Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Just by a strange coincidence at the same time I was mostly through that tedious but famous read Frankenstein – the news broke that Newcastle and Durham’s collective University project has worked out how to manufacture sperm… As I mused on the wild silliness of that old feminist idea that men [as in the male half of the species] are not really needed and this can only add to that strange and destructive argument…

Of course one thing is that as they’ve worked out how to make a sperm from a skin cell – How long before they can make an egg? And then who will be needed? Alright – so that’s science fiction at the moment but last week making a sperm was as well. I’ll stick my neck out and say How Long Before Pregnancy Is A Luxury For The Rich Or Something The Poor Cannot Avoid?

In the late eightees I remember there was some interest in a ‘wet incubator’ that was having some success and how much more interest in developping a wet incubator will there be when sperm and egg can be manufactured, vetted and then wed… why not let them develop slightly longer in the lab… and if possible would the rich spend money on not being pregnant, would folk investigate a full term ‘artificial womb’ or incubator as it would relieve the poor from having to work hard and carry their child?

Frankenstein in his pride wanted to make a creature better than he – We in our pride are content to manufacture ourselves… and make ourselves redundant?

Will we abandon sex completely for the sake of  descandants? Will we automatically turn to contraceptives so that we need never worry about what could occur outside the Lab? Could this be the road to Barbarella where only the eccentric or the rich [possible only the rich eccentric] carry their babes?

Barbarella is a vision of a future without sex – could we turn towards sex as nothing more than fun and then for prudes to allow us to worry about diseases and dirt to say that we should refrain?

I don’t think the future is sexless or genderless, even though that might become possible by design… but I do wonder how wise we’d become in a world where hardship is having to go to the shops… How could we relate to another’s pain when all pain is striven to be discarded?

Now I’m sure there are some who have problems with the old ‘plumbing’ and that given that I’m not against an incubator that could help – I’m against what the widespread use of such could mean… Ordered children? Frozen embryoes to be thawed out at a given notice? Just come along at the appropiate appointment and take your child away and here’s some drugs to get you to lactate [if you so desire]… Male or female there could be a drug for either… [Men can lactate given real hardships… for more ask or be bewildered.]

Don’t want a screaming infant? Well, we could use a new and not quite tested method for allowing them to develop a bit more… yes, nutritional supplements and programmes for languages…

Why don’t you just say how old you want them and perhaps take one off the shelf?

If this were to pass over the years [at least two decades I think but I could be wrong…] would we notice any diference in how we related to each other, would we just say that we had come into some Golden Age? and what would we lose?


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Apart from a couple of quick personal asides this ones about freedom and what it means when we loose it.

This evening I’m off to stand outside an emerging church cafe evening because it’s about faith and politics – as a smoker I can no longer just go on in and if segregation isn’t political I don’t know what is. One of my posts has been tagged top mud here on Jabbertags, which I find almost ironic. It was The Blind Atheist which is a critical look at evolutionary theory – I just didn’t go back to the nut of primordial soup or mud…

It seems that the government wants to control our behaviour in new and interesting ways. There’s a guide to how you treat pets, story here, and that contravening these ‘guidelines’ may be a factor over whether or not we’re fined or even imprisonned – so more like laws then… It’s a small thing really as most folk will probably just cave and hand over whatever pet they’ve got to the RSPCA or whoever and be done with the pet, but for those who want to keep their beloved pet despite not being the best owners in the world…

Whilst this may seem a small step and has very little to do with Rule 303 but there is more that’s about at the moment – there’s this about all net visits and email on the net turned into evidence in a ‘black box‘ – for what is it if it is not evidence just waiting to be used – and what does that say about how the government views us as we tap away at our keyboards? Well, luckily for us – the government has been kind enough to tell us, and it isn’t happy. In the form of Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has said that we are ‘witnessing a dangerous corrosion in our political culture’ and that we bloggers with our own views are the problem. True she does have a view on how to get other folk into politics, the article is here, if you’re interested.

