March 10, 2012

“[A]theists and theists […] are quacking and waddling in the same way in different ponds”

Filed under: Media, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:19

Kennedy expresses the idea that atheism is a religion and becomes “a minor celebrity and a major troll” to her social media circles:

I didn’t know what fire and brimstone was until I made a throwaway claim recently during an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. It seemed pretty unaudacious at the time, but by dropping the simple sentence “Atheism is a religion,” I opened a biblical floodgate of ridicule, name-calling, and abuse.

My Twitter feed and Facebook page became engorged with angry responses. “Your adherence into adulthood to what is usually an adolescent phase (Libertarianism), speaks volumes about your confirmation bias levels,” wrote Kernan. Touchstone Supertramp added; “Damn girl you got a big forehead.” A guy named Kevin and about 70 other people shared this bumper-sticker nugget: “‎If atheism is a religion, then off is a TV channel.” Liz wrote, “Kennedy, is that if atheism constitutes a religious belief than anorexia is whenever you don’t eat.” Michael wrote: “re·li·gion /riˈlijən/ Noun: 1. Whatever Kennedy says it is.” That was awesome. Beth called me a minor celebrity and a major troll—and it was also awesome to have somebody think I’m a celebrity.

[. . .]

Newberg and his late partner Eugene D’Aquili mapped various parts of the brain showing activation in specific areas when people were undergoing certain religious rituals or experiences, such as a shaman being in a trance or a Buddhist entering a mystical state. Regardless of the religion, the brain function was the same. Something was happening when these people experienced their version of religious phenomena, and the scans lit up like Robert Redford’s suit in The Electric Horseman.

This does not prove God exists, but it does show humans are wired or biologically predisposed to believe in something. When I interviewed him for this article, Newberg said his research demonstrates that “we are wired to have these beliefs about the world, to get at the fundamental stuff the universe is about. For many people, it includes God and for some it doesn’t. Your brain is doing its best to understand the world and construct beliefs to understand it, and from an epistemological perspective there is no fundamental difference.”

[. . .]

When atheists rail against theists (as many did on my Facebook page), they are using the same fervor the religious use when making their claims against a secular society. By calling atheism a religion, I am not trying to craft terms or apply them out of convenience. I just see theists and atheists behaving in the same manner, approaching from opposite ends of the runway. The entire discourse about religion stems from those who think they know more than the other guy. But what we really know is that we don’t know much. And we seem to share the same mechanism in our brains that drives us to make claims of faith and rationalism as a way of making sense of the great unknown.

You can call atheism a belief system, which Newberg guardedly does, or you can make a stronger assertion and say that atheists and theists, who have conveniently developed hate-tinged froth and vitriol for one another, are quacking and waddling in the same way in different ponds. Either way, they are ducks and atheism is a religion. At least it is in the hands of those who are so religious about their disbelief that they place the weight of the argument on the feathery shoulders of their believing brothers and sisters.

Canadian Conservatives: “You are not that party”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:27

Andrew Coyne’s presentation to the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa:

What I believe in are a set of principles having to do with the freedom of the individual, the usefulness but not infallibility of markets, and the legitimate but limited role of the state. There are, in brief, a few things we need government to do, based on well-established criteria on which there is a high degree of expert consensus. The task is simply to get government to stick to those things, rather than waste scarce resources on things that could be done as well or better by other means: that is, government should only do what only government can do.

As I say, these ideas are not novel, or controversial. Indeed, you would find support for them, to a greater or lesser degree, across the political spectrum.

Nevertheless, there was a party, once, that believed in these things, to a somewhat greater extent than the other parties. That party called itself conservative, whether with a small or a large C, so I suppose you could call the things it believed conservatism. But you are no longer that party.

For example, that party favoured balanced budgets. But you are not that party. In fact, you boast of how your decision to add $150-billion to the national debt saved the economy.

That party favoured cutting or at least controlling spending, after the massive spree of the Liberals’ last years. But you are not that party. In fact, you boast of how you have increased spending by 7% per year — $37-billion in one year!

That party favoured a simpler, flatter tax system, that left people free to decide how to spend, save or invest their money for themselves. But you are not that party. In fact, you boast of the many gimmicks and gew-gaws with which you have festooned the tax code.

That party favoured abolishing corporate welfare. But you are not that party. In fact you boast of the handouts you make, often accompanied by ministers or indeed MPs bearing outsized novelty cheques. In some cases, you even put the Conservative logo on them.

The story of the last decade is how the rock-ribbed small-c conservatives of the old Reform Party were tamed, neutered, and blinkered into becoming a blue-painted Liberal Party. It worked, in the sense of getting their hands on the levers of power, but their souls were tainted, corrupted, and eventually disposed of in the process.

Some diseases may be caused by “endogenous” retrovirii

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:17

Matt Ridley on some recent discoveries in genetics and medicine that may help to explain certain diseases like multiple sclerosis:

The virus implicated in multiple sclerosis is called HERV-Fc1, a bizarre beast called an “endogenous” retrovirus. What this means is that its genes are part of the human genome. For millions of years, they have been integrated into our own DNA and passed on by normal heredity. It was one of the shocks of genomic science to find that the human genome contains more retroviral than “human” genes: some 5% to 8% of the entire genome.

