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This is the archive for April 2005

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Philosophy Talk is discussing propaganda and the human mind. What is propaganda and can we protect ourselves from it?
Can human minds be educated so that we always prefer the relentless pursuit of evidence and unyielding arguments to comforting and easy falsehoods? That is surely an empirical question.? Unfortunately,?many of the foibles of human reasoning exploited by the masters of propaganda and marketing turn out to be rather robust. On the other hand, there is a growing body of evidence that at least some of our foibles do disappear when matters are rightly framed. This is a complex subject to which I won't even try to do justice here. The temporary bottom line is that we just don't know decisively how much education can achieve in correcting the cognitive foibles that make us all so vulnerable to the masters of manipulation.? Moreover, our educational institutions being what they are are controlled by who they are controlled by,?I doubt that education alone will ever supplant the need for wide-scale social reforms that redistribute and reconfigure the means of public communication and representation.? I do hope, though, that I am not being utterly naive or self-deceptive in believing there is a place for fighting the power of propaganda one mind at a time.
Be sure to check the archives for recordings of the show.

Philosophy Talk: The Blog: Propaganda and the Human Mind

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Glad to see the NAS attempting to push this issue along.
In hope of filling a role usually performed by the federal government, the National Academy of Sciences issued today a proposal for guidelines to govern research with human embryonic stem cells. ...

The academy, a self-elected group of leading scientists that advises the government, recommends a system of local and national committees for reviewing the research, and specifies that certain kinds of experiments should be ruled out, at least for the present. These precluded experiments involve using human embryonic cells to create certain kinds of chimeras, animals that contain organs made wholly or in part of human cells.
Why preclude these experiments?
The academy points out the dangers that could result if the human cells became incorporated into either the sex cells or the brain of the experimental animals. In the first case, it is conceivable that an animal with eggs made of human cells might mate with an animal bearing human sperm. To avoid the consequences of the such a union, the academy advises that no chimeric animals be allowed to mate.

A second hazard is that the human embryonic stem cells might make up all or most of an animal's brain, leading to the possibility of a human mind imprisoned in an animal's body.
First of all I want to point out that I have a human mind "imprisoned" in an animal's body, and for the most part it's working out rather well. Second, I see no reason to believe that, even if a human-like brain were to develop in the body of a non-human animal, the brain could achieve anything resembling human intelligence and awareness in an animal body so radically different from that of a human. Normal brain development, anyway, is highly contingent on the human body's interactions with its environment. It seems to me that both pre- and post-natal development would be very different -- so different that anything nearing the capacities of a human mind would be highly improbable.

And isn't attempting to teach primates to use language approximating the same threat? What does it mean to have a human mind? And why would having one in an animal body be a bad thing?

The New York Times | Proposal Would Set Guidelines for Stem Cell Research
Atheists should welcome the election of Pope Benedict XVI. For this aged, scholarly, conservative, uncharismatic Bavarian theologian will surely hasten precisely the de-Christianisation of Europe that he aims to reverse. At the end of his papacy, Europe may again be as un-Christian as it was when St Benedict, one of the patron saints of Europe, founded his pioneering monastic order, the Benedictines, 15 centuries ago. Christian Europe: from Benedict to Benedict. RIP.
So writes Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian Unlimited recently. Though a bit exaggerated, perhaps, since B16 has been called a "transitional" Pope, Ash might be right. Certainly Europe's reaction to Bush's policies suggest that it is not becoming more conservative, as this Pope will certainly insist. At Counterpunch, Leonardo Boff writes
If the attitude of confrontation with modernity and post-modernity prevails, I foresee disastrous consequences for the future of the Church. Traditionalist as he is, Benedict XVI must know that this strategy profoundly wears down the Church. In the past, he deprived the liberation movements of the oppressed the cooperation of Christians who could have offered Christian values to the emerging social relations, leaving them instead alienated and immature. The Church herself arrived always late for everything, even to the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights. A Church that returns to models of the past becomes immobile, like a fossil. Accommodating, she does not fulfill her mission of educating Christians for the new times. Instead, she clericalizes, leaving them immature in matters of faith, if not childish, popish flatterers, of whom there are so many these days.
Given D16's overall reaction to Liberation theology, I also don't see anything about this Pope that would help him reclaim South and Central America from the evangelicals. That leaves Africa as the focus of Catholic domination -- unless Islam can expand its hold on the continent. Or unless Africans all die of AIDS because they aren't allowed to use condoms.

