Monday, August 22, 2005

London sights

Just keeping track of things here. Saw Hampstead Heath last weekend. Seems like a nice place - I'll surely go back, esp. now that I've realized there's a direct bus from Maida Vale.

Noticed (sadly) that the Mummy exhibit at the British Museum is over. Had wanted to see it!
So I'm going to start keeping better notes about what I intend to see in London (outside London is separate posting).

  1. British Museum (sans mummy)
  2. Victoria && Albert (programmer joke there - not really funny)
  3. Greenwich - visited 9/24, want to go back
  4. Madame Tussaud (?) - maybe this should wait for a visitor
  5. Science museum (?? - should get review)
  6. War museum?
  7. St. Paul's (!)
  8. Another run through Buckingham Palace/Westminister Abbey
  9. National Gallery
  10. Tate (?)
  11. Globe theatre
  12. which reminds me - I need to check that I've got Stratford-upon-Avon on other list
  13. Sherlock Holmes stuff
This is all just starter stuff.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

August doldrums

Just checking in...

trying to think of fun, exciting things to do in the coming weeks.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Touring England

Just thought I'd jot down some of my ideas of what to see in England, in no particular order.

1. Cambridge (have seen Oxford)
2. York
3. Bath
4. Brighton
5. Beaches
6. Windsor castle
7. St. Paul's (done - 12/31/2005)
8. Greenwich (done - fall 2005)
9. Stonehenge
10. Cornwall

and beyond England...

11. Wales
12. back to Edinburgh
13. more Ireland, esp. Dublin
14. Germany (as always)
15. Greece (next summer?)
16. Portugal
17. Hungary


Monday, August 08, 2005

ID coverage in national news

A particularly noxious article by Alan Elsner.

Let's go through this, point by point.

First sentence:

" the latest shot in a long-standing war between religion and secularism in the United States in which religion now seems to be making broad advances."

First off, there is no such animal as "secularism". This is a debate between doctrinaire religion and people who understand science. Perhaps it would be better to frame the argument that way.

Paragraph 3 is classic he said-she said stuff.

"Intelligent design holds that life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution and therefore an unseen power must have had a hand. Opponents say that conjecture is a matter of faith and has no scientific basis."

Compare this with

"Terrocentrists hold that the Earth is fixed in the universe and the sun revolves around this fixed body. Opponents say that there is no scientific basis for this claim, and that the Earth moves around the sun."

This is content-free reporting!

"This is just the latest clash between Christian fundamentalists, whose political power has grown exponentially in the past 20 years, and secular opponents. Other battle fronts include school prayer, stem-cell research, display of the Ten Commandments in public places, assisted suicide and end-of-life issues and above all, the question of abortion."

Really, when discussing scientific topics, one should avoid a phrase like "has grown exponentially". Exponential growth has a set, technical meaning in science. Mr. Elsner uses this phrase simply as a replacement for "has grown very rapidly". It's important to distinguish be exponential growth and rapid growth. A population could be growing exponentially with an absurdly long doubling time. Another population coudl be growing quadratically with a much larger rate of growth for any forseeable future.

Also, Mr. Elsner tosses a bunch of different issues together as if they were equivalent. It is important to differentiate between the fronts fundamentalists have opened against the First Amendment (insisting on publicly funded support of their religion, intrusion of religion into classrooms); public, moral issues that may or may not be influenced by religion (abortion, stem-cell research); and a simple question of what is science and what isn't.

Since the question at hand is whether intelligent design is a scientific theory, deserving of co-equal status with evolution, this would appear to be the most important question. But Mr. Elsner is not up to the task.

The next paragraph includes a powder puff quote about religion, and then the author goes straight into historical revisionism. Actually, that's not a fair criticism, as it maligns the field of historical revisionism by equating it with simply fictionalizing the past, and presenting the fiction as truth.

"The United States has always been a religious nation. For several decades in the middle of the last century, however, Christian conservatives took little organized part in politics, with churches preferring to look inward and focus on the congregants' spiritual well-being."

Actually, the first sentence is false. The United States was created as a secular nation. This fact is well documented in many places, see for example the Americans United website. The second sentence is baffling in its historical pigheadedness. The 1950s saw the peak of religious interference in the Republic, with the change of the Pledge of Allegiance to include the phrase "in God we trust". From the mainstream press description offered by Mr. Elsner, one would think that the nation had always been religious, but fell asleep at the switch in the 1950s, allowing ideas like evolution to get a foothold and distract the US from its destiny as a Christian nation. But the Christians in the US were never so timid as that. From CNN, we see that President Eisenhower said, when signing this change into law, "From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty."

Does this qualify as "preferring to look inward"? Passing a national law to make the inclusion of the phrase "under God" pervasive through "every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse"?

There are two more paragraphs in the first part of the article, also making evangelicals the focus.

The second half of the article continues its focus on evangelicals: a shorter version.
P1: Evangelicals became angry when the Supreme Court overturned laws requiring school prayer, and banning abortion.
P2: Alleges evangelical groups are growing, without really supporting the argument.
P3: Praises evangelicals for being well-oragnized, quoting a flak from a right-wing think tank.
P4: Discusses "religious awakenings", implying that one is currently going on.
P5: more of the same
P6-7: a welcome comment from Charles Krauthammer, warning evangelicals not to try to take on science.
P8: Evangelicals will not heed warning.

What is missing from this article? Any discussion of science. Since it was triggered by Bush's comment, one would think that the author would want to at least maintain the fiction of "presenting both sides equally". But the scientific side is not presented.