This is all well and good but none of this touches our freedom if we follow the law… well, yes, except of course unless you are either part of the 20% of the population who still has the bloody mindedness to still smoke or are married/partnered to one of these 20% and want to foster as now there’s a possibility you might be banned – for health reasons… Of course what level of risk is it? Nobody says… The biggest chance of damage to a child’s health is that they model the behaviour of the smoker (evil as they are) and become smokers themselves (and thereby help contribute more to society than they cost…) Go Here for more… I wonder if it will be one of those many boxes on the ID card that the gutless totalitarian Jacqui Smith is starting to roll out on immigrants and workers in two airports… which of course the immigrants and workers will have to have and have to pay for….

Of course this is not to say that we suffer from any of this raft of legislation, however uncomfortable it may make us feel. Unless, of course you are a parent and your child has become overweight or obese – then you can have your child taken away and put into a smoke free care environment, you can go here, or even watch a news video here! How long will it be before parents who continue to smoke will risk their own children being taken away?

And here we have a government that is willing to get ever more personal with us in a legal fashion – forcing us to have ID cards and to try to keep as much DNA as possible on record, although it has run into trouble with that just recently, in the unelected house of Lords, here, and by the unelected information commissioner, here. These records are damaging as they show up where they are no longer relevant and DNA travels almost as if flapped about on the wings of that darn butterfly – I shake your hand, minute traces of my DNA rub off onto your hand, you shake hands with someone I’ve never met, my DNA rubs off onto them, they rub their hands somewhere I’ve never been and if a crime goes down there – I have to provide an alibi…

So for me, so for you, dear reader.

And another personal restriction is the rising of the marriage visa age for foreigners. Whilst a good aim is to try to stamp out forced marriages – how bluntly does this go?

At a time when we can actively contemplate Honeymoons in space within the next 50 years and a stop off by the end of the century we still have to live with the problem of Jean Charles de Menezes – with the pathologist now chipping in about how he was lied to by the police. Of course we also have the problem of closed ranks, however understandable, which led to an unofficial strike amongst firearms officers – so They Know they can rely on each other…

This is where I draw in the old Rule 303, if we lose our freedom to live our own lives, even within our family units are we not being made to live in a drastically real ‘prison in the community’? And if we somehow get on the wrong side then everything will be stacked up against us, no matter how little or large we’ve been infringed upon. Of course, if we have no freedom left, what is to stop us from either thinking, rightly, we may as well be physically imprisoned or feeling, depending on how strongly you feel, that the state might as well just get it over with. Because without freedoms what life do we have?

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No doubt when I’ve re-watched all three episodes together of the ‘The Genius of Charles Darwin‘ I’ll write a ‘Whackos’ post about them as a whole but for this piece I’ll try to keep to The Final Installment of Dawkins propaganda… And make no mistake – that’s what it is. Either he doesn’t have enough time to give folk an open debate or he merely wishes to poke around to find teachers, or indeed preachers, who disagree with him and then narrate over any argument that they know is substantive to their basis. Of course those who do not rest on any scientific rational are allowed to be foolish on this programme targeted at the rationalists.

“Another inoculation against Deism, sir?” Is what this installment amounts to.

One of the main problems I have with this is Dawkins use of the word ‘fact‘ as opposed to ‘belief‘… If you want to read something dedicated to this issue then go here, dear reader. But as a brief jab at this – let’s take Napoleon: Dawkins uses Napoleon to demonstrate his grasp of the word ‘fact’ only to show those who know more about the divide between faith and fact that he does not know what he is saying. I am willing to accept that Napoleon walked the land and was eventually defeated by a coalition of various countries and one of those crucial leaders was Wellington… but I have not seen ‘the evidence’ I accept most of the story as if it were ‘fact’ because it’s a whole series of ‘truths of history’ – which makes it belief. This, more than anything else, is Dawkins blind spot and for those who see it it’s like a wide open maw. Napoleon’s story may well be made of a series of facts – but we also get historians views, the idea that Napoleon thought like this because he was short… and other such inferences some, or even most may be correct – which is which and what I believe is thus a tangled mess of historical facts [ie those bits of information that could be verified] and historians views of Napoleon. Why do I continue to use the word ‘believe’ when I refer to ‘facts’? It is because I have not checked them, personally.

