Monday, July 25, 2005

Saturday, July 23, 2005

More on John G Roberts

Dr Patrick Whelan of Catholic Democrats has a great write-up worth checking out:

Moving beyond Roe v Wade in the debate over a new Supreme Court Justice

The spotlight will certainly be intensely focused on the issue of the legality of abortion in America in general, and the sustainability of Roe v Wade in particular. We believe this is an utter mistake, both for conservatives and for liberals. Those people who have made overturning Roe the litmus test for the morality of one’s stance on abortion have vastly overstated the effect this ruling has had on abortion rates in America. Not even accounting for speculative estimates of the number of illegal abortions that occurred prior to 1973, the national abortion rates now (16/1000 women/year in 2001 according to the CDC) are lower than they were prior to Roe v Wade. One study has estimated that there were 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions in the US in 1967 alone; the total legal abortions in 2002 were 1.29 million, with a population that was 40% larger. Overturning Roe is no Holy Grail when it comes to decreasing abortion in America.

Studies on abortions in Mississippi, which has among the most restrictive laws in the country and only a single abortion provider, have shown that the overall number of Mississippi women having abortions has remained unchanged. Such laws appear simply to have resulted in 60% of that state’s women seeking abortions out-of-state. With the dramatic increases in non-surgical abortions in recent years (up 173% between 2000 and 2001, according to the CDC), any effort to outlaw abortion will likely result in substantial numbers of these procedures being done illegally with drugs like misoprostol that can be produced for pennies and sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars on the black market. No one disputes how poorly federal and state governments have succeeded in combating the use of illegal drugs in the United States.

In other words overturning Roe v Wade, with an anticipated change in a few state laws making abortions illegal, may have no effect on the number of abortions in America. It would serve primarily to give some social conservatives the satisfaction of knowing that “someone was being punished” for abortion—with substantial costs in maternal deaths, induced birth defects, and penal system dollars expended—without actually doing anything to reduce or stop the practice. There is no theological basis for using the threat of state power to impose a solution to any moral problem. Jesus never advocated using the coercive power of the state to accomplish what each of us must do in our own hearts. [...]

For those of us who are Christian and pro-choice, this makes tons of sense.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Sith Movie Thing

I watched the Sith movie last week. My rating, A +. Excellent movie. I will not review for fear of spoilers. I should note that I thought Episode 1 and 2 were crap.

A Chill on the Mars Vacation Plans

By David Whitehouse
Science Editor, BBC News website

A chemical study of Martian meteorites implies that the planet has always been cold and was rarely above freezing. Writing in Science, US researchers say they are able to determine the maximum temperature the rocks experienced.

There is no evidence they were ever warm, the team says, as the meteorites would have recorded near-surface conditions for four billion years. The water erosional features seen on Mars must have been made during very brief periods, they conclude.

Thermal history

Although the current average temperature at the Martian equator is about minus 55 Celsius, many scientists believe that the Red Planet was once warm enough for liquid water to have existed on its surface, and for life to possibly have evolved.

There is plentiful evidence that water has flowed on the surface. This includes the presence of deep canyons, dried up river beds and many examples of deposits left behind by running water.

But the recent analysis, by David Shuster of the California Institute of Technology, and Benjamin Weiss, of the Berkeley Geochronology Center, of meteorites blasted off the surface of Mars to Earth seems to paint a different picture.

The new work involves two of the seven known "nakhlite" meteorites (named after El Nakhla, Egypt, where the first such meteorite was found), and the celebrated ALH84001 meteorite that some scientists believe shows evidence of past microbial activity on Mars.

Using geochemical analysis techniques, the researchers reconstructed a "thermal history" for each of the meteorites to estimate the maximum long-term average temperatures to which they were subjected.

"We looked at meteorites in two ways," says Weiss. "First, we evaluated what the meteorites could have experienced during ejection from Mars, 11 to 15 million years ago."