Guardian Unlimited | Christian Europe RIP
By peering not into the eyes but into the brain, an improved scanning technique has enabled scientists to figure out what people are looking at - even, in some cases, when they are not aware of what they have seen.

The advance, reported today, shows that the scanners may be better able than previously supposed to probe the border between conscious and unconscious thought and even, in certain circumstances, to read people's state of mind.
These aren't new kinds of fMRI scans but new ways to analyse the data from scans. It seems scientists can predict the orientation of stripes that a subject is seeing by analysing the data from the primary visual cortex. This is also true of information that that has been flashed so quickly (and then masked with another stimulus) that the subject is unaware of seeing it.
The achievement of Dr. Tong's statistical technique is that it allows the scanners in effect to infer what is happening just below their level of resolution. "The real breakthrough is getting down to the resolution of the column," Dr. Boynton said, adding that it may eventually be possible to apply the technique to the whole brain to analyze patterns of thought.

The New York Times | Improved Scanning Technique Uses Brain as Portal to Thought Also see New Scientist and Scientific American.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

In the latest New York Review of Books, H. Allen Orr reviews recent books on the Y chromosome.
During the last few years, real progress has been made in our understanding of the sex chromosomes and we now know much more about our X and Y than we did a mere decade ago. In 2003, for example, essentially the entire stretch of DNA carried on the human Y chromosome was decoded, revealing the number and, in many cases, identity of the genes that make up this seat of maleness. More important, owing to a breakthrough that occurred in the early Nineties, biologists now understand just how sex is decided in human beings -- geneticists identified the master "switch gene" that determines whether an embryo will develop into a male or a female.
Of the three books reviewed, it is Bryan Sykes' Adam's Curse: A Future Without Men that draws most of Orr's critical attention. In particular it is Sykes' claims that males are going extinct and that the Y chromosome is directly responsible for a variety of traits in males like violent aggression in the arenas of sex and society.

Why does Sykes think that males will (within the next 125,000 years) go extinct?
Sykes's case for the extinction of men hinges on an unusual problem plaguing many genes on the Y chromosome?they tend to pick up debilitating mutations and to ultimately degenerate into genetic junk. A couple of hundred million years ago or so, the X and Y were a pair of perfectly ordinary chromosomes that each carried a full complement of the same thousand genes. Since then, however, the Y has been slowly degenerating. As a result, while the human X still carries its thousand genes, the Y carries only about a hundred. Sykes believes that the genes that remain on the Y?including SRY [the gene that initiates sex determination] as well as others required for the fertility of men?will also degenerate. The disastrous consequence, he says, will be the disappearance of fertile males.
But Orr persuasively argues that there are natural pressures to ensure that degenerative tendencies are weak while the evolutionary forces to maintain an appropriate proportion of sterile males are strong. Genes that have copies on the X chromosome can afford to be lost over time, but genes that contribute to sterility and that are unique to the Y chromosome will be selected for over the long run, unless alternatives become available.

There are further concerns about genetic determinism. Sykes exaggerates to effects of genes on behavioral traits, but the two other authors reviewed, Steve Jones (Y: the Ascent of Men) and David Bainbridge (The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives) are more careful in their analyses of the role of the genes found along the Y. Orr is right to challenge Sykes here. While the route from genes to testes is rather direct, the genes' contribution to actual behavioral tendences is extremely indirect, depending on a large number of other factors, genetic and otherwise.

The New York Review of Books | Vive la Diff?rence!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I'm not sure I like this new Ratz Pack. From Sidney Blumenthal:
President Bush treated his final visit with Pope John Paul II in Vatican City on June 4, 2004, as a campaign stop. After enduring a public rebuke from the pope about the Iraq war, Bush lobbied Vatican officials to help him win the election. "Not all the American bishops are with me," he complained, according to the National Catholic Reporter. He pleaded with the Vatican to pressure the bishops to step up their activism against abortion and gay marriage in the states during the campaign season.

