Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Egad, I'm starting to sound like an adult! Quick, to Nebraska Furniture Mart for a flatscreen and xbox 360, a new couch and la-z-boy, all on a shiny new credit card with no payments for 5 years and 0% interest until 2028!
On a serious note: I argued for just this case in September, nearly a lifetime ago. I said that if my generation had any brains at all they'd save up 10 years and put 25% down on a house, rather than buying a 0% down ARM-loaned McMansion and then regretting it. Now some of my friends are regretting it. The good news is that TAE has been saving his pennies and if housing prices fall another 18%, homes around here will be so cheap I might just have to pull the trigger on a purchase, despite my nervousness about it.
Wellsy, in the comments from my earlier post:
I know this is how you chose to describe God in this post, but is this how you see God day-to-day?
The simple answer is no. I do not see God as a simple mathematical equation.
I see God in many ways; in Nature, in the face of my daughter, but especially in my fellow Man. It is in my fellows that I see moments of pure altruism, and moments of cold justice. I see a species that is so far removed from the natural food chain that we must seem as aliens on this planet if one were to take a snapshot of Earth at this moment.
From a crude reading of C.S. Lewis I am lead to believe that the active pursuit of the teachings of Jesus, namely loving your neighbor as yourself, is the quickest way to self-redemption. For Jesus, above all else, taught us that those who we want to help the least are the ones we should help the most. "Pretend like you love your enemy," Lewis argued, "and soon you actually shall."
And so I turn to a large demographic of people on this planet born with Down Syndrome. Born with an extra 21st chromosome, these people have a variety of physical and mental traits of varying extremity, from totally dependent adult-infants to people who function almost totally normally in today's complicated society.
Genetic engineering holds the promise to "cure" or "end" Trisomy 21 forever, and eliminate the state from the Human Genome. Proponents of such research argue that it will help cure people.
I am no judge of what is right or wrong, but it seems to me that we who do not have Down Syndrome have a rare opportunity here to practice true Christianity at a fundamental level, almost like a practice squad to throw your football team up against before facing your real opponent at the big game Friday night. I am not saying "learn to love people with Down Syndrome" for that is easy; people with Down Syndrome often exhibit a "cherubic" persona and their mental simplicity makes them easy to love. What I am saying is that Jesus did not say "Love your neighbor," instead he added the condition "as thyself."
A truly, truly Christian act is to practice and pretend that a person with Down Syndrome is every bit the person you are. Surely that is a leap of Christianity that no one is afraid to make. Surely you can say "when I am interacting with someone with Down Syndrome, I will not act like I am talking down to a child. I will talk to them with patience, yes, but not the patience I show a toddler, rather the patience I would exhibit while talking to my boss about a great idea, or with the patience I show to my wife or my grandparents." Then you simply go do it. You pretend you think this person with Down Syndrome is every bit the man you are, and eventually you achieve your goal; you find yourself treating them as equals.
For aren't they? I am afraid if I measure the whole of my life, I can name several unChristian acts in which I have participated that most people with Down Syndrome haven't. People with Down Syndrome are as a whole more caring that I often am, and though they often are prone to bouts of anger and temper tantrums, so am I, and I certainly know how to hold a grudge far longer than they most likely do. On the whole, a person with Down Syndrome is surely every bit the Christian I am, and that is really the only measure that matters.
Anyway, it seems to me a sad thing if we "cure" people of a condition they do not necessarily want cured. Also, it seems to me a disappointing way of taking the easy way out if we, instead of learning to incorporate every unique person in this world into it, instead we breed the unique ones out. Morally, one might find a huge gap between Hitler's love of the Aryan and genetic engineers trying to develop a method for correcting Trisomy 21. But in either case, the end result is the same, a vanilla society where everyone looks the way society thinks they should look, and rather than embracing diversity, it is squashed.
For me, a scientist and a Christian, it seems that we should be applying our brilliant collective minds not to finding "cures" for genetic anomalies, but rather to figuring out ways to make society embrace the uniqueness in every single human alive.
Update: Take a minute and read Wellsy's blog. He has some insightful thoughts on religion that go far beyond my humble ability to pontificate. I found this especially fitting for the topic.
As a way to keep things fresh and appealing here at TAE, I have decided to allow my colleague, Sean, to take point-counterpoint with me on this topic. Sean may contribute more often, if he behaves.
TAE: I am in favor of "garage" genetic engineering. For the sake of our fingers, Sean, let's call it GGE for the rest of this article.
Sean: Okay. And I am against GGE?
TAE: If we had the freedom to cheaply genetically engineer, we could find many new treatments for diseases.
Sean: Or, we could unleash a terrible, untreatable disease on the world.
TAE: Here's a great example of how this could be a good thing: I have always had this idea to create a bacteria that uses sunlight to gather energy, and its metabolic pathway takes Iron (III) Oxide (2 irons and three oxygens), commonly known as rust, and converts it into iron and ozone. A spacecraft could seed this bacteria all over Mars, where it would quickly help develop a thicker atmosphere, while using the plentiful surface iron on the planet. When colonists came to the planet years later, they'd have a huge supply of purified iron to help them build their cities.
Sean: Of course, the astronauts will never make it because the human race will have been wiped out by a super-virus accidentally released from somebody's garage lab.
TAE: That seems a little far fetched to me. Where would someone come up with the components necessary to create a supervirus? It's not like you can just call up the CDC and say "Hey, can I have some free samples of Hanta virus? I'd like to try to combine it with a flesh-eating virus and the common cold." I don't think its practical to believe that deadly bacteria and virii are readily accessible to GGE experimenters.
Sean: Well, a pandemic apocalypse may be far-fetched, I agree. But you can't discount that people who do this won't always do it with the best intentions.
TAE: That's true of all sciences. Nuclear fission can be used for power generation or mass murder, depending on the user's motives. But in this case we're only talking about minor bacterial genome changes. We're not talking about glowing rabbits, or three-headed pet dogs. Those kinds of genetic projects do required a massive lab with multi-million dollar equipment.
Sean: Yeah, well the internet used to be a government pet project, and now look at it. We can use it for free, wirelessly, in many places across the globe. All I'm going to say is that this puts us one step closer to the coming zombie apocalypse.
TAE: I guess I better invest in a chainsaw assault rifle.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Discuss amongst yourselves.
I am not attacking FDR's character or even most of his decisions. All I am trying to convey is that FDR's infrastructure programs (specifically the WPA and the PWA) did not end the Depression. WWII ended the Depression, and WWII was not a public works program dreamed up by the Administration, it was a cultural event into which America was drawn. FDR gains no clout, in my eyes, for ending the Depression by joining the war effort; indeed the ending of the Depression was (in my humble opinion) mostly a biproduct of his policy to end American isolationism, and the demands on American factories to produce war products.