Their conclusions were that ALH84001 could never have been heated to a temperature higher than 350 Celsius for even a brief period of time during the last 15 million years.

The nakhlites, which also show very little evidence of shock-damage, were unlikely to have been above the boiling point of water during their ejection from Mars 11 million years ago.

'Leaking' Argon

The other part of the research addressed the long-term thermal history of the rocks while they resided on Mars. The scientists did this by estimating the total amount of argon still remaining in the samples.

The gas argon is present in the meteorites as well as in many rocks on Earth as a consequence of the radioactive decay of potassium. A noble gas, argon is not very chemically reactive, and because the decay rate is precisely known it can be used to date rocks.

However, argon is also known to leak out of rocks at a temperature-dependent rate. The cooler the rock has been, the more argon will have been retained.

The researchers found that only a tiny fraction of the argon that was originally produced in the meteorite samples had been lost through the aeons, suggesting that the Martian surface has been in deep-freeze for most of the last four billion years.

"The small amount of argon loss that has apparently taken place in these meteorites is remarkable. Any way we look at it, these rocks have been cold for a very long time," says Shuster.

"The ALH84001 meteorite, in fact, couldn't have been above freezing for more than a million years during the last 3.5 billion years of history."

Water, water, everywhere?

This new line of research is a puzzle given the contrary evidence of running water on Mars.

"Our research doesn't mean that there weren't pockets of isolated water in geothermal springs for long periods of time, but suggests instead that there haven't been large areas of free-standing water for four billion years," says Shuster.

"Our results seem to imply that surface features indicating the presence and flow of liquid water formed over relatively short time periods."

In fact, the evidence shows that during the last four billion years, Mars has likely never been sufficiently warm for liquid water to have flowed on the surface for extended periods of time.

This implies that Mars has probably never had a hospitable environment for life to have evolved, unless biology got started during the first half-billion years of its existence, when the planet was probably warmer.

The study is bound to be controversial showing a disparity between those scientists who look at pictures of Mars to discern its history and those who study the only pieces of the planet we can examine in detail in the laboratory.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

New Supreme Court Nominee

Here's an overview of John G. Roberts, Jr on Daily Kos

My first thought is, why are we not getting a woman?

Anyway, basically, he is not friendly to Civil Rights.
He is not friendly to the environment.
He is a member of the radical Right-Wing Federalist Society
He is not a friend of the environment
He is not a friend of the Americans with Disabilities Act
He is not pro-choice

In regard to business v people, he'll take the side of business

He is bad news

I like news from a definite viewpoint

How about this BBC headline?

Bush Stalls on CIA Scandal Firing

Monday, July 18, 2005

I got tagged with the bedside table meme

by Nathan

-Cordless phone

-Four oldish books: 2 history of Philosophy, one on 19th century British history, the Acathist hymn book, a latin missal and another philosophy book. The books' presence is totally random, they were placed there temporarily: definitely not a regular fixture.

-framed 11 x 14 of a very beautiful woman

-two large stackable baskets for miscellaneous large ticket items.

I'm tagging, T, A, S, J, A, B, E

update: before the baskets is a foot and half high wooden statue of Mary on which hangs a rosary. I'm not sure where we got the statue or why. I think it was from a Church that didn't know what to do with it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Technology and Development

Technologies to Aid the Poor

The best way to help developing nations is to recognise that development is "of the people, by the people and for the people", says a Bangladeshi entrepreneur. Iqbal Quadir, Grameen Phone founder in Bangladesh, told experts gathered for TED Global in Oxford that aid strategies for the last 60 years had failed.

Technologies such as mobiles empowered people because they connected them. This, he said, fuelled productivity much more than the top-down aid approach.

Mr Quadir had the idea for Grameen Phone, a way to get mobile telephony into Bangladeshi villages and rural areas, 12 years ago.

