Later On

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

Archive for December 26th, 2008

Evolution meets Judaism

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From Science:

It’s been hard to miss the recent antagonism between elements in the religious and scientific communities over issues such as evolution and the ethics of embryonic stem cell research. The public acrimony over those issues has often arisen from conflict between scientific practice and the beliefs of Christians. But for some Jewish thinkers, modern science is thoroughly compatible with strongly held religious views.

Rabbi Natan Slifkin, who goes by the name of the Zoo Rabbi, is one prominent figure who is making a career out of reconciling evolution with classical Jewish thought. “Intelligent design usually involves arguing that there are structures in living creatures which cannot be explained by naturalistic processes,” he writes via E-mail. “I think that this is a potentially problematic approach, certainly from a Jewish perspective. Judaism has always focused on seeing God in the design of the laws of nature, not in creating phenomena that can’t be explained by natural laws – yet.”

Slifkin, 29, points out that “Jews are generally less insistent than Christians on literal readings of scripture (due to a long tradition of rabbinic deeper interpretations of the Bible). In addition, miracles and supernatural acts are much less significant in Judaism than in Christianity.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 10:57 am

Posted in Evolution, Religion, Science

Intelligent Design and a butterfly

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From Science:

At first sight, nothing could seem less intelligent than the design of a flying insect. From an egg laid in or on a food supply, it hatches into a slow-moving eating machine that keeps outgrowing its skin, so that it has to molt every few days. At the moment of molting, it is extremely vulnerable to predators and parasites. Then, inexplicably, it stops moving and grows a hard shell, inside which it completely redesigns its body from square one, to emerge into a thing with wings that launches itself into hundreds of cubic miles of atmosphere in search of a mate, and a food plant, with nothing to guide it but a few stray molecules – pheromones and plant odors – blowing in the wind.

The fact is, however, that this is a very efficient system for spreading the genes of that species around the landscape, and for locating food plants that would take an Earth-bound caterpillar days to find by dint of much hard crawling. The proof is that there are more species of insect than any other class of animal, and their biomass outweighs the mammals, even though the latter include all the elephants on earth and close to a billion overweight humans as well.

OK, that complicated life cycle seems an intelligent creation in the end. But what can we make of the further complications that led the Large Blue butterfly (Maculinea arion) to extinction in Britain? It entrusts a critical stage in its life cycle to the tender care of a single species of red ant that is particularly finicky about where it nests.

The story goes like this:

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 10:52 am

Eartha Kitt, 1927-2008

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The NY Tmes has a good obituary of this wonderfully talented singer.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 10:41 am

Posted in Daily life

The mystery of the Christmas star

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In the Bible, a celestial beacon now known as the Star of Bethlehem led the Magi, or wise men, to Jesus’s manger.

Astronomers have been debating for centuries whether the star existed and, if so, what it might have been. Comets, meteor showers, and supernovae have all been proposed, but in recent years two main theories have come to dominate the discussion.

The first relates to a singular planetary gathering, or conjunction, of the bright planets Venus and Jupiter. A particularly striking conjunction occurred in June 17, 2 B.C.

It makes for a probable Christmas star, some astronomers say, because the two bright planets appeared so close in the evening sky that they would have seemed to merge.

“There is no doubt that for skywatchers at the time it looked like a massive, single starlike object in the western evening sky,” said Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California. (Venus and Jupiter were also in conjunction this December.)

But serious questions linger as to whether this date could really signify Jesus’s birth.

“There is considerable ambiguity about the exact date of birth of Christ. There is no authoritative record to establish that,” said Marvin Bolt, director of the History of Astronomy Department at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.

But those who study the historical and theological aspects of astronomy see the Christmas Star story as a much more elaborate event…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 10:21 am

Sea level to rise 4 feet by 2100?

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Uh-oh. This is VERY bad news for coastal cities, especially those that might experience a storm surge during hurricanes or typhoons. What will New York do if the subway tunnels fill with seawater? Probably it would be good to take action to combat global warming, though it may be too late.

Note, BTW, how empirical observations are showing that the computer models climatologists have used to foretell the impacts of global warming turn out to be optimistic in their predictions. Presumably this is because of unforeseen aspects of the warming, such as the boiling off of methane reserves in the Arctic as the Arctic becomes warmer. Methane has a much greater greenhouse effect that CO2 or watervapor.