Let's get off the "ending the Depression theory" talk though. What I want to say, and what I briefly touched on (and Megan does as well) yesterday is that FDR's infrastructure policy was in many ways helpful to America, and in many ways unhelpful to America, but what it didn't do was end the Great Depression.
One thing the New Deal did was throw money at almost any project that was perceived to employ people. One of those projects, dam building, is so offensive to me that I can't help but call it out as the single worst decision made in U.S. history between 1929 and 1941. Dams provide a paltry amount of electricity compared to coal and nuclear plants. Dams create large reservoirs, enabling huge populations of people to move to areas that are otherwise unsuitable for human habitation (on a massive scale, anyway). These people then become completely dependent on hydraulic piping from the reservoir for their ever increasing water demand. Dams disrupt the natural flora and fauna of a river, and provide a large reservoir for invasive species to thrive.
Dams were a great idea, back when we needed to divert flow. But the modern gravity fed hydroelectric dam is a terrible offense to nature and a terrible use of resources. And the worst of it is, America's huge dam building efforts of the 30's and 40's became a justification for international dam building. This has sparked a global blitz to destroy basically every migratory river fish population in the world while gaining a fraction of the electricity needed on this planet to support the current population.
Trout and salmon populations have been devastated, millions of people have been displaced, native American and other important historical sites have been flooded, people were killed during construction, and the natural river and stream system of the western half of the United States was permanently disrupted and will probably never recover.
One might argue that great American cities would never have come to be, and the country would be a much less amazing place, if it weren't for reservoir-based irrigation and hydraulic piping. However, is Las Vegas a great American city? What has Las Vegas done for the world other than glamorize instant marriage and condone prostitution, gambling, and mob activities? Now I don't mean to offend anyone living in Las Vegas, or anyone from Las Vegas, but let's face it, Las Vegas is not the first city you think of when you think "positive contribution to American history."
Last but not least, I must make, to be fair, a casual mention to the thousands of miles of gravel roads that were carved across the nation thanks to the WPA. The great plains owe a debt of gratitude to the 8 million workers who spent their time and effort building roads all across the vast prairie, and made it accessible for farmers (many of whom had moved to the city because of the Depression, and the road building project was too little too late). Oh there I go again...
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Suddenly as much as 500,000 square kilometers (193,051 square miles) of cleared farmland was no longer being tended, an area slightly larger than California. And as the rainforest crept back in, it vacuumed carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in the process.
In all, the authors estimate that reforestation of South and Central America could have removed up to 10 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
So could it be that the Europeans actually caused the Little Ice Age by wiping out the Indians?
This would put a different spin on things. I detailed before that a new ice age could be brought upon Europe due to the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere melting the polar ice cap. In this theory, the death of South American cultures resulted in a massive decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and could have caused the Little Ice Age the exact opposite way as I suggested the next one might occur.
However I think I should point out that massive infrastructure spending is going on right now and it isn't doing the economy any good. Ever since the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis in August 2007 the entire nation has been on a full-scale bridge inspection, repair and rebuilding blitz. State DOT's have reported as much as 40% of the nations bridges are structurally deficient or in need of repair. Many states have been granted as much as $1 billion to repair their bridges from 2008-2014, and some states report they could use 7 times that much and still not get all the work done.
That's $50 billion being pumped into infrastructure spending, and the economy didn't seem to notice much. If Obama wants to stimulate the economy, he should consider the Ramsey-Waller bailout plan, as well as increasing school funding and tax credits for manufacturing companies. Infractstructure spending (though decreasing unemployment - depending on whom you ask) really didn't boost the economy during the Depression, and it won't work this time either.
So if someone were to ask me (and they did) to describe God using math, I felt compelled to take on the task. So here goes.
The chances of winning the Powerball jackpot are approximately 1 in 140 million, or something like that. So if you buy 1 Powerball ticket you stand a pretty good chance of losing. That is, there is a 99.9999992% chance that you will lose. If you buy two tickets, your chances increase to an equally insurmountable 99.999998% chance of losing. Or, simply put, it is mathematically impossible for anyone to win. But somehow, week after week, someone wins.
Let me try a different example. If I told you .99999999 = 1 you'd laugh at me. But what if I asked you the decimal value of 1/9? That is 0.11111111 (an infinite number of 1's). Now if I said "multiply that by 9" you'd get 0.99999999 (an infinite number of 9's). but 9 X 1/9th is 9/9ths and that simplifies down to 1/1 or simply 1. So 1 = 0.99999999 which is weirdly impossible.
Or, what if I said that a rectangle of infinite height but infinitesmal width has an area of one? How so? Well, infinity can be described, simply, as infinitity, and infinitesmal can be described as 1/infinity. If you multiply width times length to get area, you get infinity X 1/infinity, the infinities cancel, and you end up with 1/1.
Or what if I said that God = infinity. That's something a religious mathematician can agree with. Now if I said "My holiness = 1." Surely there is someone who is at least twice as Holy as I am. That person would then have a Holy value of 2. Someone twice as Holy as them would have a Holy value of 4. And so on and so forth so that after 200 iterations of Holiness later, you're still not at a googleplex (a 1 with 100 zeros). And that's still infinitesmal compared to infinity.
But none of those really describe the full mathematical power of God. There is, in my opinion, only one equation that truly captures the infinite qualities of God, the uniqueness of God, the true majesty that is God.
e^(i*pi)-1 = 0
This magical equation contains every quintessential mathematical number in history.
And that's my 0.02 dollars.
Maybe it is because it is Christmas, maybe it is because of the odd, grainy image. Maybe it is because with the world in turmoil I cling to my faith and hope that maybe, just maybe, God is going to do something to help things get better.
I don't especially believe in Angels, and I don't subscribe to belief in the paranormal. But I do have a strong faith in God and I pray often, for my family or for myself. My generation is a weird one; we're all waiting to have kids. That's neither here, nor there, but the point is that not a whole lot of people in their mid-20's understand what it means to really, truly be willing to give your life for your child.
So when I hear about a child, born prematurely, who had sicknesses all her life, and then finally she got the awful, last pneumonia that would kill her, I have to feel for the parents. And thinking about taking my daughter off of life-support, my skins just crawls, and I feel for the father who has to outlive his child.
So when I read that this girl, inches from death, suddenly bounces back after "three vertical shafts of light" appeared inside her hospital room, I am compelled to believe it, not because paranormal activities are believable, but because deep down inside me, I would be willing to accept anything as truth if it meant the survival of my child.