About a week later, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter to the U.S. bishops, pronouncing that those Catholics who were pro-choice on abortion were committing a "grave sin" and must be denied Communion. He pointedly mentioned "the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" -- an obvious reference to John Kerry, the Democratic candidate and a Roman Catholic. If such a Catholic politician sought Communion, Ratzinger wrote, priests must be ordered to "refuse to distribute it." Any Catholic who voted for this "Catholic politician," he continued, "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion." During the closing weeks of the campaign, a pastoral letter was read from pulpits in Catholic churches repeating the ominous suggestion of excommunication. Voting for the Democrat was nothing less than consorting with the forces of Satan, collaboration with "evil."
Frank Sinatra, a supporter of JFK (Kennedy, not Kerry), wouldn't want to be a member of this club. And the Jewish Sammy Davis Jr. wouldn't be hanging with these coo-coo cats. It turns out, though, that William Dembski finds the new Pope a potential soul mate, at least on the issue of Intelligent Design. He says
Unlike John Paul II, who seemed to sign off on conventional evolutionary theory save for the divine infusion of souls at the origin of humanity, we can expect Benedict XVI to single out intelligent design for special favors. Indeed, I wouldn?t be surprised to see Michael Behe invited to an audience with the new pope....

I?m predicting that Bush and Benedict XVI will play much the same role in the distintegration of evolution (i.e., the ateleological materialistic form of it that currently dominates the West) as Reagan and John Paul II did in the disintegration of communism.
Nothing in Ben16's published statements really looks like an endorsement of ID, despite's Dembski's efforts to indicate otherwise. More on Dembski and the Pope at Stranger Fruit. | Holy warriors

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

New topic at Philosophy Talk. John Dupre will be the guest and the topics will include genetic determinism and how (and what) genes contribute to the building of brains and persons.
Do genes make the person?? If you listen to popular press reports of new genetic discoveries coming out at fairly rapid pace, you certainly might think so.? Lung Cancer Gene!? Gay Gene!? Genius Gene!??Little wonder that many people believe -- or should I say fear? -- that? genes somehow directly and invariably determine who we are.? One has visions of? being"? able to choose the IQ, personality, and physical attributes of one's offspring with the ease and reliability with which one chooses a meal at a good Chinese restaurant. ?As Stephen Jay Gould once put it,? "If we are programmed to be what we are, then these traits are ineluctable.? We may, at best, channel them, but we cannot change them either by will, education, or culture."? But even a brief perusal of the scientific and/or philosophical literature about the role of genes in determining who we are? reveals that at least in this strong form, genetic determinism has little or no basis in either scientific fact or theory.? Genes clearly play an important causal role in the development of a phenotype.? And according to one standard, but by no means universally endorsed conception of evolution, genes are the units on which natural selection operates.?But none of that entails rigid and direct genetic determinism.? So what, really, is the big fuss?

Philosophy Talk: The Blog: Do Genes Make the Person?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ronald Bailey at Reason Online reviews the conference Our Brains and Us: Neuroethics, Responsibility, and the Self, which was sponsored by the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The conferees are considering such issues as: If a brain scanning technology could reliably predict that someone will commit violence, should they be subject to prior restraint, or required to take medications that would moderate that tendency? Do people who have suffered painful abuse have an obligation to retain that memory or do they have the right to blunt it? Perhaps perpetrators of violence should be required to retain the memory of their evil, while victims would be allowed to moderate their recollections?

They are also debating questions of what constitutes neural normalcy: When can outsiders legitimately intervene to correct another person's eccentricities? Religious scholar David Hogue suggests that modern neuroscience is encouraging unjustified notions of "perfectability" and that we "run the risk of becoming gods."

