Monday, October 23, 2006

Pope’s Remarks at University Still Controversial Despite Apology

the pope visits australia.  photo by sam herd.  image hosted on flickr.
pope benedict at richmond raaf base in australia, 2008 [photo credit: sam herd]

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict apologized Sunday for his caustic remarks delivered at a Catholic university in Rome the day before.

“I am deeply sorry if any members of the scientific community, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise, were offended by my statements yesterday,” Pope Benedict said earlier today. “It was never my intention to suggest that space travel should end.”

Despite his remarks, protests continued to rage throughout the Middle East and Europe.

While speaking to an audience of scholars and students on Saturday, the Pope recounted the mythical tale of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun on wings of wax and ultimately fell to his demise.

"Letting yourself be seduced by discovery without paying attention to the criteria of a deeper vision could lead to the drama the myth speaks of,” he told the Pontifical Lateranense University at the inauguration of a new academic year.

His allusion to the myth was misunderstood as a warning to the scientific community to focus its attentions on earthbound pursuits—to literally stay away from the sun.

Violent Response to Remarks

Physicists and astronomers worldwide were quick to register their outrage, the form of which has ranged from statements of protest to violent rioting and looting.

In one incident, rogue astronomers seized the Gemini Science Center and, inspired by Archimedes, transformed the two large telescopes there into massive heat rays, setting fire to the historic Missions along the coast of California.

Elsewhere, protests turned deadly. French astronomers from the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) beat and killed a Catholic nun, and then resurrected her using stem cells and a stick of wintermint gum. Later, they were joined by colleagues working in other areas of science, who ostentatiously turned water into wine and back again using newly developed bacterial agents and then flaunted their ability to clone fish and loaves of bread.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) immediately convened an emergency assembly to pass a special resolution condemning the Pope’s comments. “His statements are offensive and hurt the sentiments of astronomers and physicists,” the resolution said.

“This body demands that the Pope retract his remarks in the interest of harmony between our faiths. Believing that nothing exists save the uncaring mechanisms of pure determinism, and committing ourselves to hunting those mechanisms down and exposing them to the masses who rely on mystery to give them reason to hope to change their world by enacting their individual wills, is our God-given right.”

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, the American Astronomer’s Society (AAS), NASA, Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL), and the European Space Agency (ESA) condemned the violence, but expressed hope that the Pope would reconsider his comments.

“While we strongly condemn his remarks, we know that he has misunderstood our aims and intentions,” the statement said. “We have never expressed a desire to visit the sun. Far from it. In fact, our doctrine in no way endorses any travel to the sun or any other solar body, anywhere. Nor do we wish to remove the role that faith plays in human life.”

“All we want to do is diminish that role, little by little, over time, the way water slowly erodes a mountain, leaving a tiny nub of rock. A process, by the way, that we can explain.”

Muslim World Reacts to Pope

Pressure on the Vatican to rescind the Pope’s remarks increased early Monday morning as reports flooded out of the Middle East of vandalism and arson.

A spokesperson for the Sunni militias in Iraq rejected the Pope’s apology, stating that his Sunday address “does not amount to an apology because he said that scientists had misunderstood his speech.”

Acts of vandalism were condoned by a joint statement issued by the Iranian Space Agency (ISA), out of Tehran, and the Supreme Leader of Iran the Ayatolla Ali Khamenei, who warned Muslims that this was the “latest chain of the crusade against Islam started by America’s Bush.”

"By referencing the mythology of the Greeks, the Pope of the Vatican has invoked the bloody conquests of Alexander, the infidel who waged war on our people centuries ago,” the ISA Khamenei said. “He was the forefather of the forefathers of the new Zionist-American crusade, the bloody evil streaming forth from America’s Bush. Our people once commanded unparalleled knowledge of the cosmos of Allah, and now these forces have allied again to blind us, to drape a cloth across our faces so that we cannot speak, or learn, or fulfill our hopes and dreams, as Allah commands us to do to our women.”

“Wipe up your evil, America’s Bush; it is unholy.”

