April 28th, 2006


Alphabet Meme

This is how it works: Comment on this entry and I will give you a letter. Write ten words beginning with that letter in your journal, including an explanation what the word means to you and why, and then pass out letters to those who want to play along.

I got L from colleency

1. Lovecraft
Good old Howard Philips Lovecraft. He's one of those authors that either leave you cold or exert a strange fascination. Guess which way I took him. Sure he's easy to parody in a cheap fashion, but he is not easy to actually emulate effectively. Apart from a certain carefulness in my prose, I don't think I've picked up any particular habits from him. Nevertheless, he's obviously (albeit shallowly) the author who's had the most effect on my life.

2. Love
What the world needs now is love, sweet love. I've got mine, but I'll spare you all the mushy stuff.

3. Live Role-Playing Games
If it hadn't been for Enigma, I probably never would have tried live gaming. It took a certain critical mass of likeminded weirdoes to really make it work. Which is too bad, because it's been a really strangely rewarding hobby, and more people should give it a try. Playing make-believe with one's friends can be a lot of fun.

4. Lord of the Rings
One of the best works of litrachoor ever. It's one of the few things I reread on a regular basis. I read it about once every other year. The movies still don't hold a candle to the movie in my head.

5. Liquor
I'd only had alcohol a few-ish times before my 21st, though I did get a taste for beer when I was in Europe with my folks when I was 15. Even after I was 21, I didn't drink that much except at parties. Now, I drink a lot more regularly. I was pleased to hear that a drink or two a day is supposed to be good for your health. But somehow I fear the medical researchers have a definition of drink that is about as generous as their definition of a healthy serving of meat.
My mom is a recovering alcoholic, so I try to keep an eye on myself. I'm either okay or in denial, take your pick.

6. Led Zeppelin
I think my musical tastes as a kid were affected by my older cousins. It was Zeppelin and Floyd and the Doors and the Who and Hendrix. All of these were generally past their prime (or dead) by the time I got into them. Anyway, Zeppelin was probably at the top of that list. They still rock my socks.

7. Legos
When I was a kid, I used to build spaceships out of legos. An important detail was always having some sort of smaller shuttlecraft that was either inside a little garage on the back of the ship, or that somehow neatly socketed into the rest of the ship. As I got older, they started making more and more special spaceship pieces and it was no longer fun, because those stupid special pieces could usually only be used one way. The point of Legos is that they can be anything, not that they are already something.

8. Lasagna
I have really fond memories of making lasagna with my mom as a kid. We would adopt fake Julia Child accents and just blather away as we spent our time boiling noodles and making different layers, etc.

9. Learning
One of the few things I'm good at. So I try to keep at it when I can. You never know when something interesting and learnable will come your way. A nature program on TV, a news article about, a wikipedia article that tells you that Larry Niven is Edward Doheny's grandson. But you have to keep your eyes and ears open to new information. And I think too many people through habit or indifference make no effort to be challenged by something new.

10. Laplace
Good old Pierre-Simon Laplace. There's the apocryphal(?) story that Napoleon asked him why there was no mention of God in his book on celestial mechanics. Quoth Laplace: "Je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse." 'I had no need of that hypothesis.'
It has both wit and a deeper profundity that perhaps only I read into it. Laplace is not rejecting the idea that "God did it" is a valid answer to scientific questions. But if your first answer to the question "Why is Kepler's 3rd Law of Planetary Motion true?" is "God made it that way" you have not learned anything or explained anything, and there is no way to progress further than the absolute roadblock of "God did it". On the other hand, showing that Kepler's Law is a consequence of Newton's Law of Gravitation gives us a deeper understanding of nature.

Dove tails evolved to lock together into stronger structures

Dovetailing nicely with my comments on Laplace (yeah, I know I was really stretching with the L words - OOH, now why didn't I talk about lesbians? Boys love them, girls love them, everybody loves them!) is this commentary essay in Nature Immunology on the role that immunology played in the recent Kitzmiller v. Dover anti-evolution education trial. Here are some of the pull-quotes:

During cross-examination by the plaintiffs' lead counsel Eric Rothschild, Behe [an anti-evolutionist expert on the stand] reiterated his claim about the scientific literature on the evolution of the immune system, testifying that "the scientific literature has no detailed testable answers on how the immune system could have arisen by random mutation and natural selection." Rothschild then presented Behe with a thick file of publications on immune system evolution, dating from 1971 to 2006, plus several books and textbook chapters. Asked for his response, Behe admitted he had not read many of the publications presented (a small fraction of all the literature on evolutionary immunology of the past 35 years), but summarily rejected them as unsatisfactory and dismissed the idea of doing research on the topic as "unfruitful."
Thankfully, there are scientists who do search for answers to the question of the origin of the immune system. It's the immune system. It's our defense against debilitating and fatal diseases. The scientists who wrote those books and articles toil in obscurity, without book royalties or speaking engagements. Their efforts help us combat and cure serious medical conditions. By contrast, Professor Behe and the entire intelligent design movement are doing nothing to advance scientific or medical knowledge and are telling future generations of scientists, don't bother.

If someone believes that one or more gods created life on Earth, that's fine. But denying the facts of evolution is like sticking one's head in the sand, while ignoring a potential source of treatments for disease. The Bible should not be read as a science textbook -- that's not what it is. As Galileo said (paraphrasing a cardinal, if memory serves), "The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." The Bible is just as useless as a biology textbook as it is an astronomy textbook.