14 May 2011 posts

Workout notes I did these in the afternoon due to graduation.
Swimming: 10 x (25 side, 25 side, 25 free); couldn’t quite do these on the 2:15; this set took about 22:30 to do. Then I did 5 x 50 free on the 1: 54-55 mostly. Goodness, I am SLOW. But that is what one expects coming back from being off for so long. And no, I don’t anticipate getting faster anytime soon.

Weights After swimming. I didn’t superset much but rather did rotator cuff between sets…and did the exercises for BOTH shoulders.
Incline bench press: 10 x 115, 7 x 135, 6 x 135, 5 x 135
dumbbell curls: 4 sets of 10 x 25 lb.
pull downs: 3 sets of 10 x 140 (shoulder friendly grip)
rows (Hammer machine): medium grip: 10 x 200, 10 x 200. Narrow: 7 x 230, 7 x 230.
Sit ups: 4 x 25 (varied incline)
hip hikes, back stuff, etc.

Assorted things
Graduation: lasted 3 hours, 10 minutes. The student name readings lasted about 2 of those; that is 1 hour of preliminary yick-yack.
Ray LaHood (Secretary of Transportation and former Representative of IL-18) was the featured speaker.
He reminded us that politics in the United States has always been divisive (and featured actual fist fights at times). But he said that he is serving in President Obama’s administration because he wants to do good for America and that this is a calling that goes beyond Republican or Democrat (that got applause).
Ok…that is fairly standard “let’s all get along” boilerplate.

He mentioned that the internet atmosphere sometimes allows for less civility, though the internet is also helpful at times (e. g., in spreading some of the pro-democracy movements in the world).

He then talked about the generation of undergraduates. He mentioned that the New York Times had “almost a whole issue” devoted to “when will this generation finally grow up”…he then said “many people agree with that….but NOT ME.” I had to laugh…that is the old “hey, others say you are a scumbag but I don’t think that you are” sort of trick. Such “complements” rarely make the recipient feel good. 🙂

We also had the usual case of an administrator talking about the changes that he/she instituted; he/she wondered what the undergraduate experience would have been like without those changes……..then later, after the name reading and diploma receiving, we had someone come up and get their commission via R. O. T. C… the reserves…and got a standing ovation. My wife told me that she got tears watching this on the live stream; I got….well it meant that the exercises were over so I was happy.

Here is the President on energy policy and oil.

I don’t like all of this “new drilling” stuff as I don’t think it is a long term answer. Note: before anyone accuses me of being a hypocrite, be advised that I walk to work every day. So I do my part in conservation. 🙂

Back to the President’s program: He talks about the removal of the tax breaks, but in a letter sent by his campaign to supporters, he warns us that this tax subsidy removal will not happen with the current composition of Congress, so don’t expect it:

The CEOs from the five major oil companies — which together booked $36 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011 alone — went to the Senate yesterday to try to justify the $4 billion in tax giveaways they’re receiving this year.

It’s a head-smackingly obvious example of how broken Washington is that there’s even a question about this. These companies don’t need and don’t deserve taxpayer money — especially with a budget deficit to close and gas prices at or near record highs.

Even worse is the fact that when the Senate tries to strip these oil company giveaways, it’s likely that a minority of senators will block a vote from happening. And even if the Senate manages to pass a bill eliminating the giveaways, there’s little chance it will be brought up for a vote in the House.

Here’s why: These five companies are expert manipulators of the money-for-influence game in Washington that the President is working to change. It’s simple math — they spent more than $145 million last year on nearly 800 lobbyists whose job is to defeat bills like this one. The $4 billion they’ll likely get to keep as a result represents a 2,700% return on their investment.

I’d like to be able to say with certainty that you can do something to help pass this bill, but the fact is that at this stage we may not be able to affect the outcome of next week’s vote.

What we can do is build a campaign that will keep a spotlight on issues like this and the fundamental reasons why Washington doesn’t work.

I enjoy the blog Conservation Report. Here is a video that a recent post linked to:

This is about how a colorblind fish (cuttlefish) manages to camouflage itself. Note that we see an experiment in which the cuttlefish is placed against a background that does NOT occur in nature.

Human evolution
New evidence has come in: it appears that Neanderthals actually lived as recently as 33,000 years ago; this is based on a tool find in the Ural mountains:

A Neanderthal-style toolkit found in the frigid far north of Russia’s Ural Mountains dates to 33,000 years ago and may mark the last refuge of Neanderthals before they went extinct, according to a new Science study.

Another possibility is that anatomically modern humans crafted the hefty tools using what’s known as Mousterian technology associated with Neanderthals, but anthropologists believe that’s unlikely.

“We consider it overwhelmingly probable that the Mousterian technology we describe was performed by Neanderthals, and thus that they indeed survived longer, that is until 33,000 years ago, than most other scientists believe,” co-author Jan Mangerud, a professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bergen and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, told Discovery News.

Most anthropologists believe modern humans began to replace Neanderthals starting around 75,000 to 50,000 years ago. Project leader Ludovic Slimak said the study suggests “that Neanderthals did not disappear due to climate shifts or cultural inferiority. It is clear that, showing such adaptability, the Mousterian cultures can no longer be considered as archaic.” […]

Note: some of us actually have some Neanderthal DNA; evidently some mated with us in our distant past.

I wasn’t going to talk about this topic, but some philosopher posted the following comment on their Facebook wall:

Question of the Day: Why are most (not all) atheists so terrified to admit that their theological beliefs involve an element of faith?

