Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A fitting tribute to Hillary!'s campaign

UPDATE: Crap, I couldn't have been more wrong. She pulled out a stunning set of wins. Well at least the period up to the Pennsylvania primary will be entertaining.

Based on little more than a royal sense of entitlement, a manufactured case of inevitability, and what had been thought to be a powerful sense of nostalgia among Democratic voters, Hillary! began her serene march to the presidency. Events thankfully turned out differently, and it looks as if her candidacy is nearly finished, especially after last night's so-so debate performance.

Here is one of many YouTube videos of "ding, dong, the witch is dead." Who would have thought that a tall black man would play the role of Dorothy?

Enjoy or curse as you see fit (I hope this isn't premature):


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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Islamic reformation at hand?

Interesting bit of news from the Beeb. A reinterpretation of the Hadith ( a book held by believers to contain the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) has been undertaken by a respected Islamic institute in Tutrkey. What they produce may begin a long overdue debate within Islam.

I blogged on this topic two years ago, when I noted the need for an Islamic Erasmus.

Apparently, that role was taken up by theologians at Ankara University:
Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam - and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion.

The country's powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings reputed to come from the Prophet Muhammad.

As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia.

But the Turkish state has come to see the Hadith as having an often negative influence on a society it is in a hurry to modernise, and believes it responsible for obscuring the original values of Islam. [...]

Its supporters say the spirit of logic and reason inherent in Islam at its foundation 1,400 years ago are being rediscovered. Some believe it could represent the beginning of a reformation in the religion. [...]
Should this be well received among the relatively moderate faithful of Turkey, will it peacefully spread? Recall the bloodshed following Lutheran criticisms of Catholicism? Any reformation must seemingly be accompanied by considerable bloodshed. Although it is difficult to imagine today's nations putting reformers to the sword en masse, even in the Mid East.
The forensic examination of the Hadiths has taken place in Ankara University's School of Theology.

An adviser to the project, Felix Koerner, says some of the sayings - also known individually as "hadiths" - can be shown to have been invented hundreds of years after the Prophet Muhammad died, to serve the purposes of contemporary society. [...]

The argument is that Islamic tradition has been gradually hijacked by various - often conservative - cultures, seeking to use the religion for various forms of social control. [....]
I am shocked, shocked, to learn that people use religion to their own ends. When I would broach this possibility with Muslims, I always received this standard answer: that may be true of other religions, but not in Islam.

The article goes on to note the purpose behind the reevaluation is to create a new and modern Islam.

Speaking for the rest of the world: a big thank you, and best of luck.

Perhaps the scholars can next reexamine the Koran itself. From my understanding, if any part of it is shown to have been altered at any point from earlier versions, Islam will lose its claim to authenticity.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

A scientific study to determine which religion best pleases God

Which religion is best? Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and others all claim to represent God, and all claim miracles performed by God show they are the favored set of worshipers. But which religion is God's secret favorite? Seems like an insoluable qualitative question, doesn't it? Impossible to quantify, and therefore best left to individual choice, with definitive answers having to wait until the afterlife.

Not necessarily. A simple and elegant method of quantifying and comparing religions is at hand. Several published studies have shown that spirituality has an effect on well being. To go one step further, I propose a study wherein people of various religions - who worship in strict accordance to the rules they believe God set down - undergo similar surgical procedures. Their morbidity and mortality rates would then be compared.

By comparing the outcomes of groups of self-described religious people from all the major religions, it should be possible to discover which religion truly represents God. Of course, if results are the same across religions, we can assume that God doesn't care which method of worship one chooses, or that we need a new religion, or that there is no God (which would be my pick).

Likewise, any religion found to be sucking hind teat should probably re-evalute its doctrines and practices, because God clearly isn't pleased with their efforts.

Through a comparison of groups of very religious patients (and comparing them against a randomly selcted control group) undergoing similar surgeries, we can measure the outcomes and, *ta da*, we'll settle this pesky which-religion-is-best question. Of course, potential confounding factors will need to be sorted out when the data is crunched, but coming up with an acceptable protocol is certainly possible. Just to cover all bases, a group of self described atheists should also be studied.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

This is how democracy is supposed to work

Angered by the shoddy governance provided by Islamist parties over the past five years, Pakistani voters in the wild border region threw the bums out.
... [V]oters in turbulent North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan, gave their support to secular parties that promised to pave the streets, create jobs and bring peace through dialogue and economic incentives to the extremists. [...]

"They made false promises. They said they would give us education, food and jobs but they didn't give us anything. They were all lies," said retired soldier Mohammed Akram Shah. "I am from a village of more than 30 homes and we don't have any electricity even after five years." [....]
Remember, Islamic politicians promise not only to take care of the soul, but claim they will provide material benefits that deliver a better way of life. Clearly, the voters wanted more jobs and fewer lectures.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Evidence for an inorganic source for hydrocarbons (petroleum, dummy)

A minority of geologists--mostly Russians--have long argued (since at least the 1890s) that petroleum (oil, natural gas and bitumens) was formed through inorganic processes operating on carbon sourced from the earth's mantle. That is, organic matter was not buried and slowly turned into petroleum.

Instead, theories for an inorganic origin ranged from hydrocarbons raining from the sky early in the Earth's formation and later expelled into the surface rocks where it's now found, to vulcanism, to the degassing of large volumes of methane from the mantle and later transformed into petroleum. In all cases the presence of organic markers was attributed to the petroleum picking them up as it moved through crustal rocks containing organic material. I recall hearing during my undergraduate days of petroleum being found in granitic rocks, but the petroleum was felt to have somehow migrated there.

Unforunately for the inorganic theory, all major petroleum discoveries have come from methods that assume an organic formation process, leaving only minor petroleum finds unexplained.

This may change. A recent article in the highly regarded journal Science reports that short chain hydrocarbons (presumably methanes or its homologs, the abstract doesn't say--P) found in a hydrothermal field are likely to have formed inorganically (the term of art is abiogenically). The article is sure to invigorate the debate over the origin of petroleum. From the abstract:

Low-molecular-weight hydrocarbons in natural hydrothermal fluids have been attributed to abiogenic production by Fischer-Tropsch type (FTT) reactions, although clear evidence for such a process has been elusive. Here, we present concentration, and stable and radiocarbon isotope, data from hydrocarbons dissolved in hydrogen-rich fluids venting at the ultramafic-hosted Lost City Hydrothermal Field. [...]

Radiocarbon evidence rules out seawater bicarbonate as the carbon source for FTT reactions, suggesting that a mantle-derived inorganic carbon source is leached from the host rocks. Our findings illustrate that the abiotic synthesis of hydrocarbons in nature may occur in the presence of ultramafic rocks, water, and moderate amounts of heat.

Does this suggest that new methods will be developed to locate petroleum, hopefully is huge quantities? Well, yes and no. Although the abstract understandably hedges, petroleum companies will doubtless support follow-up research to determine whether marketable quantities of abiogenic oil can exsist. It's also likely that a few test wells will be drilled in promising areas. On the other hand, as noted, theories of inorganic petroleum formation are as old as pertroleum wells, and previous searches (mostly in the USSR) based on these principles never produced petroleum in significant quantities.

Even if this research leads to new discoveries, it is unlikely that it will replace the organic formation model of searching for petroleum.

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