Reason: Minds on Brains: Hobnobbing with neuroscientists and theologians

Monday, April 18, 2005

William Saletan attended an undergraduate bioethics convention in Philadelphia a few weeks ago and reports on the liberal strategy to promote bioengineering in the face of ethical concerns from Bush and the religious conservatives.
Mike Gazzaniga taps a button, and five faces appear on the projection screen. Gazzaniga, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, is keynoting a national bioethics convention at the University of Pennsylvania. One face on the screen belongs to the council's chairman, Leon Kass. Another belongs to the director of Penn's Center for Bioethics, Art Caplan. They represent, respectively, the conservative and liberal camps of American bioethics, which have been swept up in the larger war between Democrats and Republicans. A third face on the screen catches my eye: Pope John Paul II. The caption asks: "The pope, the rabbi, the scientist, and the bioethicist: who do you believe?" ...

Gazzaniga, balding with a white fringe, is no hipster. But his proposal is brilliantly audacious: to turn bioethics inside out. Kass, the pope, and President Bush have been trying to restrict embryo-destructive research based on their versions of the ethics of biology. Gazzaniga wants to trump them with the biology of ethics. He clicks through studies and brain scans showing what he calls "emotional interference in moral reasoning." Unlike the chimp brain, the human brain is constantly "trying to figure out life's pattern," he says. We rebel impulsively against harm to another person or to a fetus that looks like a baby. Only afterward do we "develop a theory" that translates that impulse into a principle. The independence of the principle is an illusion. ...
Let me see if I understand this. They are going to convince Bush, Kass, and the rest that religious conservative ethical concerns about the advances of science are misplaced ... by appealing to science?!! It works for me.

One suspects that Saletan wasn't being fair to serious liberal approaches to bioethics.

Slate | Drugstore Cowboys:
The strange timidity of liberal bioethics

Saturday, April 16, 2005

At Eide Neurolearning Blog there's an interesting comparison of the Da Vinci and Cornell note taking styles.
Note taking is a complicated process that requires listening, seeing, writing, and abstraction. When a lot of information is being presented, it's impossible to take everything down, so you must select and prioritize - and that is the essence of good note taking.

Some prefer words and some prefer pictures, but Da Vinci and inventors prefer both. ...

Some people naturally know how to extract the most essential details in a lecture, but many need to be taught. ...

Taking notes with words and pictures is not only for remembering what others have told you. Many people use Cornell approaches for think their way through problems, reviewing the data 'in hand' and then generating alternative perspectives.

Drawing to help you think through your own problems and drawing to communicate with others are two different skills. ... By doodling and turning around the pictures on paper, he became more aware of different visual characteristics, visual spatial relationships, and perceptual assumptions.

Note Taking, Da Vinci, and the Cornell Method
Is the left brain conservative and the right brain liberal? How should a split brain patient vote? At they suggest that the different hemispheres of our brain influence our political commitments differently.
Maybe it is just coincidence that the political affiliations of "left" and "right" correlate with handedness. Maybe not. Michael Gazzaniga, Roger Sperry, and Joseph Bogen were researching the impact of brain-splitting operations, and encountered a patient named Paul. Paul had a commissurotomy, and his right and left brains no longer communicated with each other. Since Paul had an enhanced language capability in his right brain, he was able to express his opinions, whereas most recently split-brain patients would not be able to vocalize the opinions of their right hemispheres. Paul's right brain wanted to be a racecar driver while his left brain wanted to be a draftsman. This study was done during the Watergate scandal, so the research team naturally threw in a question about Richard Nixon. Paul's right brain expressed dislike for Richard Nixon, while his left brain liked him.

Friday, April 15, 2005

From the NYT this morning:
As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as "against people of faith" for blocking President Bush's nominees.

Fliers for the telecast, organized by the Family Research Council and scheduled to originate at a Kentucky megachurch the evening of April 24, call the day "Justice Sunday" and depict a young man holding a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other. The flier does not name participants, but under the heading "the filibuster against people of faith," it reads: "The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith."
The objection from democrats has been that Frist is "exploiting religious faith for political ends," but Schumers' reaction that "No party has a monopoly on faith, and for Senator Frist to participate in this kind of telecast just throws more oil on the partisan flames" doesn't reach to the real problem, which is the continuing ascent of the American Taliban. This merging of the religious with the judicial (Bibles and gavels) is most troubling. Whether filibusters should be used to defeat the nomination of unacceptable judges has nothing to do with religious faith, unless the nominees themselves have a religious agenda that we find unacceptably intrudes into a secular government. We wouldn't tolerate Frist's behavior (or Bush's or DeLay's) were it to arise in Afghanastan, Iran, or even the new Iraq. We'd bomb the hell out of them.

