Game Change by John Heilemann Mark Halperin: a review

This is the book that I am talking about; I listened to the unabridged audio version on CD.

What it is about: it is the story of the 2008 general election. It picks up in 2006 and covers the primary and general election; it also has an epilogue which ends with then President Elect Obama talking Senator Hillary Clinton into accepting the Secretary of State position.

Though the book talks some about strategy and the events of the nation and the world during that time, it is mostly a “behind the scenes” look as to what was going on inside the respective campaigns at the time.

Most of the book dealt with the Democratic primary. Frankly, I didn’t learn much about the Obama campaign; then again I had already read Renegade by Richard Wolffe, Obama: From Promise to Power by David Mendell and The Promise by Jonathan Alter. About the only thing I didn’t already know was how deeply Joe Biden’s late campaign gaffes irritated Obama.

Much of my suspicions about the Hillary Clinton campaign were confirmed and elaborated on. I knew that she was a bit overconfident going in; she saw Obama as a flash in the pan, at first anyway. But I didn’t realize how much dysfunction there was on her campaign team and how much of it was the fault of the people that she took on from President Clinton’s 1996 team (Mark Penn, in particular). With a better team, she might have won.

What I learned most about was John Edwards. This book painted him as a previously humble man who made good who then let fame and prestige go to his head. It also drove home that Elizabeth Edwards was far from the saint that she was portrayed to be. I admit that I mostly blew off the National Enquirer articles; it turns out that they were substantially true.

The Republican campaign wasn’t covered as closely. Basically, they focused on John McCain and how his campaign melted down at first (couldn’t handle being the front runner status), reinvented itself in a stealthy, low key mode, and then came roaring back. It also brought out the obvious: that Sarah Palin was a desperate, unvetted pick. The book seemed to focus on her mental and emotional instability (at least from the point of view of the McCain staff).

It did talk about Rudy Guiliani’s lame campaign, a tiny bit about Fred Thompson’s half hearted effort, gave a word or two about Mike Hukabee and it did talk about how much the other candidates hated Mitt Romney. But mostly it focused on the internals of John McCain’s run. I wish that Mitt Romeny had been covered to at least the degree that John Edwards was; it did mention his reversing his previous “reasonable” positions to placate the rabid Republican base.

It also talked at length about John McCain’s idea to run with Joe Lieberman and why that idea fell through; it also talked about McCain’s idea to pledge to accept only one term as President, should he win.

About the general election itself: it did talk about the economic crisis and how McCain came across as unstable; Alter’s book discusses that in more detail.

One historical error: the book seemed to indicated that the Biden-Palin debate was viewed as more or less a draw.
Here are the insta-poll results: CNN: 51-36 Biden, CBS Uncommitted voters: 46-21 Biden.
Fox News had Biden winning 61-39.

THAT is not “more or less a draw”. It is true that Palin wasn’t quite as idiotic as the Republicans had feared that she would be.

However, the end of the book was very interesting; it talked about how Obama wooed a reluctant Hillary Clinton into accepting the Secretary of State position.

In all, I found it hard to stop listening; then again, I love politics.

August 8, 2010 Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, books, economy, edwards, hillary clinton, Joe Biden, John McCain, mccain, Republican, republicans, sarah palin, social/political | 2 Comments

Ft. Leonard Wood, August 6, 2010

Workout notes: 2 mile walk from the House to St. Edward’s University (Library).
Then I drove via I-35, I-20 (West), I-635 around Dallas and up US 75 to US 69 in Oklahoma. Then onto I-44 to Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo.

The drive: congestion in Austin (what else is new), some on US 75 near Sherman, then some on I-44 near Springfield.

But along the way, I listened to 7.5 CD’s of the unabridged version of Game Change.
Though it appears that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were treated reasonably fairly, John Edwards (and his wife), Bill Clinton and the Clinton campaign team were downright torched (seemingly fairly).

The Democratic campaign had just ended and they were picking up the very beginnings of the Republican campaign. I can’t wait to see how it ends; there are 4 CD’s left.

