Etikettarkiv: Barack Obama

The Myths and Meanings of bin Ladens Death

All of us that aren’t in a coma, recognized the news of Osama bin Laden’s death as really really important. But why is that, one might ask? Psychology Today lists a few answers and further implications:

1. Barack Obama will be re-elected.

2. It took us a long time to catch Bin Laden.

3. Muslim allies don’t really love the US.

4. Bin Laden was already passé.

5.  We haven’t figured out the next phase of Arab-Islamic nationalism.

While it is true that bin Laden was a half-baked has-been, he now has a renaissance. As a symbol he might rise once again, but of course all the problems this Mujahedin started are still not resolved. The political world will probably look very different within just a few months. Stay tuned.

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Your Health: Pay Up, or Die Tryin’

More news on the propaganda mission of the health care industry in the New Yorker, Atul Gawande writes about THE COST CONUNDRUM – What a Texas town can teach us about health care. Meanwhile Obama is having a hard time convincing his populace to get down with his costly health care bill.
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More on God, God, God, Faitheism and Francis Collins

There ain’t no doubt that the elephant in the room – religion and its claim of realism – is the greatest intellectual battle of today, and right now everybody starts to talk abut it. A number of texts have recently flagged this topic and looking at the debate I feel that it is a great and challenging battle, really. Jerry Coyne over at Why Evolution is True is really stirring up his mistrust of accomodationists, now wittily called faitheists (although I think templetons would have been more suiting). He argues that atheists that try to bridge the gap of science and religion by giving license to religious people to work in science are wrong: based on modern science Jesus cannot have risen from the dead; you cannot be a virgin and give birth to a baby boy and miracles do not exist. I agree with Coyne on the science stuff, but his views are not unpolitical: if we are ever to bridge gaps between the majority of the world’s population and us atheists, how is this to happen if our message to all spiritual people is: anything you think you are claiming about your longings and spiritual feelings must first be acknowledged by science, and by the way, if you ever thinkin’ about going into science – don’t!

Sorry Coyne, I just do not see how you think we can survive in the long run without accommodating religious individuals. It’s either that or slowly turning them into “the other”.

But the real row has these days been over the Obama appointment of Francis Collins’s as head of the National Institutes of Health in the US. Coyne, P Z Myers, Steve Pinker and others have rightfully ushered in a bag of critique over this choice. Collins is an esteemed member of the science elite, but also a theist, believing that evolution is both natural and guided by the Good Lord. He has until a few days ago publicly sanctioned this view through his BioLogos theory and his foundation that supports it. Now, I am fully backing criticism of Collins and some of his factual statements, but as for his private view of the meaning of life, I will not stand in front of him trying to reduce his religions experience to neurons and social circumstances. So this is a tricky one.

As a pragmatist I see plenty of opportunities here: 1. The debate of science and religion can only be deepened and developed from here – great! 2. Having a religious super-expert in genetics and science as a poster boy for religious America is great opportunity, not for the science loving atheists, but for everyone else!

The SF Chronicle has published nice bio of Francis Collins and I must say that he has my uttermost respect; lets see what he can do.

More faitheists have published in Dagens Nyheter recently, mostly as a critique against the Humanist movement in Sweden (In America they call themselves Brights). Writer Inger Edelfeldt talks about the danger of eradicating “God” and “religion” from our culture since it contains so much that is not all that bad, and in today’s paper critic Leif Zern agrees.

Over at the London ICA Terry Eagelton destroys arguments from Dawkins about why to do away with religion during a lecture a few weeks ago:

Dawkins seems to think that science has done away with faith. But, as Eagleton points out, this is like arguing that ‘thanks to the electric toaster we can now dispense with Chekhov’. Science and Religion were never meant to answer the same questions, so the one can never resolve the arguments of the other. Dawkins’ mistake, Eagleton says, is to ‘assume that all faith is blind faith.’ In fact ‘true’ faith incorporates reason: ‘faith is not exclusive of reason, but neither is it reducible to it’. (as retold by blogger Tom at Spoonfed)

The Economist this week reports of strange atheist camps for kids. Not strange because they learn valuable lessons of doubt, science and critical thinking but because the camp itself utilizes the methods of a Jesus camp practiced by some of the worst fundamentalists caught on tape.

The debate over why we are here continues. By the way, chck out Francis Collins and others the Templeton science fesival last year:

What it Means to be Human (Part 4/5) from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

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Obama to Replace Bush’s Bioethics Posse


Members of the President’s Council on Bioethics were told by the White House last week that their services were no longer needed and were asked to cancel a planned meeting, a council staff member said Wednesday to The New York Times.