Since then, the company has grown to more than 3.5 million subscribers, with more than 115,000 phones in villages across the country.

Voices heard

Talking at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Global conference, a top US event being held in Europe for the first time, he criticised aid for developing countries that benefited authorities over the people themselves.

"The only way we can depend on each other is if we connect with each other. Connectivity leads to dependability which leads to specialisation and then productivity," he said.

What was key about a technology as simple as the mobile in a rural village was that people's voices, not just those in authority, were heard. The next step, he hoped, would be to get wireless internet via mobile devices into villages. But he warned of jumping on the technology bandwagon.

"If everyone can talk, it is more egalitarian," he told the BBC News website.

"But we should not jump ahead too much and say just because the First World has internet, then the Third World should, too. There is a fundamental beauty in just a phone," he said.

The Grameen Phone scheme has had a big impact is on the lives of women. Known as Grameen phone ladies, these women provide villagers with a vital link to services such as hospitals and to relatives both at home and abroad, in a country with the lowest number of phones in South Asia.

Energising growth

He said the success of Grameen Phone had had a huge impact on people's lives in areas where there is poor infrastructure, but that there were bigger problems to address, such as the lack of other credit checks, bank branches, customer contact points, but also energy production.

His current project with Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway scooter, is about developing village-based micro-power plants, fuelled by cow manure.

Two are currently running in villages providing power for 20 businesses. The project combines access to micro-credit with low-cost energy generation technology to see if rural entrepreneurs can manage mini power plants in villages.

"Some breakthrough in energy would be fantastic," he said. "Just imagine if solar panels suddenly become much cheaper. It would reduce the authorities' hold on electricity. "If you bring electricity to villages, you can bring jobs. Electricity is half the problem," he said.

"A woman with a mobile becomes important in a village. This changes the power distribution"

TED Global attracts technologists, scientists, artists and commentators alike and runs from 12 to 15 July.

This TED thing is an annual conference that brings together scientists, artists, writers, etc. I think it's like the Davos, (sp?) Switzerland meetings which brings together highpowered hot shots who focus on world problems.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

It's the customers

Dreamworks Stock Slumps

Shares in Dreamworks Animation have plunged in the wake of a profit warning and news that US regulators are looking into trading of its stock.
The US animation studio - famous for its Shrek films - sank 14.55%, or $3.90, to $22.91 in late US trade.

It blamed higher-than-expected home video returns for a cut in second quarter forecasts from break-even to a loss of 7 to 9 cents per share. [...]

That's worth a chuckle or two.

To NH and back

I just returned from a trip to NH to witness a very close friend do final vows with the Benedictines. Very, ultra cool--will definitely have to blog that sometime. I do like the Benedictines, especially since I flirted with the Trappists at some point, who are an off shoot of sorts, nicht va?

A few thoughts.

Maryland to New Hampshire is much further than it seems. It's only 3 inches on the map, but that's a good 10 hours. I listened to James Ingram twice, Luther Vandross once, Bob Marley twice, the Crusaders once, Pat Metheney once and some Andre Crouch. That's a lot of music. Towards the end it was the Crusaders who are a jazz band and it was good background music without the emotional commitment.

There are no restaurants in New Jersey. I know because I couldn't find one on the Turnpike, with the exception of fast food. There were two Cracker Barrel, but given their issues with Black people, I had to pass on. They have promised to retrain staff, but just couldn't be sure that the NJ stores had received the memo yet. BTW, New Jersey whoppers are the size of 5" plates.

New Jersey is a great state and wonderful place. However, I was in Jersey for hours and I did not see one garden. I am yet to find a decent explanation for "the garden state."

On the Garden State Expressway in Jersey, I ran into three toll booths each within a mile of each other. Each one charged about 35 cents. Here's a thought for New Jersey. What if you consolidated to just one toll both and charged $1.05? Or better yet, give us a deal, 3 for a $1?

