Harris. She teaches at my university (and is a published author too) and we often go to road races together.

We were discussing the Israel-Palestine situation. I went on and on and she smiled. She said: “perhaps your opinions might be better formed if you knew something about the subject you are discussing” and gave me a reading suggestion. 🙂 The book was Oh Jerusalem.

Oh yes, we remain good friends. 🙂

Life of Brian tidbit The Life of Brian (Monty Python) is one of my favorite films. Here is one of the funniest scenes:

Here is the tidbit: the soldiers that you see are not Monty Python members; they are extras. They were put in the scene with no instructions other than: “try your best to keep a straight face”. They had no idea what the Pontious Pilate character was going to do. What you see is an authentic attempt to keep a straight face.

Books I am paid on a 10 month contract, hence I really do have a 30 day summer vacation (taken with my daughter). I get to blog, think about mathematics, workout and read books.

Here are a few that I have recently finished:

God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. Ok, this was my second pass. This differs from Dawkins The God Delusion in that Hitchens discusses several religions and points out what damage these religions have caused; the book is more historical.

Dawkins takes on religion, but mostly focuses on irrational thinking. Hitchens focuses more on how religion encourages tribalism and encourages bad actions and intolerance. There is some overlap but the points of view are slightly different. I can recommend both without reservation.

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb. This book mostly focuses on markets and why one should be skeptical of things like “fool proof algorithms” and “records of past performance”. None of the statistical methods he cites are new, but it is interesting to see these methods applied to financial markets.

He points out that there are too many hidden variables and too much randomness to apply, say, the methods of modeling in physics to model financial markets. He also makes the following point: suppose you have millions and millions of monkeys making financial market predictions. Chances are that at least one monkey will be right every time (up to now). Our tendency is to label that monkey as a genius.

Hence, when determining those who know the market the best, we should also examine how that person’s recommendations have worked had the “improbable but possible” catastrophic event had happened; he calls these “rare events.”

One Car Caravan by Walter Shapiro. This was about the 2004 Democratic primary and mostly focused on the events that occurred prior to the Iowa caucuses. His main point appears to be that we tend to choose candidates on personality; after all, most Democrats don’t differ that much with regards to the issues.

Also, the stories about the various campaign events (gatherings in houses, speeches, forums) and how the various candidates acted in these. A political junkie will love this book.

July 29, 2008 Posted by | books, Friends, humor, mccain, obama, Peoria, Peoria/local, politics, politics/social, religion, republicans, science, training | 1 Comment