Albert Einstein famously said "There are two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle, and the other is as if everything is a miracle."
Monday, December 22, 2008
The swimming powers-that-be are acting fast to block these super suits from being used again.
Here's my problem: a hundredth of a second is a ridiculous, arbitrary number that has no place in sports, or really anywhere except particle physics.
Do you know how fast a hundredth of a second is? It's basically one tenth of the amount of time you could ever possibly hope to observe. The fastest humans in the world have reaction times around 0.13 seconds, which is 13 hundredths. So when Michael Phelps, or some other intrepid athlete from any number of sports (track and field is full of such records) lands a time that beats an old record by less than a tenth of a second, he has done so by so small a margin no human in existence could actually notice.
Often you hear the announcers discussing Phelps extension to reach the wall, and how his hands touch the wall first. Announcers, apparently, are either aliens or robots, because they have seen what no human could ever observe. Even slowing down the footage by a factor of ten, i.e. the slow motion replay, Phelps could still be so close in front of his competition that no human could perceive the difference.
Here's another example. I noticed last week during a college basketball game that a player in-bounded the ball and another player immediately called timeout. The clock showed 1.3 seconds. The referees immediately huddled over monitors to discuss and analyze how much time remained on the clock. They decided the clock should be moved to 1.4 seconds. Once again, the change was smaller than a human being could perceive, but thanks to modern technology, it was no problem to add pointless quanta of time (on the ensuing play the team lost) back onto the clock.
In overtime of the Villanova-Boston College game of the 2006 NCAA men's basketball tournament, 3.5 seconds showed as remaining. A Villanova player caught the inbounds, took a step and scored a basket. Then the clock showed 2.3 seconds. It's pretty hard to believe you can catch the ball, take a step and score a basket in 1.2 seconds -- remember, this must include time for the ball to go through the hoop. Anyway, officials huddled, looked at replays and confidently reset the game clock to 3 seconds. Not only were the officials declaring themselves able to sense eight-tenths of a second -- the time it takes to snap your fingers -- they were saying the Villanova player caught a pass, took a step and scored a basket in only half a second!
Anyway, the real problem I have with this fascination with tenths and hundredths of seconds is when the NFL combine comes around this spring. Players will run the 40 yard dash as fast as they can, and the NFL draft committees (and the talkingheads doing 24/7 coverage on NFL Network) will argue whether draft picks should be disappointed with a 4.38 time when they usually post a 4.36. Or they'll marvel over a larger tight end or linebacker who runs a surprising 4.45 time.
All of these numbers are completely pointless! No human being can perceive the difference between 4.35 and 4.50! Nevertheless, talkingheads will argue that a draft pick "looked a little slower than normal" with his time that was imperceptably slower than his regular time.
For example, there was a lot of hype surrounding Reggie Bush before he went to the draft. The New Orleans Times-Picayune said Bush ran a 4.37 at the combine, while the New York Daily News said the time was 4.33. Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com said Bush was hand-timed at 4.41 and electronically timed at 4.37. Gil Brandt of NFL.com said that at USC's Pro Day, Bush had an electronically timed 4.33, and that electronic timing "adds about .08 of a second to the actual time. For instance, if someone ran the 40 in 4.50 seconds electronically timed, it really means he ran it in about 4.42 seconds." In "about" 4.42 seconds? Countered Profootballtalk.com: "Despite a report from Gil Brandt of NFL.com that Heisman winner Reggie Bush put up a 4.33 in Sunday's Pro Day workout, a league source tells us Bush was hand timed at 4.4." The Los Angeles Daily News declared, "NFL teams who hand-timed the races gave Bush times ranging from 4.41 to 4.44." Sports Illustrated: "Reggie Bush was a tad disappointed in running his 40 in 4.33 seconds." What, he expected a 4.32?
Stop, please stop, using hundredths of seconds.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Now I feel like OPEC has forgotten how great the 90's worked out for them. They think they should follow a typical supply-demand curve, and in order to maintain price they must decrease supply or increase demand...with demand flat, they are left only to cut supply, and hope that the price recovers.
But it isn't recovering. They've made 3 cuts in the last few months, and it hasn't helped in the slightest. OPEC, remember your roots! Why doesn't OPEC do what it did before, and oversupply until demand once again outpaces supply and the prices rockets back up to 100+.
The short answer is that they have tasted the sweet land of $100/barrel oil and aren't willing to take the long road back there. Better to cut production and quickly recover price. Many OPEC countries had set their government budgets based on $80, $90, or $100/barrel oil, and now they're deep in the red. They want a quick fix. But there doesn't seem to be one. Cutting production by a huge, huge amount has done nothing - the price dropped the day they announced the biggest cut, ever.
So OPEC, maybe you should take my advice. Produce all the oil you can, and sell it as fast as you can, as cheaply as you can, until every American, Chinese, Indian, European, and Russian has a big fat SUV, then cut production by 4.4 million barrels. The price will go through the stratosphere. But I do not think cutting supply will raise the price. You must increase demand instead.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
A "wish list" should only contain things that will be given to you if wishes actually came true, not things you actually expect to receive this Holiday Season.
For example, rather than putting a Kindle on your holiday wish list, why not put "T1 connection to Library of Congress" or "Gift Card to Borders with Value = Infinity"
So here's my Holiday Wish List Top 5:
1. Hummer H-4 with bed-mounted .50 caliber fully automatic anti-aircraft gun.
2. EDM Arms .50 BMG with membership to 50 Cal Institute.
3. Panasonic 150 inch plasma screen with BluRay.
4. BigDog robot.
5. P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning to dogfight and strafe cows (also requires 100 cows).
Unfortunately, none of these items are yet available on Amazon.com.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Please, stop saying that. Humans are destroying the planet whether it is apparently obvious to you or not.
The problem is that "global warming" was a term given to the process long before it was clearly understood. A better term is "climate change."
Let me give an example. As the Arctic ice melts and breaks off into icebergs, it drifts south, occasionally sinking the Titanic and cooling ocean temperatures and introducing large chunks of fresh water (Arctic icebergs contain no salt). This creates a problem by slowing the North Atlantic Gyre. The NAG is a thermohaline current that naturally takes warm, gulf water and moves it up and east, where it passes England and Ireland before splitting and passing down towards Spain or up towards Finland. Climatologists have determined that this mass of warm water drifting towards Europe is the primary reason Europe has a temperate climate despite its northern latitude; England sits at the same latitiude as British Columbia, which sees much more extreme winters.