On a positive note, New Jersey has the cleanest service areas bathrooms known to man. I cannot tell you how impressed I was. At two or three service stops, I saw people in there cleaning and there was a guarantee sign up. Compare this with the 60% of the service areas on the Ohio turnpike (the east-west thing).

The Connecticut Welcome Service area's parking lot appeared to have a maximum of 30 spaces. Now, I know it is a small state and they may not always think big, but they should consider that people from other states do pass through and it is possible that more than 30 people may want to stop to use the facilities and get a bite or coffee. Just a thought.

Connecticut has some beautiful waterfronts, who knew? I drove past wishing I could stop for a few. On a negative note, I paid $2.90 for mid grade gas in CT. I guess they have to fill their coffers somehow.

It seemed the further northeast I got the ruder the service was. NH was an exception, very helpful folks there. But I guess I shouldn't judge Massachusetts by the McDonald's service.

Overall, it was a very beautiful drive, lots of trees, water and driving space. However, we do need transporter technology, I do not enjoy long drives.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Baseball and softball dropped from 2012 Olympics

Baseball, softball dropped from 2012 Olympics

SINGAPORE (AP) - Baseball and softball were tossed out of the Olympic program for the 2012 London Games - the first sports cut from the Summer Games in 69 years. The International Olympic Committee then rejected the five sports wanting to get in.

Each of the 28 existing sports was put to a secret vote by the IOC, and baseball and softball failed to receive a majority required to stay. The other 26 sports made the cut.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said baseball and softball, two sports invented in America, would be eligible to win their way back into the Olympics for 2016.

It is interesting that two U.S. grown sports were dropped. Also droppped was the Japanese martial art form, Karate. At first that would make your head spin. why? But the you remember that the Olympics has Taekwondo. Ah! Taekwondo is Korean. I am a former Taekwondo Brown Belt so I'm happy. Taekwondo is about 70% kicking and thus more graceful and martial artsy to watch. Karate is the opposite. It is more hands fighting and you feel like you are watching boxing, maybe kick-boxing, without the gloves. It is a great artform, but just not my cup of tea, much too pedestrian.

What on earth are women thinking??

Here's a quote from Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post in his review of the Fantastic Four movie:

Johnny Storm can now burst into flame. But he doesn't burn. No, I don't quite see the point of this one either. Reed at least could stick a hand under a door and steal loose change. Sue could get into the New York Giants' locker room, every American girl's dream.

I'm guessing Stephen Hunter is a guy. Does anyone else find this comment absurd and possibly stupid? I'm a guy, but I'm pretty sure that it is not the dream of every American girl to go peeking into clubhouses.

I guess we can contrast this Invisible Girl thing to the Kevin Bacon movie where he becomes invisible and guess what, yep, he rapes the woman next door and watches a co-worker in the bathroom.

What the average guy would do with invisible powers differs qualitatively from what the average gal with invisible powers would do. I think it would behoove Mr Hunter to separate his possible fantasy from his reviews and certainly not insult "American girl's" dreams. I think such dreams tend to be a little nobler than that.

Not Knowing What to say

about the London bombings, everything has been said in much better ways. Of course, I pray for the victims and families.

But here's a cartoon from Marshall Ramsey that I can say speaks for me:

update:btw, that's Hitler talking to bin Laden

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Das Komen Gottes

You scored as Moltmannian Eschatology. Jürgen Moltmann is one of the key eschatological thinkers of the 20th Century. Eschatology is not only about heaven and hell, but God's plan to make all things new. This should spur us on to political and social action in the present.

Moltmannian Eschatology


Left Behind












What's your eschatology?
created with

Via Kinesis

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Fiction Update

I've been working for the past year on a new sci fi/fantasy novel. In fact, shortly after leaving the USCCB, I had an incredible creative spurt in which I basically wrote the whole thing. And since then I've been tweaking and rearranging and working on the story.