Dawkins is famous for targeting those who are superstitious and the reason why so many believe in superstitions is that we seek patterns in the world around us and some of them are not true and can be argued to either be entirely random or have a logical rationale. Take mirrors – break a mirror and suffer seven years bad luck. Studies have been widely accepted that say that our appearance makes a crucial impact on how we are evaluated in the world at large and at one time it could take up to seven years to save the money to replace a broken mirror… Nowadays it could take a week, or less, and we in the west are likely to have more than one mirror so we can forget the whole reason but still the phrase survives…

At one point Dawkins announces that he will show us the ‘proof’ and then takes a stroll down a fossil lined corridor – what I was expecting was a demonstration of how the bones of the reptile jaw changed to the mammalian one piece jaw and the other bones migrating up to the ear. Or even a few skulls which show the ear migrate from around the jaw to the side of the skull… but alas we do not see this evidence – what we see is a series of jawbones that look similar to each other. As pattern seeking beings we will draw conclusions that could be right or wrong. Some take the line that this maw came before this maw and that the difference shows evolution others take a more skeptical view – do we know that the owners of both jaws did not walk the earth at the same time? Dating, when it goes so far back has huge +/- numbers ie the actual range of these ancient artifacts mean that instead of saying 25 million years ago we actually have the possibility of 25 million years with 5 million years before or after that date to play with… Ok, so I made the five million up at the top of my head. But when I was studying the archeology of the Old Testament this was a real problem and that was only thousands of years ago… and the further back we go the greater the problem.

One of my problems with Dawkins installment was the white washing. At one point we have a science teacher who was willing to argue, on a scientific basis, why he believed the Earth has only been around for ten thousand years (+/- a couple of thousand I’d presume) but instead of letting us hear this argument Dawkins narrates that we have six ways that agree with each other and say that we are on a really old planet… this is of course a free exchange of views… From my psychology studies I know that once you have a Standard other standards must be calibrated to agree with the first Standard – and that’s how a lot of these things do work… Let me hear the debate and I’ll be less sceptical, of course you run the risk that I might for my own strange and perverse views disagree with you but at least we’d know the parameters of the whole problem.

And as with the science teacher so with others including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams – he who’s mind is extraordinarily good but suffers from still believing in something (anything else bar science is enough for Dawkins to think you are a weirdo who needs saving).

At the end we are told that we should be proud that we have got to where we are – following on from generations of winners but as a still childless man in a land where success is measured by passing on my peculiar genetic variations, this gives me no consolation. In fact I am letting my genes down – I, by this measure, am a rank failure. They have gotten me this far but no further as of the time of writing this post.

Going back to another piece [which I posted about here] of Dawkins propaganda he argued that because you couldn’t verify some superstitions despite the fact that it brought some folk comfort it could not be ‘valid for the rest of us’ as it could not be independently verified- then he argued that it was alright, however grudgingly that some found comfort from their strange beliefs and that was ok… but problematic. Here at the end of his series on The Genius of Charles Darwin Dawkins asserts the comfort we can all have from the theory/fact of evolution and our place in the whole chain – but what if we don’t care about our ancestors and would rather find comfort in how we live now – how then can evolution as a comfort be ‘valid’ for us?

This, more than anything he has said before, shows how much of a belief system Dawkins has constructed on the back of the theory of evolution. What it doesn’t do is show any real moral values or a way to value  different ways to live. At the end Dawkins becomes one of those figures from the conference of folk he so readily derides in his earlier programmes.

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The Blind Atheist

As I watched ‘The Genius of Charles Darwin‘ last night I could not but think that it was a rather revealing quest about Richard Dawkins as he started the programme with ‘Why should I love my brother?’ and from then on the programme was about him.