UPDATE: This from americablog
Now, we are faced with a Senate Leader who is running a theocracy and attacking the religious convictions of the opposition party. This is really scary stuff. It sounds like something that should be coming out of Tehran, not D.C. The Democrats have to stand strong, engage the remaining few normal Republicans and shut this debate down once and for all.

The New York Times | Frist Set to Use Religious Stage on Judicial Issue

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), out of UCLA, is conducting a study on the spirituality of college students
What is the level and intensity of spiritual experiences among today's college students? How are spiritual searching and behavior changing on campus? And what does this mean for higher education institutions and students?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

From Chris Bowers at MyDD:
how long will it be before the pro-Democratic non-Christian coalition is larger than the pro-Republican Christian coalition? In my estimation, one or two cycles at the most.
It wouldn't be suprising if the Bush/Rove strategy of appealling to "base" voters among evangelicals by promoting a high-profile religion-soaked social policy has the double of effect of strengthening the resolve of skeptics, agnostics, and atheists. Hence the high retention rate for the non-religious and the increased political activity among non-Christians. None of this should be surprising. But does it predict a meaningful shift in political power? Could the pro-Democratic non-Christian coalition really grow larger than the pro-Republican Christian coalition anytime soon? Only a new Pope can know for sure.

MyDD :: The Rise Of The Non-Christian Coalition
An interesting article in today's Independent (UK) discusses primate instincts toward moral behavior, suggesting that "[r]esearch on monkeys has shown that, even from birth, a sense of morality is programmed into our genetic code." A "sense of morality"? They go on to say that "[i]t seems unlikely that they have a concept of 'moral' behaviour, but their actions do appear to indicate the existence of social rules and real concern for others."
De Waal proposes that we, as moral animals, evolved through natural selection on social processes. In other words, it is of benefit to us as individuals to behave morally and to promote a society based on morally enforced rules. De Waal cites studies of non-human primates, which appear to show continuity between humans and other primates in moral behaviour. "I'm not suggesting that apes are moral beings," he says, "but that they have at least the building blocks of moral behaviour."
Read the article: Independent | Primate Instincts

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Kansas State Board of Education is holding hearings on the state's science curriuclum, once again considering whether alternatives to evolution (creationism, intelligent design) should be taught in the high school classroom. Academic scientists seem to want nothing to do with it. Inside Higher Ed reports:
The board established a subcommittee ? made up of three of its own members, all of whom oppose the teaching of evolution as the only explanation for the world?s creation ? to preside over the hearings, designed to ?investigate the merits of the two opposing views? offered by the committee?s majority and minority. ...

A few weeks later, a group called Kansas Citizens for Science urged scientists to boycott the hearings on the science curriculum. The group?s vice president, Jack Krebs, a math teacher in the Oskaloosa, Kans., public schools, said the format of the sessions ? which are designed to feature three days of discussion about evolution and three about alternative theories ? make them a ?sham? by giving proponents of intelligent design and creationism ?their soundbite opportunity to appear equivalent to scientists.?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Compassionate conservatism is one thing, but this new mindless "culture of life" phenomenon has led to a kind of "bleeding heart" conservatism. I never much liked the "bleeding heart" version of liberalism, but imported into social conservatism it's really disgusting.
According to David Gibbs, the attorney for Terri Schiavo's parents, Terri sobbed in her mother's arms after the courts condemned her to death. "Terri Schiavo was as alive as any person sitting here," he said. "Anything you saw on the videos, multiply times two hundred. I mean completely animated, completely responsive, desperately trying to talk." Schiavo, said Gibbs, would struggle to repeat the word "love" after her mother, and managed to get out something like "loooo."