The way I tend to do it is to force myself to complete a draft of the story and then begin to work on details and research, etc. My theory, for my style of writing, is that the longer the novel takes the better. The more time I have to work on it, the better I can make the story and the clearer the writing is.

In the past year, I've fought off urges to wrap it up and begin searching for a publisher.I'm glad I did that because I have decided to scrap the ending and re-write it. I am also leaning towards scrapping the beginning and re-writing that, which would affect lots of stuff throughout the book. One interesting thing for me has been the mental work involved. When I was younger, for some reason, creativity took little or no effort. Now, I find that creativity by itself, alone, does not satisfy and I spend hours racking my brain for solutions to storyline issues. I do not get Eureka moments. Resolution is generally slow and painstaking, but progress is made. It's just a new situation for me and it'll take some getting used to. I've put quite a bit of mental energy into this piece of work than I expected to originally. (Also there is time travel issues involved. I hate time travel.)

The other aspect to this is that I want to get an established sci fi publisher this time, so I am paying more attention to the story. Also, I have no movie pretensions about this one. It wouldn't make a good movie, at all. Many writers see their work in its potential movie format and that has an effect on how the story is written, not necessarily for ill. In this case, it clear to me right from the beginning that I could not entertain any such film dreams, as remote as the possibility is to begin with, at all. So the work continues.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

TV May Stunt Toddlers' Learning

Parents who sit their toddlers in front of the TV could be damaging their child's future learning abilities, US researchers fear.
TV viewing before the age of three was linked to poorer reading and maths skills at the ages of six and seven among the 1,797 children they studied.

The Washington University findings back the US advice that children under two should not watch any television.

But TV viewing among those aged three to five seemed to aid literacy later.

How much TV?

Some experts argue that educational programmes can foster academic skills in children, however young. They say the key is making sure that the viewing is appropriate for the age of the child.

For young children, programmes should offer opportunities for verbal responses and a balance between familiar and new content, for example, says the National Literacy Trust.

This can actually help language skills, the NLT believes.

However, the Washington University team found each hour of average daily TV viewing before the age of three had a negative effect on scores in mathematics, reading recognition and reading comprehension in later childhood.

Yet, TV viewing among children aged three to five appeared to be beneficial - at least for reading recognition and short-term memory skills - they told Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

TV has also been blamed for rising childhood obesity and violent behaviour, as well as attention deficit disorder.

How might it damage?

Although the current study authors, Dr Frederick Zimmerman and colleagues, did not look at why too much TV might be harmful, they said there were a couple of possible theories.

One is that children spend less time on other educational and play activities because of the time that they spend watching TV.

The other is that the intense visual and auditory output from TV damages the child's rapidly-developing brain.

Dr Zimmerman's team said: "These results suggest that greater adherence to the American Academy of Pediatric guidelines that children younger than two years not watch television is warranted."

Although there is no such standard advice in the UK, experts agree that carers should limit children's viewing times.

Liz Attenborough of the National Literacy Trust said: "For the most part, we would recommend less than 30 minutes television or video watching for under-three's, preferably with an adult watching at the same time in order to talk about what has been seen."

This is because language develops by talking and interacting with adults, she said.

She added: "We would welcome similar research to be undertaken in the UK, where we enjoy higher quality programming specifically directed at under-three's."

Another study in the same medical journal, by Dr Robert Hancox from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, found that children aged five to 11 who watched the most television were the least likely to leave school with qualifications.

Another, also published in the archives journal, of Californian school children aged eight found those with a TV in their bedroom, but no home computer, achieved the worst scores in school achievement tests.

Those without a bedroom TV, but access to a computer, scored the highest.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! You try getting stuff at home done with two toddlers and no TV.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Friday, July 01, 2005

Depression Risk for Tiny Babies

BBC report

Babies with small birthweights are at an increased risk of depression in later life, research suggests.

Newborns weighing less than 5.5lbs were 50% more likely to have anxiety and depression as adults, a British Journal of Psychiatry study found.

