Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Dealing with a computer issue. Back as soon as I can get it figured out.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Morality and Immorality - Brain Chemistry?
Most individuals think they have a pretty good grasp of what is moral, and what is immoral. Why do we know this? Is our grasp of what is moral or immoral culturally learned, or is it hardwired into the brain? And, if knowing what is moral or immoral is hardwired into the brain, how does this play into free will?
Neuroscience is looking into this, in a number of experiments, including altruistic impulses, and is coming up with some interesting data.
The results were showing that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.
The data suggested by the experiments raises contemplatable questions.
The research enterprise has been viewed with interest by philosophers and theologians, but already some worry that it raises troubling questions. Reducing morality and immorality to brain chemistry—rather than free will—might diminish the importance of personal responsibility. Even more important, some wonder whether the very idea of morality is somehow degraded if it turns out to be just another evolutionary tool that nature uses to help species survive and propagate.
From a Washington Post article titled If It Feels Good to Be Good, It Might Be Only Natural.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Is Atheism Going Fundamentalist, Too?
Fundamentalism in religion is problematic. We see this historically, and in current events.
Couple of interesting viewpoints on this subject. One, written by Benedicta Cipolla and published by the Washington Post is titled Is Atheism Just a Rant Against Religion?
Cipolla’s piece delves into the Humanist’s viewpoint regarding the recent press surrounding atheism. From Cipolla’s piece.
“Atheists are somewhat focused on the one issue of atheism, not looking at how to move forward,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the Washington-based American Humanist Association. While he appreciates the way the new atheists have raised the profile of nonbelievers, he said humanists differ by their willingness to collaborate with religious leaders on various issues. “Working with religion,” he said, “is not what [atheists] are about.”
The other recent piece available on line is written by Greg Taylor and has been published by New Dawn Magazine. Taylor’s piece is titled The Atheist Delusion, and is subtitled Answering Richard Dawkins.
From Taylor’s piece.
However, in his attacks on all religions, regardless of individual philosophies, as being the source of all ills in the world, Dawkins goes too far – and it is astounding that someone of his obvious intellect could err so badly. Religious writer John Cornwell summed up the major problem with Dawkins’ vitriolic stance towards religion in these words:
If there is a dangerous delusion in the world, it is not so much moderate religion, as Dawkins would have it, but fundamentalism in all its forms – ideological, scientific and religious – as the imposition of dogma that brooks neither doubt nor respect for disagreement.
Both pieces make for an interesting Sunday morning read. I’ll also leave you with this quote from Albert Camus’ play “The Possessed.”
The complete atheist is more respectable than the man who is indifferent. He is on the last rung preceding perfect faith.
Link to Greg Taylor’s piece via J. Orlin Grabbe.
Friday, May 25, 2007
The Correct Term is Coercion
Here’s the headline from the Washington Post regarding the Institute of Medicine’s most recent recommendations regarding smoking.
And what are the institute’s recommended “deterrents?”
To that end, the report calls for state and local governments to ban smoking in malls, restaurants and virtually all other public indoor settings, and for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the marketing, packaging and sale of tobacco products. The panel also recommended raising excise taxes on cigarettes by as much as $2 a pack and developing a federal plan to gradually reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes so that they are no longer addictive.
Let’s see, a deterrent serves to defer individuals from smoking through the use of fear, whither it be of cancer, or other possible ill effects of smoking, without the use of force. Coercion, on the other hand, utilizes force to enact change, which is exactly how the state will act to enforce the institute’s proposals, through the use of fines, if you light up where the state says you may not, and increased taxation and regulation.
The headline should read “Institute Urges Extensive Smoking Coercions By the State.”
Going Bananas Over the Lord’s Prayer in Song
Graduation ceremonies are fast approaching once again this year, with the latest crop of high school seniors ready to quit the halls of secondary education and move on down the road to college, boot camp or what have you.
Typically this time of year we are treated to a smattering of controversies over whether a prayer may be uttered from the podium during graduation ceremonies. The answer to that question is, in most cases, no, a prayer may not be uttered from the podium because of the rules defining separation of church and state.
Now, the separation of church and state is indeed a good thing. The church should not be in the state’s knickers, nor should the state be in the church’s knickers. But I was a bit surprised to read this headline. Choir told not to sing ‘Lord’s Prayer’ at graduation. From the linked story.
The Comstock Park High School choir performed “The Lord’s Prayer” six months ago at a benefit for the family of Nick Szymanski, a choir member and deeply religious student who was killed in an accident last October.
In honor of their classmate, the choir decided to sing it again next week during graduation.
But that plan changed Wednesday when choir director Keith VanGoor told the vocalists that school administrators would not allow them to sing the religious song during the May 31 ceremony at Sunshine Community Church.
Of course the reason stated for not being allowed to sing the “Lord’s Prayer” is the separation of church and state. Further into the article we are informed that the choir did sing the “Lord’s Prayer” during an earlier school concert, but, for graduation it will be verboten because, well, here’s what the Comstock Park Public Schools Superintendent Dwight Anderson said.