So as the icebergs head south and melt, they cool off the gulf water, slowing this current. The freshwater acts as "speed bumps" that the current must push through or go around, furthering the slowdown. That leads to colder weather in Europe. If the NAG stopped completely, it could plunge Europe into Ice-Age-like conditions. Global warming could, in effect, cause European Cooling. So let's stop calling it global warming and call it Climate Change.
Scary thought: this isn't a science fiction entry. This has happened before. Scientists have conjectured that the "Little Ice Age" in Europe inthe 18th century was likely due to a temporary shutdown of the NAG.
I'll be the first to admit I don't have any idea how to solve the climate change problem, if it can even be solved. But using a week of cold weather in December as evidence that climate change is not occuring is like a 14 year old boy getting dumped by his first girlfriend and pouting "I'll never get married."
Monday, December 15, 2008
And personally, your friendship with Hugo Chavez makes me ill. That is the equivalent of Natalie Portman making friends with Hassan Nasrallah, only she isn't stupid enough to do it.
Got a proposition for you. Why don't you mandate that the government help 5 land-grant colleges a year for the next ten years open a medical school at the college?
That's approximately 4,500 new doctors a year in ten years.
Medical costs in this country are way more complicated than I'd like to make them, but if doctors are charging huge amounts for complicated services because their services are lucrative, wouldn't it make sense for the government to flood the market with doctors, thereby driving up supply and inevitably driving down cost? I'm not saying this would cure the medical crisis in this country, but surely, if a liver transplant could be done for $25,000 instead of 250,000...we might start moving in the right direction.
It is no secret that many doctors (while complaining about long hours) enjoy the near-celebrity status they often achieve. Their position of authority gives them power over life and death, and that can easily be intoxicating. It is no secret either that medical schools have been highly resistant to increasing their enrollment, complaining that they can't provide a quality education if they increase their class size (while complaining that they must charge painfully high tuition rates to support their facility). The high tuition rates at these institutions only propogate the problem; doctors expect to make a lot, becausethey paid a lot.
The easiest way to humanize the doctors is to reduce their rarity. The easiest way to solve the shortage without infringing upon the enrollment size of medical schools is to open more schools.
All the above medical schools would include nursing schools.
But did you know that caribou, normally herbivourous ruminants, are known to occasionally kill and eat lemmings? Now you know what the lemmings are running away from. Suicide must be a more honorable death in lemming culture than murder by caribou.
Even if the failure rate of any particular method is 1% or less, the law of large numbers means that, with tens of millions of people using contraceptives regularly, there will inevitably be several hundred thousand unplanned pregnancies.
This is only partially reporting the statistics. McCain is arguing that if 100 girls used birth control and had sex, one of them would get pregnant. FAIL!
The fact is, the 1% chance means that 1% of girls that take the birth control are not receptive to its effect.
So if 100 girls are taking a certain birth control that is "99% effective" that means 1 girl in the group will not cease to ovulate successfully even though she is on the birth control. She won't necessarily get pregnant! She could have sex hundreds of times, and just by a fluke, none of her partner's sperm could find her egg. She could miss a period. She could be an athlete, and not ovulate at all. She could inadvertantly use the rhythm method and simply not have sex during her receptive time. And most importantly of all is the idea that an estimated 2/3 of all fertilized eggs self-abort without any external help.
So if 10 million girls are having sex while taking a 99% effective birth control, it does not follow that hundreds of thousands are having unplanned pregnancies. It just means that 1% of them could potentially get pregnant.
Normally I'd let this go, as people with no science background who are normally happy enough to look things up on wikipedia and call themselves an experts are promptly ignored by us with advanced graduate degrees in science, but when he drops his derisive third update, I have to defend a thinking man from the ignorant.
I just can connect nothing with nothing right now. I'm spent. That kind of makes sense, given the calendar, but there's also something more going on that I can't put my finger on. Posts that used to race out of my fingertips are now only coming from great effort. It's strange.
I certainly understand. Lately Freddie has come under the international blog radar for his comments on Detroit and abortion.
Often, after writing a long book, authors take a hiatus, a sabbatical, or a vacation. Blogs, with their high turnover rate and multi-daily posting, don't boast the same work/vacation/work/vacation cycle. So when you go through a deep writing slot on a single topic, like Freddie did, you need a break.
So Freddie, and all tired people out there, go enjoy your holiday. Open some gifts, eat some good food, enjoy your freedoms, and get excited for a new year.
I'll be here, trying to explain the Singularity.
Discuss amongst yourselves.
So really, are we better than skunks (and by better I mean more evolved) because we can combine all these qualities into a single species and direct them to shared, predefined purpose?
I don't think so.
I'd like to argue that perhaps what makes us different..."better"...than all other species of life-forms on this planet is our unique ability to get organized. There is no other species of animal that forms a Congress to decide what the rest of a large group of the species should do, or not do. If a wolf performs errant, anti-wolf activities, the wolfpack does not form a jury, try, and punish the perpetrating wolf.
One might argue that those activities are just products of our modern society, that they aren't executed because we organize well, but because we formed a society that needed rules and in order to establish rule of law we formed tribunals and trial by jury etc etc. That may indeed be true. But what about military operations? What about parades? What about concerts?
Friday night I went to a local high school's holiday concert (because even though it was all Christmas carols, calling it Christmas is offensive). While watching a small army of high school students labor through some dumbed-down versions of Mannheim Steamroller, I could not help but be struck by how magical it is to watch a symphony perform. What other species does something like that?
Music, or the act of creating noise for pleasure, is not unique to humanity. However, I am struggling to think of a single instance in the entire animal kingdom where a species of animal participates in creating chords other than humans. The creation of a tune, with different voices that are working together to produce a harmony, is something that cannot be found outside the human species.
One might argue that animals may create their own music, or that our dim understanding of animal communication restricts our ability to grasp their beauty. However, even animals that tend to make music, like the whale, do so with a purpose. Mockingbirds only mimic other birds, though with great success.
The point here is not that music is what makes us unique, rather the making of the music. Chimpanzees never hear one chimpanzee making noises and proceed to start making noises a third or a fifth higher. No other species produces large groups that perform for others. No other species piles into large stadiums to watch the most athletic amongst them play games. No other species sends their smartest to train at colleges (or an imagined animal equivalent of college). Simply put: no other species organizes quite like we do.
So it comes down to a chicken/egg argument. Is our ability to organize due to the development of human civilization? Or is human's advanced civilization a byproduct of some evolutionary mechanism that appeared in our species, enabling us to organize like never before?