Small babies are known to be prone to certain diseases and learning difficulties, and mounting evidence now suggests they risk mood disorders too. The Bristol University team believe harm while in the womb may be a factor.

Small babies

Taking factors such as the individual's IQ, and whether or not they had behavioural problems as a child into account did not alter the findings.

Nor did factors such as social class, or how old their mother had been when they had given birth to them. Lead researcher Dr Nicola Wiles said: "It was a direct effect, so we think early factors happening before birth might be important."

Her team at Bristol, working with colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, used information from over 5,572 participants from the Aberdeen 'Children of the 1950s' study.

They compared rates of depression when the participants had reached the ages of 45 to 51 with birthweight, plus their mental and behavioural development as children.

Dr Wiles said that the trend between low birth rate and depression in adulthood might be down to restricted growth in the womb impairing brain development in some way. She said: "What we need to do is understand what is going on in terms of the biological mechanism.

Critical period

"We know that a lot of the brain growth occurs in the womb. It may be a delayed effect that we are seeing."

However, she emphasised that people should not be alarmed by the findings and that there were many other causes of depression and this was merely another factor to consider.

"We do not want to spread panic with mothers who fear they may give birth to a smaller child," she said. There have been previous reports that birthweight is linked with depression in later life.

A study the Medical Research Council, published in 2004 and which involved over 5,000 participants, found a similar trend.

The authors of MRC study also suggested that it might be related to stunted growth in the womb. They said: "Stress at a critical time during foetal development may increase susceptibility to this condition."

They said animal studies showed exposure to various stressors during pregnancy results in lower birth weights and physiological features that were very similar to those seen in people with depression. A spokesman from BLISS, the preamture baby charity, said they were not surprised by the findings.

More-"getting to know you"

Here are the results of an interesting 300 question personality test (IPIP-NEO) I took:

Via Majikthise

John A. Johnson wrote descriptions of the five domains and thirty subdomains. These descriptions are based on an extensive reading of the scientific literature on personality measurement. Although Dr. Johnson would like to be acknowledged as the author of these materials if they are reproduced, he has placed them in the public domain.

Activity Level...........80

Your score on Extraversion is average, indicating you are neither a subdued loner nor a jovial chatterbox. You enjoy time with others but also time alone.

Your high level of Agreeableness indicates a strong interest in others' needs and well-being. You are pleasant, sympathetic, and cooperative.

Your score on Conscientiousness is high. This means you set clear goals and pursue them with determination. People regard you as reliable and hard-working.

Your score on Neuroticism is low, indicating that you are exceptionally calm, composed and unflappable. You do not react with intense emotions, even to situations that most people would describe as stressful.

Artistic Interests.......33
Your score on Openness to Experience is high, indicating you enjoy novelty, variety, and change. You are curious, imaginative, and creative.

Note the high anger and the low "liberalism." Here's what it says about liberalism:

Liberalism. Psychological liberalism refers to a readiness to challenge authority, convention, and traditional values. In its most extreme form, psychological liberalism can even represent outright hostility toward rules, sympathy for law-breakers, and love of ambiguity, chaos, and disorder. Psychological conservatives prefer the security and stability brought by conformity to tradition. Psychological liberalism and conservatism are not identical to political affiliation, but certainly incline individuals toward certain political parties. Your level of liberalism is average.

So in a nutshell, I am mildly extravertish, very agreeable, very conscientious, not neurotic and very open to experience. What a great guy! (note my modesty marks weren't very high. Surprising for someone like me who is renowned for his modesty and humility.)

I am an arrogant glutton

Your Deadly Sins

Gluttony: 40%

Pride: 40%

Envy: 20%

Lust: 20%

Sloth: 20%

Greed: 0%

Wrath: 0%

Chance You'll Go to Hell: 20%

You'll die choking on a cookie in bed.

Via In Today's News