This photo is from my room:

I didn’t want to spring for it, but I was getting tired and sleepy. Besides, I get a free breakfast, treadmill, and a hot tub to soak in…perhaps to loosen the old knee and hamstrings.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, books, edwards, hillary clinton, politics, travel, walking | Leave a comment

On Finding Common Ground with Believers

Of course, most Americans believe in a deity of some sort and 60 percent accept a personal deity:

Of course this number goes down with educational level, and scientists with Ph. D. degrees believe at a much lower rate:

Nearly 38 percent of natural scientists — people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology — said they do not believe in God. Only 31 percent of the social scientists do not believe.

In the new study, Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed 1,646 faculty members at elite research universities, asking 36 questions about belief and spiritual practices.

“Based on previous research, we thought that social scientists would be less likely to practice religion than natural scientists are, but our data showed just the opposite,” Ecklund said.

Some stand-out statistics: 41 percent of the biologists don’t believe, while that figure is just 27 percent among political scientists.

In separate work at the University of Chicago, released in June, 76 percent of doctors said they believed in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.

“Now we must examine the nature of these differences,” Ecklund said today. “Many scientists see themselves as having a spirituality not attached to a particular religious tradition. Some scientists who don’t believe in God see themselves as very spiritual people. They have a way outside of themselves that they use to understand the meaning of life.”

Ecklund and colleagues are now conducting longer interviews with some of the participants to try and figure it all out.

Of course, belief is even more scarce at the very elite levels: only 7 percent believe in a personal deity.

Of course, my “in person” friends tend to have Ph. D.’s and I hang around places like Richard or Daily Kos where unbelief is the norm.

So, what do I have in common with believers? Well, at first glance, it appears that the answer is “not much”; though many educated believers (and clergy among the mainstream religions) claim to accept science (e. g., accept evolution), there are some big differences. Jerry Coyne discusses these here; he points out that while some at the pulpit may well accept a form of evolution, relatively few in the pews actually do. He also points out that those who claim to accept evolution really don’t accept the version that scientists do. For example, evolutionary theory has most mutations being random (save those induced, say, by a radiation accident); of course, which mutations get passed on via reproduction are NOT random; natural selection is a huge factor (though there is some scientific debate as to the relative magnitude of the influences of natural selection, genetic drift, changes in environment, etc.)

In short, if one views humans as the intended outcome of the evolutionary process, then one doesn’t accept scientific evolution; in fact experiments (such as the Michigan State experiment) show that evolution will advance down different paths if “started over”).

The fact that we humans are here now IS an accident and not the intent of some greater design!
Of course, some might believe in some type of deity that would have allowed such an accident to take place, but this isn’t the “god that cares about humans” deity of the Bible or the Koran.

Nevertheless, there are those believers that I have something in common with. For example, read this post by Brotherpeacemaker:

Someone was trying to tell me how powerful and omniscient god was and said that god knew when a sparrow fell from the sky. My first reaction was to laugh, not because I thought this person was wrong. But I have to ask the question, why would god be interested in a sparrow falling out of the sky? I don’t know too many people who believe in god and don’t believe that he is all powerful and all knowing but are we so arrogant to believe that we rate that high on god’s attention meter.

The universe is a seriously vast entity. According to the simple human interpretation of the space and time continuum, the universe stretches from one side of infinity to the other and god is working across it all. Throughout all of this there are countless galaxies with countless stars with a number of planets with a countless numbers of individuals and plants and animals and god is supposed to expend his limitless power on knowing when one of the countless sparrows on this single planet buys the farm. If such a concept was uttered by a five year old it would be cute in its total simplicity. Such a notion would rank right up there with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Great Pumpkin, the caring American, Peter Pan, Captain Crunch, and the like. As a people, we really need to do a better job developing our understanding of our relationship with the infinite being and grow out of the simple, feel good notions we learned back in Sunday school when we were knee high to our parents.

Our self importance in the cosmos knows no limit as well. If we are taught to believe that god is some voyeur all up in our business because we are just so special then it is a prime example of humanity’s self centered-ism at its finest. God gets furious about our adultery. God hates our active sex lives without marriage. God punishes the evil that people do and is ready to pounce because we’re all that and then some. People need to learn a little more humility. God is a busy Supreme Being. As I write this and as you read it god is building entire galaxies at the outer edge of the universe. Millions of planets need forming and countless species need planning. And that’s in this universe alone. There are other universes and other realities that need his attention as well. And he’s supposed to stop all this activity to take note of a little birdie that’s about to hit dirt.

