Member since: Wed Oct 13, 2004, 05:42 PM
Number of posts: 5,115
Number of posts: 5,115
I know this will raise some hackles here (and, by the way, this pretty well describes my 'beliefs,' if one can call it that!) The Spiritual Practice of Agnosticism:
As an agnostic, I’m very aware that we agnostics are often seen as fence-sitters—the tepid ones choosing neither hot nor cold. Why can’t we just buck up and admit that we’re atheists? Or why can’t we admit that we have a soft spot for one god or another? Why can’t we just cry wolf or shut up?
Contrary to the cliche, agnosticism isn’t about not deciding. It’s about honestly facing what we know about knowing itself. It is, as the Victorian biologist, T.H. Huxley, who coined the term, said, “not a creed but a method.” (Athiesm is a creed because it is a belief, like theism.)
Gnostic in Greek means “knowledge.” In the Western world we know the term best from the early Christian movement called Gnosticism, which claimed esoteric knowledge of the workings of the universe. Such knowledge, Huxley pointed out, can be neither proven nor disproven. The Gnostics claimed to have “solved the problem of existence.” Huxley, however, wasn’t so sure of their untestable opinions. (Neither, it might be mentioned, was the Church so sure of their solution.)
This is not fence-sitting or vacillation. It is, rather, a commitment to the active search for what we can know. In this way it is much like the spiritual practice of via negativa, a method of removing those things that are not “god” in order to discover god.
I know this is putting a 'cat among the pigeons' for this board, a big, mean, battle-scarred alley cat; but, it's a viewpoint that isn't expressed often enough.
By the way, I do recommend this person's blog on Patheos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uucollective/author/davidbreeden/
Posted by LongTomH | Sat Aug 30, 2014, 06:01 PM (55 replies)
From AAAS Science: Rocks Made of Plastic Found on Hawaiian Beach. We've found tons of plastic floating in our oceans - which really complicated the search for MH 370 wreckage; floating plastic junk kept turning up in aerial photos and being identified as wreckage. Bits of plastic are now incorporated in Antarctic ice. Now, we're seeing:
Geologist Patricia Corcoran of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and Charles Moore, captain of the oceanographic research vessel Alguita, stumbled upon the new rocks on a beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. These stones, which they’ve dubbed “plastiglomerates,” most likely formed from melting plastic in fires lit by humans who were camping or fishing, the team reports this month in GSA Today. Although anywhere there is a heat source, such as forest fires or lava flows, and “abundant plastic debris,” Corcoran says, “there is the potential for the formation of plastiglomerate.” When the plastic melts, it cements rock fragments, sand, and shell debris together, or the plastic can flow into larger rocks and fill in cracks and bubbles to form a kind of junkyard Frankenstein.
Corcoran says some of the plastic is still recognizable as toothbrushes, forks, ropes, and just “anything you can think of.” Once the plastic has fused to denser materials, like rock and coral, it sinks to the sea floor, and the chances it will become buried and preserved in the geologic record increase.
The discovery adds to the debate about whether humanity’s heavy hand in natural processes warrants the formal declaration of a new epoch of Earth history, the Anthropocene, says paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. Plastics in general are so pervasive that they’ve been documented in a number of surprising places, including ingested in wildlife and on the sea floor. The mass of plastic produced since 1950 is close to 6 billion metric tons, enough to bundle the entire planet in plastic wrap. Combine plastic’s abundance with its persistence in the environment, and there’s a good chance it’ll get into the fossil record, Zalasiewicz says. “Plastics, including plastiglomerates, would be one of the key markers by which people could recognize the beginning of the Anthropocene.”
How long the plastic will endure remains a matter of debate, however. Jerolmack says he doubts the material will stick around in the fossil record. After all, plastic melts, and rocks often pass through hellish depths and temperatures through tectonic processes and burial. Geologist Philip Gibbard of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom says he imagines that plastics might “revert back to a source of oil from whence they came, given the right conditions of burial.” But Zalasiewicz and Corcoran say that isn’t true for all the plastic. Some of the material can be preserved as a thin carbon film, much like the way fossil leaves are preserved. Zalasiewicz says that in some rare cases, in that etch of carbon “you may well be left the shape for a flattened plastic bottle.”
I'm not as negative about the human race as some others on DU; but, we really, really need to clean up our act.
Posted by LongTomH | Sat Jun 7, 2014, 06:00 PM (9 replies)
With all the static from the 'Christian' Right about the need to 'get godly,' and the attempts to rewrite American history, it may be instructive to actually review Jefferson on religion.
From his letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush:
"... To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.... And in confiding it to you, I know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from me a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies. I am moreover averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public; because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquisition over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly proscribed...."
In his 1787 Notes on the State of Virginia:
"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth. ... Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with religious dissensions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled, and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because there is no other circumstance in which they differ from every nation on earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this experiment fair play, and get rid, while we may, of those tyrannical laws."