The ISA is feverishly developing technologies of space flight in order to become a player on the world stage and fears that the Pope’s statements are part of the United Nation’s efforts to stymie its nuclear ambitions. Iran insists that its ambitions to build and launch its own satellites are driven by the need to monitor natural disasters like earthquakes and troop movements, two disasters to which it is already, or will soon be, prone.

Last year, Iran signed a $132 million deal with a Russian company to build a telecommunications satellite; China also has a deal with Iran, and Thailand, to develop a satellite.

Roskosmos (the Russian Space Agency) and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) responded to the ISA Khamenei’s words later on Monday. “People of Planet Earth,” they said in a joint statement, “remember that anything the followers of Islam do in response to something you said or did is your fault. If nuns get killed, remember that Allah wills it, and besides, you brought it upon yourselves; if places of worship or learning are destroyed, remember that the days when your governments would protect your freedom to say or to publish your opinions will soon be in the past.”

Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s population, including notable physicists, chemists, Christians, and Muslims, were shocked and confused by the outrage over what seemed to be nothing.

“People who act in the name of science should try to respect the mysteries of our universe," said an average person Monday.

“Some of them are so caught up in the effort to uncover the mechanisms that drive the motions of the natural world, that they can't see the beauty of the human soul.”

“We’re working on seeing it,” said a spokesperson for the Human Genome Project. “We expect to be able to see the human soul in about two years, then we figure we’ll be able to take it apart and put it back together, maybe learn how to make it power a small electric motor by 2015.”

“If we can dismantle it, replicate it, make a pill out of it, and sell it back to you for 50 times what it costs us to make it, then by God, we’re gonna do it.”

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

don't look now--it's headlines!

Relative: Slain Fla. family had no foes
correction: slain fla. family had at least one foe.

Iraqi police force facing shake-up
iraqi police now encouraged to patrol streets and fight crime.

Mexican archeologists find largest Aztec figure
the 12.4 tonne slab depicts the aztec figure mowing the lawn of a spaniard's 200 tonne mansion.

Monday, October 09, 2006

in the news: the cutest infestation ever

Scientists to test koala contraceptive

The tastiest species of eucalyptus on the island are groaning under the weight of an estimated 28,000 koalas that are chomping themselves out of habitat at a rate of almost one pound of leaves each day during the few hours they spend awake.

i suppose we could just... let the koalas eat until there aren't enough leaves to support the population.  if that were to happen, wouldn't koalas just... die?  when i crunch the numbers, it appears that death will significantly help to shrink the population.

any animal that is this easy to catch shouldn't be allowed to survive for too long anyway:

The researchers work with state government wildlife officers who scale the trees using ropes and pulleys until they're high enough to wave flags on long poles above the koalas' heads. The koalas usually slowly retreat down the trees away from the flags and are easily bundled into bags when they reach the ground.

the flag:  nature's deadliest predator. 

here are some other objects, in no particular order, that frighten the koala: 

cumulonimbus clouds
the word "periwinkle"
diet coke
teddy ruxpin

that last one's not a mistake;  you'd be surprised at how frightening that talking bear is when he's got a pole up his ass and he's being waved above your head.  amnesty international is up in arms over rumors that the defense department is testing out a militarized version at gitmo.

until i read this article, i had never heard of an animal so lazy, it wouldn't defend itself against a flag.  the koala bear may be the only animal that captures itself.  if they weren't covered in fur, they'd probably hang out in bath robes all day, carrying six packs of pabst blue ribbon, like the college freshmen who idolize them.

but why can't we simply let the animal die?  because they're too damn cute.  we all know that no matter how bad things get, the general public couldn't allow the killing, or "culling," of any animal that looks like a teddy bear.  ("culled" is, cleverly, one phonic step away from the word "killed," so as to disguise the fact that it means the very same thing.) 

nevermind the fact that we don't really know what might happen when we start implanting contraceptives into wild animals.  i refer you to "EPA chided over 'intersex' fish concerns."  according to the article, the reaction causing male fish to grow female sex organs

could be triggered by estrogen from birth control pills and human waste that makes its way into the waterways from sewage treatment plants, or manmade chemicals in pesticides and cosmetics.