Ok, one might quibble with the notion of an infinite universe; it may well be a compact manifold of some sort. But here is the money quote:

We may pray for god to save all the little children. But truth be told, if god wanted to, he could keep every child safe from now to eternity. But why would god be so moved to do so? God knows about people dying everyday and he allows it to happen. Why? As a people we already have everything we need to keep our children, our family, our community, and our world safe. As a collective, we simply choose not to. It’s always somebody else’s problem. Rich people could share their wealth with the people in need, but that would be welfare and no good for anybody because it was tried before and failed. But people forget, the very people who work hard to keep racism alive are the very same people who were in charge of the welfare program; the white mindset. God cannot be prayed into wanting to help us more than we want to help ourselves. […]

God hasn’t charged anyone to stop abortion. God has never charged anyone with the duty to invade another country and kill thousands upon thousands of people while friends coincidentally get rich robbing the national coffer. God didn’t abandon the people in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. People who were in the position to help but didn’t abandoned the people in New Orleans. God doesn’t have to save every child on the planet. We need to change our collective spirit so that we can develop a global community that truly wants to leave no child behind instead of using it as a catchy slogan to obtain a political office.

God has already answered our prayers. We have everything we need. We simply choose to squander it in a system wrought with favoritism and privilege for the few and indifference and struggle for the masses. This isn’t god’s plan, it is our plan. We’re either going to stick to it and let civilization rot or change it for the better. Quite frankly I don’t see things changing anytime soon. Our very existence may now be in jeopardy with global warming and we are too shell shocked from our day-to-day life to do anything to stop it. But as soon as the point is reached where it appears that divine intervention is the only thing that will save us we’ll pray for god to save us and wonder why he doesn’t and say it’s the lord’s will when in all actuality it is our will that doomed us.

No, I don’t accept this notion of deity (which sounds a bit like a deist god). But I agree: the only thing that we can do is to work to change the things that we can; no deity is going to pull our fat out of the fire or save us. I think that then Senator Obama, Senator Edwards and Senator Biden got it right:

Of course differences remain; one can claim that some deity was responsible for the creation of our spacetime continuum. Of course, I’d like proof before I believe that, and I haven’t seen any.

But when it comes to our day to day life I agree with Mano Singham:

What atheists like me say to religious believers is simply the following: If the existence of your god has empirical consequences, then provide empirical evidence that supports your contention. If it has no empirical consequences whatsoever, then say so and we will not interfere with your theological and philosophical ruminations because we do not really care to speculate on the properties of what we consider to be a mythical entity.

Conclusion: if you believe in a deity that set things in motion and then let it go, we’ll agree to disagree (until I get some evidence to the contrary). But in our day to day lives, we have some common ground and can therefore have a very nice coexistence and even friendship!

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Barack Obama, Biden, bill richardson, Blogroll, edwards, evolution, Friends, hillary clinton, Joe Biden, nature, politics/social, relationships, religion, science, social/political | Leave a comment

Religion and the 2008 Presidential Race

Pre post whine: two great football games on TV but the wife wants me to go to the symphony. Even worse, she expects for me to shave off the scruff.

I don’t know what I did to deserve this. 😦

First, an Obama ad:

You can find links to the specifics of each of Obama’s points here.

Whatsup “not official Obama campaign” pro-Obama piece

Hat tip: Watertiger. At this site, daily snark (in photographic form) and cute tiger photos abound.

Religion, Society and the 2008 Presidential Race.

Richard Dawkins (of the UK) feels that we (western society) are losing the war against superstition. As far as the United States goes, I am not so sure that we are losing. I am a bit embarrassed as to where we are as a country, but I think that more and more, people that go to church are starting to go for the “right reasons”: to make their own lives better by being part of a community, discussion of morals, doing good works and using mental health techniques such as prayer, meditation, yoga, etc.

It appears to me that the percentage of people who think that somehow some deity will miraculously intervene is going down a bit, though the percentage who believe this is still too high for comfort.

According to a recent Pew Survey, only 60 percent of Americans believe in a “personal god” though 25 percent believe in some impersonal spirit and 7 percent don’t know.

