Fri - February 11, 2005

Evolution vs Intelligent Design

NPR this week had a story entitled An Astronomer's View of Christianity and Science on the debate in Kansas over teaching Evolution vs Intelligent Design. More interesting was the letter to NPR from a listener who wrote:

Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory. Your report touched on this, but did not go far enough. A scientific theory makes predictions that are TESTABLE. The role of science is not, and has never been, to replace or disprove religion. Those who feel threatened by science must have a very tenuous hold on their faith, because true faith can stand up to questioning.

This reminded me of a flash news tidbit that I just read in the February issue of Discover Magazine that read:

Gallup poll: One-third of Americans don't believe evidence supports Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Another third does, and the remainder doesn't know. Pollsters found 45 percent believe God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

Oh my! Forty-five percent? I'm speechless.

Posted at 09:39 PM  |   | 

Sun - October 17, 2004

Why ... voting for Kerry

An opinion article recently appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, written by my great uncle, entitled Why this Republican ex-governor will be voting for Kerry. It so eloquently expresses a view I agree with, from a family member I so admire, that I feel compelled to quote it here in its entirety.

Why this Republican ex-governor will be voting for Kerry
Elmer L. Andersen
October 13, 2004

Throughout my tenure and beyond as the 30th governor of this state, I have been steadfastly aligned -- and until recently, proudly so -- with the Minnesota Republican Party.

It dismays me, therefore, to have to publicly disagree with the national Republican agenda and the national Republican candidate but, this year, I must.

The two "Say No to Bush" signs in my yard say it all.

The present Republican president has led us into an unjustified war -- based on misguided and blatantly false misrepresentations of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The terror seat was Afghanistan. Iraq had no connection to these acts of terror and was not a serious threat to the United States, as this president claimed, and there was no relation, it's now obvious, to any serious weaponry. Although Saddam Hussein is a frightful tyrant, he posed no threat to the United States when we entered the war. George W. Bush's arrogant actions to jump into Iraq when he had no plan how to get out have alienated the United States from our most trusted allies and weakened us immeasurably around the world.

Also, if there as well had been proper and careful coordination of services and intelligence on Sept. 11, 2001, that horrific disaster might also have been averted. But it was a separate event from this brutal mess of a war, and the disingenuous linking of the wholly unrelated situation in Iraq to 9/11 by this administration is not supported by the facts.

Sen. John Kerry was correct when he said that seemingly it is only Bush and Dick Cheney who still believe their own spin. Both men spew outright untruths with evangelistic fervor. For Bush -- a man who chose to have his father help him duck service in the military during the Vietnam War -- to disparage and cast doubt on the medals Kerry won bravely and legitimately in the conflict of battle is a travesty.

For Cheney to tell the hand-picked, like-minded Republican crowds in Des Moines last month that to vote for John Kerry could mean another attack like that of 9/11 is reprehensible. Moreover, such false statements encourage more terrorist attacks rather than prevent them.

A far smaller transgression, but one typical of his stop-at-nothing tactics, was Cheney's assertion in last Wednesday's vice-presidential debate that he'd never met Sen. John Edwards until that night. The next day -- and the media must stay ever-vigilant at fact-checking the lies of this ticket -- news reports, to the contrary, showed four video clips of Edwards and Cheney sitting next to each other during the past five years.

In both presidential debates, Kerry has shown himself to be of far superior intellect and character than Bush. He speaks honestly to the American people, his ethics are unimpeachable and, clearly, with 20 respected years in the Senate, he has far better credentials to lead the country than did Bush when he was elected four years ago. And a far greater depth of understanding of domestic and foreign affairs to do it now.

Not that the sitting president has ever really been at the helm.

I am more fearful for the state of this nation than I have ever been -- because this country is in the hands of an evil man: Dick Cheney. It is eminently clear that it is he who is running the country, not George W. Bush.

Bush's phony posturing as cocksure leader of the free world -- symbolized by his victory symbol on the aircraft carrier and "mission accomplished" statement -- leave me speechless. The mission had barely been started, let alone finished, and 18 months later it still rages on. His ongoing "no-regrets," no-mistakes stance and untruths on the war -- as well as on the floundering economy and Bush administration joblessness -- also disappoint and worry me.

Liberal Republicans of my era and mind-set used to have a humane and reasonable platform. We advocated the importance of higher education, health care for all, programs for children at risk, energy conservation and environmental protection. Today, Bush and Cheney give us clever public relations names for programs -- need I say "No Child Left Behind? -- but a lack of funding to support them. Early childhood education programs and overall health care are woefully underfunded. We have not only the largest number ever of medically uninsured in this nation, our infant mortality rates, once among the lowest in the world, have worsened to 27th.

