Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Skeptics' Circle is up

The 106th Skeptics' Circle is up at Disillusioned Words - a blog I didn't previously know.

Lots of good stuff.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

A matter of consent

I have no clue of how I came across this blogpost (I tend to click on a number of links while surfing), but I came across a repulsive blogpost today, that I felt I had to comment on.

A consideration on the moral permissability[sic] of homosexual behavior

I guess that people can guess by the title alone, that the poster thinks that homosexual behavior is not morally permissible, which I guess is his prerogative. The argumentation for this stance, however, is so repulsive that I had to speak out against it.

First the post start out by stating that homosexuality is not by choice, and is natural. So far so good. Then comes the bad part, where he starts off by presenting an argument for homosexuality being morally permissible.

- Well, if homosexual inclinations are natural, then acting upon them must be morally permissible.

If someone makes that claim, they are not particularly bright. There are many things that comes naturally to people, but which isn't morally permissible. Also, the simple fact whether homosexuality is natural, has little bearing upon whether it's morally permissible. It's natural for people to die from diseases, yet we would not consider it morally permissible for us to let people die, if we could save them with medicine. On the other hand, medicine is not particularly natural, but it's certainly morally permissible to both make and use it.

Now, I could take issue with the logic of the following discussion (in short, this is a false dilemma; not to mention the fact that some of the above-mentioned claims are ambiguous and beg for clarification), but I want to offer a response to this particular line of argumentation because I think it is very popular and very convincing.

When you put words into the mouth of others, it's fairly simple to make counter arguments. Still, let's take a look at Harold's counter argument, shall we?

Pedophilia has been studied quite a bit recently, and this is largely because of the 2002 sexual abuse scandal in the priesthood. Some of the findings concerning its causes and treatment are, I think, relevant to this discussion. It is associated with prenatal hormonal exposure (like homosexual attraction), other hormonal irregularities (like homosexual attraction), abnormal brain function, and various psycho-social irregularities (also, like homosexual attraction) ( This means that pedophilia is, in every relevant sense of the word, "natural". So this begs the question: does the "natural-ness" of pedophilia render pedophilia-related behavior moral permissible?

It would have been nice if Harold of the blogpost had actually included some references other than a link to a Wikipedia article. I hate to break it to Harold, but Wikipedia is not a reliable source. The truth is, that the cause of pedophilia has not yet been found - something which the Wikipedia article actually makes clear - so why he thinks he is able to tell what causes pedophilia is anyone's guess.

What's more. Notice how he links the (presumed) causes of pedophilia to the causes of homosexuality? Well, if something causes one to become either homosexual or heterosexual (ignoring bi-sexuality for the moment), then the cause for homosexuality could also be said to be the case for heterosexuality. So, to use Harold's line of argumentation, pedophilia is caused by the same mechanisms which causes heterosexuality.

The obvious answer should be a resounding "no"! The fact that pedophilia (as an inclination) is natural in no way entails that it is morally permissible to act on that inclination. In fact, it's cause or origin is largely irrelevant to the question of its morality.

In this we agree. We all feel murderous rage on occasion, yet we don't find it morally permissible to act upon such.

No one is seriously proposing this as a justification for pedophilia, but if someone were seriously proposed this argument as a justification for pedophilia, we might well respond that even if pedophilia is natural, there are antecedent considerations as to why it should not be allowed, namely, its immorality (which would probably be the fact that a child doesn't have the capacity to consent to sex).

Yes, that's true. Funny how the same argument can't be used against homosexuality, isn't it? Homosexuality happens between two consenting adults, so why shouldn't it be morally permissible?

Now, regardless of the reason, the logic of the response is that there are antecedent moral considerations as to why this type of behavior is immoral, which is what the "anti-homosexual" folks have been saying all along in regards to homosexuality.

No. There are religious reasons why homosexuality is considered immoral by certain groups, but that doesn't mean that there are "antecedent moral considerations". Just because your religion doesn't approve of something, doesn't make it immoral. Would you argue that eating shellfish is immoral? No, probably not. Yet, at least one major religion prohibits its adherents from eating shellfish. For something to be considered immoral, it requires something more than religious disapproval. No one has been able to present any non-religious arguments against homosexuality, and that's simply because there isn't any to present. It's something which involves two consenting adults, and which doesn't affect anyone else - so why should there be any moral problems with homosexuality?

This consideration, therefore, cuts through the above-mentioned line of reasoning, which is a complete non sequitur, and gets to the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is, do homosexual unions (whether homosexual attraction is natural or not) violate some basic moral principle? I would, of course, say yes, but irrelevant to my answer is the fact that the common consideration of homosexuality's immoral nature, is irrelevant to its origin.

The only reason why someone would bring up the naturalness of homosexuality is because the people who want to deny homosexuals equal rights always claim that it's "unnatural". Since this is obviously not the case, that argument is easily dismissed.

Anyway, let's get back to my major point here. The difference between homosexuality and the example of pedophilia is the matter of consent. This is why one of them is morally permissible, while the other isn't. It's that simple. And anyone who tries to equal the two things is not only an ignorant moron, but also morally repugnant.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Run DMC in the rock hall of fame

Run DMC is well known hip hop trio, but I just saw this little piece of news: Run-DMC: Walk This Way to Hall of Fame

Run-DMC, the Queens trio that led the charge for rap's successful crossover into the cultural mainstream, has received the ultimate honor: enshrinement in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.

