Monday, February 27, 2006

The ice has cracked

The cold Canadian model of socialized medicine might be thawing. I don't know that we can cheer just yet, but there's hope, anyway. Their Supreme Court ruled against certain restrictions against private medical insurance recently, and now private medical clinics are opening up at the rate of about one each week!

It doesn't sound like much from our perspective, but keep in mind that Canada had an absolute ban on private medine until now. People were actually dying in waiting lists for medical attention. And that's what prompted the lawsuit that broke this.

I remember a Canadian colleague once telling me that their absolute form of socialized medicine was necessary. That it was right to prohibit anybody from spending their own hard-earned money to get medical attention. Why? Because it would result in the rich being able to do better than the rest!

Well, heck! What about food? Sure, we and Canada both have welfare systems that assist the extremely poor to buy food, but we don't prohibit the rich from buying their own, do we? And this results in a system in which the rich can afford more and better food than the poor. Isn't food more inherently necessary for life than medical attention? I mean, on an every-day basis. Does the Canadian Left have a problem with this, or will they propose socialized food as a remedy to the horrors of inequality at the supper table?

I can hardly imagine somebody coming up with this line of logic, and, despite him being a smart man (an astrophysicist), I suspect he simply repeated some slogans he heard somewhere without thinking.

The evolutionary emergence of blondes

This is interesting. I hadn't thought about it, but have you ever noticed that around the world, dark hair and eyes are predominant in people? That's not as true among Caucasians, where there's quite a variety in hair and eye color. The research apparently shows that this was an evolutionary adaptation from about 11,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, near the beginning of civilization. In Northern Europe, near the retreating edges of the ice sheet, there were plenty of animals to eat, but not too many edible plants, unlike in regions farther south. So unlike other places, food-gathering was something more dangerous and performed mostly by men. Many were killed in the process, and you had a lot of women competing for the few survivors. Hair and eye color wound up being a genetic strategy to stand out and attract mates. It wasn't as necessary in other parts of the world, so the genes didn't wind up being as widespread.

Now I'm reminded of that line from Big Trouble in Little China, "Chinese girls do not come with green eyes."

I wonder, though, about the ancestors of the Eskimos and other far-northern tribes. Were they also up there at that time, and was their culture subject to the same effects? Eskimos today are dark-haired and brown-eyed. Just curious. Of course, you won't have the same random genetic quirks happening everywhere, so even two populations with the same environmental pressures might not have the same genetic mutations popping up.

Unexpectedly, the article ends by saying the WHO claims that the blonde-haired gene is dying out and should be completely extinct in 200 years. Right. No, I don't buy that. It's around for 11,000 years, and the instant our science matures to the point where we can study such things, we discover it's about to end Right! This! Minute! ?? This should violate some biological equivalent of the Cosmological Principle.

Dogs playing calculus

OK, so that title doesn't really evoke thoughts of the "dogs playing poker" painting too well. Nonetheless...

Here's an interesting article about dogs solving a problem in the calculus of variations. Throw a ball for your dog. If he's on the shore, and you throw it into the water at some angle to the shore, then the fastest path is a problem of "the calculus of variations." You can run faster along the shore, but that isn't aiming directly for the ball. If you went straight for it, you'd be moving slowly through the water. So what combination of shore and water gets you there most quickly? Dogs come up with solutions pretty close to the mathematically optimum answer! (Diagrams are on the page.)

A Catholic city by Domino's?

I haven't read this in detail, so I'm passing it along without too much comment. The owner of Domino's Pizza, who is a devout Catholic, is wanting to found a city in Florida to be run by Catholic principles. It's not clear from this English newspaper's report exactly how he means it to be Catholic, aside from simply encouraging Catholics to move there, and the details would be important. But as a devout Methodist, I wish him well. I wouldn't want to live there, myself, of course, but it's the kind of thing I'd imagine religious Catholics would enjoy. He's got a Catholic college he's already started on nearby, and they've got 5,000 acres of space (town and city both?).

I dislike deed restrictions of any kind, and I get the hint that that would be one way they might set up the town. The article says that owners of commercial property could impose restrictions on the businesses operating on them, for instance, restricting the sale of contraceptives. Fine enough. They don't say anything about deed restrictions, so I'm merely speculating on that point. I reckon that would be one way of making the town itself have a Catholic character, though not the only.

There's a retirement community a friend of mine has moved to. It's Methodist, although not run by the church itself. Mostly set up for retired ministers. And people have the complete freedom to decide whether they move there or not. Whether to enter into that kind of environment or not. So people should have no problem with a town being specifically set up to be characteristically Catholic. Now, if you already lived there and decided you wanted to live differently, that's another matter, but this seems it was vacant land, or not settled on, anyway.