As taxes for the wealthy are being cut, jobs are being outsourced if not lost and children are homeless and uninsured, this administration is running up the biggest deficit in U.S. history -- bound to be a terrible burden for future generations.

This imperialistic, stubborn adherence to wrongful policies and known untruths by the Cheney-Bush administration -- and that's the accurate order -- has simply become more than I can stand.

Although I am a longtime Republican, it is time to make a statement, and it is this: Vote for Kerry-Edwards, I implore you, on Nov. 2.

Elmer L. Andersen was Minnesota's governor from 1961 to 1963.

Posted at 10:42 PM  |   | 

Wed - June 2, 2004

Extending Your Life

It's official, at least according to a recent study at Yale:

Thinking positively about getting older extends one's life by 7.6 years, which is more than the longevity gained from low blood pressure or low cholesterol or by maintaining a healthy weight, abstaining from smoking and exercising regularly.

Cool. I do all of those things. I wonder how much longer my life will be.

Posted at 10:04 PM  |   | 

Sun - March 28, 2004

Under God

We have yet another interesting Supreme Court case. Dahlia Lithwick's article One Nation, Under Hallmark, Indivisible is about the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. The case is brought by Michael Newdow, an atheist, on behalf of his daughter who is exposed to those words in school.

Before I comment on the specifics of this case, I want to address a broader issue I don't quite understand. Why is religion often so divisive? Why do some people feel threatened by an opposing belief system? The fact that others are able to openly believe what they want is a hallmark of our society. We should look fondly on others' passionate beliefs. It helps them derive happiness and direction in their lives. And the freedom that allows those beliefs to be practiced openly is a very good thing. We should respect and honor that freedom, not disrespect it with contempt.

We are exposed to many religious messages in our daily lives. The existence of those messages, and our exposure to them, should not (and can not) be considered a threat to our own beliefs. It is the responsibility of each of us to hold our own beliefs strongly, being true to ourselves. We can then safely navigate the sea of messages available in the public arena, entertaining them, debating them, or even adopting them as we see fit.

Now on to this case, specifically...

As my above opinion already makes clear, I don't think the existence (or not) of the mention of God in the Pledge is much of a big deal. If I were an atheist, I wouldn't consider it to be an affront to my belief system. But the Pledge is not a normal freedom of speech message. It is a state sanctioned message that is specifically exposed to our children. The state must be careful to respect others' personal choices, and not make them feel unnecessarily uncomfortable. In the case of our children, the state must be extra careful not to confuse them with messages that may be different from those being instilled in them by their parents. In this case, the line is being crossed, if ever so slightly. Dahlia Lithwick, in her article, comes to an interesting conclusion:

The case is a mess because, whatever you may think about God or the pledge, if you really apply the case law and really think "God" means "God," then Newdow is right. But Newdow can't be right. Can he?

Posted at 10:41 AM  |   | 

Tue - March 23, 2004

Papers Please

This week's Supreme Court Dispatches column by Dahlia Lithwick talks about a privacy dispute case recently argued in front of the high court. It involves the real-life cowboy Dudley Hiibel, who now has a website about this case. He was approached by the side of the road by Nevada police who thought he was acting suspicious, and as part of his questioning asked his name. Our cowboy refused to answer, which so happens to be against Nevada state law. And therein lies the crux of the case. Is it constitutional to require someone to divulge their identity? In formulating your opinion, don't miss the video of the roadside questioning.

My views typically side fairly strongly on the side of privacy, personal freedom, and individual rights. I almost consider myself a libertarian on these issues. But on this case I'm still undecided, and to tell you the truth I don't like that. I can understand the arguments on both sides of the issue. I'm typically able to empathize with both sides, but side with only one. This one will take some more pondering to choose my side.

Posted at 08:29 PM  |   | 

Fri - February 20, 2004


There's a letter to Dear Prudence this week that I'll quote here without comment, other than to say that it caught my eye and I found it thought provoking. Maybe it will for you too...

I gotta problem. This life thing is draggin' by, and I'm wondering if it's all not just trivial ... these wars and talk shows and mountain bikes. Is it just me, or have people in America and probably other industrialized nations just totally lost touch with reality? Is anything in this culture real? Why am I bombarded with ads for cruises, new SUVs, and credit cards with low, low fixed rates? Maybe you're old enough to remember a life with a purpose, not just to get wealthy, attract a mate, and contribute to your 401(k). Is this it? Is this the great civilization handed to me by "the greatest generation"? I'm sorry; I really have no point other than to ask if other people are as disappointed in humanity as I....