Mostly, nature appears to work by experimentation and random mutation, and one could argue (reasonably) that humanity has had no significant accomplishment due solely to evolution in the last 50,000 years. It makes the most sense that Nature, having tried the pack hunting technique and found it successful, and having found the omnivorous, land-dwelling homo erectus a good candidate with it's unusually large brain and long gestational period, chose to test out a new concept, that of complex organization, and found that the homos took to it like a fish to water.
At that moment, when pre-humans first said to themselves "Hey, if we (of Tribe A) band together with Tribe B and Tribe C, elect a leadership, re-evaluate roles in the new super-tribe, and then form a raiding party, we'll have more resources to allocate to the war effort against Tribe D. Then Tribe E saw the destruction of Tribe D at the hands of Tribe ABC, and quickly formed an alliance with Tribes F and G, while sending an emissary to establish peaceful trade with Tribe ABC...
This is a conflict of interest! Where is her disclosure?
I'm not saying what she is doing is wrong, I've considered my own Amazon rep links. But it is unethical to not disclose the personal stake you have in a sales interest.
Good sign: Lottery ticket sales (which always go up, and typically shoot up during economic scares) are flat or down in many states, including Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, North Carolina, California, Arkansas and Texas.
I heard that something like 30% of people in their 50's genuinely believe their retirement will come from a lottery win. That's insane. If you invested the $100 dollars a month over 30 years instead of spending it on lottery tickets, you'd have half a million dollars at retirement, and that's assuming a low interest rate.
The problem with the lottery is it preys on the hopes of the poor by promising to easily and instantly make them rich. The odds of winning, however, are so slim that it makes it impossible for the human mind to even grasp it. Here's the thing, the Powerball is played in 38 states, and offers a payout of $15+ million, twice a week. However, on average there are less than a hundred winners a year. Over 30 years, that means 3,000 people will win the Powerball. However, during that thirty years, over 80 million people will reach the age of retirement. So in all practicality, only 0.00375% of Americans should plan to retire via lottery tickets.
Maybe my generation is waking up to this non-reality. Maybe we'll start to make practical decisions about our money, like investing for the long-term, buying with cash not credit, and planning ahead. I highly doubt it. But buying less lottery tickets is a good sign we're moving in the right direction.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
All jokes aside, that man probably will get fired, but if he had thrown his shoe at Saddam he'd be dead right now. And that's the difference between democracy and totalitarianism. We don't kill you for being an idiot.
It's also been cute to watch Freddie and Megan bicker about who is evil and who is being unfair.
But we're all looking at the bailout as a mechanism to save the auto industry and we need to stop doing that. This bailout, like TARP, is a mechanism to save the U.S. economy by preventing several million people from joining the ranks of the currently unemployed. Although I feel GM and Chrysler have had such poor decision making since 1985 that their bankruptcy is inexcusable, and although I really want to see the UAW crushed, it's important to remember the purpose of the bailout is not to save Detroit per se. The purpose of this bailout, just like the last one, is to keep the economy afloat until it can bottom out, correct, and start back upwards. At that point, if people still don't want domestic cars, then we should discuss letting Detroit automakers collapse.
However, there is another alternative to the Detroit Bailout. If Congress were to propose a different use for $15 billion that could create 2.5 million jobs to offset those that would be ended by GM and Chrysler's bankruptcy (and Ford's shortly thereafter), then I would be happy to endorse it. But the sad fact is that the automaker's bailout is probably the only realistic way to keep those workers employed for the near future. Either they're unemployed and we pay their benefits, or they build cars and we pay for it. If you asked me whether I'd like to pay a man money to work or to play ping pong, I'd definitely prefer he were working for my dollar.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Enter "Miss World," the uncomfortably thin Russian, Kseniya Sukhinova. Please, World, do we really think that we want aliens from other planets to consider her the ultimate in human evolution?
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Godzillionaire: (noun) Someone who has at least one godzillion U.S. dollars.
Godzillion: (noun) A term used to denote a large amount of U.S. dollars.
Exactly how much is one godzillion dollars? It is exactly the amount of money it would take to create a research facility, experiment on lizards, and eventually irradiate a reptile and turn it into a giant, plasma-breathing monster capable of destroying Tokyo.
You heard it here first, now you know whom to blame when you start hearing it on the street.
Rest of world: UH DUH.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
So I present the Ramsey-Waller Plan, in 4 parts.
1. In order to establish elegibility, applicants for the Ramsey-Waller plan must have greater than $150,000 in debt to any source(s) and less than $1,000,000 in total debt. The payment purely to interest on that debt must equal 15% or greater of the applicant's total yearly income as proven on their IRS form 1040. An applicant must be able to establish their total debt based on 60 days before they apply for RWP status as an applicant. Any debt incurred after 60 days prior to application must be paid off in full prior to applying for RWP applicant status. All debt must be to legitimate sources. Debt owed through verbal agreements, gambling, or other non-binding sources must be converted to legitimate debt, and be documented, prior to 60 days before application for RWP status.
2. Upon acceptance a RWP applicant shall be called a RWP recipient. All debt owed by the RWP shall be assumed by the RWP Fund, and paid in full to the creditors to whom the debt is owed. The creditors shall report all debt to the RWP Fund and shall not pursue any debt collection from the RWP recipient upon their conversion from RWP applicant to RWP recipient.
3. The total debt payment on behalf of the RWP recipient shall be owed back to the RWP Fund by the RWP recipient. Payment shall be calculated as thus: Payments shall be made monthly totalling 15% of the RWP recipient's previous year's adjusted gross income as recorded on their IRS 1040 form. The total value of the RWP lend from the RWP Fund shall not accrue interest. However, the value of the RWP lend shall increase (or decrease) based on the government rate of inflation (or deflation). Additional payments by the RWP recipient are allowed, and the payments shall be made until the total RWP Fund lend amount has been completely repaid.
4. Upon acceptance as an RWP recipient, the RWP recipient forfeits the right to any future credit or incurrence of debt of any kind. The RWP recipient's name shall be added to a "blackball" list that shall be made available to all creditors. RWP recipients shall not be shown discrimination of any kind from employment or any other equal opportunity. The RWP recipient shall not be allowed to take out any loan, obtain a debit card, credit cards, gamble, finance a car, or purchase any items on a credit account of any kind. By accepting RWP recipient status, the lendee accepts the absolution of their right to credit. Layaway is exempt from this prohibition.
So there it is. I think it's a fair deal. There are a lot of people out there that climbed into an overpriced house, thinking they'd flip it, and now they're eating a $500,000 mortgage, plus their other debts. If they are facing foreclosure, and complaining that lending banks are getting a bailout, well, here's their solution. Just sign up for the Ramsey-Waller Plan, they get out of debt hell, but the door to Credit World shuts behind them. Forever. If the American Public is going to act like children when it comes to fiscal responsibility, and now they've fallen and bruised their collective knee, then it is fair enough for the government to show up with a band-aid for them. However, they don't get to play on the Jungle Gym anymore.