Posted by LongTomH | Fri May 30, 2014, 10:29 PM (12 replies)
This was posted on Mother Jones before the UCSB massacres: Spitting, Stalking, Rape Threats, How Gun Extremists Target Women. There have been stories posted here about open carry advocates in Texas and elsewhere carrying their guns into public places to intimidate people; that bullying behavior has been extended:
AS JENNIFER LONGDON STEERED her wheelchair through the Indianapolis airport on April 25, she thought the roughest part of her trip was over. Earlier that day she'd participated in an emotional press conference with the new group Everytown for Gun Safety, against the backdrop of the National Rifle Association's annual meeting. A mom, gun owner, and Second Amendment supporter, Longdon was paralyzed in 2004 after being shot in her car by unknown assailants, and has since been a vocal advocate for comprehensive background checks and other gun reforms.
As Longdon sat waiting for her flight, a screen in the concourse showed footage of the press conference. A tall, thin man standing nearby stared at Longdon, then back at the screen. Then he walked up to Longdon and spat in her face. No one else blinked.
What happened to Longdon in Indianapolis is part of a disturbing pattern. Ever since the Sandy Hook massacre, a small but vocal faction of the gun rights movement has been targeting women who speak up on the issue—whether to propose tighter regulations, educate about the dangers to children, or simply to sell guns with innovative security features. The vicious and often sexually degrading attacks have evolved far beyond online trolling, culminating in severe bullying, harassment, invasion of privacy, and physical aggression. Though vitriol flows from both sides in the gun debate, these menacing tactics have begun to alarm even some entrenched pro-gun conservatives.
A major target for these people is the grassroots organization: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, formed after Sandy Hook. Catch this brave 'Second Amendment advocate's' Mothers' Day message:
There's even more misogyny, like using a female mannequin as a "mad minute" target:
Hate talk radio host Alex Jones has gotten into the act:
Last October, hundreds of armed people gathered for a rally at the Alamo in San Antonio, where Open Carry Texas had invited Alex Jones, the fringe radio host known for whipping up fans with squalls of anti-government paranoia. At the podium, an assault rifle strapped across his back, Jones got into such a lather about Hitler and Mao and the Obama administration preparing to "enslave" Americans that he blew out his voice in less than five minutes. "These scumbags are all the same!" he shouted. He described a worldwide conspiracy to take away everyone's guns, whose perpetrators included "the few dozen Democratic Party operatives they're gonna have marching here in a little while, the so-called moms."
Read on to find out how he tried to intimidate a parent who lost his daughter in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.
Posted by LongTomH | Wed May 28, 2014, 10:46 PM (16 replies)
.....compromised from the beginning. I'm also very critical of the way that some technologies from the Shuttle era are being recycled for asteroid and Mars missions intended for the 2020s and 2030s, mostly the same segmented solid rockets used on the Shuttle.
I did a quick Google search on "Prescription for Disaster Challenger." One of the more interesting sources I found was a pdf file of a report from the University of Texas Austin for a course in Studies in Ethics, Safety, and Liability for Engineers:
The authors asked some very important ethics and safety questions:
There are many questions involving safety and/or ethics that are raised when we examine the history of the development of the Solid Rocket Boosters. The ethics questions are complex. If high standards of ethical conduct are to be maintained, then each person must differentiate between right and wrong and must follow the course which is determined to be the right or ethical course. Frequently, the determination of right or wrong is not simple, and good arguments can be made on both sides of the question. Some of the issues raised by examining the history of the SRBs are listed below.
1. Are solid rocket boosters inherently too dangerous to use on manned spacecraft? If so, why are they a part of the design of the Space Shuttle System?
2. Was safety traded for political acceptability in the design of the Space Shuttle?
3. Did the pressure to succeed cause too many things to be promised to too many people during the design of the Space Shuttle?
4. Did the need to maintain the keep costs low force decision makers to compromise safety in the decision to use SRBs with manned vehicles?
5. In awarding the SRB contract to Morton Thiokol, NASA did not violate any laws--but did it violate ethical standards?
Posted by LongTomH | Thu May 8, 2014, 03:56 PM (0 replies)
Photos from Space.com: http://www.space.com/11554-photos-nasa-mercury-alan-shepard-freedom-7-spaceflight.html
I've seen actual Mercury capsules at the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, AL and at the Johnson Space Center. Once you've seen one of them, you'll realize why the requirements for the Mercury astronauts included a maximum height!
Posted by LongTomH | Tue May 6, 2014, 03:12 PM (21 replies)
Most Americans want real clean energy (solar, wind, renewables); some Americans are dreaming of the stars. This is what we get!
From the Conservatives Are Destroying Our Future webpage.
