Cowlix Wearing my mind on my sleeve

Saturday, March 02, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Dissecting birdsong

Syntactic Structure in Birdsong: Memetic Evolution of Songs or Grammars? Is there a grammatical structure to the songs of the House Finch or are they simply composed of memes? We still don't know.

Engineering a world

From Biosphere To Technosphere: Stephen R.L. Clark on the need to be able to create a new world for humanity.

Our climate is set to change irrevocably and unavoidably. It is not possible for all the human population of our present Earth to live as expensively as the Western elite. The Earth is just too vulnerable to be a remotely secure accommodation for humankind and its associates. Whether we retreat inside arcologies, or migrate into the Asteroid Belt, we are condemned to find a technological solution to the catastrophe - unless we are prepared to contemplate the death of our children and grandchildren in the droughts, floods, plagues and famines of the late 21st century (I am being optimistic). We have to find out how things work, and how to build appropriate replicas of a working world, even while the way things work is changing. Where shall we put the peoples driven from coastal and island regions? What shall we do with peoples whose land has been eroded or leached clean of nutrients? What shall we do when antibiotics no longer work, animal diseases and plant blights sweep through our monocultures, and the working human population is too sick or too disillusioned to supply the needs of non-productive peoples? No doubt there is, for some, a certain pleasure in imagining the débacle. Some may even imagine that they can stockpile resources and ammunition enough to last out the time. The rest of us may prefer another future. For at the very same time that we can, with reason, expect these horrors, the same technological inventiveness and cultural versatility - and perhaps the same delusions of grandeur - that have been partly responsible for their likely onset, may promise us solutions.

Ethics of the Net

The Vatican on the ethics of the Internet

Use of the new information technology and the Internet needs to be informed and guided by a resolute commitment to the practice of solidarity in the service of the common good, within and among nations. This technology can be a means for solving human problems, promoting the integral development of persons, creating a world governed by justice and peace and love. Now, even more than when the Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communications Communio et Progressio made the point more than thirty years ago, media have the ability to make every person everywhere "a partner in the business of the human race".

[via NewsTrolls]

Really, you're closed

Closed disinformation agency can't convince staff it's closed

Following Tuesday's announcement that the Pentagon had closed the controversial Office of Strategic Influence , which allegedly was created to spread false information abroad, the agency said it has been unable to convince OSI employees to stop reporting for work.

"We got ya, sir, we're 'closed'," said a winking Major Chad Brumley when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld found him at his desk again today. "There is no one here spreading misinformation now, and certainly there won't be anyone here spreading misinformation daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sir."

Selling fear

Social Fear and the Commodification of Terrorism

The post-September 11 economy of the United States has become a fear-infested and sober landscape. National security and security-related corporations are providing the major visible economic growth. Corporate sectors without any discernable claim on security products nonetheless work to integrate a national security consciousness into their corporate images. Grim, determined, and upbeat patriotism is being used to sell any product that needs selling.

Ad campaigns experiment on how to function within this economic sobriety, as evidenced in those quite successful "Keep America Rolling" auto ads that General Motors rolled out. George Bush tells the country "Let's roll!" and revoices the words of an airline passenger who fought back, while at the same time echoing a General Motors logo. National security fears and durable goods, statesmanship and salesmanship, have been woven together by a fluid consumption-oriented language. To be behind the wheel is to control national fate in the face of international terrorism.

[via ghost rocket]

Pioneer 10, still there?

NASA's Deep Space Network will try to contact Pioneer 10 today for the first time in a year. A year ago the round trip signal took 22 hours. [via dangerousmeta]

Shuttle hanging in there

The shuttle will continue it's mission for now, with mission control keeping an eye on the cooling system that's giving them trouble.

Evolution or design?

Not-So-Intelligent Design (free registration required): Neil Greenspan discusses the push to have intelligent design added as an alternative to evolution in Ohio's biology curriculum.

Some members of the Ohio State Board of Education are maneuvering to have "intelligent design" (ID) taught to Ohio students as an alternative to teaching them about biological evolution. These board members were pursuing the inclusion of ID in the biology curriculum despite unambiguous opposition from the relevant science advisory committee. One board member apparently regards this development as a chance for Ohio "to be on the cutting edge." Unfortunately, this cutting edge will only serve to whittle away a bit more of the collective intellect of the citizenry of Ohio, and the implications reach much farther than the state's boundaries.


A truly fundamental problem with the notion of ID, as a scientific idea, is that, ultimately, it has effectively no explanatory or predictive power. Suggesting that an unknown Intelligent Designer of unspecified attributes designed the eye, the clotting cascade, or the immune system offers no scientific insights into these biologic marvels and suggests no incisive experiments. There is also the nagging issue of how the Intelligent Designer implements designs without being noticed. How do ID proponents explain the existence of defective genes, no longer capable of expression, in one species that are strikingly similar to still functional genes in a related species? What insights does ID provide in accounting for the origin and spread of bacterial resistance to antibiotics? These phenomena are consistent with the principles of evolution, which find application from the molecular level to the level of ecosystems.

He goes on to point out that there was at one point very similar wording to Ohio House Bill 441 tacked on to the No Child Left Behind federal law through an amendment by from Rick Santorum.

See also:

Lately, an "Intelligent Design" (ID) movement has been emerging, trying to steer a course between the inconsequential handwaving of the liberals and the lunatic literalism of the creationists. It too promises more than it has delivered. Phillip Johnson, perhaps their most prominent spokesman, forcefully condemns evolutionary naturalism (1991, 1995) but presents no serious alternative. Michael Behe (1996) claims instances of "irreducible complexity" in biology, which adds up to little more than an old-fashioned incredulity about achieving complex interdependent structures incrementally. The effect of ID on mainstream science has been negligible.

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Copyright © 2001-2002 by Wes Cowley