OK, I lied. I can't pass up an opportunity to comment. I think the above are very common thoughts of many of us, after living at least a few years as adults, wondering what this life is all about, what this universe is all about, and what our purpose is.

Posted at 10:51 PM  |   | 

Thu - February 12, 2004

The Path of the Bigots

I've been following the story about gay marriage in Massachusetts with interest, mainly because individual rights in general is very high on my list of political issues that are important to me. Well this week comes yet another excellent article by Dahlia Lithwick entitled Full Faith and Credulous that gives perspective and substance to my own opinion. An excerpt...

A Defense of Marriage Amendment [to the US Constitution] would enshrine, for the first time, language of intolerance and exclusion in a document that was intended to set forth basic rights. Does President Bush really want to be remembered as the guy who first used the Constitution to codify bigotry? .... It calls out only one signal: that even one gay marriage in one small state is too many. That's not statesmanship, and it's not political policy. It's bigotry.

But there's a lot more to the article that those strong words. It also spells out a less divisive solution based on federalism and states rights. There doesn't have to be one rule of the land. The power can be granted to the smaller governing body by using legislation already on the books. Give it a read.

Posted at 07:36 PM  |   | 

Wed - January 21, 2004

Are lawyers useful?

How many lawyers does it take to submit a guilty plea?

No, this isn't the beginning of a joke. The question is inspired by recent arguments in front of the Supreme Court. This week Dahlia Lithwick talks about how The Supreme Court ponders the usefulness of lawyers. The Justices seem to concur that the answer to the above question is: zero. The discussion is interesting, and I'm at least glad to see there is a limit to the unfortunate trend of us legislating common sense and abdicating personal responsibility.

I also think it's interesting the unusual paths down which the Supreme Court travels as they clarify and interpret the law.

Posted at 09:16 PM  |   | 

Mon - January 19, 2004

Mike Rowe Soft

This story is about a 17-year-old with a part time web design business called MikeRoweSoft Design. He is being sued by Microsoft for copyright infringement.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Microsoft's claims seem valid to me, but they aren't handling it very well, at least according to Mike Rowe's account of events. I side with Mike in his expectation to be adequately compensated for the expense of rebranding his business. Mike is taking contributions for his legal defense fund.

Posted at 08:47 AM  |   | 

Tue - January 13, 2004

A Ton of Misinformation

In this week's edition of Dear Prudence (Ann Landers daughter) is a letter that I'll quote below. It is almost funny if it weren't also sad. It is another good example of how misinformation can breed fear and judgment. I've talked about this before. There's a lot to be said for tolerance through education.

Why would you encourage a person to practice witchcraft? That is totally against the Word of God. I am not trying to sound mean or judging. It's just we need to turn back to God and away from Satan. Please, you can impact many with your views, be careful and prayerful. Thanks so much for your time.


Dear Den,
First of all, in the letter you are referring to, Prudie did not encourage anyone to "practice witchcraft." She would not be so bold as to tell another how to worship (ahem). What Prudie did was give a Wiccan woman her suggestion about how to tell her family that she's been studying this faith for 10 years and has become a believer. Second, "Satan" is a matter of opinion, my friend. Prudie would say that you have read Macbeth too many times, except that, on second thought, that seems highly improbable. What would really be good is if Prudie could "impact" you with the idea that you have a ton of misinformation. And no, Prudie is not a witch, except perhaps to a former mother-in-law.

—Prudie, ecumenically

Posted at 09:38 PM  |   | 

Tue - January 6, 2004

The Ultimate Centrifuge Simulator

The amusement park ride I described in my last entry may have sounded amazing enough. But what would you say if I told you there was a flight simulator that can generate fighter pilot degree G-loads at the command of the pilot, as fast as the real plane can, providing a physiological experience differing little from actual flight?

Well, in the Aviation Week story Dynamic Flight Simulator Lets Swedish Pilots Pull Gs are some details of a state of the art flight simulator that can do just that. Check it out. The details are amazing. The motor in the centrifuge delivers about 7 megawatts of peak power and can bring the pilot from zero to 9 Gs in less than a quarter second.

I'll pass on that experience, thank you.

