Religious faith leads to the deaths of children

Zimbabwe has reported an outbreak of measles in a part of the country in which 157 children have died. They were not vaccinated. Why? Because they are members of a Christian sect that opposes vaccinations for religious reasons.

A measles outbreak in Zimbabwe has killed 157 children with the death toll nearly doubling in just under a week, the information minister said on Tuesday.

The government last week blamed apostolic church sects for the surge in infections, saying measles was largely prevalent among those who had not received vaccinations.

Most reported cases are among children aged between six months and 15 from religious sects who do not believe in vaccination.

“It has been noted that most cases have not received vaccination to protect against measles. Government has invoked the Civil Protection Unit Act to deal with this emergency,” Mutsvangwa said.

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On free will (again)

In 1929, Albert Einstein, at that time living in Berlin, gave a wide-ranging interview to George Sylvester Viereck that was published in the Saturday Evening Post. The interviewer seemed like a star-struck teenager and was unduly fawning but nevertheless obtained some interesting quotes from Einstein. One of them (“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”) was been widely circulated.

Einstein’s views on free will are also interesting.

I am a determinist. As such, I do not believe in free will.

I believe with Schopenhauer: We can do what we wish, but we can only wish what we must. Practically, I am, nevertheless, compelled to act as if freedom of the will existed. If I wish to live in a civilized community, I must act as if man is a responsible being.

I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime; nevertheless I must protect myself from unpleasant contacts. I may consider him guiltless, but I prefer not to take tea with him.

My own career was undoubtedly determined, not by my own will but my various factors over which I have no control – primarily those mysterious glands in which Nature secretes the very essence of life, our internal secretions.

I claim credit for nothing. Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.

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Car sounds

When I get into my car and shut the door, its closing makes a solid kind of sound. I had never given much thought to it, thinking that the sound of closing was an incidental byproduct of the door’s design and manufacture. It appears that I was mistaken. In an article on the sounds that cars make, John Seabrook writes that much thought goes into creating that particular sound.

The engine’s sound isn’t the only thing that the engineers work on. Many prospective buyers’ first experience of a car or a truck is the CLICK ker-CHUNK that the driver’s-side door makes when they close it, followed by a faint harmonic shiver given off by the vehicle’s metal skin. The door’s weight, latches, and seals are carefully calibrated to create a psychoacoustic experience that conveys comfort, safety, and manufacturing expertise.

Who knew?
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The Tyre Extinguishers war on SUVs

I came across this article that followed a group of activists, part of a global movement known as Tyre Extinguishers, who are going around deflating the tires of massive SUVs found in urban areas.

The Tyre Extinguishers movement started in the UK, spread to a clutch of other countries and has now landed in the US. Since June, dozens of SUV and pickup truck owners in New York, the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago have discovered their vehicles with flat tires along with a note on the windshield declaring: “Your gas guzzler kills.”

The leaflet, complete with a Ghostbusters-style picture of a crossed-out SUV, states the vast amounts of planet-heating emissions generated by the vehicles are “nails in the coffin of our climate”, adding: “You’ll be angry, but don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s your car.”

As the acts of minor sabotage mounted last Wednesday, the activists had to invoke some self-imposed rules. No SUVs with disabled stickers were targeted, nor anything that appeared to be used for certain work. A vehicle was chosen for a deflation only for the group to notice it had a “surgeon” sign in the window – the lentil was swiftly removed before the tire fully deflated. Conversely, an SUV that was deemed “so huge, so gross” had two of its tires collapsed.

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Dinosaurs may have used fire

In my book The Great Paradox of Science, chapter 1 has the title Did dinosaurs have tea parties? in which I speculate about possible dinosaur culture.

We think of many of the dinosaurs as impressive in their size and the way they dominated the world in their time, roaming freely over the Earth with everything as their prey and with few predators to fear. But we don’t associate them with any culture. We don’t associate them with discovering fire or building homes or creating artifacts such as pottery and tools for their use.

But [how do] we know that they didn’t do any of these things. Could it be that they were actually more advanced than we give them credit for and did at least some of those things but that all the evidence has disappeared over the long time since they were wiped out?

After all, humans have been around for a mere two million years (and modern humans only for 200,000 years) and thus produced all these things in a much shorter period than the dinosaurs who roamed the Earth for around 150 million years. Why do we believe that dinosaurs did not do anything at all during that time other than eat, sleep, and reproduce? Why could it not be that they too developed some kind of society, however rudimentary, whose traces have disappeared in the 65 million years that have elapsed since they went extinct?

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New polio case in the US

The concerted global effort to eradicate polio has been one of the greatest success stories in vaccinations, science, and public health in our lifetimes. Almost the entire world, with the exception of Pakistan and Nigeria, where anti-vaccination fears are prevalent, are considered polio-free,

So I was alarmed to read that a new case has been detected in New York.

An unvaccinated young adult from New York recently contracted polio, the first US case in nearly a decade, health officials said Thursday.

Officials said the patient, who lives in Rockland county, had developed paralysis. The person developed symptoms a month ago and did not recently travel outside the country, county health officials said.
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Avoiding accidental dialing

Once in a while, I have accidentally called some number without intending to. This is apparently a common phenomenon that is often referred to as ‘butt dialing’, whereby a smartphone placed in the hip pocket can, as a result of pressure exerted on its touch-sensitive face, end up dialing some number, usually from among one’s contacts or someone you just talked to.

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and now the president’s lawyer is guilty of it too — I’m talking, of course, about butt-dialing. Butt-dialing, or “pocket-dialing” as it’s called in politer circles, is the result of a perfect storm of bad smartphone habits that starts with forgetting to lock your device. Next you toss your unlocked phone into a pants pocket (often a rear one). Then, as you move around with your unlocked phone shifting in your pocket, taps and bumps combine with static electricity and a bit of moisture to fool your phone’s touchscreen into thinking it’s being pressed, pinched or zoomed.
From there, it’s really just a crapshoot in terms of which app your phone opens or who it decides to call. In Rudy Giuliani’s case, the former mayor’s phone dialed a reporter Giuliani had recently spoken with. The call went to voicemail, capturing part of a chat between Giuliani and an associate.

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The impact of old Earth theories on religion

In the endless comment thread in the post that dealt with the congressional hearings (262 comments and counting!), the original topic has long been forgotten and the discussion now deals with creationist theories that seek to reconcile scientific knowledge about Earth’s geology with a biblical-based chronology. These attempts at reconciliation have a long history and I dealt with this topic on pages 68-75 of my book The Great Paradox of Science. I reproduce that section below for those interested in the history of how these creationist beliefs came about, starting with Bishop Ussher’s influential calculation in 1650 CE that the age of the Earth was about 6,000 years old. It also shows the beginning of the convergence of studies from a wide variety of scientific fields to arrive at the current consensus that the age of the Earth is about 4.5 billion years.
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The evolutionary puzzle of children and grandparents

As a grandfather, I am well aware that the conventional wisdom is that I have outlived my usefulness as far as evolutionary theory goes. Once you have had offspring and raised them to an age where there are independent and capable to having offspring of their own, you have pretty much exhausted your biological usefulness. This leads to one speculation as to why our bodies, after a certain age, tend to fall apart. It is because there is no selection pressure to develop mechanisms keep it going.

But the fact remains that people do live longer than is strictly necessary for evolution to function and this article argues that older people can still serve an evolutionary purpose.
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