According to a new report led by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. “faces the possibility of much more rapid climate change by the end of the century than previous studies have suggested.” The report, commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, found that global sea levels could rise higher than a 2007 U.N. Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study had concluded:

In one of the report’s most worrisome findings, the agency estimates that in light of recent ice sheet melting, global sea levels could rise as much as 4 feet by 2100. The intergovernment panel had projected a rise of no more than 1.5 feet by that time, but satellite data over the last two years show the world’s major ice sheets are melting much more rapidly than previously thought. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing an average of 48 cubic miles of ice a year, equivalent to twice the amount of ice in the Alps.

The lead scientist for the report’s chapter on ice sheets said the models used by the IPCC “did not factor in some of the dynamics that scientists now understand about ice sheet melting” such as “a process of ‘lubrication,’ in which warmer ocean water gets underneath coastal ice sheets and accelerates melting.”

Update: The Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has more on ice sheet melting.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 9:54 am

Wired: top technology breakthroughs of 2008

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 8:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Musical break

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Via MakeUseOf, which has 9 more great videos.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 8:50 am

Posted in Music

Madoff’s double-bluff?

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Very interesting article, pointed out to me by Jack in Amsterdam. It begins:

At first sight it was extremely refreshing. A white-collar financial crook raising his hands and pleading guilty to his financial crime. This has to be almost a first. Usually financial criminals when caught in the most obvious of wrong-doing plead ‘not guilty’. The criminal can be caught boarding the plane, with a suitcase containing US$100mn of someone elses cash, with his mistress holding on to his arm, he will look into the camera with his most genuine ‘Tony Blair look of sincerity’ and say “What we have here is a misunderstanding…. ” You make up the rest of the excuse, there is a million of them.

So yes, an outright confession, “It was me, I chopped down the apple tree” is so against the current socio-political culture it was almost too good to be true. Especially given the pedigree of this perp, the CEO of one of the busiest and most prominent financial exchanges in the world. After his confession the world goes into shock, especially the Jewish world, since affluent members of this community had previously flocked to his door, seeking his world famous high returns. Since his arrest the press is full of people extolling his virtues as a decent human-being and “who would ever of believed it?”. It would be so easy for this man to deny any wrongdoing because he could bring out an army of good character witnesses and he could just point at some suspect-looking goy in his hedge fund organisation to lay the blame on.

So a truly heartwarming confession. And it was apparently made to his 2 sons, both of whom who worked for the fund and who had absolutely no idea that this fraud was being perpetrated, until such time as this astounding confession.

But then I started to look more closely at the mix of investors who have lost money. About half of them are professional investing institutions. Look at this quote from the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper:

Full details of the exact losses are yet to emerge. Hedge funds and banks have so far admitted to having around £16billion with Madoff – only half of the total that is reckone d to have been lost. Some of the biggest casualties are Swiss private banks, which have taken hits amounting to about £2.5billion. Spanish bank Santander had £2.1billion of client money with Madoff. HSBC has admitted to lending about £600million to funds who wanted to use debt to gear up their positions with Madoff. RAB capital, the hedge fund that lost huge sums on investing in Northern Rock, has revealed that it is exposed to Madoff to the tune of around £6million.

Now the confession does not look right at all.

It is possible to accept the idea of a Ponzi scheme be played on members of the public, who are ignorant of how such schemes are worked, in fact the schemes are targeted specifically at such people. Yet Madoff would have us believe that he managed to convince professional investment companies to put their funds with him without any due diligence being performed. This is clearly nonsense…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 8:46 am

Hard times and frugality

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I think this old verse may become newly popular:

Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do,
Or do without.

I’m newly attuned to the need from reading Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, a book I highly recommend.

So, to that end, take a look at this Lifehacker post that contains many tips on “making do”.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 8:28 am

Posted in Daily life

Good Web apps for college students

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Winter break will soon be over, so soon students will be back in the thick of it. Using the downtime to find better tools makes sense, and Dumb Little Man has a good collection of Web apps useful for the college student. Now is the time to download and learn any that appeal to you—once school resumes, time is in short supply.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 8:20 am

Orange-scented Boxing Day

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The Wife gave me QED’s Wild Orange shave stick for Christmas. It’s fragrance strongly reminded me of candied orange peel, which I happen to like. So this Boxing Day morning I went with the orange fragrance and enjoyed another fine shave. The Edwin Jagger Lined Chatsworth shows up again because I enjoyed it so much yesterday.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 December 2008 at 7:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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