Archive for January, 2011

Science and religion: An openness to discussion

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 31, 2011 by Trip Jennings

I saw this on a Discovery Magazine blog and immediately thought to post it.

Over the past week, I’ve participated in a question on Quora.com that goes something like this, Can science and religion co-exist? The discussion has been educational and, for the most part, respectful.

For me, such discussions are what what make life interesting.

A seminary graduate whose favorite books include more than a few philosophy of science texts, I was raised by two Southern Baptists who respected science and its accomplishments. They didn’t stress the incompatibility of evolution and a belief in the divine. They encouraged their complementarity. (Which is why I feel left outside the ongoing science vs. religion debate that sometimes resembles nothing more than a forum for fundamentalists of different stripes to yell at each other than a thoughtful, intelligent discussion. I’m sure I just pissed someone off. But I suspect I’m not the only product of a Southern Baptist upbringing to embrace science and an openness to the supernal. In an effort at full disclosure, my mother left the Southern Baptist Convention to become a Presbyterian minister).

Anyhow, I found this Discovery blog post inspirational. We need more conversation and less screaming.

Jerry Coyne, cheerful fire-breathing atheist that he is, gets invited to a church to talk about evolution. That’s not how it worked out, as people were more interested in talking about the relationship between science and religion. You can guess what happened — or maybe not. There was a productive two-hour conversation in which both sides learned something.

That’s pretty much the same thing that happened when I visited a Chicago church back in the day. There’s obviously a selection effect at work: the kinds of churches that invite atheists in for conversations are generally ones that enjoy some kind of open dialogue. Not that it’s all warm hugs and pleasant disagreement; I noticed that the older generation in my audience was a lot less open to even thinking about some of the points I raised, while Jerry had to fend off someone who thought that math and science had led to Nazi Germany.

Jerry concludes that the harmful aspects of religion are correlated with the certainty displayed by its adherents. This is a true but subtle point, as of course there are those who love to accuse scientists and/or atheists of unwarranted certitude. I think the difference is that we feel relatively sure about some things, while we’re quite ready to admit that we don’t know the answer to other questions, and we have a clear notion of where the distinction lies. But I would think that, wouldn’t I?

Conversations like these are enormously helpful. The trick is that it’s much easier — on both sides — to be polite and interactive in person, while the temptation to lecture people from on high is irresistible in other contexts, where it’s easier to think of the opposition as cartoons rather than real people.

Read more at blogs.discovermagazine.com

 

Music from my past: Guadalcanal Diary

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2011 by Trip Jennings

One of the fine bands lost in the brilliant glow of R.E.M., Pylon and the B52s during the white-hot music scene in Athens of the late 1970s and early 1980s was Guadalcanal Diary, a little group out of Marietta, Ga., that later got lumped into that whole movement. Perhaps you’ve heard of ’em. Most likely, you haven’t.

I saw them a few times back in the 1980s and they blew me away. The release that won me over was Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, 1984. The most played track off that LP was Watusi Rodeo, a rollicking tune that made the MTV rounds. But Shadow of the Big Man was a much deeper record, with other great tracks like Trail of Tears, Ghosts on the Road, the title track and a live version of Kum Ba Yah. (It’s a sign of how overlooked this band was, and is, that it’s difficult to find videos on YouTube of these guys. Other songs of note by these guys are John Wayne, Dead Eyes and Michael Rockefeller.)

I don’t know what made me think of these guys on a Saturday night more than 25 years after I last saw them in concert. Maybe just nostalgia. But I thought I’d share a bit of music. Enjoy.

Fast food ads vs. realities

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 30, 2011 by Trip Jennings

This is wicked funny. Thanks to Will Reichard for posting this on Amplify.

Weekend eye candy — a colorful spiral galaxy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 30, 2011 by Trip Jennings

This is an interesting tidbit from the Discovery Blog.

ekend eye candy pleasure, I have an unusual galaxy for you. Actually, it’s an unusual picture of an unusual galaxy!

Check out NGC 6503:

For your weekend eye candy pleasure, I have an unusual galaxy for you. Actually, it’s an unusual picture of an unusual galaxy!

hst_ngc6503

This picture is brought to you by the good folks of Hubble Space Telescope. Click it to get the galactinated 4000 x 2200 pixel version.

This picture is wee bit odd because it combines images from two different filters not generally seen together. One is a near infrared filter just outside the range of the human eye (0.814 microns, if you’re keeping a log of all this) and shows mostly stars, colored blue in the picture. The pink/red is coming from a filter that isolates the light from hydrogen gas, and shows where stars are actively forming in giant nebulae. These factories are like our own Orion Nebula, cranking out stars.

I’ve seen images of NGC 6503 before — like the one inset here from NOAO — so I have a passing familiarity with it. Like most spirals, it has more older stars toward the center and bluer, younger stars forming in the spiral arms, and that’s pretty obvious in the more natural color NOAO image. But in the Hubble shot, the IR filter doesn’t really distinguish very well between bright blue stars and older, red ones. Both pour out IR light, so we just see stars all over the place. Of course, the red nebulae are really striking too, making the Hubble image look, well, odd.

