Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy Darwin Day!

I seem to recall, once upon a time, when February 12 was observed and celebrated in my home country as the anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln (although it was never a national holiday). That seems a worthy thing to remember. Unfortunately for Abe, his birthday fell a bit too near that of one of the other revered former Presidents of the United States, a certain George Washington (February 22). So during the term of office of one of the slimier occupants of the job, the holiday was moved to the third Monday in February, which oddly enough never actually occurs on either Washington's or Lincoln's birthday.

[From looking at the Wikipedia entry on President's Day, I note that Washington wasn't actually born on February 22, either, but you'll have to go read that for yourself.]

This is all a roundabout way of getting to the actual subject of this post, which is the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. As a trained environmental scientist (that's my other degree; I also have one in Rhetoric), I have a certain soft spot in my heart for Darwin and his work. You can't get very far in studying the life sciences without encountering Darwin, his theories, and the century-and-a-half of subsequent work that has come from it.

Fairness dictates that I should mention that Darwin's work did not occur in a vacuum. There were plenty of other scientists (notably, Alfred Russel Wallace) who were arriving at similar conclusions at around the same time. Scientific "discoveries" often happen like that, but someone usually gets the credit.

Be that as it may, Darwin is clearly the iconic character in the modern understanding (and often misunderstanding) of evolution. It is fair to say that for many people, Darwin is responsible for them having any notion of the existence of evolution or the mechanisms behind it (As far as I can tell, he did coin the term "natural selection".).

I like the fact that Darwin Day focuses on science and humanity. Any event that can join those two notions is a worthy one in my view.

So, things change, and I guess even holidays evolve. If it's mid-February, you could do much worse than to ruminate a bit on the contributions of Darwin and science.

And if you feel generous, put in a good thought for Galileo (February 15), too. He tried very hard to bring light to a dark age, and was condemned and banished for it. The work that got him banned, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, is absolutely brilliant. It was probably the single most influential science writing I ever read (and I read it in a Rhetoric class!).

There is much to celebrate.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cogent Analysis of Iraq Options

There's a great op-ed piece in today's Washington Post by retired General William Odom. In it, it spells out great reasons why getting the U.S. out of Iraq is the key to getting beyond the mess:
The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options.
I highly recommend reading the whole thing. [hat tip to the TPM crew]

Oh, and here's a hint: the title of the piece is "Victory is Not an Option."

Monday, February 05, 2007


I thought yesterday's "Super Bowl"(tm) was pretty mediocre (as usual). Unfortunately, the advertisements that often salvage the day were awfully disappointing this year.

One, however, managed to clear up for me what often happens to me in the afternoon:

Now I need to go find some nuts to save me this afternoon.

Note that this is the first time I've ever tried embedding a video in a post, so I do not guarantee any level of success.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

How to Think About War

Just found a link to a terrific piece by Dan Froomkin over on FireDogLake, in which he tells journalists how they should approach matters of war and peace. It applies equally well to those of us trying to evaluate the information we get through the media and other sources:
Lessons we thought had been learned from Vietnam were forgotten in the rush to invade Iraq. And now, as we cover President Bush’s ratcheting up of the rhetoric against Iran, it’s looking like the lessons we should have learned from Iraq may not have been learned at all. So at the risk of stating the obvious, here are some thoughts about what those lessons were.
It's a great read, and perhaps a good checklist to keep around. Sadly, people seem to keep falling for the same tricks.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Good for a Laugh

Just stumbled onto a quiz via another blog: Which Science Fiction Writer are You?

Apparently, I'm William Gibson:

I am:
William Gibson
The chief instigator of the "cyberpunk" wave of the 1980s, his razzle-dazzle futuristic intrigues were, for a while, the most imitated work in science fiction.

Which science fiction writer are you?