I, for one, will welcome our Cyborg Insect overlords

Nah, I thought this has got to be a joke:

The Pentagon’s defence scientists want to create an army of cyber-insects that can be remotely controlled to check out explosives and send transmissions.

But no…there is actually a DARPA call for proposals.

DARPA seeks innovative proposals to develop technology to create insect-cyborgs, possibly enabled by intimately integrating microsystems within insects, during their early stages of metamorphoses. The healing processes from one metamorphic stage to the next stage are expected to yield more reliable bio-electromechanical interface to insects, as compared to adhesively bonded systems to adult insects. Once these platforms are integrated, various microsystem payloads can be mounted on the platforms with the goal of controlling insect locomotion, sense local environment, and scavenge power. Multidisciplinary teams of engineers, physicists, and biologists are expected to work together to develop new technologies utilizing insect biology, while developing foundations for the new field of insect cyborg engineering. The HI-MEMS may also serve as vehicles to conduct research to answer basic questions in biology.

The final demonstration goal of the HI-MEMS program is the delivery of an insect within five meters of a specific target located at hundred meters away, using electronic remote control, and/or global positioning system (GPS). Although flying insects are of great interest (e.g. moths and dragonflies), hopping and swimming insects could also meet final demonstration goals. In conjunction with delivery, the insect must remain stationary either indefinitely or until otherwise instructed. The insect-cyborg must also be able to transmit data from DOD relevant sensors, yielding information about the local environment. These sensors can include gas sensors, microphones, video, etc.

Although the idea of having a remote controlled dragonfly is very cool, I am very pessimistic, and have to dash a little cold water on the plan.

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Juravenator starki


Juravenator starki is a new small theropod dinosaur from the late Jurassic—the specimen is exceptionally well-preserved, and retains fossilized imprints of its skin. The surprising thing about it is that its anatomy puts it smack in the middle of a large clade of coelurosaurs, members of which are known to have feathers…and its skin is bare and scaly. What it suggests is that feather evolution was complicated (no surprise there, actually), and that some lineages secondarily lost their feathery covering, or that there were seasonal or age-related or regional variations in feather expression.

More pictures are below the fold—this really is a very pretty specimen.

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Nelson responds

Paul Nelson responds to Amanda Marcotte, who mentioned that the poor quality of his debate explains why Nelson thinks ID should not be taught in schools.

Amanda, Sahotra and I spent three hours talking at an Austin bar the night before the debate. I reiterated to him what I’ve said for years: I’m not interested in getting ID into the public schools. He allowed as much in his spoken remarks (which should be available soon as streaming video from the UPA), but still stood up a straw-man ID bad guy. What’s funny is Sahotra and I have been debating/discussing design since we met in 1985, and in that whole time I’ve consistently told him that it doesn’t much matter to me if design is taught in public schools. We push that issue out of the way and move on to empirical and philosophical particulars.

Hmmm. Let’s take a look at the Wedge document, shall we?

Phase I of the wedge was supposed to be about research, writing, and publication. They were supposed to have a group of scientists doing pioneering work to “crack the materialist edifice”. This hasn’t worked out so well—nobody is actually doing any ID science—but let’s be charitable and assume that Nelson thinks his lecturing and debating and philosophizing is part of this phase.

What about Phase II? That’s titled “Publicity & Opinion-making”, and includes in its activities teacher training, as well as putting together apologetics seminars (revealing in its title, eh?) and television programs. Maybe Nelson isn’t thinking about getting this stuff in public schools, but his fellow travelers are—it’s in the plan. The DI must think they’re in Phase II, since they’re also publishing Teacher’s Guides for high school and undergraduate instructors. That awful textbook, “Of Pandas and People”, is intended for high schools and is clearly an ID-friendly book, even if it is nominally disavowed by the DI.

Phase III is “Cultural Confrontation and Renewal”. The DI plans to “pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula“. That’s blatant, I think. Since several prominent members (Behe and Minnich, for instance) of the DI provided legal assistance in response to the recent resistance in Dover, at least some part of the DI is ready to push ID into the schools.

Maybe Nelson doesn’t himself want ID taught in the public schools right now. But it is disingenuous to pretend that that isn’t the goal of the movement he is fronting.