One of the problems with Dawkins is that he is so narrowly centred on humans and our ancestors that he misses a lot of other stuff that would disagree with his view of nature – red in tooth and claw… Our altruism, apparently, comes from having such a large brain that we can identify with strangers and want, or even – ‘lust’, to help or aid them – with no benefit to our genetic make-up at all. When he was making these statements I could not help myself – I laughed out loud and here’s the why – Squirrels.

It may seem like a joke but Dawkins hypothesis is that due to our big brains our behaviour  or selfish gene misfires and we’d agree that a squirrel’s brain is a few orders smaller – so why are they too altruistic? How come they too decide to have a society that can live together whether or not every squirrel in the area is related or not? Only we with our ‘big brains’ can choose that… Squirrels count the number of squirrels in the area and then breed to maintain a healthy population but not one that has to compete – so one squirrel may not breed altruistically maintaining a stable supply and demand for another squirrel’s baby – and if we want to talk about the selfish gene misfiring because we are so smart and thus help strangers – Red Squirrels will count all squirrels in the given area, including the Grey Squirrel which only counts fellow greys… so the smaller brained one out of these similar species is more altruistic than the larger brained one… So – squirrels too can try to make the society they want. Never mind mankind.

I keep finding Dawkins rhetoric rather laughable – at one point he’s talking about the ‘fact’ that if he where to hold his mother’s hand and then she were to hold her mother’s hand in the ‘surprisingly short’ distance of 300 miles we’d reach the mother of human and chimpanzee. Before you say how many generations you can fit into a mile the statement is meaningless. Or perhaps he knows exactly how many generations he expects but thinks that if he mentions that bit of information he may seem less convincing?

A brief clip before a break shows Dawkins talking to a bishop and the clip goes –

Dawkins: I’m an ape, what are you?

Bishop: I’m a human being.

Of course Dawkins does say we are human beings, or rather homo sapiens. So why the clip? Before the break we’ve been programmed to think of the bishop as an old stick in the mud and then we see Dawkins introduce himself after the break as just coming from over there in that part of Kenya and the bishop who has, so far only been friendly points in the other direction and says that’s where he’s from – at this point Dawkins narrates that he thus finds that he’s not going ‘to get along’ with the bishop But Why The Hell Not? all that transpired is that they’ve both exchanged the same information about their own origins. Perhaps it would have been more honest if he had said that he knew he would not get along with the bishop – even before he met him.

And the why of that is that the martyr of evolution – or is that Atheism – does not get along with those who do not speak his language, true he does speak to an ape specialist who disagrees with his theory and calls it the ‘veneer theory’ only to be able to agree that they both share the view that the work ‘The Selfish Gene’ has been misused to promote ‘The Dark Side of Darwinism’ [I could hardly hold my breath when he said that and waited with baited breath for the X-wing to fly past with Obi Wan Ken Obi to jump out and explain how the ‘dark side’ is ‘bad’…] – so in the end they could understand and be friendly… but with the bishop, well the bishop is part of the whole martyredom fight; Dawkins does not hold back to mention whenever he has been attacked relating how in the 70s he raised hackles with ‘The Selfish Gene‘ but that now the world of science has accepted the light of his work – he suffered and persevered for his faith and was not found wanting…

If Dawkins thinks that the case for evolution and the evidence of the skulls in Kenya is incontrovertible then why does he get so upset that the bishop is only campaigning to have the relics of evolution to be displayed with notes that stick to what the specimen is called and the date when it roamed the earth? Surely he could trust folk to make up their own minds or is he wanting, however unwittingly, to brainwash folk into believing evolution as he claimed that was NOT what he was about to the class of students in the earlier installment… We cannot be left to make up our minds for ourselves.