What about politics? Here is a liberal’s position that I disagree with

Democrats are not blameless. I’ve seen some mock Sarah Palin’s membership in a Pentecostal church as proof of her unfitness for office. Conservative evangelicals are often cast, privately, as wacky or stupid. It offends me when Obama supporters send around the video of Palin being prayed for by a Pentecostal minister decrying witchcraft. What’s she supposed to do? Interrupt the prayer and say, “sorry – can’t sign on to that part. Please resume”? As regular readers of my Beliefnet blog know, I’ve defended Sarah Palin’s faith repeatedly.

I admit that I honestly don’t care which religious myths uses to calm their minds and to make them handle life’s difficulties. I don’t care if one uses prayer, meditation, yoga, etc. to help them determine what the most moral course of action to take.

I actually admire the answers of Joe Biden, John Edwards and Barack Obama here (Bill Richardson is ok also)

I think that I understand Mr. Waldman’s point: it is wrong to assume that your party’s position has a monopoly on what is considered “just” and “right” by a particular religion; it is my guess that Mr. Waldman is speaking out against this:

This was at a McCain rally in Davenport, Iowa. I was there; McCain had not entered the arena yet. The especially obnoxious stuff starts at about 55 seconds into it.

The implicit assumption is that the various religions and deities have a political opinion and that the Christian deity prefers McCain.

Personally, I found this amusing as these deities are about as real as Zeus, Wotan, Baal, Ganesh, etc. and this would be like saying: “Dear Zeus, please know that your reputation is on the line because Ganesh, Wotan and Baal want the other candidate to win”.

The only thing that offends me is that so many actually believe such nonsense.

For more discussion (some which I agree with; some I don’t) check out this Larry Beinhart article.

When it comes to quotes like this one (Teddy Roosevelt):

Keep religion away from the ballot.

The Constitution, Article VI, Section 3, states “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, said, “An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against.”

Here’s Theodore Roosevelt: “If there is one thing for which we stand in this country, it is for complete religious freedom, and it is an emphatic negation of this right to cross- examine a man on his religion before being willing to support him for office.”

I agree, in part. I think questions like “do you believe that Jesus was the son of God” are stupid and out of bounds. However if someone believes that praying to a deity can affect a supernatural event then that should be a factor; I want to know how my potential leaders will make decisions and if they count on supernatural intervention then they shouldn’t be in office.

Asking them if they accept the basic findings of science or instead allow the findings of science to be overruled when they conflict with religious myths is entirely appropriate. Those who place religious myths ahead of scientific fact are not fit to lead this nation.

On a related note: Here is a long article about Sarah Palin’s fundamentalism; evidently she belongs to religious movements that believe that “witchcraft” exists and that it is responsible for bad things.

October 25, 2008 Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Biden, bill richardson, creationism, edwards, Joe Biden, John McCain, mccain, obama, politics, politics/social, religion, sarah palin, science | 1 Comment

Back in Peoria August 2008

Workout notes zero; I might do some yoga prior to going to bed.

Tomorrow: I have two weeks prior to classes starting up. So, I had better finish the revisions on that paper and decide what I want to do in my abstract algebra course.




One more comment: From the Huffington Post

I know it’s un-American, but I don’t give one iota (the ninth and smallest letter of the Greek alphabet and thus slang for ONE BIT) whom John Edwards is screwing.

AMEN!!! Or as a Pastafarian would say: RaMEn!!! 🙂

August 10, 2008 Posted by | creationism, edwards, politics, politics/social, science, travel | 1 Comment

Georgia conflict escalates as Russian tanks enter South Ossetia – Telegraph

THIS is a SERIOUS story of global importance.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Georgia conflict escalates as Russian…", posted with vodpod

Story here.

As Russian troops advanced towards the capital of Georgia’s separatist region, Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said “ethnic cleansing” had been reported in villages in South Ossetia amid a Georgian offensive to retake the breakaway region.

Mr Lavrov called on the West to reach “the right conclusions” over the conflict, saying the Georgian offensive had been made possible by Western military aid to Tbilisi.

“Now we see Georgia has found a use for these weapons and for the special forces that were trained with the help of international instructors,” he said.

“I think our European and American colleagues … should understand what is happening. And I hope very much that they will reach the right conclusions.”

The military operation marks the first time Russian troops have taken action on foreign soil since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

Georgia has warned that any involvement of Russian forces in the conflict would result in a state of war between the two countries.

