Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why "Planet Goldilocks" likely isn't

All the science stories in the last 24 hours have been touting the alleged "Planet Goldilocks" as the first outside our solar system compatible for life similar to ours.

Fact one - its revolution and rotation are synchronous, so that it eternally turns the same face to its home star. At a distance of just 19 million miles, then sunlit side is getting fried more than Mercury. And, unless it has a thick enough atmosphere, the star-based side is chilling. That said, it would also be a fine line between "just enough" atmosphere to keep the dark side warmed up a bit, and so thick an atmosphere that you get Venerean effects.

Besides, if the atmosphere is that thick enough, that close to the home star, with that short of a revolutionary period, what sort of storms might be generated?

Beyond that, we're talking massive solar wind that close to the home star, with a planet that might well not have enough magnetic field to keep the planetary surface from heavy bombardment.

So, Goldilocks it ain't.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Atheists know the bible better than Christians

Nope, no joke. (And, like other atheists, no, I'm not surprised, either.)

And, some of the results are just sad, for the people involved, that is. 45 percent of American Catholics, on the Eucharist, apparently think their church is Reformed, for example.

Here's why I think this is like this. Usually a convert has fuller knowledge than a lifelong adherent. Since Christians are a much bigger pool than atheists and agnostics, and also atheists and agnostics who "convert" to that want to know what they're converting from ...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Several new Amazon reviews are up

One of the best books I've read on the folly of believing that economic "engagement" with China will make it more democratic, "The Beijing Consensus," was very good. Read what I thought about it and other books.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

God's running out of money ...

Or, at the least, the entities that serve him are. And, no, it's not just the liberal mainline Protestant bodies It's evangelical churches of various stripes. And, it's not even churches, it's synagogues, too. (No word in the story on mosques, Hindu temples, etc.)

And, no, it's not the recession, either. Or not primarily.

It's two things.

One is the aging of baby boomers. As they retire, they cut back on giving of all sorts.

The second is, below the upper end of the baby boom, the ongoing decline in emotional and psychological investment in authoritative institutions of all sorts.
“When the foundation falls, when the base isn’t there, then you have problems,” said Elbert T. Chester, an accountant in Queens who has more than 60 churches along the Eastern Seaboard as clients. “And we haven’t even seen the worst of it.”

Don't expect this to change. Baby boomers aren't getting any younger, and the tail end of boomers, Gen Xers and younger yet, aren't gaining in enthusiasm for organized religion or even semi-organized spirituality.

Add in the Catholic priests' sexual abuse, more and more Protestant ministers getting flagged for the same, more and more ministers from conservative backgrounds getting exposed as gays (and perverted ones within their repressed sexuality), and you have even more reason for the trend to continue.

Friday, September 24, 2010

For Xns or Jews worried about "American sharia"

Substitute "halaka" for "sharia" and this is what you get. "Halaka communities," already in existence.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Antisemitic, or just concerned about preservation?

I can see both sides of the issue in a long-ongoing standoff in Litchfield, Conn.

It's a complicated issue. Having seen communities try to preserve historic districts, I can appreciate Litchfield's stance. And, a swimming pool certainly doesn't fit the idea of "historic preservation."
The group's plans included a synagogue, living space for Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach and his large family and a swimming pool for the Chabad group's popular summer camp.

"This case is not about the construction of a synagogue," (Borough of Litchfield historic district commission attorney James) Stedronsky said recently. "It's about the construction of a personal palace for Rabbi Eisenbach, complete with a 4,500-square-foot apartment and an indoor swimming pool big enough to serve a summer camp."

At the same time, rich, WASPy Connecticut communities have some history of being antisemitic sundown towns. Including Litchfield. As the Hartford Courant notes, a Willson Whitman, visiting in 1943, discovered Jews were not allowed to own property there.

That said, on the next page of the Courant story, we find that Jews do live in Litchfield today, and at least some of them oppose the Lubavitcher Chabad project on grounds similar to the historic commission: it's too big and unfitting.

From what I read, I'd say the commission isn't being antisemitic. That said, I don't know if either side has discussed or offered compromises, or not. Unfortunately, a judge and court is not an arbitrator. All the judge can do is rule for either the commission or Chabad; he or she can't craft a compromise. (I wonder if in Continental European jurisprudence, as opposed to the Anglo-American model, judges can do that.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Monkey (mind) wrench some Buddhists

I know many people have seen, via PBS or elsewhere, Tibetan Buddhists evaporating the water from cold, wet sheets draped across their bare backs.

No, I'm not challenging what PBS or others have seen and filmed; the effect is legit.

That said, what would happen if I visited such a monastery and said something like this:

Who is the I who is evaporating those sheets and why are you still attached to it?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Plus ça change, even for the universe?

Looks like Old Man Universe might have changed over 13 billion or so years.

Specifically, the fine-structure constant may not be so constant.

Why is this important? If the constant is inconstant, then the strengthe of the electromagnetic force isn’t constant, either.

There had been some hints at this in the past few years, but with the question of whether the inconstancy was space-based or time-based. New evidence seems to not only support the inconstancy, but that it’s time-based. (Which makes more sense to me.)

Anyway, read all about it.

Blackmore shows ignorance of both memes and religion

Susan Blackmore admits that religion isn’t a “virus of the mind.”
Are religions viruses of the mind? I would have replied with an unequivocal "yes" until a few days ago when some shocking data suggested I am wrong.

From a conference on “Explaining religion,” she cites the following reasons.

1. Religious activity correlates with more children.

And, no others.

Yep, that’s it.

First, despite her noting her previous mea culpa over believing in the reality of paranormal phenomena, it shows Blackmore might still lack intellectual rigor in some areas.

This is a prime example. She didn’t even look for additional information, like average lifespan of children from religious vs. nonreligious families.

Nor did she take a look at a single datum of cultural evolution that might be connected.

Nor did she acknowledge this might be an issue of cultural evolution trumping genetic evolution.

Shoddy, shoddy.

Beyond that, she didn’t even ask the most pertinent question:

Shouldn’t this put another nail in the coffin of “strong” theories of memes, at least?

Answer? Yes.

Meanwhile, I can't wait for the Christian version of a Pop Ev Psycher to actually cite this column.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An "Andy Rooney" moment: capitalism vs. anarchism

Why is Joseph Schumpeter's comment about the "creative destruction" of capitalism considered perfectly economic mainstream, but, if I talked about the "creative destruction" of anarchism, somebody would probably report me to the government?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Why SETI likely won't find ET

New Amazon reviews up: Paul Davis has a great new book on why SETI hasn't found "anybody" yet ... and probably won't.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Several new nonfiction Amazon reviews are up

Is "Water" all that it's cracked up to be by some, or is it all wet? Find out my thoughts on it and others. Are things really "Poorly Made in China"? What is "The Miracle" (if any) of modern Asia's wealth? (And, yes, I posted a review on a Rodney Stark book I haven't read. "Civilization clashers" and Christian fundamentalists can just deal with it.)