Ebert puts it so well, I don't really feel that more need be said. Just read.
Monday, December 8, 2008
As I write this, hundreds of people in Zimbabwe have died from cholera. More than 12,000 more have become infected. Clean water has become such a problem in that country that people are literally digging holes near latrines to gather water. Cholera causes severe diarrhea and vomiting, and death is usually due to dehydration. Simple drugs will cure cholera.
Unfortunately, clean water and medical supplies are in such short supply that doctors are literally refusing to treat patients, for fear of touching them and contracting cholera themselves (for which they couldn't get treatment either).
Each month, the U.S. spends around $12 billion to maintain the military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am not asking to decrease this amount (well, not in this post anyway), rather I am asking the United States recognize that protecting human life is not just a military matter.
A news article today reports a company has developed a $1,200 device that pulls the humidity out of the air and supplies it as pure drinking water. If the U.S. spent 1 month of war money on these devices, it could purchase 10 million of them. Each device can produce up to 13 liters of purified water a day. If the average person could get by on 2-3 liters of drinking water a day, you can easily imagine creating enough drinking water for 40 million people a day (Zimbabwe's population currently stands at only 13 million) and that is a renewable process. Of course, if you used industrial equipment you could produce far more than that. With $12 billion you could build a nuclear powerplant ($3-4 billion) a desalinization plant on the South African coast ($145 million) and a guarded pipeline from the coast into central Zimbabwe with supply stations along the way ($224 million). Since this would take a minimum of 7 years to build, you could use the remaining $7 billion to provide drugs and medical supplies for the entire Zimbabwe population ($168 million), build a sewer system for every large city and town ($930 million), and still have enough money to build good roads and schools all over the country.
And all that was done with the money spent in a single month in Iraq. How many lives have been saved because America (and friends) invaded Iraq and Afghanistan? The number is impossible to calculate. But it is easy to calculate that with less than $2 billion over 12,000 people could have been spared Cholera in Zimbabwe.
Humanitarianism is really unattractive politically, and detractors always point to the volatile governments and corruption in countries where humanitarian aid is needed. But if the American military presence rolled into Zimbabwe to protect the humanitarian workers, would there really be much resistance? We took over Iraq in like, 12 days, we can do what we want! And in this case what we should want is to help starving, sick people who have no hope other than us.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
CORRECTION: Turns out the gift cards are still accepted. However, yours truly will tell you thatthe local Circuit City had been stripped bare as of Friday.
Strangely, no word on any cuts to the travel section of CNN. Everyone must have their Travel Gift Guide 2008!
Speaking of science, TAE's not-so-secret gay crush, Discovery Channel's Bear Grylls has been injured in Antarctica, where he was a member of a charity expedition. Did I mention that Bear has a blog? It's a little stereotypical, but cool nevertheless.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
It is a folly to dream that genders should be equal. Clearly, I have facial hair, and my wife does not. No amount of "women's lib" will ever change that. Also, my wife is capable of rational thought during a football game, I am not. My daughter reaches for her mother when injured, she ignores me. Men and women are different, and they ALWAYS WILL BE. Women's Suffrage aside, the desire of men and women for gender to be a non-issue are wasted effort.
As we learn more about the human brain, we realize that the actual neural activities of the brain are different based on the hormones supplied to that brain. Simply put: women and men have different brains structures. Simpler put: women and men think differently.
Ever hear someone say "a woman is too weak to be President."? This is (by and large) not an allusion to women having (by and large) a smaller bone structure and lower average weight than men. This is an allusion to the fact that by complex hormone interactions and poorly-understood brain activities, the female mind is capable (by and large) of more compassion and less likely to engage in physical violence than a male mind.
Further, though women are smart enough and physically capable of playing football, the reason it is not a popular female sport is because the female body is simply (by and large) not the equal to the male, and when the intensity of sport is proportional to the athleticism of the participants, men will win every time. This, however, doesn't make "powderpuff football" a socially acceptable term, and enforces bad gender stereotypes.
Anyway, the point is, men should grow their beards, wrestle their kids, and be manly. It's what we were meant to do! Women who dress us in skinny jeans and scarves and expect us to appreciate post-modern art are not accepting us for what we really are. Similarly, women who express disappointment in the male for "not having feeeeeeeeeeelings, or "not being coooooomforting" need to accept that those are things you pick up the phone and call your mother or girlfriends for. We are perfectly capable of listening to you, and perfectly capable of hugging and loving you with every fiber of our male being, but is it really so hard to accept that males are simply mentally different than you and emotionally incapable of really caring how so-and-so's offhand remarks made you feel?
Could it be that long ago, when males were roaming the grasslands and slaying land-sloths, that the compassionate males who felt bad about killing game starved and the compassion was slowly but surely bred out of males? Meanwhile, the females never saw the game animals dying, they simply saw the male bring home slabs of meat which they could feed to their children, which strengthened their mother-child bond. Females never needed to lose compassion, in fact, staying home from the hunt, to gather nuts and berries and staple crops in groups that communicated with complexity would actually strengthen their compassion and desire to discuss their feelings. Males spent their days in silence or near-silence, stalking game or chasing it, females spent their days in groups working together and communicating.
So why do we laugh at women on their cell phones all the time? Their just obeying their instincts.
I know I am going back to paleobiology for a lot of my arguments, but when we accept that we are genetically identical to the humans that walked the plains over 15,000 years ago, it can be a very humbling experience. The great thinkers, Aristotle, Da Vinci, Thomas Paine, all of them, they are in effect absolutely no smarter than humans who stabbed woolly mammoths with spears.
The only difference is that spears are way more manly than pens.
So what went wrong?
Well for one, GM's timing to come looking for a
Then there was the private jet debacle. The fact that they did it isn't a big deal. Several banks are still getting their bailout money even though their leadership is playing golf in the Hamptons. The problem is GM has no PR guy who can spin this into a victory. In fact, the robust ineptitude of GM's advertising and public relations wing is an underline to the following: We don't get it.
GM put out crappy cars for years, and years. It got to the point where my generation has zero brand loyalty. Say what you want about their cars making gains in the last 5 years, it does not matter. GM picked up a "big honking piece of junk" stigma and could not shake it.
Boy, SUV's seemed like a cash cow, but when the market turned, it was like GM was a deer caught in the HID headlights, completely unresponsive to market trends.