At the end of the first part he said he was going to tackle the origins of man – well I had hopes that he would. Perhaps he’d have an interesting and informed take on the ‘Aquatic Ape’ theory – but that was dismissed by being completely and utterly ignored. Now I don’t know if the aquatic ape will in the end hold ‘more water’ than the sub sahara ape – but I do know it wasn’t the work of an idiot. It is this blindness of Dawkins to not see what disagrees with his ideas that continues throughout this episode. He is campaigning for folk to see that genes aren’t really even ‘selfish’ despite his book and that we can be better than that… not about any problems with the fossil record or competing theories or any other behavioural study that would pose issues about his ‘large brain’ thesis which frees us from our ‘selfishness’ which we don’t suffer from anyway…

In the end it was like watching a super powered mind with self-imposed blinkers to blind him from anything else… than what he agrees with or those he’s decided to confront because of the ridiculousness of their ideas.

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As Dawkins the atheist that never sleeps is back on the ‘idiot lantern’ as my father-in-law calls the glowing box in the corner, I thought I’d try to clear up some ideas.

To believe something seems quite obvious to begin with but is rather fundamental to how we view the world. For example if we have a trustworthy friend who is normally well-informed we would, on the whole, believe what they are saying to be true. Then we here that someone disagrees with them – we may then doubt our friend and decide, on the balance of things to continue to believe what they were saying or we may than doubt what was said rather than the friend or both. Of course our faith/belief in our friend may be so strong that we dismiss the irksome bringer of contradiction without any thought whatsoever.

Most folk who believe in evolution have not seen the evidence or the claimed ‘proof’ – they believe in what the evolutionaries have said in their statements of evidence. Even if the evolutionaries have the complete truth of it then it still does not change that folk believe what they say because of cunning argument or well-reasoned assertion – or because, simply because, we’ve been brain washed in schools to believe what the ‘teacher’ says and that these folk are the ‘uber-teachers’ they’ve gone so far that they now appear on tv to spread their wisdom…

Belief underpins the very way we decide to live our lives. Some decide that they believe in God or not to believe in God – whilst I argued that ‘creation’ was not a ‘proof’ of a Creator – it is still something we cannot readily explain – sure we can go back to the weirdness of the speculations of before the Big Bang but we can only summarize our thoughts about prologue to the Big Bang on the whole question of ‘How then did the Big Bang happen?’ and we push the problem of our, and the planets revolving around the Sun, existence.

And so we can either say there’s some evidence for a ‘Creator’ or that in the end Science will figure it out – either way we are making a qualified statement of belief.

‘…beyond reasonable doubt…’ is the phrase used in trials as some folk in authority have decided that that is the [or should be] test to convict someone. It’s an interesting phrase – what it basically says it that you have to agree that to believe the ‘charged’ to be innocent you’d have to be mad or high… It doesn’t mean that he is innocent or guilty – that’s the level of proof a juror should ask for before declaring the ‘charged’ guilty.

Of course being a ‘level of proof’ it doesn’t mean ‘proof’ as in completely and utterly undeniable and it is this which I find problematic of Dawkins and his ilk – once at work I was ‘button-holed’ and asked, bluntly to supply ‘proof’ of God – to which I replied I could not, but if he wanted to ‘get into it’ then we could talk about ‘evidence’ but he was already walking away – Dawkins proffers the myth of ‘absolute proof’ of ‘Knowledge without question or doubt’ and if he ever gets his way he may be disappointed to learn that we just let computers do our thinking for us but before then we should recognize that that is the end of his search as a pilgrim of rationality and for his journey – I can only say I wish him well, it is when he would tear others up for not believing in his scriptures that I find him deluded and harmful and therein he is not the most rational activitist one can beleive in…

In the end we have to acknowledge that we set our standards of evidence to crank the handle and call it ‘proof’ and in doing so we may yet be more objective and rational and freer to say we believe in something.

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Yes, that’s right – it’s the government.

