Category Archives: science

Gay Couples Raising Kids Naturally

From the Associated Press:

“A German zoo says a pair of gay male penguins are raising a chick from an egg abandoned by its parents.

Bremerhaven zoo veterinarian Joachim Schoene says the egg was placed in the male penguins’ nest after its parents rejected it in late April. The males incubated it for some 30 days before it hatched and have continued to care for it.

Schoene said the male birds are one of three same-sex pairs among the zoo’s 20 penguins. ”

Of course, I don’t really think this is news, but a lot of people might thik it’s unusual. That’s why I posted it. Draw your own conclusions.

National Organization for Marriage Strikes Again

Brian S. Brown of National Organization for Marriage doesn’t mess around. Apparently, he also doesn’t read his email because he sent me another one today, although I should clearly be removed from their list. Here’s the email I received:

Dear Arym,

You’ve probably seen by now a copy of “Gay Marriage and Schoolkids” by the National Organization for Marriage’s President Maggie Gallagher, which appeared in the New York Post and papers around the country.

Maggie asks a really terrific question: “What do gay marriage advocates think public schools should teach about marriage, if gay marriage is the law of the land?”

Well, we don’t have to wonder any longer. The smart folks at Schubert Flint had the bright idea: Let’s take a look at what the same gay marriage groups saying one thing in California recently told courts in Massachusetts about whether parents should have a right to opt out of gay marriage curricula in public schools.

From the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Amicus Curiae Brief:

“In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where the right of same-sex couples to marry is protected under the state constitution, it is particularly important to teach children about families with gay parents.” [p 5]

From the Human Rights Campaign Amicus Curiae Brief:

“There is no constitutional principle grounded in either the First Amendment’s free exercise clause or the right to direct the upbringing of one’s children, which requires defendants to either remove the books now in issue — or to treat them as suspect by imposing an opt-out system.” [pp1-2]

From the ACLU Amicus Curiae Brief:

“Specifically, the parents in this case do not have a constitutional right to override the professional pedagogical judgment of the school with respect to the inclusion within the curriculum of the age-appropriate children’s book…King and King.” [p 9]

Like Maggie asked, “Could we have a reasonably honest discussion please about what you have in store for California’s second graders?”

We got bad news last week from Connecticut where once again a narrow majority decided to toss 2000 years of human wisdom out the window.

This is my week for quoting Maggie.

On National Review Online’s blog The Corner, she expressed her views on the Connecticut decision this way: “Let’s see, on the one hand we have the consensus of the human race over thousands of years and hundreds of societies that there is something distinctive and unique about unions of husband and wife–on the other hand we have the wisdom of Harvard Law school, invented five minutes ago, that anyone who sees a difference is either insane or full of seething malice towards gay people.”

The New York Times, in their October 11 story “Using Biology, Not Religion, To Argue Against Same-Sex Marriage,” also quoted Maggie in response. “Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a group set up expressly to fight the movement toward gay marriage, said the decision could also spur action to pass constitutional amendments in California, Florida and Arizona that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

“‘I think everyone that feels outraged by this Supreme Court decision is going to take renewed energy that we have to rein in the courts,’ Ms. Gallagher said.”

I couldn’t put it better myself.

We try hard to be your voice here at the National Organization for Marriage: the voice that is not afraid to speak truth–in love–to power for this generation and for the generations to come. (To help us fight for marriage for your children and grandchildren, donate $25, $50, or $100 here.)

The other side is getting increasingly nasty, desperate–and, in at least one case, violent, according to the campaign:

“Prop. 8 supporter, Jose Nunez, 37, was brutally assaulted while waiting to distribute yard signs to other supporters of the initiative after church services at the St. Stanislaus Parish in
Modesto.

“The assailant grabbed about 75 signs and yelled at Nunez accusingly, ‘What do you have against gays!’ Although Nunez replied that he had nothing against gays, he was attacked anyway. The assailant punched Nunez in the left eye and ran off with the signs.” (From a Protect Marriage press release.)