The Russian military reported that ten Russians were killed and 30 injured during Georgian shelling of their barracks, but Georgian officials denied firing on Russian peacekeepers in the area during their offensive in South Ossetia.

Georgian troops had earlier launched a massive attack to regain control of breakaway South Ossetia, where officials said at least 15 people were killed and an unspecified number of people wounded.

Update: a sharp eyed reader made the following comment:

let me point Telegraph is wrong stating “The military operation marks the first time Russian troops have taken action on foreign soil since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.” Russian troops took action on foreign soil several times since then i.e. setting up puppet regimes in parts of Georgia (South Ossetia including) and Moldova.

But on the Daily Kos, what are we focused on?


This flap reminds me of the sticker that I have on my truck:


No, I am not saying that having an affair is a good thing. It is wrong. But I will say:

1. It doesn’t rank all that high on the list of evils when compared to other things.

2. Most men simply don’t have the opportunity that some of these “handsome, in the public eye” guys have. It is easy for me to resist temptation as, well, other females simply don’t want me (as my loving wife reminds me 🙂 ) But things might be far harder if I had babes throwing themselves at me 24-7.

August 8, 2008 Posted by | edwards, politics, politics/social, ranting, world events | 3 Comments

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins: my review

I admit that I bought it some time ago and read it quickly; I just got through with a slower rereading of it.

What it has The book basically starts out by countering the idea that religious beliefs are somehow entitled to a certain amount of respect just because they are religious beliefs.

Dawkins then goes on to discuss the God Hypothesis and what he means by that.
In a nutshell, by “god”, Dawkins is referring to a supernatural entity that either currently acts or has acted in some supernatural way to effect the outcome of otherwise natural events (e. g., a deity that resurrects dead people, heals illnesses in a supernatural way, causes bullets to miss people (or vital organs), etc.)

He then critiques arguments for the existence of such a deity and find them wanting; he argues that life, as we know it, strongly argues against there being a designer.

He talks about religion and where it might have come from (from a evolution via natural selection point of view) and then does the same thing about morality. Then he talks about what he finds wrong with religion and how, in some sense, subjecting a child to religion can even be child abuse.

How I read his arguments

Here is what I see as his major point: “faith”, as in believing in something without having any evidence for it is inherently bad, at least for an adult. That is, “blessed are those who have not seen but believe” is, well, nonsense.

It isn’t bad for, say, a kid to do so, as kids who do accept their parents instructions on faith (“honey, don’t play in the street”) tend to live longer.

This is where Dawkins thinks that the faith “meme” came from; those who listened to their elders survived at higher rates and therefore passed on “faith” genes.

True, many of us take medicines without understanding the biology of it, and I don’t know everything about the computer that I am using. But I know that studies have been done on the safety of the medicines and those who have done the studies have passed rigorous examinations and peer review processes.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the book for me is how snippy he is! Time and time again, he lampoons some of the Panglossian utterances that we’ve heard made again and again: “Oh, you got cancer? It must be part of God’s plan.” “Oh, the 9-11 attacks were bad, but did you see God’s hand in this? Only 3000 died in the towers; that was a miracle!”

The latter was from an e-mail that I received.

Anyhow, I had to smile at reading responses that I wish that I had given.

Dawkins also takes on the “morality” canard and points out that both atheists and believers give similar responses to the standard “moral dilemma” questions, which seems to indicate that even theists don’t really get their morality from a different source than atheists.

Also, think about this example: remember the weird Bible passages that call for people to be stoned to death for doing things like working on the Sabbath, talking back to their parents, engaging in homosexual activity? Remember the ruthless slaughters described in the book of Joshua? How about the murders committed by Samson?

Most of us can see these things as being grossly immoral; clearly can’t be getting that reaction from the Bible. Hence we must be using some other source.

What I wish Dawkins would have said when asked “where do atheists get our moral values from”: I usually say: “we get our morals from the same place we get our medicine, technology, computers, laws and science!” Pretty simple, isn’t it? 🙂

What Dawkins leaves out: Dawkins admits that people explain to him that they don’t believe in an “old man with a beard” type of god. Dawkins goes on to say that he knows that, but a god that requires “faith” is a priori bad. Dawkins also mentions pantheism and blows it off as “sexed up atheism”.