Gibbs was speaking to a banquet of religious right activists and conservative operatives last Thursday, the first night of the Confronting the Judicial War on Faith conference in Washington. The 100 or so people in the audience had converged on the Washington Marriott from 25 states. Many cried as they listened.
My own take on Terri Scheivo's desparate final "looo" attempts: "Loosers. You're all loooosers." One doesn't need a functioning cortex to process that fact. News | In theocracy they trust
From Mind Hacks:
In what could be more marketing ploy than innovation, Sony has patented a method for directly manipulating parts of the brain to allow computers to simulate sensory experiences.

Sony's idea is to use beams of ultrasound to penetrate the skull and stimulate specific brain areas involved in receiving or processing sensory information.

If appropriate parts of the brain could be targeted, and if the way in which the neurons process and code conscious experience could be understood, the technology is, in principle, feasible.

These are two very big 'ifs' however, and each describe two of the biggest problems in contemporary neuroscience. Indeed, some doubt whether the latter is possible at all.

So, this is probably not something you might find attached to your games console in the near future.
What I find interesting is the claim that computers would "simulate" sensory experience. Why wouldn't it BE sensory experience? Nature discovered the basic idea long ago, and now we're adjusting the architecture. A New Scientist article refers to a "device for transmitting sensory data directly into the human brain," one that "fires pulses of ultrasound at the head to modify firing patterns in targeted parts of the brain, creating 'sensory experiences' ranging from moving images to tastes and sounds." Why the scare quotation marks around "sensory experiences"? To be fair to Mind Hacks and others, the process would allegedly yield an experience that is perhaps similar to what we now experience visually or accoustically (and so "simulate" that kind of experience). But though the process of input is different from the norm, the experiences would seem to be real sensory experiences in an appropriate sense of the term.

I also notice the reference to putting data "directly" in the brain, though I suppose that any process of putting data in a brain would have to be somewhat indirect.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

In an article at Inside Higher Education Diane Rhoten writes that
[w]hile universities continue to play an important role in intellectual culture, increasingly they are no longer the only game in town. With the rise of the knowledge economy and the spread of decentralizing technology, the academy is ceding authority and attention to businesses, nonprofits, foundations, media outlets, and Internet communities.

Even more significant, in my mind, the academy may be losing something else: its hold over many of its most promising young academics, who appear more and more willing to take their services elsewhere ? and who may comprise an embryonic cohort of new ?postacademic intellectuals? in the making.
This new generation of intellectuals, she suggests, "craves a larger public" and so leaves the academic setting for more promising "extra-academic platforms" in industry and the growing technological fields. The concern is that universities lose their role as the "locus of knowledge" and the "terra firma of intellectual innovation."
From Crooked Timber and Slugger O'Toole I found a rather interesting and critical discussion of Pope JPII's legacy.
Shaking off the trappings of Empire - Fintan O'Toole

"The Papacy," wrote Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century, "is nothing other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof." He thus summed up both the allure and the danger of the pomp that surrounds the death of Pope John Paul II.
The question now is whether the church can finally ditch Constantine and get back to Christ. Can it lay the ghost of the Roman imperium and become something other than a male gerontocracy?

Or will the next Pope continue to sit enthroned, with a beautiful crown and gorgeous robes, on the grave of a dead empire?
I'm still amazed that Catholicism survives into the Twenty-First Century. Is it a testament to the Constantine model or the power of Christ? Well, simply put, nothing succeeds quite like imperialism cloaked in religious promises and threats and embroidered in ritual.

Update 04.05.05: See Terry Eagleton's article "A British Obituary of Pope John Paul II" for another rather critical account of JPII's legacy. He writes
The greatest crime of his papacy, however, was neither his part in this cover up nor his neanderthal attitude to women. It was the grotesque irony by which the Vatican condemned - as a "culture of death" - condoms, which might have saved countless Catholics in the developing world from an agonising Aids death. The Pope goes to his eternal reward with those deaths on his hands. He was one of the greatest disasters for the Christian church since Charles Darwin.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Leiter Reports has an interesting post on intellectual diversity. He concludes:
"American universities--with occasional exceptions like the law faculty at George Mason--feature an intellectual diversity not to be found in the mass media, in the leading law firms, in the halls of Congress, in the state legislatures, or any other central institution of American life.

