30 June 2009

Conway Morris on Evolution, science and religion

I've been reading The Crucible of Creation (about the Burgess Shale, but also about evolutionary principles) and Life's Solutions, Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe by Simon Conway Morris, whom I've mentioned before here. Some of his ideas were conventional wisdom 50 or even 100 years ago and only more recently heterodox, others are more original and based on his insights from a profound study of ancient life. I find his views compelling. Of course, as a Buddhist, my view of the spiritual implications of what he talks about is somewhat different from his, although not as much as you might think. Here's a summary from Wikipedia, which seems reasonably accurate based on what I've read of him so far [notes omitted]:

...[Conway Morris] is an increasingly active participant in discussions relating to science and religion. He is active in the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and has lectured there on "Evolution and fine-tuning in Biology". He gave the University of Edinburgh's prestigious Gifford Lectures for 2007 in a series titled "Darwin's Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Song of Creation". In these lectures he suggests that:

  • Evolution shows an eerie predictability, leading to the direct contradiction of the widely-held view that insists on evolution being governed by the contingencies of circumstance
  • Eyes are not the only example of repeated evolutionary convergence on the same solution. There is evidence for fundamental equivalences of sensory perception and the implication that deeper in the nervous system there is only one mentality. Minds may be not only universal, but also the same.
  • Evolutionary convergence can give us some very strong hints as to how any aliens will sense their environment, how they will move, how they will evolve agriculture, and intelligence.
  • Humans have passed a threshold that means we now transcend our animal origins. But birds, whales and humans all converge in song, and far from being the pinnacle of Creation we may be mere juveniles.
  • The regularities of the physical world, strongly indicate that there must be universal principles of mind. The evidence from evolutionary convergence, not least in terms of intelligence and music, is that the trajectories towards consciousness are embedded in a universe that in some ways is strangely familiar, where personal knowledge (to use Polanyi’s phrase) is valid.
  • Any attempt to explain, entirely in naturalistic terms, the fact that universe can now understand itself seems doomed to failure. Not only is the Creation open-ended and endlessly fertile, suggesting that in the future science itself faces an infinity of understandings, but so too there is good evidence of realities orthogonal to every-day experiences. Rather than trudging across the arid landscapes skimpily sketched by the materialists, we need to accept the invitation and accompany the Artist that brought Creation into being.

He is a strong critic of materialism and of reductionism:

That satisfactory definitions of life elude us may be one hint that when materialists step forward and declare with a brisk slap of the hands that this is it, we should be deeply skeptical. Whether the “it” be that of Richard Dawkins’ reductionist gene-centred worldpicture, the “universal acid” of Daniel Dennett’s meaningless Darwinism, or David Sloan Wilson’s faith in group selection (not least to explain the role of human religions), we certainly need to acknowledge each provides insights but as total explanations of what we see around us they are, to put it politely, somewhat incomplete.

and of: "the scientist who boomingly — and they always boom — declares that those who believe in the Deity are unavoidably crazy, “cracked” as my dear father would have said, although I should add that I have every reason to believe he was — and now hope is — on the side of the angels."

29 June 2009

I hope Feinstein runs for governor

It's rumored that Dianne Feinstein is considering leaving the Senate and running for Governor. I hope she does. It'll be pretty easy, I think, to replace her in the Senate with a real Democrat, and I look forward to her sound defeat in the Democratic primary when she tries to run for Governor. Maybe I'm engaging in wishful thinking, but I'd dearly love to see her retreat into private life. As far as I'm concerned, she should not be considered a Democrat in any meaningful sense of the word.

How & Why the Claim of Opponents to «Public Option» that it's Anti-Competitive is an OUTRIGHT LIE

see this. People who claim to be in favor of competition and private enterprise should support a plan that prevents monopolies. If they don't, their hypocrisy is showing.

Pyrrhic Victory -- Clean Energy Bill

Not merely, I fear, because it kowtows to the phony (and oxymoronic) "Clean Coal" lobby, but because its margin of victory was so frightfully narrow, I fear that the Clean Energy Bill that just passed the House is a pyrrhic victory for environmentalists. The prospects for the bill surviving as anything like meaningful environmental reform in the Senate are bleak. This would be really terrible news: cause for national mourning, if we only would wake up and realize what's really going on in this world. PLEASE write your Senators and ask them to support this legislation, including any amendments to make it stronger.