Dawkins also blasts agnostics: after all, few of us are really agnostic with respect to all of the other gods and religious deities out there.

But here is the point: many people (albeit a minority of people) adhere to a religion but don’t really believe in a physics changing deity!

My evidence for this: check out the latest Pew Survey on Religion in the United States. 40% of Americans do not believe in a personal god, including 37% of Catholics, 46% of Eastern Orthodox, 58% of Jews, 34% of mainline Protestant church goers and even 20% of Evangelicals!

Note also that I took’s “What kind of Christian are You” quiz. I answered every “what really happened when the Bible reported Jesus did miracle X” with a “secular reason” response. I still was scored as a “left leaning traditionalist Christian”.

Even funnier, my sister (who is a Christian) scored in the same category as I did!

My point: there are people who go to church for more than social reasons who don’t believe in miracles. Why?

My guess is that I will call the “grand metaphor” or “grand myth”: sometimes, being grounded in some standard myth (e. g., the Jews being lead out of bondage, Jesus standing up for his principles to help others, even onto death) can help someone through rough patches of life. No, no deity will come in and miraculously save you, but it can calm you down and help you do the right thing.

Religion can teach useful techniques too, such as prayer, meditation and yoga (the latter is good for bad backs!); no “faith” is required.

Also, it appears to me that the public, in general, is quite accepting of this view of religion (see Obama’s, Edward’s and Biden’s answers; Clinton panders a bit)

So, my conclusion is that Dawkins while talking about the God delusion really doesn’t talk about a religion delusion.

Dawkins doesn’t really attack religion that is subordinate to reason on matters of reason. The reason I talk about “matters of reason” is this: oft-times, our reason can show us the right thing to do, but sometimes we need the moral courage and moral strength to do it. Religion, when properly applied, can help provide the latter (though it doesn’t have a monopoly on that).

July 4, 2008 Posted by | bill richardson, books, creationism, edwards, hillary clinton, obama, politics, politics/social, religion, science, yoga | 7 Comments

Ok, now the big question:

Who is going to be Barack Obama’s Vice Presidential running mate?

Yes, I’ve read that she is open to it. The only thing that keeps me from being too excited is things like this. If Obama goes that route, we need to find a way to give WJC a 5 month case of laryngitis.

Another possible choice:

Yes, even some top Clinton surrogates like this choice.

To see more about Kathleen Sebelius, go here.

Of course other names: Bill Richardson,

John Edwards,

Wes Clark,

Jim Webb

and Ted Strickland.

My guess: Hillary Clinton.

But no one consulted me. Nor should they have. 🙂

Just one wild guess: if HRC is the VP pick, I wonder if John McCain will keep saying nice things about her. 🙂

My wild guess is that she will be a bitch again.

June 3, 2008 Posted by | bill richardson, edwards, hillary clinton, mccain, obama, politics/social | 3 Comments

One final exam left

One final yet to grade; I’ve got to finish it off today!

Workout notes yoga class (I lead it), then 5 miles of easy walking.
I noticed that there were tons of birds; mostly swifts. They were just darting around like butterflies.

What was really unusual is that there were several large hawks in the area. Yeah, I know; this area has lots of bunnies. But what I noticed is that the hawks were hunting near the edge of the water. We do have lots of carp in the river.


Science and society

How do conservatives and liberals differ when it comes to attitudes about climate change?

This interesting statistical study shows that uneducated liberals don’t differ that much with uneducated conservatives when it comes to having an opinion on climate change (is human activity a major factor?). However there is a vast difference between educated conservatives and educated liberals.

Brandon Keim writes,

Over the last year and a half, the number of Americans who believe the Earth is warming has dropped. The decline is especially precipitous among Republicans: in January 2007, 62 percent accepted global warming, compared to just 49 percent now. . . . The confounding part: among college-educated poll respondents, 19 percent of Republicans believe that human activities are causing global warming, compared to 75 percent of Democrats. But take that college education away and Republican believers rise to 31 percent while Democrats drop to 52 percent.

That strikes me [Keim] as deeply weird. I don’t even have a snarky quip, much less an explanation.

This does seem a bit weird: you might think that college grads are more likely to go with the scientific consensus on global warming, or you might think that college grads would be more skeptical, but it seems funny that it would go one way for Democrats and the other for Republicans.

