Archive for April, 2009

Is waterboarding torture?

Posted in Politics on April 24, 2009 by The Prince of Pithy

The comments for my previous post quickly went in 800 directions. I figured to help with this torture debate, I’d trim it down to some manageable chunks. Is waterboarding torture? There are three possible answers: yes, no, or unsure. I say yes, and if you check the video in my previous blog you’ll see some historic and legal examples that support my stand. If you say no, what historic and legal examples do you have that support you?

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Torture

Posted in Politics on April 24, 2009 by The Prince of Pithy

Tea Party – Atheism

Posted in Politics, Religion on April 15, 2009 by The Prince of Pithy

I just thought of something. A lot of right wing people are having their Tea Party – on tax day – to protest taxes. I just wondered, how many of these people are against atheists putting up signs during the religious season? Why didn’t they have their Tea Parties in June? Because it wouldn’t be as relevant then. So why do atheist promote atheism when everyone is hip deep in religiosity? Because it’s relevant!

In a few months, when some conservatives start pounding the old drum of the “War on Christmas,” we should remind them of these Tea Parties. The cynical part of me feels sure that they will weasel their way around to say that they are “right” and we are “wrong,” but one can hope.

More teabagging fun

Posted in Humor, Politics on April 15, 2009 by The Prince of Pithy

Who’s into teabagging?

Posted in Humor, Politics on April 14, 2009 by The Prince of Pithy

When I saw this last night, I busted out laughing.

(In case you don’t get the jokes, check this out.)

Jeshua Cottontail

Posted in Humor on April 12, 2009 by The Prince of Pithy

Humans are still evolving

Posted in Science on April 9, 2009 by The Prince of Pithy

Duh. I always figured that was a given, since it was arrogant to think we were the pinnacle of evolution. But apparently, this is a new idea.

Modern life’s pressures may be hastening human evolution

By Robert S. Boyd, McClatchy Newspapers Robert S. Boyd, Mcclatchy Newspapers – Wed Apr 8, 1:49 pm ET

WASHINGTON — We’re not finished yet. Even today, scientists say that human beings are continuing to evolve as our genes respond to rapid changes in the world around us.

In fact, the pressures of modern life may be speeding up the pace of human evolution, some anthropologists think.

Their view contradicts the widespread 20th-century assumption that modern medical practice, antibiotics, better diet and other advances would protect people from the perils and stresses that drive evolutionary change.

Nowadays, the idea that “human evolution is a continuing process is widely accepted among anthropologists,” said Robert Wald Sussman , the editor of the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis .

It’s even conceivable, he said, that our genes eventually will change enough to create an entirely new human species, one no longer able to breed with our own species, Homo sapiens.

“Someday in the far distant future, enough genetic changes might have occurred so that future populations could not interbreed with the current one,” Sussman said in an e-mail message.

The still-controversial concept of “ongoing evolution” was much discussed last week at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Chicago .

It’s also the topic of a new book, “The 10,000 Year Explosion,” by anthropologists Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran of the University of Utah , Salt Lake City .

“For most of the last century, the received wisdom in the social sciences has been that human evolution stopped a long time ago,” Harpending said. “Clearly, received wisdom is wrong, and human evolution has continued.”

In their book, the Utah anthropologists contend that “human evolution has accelerated in the past 10,000 years, rather than slowing or stopping. . . . The pace has been so rapid that humans have changed significantly in body and mind over recorded history.”

Evolutionary changes result when random mutations or damage to DNA from such factors as radiation, smoking or toxic chemicals create new varieties of genes. Some gene changes are harmful, most have no effect and a few provide advantages that are passed on to future generations. If they’re particularly beneficial, they spread throughout the population.

“Any gene variant that increases your chance of having children early and often should be favored,” Cochran said in an e-mail message.

This is the process of “natural selection,” which Charles Darwin proposed 150 years ago and is still the heart of modern evolutionary theory.

For example, a tiny change in a gene for skin color played a major role in the evolution of pale skin in humans who migrated from Africa to northern Europe , while people who remained in Africa kept their dark skin. That dark skin protected Africans from the tropical sun’s dangerous ultraviolet rays; northerners’ lighter skin allowed sunlight to produce more vitamin D, important for bone growth.

Another set of gene variants produced a different shade of light skin in Asia .

“Asians and Europeans are both bleached Africans, but they evolved different bleaches,” Harpending said.

Despite modern medical and technological advances, the pressures that lead to evolution by natural selection have continued.

The massive AIDS epidemic that’s raging in southern Africa , for example, is “almost certainly” causing gene variants that protect against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to accumulate in the African population, Harpending said.

When he was asked how many genes currently are evolving, Harpending replied: “A lot. Several hundred at least, maybe over a thousand.”

Another anthropologist, John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison , said, “Our evolution has recently accelerated by around 100-fold.”

A key reason, Hawks said, is the enormous growth of the world’s population, which multiplies the size of the gene pool available to launch new varieties.

“Today, beneficial mutation must be happening far more than ever before, since there are more than 6 billion of us,” Cochran said.

The changes are so rapid that “we could, in the very near future, compare the genes of old people and young people” to detect newly evolving genes, Cochran said. Skeletons from a few thousand or even a few hundred years ago also might provide evidence of genetic change.

“Human evolution didn’t stop when anatomically modern humans appeared or when they expanded out of Africa ,” Harpending said. “It never stopped.”