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On the Advice of the FBI, “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” Cartoonist Molly Norris goes into hiding. – Seattle Weekly

September 18

You may have noticed that Molly Norris’ comic is not in the paper this week. That’s because there is no more Molly.

The gifted artist is alive and well, thankfully. But on the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI, she is, as they put it, “going ghost”: moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity. She will no longer be publishing cartoons in our paper or in City Arts magazine, where she has been a regular contributor. She is, in effect, being put into a witness-protection program—except, as she notes, without the government picking up the tab. It’s all because of the appalling fatwa issued against her this summer, following her infamous “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” cartoon.

via On the Advice of the FBI, Cartoonist Molly Norris Disappears From View – Page 1 – News – Seattle – Seattle Weekly.

Smoking, bad for your fertility and your child’s – health – 09 September 2010 – New Scientist

September 11

Yet another reason to give up smoking. Smoking may harm not just your fertility but that of the next generation.

Two separate studies show that men who smoke have a lower concentration of proteins in the testes that are essential for producing sperm, while women who smoke during pregnancy may be sowing the seeds of infertility in their unborn child.

In one of the studies researchers obtained 24 testes, from 37 to 68 day embryos after legally terminated pregnancies. They found that the number of germ cells – responsible for forming eggs and sperm – was reduced by 55 per cent in fetuses from women who’d been smoking while pregnant. They also found a 37 per cent reduction in the ordinary or somatic cells in the embryos.

via Smoking, bad for your fertility and your child’s – health – 09 September 2010 – New Scientist.

Sadly, it’s not that simple – Butterflies and Wheels

September 11

Alom Shaha, of Why Science is Important fame, has a new piece in the Guardian, arguing that “angry atheists” are too quick to hurt the feelings of believers by implying they are stupid and should be more aware that they are capable of holding irrational beliefs too. Empathy, and how we say things, may be more important than what we say.

Superficially, it would be very hard to disagree with all this, and in fact none of the usual suspects in the “‘angry atheist’ brigade“–and I won’t even go there, nor into the tired “fanatical atheism can be as ugly as religious fanaticism” bit–to my knowledge ever have disagreed with it. Of course no one advocates calling people stupid, hurting their feelings, or being oblivious to one’s own fallibility. It’s just not as simple as Alom paints it.

First, the implication of stupidity. Two things: calling an idea stupid does not equal calling a person stupid; and even with the assertion that ‘Person A is stupid’, in most cases there is the clear implication that Person A is stupid for doing/saying/believing a specific thing, quite analogously to the Forrest Gump principle of ‘stupid is as stupid does’. All of us violate that principle at least once a day, but we still recognise that this doesn’t define us as a person.

Second, the hurt feelings. Again, two things: some people will be offended, no matter how mildly the opposition to their ideas is worded; and of course nobody offends  gratuitously, but it may serve a purpose if it is complemented by an explanation, i.e. an opportunity for an audience, and an invitation to them, to raise their intellectual game, in Richard Dawkins’s phrase. Say about PZ Myers, for example, what you will, but he always builds that bridge and extends that hand.

What this issue boils down to, I think, is that we’re looking at the problem the wrong side up. Granting people the right to be offended because they had their feelings hurt by an attack on their ideas opens the door to all manner of infringements upon free speech. If we actually want to raise our (and other people’s) intellectual game—and in a progressive society, how can we not want that?

Continue Reading: Sadly, it’s not that simple – Butterflies and Wheels.

Cloudy Crescent

September 10

This was taken about 10 minutes before the moon set, hence the redish color.

Where does morality come from? Above your right ear.

August 26

To make moral judgments about other people, we often need to infer their intentions–an ability known as “theory of mind.” For example, if someone shoots a companion on a hunting trip, we need to understand what the shooter was thinking before we condemn him. Was he secretly jealous, or did he mistake his fellow hunter for an animal?

MIT neuroscientists have now shown that they can influence those judgments by interfering with activity in a specific brain region–a finding that helps reveal how the brain constructs morality. In the new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers used a magnetic field to disrupt activity in the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ). The stimulation appeared to influence subsequent judgments that required an understanding of other people’s intentions.

Via http://www.technologyreview.com/article/25546/

Last Night’s Moon

August 23

I need to upgrade my “observatory”, which consists of sitting on the ground with my tripod and aiming up.

Just a picture – burqa.jpg – Photobucket – RichardDawkins.net

August 14

Just a picture – burqa.jpg – Photobucket – RichardDawkins.net.