Actually, I wonder how it would be if you voluntarily moved there, with the intention of being around Catholics and living in the way the town is intended for, and then changing your mind later. I'm tempted to say that's your own tough luck, but at that point it is your own property, and if you're prohibited from certain things (or required to do something) on your own property, I'd chafe at it, even if I had known it moving in.

Anyway, I wish him luck.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Wisdom from "The Tick"

Sign posted in paleontology lab:

Eat in the lab
Burn down the lab
Innovate unnecessarily

Yep. Wisdom we should all live by.

Light blogging

Sorry for the light blogging lately. Lots to do. I'll try to post occasionally the next few days, but it'll be sporadic.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Excellent article by Victor Davis Hanson

Here on National Review Online. Absolutely fantastic article. Makes me laugh and gets me riled up at the same time.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The award for best astrophysics paper title I've seen...

...goes to Laszlo Gergely and Zoltan Keresztes, for "Irradiated asymmetric Friedmann branes". Click to read it. No, seriously!

Those cartoons of Islam

I've got different feelings about these Islamic parody cartoons out of Denmark. They are critical of Islam, of course, and if I were Moslem, I certainly wouldn't like them. I didn't like Andre Serrano's so-called "art" that made fun of Christianity, nor any of the other countless examples of anti-Christian expressions you'll find throughout the nominally Christian West. I criticize those. I understand and sometimes agree with calls for the publishers of such things to stop it. (I'll note that I never promote boycotts, though.)

So I have no problem in principle with Moslems around the world criticizing these cartoons. I have no problem with them asking the Danish newspaper not to run them, or to apologize for having done so. But there are some problems with how this is being done.

1) Some of the criticism, apparently, is that Islam does not allow depictions of Mohammed (technically, depictions of anything), so the cartoon depicting him is inherently blasphemous. Answer: You can't expect people not of your religion to follow the dictates of your religion. Should I be shocked that Buddists don't keep the Sabbath? That's a task for a long-term missionary project.

2) There are calls not only for the newspapers to apologize but for the Danish government to apologize or officially criticize the cartoons. Worse yet, to legally prohibit the newspaper from printing these. Answer: While the President of the United States, say, will often offer his opinion on cultural matters like this, and I wouldn't mind if he had criticized these, had they come out of the United States, I would object to the idea that the government at any level could apologize for the actions done by private citizens. I would also object to the idea that there could be an "official" criticism of any kind. The President could offer his privately-held opinion of this, critical or not, but it should not be delivered in any official context.

More importantly, there should not, and indeed cannot be any legal prohibitions against such publications in this country, and happily that still seems to be true in most of the European countries caught up in this issue. Britain might be changing, with a proposed law (passed, now?) that while toned down, still might prohibit certain religious criticism.

3) Is it irony or something far less subtle that some have responded with violence to these cartoons (one cartoon shows Mohammed with a bomb for a turban--and the fuse is lit)? There are hostage-taking attempts going on, although I don't know if any have been successful. How many Westerners are hanging around the Gaza Strip these days? Do you really want to make the cartoonist's point by reacting in the very stereotype of a violent Islamist radical?

It's with all of this in mind that I read this article in the Washington Post: "Men Angry at Drawings Surround Gaza Office" The AP writer is Ibrahim Barzak, with a dateline of Gaza City. After describing the aforesaid attempts at finding Western hostages and the surrounding of the EU offices by gunmen, Barzak writes this: "The furor over the drawings, which first ran in a Danish paper in September, cuts to the question of which is more sacred in the Western world - freedom of expression or respect for religious beliefs."

Well, now. The so-called "freedom of expression" (I say "so-called" because there are plenty of modes of expression that aren't permitted in a given society. The writer should have written "freedom of the press.") is a legal matter. Respect for religion is an aspect of the culture and is not a legal matter. (Britain may become a sad exception to this.) Within the legal freedom of the press to publish what it wishes, there is a separate question of whether these cartoons were really a good idea, respectful, or whatever.

Even if one considers them not to be, there is no logical dilemma posed. I believe the writer is trying to raise "respect for religious beliefs" to a legal status it does not have, and I suspect his personal leanings are that these should not be permitted. This is a bit of editorializing at the end of a news article.

Sorry to read that that French paper that reprinted the cartoons this week has now fired its managing editor. Barzak implies that it is in return for this act, but no connection is stated directly.


"Alito Splits With Conservatives on Inmate" Up on Drudge right now. Bright red headline.

Hmph. I could see that there are death-row appeals (this is a stay of execution request) that could have some merit, in principle. But the defense "pursued two challenges - claiming that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment and that his constitutional rights were violated by a system tilted against black defendants."

Maybe there's something more substantive buried deep inside the request, but on the face, those are two of the most specious challenges to an execution you can come up with. I hope we haven't been hoodwinked by our new justice...