Things become clearer when I looked at the graph […]

Go to the article to see the graphs and to read the conclusion.

A free book on Secularism and Science in the 21’st Century: download here.

Here is an interesting discussion between Richard Dawkins and Jaron Lanier:

When zoologist Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene was published 20 years ago, it practically snuffed out many readers’ belief in God and in their own importance, for it described in stunning and terrifying detail a world where all life was merely the conveyor belt for the gene. Its mission: to replicate itself. DNA was the fundamental and irreducible unit of life that spun itself endlessly into the incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Everything we hold most dear–acts of love, altruism, the painterly beauty of the peacock’s tail, the birth of a newborn–could, according to Dawkins, be explained by the gene’s attempt to survive, and to hitch a ride on the fittest organism possible, the one most likely to mate and reproduce. Darwinian natural selection was Dawkins’ ruling theme. The gene looked like the most purely selfish entity one could imagine, but it was more like the Terminator–just programmed to survive.

Since that time, Dawkins, who was recently appointed the first Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, has elaborated on his elegant if chilling theory in the books The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, and most recently, Climbing Mount Improbable. As Dawkins once stated, `Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’ Like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, Dawkins is one of those rare scientists who have captured the popular imagination. And his particular world view has profoundly influenced our interpretation of nature, business, love, medicine, and life itself. Even ideas, says Dawkins, are like genes. The fundamental unit of meaning, which he calls the meme, may be able to infect us like the renegade DNA of viruses. Does this mean that Nazism was just a powerful meme, an epidemic of one nasty, highly infectious idea?

Of late there has been an outcry against Darwin and Dawkins. Last summer, when Commentary magazine published an essay, The Deniable Darwin, by David Berlinski, it elicited a flurry of letters–from scientists, businessmen, lawyers, chemists, biologists–so thick that the published ones alone ran 37 pages. As one reader wrote, `You have fired a shot in what is becoming a great moral revolution, and it will be heard around the world.’

To get to the heart of that revolution, we decided to host a debate between Dawkins and the man who coined the term virtual reality, Jaron Lanier. Lanier is a computer scientist and musician, a visiting scholar at the Columbia University department of computer science, a visiting artist at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a provocative thinker on evolution, morality, and ideas. Lanier and Dawkins met last year at the New York City home of John Brockman, a writer who holds salons on science and culture.

Lanier sees himself as a Darwinist who has no basic quarrel with evolutionary theory, but who doesn’t believe it’s the only or most apt metaphor for our lives. According to Lanier, natural selection is only part of the human story, and we are more than just the accidental result of a stream of digital information encoded in our genes. In fact, what’s best about us and civilization may be our ability to thwart evolution. –Jill Neimark

The discussion follows. The topics discussed are: how it is good and moral to counteract the effects of evolution and “why are male testicles outside the body”. 🙂

Cosmology: a “young” supernova has been found; this star exploded at about the time of the US Civil War.

Genes and intelligence: a study ferrets out the genes that control cognitive ability. It is somewhat technical and of the form: people who did better on tests X, Y, Z showed variation “a” on gene “g” and those who did worse showed variation “b” on gene “g”.


In their sample, the L1RAPL1 of 332 children (50:50 male to female), aged 5-14 years old, was screened. The genotype of each child’s L1RAPL1 variant was identified using PCR. In the population, roughly 90% were heterozygotic in the DXS1218 microsattelite variant of L1RAPL1 . Microsattelites are simple repeats of nucleotides in a sequence of DNA, I outlined one way they for here. The other microsattelite, DXS9896 was present as heterzygotic alleles in 87% of the kids.

Two SNPs are also looked at. 89% of the kids had an A nucleotide in the rs6526806 SNP, where the other 11% had a G. 42% of the kids had one version of the rs12847959 SNP, the other 58% had another version. The authors did not mention what effect these polymorphisms had on the gene, but did indicate they all fall in the intron of the gene — a non-coding region that is spliced out.