it's possible that years of fertility control in humans has led to mutations in fish;  if we can't eliminate birth control as a cause here, do we want to start spreading this technology to animals?

the other problem with birth control is that it isn't a technology capable of responding to changes in the environment.  this is a problem australia is currently experiencing with kangaroos (see "Birth Control for Kangaroos: Scientists' Population Control Plan" for more on this).  a severe drought struck the country, reducing the amount of food available to support that population. 

it isn't practical, from an economic perspective, to engineer a method of birth control that would cycle out of the koala's body quickly, so let's say you create a birth control pill that supresses the animal's fertility for three years (a number i made up).  what happens if the habitat's carrying capacity takes a dive in the interim?  the koala population might swing radically in the opposite direction, and no amount of eating will increase their numbers.

the drought has driven starving kangaroos into cities and towns;  in one instance, they apparently attacked and killed a dog (see "Australia drought puts kangaroo war in cross-hairs").  so it's clear that something has to be done for the koalas.  i hope we can avoid this chilling scenario:  koalas, starved for eucalyptus, slowly--very slowly--moving into towns, raiding farms, and organizing into packs to kill small children and the occasional elderly couple.  it would take them roughly two years to crawl into the city, retreating from any building with a flag or box of crayons with more than 24 colors, but they're determined.  hopefully, we can assemble a coalition of the willing-to-hold-bags-open to protect civilized society.

in closing, i'd like to leave you with this thought:  natural processes are not humane.  while not apparent to those of us lucky enough to live in developed nations, life is filled with wonder and beauty and spilt blood and the gnashing of teeth on bone.  i find it inherently contradictory, and therefore humorous, that people pity the animals dying of hunger, then reach for guns to put sharp pieces of metal in their heads in the name of "being humane."  i wish we lived in better harmony with the rest of nature, but until then, we could start by not meddling.  it's a simple equation:  if koalas eat too much, they die.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

in the news

Food may be like a drug for some, study shows

The volunteers were all genuinely hungry -- they had been fasting for 16 or 17 hours when the PET scans were run. The stimulator succeeded in making them feel less hungry, Wang said.

But the surprise was in which brain circuits it used in doing so.

"It was very similar to a study on when cocaine abusers, when they think of cocaine, they have a craving for cocaine," he said.

that's right, food is like a drug.  food versus cocaine--go!

unless you're dj am, cocaine will make you thin; overeating will make you fat.  edge:  cocaine.

cocaine increases your risk for heart attack 24-fold within the first hour of use and one of the effects of long-term use is impotence, but your heart attack risk goes up four-fold after a large meal, and the obese are at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes--one of the side effects of which is impotence.  the journey takes longer if you're using food, but the destination is the same.  this one's kind of a draw.

taking cocaine in through the nose can produce an unpleasant post-nasal drip down the back of the throat, but when i eat too fast my nose runs anyway.  draw.

crack, like food, is cheap and widely available, but you can't go into a hard rock cafe and get an "8-balls of fire."  not yet, anyway.  and if anyone finds out that you can, i want royalties.  edge:  food.

no food-fueled orgies or works of artistic brilliance--sorry, folks, the fat boys don't count.  edge:  cocaine.

artists, rockstars, the rich, and the douchebags who idolize them use cocaine;  food is not only abused by just about everyone, but abusing food has become a national pastime celebrated in popular culture and encouraged by the corporations who stand to profit from our unnecessary super-consumption.  while people in other countries barely have enough food for one meal, taco bell encourages us to have a fourth one.  edge:  food.

while all of us will have to decide for ourselves which gets the title of best addiction, one thing is clear:  we're going to have to change the way we look upon the morbidly obese.  from now on, popular culture needs to celebrate them the same way it celebrates other drug addicts.  if they're famous, anyway.  definitely a defeat for condescension and self-satisfaction.  thank god we've still got the catholics to kick around.

and remember, everyone.  the thrill can kill.