The rumour has it that the bunch was dismissed due to the inherent design by GW Bush in 2001 as an advisory group on philosophical issues of bioethics and behavioral sciences issues. Basically he instated them to advise him on the controversial stem cell debate that blossomed at the time. The One President Obama will appoint a new bioethics commission shortly, one that surprisingly is meant to offer more ”practical policy options”, as told by The White House.

Bush’s council was first led by Leon Kass of the University of Chicago and, since 2005, by Edmund Pellegrino of Georgetown University. Kass has been famous for his conservative views on stem cell research, cloning and euthanasia, and consequently got lots of flak for being an ideologue under Bush.

My vote for its new chiarperson goes to Jonathan Glover, philosopher and professor at the Centre of Medical Law & Ethics at King’s College London, great thinker in the field, althouth he is not American so for the moment all bets are off.

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Totally Un-Unreadable Books – How does Amazon Know?

Amazon has some pretty handy systems of book recommendations running on their servers, but as a customer you cannot help feeling a bit controlled, moulded and steered in certain (money spending) directions. Through their system om gathering what you buy and what others buy, they keep your interest up. A braniac at Google Answers makes some good points on the behaviour of why we buy at Amazon; its is basically a simple algorithmic model combined with a large pool of data on how we spend money, but it does in return, seldom register information of what we think about certain books. amazon_download_free_books_digital_pdfAmazon has a rating system but which is still arbitrary, not compulsive to fill in. Buying a cookbook by Bill Gates, for example, would not decisively signal if you like cooking in general or just wish out find out about the richest nerd ever lived. In an interview with Steven Johnson, author of Interface Culture, he further comments this, and connects it more to how the brain registers and ignores information clusters, compared to, say, ants.

But all this aside I do want to reccomend a few no-brainers-to-buy: Last year’s most I’am-a-highbrow-Dan-Brown-hating-V.S.-Naipaul-reading-intellctual title is certainly Neuroarthistory: From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki, by John Onians. Its a must-have. Upcoming in November 2009 is Irving Massey‘s The Neural Imagination: Aesthetic and Neuroscientific Approaches to the Arts. Should be an interesting comparison within the fields of art and nueroscience. obamaArtist and former neurologist Warren Neidich‘s new book Lost Between the Extensivity / Intensivity Exchange with essays by Sven-Olov Wallenstein, among others should be great. Last but not least is Shepard Fairey‘s Art for Obama: Designing the Campaign for Change. I really want ot find out the deal with that one!

For a less bluntly promoted marketplace of books, check the that is getting flak from all corners of the world for their new book scanning project. Making all books searchable is one of the greatest endeavor of humanity, I dare to say. Go Google, Go!

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Obama to Jump Back on The Stem Cell Wagon

Meistre Obama creates goodwill as well as uproars around the world with the announcement that he is reversing the Bush administration limits on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research as part of his thrust forward for science. Stem cell research is an uncontroversial issue in the world few secular societies but have been a severe controversy not least in the USA since  scientists Martin Evans, Matthew Kaufman, and Gail R. Martin in 1981 derived mouse embryonic stem cells and coined the term ”Embryonic Stem Cell”. This concept is not to be mistaken for ”Adult Stem cells”, which can be retracted out of the bone marrow of adult humans, alas, the quality of these cells are inferior to that found in embryos, therefor the controversy. Pope John Paul II in a famous speech on July 2001, addressed to GW Bush, asked for fall back of American support to stem cell research:

Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process. (An excerpt from the Pope John Paul II’s address to President Bush at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, July 23, 2001. )

stem-cell-research1Obama now fulfills a mission started in 2005 with his vote for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which proposed the conducting and supporting of research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells, regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo. The controversy, basically an ontological issue has two sides as reported by the medical doctor Robin Cook: 1. how embryonic cells are created and harvested, and 2. the point at which an embryo becomes a human life. The controversy is a truely a matter of pragmatism and deontology, utilitarianism and moral faith, basically it surrounds the blastocyst, an embryo at an early stage of development, comprising around 120 undifferentiated stem cells. These cells can differentiate into any cell type, including other so called totipotent cells. So while for some the human life enters this world right after conception, for some it starts about 14 days after fertilization, when they become individualised, before that time they can develop into any sort of cell for any individual. When life actually starts, I am not the right person to argue, fo sho, but I am a certified pragmatist, thus embracing most research that develop social consequences toward the greater good – a truth as sure as anything when it comes to stem cell research.

What is important with Grandmaster Obama is not that he has philosophically more poignant arguments than had Bush for his policies (rhetorically, yes definitely!), but that after eight years, it is time to move to a different path, with more and more funding going to both the arts and science than it did during Bush. Very exciting times for the life sciences indeed let’s extract some undifferentiated stem cells and save some brains!

Reports by New York Times, Washington Post and me favorurite Scientific American

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