My e-mail to Dianne Feinstein

Dear Ms. Feinstein:

I find it very troubling, as a Californian, when a large majority of my fellow Californians favor more robust health care reform than is even being proposed by the Obama administration, for you to be dismissive of the efforts of some these constituents to communicate this to you. After all, although you seem to forget it, you ARE SUPPOSED TO BE REPRESENTING THE PEOPLE OF CALIFORNIA, not whatever special interests are pressing the regressive views you seem to be representing.

Ms. Feinstein, Californians will settle for NOTHING LESS than a robust so-called "public option." I for one will NEVER vote for any Democrat who fails to support this, AT A MINIMUM.

I have been disappointed with your failure to represent even the Center of our party before, particularly on surveillance and civil liberties, but this issue is bread and butter and absolutely crucial to the lives of millions of your constituents, and your failure to support robust health care reform, if it comes to that, will be the final straw.

26 June 2009

Random Thought

When is gmail gonna stop being "Beta"? Seems like it's been in beta since forever.

23 June 2009

Will Admits 'Public Option' is cheaper and out-competes for-profit insurers

Nate Silver, who apparently doesn't favor so-called "Single Payer" health insurance (as I do), nonetheless has a very good piece entitled George F. Will Admits Public Option Will Cut Costs. Silver believes in profit motive and private enterprise, but he recognizes that there are exceptions, and this is one of them.

As an aside, George Lakoff, who has done important work in cognitive science and linguistics, and their interface with politics, is very critical of Democrats in their inability to marshal current thinking on communication to effectively frame their issues and craft language effectively to deliver the message. Such terms as "single payer" and "public option" are very poor at communicating the effective moral message. Single Payer should be Low Cost Doctor/Patient Health System, or something like that, and Public Option, which is already an unsatisfactory compromise, should be Guaranteed Low Cost Health Care Option. By using the terms currently in use, Democrats are buying into the false characterization by the right that universal health care is "creeping socialism" or "government making choices for you." In fact, the opposite is true, of course, government isn't in the business of denying people health care, private insurers are. We should characterize private insurance as an Illness Profiteering and Risky Patient Care Avoidance Scheme, since that's what it is.

22 June 2009

My letter to the White House

I still count myself an Obama supporter, but I sent this to make it clear that we progressives among his supporters are RESTLESS.

I was very disappointed when the President failed to stand up to the banks on cramdown by bankruptcy judges on first home mortgages. Sen. Durbin was right, "the banks own the place."

Now, the socalled financial reform package is here, and it's clearly insufficient. There should have been more consolidation, more control of derivatives, more clear negative consequences for overleveraging.

But, in any case, the President must make absolutely clear to the Congress that this is absolutely the minimum that will be acceptable. The compromises have already been made. No more concessions to Wall Street: pass this and expect more reform later on, not less.

The President's numbers on handling the economy are slipping, and it's because he's been TOO accommodating. Messrs. Summers and Geithner clearly have the wrong mindset. We need a serious new Pecora style commission, a reinstatement of Glass Steagall and widening of its scope to include hedge funds and investment banks, and an overall scheme that really will prevent the kind of deemphasis on a production economy and overemphasis on speculation by the financial sector that very nearly caused the collapse of the entire World economy in the last year.

Mr. Obama must be MORE BOLD, more reform-minded, and more determined to use and even grow his political capital to live up to his promise of real change, because the way things are going, the perception is already dawning that there is to be little in the way of change at all, and that in fact Obama is just more of the same kowtowing to the money elite.

17 June 2009

Ugly Double Standard on "War" funding

On news that only five Republicans voted for the "War Funding" bill in the House, one is aghast. Democrats have always run in sheer terror for the voting buttons and voted "YES" with alacrity on this kind of bill, for fear of being branded as "not supporting the troops," or "soft on defense" (or, more lately, "soft on national security"). Republicans get a free pass, and can vote or not vote and no one says peep. Why is it that if a Democrat, regardless of the validity or gravity of his concerns, is automatically a pinko pacifist if he doesn't vote for the most ill-considered military appropriations, but Republicans can cast a 'no' vote on the basic funding for a war their party started and for which it has crowed its support without surcease, for the most blatantly partisan reasons, and no one in the Mainstream Media says one single word of criticism.

15 June 2009

Coleman effectively admits his legal strategy is purely political

Really quite remarkable that Norm Coleman would give a speech to fellow Republicans, effectively admitting (applying only inferences from what is directly implicit in what he said)....that his legal gambit has nothing to do with who won the election legitimately, but is entirely about the politics of abusing the legal system to deny the legitimate winner his seat in the Senate as long as possible for partisan ends.