New proposals, found in the pages of that right wing rag ‘The Times‘ there was a piece on proposals by the state to watch us ever closer – on trying to find a paper [any paper] which also carried that story [but failing miserably] I found an ineresting piece in, I think, my usual right wing rag ‘The Daily Telegraph‘ where Google has taken a view as well… Why read a paper you agree with? You’ll only hear what you want to…

Whilst Google has decided it would like to record every webpage we visit, the british government is thinking hard about keeping every text, logging every phone call (mobile, landline or even routed through the internet), email and such for at least twelve months. It’s about the war on terror and not about making an incursion into our private lives…

And whilst thinking about the goverment the human fertilization and embryology bill has been making steady progress – yesterday the parts concerning making embryos from hybrids has been passed – purely for scientific progress. Most will probably be for inserting human DNA into an egg from something else – cow, pig, whatever, maybe a politician (99.9% human). However it also permits half and half or any other ratio you care to think about – these things are going to be made so that they can be tested and then destroyed [probably by 14 days].

Whilst, right now, there’s a block on transplanting these into a womb of any animal that could also go back to the government – given that scientists will undoubtedly think that they will be able to learn even more from doing that in the, hmm, not so distant future… What will a seventy percent human hybrid do for us apart from not having any legal status and could then be carved up just like a fourteen day old embryo… Of course they won’t go that far…

Dawkins argued that genetically engineering crops was the same as farmers and horticulturists breeding certain crop strains over the years – however I would say there is a distinct difference between that and implanting fish genes into tomatoes so that they have a longer shelf life – but if that becomes the way of thinking about GM crops why not hybrids?

The question I think is important here is how we value ourselves as beings, and other animals, as what/who we/they are. Are we going to get to the point where a chimp/human hybrid is superior due to the higher strength to muscle ratio? And what would that make us? Or would we always look down on our strange creations – and what would that say about us?

Who are we and how important is that?

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Oh! Guildford…

What have you done? What have you become?

As part of the merry process of applying for jobs elsewhere, the wife normally takes me along to find out what I think of a place. Hell, we’ll both be moving if we have a job offer and accept it…

So, off to Guildford we went – her to the interview mill and me dropped off to wander around and see what I think of the place…

Now when we went off to Leicester I found a few tobacco specialists listed – true not all of them existed or were very specialist but hey they were still trying to hold out against the good ole health fascists But in Guildford there were none…

What have you done? Driven the tobacconists out, burnt them down or taken them somewhere special for their ‘re-education’? Admittedly the law will act as a winch which will eventually pull all tobacconists down (How fair is that and where will the government get its taxes from?) but to have a town centre with no specialist tobacconist? Just as on Leading Edge, Mike Siegel (no, not the action hero) has recently been condemning the use of bad science to chase smokers out of their natural habitat ie pubs etc etc [including their own homes whilst being visited by a carer if they are infirm or a meter reader (gas/electric and perhaps the insidious water meter) if they live in council property]… I find a whole town which seems miserably intolerant – just by good fortune did I stumble upon The Kings Head (or try here and hope) which had a lovely old fashioned interior that I as someone who wished to smoke a pipe could not enjoy but never mind, there was a large ‘garden’ area with a patio area on top of the rear of the pub and the heaters and covers were all easy to use [sit at table under cover – press button ‘Touch’ to turn on/off heater.]

According to Mike Siegel the quote about having a chance to have a heart attack after 30 minutes of passive smoking as a smoker of some years is – Well, yes, perhaps but you’ll be next door to a heart attack anyway if that’s the case and you need surgery otherwise 30 minutes of passive smoking now and then will have no real impact on your health. And just when folk think he’s in the pockets of the tobacco industry he did indeed say that it would be fairly calamitous for a non-smoker to marry and live with a smoker… Luckily I smoke generally in the study so the wife won’t get it in the neck, or rather – the lungs… and not anymore in the pubs or restaurants that I no longer frequent. I more or less ‘in-frequent’ them now… So much for the local economy not being affected…

Anyway for those who are interested – with my pint of Hobgoblin I smoked some of my Westmorland Mixture [from Samuel Gawith’s ‘The Kendal Mayor’s Collection] which is a fairly tradition middle of the road kind of tobacco and Smooth Sailing [by Ashton] which is a light aromatic with the occasional bitter taste of nuts and chocolate which makes it a rather intriguing smoke…

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