The galaxy is a bit of a weirdo, too. First, it’s small: only about 30,000 light years across, a third the size of the Milky Way. But size hardly matters, clearly, when forming beautiful spiral arms. This galaxy obviously has no trouble maintaining them.

But its location is strange too. It’s on the edge of the great local void: a vast region of space where galaxies are few and far between. Galaxies tend to exist in clusters and superclusters. The Milky Way is part of the the Local Group, a small collection of a few dozen galaxies which itself sits on the outskirts of the Virgo Cluster, 60 million light years away. In the opposite (more or less) direction, toward the constellation of Draco, is the Local Void. Our galaxy is near the edge of this void, but NGC 6503 is actually further into it, 17 million light years away from us. Even then, it’s only on the void’s edge; estimates vary but the empty region extends for something like 30 – 200 million light years in that direction!

So you can picture it: on one side of us is a collection of hundreds of galaxies in the Virgo cluster, which itself is part of a much larger supercluster containing thousands of galaxies. On the other side of us is an empty region of roughly the same size. Somehow, when the Universe itself was young, the matter in this region must have all condensed toward Virgo, leaving the void nearby. We think the entire Universe is this way, with dense regions of matter surrounding bubble-like voids. If you could step back and look, the Universe might appear like a giant sponge!

Think about that the next time you’re scrubbing your dishes.

Read more at blogs.discovermagazine.com

 

11 intriguing transparent animals: Glasswing Butterfly | MNN – Mother Nature Network

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 29, 2011 by Trip Jennings

This is really cool!! Thanks to NCoutlander for posting on Amplify

Two Americas as seen from Davos

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 29, 2011 by Trip Jennings

An interesting window into the discussion at Davos, where the influential and wealthy are hobknobbing

Amplify’d from www.economist.com
campaigner, central banker or a politician. Yet somehow each year the divisions grow. Ever more of the plutocrats seem to travel by limousine, rather than foot. (The telltale indicator of status remains footwear: the more impractical the shoe, the clearer it is that the owner has arrived by car). There seems to be more queue-jumping by the powerful. Security is the obvious excuse: police kept a herd of freezing people outside one hotel for close to half an hour on the pretext that a Russian politician (and his courtly motorcade) might, just might, appear.

WAS this the year when class came to Davos? To many outsiders, the event reeks of privilege, but from the inside its spirit has long attempted to be egalitarian. The bespectacled figure clumping along in the snow in his ski jacket could on closer inspection turn out to be a billionaire, a green campaigner, central banker or a politician. Yet somehow each year the divisions grow. Ever more of the plutocrats seem to travel by limousine, rather than foot. (The telltale indicator of status remains footwear: the more impractical the shoe, the clearer it is that the owner has arrived by car). There seems to be more queue-jumping by the powerful. Security is the obvious excuse: police kept a herd of freezing people outside one hotel for close to half an hour on the pretext that a Russian politician (and his courtly motorcade) might, just might, appear.

Class is also part of the conversation this year, especially in the Anglo-Saxon business world. There is a growing realisation that the pain is disproportionately hitting the bottom of society, an acknowledgement that it is not going to change soon—and, perhaps more selfishly, a worry that it will result in a backlash of some sort. Thus British businesspeople, especially those with consumer businesses, fret what will happen when governments cuts begin to bite in northern towns where many households depend on the state (either through benefits or as an employer). But the biggest worry is in America.

The two Americas
Take the views of two extremely rich Americans: a retailer and a banker. The retailer points out that his firm is now in effect dealing with two Americas. The first group are broadly upper-income and defined by a sense of mild optimism. They tend to work for the larger companies represented at Davos, which are doing well. Their mortgages cost less because of lower interest rates. They often own shares, so they are pleased by Wall Street’s recovery. They are not spending in the completely carefree way they did before the crunch, but, if they see something they want, they don’t pause before producing their credit card. The second, which he defines as middle- and lower-incomes, is defined by fear: they have either lost their jobs or they are worried about losing them. They spend money on essentials but not on discretionary items—and they are living from pay-packet to pay-packet. There is a clear monthly pay-cycle effect, with spending rising at the beginning of the month when they have cash in their pockets, but falling at the end.

The banker’s world is Wall Street—a long way from Middle America. But that is where he grew up, and he is deeply worried that well-paid middle-class manufacturing jobs are disappearing. He points to General Motors’ recent IPO prospectus, and the huge gain the carmaker has achieved by shedding UAW workers. “Frankly, I think those guys are never going to get jobs.” Wherever he looks in America he sees working-class males with little future.

Their worries are compounded by two things. The first is a sense that there is little that can be done to stop this. America is simply going through a period of deleveraging and slow growth. Both the retailer and banker think money should be spent on education, retraining and the other familar bromides. But neither wants to increase intervention, nor do they want higher taxes—which would simply delay recovery still further. There is a sense of a process we have to go through. The second is fear of a backlash: how long will so many people tolerate this degree of economic sluggishness without populism taking hold?

Read more at www.economist.com

 

My Blackberry Is Not Working (very cute video)!

Posted in Uncategorized on January 23, 2011 by Trip Jennings

This is FUNNY!!!