From The Rational Optimist

An article: “Out of Africa–but When?“Out of Africa, but when?

My latest Mind and Matter column for the Wall Street Journal is about the exodus from Africa, either 125,000 years ago or 65,000 years ago.

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Bloodthirsty seems too weak a word

It seems that religion is the fount of hatred. After listing a catalogue of horrors, James A. Haught says,

…people who think religion is a force for good are looking only at Dr. Jekyll and ignoring Mr. Hyde. They don’t see the superstitious savagery pervading both history and current events.

During the past three centuries, religion gradually lost its power over life in Europe and America, and church horrors ended in the West. But the poison lingered. The Nazi Holocaust was rooted in centuries of religious hate. Historian Dagobert Runes said the long era of church persecution killed three and a half million Jews — and Hitler’s Final Solution was a secular continuation. Meanwhile, faith remains potent in the Third World, where it still produces familiar results.

It’s fashionable among thinking people to say that religion isn’t the real cause of today’s strife in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, India and Iran — that sects merely provide labels for combatants. Not so. Religion keeps the groups in hostile camps. Without it, divisions would blur with passing generations; children would adapt to new times, mingle, intermarry, forget ancient wounds. But religion keeps them alien to one another.

Anything that divides people breeds inhumanity. Religion serves that ugly purpose.

Arctic sea ice 2008 from NASA Explorer

This short video talks about the changes in polar ice caps with global warming. Is this a blip in the weather or long-term climate change?

Arctic ice cap in 2008

Arctic ice cap in 2008

Free detainees held with no charges, bail

Raja Petra Kamaruddin, blogger

Raja Petra Kamaruddin, blogger

It could happen to you. If you lived in Malaysia. There’s a petition. from citizens and friends of Malaysia in the international community:

We, citizens and friends of Malaysia from the international community, call upon Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia, to act immediately to set free Raja Petra Kamaruddin and Teresa Kok who are presently being held in detention without the right of due process under the Internal Security Act (ISA). We also call for the release of the HINDRAF Five and others presently imprisoned under the ISA.

The two latest detainees – together with Tan Hoon Cheng, a newspaper reporter who was subsequently released following widespread local outrage and protests – were arrested on September 12th under the draconian ISA which permits the police to detain a person for a maximum of 60 days for investigations. Based on the outcome of the investigations, a person can be detained for two years without trial. The two-year term can be renewed indefinitely. The use of such legislation – a legacy of British colonial rule – violates the basic rights of detainees to due process and fair rule of law. [Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?]

We are of the opinion that there is no basis whatsoever to justify the detention of these individuals, despite the manner in which some in the government-controlled mainstream media may have painted them as threats instead of objectively reporting the facts. Raja Petra Kamaruddin is alleged to be a threat to security, peace and public order as a result of posting in his widely followed blogsite – http://www.Malaysia-Today – various articles deemed as seditious and belittling Islam. In his defence, it should be noted that various Islamic political parties and organizations (including the Board of Directors, Muslim Professionals Forum in their Press Release on 13 September) as well as numerous Muslim leaders have publicly refuted the Government’s view that the writings of Raja Petra are in any way a threat to the nation or to Islam; and they have called for his release. Further proof that this allegation is unfounded can also be found in the decision of the Malaysian Cabinet on 12 September ordering the authorities responsible for Internet policing in the country to unblock public access to Raja Petra’s website. The website currently is still unblocked and the so-called seditious and anti-national contents are publicly accessible, although Raja Petra is in detention. Targeting an internet blogger who holds views that differ from the Government is unacceptable in any system of democracy.

Teresa Kok’s arrest under the ISA has been justified by the authorities as stemming from her involvement in activities which can cause tension and conflict among races and religions. This allegation appears to be based on a claim by the former Selangor Menteri Besar, Dr. Khir Toyo, that she organized a petition presented to mosque officials to lower the volume of the azan (call to prayer). Teresa Kok has categorically denied organizing any such petition. Abdul Rahman Nasir, head of the Masjid Kinrara committee (the mosque in question) and Dr Siti Mariah, Member of Parliament for Kota Raja where the mosque is situated, have also denied that Teresa Kok was involved in any such happening. The unjustified arrest of a respected member of parliament and state assemblywoman is unacceptable.