Of course the hypothesis of the question is completely wrong:
1. atheists, in general aren’t “terrified” and
2. not believing in some supernatural entity is hardly “faith”

What many will never understand is that atheism is really about “belief” and an atheist doesn’t believe in gods, deities, spirits or whatever. That requires no “faith”.
Not it is true that one might deem the atheist position to be “more likely” based on the fact that one uses evidence (e. g. lack of design in nature) to make one’s conclusion, and when one does that, one assumes that the laws of science operate consistently. That assumption might be false so accepting the laws of science might be considered some sort of faith by some. I don’t see it that way; I accept the laws of science because they have consistently worked…and I am happy to revise them when new evidence comes in. Science can be falsified….”faith” can’t.

True, one might see this process of revising the laws based on evidence to be based on a sort of “faith”, but I have little patience with this sort of word-salad play. I am not interested in it.

The other thing about atheism that many don’t get: when I say that I am an atheist I am NOT saying that I can prove that no god exists: that is impossible! I am saying “I don’t believe it”. But few atheists say that they know “for certain” that there is nothing beyond the ability of our senses to detect, or that there is something that we haven’t detected yet….not even Richard Dawkins! Here is an excerpt from a discussion between him and Francis Collins from Time Magazine (and I respect both of these men):

“DAWKINS: To me, the right approach is to say we are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God–it’s that that seems to me to close off the discussion.

TIME: Could the answer be God?

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That’s God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small–at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that’s the case.”

In short, if there is some “spirit of the universe”, it might have NOTHING to do with any deity that any human has worshiped.

It would be foolish for me to claim that I KNOW that no such entity exists, but I am comfortable in rejecting any of the gods that I’ve heard about.

The other topic of discussion was how pervasive religion is among humans. The claim was that “if so many believe this, then this belief cannot possibly be delusional”. It just so happens that Jerry Coyne talked about a similar topic (not as a part of our thread). He was talking about an Oxford University study about how pervasive religious belief is. Coyne critiques one of the conclusions:

“If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests,” Trigg said.

“There is quite a drive to think that religion is private,” he said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. “It isn’t just a quirky interest of a few, it’s basic human nature.”

“This shows that it’s much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted. It’s got to be reckoned with. You can’t just pretend it isn’t there,” he said.

And the Oxford study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, strongly implies that religion will not wither away, he said.

“The secularization thesis of the 1960s – I think that was hopeless,” Trigg concluded.

That’s hogwash. As we can see from the tremendous secularization of the world over the past few centuries, especially in Europe, it is not impossible for religion to wither. The pervasiveness of a belief gives no warrant that that belief will be with us forever. Look how pervasive, only a century ago, was the idea that women were second-class citizens. This was true in nearly every society. Ditto for gays and ethnic minorities. And look how attitudes have changed! Granted, women, for instance, still get the short end of the stick, but in many parts of the world they’re much better off. Most of us now realize that people should be treated as equals, regardless of gender, color, and sexual orientation. That would have been inconceivable a few hundred years ago.

He is right of course; in fact some of the data about how secular much of Europe has become can be found here. Mano Singham points out that this change (from mostly religious to secular) has occurred in about one generation.

So we’ll see how long it lasts….I certainly won’t live to see religion’s extinction but perhaps when I am in my final days, maybe the United States will be like Europe is now.

May 15, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, alternative energy, atheism, Barack Obama, biology, economics, economy, evolution, IL-18, Illinois, lahood, nature, Peoria, Peoria/local, Personal Issues, religion, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science, swimming, tax cuts, taxes, weight training | 3 Comments

26 July 2010 (am)

Here is an interesting Carl Zimmer article which talks about 10 relatively recent advances in evolution.

It is interesting reading. Note: it deals with the question of speed of evolution. Yes, I was aware of evolutionary changes in animals around Chernobyl, but those animals breed quickly and have short generational time.

Unfortunately, there are regressions as well…at least in terms of public acceptance. And the following never fails to disgust me:

On the upside, Secretary Ray LaHood (R-Peoria) posted an interesting article about distracted driving:

I volunteered to be the guinea pig for the experiment. I vowed to pull over any time I had to use the cell phone, GPS, or take my hands off the wheel for any reason… for an entire day. I clocked my time spent on the side of the road with a stopwatch.

I began my morning making as many calls in the station as possible. No sooner did I get into the news van, than I committed my first offense (accidental of course). I didn’t even realize my habit of strapping on my seat-belt while I’m pulling the car out . Remember- hands stuck to the wheel, eyes glued to the road.

As I made my way to Silt (Garfield County), I pulled over to key in the GPS and to get my cell phone out of my purse (where I usually dig for it when it rings). It’s new spot was the cup-holder, ready for me to grab anytime I was halted on the shoulder.

Minutes later, the phone rang. I stopped in a gas station (no room on the roadside). Just as I was heading back on the highway, the cell blows up again. It was a friend, so I opted to call her back later.

Over the course of the day, I found myself delayed about five more times, for calls, lunch (eating Wendy’s in the parking lot instead of on the go), Starbucks, and makeup touch-ups before doing an on camera bit.

I committed two other accidental offenses, as I took a swig of water and reached for some papers. I added extra seconds to the clock.

The total time I spent pulled over was 25 minutes and 21 seconds. That’s about 2-and-a-half hours during the work week, and about 120 hours total for the entire year. That might seem like a lot of saved time, but it’s also a lot of time being a distracted driver.

So, for me, no CD changing unless I am parked.

July 26, 2010 Posted by | evolution, lahood, nature, religion, Republican, republicans, republicans politics, science, Transportation, travel | Leave a comment

Riding the rails in Japan, China – Welcome to the FastLane: The Official Blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation

Are Japanese bullet trains coming to the US? This is a question I’ve seen being asked more than once in the media this week. Now, to be fair, I may have started this buzz by riding a couple of Japan’s…

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May 15, 2010 Posted by | High Speed Rail, hsr, lahood, obama, science, shinkansen, trains | Leave a comment