Time for another scan across news and links that show a society still in motion... reminding us that we can keep the Great Experiment going, whether or not the politicians step in to save us...
Still, let's start with a glimpse of what the other side has in mind for us.
Stefan Jones saw the “comedian” Ben Stein, whose humor-schtick is to act as tediously dull as possible, promoting his sick new “documentary” Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. From the interview on Trinity Broadcasting:
Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.
Crouch: That’s right.
Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.
Crouch: Good word, good word.
To which I gotta respond -- monstrous. Monstrous.
Here’s Stefan’s reaction:
“That's . . . disgusting. And f@#$ing lie. Does Stein believe that humanity never indulged in massacres and murder before The Origin of Species was published? Or that religion was never used to justify pogroms, extermination of native peoples, forced conversion, and slavery? I am ashamed to live in a country where the media treats this jerk (among others) as a trusted commentator.”
Oh, I don’t go that far. After all, Stein earned his fame and cred, fair and square, as the guy who droned the word “Bueller” over and over again, while gape-mouth teenagers drooled in boredom. Still, if we cannot return this nation to a path where such people -- and media -- are seen as marginalized loons, then we really are in big trouble.
Dig it, I lost as many relatives to those gas chanbers as Stein did, only:
(1) I didn’t turn my back on my people, as he has,
(2) Percapita, it was the scientists of Germany who fought Hitler hardest and then left, rather than serve him. Certainly at a higher ratio than churchmen! Goebbels railed against physics, modern astronomy, genetics and (yes) evolution as “Jewish and decadent sciences.” Especially against evolution.
(3) Hitler was waging war foremost against the Western Enlightenment (as well as Jews and communists). Though he despised Christianity in principle, he was fine with co-opting it and incorporating it in propaganda. There were christian chaplains serving the SS at every hellish camp. But you’d find NO exemplars of the “priests” of the Enlightenment -- questioning scientists, questioning lawyers and writers, questioning citizens -- except inside the wire.
I could go on with about fifty more reasons that Stein and his promoters are personifications of everything that caused Auschwitz. But suffice it to say that we owe him a debt of gratitude. The pretense is over. He has said it openly. Till, now, the fundies have been claiming that they respect science but only want it opened up a bit. Now the real party line has been drawn. It is the fundies against science. Not fighting for openness in classrooms. Not seeking equal time. But hating the very thing that made our Great Experiment possible. Sons and daughter of Ben Franklin, stand up.
== OF COURSE, THERE'S SILLINESS EVEN AMONG FRIENDS OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT==
As you know, I have long been involved in the debates over extraterrestrial intelligence. I am helping to organize what I hope will be the first eclectic international conference to discuss the merits (or faults) of METI or “message to ETI” -- which you can read about here. For almost thirty years, I’ve been trying to lay out the range of possible explanations for what I coined “The Great Silence” -- the quandary of why the cosmos appears to not only have no other (blatant) voices nearby, but shows no (as-yet blatant) sings of ever having been crisscrossed by advanced civilizations.
Now, “Mr. Existential Catastrophe, Oxford’s Nick Bostrum, has weighed in with a vastly entertaining - if worrisome - view that any discovery of past or present life on Mars or Europa would have to be viewed as very bad new. Read Nick Bostrom's “Where are they? Why I hope the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing“ in MIT's Technology Review.
Alas, nobody seems interested in looking at this problem from a truly comprehensive approach. If you’d like to see the one time it was tries, see my article: “The Great Silence: The Controversy Concerning Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life.” Still, Bostrum’s popularized article lays down the challenge that we face -- to grow up past our present dangers and get mature enough to be worthy to be the helpers of others, out there. In fact, my new novel is about these "existential threats.
== AND NOW, MISC-STUFF, SOME OF IT EVEN COOL... OR SCARY ==
Tru-Vu goggles anyone?
Sunshine. Terrible title and the film had many flaws. But I recommend it as refreshingly different, totally non-Hollywood and non-formulaic in its style and story-arc.
Inside The World's First Billion-Dollar Home. And these people actually expect to keep this place? History is never read by those who need most to understand it.
Here's a real cute web site for science/math lovers
Attention all uplifters... A Harvard researcher discusses humaniqueness,” the factors that make human cognition special. Recently, scientists have found that some animals think in ways that were once considered unique to humans: For example, some animals have episodic memory, or non-linguistic mathematical ability, or the capacity to navigate using landmarks. However, despite these apparent similarities, a cognitive gulf remains between humans and animals. Hauser presents four distinguishing ingredients of human cognition, and shows how these capacities make human thought unique: the ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding; to apply the same “rule” or solution to one problem to a different and new situation; to create and easily understand symbolic representations of computation and sensory input; and to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input. (I’ll bet exceptions will be found, as were, for every other criterion.)
The Secret China-U.S. Hacking War.
Autism may be linked to a diminished sense of self. Watching brain activity during a quid-pro-quo game, scientists found that high-functioning autistics tended to treat the “other” player the way most people do, when playing vs a computer. (So, are we creating a world that is more suitable to them?)
Meanwhile, as expected (you saw it here) there has arisen an autistic rights movement, demanding that the condition not be considered a deficiency at all, but simply another part of human diversity.
Retina implant receives signals, energy wirelessly.
DARPA wants to develop Vulture... a robot plane that could stay aloft for up to 5 years...
------ AND FROM “NEWS OF THE UPLIFTABLE -----
This popular, much viraled video seems too good to be true. It cannot be a complete hoax (see the number of other YouTubed views of the same creature, available right next to this one.) Oh, of course the creature was carefully trained, as part of a money-making scheme. And yet, there can be no doubt that it knows what it is doing, and ratchets up our respect, by doing it. And now fans are demanding that I "uplift" elephants. I have! in a recent story...
-------BUT WE MAY BENEFIT MOST FROM DOWN-LIFT! -----
Sociotard contributed: “Did you see PETA's new prize for test tube meat? One Million to anybody who can make chicken tissue grow without inconveniencing a chicken.” Great stuff! Note that science fiction novels were talking about tissue cultured meat 50 or 60 years ago. Pohl, Kornbluth etc. If it results in far greater food efficiency, I can think of few innovations that would go farther to improve the world. (Beef too!)
Note, also, that this reflects the new mood of liberalism... a turn toward pragmatic problem solving that includes a renewed willingness to negotiate over nuclear power. (Anyone out there willing to sift around and get us some links on that?) If liberalism does fiercely take up a can do, pro-technology, problem-solving ethos, it will complete the trouncing of troglodytic neoconservatism and truly win America’s Civil War Part III.
Nancy Pelosi? Are you listening? Restore Congress’s scientific advisory commissions!
No single act would better show that you are part of this new wave.