But graduation is a bit different, Anderson said, because, unlike a choir concert, graduation includes more of a “captive audience.”
A “captive audience.” Hmm, that’s interesting. I’m wondering, if there are fears that this “captive audience” will be so moved by the singing of the “Lord’s Prayer” that a Pentecostal fervor will sweep over the crowd and a mass conversion, complete with altar call, will take place, which would of course delay the graduation ceremony and we don’t want that.
Or, are there concerns that members of the “captive audience,” who take supreme umbrage at hearing any reference to God, will spontaneously combust upon conclusion of singing this chorale?
Separation of church and state is a must, but disallowing the singing of the “Lord’s Prayer” during a graduation ceremony is a bit much.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Sound Advice on Being Offended
How are often are you offended by something, or someone? Do you learn anything from the offensive experience?
Wendy McElroy has a piece up titled The Value of Being Offended, which is definitely worth a read. From the piece.
Hysteria surrounds the modern quest to never be offended and to never give offense to anyone on any grounds: gender, sexual preference, race, disability, religion, nationality, ethnicity, ad nauseum. (Of course, if you are deemed to be ‘dominant’ in one of those categories – male, heterosexual, white, etc.—then you are often considered impossible to offend. Presumably, your dominance constitutes an offense in-and-of itself.)
In this politically correct atmosphere, no one considers the possibility that being offended can be valuable in much the same manner that making a mistake can be valuable. All knowledge and skills are acquired through a process of committing errors. That’s what learning from your mistakes means; try learning math without the benefit of that process. Thus, parents who shield their children from reversible mistakes are shutting those children off from the real-world process by which they mature into experienced and responsible adults.
Being offended has comparable benefits.
Huffing High Octane Gas
Steven Pearlstein claims he is a “business columnist.” At least that is the title underneath his byline at the Washington Post. In actuality, based on Pearlstein’s column in the Post, which is titled A Government Standard, he is more akin to a central planner, those darlings of the failed Soviet Union. Here’s what Pearlstein is proposing.
Instead, I lay on the table a modest proposal: Put the government into the oil business.
Billy Beck refines the idiocy of Pearlstein’s proposal with the following comment.
Yeah, man. That’s what we need: the Post Office in charge of this sort of thing,...
Pearlstein may “believe” he’s figured it all out, but I think he’s been huffing high octane gas.
Magnetic Coil Smarter Pill
Here’s an interesting bit of research, with possible implications for treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Could magnets make the mind grow stronger? In mice at least, stimulating the brain with a magnetic coil appears to promote the growth of new neurons in areas associated with learning and memory. If the effect is confirmed in humans, it might open up new ways of treating age-related memory decline and diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The process is termed Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS for short. Interesting.
Linked via Fred Lapides.
Seat Belt Law Reason
Today I read,
The mandatory seatbelt bill hit a bump in the road when the Senate Transportation and Interstate Committee voted to recommend the bill be killed.
Good on them.
Funny, though, the article noting the above did have to sneek this paragraph into the article today, which I noted yesterday as what I thought the main reason the mandatory seat belt law was being brought to a vote.
The state would receive a $3.7 million federal grant if the bill passes.
If you don’t want to wear your seat belt, don’t, but don’t come crying to the state for recompense if you’re critically injured in an automobile accident.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
An Exercise in Futility
So, the House of Representatives has passed an “Anti-Opec” bill, the Washington Post reported yesterday.
Evidently the bills main sponsor, Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), has been lacking adequate press coverage, and justification for his presence in Washington D.C., and the hot topic of the times is of course gas prices, which has nothing to do with simply supply and demand in the marketplace, at least according to John Conyers.
“We don’t have to stand by and watch OPEC dictate the price of gas,” Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., the bill’s chief sponsor, declared, reflecting the frustration lawmakers have felt over their inability to address people’s worries about high summer fuel costs.
The bill supposedly allows the U.S. government to sue OPEC over how much oil they do, or don’t, pump out of the ground. A similar bill is in the Senate for the same exercise in futility.
Let’s consider how this lawsuit will work a moment. The U.S. government will spend millions of dollars on attorney fees, so the OPEC countries will have to do the same, all the while the OPEC countries will continue to pump as much, or as little, oil out of the ground as they well please, which is how it should be, and Congress and John Conyers will get alot of press coverage over the lawsuit, which will be fed to us poor “citizens” who are at the mercy of OPEC’s caprice in regards to oil.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, as OPEC cuts oil production because of the U.S. government’s interference in their private business, gasoline prices will rise, due to supply not keeping up with demand. But it’ll make good press.
Yeah, that’ll learn those darn OPEC countries.
Seat Belt Law Foolishness
I always wear my seat belt, but I do not wear this active restraint because the state decrees I must, I wear it because it makes sense. If you don’t want to wear your seat belt, don’t.
New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die State,” currently the only state without an adult seat belt law, may soon be putting one on the books.
The primary sponsor of the seat belt law, is Democrat Jennifer Brown. And what is her reasoning for sponsorship of such a law?