We are encouraged that various leaders of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition parties have recently spoken out against the use of the ISA. We wish to express our deep respect for the de facto Law Minister, Zaid Ibrahim, who has resigned in protest against the Government’s use of the ISA on the three individuals. We agree with his view that “there [are] ample punitive laws to act against lawbreakers without having to invoke the ISA. [The law] should only be used on armed terrorists or those out to topple the government by force,”

We urge the Prime Minister to take note that the continued detention of Raja Petra Kamaruddin and Teresa Kok will only strengthen the view of Malaysians and many friends of Malaysia around the world that the Government is rapidly losing control over the political situation and, as a result, is embarking on desperate authoritarian measures. These measures can only further undermine political stability and confidence in the legitimacy of BN rule. They will also undoubtedly contribute to the increasing capital flight and worsen the growing socio-economic turmoil.

The arrests of Teresa Kok and Raja Petra Kamaruddin and their detention under the ISA are not serving Malaysia’s national interests. Both detainees – as well as the HINDRAF Five and other political detainees – should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Albatross perils

In a clash between the modern world and instinct, albatrosses bring pieces of plastic to their young. We hypothesize that if the only hard, crunchy things around were seashells, the nestlings would be getting their calcium. Instead, many of them die, guts stuffed with plastic trash. Tragic.


A study in 2001 found that there is six times as much plastic as zooplankton:

No place is free of it.

Beige plastics are eaten by krill-eaters. Plastic pellets a (“nurdles”) re eaten by animals that look for fish eggs. The nurdles concentrate PCBs and pesticides.

The North Pacific Gyre concentrates floating garbage:

Read “Altered Oceans: A Plague of Plastic Chokes the Oceans.”

Stop torture by U.S.

Gosh, U.S. President Bush doesn’t want China to use force to quell dissent. Meanwhile, he continues to allow torture of U.S. political prisoners, after doing away with the essential protection of habeas corpus.

In a spirit of scientific inquiry, noted atheist Christopher Hitchens underwent “waterboarding” and confirms that, yes, it’s torture. In fact, half-drowning someone was one of the tools of the Inquisition. PZ Myers reports: “Hitchens under torture.

Burma after the cyclone

Two months have passed since a devastating cyclone hit Burma and the government turned away 90% of the people who wanted to help, forbid Buddhist monks from helping and even told its secular citizens not to volunteer. All help must come from the government and the army. Meanwhile, people have lost their supplies of clean water and of food. So what’s going on now? The BBC reports.

Romanian child will get abortion

An 11-year-old, pregnant by rape, will be allowed to have an abortion in Romania. This solution seems obvious, for children shouldn’t be forced to bear children. But the church opposes this abortion. Maternal death rates have plummeted since abortion was legalized, but this girl is “14 weeks” pregnant–over the limit for Romania. She probably didn’t realize she was pregnant until at least “10 weeks” pregnant — about when morning sickness starts. I added the quotation marks because pregnancy is dated from the first day of the last menstrual period, so officially you are two weeks pregnant when you conceive.

(CNN) — A Romanian government committee has decided to allow a pregnant 11-year-old who was raped by her teenage uncle to have an abortion, a government spokesman said Friday.

The girl is 21 weeks pregnant — too far along to have an abortion in Romania, where the limit is 14 weeks unless the pregnancy poses problems for the mother’s health, said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.

The girl’s parents had said they would take their daughter to Britain for an abortion if the committee did not allow her to have one in Romania. Abortions are legal in Britain up to 24 weeks.

It was unclear whether the parents would still take the girl to Britain following the committee’s decision, reached late Thursday.

Church groups have opposed an abortion for the girl, the government spokesman said. The Romanian Orthodox Church has urged the girl to keep the baby, and has said it will take care of the baby if the family wants to give it up for adoption, he said.

The uncle who raped the girl has since disappeared, the Romanian Health Ministry said. Media reports say the uncle is age 19.

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