Normally, the genes of endogenous retroviruses remain dormant, but — a bit like a computer virus that springs into action on a trigger — something wakes them up sometimes, and actual viruses are made from them, which then infect other cells in the body. The Danish scientists suggest that this is what happens in multiple sclerosis. Bjørn Nexø of Aarhus University writes that “retroviral infections often develop into running battles between the immune system and virus, with the virus mutating repeatedly to avoid the immune system, and the immune system repeatedly catching up. One can see the episodic nature of multiple sclerosis as such a running battle.”

The possibility that you can inherit the genes of a virus blurs the distinction between a genetic and an infectious disease. The HERV-Fc1 genes lie on the X chromosome. Since women have twice as many X chromosomes as men, this might explain why some forms of MS are more common in women. Dr. Nexø concludes hopefully: “The finding that a disease is caused by an infectious agent is an encouraging one. These are the diseases which we know best how to treat.

The research also appears to show a link between cat ownership and schizophrenia:

Human beings can also catch toxoplasma from cats, and it’s known to affect behavior: altering personalities, slowing reaction times and increasing the risk of car accidents. More than 20 studies have now found an association between schizophrenia and toxoplasma. Schizophrenia is more common among those who had pet cats in their childhood homes (but not in those who had pet dogs).

Indeed, some scientists think that schizophrenia only became common, around 1870, when keeping cats as indoor pets became fashionable. The parasite has genes for dopamine, a neurochemical found in excess in schizophrenics.

St. Louis Rams rob Washington Redskins, haul away bagload of draft picks

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:46

The headline expresses what appears to be the consensus view of yesterday’s blockbuster trade between the Redskins and the Rams. The Rams had the second pick in the 2012 NFL draft and Washington paid through the nose to obtain it. To move up in the draft and — we assume — pick their quarterback of the future, Washington gave up their first round picks in 2012, 2013, and 2014, plus a second round pick this year. That’s a pretty hefty price to pay, although the future value of draft picks are usually discounted by one round, so on that reckoning, Washington only gave up the equivalent of two seconds and a third to swap places in the first round, which makes it seem a bit less eye-popping.

Of course, the Minnesota fan base blames the Vikings’ win over Washington at the end of the 2011 season for allowing the Rams to benefit from this trade (if Washington had won that game, the Vikings would have the second overall pick and likely have been the beneficiaries of the trade).

Christopher Gates would like to disillusion everyone about that meme:

Yes, the Minnesota Vikings’ victory over the Redskins on Christmas Eve “cost” the Vikings the opportunity to hold the #2 overall pick and get that potential haul from Washington or some other team. While I was bopping around the internet this morning, I found that there are a decent number of folks that are still not entirely happy that the Vikings didn’t try harder to lose that game in order to make that happen. If you should happen to be one of those people, I have something I’d like to say to you. . .

Stop it. Just. . .freaking. . .stop it. You’re embarrassing yourself.

We’ve been over this a couple of times, but it bears repeating in this case. . .you are not going to get a team full of professional athletes to “tank” in order to gain draft position. Why? Because the guys that are currently on the team don’t give a damn whether the Vikings are drafting at #2 or #3 or #10 or #29 or wherever else in the first round of the NFL Draft. Or, at the very least, they shouldn’t.

The Minnesota Vikings have 18. . .that’s eighteen. . .players that could potentially hit the free agent market when things open up in about 48 hours. Do you suppose those guys give a damn about draft position? No, they don’t. . .I’m guessing they’re much more interested in being employed when Training Camp starts in late July, and they’re not going to get employment from teams watching game film of them and seeing that they quit when things got rough late in the year.

Update: John Merkle at The Viking Age points out that the player Washington (probably) traded up for wasn’t even being consistently mentioned as a top-five draft pick as recently as December:

Robert Griffin III wasn’t even deemed the 2nd overall pick on that Christmas Eve. If anyone cares to google mock drafts from late 2011 you’ll notice that Robert Griffin III was slated to go anywhere from 5 to 15. There were mostly two major campaigns going on for two top shelf prospects — Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck’s “Suck For Luck” and USC tackle Matt Kalil’s “Fall Flat For Matt”. There was not one mention of “Whiffin For Griffin”. Yes, RG3 had already won the Heisman Trophy, but he hadn’t lead his Baylor Bears to 67 points in a video game style Alamo Bowl nor had he blown members of the NFL away at the combine (including running a 4.41 40-yard dash and interviewing like someone who should be running for political office). His draft stock was indeed solid in December, but hadn’t soared until the past couple of months.

So go ahead you guys. Whine all you want about winning a football game that costs us plethora of draft picks and be glass half empty sort of folks. Go invent a crystal ball that can see into the future. You’ll be rich. Maybe with a little hope in the next several days we’ll see a few more glass is half full personas amongst our fanbase. If anything we should be grateful for the ascension of RG3 allowing us to be in perfect position to take Kalil. A franchise left tackle is tremendous building block for any team, let alone one that has young quarterback who has to account for Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers four Sundays a year. 13 losses turned out to be enough falling flat for Matt.

More on the story of the WWII poster “Keep Calm and Carry On”

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Media, WW2 — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

That looks like my kind of book shop! If/when I’m next in Alnwick, I’ll have to stop in for a visit.

Earlier item about the poster here.

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