Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 24th, 2006

The Creation Fallacy

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Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2006 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Religion

Sam Harris on Atheism

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From the LA Times:

Several polls indicate that the term “atheism” has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president.

Atheists are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, depressed, blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of the supernatural.

Even John Locke, one of the great patriarchs of the Enlightenment, believed that atheism was “not at all to be tolerated” because, he said, “promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist.”

That was more than 300 years ago. But in the United States today, little seems to have changed. A remarkable 87% of the population claims “never to doubt” the existence of God; fewer than 10% identify themselves as atheists — and their reputation appears to be deteriorating.

Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse.

1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.

On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find this fear of meaninglessness … well … meaningless.

2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.

People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

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Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2006 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Religion

Shallots cooking

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When you need to produce a lot of thin slices, the normal course is to use a mandoline. I use this Rösle adjustable slicer, which amounts to the same thing but is simpler, and I always wear my Forshield glove so that I don’t slice my fingers. I just reduced a pound of peeled shallots to a pile of thin slices before you could say “Jack Robinson.” Good tools—not used often, but they do come in handy at the right time.

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2006 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Recipes & Cooking

Cheese course ready

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We went to the cheese store in Carmel and got three cheeses for the cheese course: buche, a goat cheese; a red Stilton; and a triple-cream soft cheese. I’m making the shallot confit today (recipe from the linked article):

Shallot Confit

1 pound shallots (about 12 small ones)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Salt and pepper

Peel the shallots and slice them thinly. (See prep notes.) Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the shallots and stir to coat. Reduce heat to low, add in the balsamic vinegar and sugar, season with salt and pepper, and stir again.

Cover and cook over low heat until the shallots are very soft, about an hour and a half, stirring from time to time. If the mixture starts to dry out or stick to the pan, add in a touch of water. When the shallots are soft, taste the confit and adjust the seasoning. Let cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze.

Serve as an accompaniment to cheese, grilled fish or meat, add to sandwiches, mix into a vinaigrette, or spread on little toasts with a bit of smoked ham.

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2006 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Cat communication

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So yesterday The Wife is reading on her chaise lounge, and suddenly Sophie gets on top of the china cabinet, which she knows is not allowed. The Wife stands up, and Sophie jumps down and gets into petting position. (It’s necessary to actually stand up. You can say, “Sophie, get down” until you’re blue in the face with absolutely no effect on Sophie.)

So The Wife settles back to read. The Sophie gets into the (empty, inactive) fireplace and starts banging around on the metal curtains. This was formerly not allowed, but The Wife’s given up on that—but Sophie hasn’t realized it. For example, when she sneaks into the fireplace and her tail hits the metal curtains, causing a sound, she freezes for a while, until she figures the coast is clear.

Finally, Sophie, getting no reaction to the ostentatious fireplace invasion, gives up and jumps on top of the bookcase—also not allowed. The Wife gets up, and Sophie immediately jumps down and gets into petting position. (She always does this, just in case.)

The Wife goes into the kitchen and checks. Empty food bowl.

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2006 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Cats, Sophie

Very good movie: Little Miss Sunshine

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Little Miss Sunshine is an enjoyable and thought-provoking movie—one of those that stays with you as you ponder it. All the elements fit very naturally into the story, but they have resonance.

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2006 at 10:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

How did Paul Wolfowitz get off so lightly?

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That’s the question Sonni Effron asks in today’s LA Times:

Accountability is one of those ideals, like justice or the triumph of right over might, that are wonderful in principle but usually disappointing in practice.

This is nowhere more true than in Washington, where one of the most powerful men in President Bush’s inner circle, a man who helped conceive, plan and execute the Iraq war, has managed to escape scrutiny for steering his country into one of the greatest strategic catastrophes of his generation.

I am referring, although nobody else does, to Paul Wolfowitz. Remember Wolfowitz, best known to readers of this and other newspapers as the “chief architect of the Iraq war”? Before the war, he was hailed by many as one of the great foreign policy intellectuals of our time. He was a leading defense strategist, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and the former dean of the School of Advanced Studies at Johns Hopkins University, a man whose views on democracy and the Middle East were taken seriously by both his admirers and his critics. In 2001, Wolfowitz, then 58, was named deputy secretary of Defense, serving as top aide to Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Yet today, as the policies he put in place come crashing down, Wolfowitz is nowhere to be found — at least not at the Pentagon. In fact, he left in 2005 to become president of the World Bank, where he has been busy trying to save Africa. In seeking refuge at the World Bank, Wolfowitz has followed in the footsteps of Robert McNamara, President Johnson’s Vietnam War-era Defense secretary. McNamara was the “architect” of the Vietnam War in his own time, but he bailed out of the Pentagon to run the World Bank in 1968 as the U.S. body count mounted.

What is particularly disturbing is that Wolfowitz is visibly delighting in his role as one of the world’s highest-profile (publicly funded) philanthropists — while saying barely a word about the catastrophe in Iraq. In the few comments he has been badgered into making about the war since he left the Pentagon, he has defended the conduct of the U.S. and expressed the belief that Iraqis will struggle their way to freedom.

He has insisted that the subject of Iraq rarely comes up in his new job, where people would rather hear his plans for Africa. How convenient to be required to read proposals for breaking the poverty cycle instead of the morning casualty reports that blight each daybreak at the Pentagon.

I invited Wolfowitz to comment, telling us his views on Iraq or the problem of democracy in the radicalized Middle East. He declined, but e-mailed this response: “I’m not a U.S. official any more and unfortunately not a private citizen either. I work for 184 countries that expect me to do the job at the World Bank. I would like nothing better than to be able to get involved in this debate [over Iraq]. I would particularly like to be able to clear the record of some of the garbage about myself personally, but if I start doing that, the people I work for would say, ‘You are not doing your job, you are getting mixed up in something that is a distraction from the message that we would like you to deliver.’ I have spoken to heads of 11 African countries, I have spoken to ordinary people, I have spoken to civil society groups; none of them care about my role in Iraq, they care about what I do in the World Bank.”

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Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2006 at 10:12 am

Can you spot whether a smile is fake or genuine?

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Take the test and see.

Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2006 at 8:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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