So, why would a hip-hop trio get honored in the rock genre? Obviously because of their brilliant 1986 collaboration with Aerosmith on "Walk This Way", where they took Aerosmith's old hit to new heights.

It looks like all the youtube videos have embedding disabled, but you can find it here.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lazy linking

A few articles and blogposts that I thought could be of interest.

Holder: U.S. a 'nation of cowards' on race discussions (CNN)

NAACP at 100 now seeks equal rights for all (SFGate)

Unfinished business (The Economist)

Charles Darwin’s ideas have spread widely, but his revolution is not yet complete

Advancing Science through Conversations: Bridging the Gap between Blogs and the Academy by Shelley A. Batts, Nicholas J. Anthis, and Tara C. Smith (PLoS Biology) - I might have linked this one before, but it's worth a read.

In South Africa, a Justice Delayed Is No Longer Denied (NY Times) - about a HIV positive judge who spoke out against the HIV/AIDS policies of the former South African president, putting his career on hold.

Podcasts from the University of Oxford

Wikipedia:WikiProject Rational Skepticism

Aaaawwww... Koala cools off

Warren Worthington III: Female by Proxy

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Monday, February 16, 2009

BBC 100 book meme - or is it?

There is currently a book meme going on at facebook, which refers to a list of 100 books that BBC apparently have made, and which they recons that most people will only have read six books from. The rules are simple

pparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.

I guess the simple fact that most people have read more than six books from the list is an attempt to make people feel superior to the BBC people who though that no-one would have read six. Of course, there is only one problem - no matter how hard I look, I can't find the list anywhere at the BBC website. What I could find, was BBC's The Big Read, which is a list of the 100 most popular books. That list little resembles the list used in the BBC 100 books meme - in fact, only 57 on the original list made it to the new list used in the meme.

Well, being into books and all, I'll make the meme with both lists. Let's first start with the original BBC list (I'm also going to add '-' after those that I dislike)

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien x-
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen x
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman x
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams x+
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling x
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee *
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne x
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell x
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis x
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë *
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller x
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë *
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier x
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger x-
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame x
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens x
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott x
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy *
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling x
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling x
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling x
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien x
26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving x-
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck *
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll x
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett *
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens x
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson x
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen x
39. Dune, Frank Herbert x
40. Emma, Jane Austen x
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams x
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald x+
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell x+
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens x+
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck *
53. The Stand, Stephen King x
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer x
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden *
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens x
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett x
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles x
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman x+
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett x
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding x
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind *
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett x
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt x+
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins x
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens x
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake *
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley *
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist x
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac * (actually my next read)
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo *
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel x
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett x
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

And now for the new, meme list, which is a little more high-brow.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen x
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien x
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte *
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling x
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee *
6 The Bible x
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte *
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell x
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman x
10 Great Epectations - Charles Dickens x
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott x
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller x
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare x
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier x
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien x
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger x-
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald x+
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens x
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams x+
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh *
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck *
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll x
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame x
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens x
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis x
34 Emma - Jane Austen x
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen x
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis x
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden *
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne x
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell x
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown x------
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving x-
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins x
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood x+
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding x
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert x
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens x
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huley *
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon *
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck *
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov x
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt x+
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold *
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Aleandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac *
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville *
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens x
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker x
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson x
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath x+
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt *
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens x+
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell x
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker *
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro *
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert *
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle x
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad x
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Eupery x
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks x
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams x
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Aleandre Dumas x
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare x
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo *

Again, the original BBC list is a list of the most popular books, so it would make little sense for BBC to claim that most people have only read six books on that list.

Update: Several people have commented that the list is from the Guardian, and based upon an online poll for World Book Day in 2007. The list can be found here. Again, it's a list of popular books, so there is no claim about people having only read six of those books - on the contrary, people are asked to list the top ten books they couldn't live without, which would mean that the respondents have read at least 10 books on the list.

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Polar regions contain identical animals

The Census of Marine Life project, which has looked at both Arctic and Antarctic marine life, and have found a surprisingly large number which appears to live in both places, even though they are at opposite ends of the globe.

According to their press release (full pdf can be found here) researchers found "at least 235 species live in both polar seas". The species they could seems to be quite diverse.

The scientists found marine life that both poles apparently share in common include marathoners such as grey whales ( and birds, but also worms, crustaceans, and angelic snail-like pteropods, the latter discoveries opening a host of future research questions about where they originated and how they wound up at both ends of the Earth. DNA analysis is underway to confirm whether the species are indeed identical.

The census of polar marine life, made during the 2007-2008 Polar Year, have yielded many interesting results, and this newest press release shows us that there are many more to come.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Darwin's day

In case you haven't noticed, today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. It's also the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, but while he was extremely important for the US, Darwin had a much more global importance.

If you look around in the science blogsphere, you'll find many good posts about Charles Darwin, so I'll suggest my readers go explore them.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Updating my blogroll - D through F

Another part of my blogroll updated. If you see any mistakes, or if you know a blog which would fit in, please let me know.

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The history of the internet

Came across this little YouTube gem, and thought I'd share it with the rest of you.

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