The bill’s primary sponsor, state Representative Jennifer M. Brown, said her goal is not to erode the state’s famous motto, but to prevent serious injuries that drain the public coffers in a state that is trying to make ends meet without a sales or income tax.
Brown additionally has this to say.
“By that person being stupid and not wearing their seat belt, they are costing me and my constituents money,” Brown said. “And if there is one thing this state believes in even more than ‘Live Free or Die,’ it is no broad-based taxes.”
Ms. Brown’s arguments sound rather convincing, especially if the state has to foot the bill for those inclined to foolishly not wearing their seat belts without the state’s coercive power as their incentive.
Though Ms. Brown’s arguments seem convincing, what is the real reason for New Hampshire’s consideration of such a law? I think it is the following.
If it does pass in its current form, the state could receive $3.7 million from the federal government for promoting public awareness of the need to use seat belts.
Yep, it’s the dollars, both from the federal government, and from what New Hampshire can glean from enforcement of the law, if it passes.
I don’t think New Hampshire will have room on their license plates for a revision of their state motto, though. “Live Free or Die, But You Better Have Your Seat Belt On.”
Wednesday Morning Laugh
The New York Times has an article up this morning with the headline Democrats Find Ethics Overhaul Elusive in House.
The piece explains that the Dems were unable to keep one of their campaign “promises” regarding lobbying, and are in a tight spot in trying to keep another of their campaign “promises.” Is anyone actually surprised by this?
But the real laugh, in this piece of reporting, is uttered by Representative Michael E. Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat.
“I made a career change 20 years ago to be a full-time elected official,” Mr. Capuano said, explaining his position. “I am no longer qualified to be a tax attorney. It is like saying to people, ‘Please, come into public service, give it your all, and when you are done you are completely unqualified for anything else.’ ”
The laments of a professional jobholder, who is undoubtedly “unqualified for anything else.”
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
German Superboy, Meet the American Terminator
Back in June 2004, I linked to a story regarding a German tot who was born with a rare genetic condition which enabled the boy to rapidly develop muscles. I titled that post Superboy Lives, in Germany. A few days later, a reader was kind enough to notify me of a link which had a photo of the German muscle boy.
The article about the German Superboy noted that this was the first documented case of a genetic mutation of the myostatin gene, which resulted in the young tot’s exceptional muscle tone and development, and was reported as such in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article also speculated that the mutation was possibly related to further evolutionary development in humans.
Well, there may possibly be something to that, though I do not have adequate knowledge about the subject matter, genetically, to express further thoughts on the subject, but I can share this.
Liam Hoekstra was hanging upside down by his feet when he performed an inverted sit-up, his shirt falling away to expose rippled abdominal muscles.
It was a display of raw power one might expect to see from an Olympic gymnast. Liam is 19 months old.
But this precocious, 22-pound boy with curly hair and washboard abs is far from a typical toddler.
“He could do the iron cross when he was 5 months old,” said his adoptive mother, Dana Hoekstra, of Roosevelt Park. She was referring to a difficult gymnastics move in which a male athlete suspends himself by his arms between two hanging rings, forming the shape of a cross.
“I would hold him up by his hands and he would lift himself into an iron cross. That’s when we were like, ‘Whoa, this is weird,’” Hoekstra said.
Liam has a rare genetic condition called myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy, or muscle enlargement. The condition promotes above-normal growth of the skeletal muscles; it doesn’t affect the heart and has no known negative side effects, according to experts.
“We call him the Hulk, Hercules, the Terminator,” his mother said.
Good for Her
My parents were never ones to coddle. If I did something wrong, or harmed someone needlessly, I had to own up to it. I think this is an excellent parenting technique.
While this type of parenting seems to have fallen into disfavor in this day and age, there are still those who raise their children with some degree of accountability for their actions. Veronica Griffin, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, appears to be one of those type of parents.
Veronica Griffin’s son Travis, 15, was suspended from school for 10 days for some horseplay with a teacher. She wanted her son to have a more memorable punishment than being out of school, so she sent him out to pick up trash on a busy city street wearing an embarrassing sign on his back.
What did the sign say? “I made a bad choice in school and now I’m living with it.”
Good for you, Veronica Griffin.
Der Rodham’s Universal Preschools
In the continuing saga of outrageous campaign promises, Der Rodham, Hillary Clinton, sends over the heads of the voting bots the following trial balloon.
“As president, I will establish universal pre-kindergarten education through a federal-state partnership.”
Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the fact that the federal government, nor the state government for that matter, should have no role in education, let alone a supposed “universal” pre-kindergarten education, and see where the funds for this little experiment in youthful socialism will come from.
Mrs. Clinton said she’d pay for the hefty price tag by getting rid of tax loopholes and some Bush administration programs, according to the Associated Press. She said ending the Iraq war would free up some money as well, the AP reported.
Blah, blah “tax loopholes,” “Bush adminstration programs,” and, did the end the war now crowd catch the nonchalant “She said ending the Iraq war would free up some money as well,” bit, which will surely garner Der Rodham some votes.
This universal preschool trial balloon is no different from Der Rodham’s “universal health care” proposal of the past, and it deserves the same fate.