Norm Coleman: admitted amoral asshole. What a surprise.

12 June 2009

Juan Cole comments on Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and Iranian nuclear program

The respected scholar Juan Cole (Informed Comment blog) points out that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty gives any signatory country, including Iran, the right to enrich uranium for use in civilian nuclear power (which is their claimed use). So the attempt by the Bush administration to define enrichment of uranium as a proscribed activity was viewed elsewhere in the World as preposterous. Sen. Kerry, virtually alone among politicians, recently acknowledged this.

We live in dangerous times, but if we don't respect our treaty obligations, no one else will.

10 June 2009

Another Example of Lunatic Right Wing Threat

Unfortunately, the hideous Von Brunn/Attack on the Washington DC Holocaust Museum today reinforces my view that we have more to worry in the near future from Lunatic Right Wing Terrorism than from Islamic Extremists.

Josh Marshall on Why Israel must give up West Bank occupation

Josh Marshall has very coherent, and I think correct, reasons why it is in Israel's best interests to negotiate for a two state solution, meaning withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.

08 June 2009

Israeli Admiral on Obama Cairo Speech; Two State Solution

Admiral Alayon: Two state solution is only viable option; plus comments on Obama speech and current American stance in region.

Right Wingers push Boycott of G.M.

Sick and Twisted.

WTF? on public option

From the Times:
But critics argue that with low administrative costs and no need to produce profits, a public plan will start with an unfair pricing advantage. They say that if a public plan is allowed to pay doctors and hospitals at levels comparable to Medicare's, which are substantially below commercial insurance rates, it could set premiums so low it would quickly consume the market.
When in hell did anyone ever mandate that health care should be on a profit basis? Or that private insurance should be protected by public policy from administrative inefficiency?? Unbelievable. If for profit health insurance can't compete with nonprofit, including public nonprofit, health insurance, it deserves to die. It's good old fashioned American competition. For crying out loud!

It's clear to everyone with any realism at all in this debate that we have to find ways to disincentivize the profit motive in medicine. The needs of patients must come first, last, and always, with profit not a consideration at all. (Profit, as opposed to financial viability; these are not the same thing). Patient first means appropriate care, not necessarily the most care or the most expensive care (usually not, in fact, see this in The New Yorker).

05 June 2009

50 Maxims · A bit of American Folk Wisdom from Regina Brett

This is a version of a "Life's Lessons" chain mail that's been circulating the internet for several years (there are quite a few of these). This one originated from Columnist Regina Brett in the Plain Dealer. The last five were added in a 2006 reprint of an earlier column. Normally, these things strike me as pretty silly, but this list actually contains a good deal of wisdom, it seems to me.

Sunday May 28, 2006

To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me.

It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolls over to 50 this week, so here's an update:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.

8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.

12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.

16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.

18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.

19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: "In five years, will this matter?"

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.

35. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.

36. Growing old beats the alternative - dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.

41. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

42. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

45. The best is yet to come.

46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

48. If you don't ask, you don't get.

49. Yield.

50. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

Settlers and Settlements: not necessarily the thorniest issues for Two State Peace Deal?

This report on polling in Israel is a bit of a mixed bag, but it does show, insofar as it may be trusted (a ?), that the Israeli public is hardly monolithic in support of settlers and settlements, and that, in fact, they would even grudgingly accept evacuation, which no one other than the Palestinians is advocating.

This makes me think that the settlement issue, while thorny, is not necessarily completely intractable. Plus, I believe the right of return is a total nonstarter for the Palestinians, and that, although they won't admit it, they are prepared to ultimately (literally, maybe, as the last thing), concede this issue. So, both with Syria and with the Palestinians, that, it seems to me, leaves the resource allocation (esp. water) and status of East Jerusalem as the biggest problem issues before a two state solution can be formalized.

UPDATE [5 Jun]
Joe Klein pretty much eviscerates Krauthammer's Pro-Likud rant on the settlement issue. I'm not always a total fan of Klein, but I agree with him here.

This [from American Prospect] is a liberal Israeli correspondent's explanation of why the "natural growth" argument is a dodge, and in fact settlements have always been illegal. (Violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention on obligations of an occupying power). I think there will inevitably be some accommodation of some settlements, especially near Jerusalem, but definitely there is going to have to be a cessation of any new ones, and probably at least dismantling of "outposts," as part of any deal.

M. J. Rosenberg is worth reading too.