Posted by LongTomH | Sat Mar 29, 2014, 02:28 PM (0 replies)
W.B. Yeats The Second Coming was first published in 1920. Yeats intended it as a commentary on post-WWI Europe; but, it seems frighteningly apropos for today's political climate.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
Surely some revelation is at hand;
I was reminded of Yeats' poem while reading Phil Plait's recent post: What We Know: AAAS: "What We Know About Global Warming. 97% of climate scientists are convinced that global warming is real and due to human activities; Phil complains that:
Facts don’t speak for themselves; they need advocates. And these advocates need to be passionate. You can put the facts up on a blackboard and lecture at folks, but that will be almost totally ineffective. That’s what many scientists have been doing for years and, well, here we are. The conversation is dominated by louder voices that are grossly and totally wrong, but they’re passionate. That’s what connects with people, and that’s a big part of why a tiny minority of “climate skeptics” have way more leverage than they should (well, that, plus huge coffers thanks to the fossil fuel industry).
Meanwhile, the right whips up 'passionate intensity' among its members, convincing them that "global warming is a hoax designed to impose socialism on the world."
It's the same with evolution. It's been accepted as scientific fact for over a century and half; but, we still get stuff like this.
And, why are we unable to rouse our base for off-year elections, while the rightwingers turn out in droves?
Posted by LongTomH | Fri Mar 21, 2014, 03:07 PM (1 replies)
Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the more thought-provoking of current authors and one of the most original thinkers around today. His fiction blends social, political, scientific and ecological themes with a strong emphasis on social justice.
Here he discusses the concept of utopia; not a popular concept in our cynical and pessimistic age:
Robinson has often expressed skepticism about the idea of a technological singularity (and I heartily agree!). Please note his concerns with class divide and transhumanism:
On social systems, optimism and remediating capitalism:
Robinson has incorporated environmental themes in many of his novels. Here he discusses climate change and combating it, including the concept of geoengineering:
On strategic foresight and transformation:
If you want to learn more about Kim Stanley Robinson, his thought and fiction, go to his website or look him up on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Better yet, look up his books and ask a local bookstore to order them for you.
Posted by LongTomH | Fri Jan 31, 2014, 05:00 PM (7 replies)
Googling on 'Jobocalypse' led me to the blog: Robot Futures Book by an author with his own ideas on what a 'robot future' may look like. The author did a very critical review of Ben Way's book and the conclusions Way reached. Some excerpts below:
Ben Way’s book, Jobocalypse, is subtitled “The End of Human Jobs and How Robots Will Replace Them.” The title summarizes the book’s attitude well, and while I agree that this issue is worthy of serious discussion, Way’s book demonstrates common fallacies that are worth identifying. Way starts with a chart showing employment slack, and here he is inspired by McAfee and Brynjolfsson at MIT. The interesting pattern is that unemployment following recession recovers both less quickly and less fully with every more recent case of recession, and this portends business recovery practices that are becoming ever less friendly toward the individual worker. Way explains just how cautious behavior on the part of a recovering company leads toward lower-cost routes to high productivity and profits rather than making long-term commitments to fully employed new workers, even in the face of increasing consumer demand. Rightly, Way identifies increasingly inexpensive and flexible automation as an important enabler of this pattern, and I agree fully with this analysis.
However in looking at automation itself and how it improves over time, Way’s argument repeats a mistaken trope so common that I believe we need to name it: Moore’s Leak (with due apologies to Gordon Moore). Way shows an oft-reproduced chart of computing power from 1900 through 2020. The chart shows MIPS per $1000 and shows a healthy doubling at least every 18 months, as suggested by Moore’s Law. Computers from various years are labeled on the graph, and the future looks bright for ever-faster computers. But the problem is the labeling: “Brain power equivalent” along the right lists bacteria, spiders, lizards, mice, monkeys and of course humans. And humans are shown easily achievable by 2020. That’s less than seven years from now, folks. Moore’s Law is a fine predictor (actually a milestone-setting device for Intel) for computing speed, but jumping over to animal equivalence forces mistaken conclusions from everyone but the computational biologists amongst us. Way’s point, based on the chart, is that robots will do everything humans can by 2020, and cheaply. For this conclusion the chart lends no support. Yes, singularists will argue that just as soon as computers are fast enough, they will also be smart enough to design their own future evolutionary conclusions, and this runaway chain reaction will yield so much intelligence that super-intelligent computers can then do what we humans have not been able to do: fully emulate a human being. But that is an indirect argument that is mostly an article of faith today.
In literal terms, computer speed just does not approach humanity. Moore’s Leak happens when we use Moore’s Law to optimistically imagine a future breakthrough that doesn’t really have anything to do with computing speed. Way predicts that robots will be cheap and capable thanks to Moore: “Within the next generation, the humanoid robots that we see in films such as I, Robot will find their way into our homes and will be able to perform almost any task more efficiently and better than any human ever could.” I disagree strongly; Way is tapping levels of actuation, hardware innovation, perception and reasoning that are more than a generation away with a statement this strong.
Read the rest here: http://robotfuturesbook.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/mini-review-jobocalypse-by-ben-way/
Note that the argument touches on the often touted: Technological Singularity, which is predicted to occur sometime within the next few decades; although, there are many people skeptical of the whole concept, myself included.
Edited to add: You might try Googling on the name: Illah Nourbakhsh, author of Robot Futures.
Posted by LongTomH | Mon Jan 27, 2014, 04:43 PM (2 replies)