The kids were asked to take several cognitive tests that tested their memory, concentration, perception, and verbal abilities. Three of the polymorphisms listed above had effects on memory and concentration. Those that had longer DXS1218 microsattelite variants had lower IQ scores. Similarly, kids with longer DXS9896 mircosattelites also had lower IQ scores. One of the SNPs, rs12847959 showed that individuals that had the CC genotype in the SNP had higher IQ scores compared to those that had the CG genotype. The p-values for all were pretty strict, suggesting that the differences are statistically significant.

Follow that? 🙂 In all seriousness, this is a fascinating area of research; what do the genes say about an individual’s capacity to learn, say, music, language, mathematics, science, or to relate to others? Of course, things are complicated, as there are genes that affect certain characteristics, genes that interact with other genes, and tons of other stuff. You can’t become an expert by reading a couple of pop science books. 🙂

Yes, I know, people get afraid of such research because they fear conclusions that might say “Mexicans tend to be dumber than others” (I say “Mexican” because I have that heritage).

No fears here; this is looking at individuals, not at groups. Also, these problems are far from easy to get a grip on; results will never be as simple as, say, do a swab, get it analyzed and find out that, yes, you are a moron. 🙂

History: remember reading about Jamestown? What were your impressions? Edge of the American West has a nice summary article.

On this day in 1607, 104 British colonists founded Jamestown, the first continuous English settlement in North America. From the beginning, the colony was a disaster. Jamestown lay next to a malarial swamp; the colonists dumped their trash into a nearby river, causing an outbreak of dysentery and typhus; and they were, by all accounts, too lazy to put in crops for food during that first spring and summer they spent in America.

Disease and hunger took a heavy toll on Jamestown; by the end of the first year, approximately half of the colonists had died. Only the arrival of reinforcements, some 350 additional settlers, including Jamestown’s first women, prevented the endeavor from failing outright. And then the real problems began. The winter of 1609, long known as the “starving time,” left only 65 colonists alive in the spring of 1610. By 1616, more than 75% of the settlers who had arrived in Jamestown were dead. The Chamber of Commerce struggled to spin the carnage as opportunity. […]

So, there you have it: the taproot of American history. A story motivated by greed and marked by incompetence, punctuated by strained gender relations and the violent dispossession of Indians, and only salvaged because of the exploitation of the labor of people of African descent. Oh, and I forgot one thing: the roots of democracy. In 1619, again, the same year that traders began importing African slaves into the colony, Virginians established the House of Burgesses, the first elected assembly in colonial America. Ours is a nation founded on a series of such painful ironies.

In between is a brief summary written by a historian. Enjoy!


Full Edwards endorsement speech.

Statistical Polls: a nice summary article of what the terms mean and what the implications are.

Republicans: are not happy with their recent losses in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi. Some want heads to roll.

Hillary Clinton: why does she hang on? Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor and who has endorsed Barack Obama, weighs in. His conclusion isn’t all that different from the other standard ones out there.

Barack Obama: gets an assist from George W. Bush: Bush attempts to attack Obama!

The president did not name Obama or any other Democrat, but White House aides privately acknowledged the remarks were aimed at the presidential candidate and others in his party. Former President Jimmy Carter has called for talks with Hamas.

“Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,” Bush said at Israel’s 60th anniversary celebration in Jerusalem.

“We have heard this foolish delusion before,” Bush said in remarks to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. “As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

The remarks seemed to be a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans. Those doubts were earlier stoked by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2008 presidential election, when he recently charged that Obama is the favored candidate of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which the U.S. government has listed as a terrorist group.

Please spread it wide: Bush doesn’t like Obama but likes McCain! 🙂

This video has choppy editing but shows some not so nice snippets from this campaign:

May 15, 2008 Posted by | creationism, edwards, hillary clinton, mccain, obama, politics/social, religion, republicans, Uncategorized, walking, yoga | Leave a comment

Another Family Split over Clinton and Obama

Elizabeth Edwards seems to back Hillary Clinton.

Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, has been courted by both sides since he dropped out of the nomination fight in late January. Most analysts believe he favors Obama, but one reason he might be staying publicly neutral is that his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, has tilted toward Clinton, publicly praising Clinton’s healthcare plan over Obama’s.

But it appears that John Edwards will endorse Barack Obama.

Trivia: if you are a political junkie, you should be able to answer this: what job did John Edward’s dad do? 🙂

May 14, 2008 Posted by | edwards, hillary clinton, obama, politics/social | 5 Comments