I’d add that since he is completely lacking in “empirical” particulars, and his philosophy is painfully shallow and goofy, it’s awfully hard to figure out what exactly he is trying to accomplish. We’ll have to be forgiven if we speculate on the basis of the actions his backers are carrying out in the absence of plausible statements about their goals…it sure looks to me like they’re trying to peddle pseudoscience to the gullible, with Nelson’s assistance.

Here’s a way to frame the conflict

It’s a battle between the Bible and a secular Constitution.

On Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, in Annapolis at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at AU, was requested to testify.

At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: “Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?”

Raskin replied: “Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

The room erupted into applause.

A new life awaits you in the Off-world colonies

Via Leiter Reports, it’s Google Mars!

Hey, just an odd thought…the distance to Mars is such that communications have a lag of tens of minutes. When I move to the new colony after I retire, am I not going to have a hard time browsing the weblogs any more? I’d send a request to go to a page via http, a half hour later the html would arrive at my computer, and if I click on a link, it’ll be another half hour wait for anything to happen. This doesn’t sound very practical. Actually, it reminds me of the Earth people in Sterling’s Schismatrix (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), who have formed a hive mind but are trapped on the planet, because when subpopulations move far enough way, they become autonomous and independent of the core mind.

OK, it was a really long day yesterday, I’m still tired, and my mind is wandering…

No respect for Christianity…so stop demanding it

Atrios was getting some heat (most of it misplaced) for saying he was sick of the Christian whiners on the Left who make up stories of their martyrdom in the Democratic party—the same nonsense I was snarling about. While Atrios can say he’s not hostile to religion—he’s just apathetic—I can’t, and reading some of the other reactions to the whole business just confirms my contempt.

I like Avedon Carol, but she just doesn’t get it. Explaining that the Right has successfully portrayed the Left as “godless” and then talking about how wrong they are because the Left is full of good religious people and that there are atheists on the Right too is simply perpetuating the idea the Right wants spread—that atheists are bad, a taint on the culture, and that a good way to demean a movement is to mention that its got atheists in it. Thanks, but no thanks. Can we instead just try to get across the message that freethinkers are good people we aren’t ashamed of for a change?

At least Carol isn’t quite as exasperating as this guy:

We’re not politicians here, but that’s exactly what groups largely led by the religious community do: the Interfaith Alliance, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, etc etc Come on, guys. No one is trying to convert you–we’re just asking for the most basic respect. We need to keep this coalition intact…Together, we stand for much: for religious freedom as well as freedom from religion, for our own passionate beliefs but also for tolerance and respect for the beliefs and rights of others.

Yes, yes…we know. Some Christians do good things. So do some atheists. We give people the respect they deserve for the actions they do…so why also demand respect for the absurd granfalloon called Christianity? When this fellow “Faithful Progressive” works for the separation of church and state, or for civil liberties, or to help the poor, I’ll give him the thumbs up; but when he pulls this smug act of declaring his piety and expecting respect for his delusions, sorry, pal, but no way. Christianity is a crock.

This raises the larger problem I have with many liberal blogs–many of which seem to forget that politics is about building coalitions, building a team and not just cleverly dissing those who irritate you. No matter how tiresome Atrios may find Steve Waldman or Digby Amy Sullivan (or the Booman Tribune yours truly); no matter how tiresome I might find Duncan’s poorly considered sophomoric theology–we are all on the same team, dammmit! Why don’t these bloggers who should know better get that?

I like that: “sophomoric theology”. Theology is sophomoric, attempts to rationalize the absurd with reality, the glorification of foolish beliefs that will be dignified by pretending they are serious. Nice team-building, too; it’s the usual cluelessness of the majority that doesn’t realize that their assumptions hold no validity and that they are relying on the mutual gladhanding of their fellows to hold up their illusions.

So, no, the final word is that I will never give his religion a bit of respect. I will tolerate it. I will respect his right to practice his religion. But I will not hesitate to express my scorn every time one of my “allies” in this “coalition” thinks the way to better the country is to promote more belief in false fantasies.

Ophelia links to an excellent summary of the materialist/naturalist/scientist position. That’s where I stand, and that is my objective—respect that, Christians.