Posted at 10:25 PM  |   | 

Sun - January 4, 2004

Mission: SPACE

I was watching the Discovery Channel today, specifically a show about extreme amusement park rides. The story that especially caught my attention was about a new ride at Disney's Epcot called Mission: SPACE. It's a four-minute simulated experience including the g-forces of blast off through the weightlessness of a mission into space, and some surprises along the way. This made me do a web search to find out more, and I found this story about the ride, which explains that the g-forces are accomplished with a centrifuge with ten four-person pods attached. Here's the full ride review and this is a view inside a pod:

I really want to take that ride some day. I'll be in Orlando later this month on a business trip. I don't think there will be time to get over to Epcot, but I'm certainly going to look into it. I enjoy all the IMAX films at DC's Smithsonian museums for the somewhat similar "being there" experience. But that Epcot ride sounds like an amazing virtual reality trip.

Posted at 08:44 PM  |   | 

Fri - November 14, 2003

Fun with Legos

You think you had fun pushing the limits with legos as a kid? These guys never quit having fun with them ...

Andrew Lipson's Lego Page is amazing. He builds some complex machines and mechanisms. And don't miss the Escher construction projects lower on the page.

Remember the Rubik's Cube from the early 80's? It was hard enough for me to solve. Well check out JP Brown's CubeSolver machine. Made out of legos, controlled by computer via a camera and motors, it can look at, analyze, then solve the puzzle all on its own.

Posted at 10:46 PM  |   | 

Tue - November 11, 2003

While listening to NPR on my long drive back home today, I heard mentioned repeatedly. They apparently collaborate in some way. The site is an upscale news site, catering to a more sophisticated readership than the mainstream internet press, or so it is described by NPR.

It is also home to an online advice column called Dear Prudence by Margo Howard, who is Ann Landers' daughter. Prudie's column has a bit more of an edge to it compared to her mother's.

And equally fascinating, but in a completely different vein, is the column Supreme Court Dispatches which discusses recent Court arguments (not the decisions, just the arguments).

Posted at 08:09 PM  |   | 

Tue - October 28, 2003

Abstinence in moderation, please

On a more light-hearted note is an article from Forbes (um, Forbes?) entitled Is Sex Necessary which examines the benefits (and even necessity) of sex, including better sense of smell, reduced risk of heart disease, weight loss, reduced depression, pain-relief, fewer colds and flu, and healthier teeth and prostate.

Of note in the article are comments like:
"sexual abstinence is ... harmless when practiced in moderation"
"There is little or no risk of a woman's overdosing on sex"
"Women who abstain from sex run some risks"
"As for men ... it's definitely possible to get too much of a good thing."

And yes, the article was written by a man.

Posted at 07:40 PM  |   | 

Mon - October 27, 2003

Believing in the Intangible

From Discover Magazine this month is a Dialogue with Ann Druyan -- primarily about a private space exploration project, it also includes a tangent discussion from which I'd like to share an excerpt which gave me pause for thought...

Do you view religion and science as incompatible?
D: I think that superstition and science are incompatible. I think that the doctrine of unquestioning faith and science are antithetical....

Is there anything inherently wrong with someone believing in the intangible?
D: There's nothing wrong with having a sense of wonder about the things you don't understand, but I think it's wrong to commit to a belief in the absence of evidence, especially when what you believe is transparently a palliative for your fear. The search itself should be never ending. That's why the conclusive religions do not satisfy me spiritually, the way science does.

How is that different from believing there is life on other worlds when we don't yet have evidence?
D: I think you should withhold that belief. You should not believe anything for which there is no evidence. You can have hope -- I have a lot of hope, which I like to think is based on good evidence -- but that is very different than faith. For me, the method of science is a profoundly spiritual discipline, because it's saying that I will give up telling myself things that will make me feel better in exchange for knowing a little bit about the universe....

Why are people afraid of science?
D: The complexity and jargon are daunting ... and the Western religious tradition is based on a fear of knowledge. It goes right back to Prometheus and to the Garden of Eden, to God's threat that if we partake of the tree of knowledge, we will know only misery and death. So we keep one thing in our heads that says, yes, our cell phones work, our TVs work because of science, but we keep an infantile, geocentric view of the universe locked within our hearts.

How do you combat that?
D: Number one: Do not lie to your children. Do not tell them things that are probably untrue, because in a way you doom them to a perpetual infancy. Number two: Invest in education so that science becomes a way of seeing and thinking that is natural to all of us and not something reserved for the lucky few.... If only an elite minority understands science and technology, there is no hope of democracy, because then we, the people, cannot make informed decisions. We will always be manipulated.

Posted at 09:45 AM  |   |