I could (and someone will) write a novel about how the union killed GM. This is partially true. But it's been shown recently that union workers at GM didn't really have it that much better than workers at Toyota. The major difference is the honey the retirees from GM were eating while Toyota has almost zero retired workers. However this fact didn't receive a whole lot of press, which just goes back to the collossal failure of GM's PR department.
So what went wrong? I think the bottom line is that GM looked like a wounded giant for the last ten years. Just as we all watch the government helplessly founder over Social Security, we watched GM stumble around like a drunk trying to find the privy. I never felt that "GM is back" or that "GM makes a bold move". I never saw a corporate strategy that said "We're putting all our chips in on this" or "we acknowledge the times they are a'changin' ". These activities could very well have happened, but GM consistently produced ugly vehicles, sang its swan song, argued with its unions, and complained to (and exorbitantly bribed and lobbied) Congress that it was helpless against the forces of economic nature.
Surely, surely there were competent people at GM who understood the changes that needed to be made. They just didn't work in the PR department.
The answer is that the crude oil industry, from top to bottom, is created by pure evil. Evil people pump it out of the ground and conspire with their cohorts to finance terrorist groups while trying to inflate the price of oil as much as possible.
Refinery companies piddle and twiddle over opening new refineries, while closing others to increase demand and decrease supply. It is cheaper for them to run fewer refineries, and cheaper still to close them. Meanwhile, less refined oil means less gas which drives up the price.
The government continues to provide huge (can we say hundreds of billions) tax credits to oil companies. While demanding out one side of their mouth that oil companies need to expand production and dig new wells, they say out the other side of their mouths that oil is evil, and that new refineries, new well, new anything is bad and they lock up viable land that has huge oil reserves beneath it.
Anyway, this all points to one easy solution: no more oil. Someone needs to stand up, be a man, and stop all oil use in the transportation industry. If we all drove electric cars, all of the above would be moot points.
Why aren't we driving electric cars? Because the oil producers over-supplied to keep the price artificially low and expand their market. Because the refiners used to produce so much oil that we thought it would last forever. Because the government was easily bought by the people who whispered in their ear and put money in their pocket. Because the car companies didn't have any foresight. Which leads me to my next rant.
So when it is argued (against me) that our war-like nature is in fact defeatable because we defeated our innate desire for polygamy, I have to wonder how much the author of such arguments actually knows about anthropology.
Suffice it to say, I am not ethics expert, nor am I a military man. I write these posts entirely based on my own experiences and feelings, so when I state that humans are inherently hunters and killers, I am stating that because I read it in a book, or saw it on the Discovery Channel, or heard about it during an anthropology lecture. Things like interpretation of religion are very hairy issues for me. My sister and brother-in-law are both UofChicago educated theologians, and probably could tie my brain in knots when it comes to theology. At work, the electrical engineers talk about wave-boards, rectifiers, and God only knows what and I can only shake my head and think how much I love gears and motors. There are things I do not know (see below).
But I do know that humans sprang down out of trees, stood up, surveyed the expansive grasslands, saw Neanderthals, and discussed with one another the most effective way to kill every last one of them and take over the place. The reason monogamy worked back then, and is the root relationship base for humans, is because humans lived such simple, half-starved lives in communal, loose tribes, that it would be impossible for a male to effectively supply foodstuffs for two sets of children, and teach two sets of children his hunting skills.
"But lions are effective group hunters in the Savannah, aren't they?" the reader might argue.
Well, true. But lions are still effective group hunters in the Savannah to this day. They have yet to put a lion on the moon, or on top of Mount Everest. No lion has ever invented anything.
Anyway, maybe I'm going off about this, but I feel pretty vehemently that humans are a violent species. That's just the way we are. Sometimes groups of humans are so motivated by their own personal desires to kill that there can be no changing them. They are simply justifying through modern devices a reason to tap the innate concept in them to kill other humans. The only way to stop those violently inclined individuals is to satiate our own inner violent urges until one group wins.
I'm sure there are many, many cases when violence was an end-game strategy only. After negotiations, tariffs, protests, and every other measure of diplomatic pressure had been applied, only then was violence used as a choice. But I think we are kidding ourselves if we really believe that we just short-shifted into fifth gear and that a magical fourth gear - some other unused diplomatic strategy - was not used. There are times when a group absolutely must take up whatever arms they have and apply them against violent individuals. Or even against non-violent individuals that would inevitably become violent.
It was also argued that I (and my audience) should read Hobbes, presumably Leviathan. In part one of that book, Hobbes gives his first law of nature: every man ought to endeavor for peace, and when he cannot obtain it, that he seek and use all the advantages of war. That is precisely what I am arguing for. Further, in that book, Hobbes argues against freedom of speech and argues for censoring the press. The book is in general an argument for an absolute dictatorship, going so far as to argue that members of a social contract should take a pledge to absolve themselves of their personal rights and of their right to dissent on any matter whatsoever. Hobbes saw chaos, all right, and argued for Stalinism. (TAE absolutely is not an expert on the writings of Thomas Hobbes, only an expert on Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson)
Now I am not trying to pick a fight here, but when my arguments (and the arguments of anyone who believes there is a time to saddle up the horse and ride with the posse after the bandits) are cast aside as underdeveloped I feel I must mount a defense! I am not, I repeat, I am not arguing that we shoot everyone that gets out of line, I am trying to argue that part of human nature is a well-developed sense of how to hunt and kill, and when a religion or government uses incentives to motivate their followers to access that sense of violence, it is very likely that the least harmful thing for all parties involved is to just kill the crap out of the terrorists.
Truman understood me. The Japanese culture had turned death by martyrdom into a glorious death, and the Japanese infantry fought like men eager to see the afterlife. A long island-to-island conflict against an army with no self-protection mechanism and nothing to lose would have meant many, many Americans and Japanese would die. Although Truman didn't have to drop the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only a dotard would argue that the cost of human life would have been less great had he refused.
The Pakistani terrorists are just the same. They won't negotiate. They want to kill, and don't mind dying in the least. They are in easily-defendable positions that would cost many lives to root out. The easiest solution, the solution that will, in the end, amount to the least blood shed would be to turn northwest Pakistan into a parking lot.
And that's all I have to say about that!
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
I don't think that's fair. I acknowledge that war has a very real, and very terrible cost, but it also has a place in history as one of the prime movers of progress. Don't get me wrong, many wars and battles were fought for the wrong reasons. But America declared war on Japan to prevent the loss of human life. America and Europe declared war on Germany (twice) to stop a dictator and his regime from harming masses of innocent people. America's very existence is owed to successfully winning a war.
