Swine flu alert

Some cases of swine influenza, notably in Mexico, are being transmitted between people; about twenty people have died. This is important because flu from other animals tends to make people sicker. If it’s easy to catch and hard on people, it might spread around the world with travellers.

Some people in the U.S. have become sick and a few in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The American Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been watching very carefully. They say:

Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza…

From December 2005 through February 2009, a total of 12 human infections with swine influenza were reported from 10 states in the United States. Since March 2009, a number of confirmed human cases of a new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in California, Texas, and Mexico have been identified… See Human Swine Flu Investigation.

The current vaccine does not protect against the virus, which has components from human, avian, North American swine, and Eurasian swine flus.

Swine flu virus

Swine flu virus

(Image from this Chemistry course)

If vaccine needs to be manufactured, it will take a few months to get the right strain. And the world’s capacity for making flu shots is only about 400,000 to 500,000 doses.

There was a previous swine flu scare in 1976.

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Religion used in rhetoric

Jason Rosenhouse has a good point in “Why Creationists Shouldn’t Do Logic”:

God-based morality only seems to come out when religious folks are trying to argue that X is immoral even though X has no obvious harmful consequences (or, perhaps, beneficial consequences). Gay marriage and embryonic stem-cell research are good cases in point. The statement, “X is wrong because it is against the will of God,” is the rhetorical equivalent of, “I’ve got nothing.

The same for “against nature”: nature never filed a complaint. In other words…

There's no one there

There's no one there

“Slavery makes my blood boil,” said Darwin

cover-desmondadrian-moorejames-darwinssacred-cause-wCharles Darwin was interested in the wonders of nature and how they came about; but he had another great passion, and that was a hatred of slavery.

“Darwin’s Sacred Cause” points out that Darwin married into an abolitionist family and that the notion of common descent, even before he published his theory of how it might happen, was an abolitionist’s plea for equal treatment of all men and women.

As usual, “the BBC has the story: ” Darwin’s twin track: evolution and emancipation.”

“It makes one’s blood boil,” said Charles Darwin.

Not much outraged the gentle recluse, but the horrors of slavery could cost him a night’s sleep.

He was thinking of the whipped house boy and the thumbscrews used by old ladies in South America, atrocities he had witnessed on the Beagle voyage.

Handy-dandy torture devices

Handy-dandy torture device

The screams stayed with him for life, but how much did they influence his life’s work?

…new evidence suggests that Darwin’s unique approach to evolution – relating all races and species by “common descent” – could have been fostered by his anti-slavery beliefs.

The notion of evolution had been bruited about for some time—at least seventy years—but no one had a mechanism for how it happened.

Why was Darwin’s evolution uniquely defined by common descent, the joining of races and species through shared ancestry? Darwin’s common descent image is so obvious today that we forget to question where it came from.

"Am I not a man and a brother?"

"Am I not a man and a brother?"

Common descent in Darwin’s younger day was ubiquitous in anti-slavery tracts. Consider the words of the famous cameo, depicting a kneeling slave asking “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” That cameo was in fact the brainchild of the pottery-dynasty founder, Josiah Wedgwood, Darwin’s grandfather.

New evidence shows how indebted Darwin was to this anti-slavery heritage.

Darwin’s uncle Jos Wedgwood sold the firm’s London showroom, and ploughed the proceeds into an anti-slavery society, and in the 1850s (with American slavery still flourishing) the Wedgwoods continued using labels showing the slave under Britannia’s banner, which read “God Hath Made of One Blood All Nations of Men”.

darwin-smThe anti-slavery agitator Thomas Clarkson – the man who rode 35,000 miles collecting statistics in the sea ports on the evil trade – was another bankrolled by Josiah Wedgwood.

With a Wedgwood wife and mother, Darwin saw abolition as a “sacred cause” too, and in his culminating work, the Descent of Man (1871), he placed Clarkson at the moral apex of humanity and called slavery a “great sin”.

Darwin’s theory undermined the great moral excuse for slavery: that slaves belonged to a separate species.

In addition, Darwin was horrified by the torture that he saw when he visited slave-holding nations. (Britain had abolished slavery in the Great Reform Acto of 1832.) He saw the grief and fear of parents whose owners threatened to sell their children away from them. Ah, the traditional American family!

I’ll believe it when I see it

Tax protests…

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