That, of course, is why they are under attack."
This is a response to earlier posts at The Volokh Conspiracy by Bernstein and Zywicki.

UPDATE: Read a reaction from Mixing Memory.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A nice article on Purdue philosopher Bill Rowe, who will be retiring this year.
Purdue philosophy professor a gentle atheist

In a nation in which 80 to 90 percent of adults say they believe in God, the label "atheist" rarely lands quietly in a conversation.

Say it, and many folks picture some joyless, nasty-tempered misfit who spends his days filing lawsuits against public displays of crosses and menorahs.

What to do then with the gentle, civilized, dog-loving human being that is Bill Rowe?
Do many folks really picture the atheist as a "joyless, nasty-tempered misfit?" No doubt those stereotypes arise because some atheists are frustrated with having to live among insensitive public displays of religious symbolism and condescending gestures of moral superiority. But otherwise, I submit, most atheists will be found to be gentle, civilized, dog-loving humans who enjoy an intellectually liberated existence in a reality-centered world. Bill Rowe is just one very good example.

Read the rest of the article
Tom DeLay, if not the entire Congress, is definitely out of control. Earlier this week DeLay seemed to threaten judges in the Schiavo case with his comment that ?The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.? Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) took the threatening statement seriously enough to send a letter to DeLay reminding him that threats against judges' lives are illegal--and irresponsible. Says Lautenberg
Our nation?s judges must be concerned for their safety and security when they are asked to make difficult decisions every day. That?s why comments like those you made are not only irresponsible, but downright dangerous. To make matters worse, is it appropriate to make threats directed at specific Federal and state judges?

Friday, April 01, 2005

I knew this:
Teenagers who take virginity pledges--public declarations to abstain from sex-are almost as likely to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) as those who never made the pledge
This conclusion comes from recent studies at Yale and Columbia Universities, and it confirms some research from our PSY faculty at NKU. But the Daily Kos has an article that reveals a government web site (Department of Health and Human Services) that informs parents
With so much at stake, it is more important than ever for parents to encourage their adolescents to delay sexual involvement, preferably until marriage. Abstinence is, without question, the healthiest choice for adolescents, both physically and emotionally.

Adolescents are constantly surrounded by both positive and negative messages about sex. Keeping these influences in mind will help parents present abstinence from sexual activity as more than a "just say no" message.
The L.A. Times reports on reactions from a number of concerned groups and individuals who feel that, in light of the research, government agencies should offer the public a more realistic picture of contraception and abstinence.

Also at the HHS site we are advised:
A homosexual is a person who prefers sexual contact with people of the same sex... If you believe your adolescent may be gay, or is experiencing difficulties with gender identity or sexual orientation issues, consider seeing a family therapist who shares your values to clarify and work through these issues.
But why do gay children need therapy and why assume my values are homophobic? If anything I would add, "And if your child appears to be growing up as a simple-minded wingnut with the values of a rigid Puritan, just say 'No!'"

Daily Kos: Abstinence advocates evoke anger
Juan Cole has an article in Salon today about the political and social influence of evangelical Christians in America today.
Both the reelection of George Bush and the Schiavo travesty have heightened the sense that the religious right in the United States is all-powerful. Reading the press, you get the impression that almost all Americans are devout Christians, people who believe in a literal heaven and hell and spend their idle moments devouring the "Left Behind" novels about the end of the world. This isn't true -- and it's getting less true all the time. While evangelical Christians are a significant political force, they are probably only a fifth of the country, and not all of them are politically conservative: Only 14 percent of voters in an exit poll for the presidential elections in 2000 characterized themselves as part of the "Christian right." In fact, polls show that the United States is becoming less religious. Only about 60 percent of Americans say religion is important in their lives. The United States is still a predominantly Christian country, but it is no longer an overwhelmingly Christian one. And more and more Americans are either non-religious, unchurched or subscribe to non-Christian religions.