I haven't really felt strongly about the attacks in Mumbai until last night when I was listening to Michael Savage's barely sane rant about the "sub-human, sub-moron" Islamists who perpetrated the attacks there. While going off about whatever it is that seems to stream into his angry, hateful mind, he did make one good point: it is demoralizing to watch the Defense budget of this country be spent on weapons we never use. Our military bases are chock full of fighter planes, stealth bombers, and missile defense platforms that are rusting from inaction. Our ground infantry has become a police force. Meanwhile, Taliban and tribal groups train in the backwoods of Pakistan so they can effectively torture and kill Jews and Christians in India. Why aren't we turning Pakistan's tribal region into a parking lot?
It is because Judeo-Christians consider diplomacy somehow superior to violent, quick action. We have indoctrinated in ourselves the believe we are better if we have peaceful talks with our violent enemies, and develop long term strategies to unite in brotherhood, like we are doing them a favor or something. We don't lower ourselves to their level of thinking, because obviously non-violence is somehow more logical and therefore superior to violent retribution for violence.
What we don't acknowledge (or refuse to admit) is that our belief that talking is better than acting is not shared by all humans and probably never will. Like I mention often, humans have an evolutionary propensity for violence towards other species and towards our own species. Perhaps Western culture has moved to a point where diplomacy and
I hinted at this yesterday during my post about killing Neandertals, but I should expound it now: we humans are natural born killers. A dream of a peaceful planet is very nice, and I share that dream with anyone who has it. But until our entire planet is a homogenous society with shared goals and shared beliefs, there will always be conflicts and with conflicts there will always be the threat of violence. Maybe Western culture has taught us that violence should only be defensively used to stop offensive violence, but once again, Western culture does not encompass all peoples.
One of the fundamental tenets of Christianity is that if you suffer here on earth, the kingdom of Heaven is going to be awesome for you. "Sell your belongings," Jesus says, "and follow me."
Why is it so hard to imagine that radical Islam is teaching the same thing? If you are a poor, radical Muslim in the back country of Pakistan, all things being equal, the argument that martyrdom will give you wealth in the afterlife should be just as compelling as Christianity's parallel promise to the oppressed. Non-Violent Christianity, it seems to me, is a rather new idea.
So you've got these Muslims who don't give a rat's ass about human life, because they genuinely want to die. They want to kill as many Christians and Jews as they can and then get themselves killed. Honestly, how can you expect to bargain with that? How can you possibly offer them something better? And are you being a good Christian by doing so? Would you offer a Christian monetary gifts or promises of a better life, if that Christian promised to turn their back on their faith?
The appeal of radical Islam is that it makes all the promises of Christianity without compromising a man's sense of pride. If you were told "you can go to Heaven with your head held high, your knuckles bloody, your gun in your hand and be received there as a hero, or you can go to Heaven humbled to the core and realizing you are nothing when it compares to Jesus and you can sit at his feet like a sheep in his flock" most men would absolutely choose the Islamic martyrdom over the Christian redemption.
I guess the logic of Islamic martyrdom is so obvious to me that I can't imagine a way to convince them that their death is a bad plan. I can't imagine a single thing I could say to them or teach them (other than that Islam = fail) that would get them to change their behavior. Because of this, I have to advocate a violent solution to this problem. Deep down, their military actions and tactics are incredibly inept in comparison to the American military machine. We could probably wage war on them using unmanned aeriel vehicles and air strikes and they'd never see an American face during the entire engagement. We could give them the glorious death they wanted and move on, with few American casualties.
But my manly, violent, easy way out isn't the Christian way. Or is it?
Monday, December 1, 2008
There are also a large volume of animals that can be killed without punishment, like purple starlings, insects, many fish, many amphibians, and others. These animals make up the bulk of the animal kingdom: unusable as a food source, too plentiful to be remarkable or protected.
There are also a large variety of animals that you can kill but will face fine or imprisonment for doing so. Kill a Peregrine Falcon, for example, and you face up to $1200 in fines. Kill a California Condor and you may go to prison.
Anyway, the point is, whatever animal you killed, by and large it is called hunting, or poaching, or furharvesting or fishing. It is only called murder if it involves killing another human being.
So when I saw a few weeks ago that scientists speculated they could bring a Neandertal to life, I had to wonder: if I shot a Neandertal, am I a poacher or a murderer? At what point are we separate from animals? Or even from our ancestors? The problem here is that it is virtually impossible to name a single trait that humans have that they don't share with some species of animal. Is hunting other animals not murder because of our superior weapons? Is hunting not murder because we aren't killing our own species? If we grey the line between human and animal, how will we separate ourselves ethically?
If we resurrect a Neandertal and it turns out to be a highly intelligent, compassionate, witty character with a well-developed sense of humor and an ability to grasp advanced concepts (Neandertals had the same size brains as modern humans) will we say "oh my god, cloning this creature was an ethical 9/11" and throw ourselves to the wolves, or will we refuse to acknowledge the "humanity" in the Neandertal, or in any animal, and consider ourselves still superior by some mystical, unnamed force? Will we suddenly realize we can't ever really come up with the definition of "humanity" and lose our Selves? Would we still laugh at Geico commercials depicting a Neandertal frustrated by the humiliation of his race if a real Neandertal acknowledged and felt those humiliations?
And what of our Selves? Could we go on considering ourselves a holier-than-thou species, meant to hold dominion over the animal kingdom, if a Neandertal could win arguments against us? What would Creationists say, if instead of ignoring fossil evidence, they had to ignore a walking, talking, college-educated living fossil that could argue on its own behalf in a court of law, and demanded reparations for 65,000 years of genocide and discrimination against its species?
This all goes back to hunting, amazingly. I have noted before that fossil evidence suggests that modern humans partially arose because of our tenacious ability to wage cruel war on ourselves and our Neandertal neighbors. Could it be that the ethics of Neandertal rights was settled in lower Africa thousands of years ago? Could it be that a highly trained hunting party of humans stumbled upon the last vestiges of the Neandertal race and cunningly pushed them into exctintion?
Or has modern society made fundamental leaps of morality and now we could understand the basic tenants of every creatures' right to life and freedom on this planet? I suggest, sadly, that humans are not meant to share this earth with an equal. By our nature we subjugate, destroy, conquer, and enslave, kill, and eat. Although we do have a moral compass, and although we do have amazing bouts of altruism that inspire, we also have a sense of self-protection. Although we have the ability to put our own needs aside, we are just as likely to put others down to satisfy our wants. I don't particularly believe that were we faced with a sudden population of Neandertals today, we would reach out and shake hands and greet them as equals. For we do not do that with ourselves.