It’s incredible that anyone would be so filled with hate they would want to attack a fellow citizen simply for standing up for God’s truth about the nature and purpose of marriage. But that’s apparently the times we live in.

I also know the vast majority of gay people are ashamed and embarrassed by the actions of hooligans like this. If Prop 8 passes, same-sex couples will keep all the legal protections of civil unions. But that doesn’t stop leaders in the anti-Prop 8 crowd–not low-level thugs like the man who attacked Jose, but the high-level leaders–from engaging in mean-spirited boycotts intended to economically punish whole businesses because one person involved supported Prop 8. That doesn’t stop high-level leaders from relentless name-calling, labeling California voters they disagree with as “anti-gay” and “liars.”

Frankly, I do think these leaders’ actions fosters an environment where ugliness like the attack on Jose happens. And I think their relentlessly nasty attacks (of which the “lies” campaign is just more of the same) is going to backfire among fair-minded California voters, too.

It’s an honor to have the chance to meet and work with so many Americans–especially here in California–who refuse to be intimidated from common sense, or the larger moral truth: Marriage is good. It’s an ancient honorable estate, not rooted in animus towards anyone.

“I am still trying to discuss it with my daughter who was brainwashed in government class in public high school,” one incredibly persistent pro-marriage volunteer named Barb wrote to Maggie recently.

Barb is an amazing example of the outpouring of love and energy bringing together people from all walks of life, every creed, every color across this country to protect marriage.

Barb started by asking us for help in approaching her priest to preach on marriage. “What should I say to Father Michael? Thanks in advance,” Barb asked.

Maggie wrote back: “Say, ‘There’s an important vote on Prop 8, and the Catholic bishops have endorsed it.’

“Say, ‘I really really need help explaining to my children and/or grandchildren why it’s important to protect this understanding of marriage as a husband/wife thing. Would you please help me teach the next generation why our church teaches that marriage really matters to the whole society?'”

This week Barb wrote back to say she’ll be manning a booth outside of three masses this Sunday, distributing flyers for Prop 8!

Way to go Barb! She’s my new hero–but one of many new heroes for marriage coming out of this fight.

Way to go each and every one of you who’ve taken action to protect marriage! Whether it’s donating time or money, calling a friend, asking your minister to preach Yes on Prop 8 in California (or Yes on Prop 2 in Florida or Yes on Prop 102 in Arizona)–we’d be nowhere without you.

Pray for Jose and his family.

And I pray that God rewards each and every one of you for your courage and fidelity.

Yours in Christ,

Brian Brown

Brian S. Brown
Executive Director
National Organization for Marriage
20 Nassau Street, Suite 242
Princeton, NJ 08542
bbrown@nationformarriage.org

Then there was a reprinting in there entirety of five hateful articles they have managed to get published since October 11th and October 15th. My, they certainly are busy.

And here’s my reply:

Dear Mr. Brown,

As a lesbian who has raised two children and sent them to public schools, I know first-hand how cruel children can be when they find out a classmate has two mothers. Fortunately, this was a minority of children. I think, however, many children would benefit from learning from their teachers that families with gay parents exist. These families will exist whether or not gay marriage becomes the law of the land. They just won’t have the same legal rights as the families headed by heterosexual couples.

As for where you got the idea that human history has only existed for 2000 years, I haven’t the faintest notion. Most anthropologists would agree that human civilization has been around for 10000 years. Those were harsh times, filled with disease, famine and worship of sun gods and various agriculture deities. I’m sure gay people back then were too busy struggling to survive day-to-day to worry about getting married.

In modern society, this is no longer the case. Marriage is more of a legal institution than a “sacred” privilege. Much research shows that Christianity and other major religions are mere re-tellings of the pagan beliefs of Ancient Egypt. Isn’t it time that you set aside 10000 years of superstition and bigotry and step into the modern world? You’ll feel better when you do.

Sincerely,

You can write to him, too. His email address is shown above. I have also linked to NOM in the first line of this post. Have fun!

Sorry, Charlie, No Apology from the Pope

In breaking news, New Scientist reports that the “Vatican said on Tuesday the theory of evolution was compatible with the Bible but planned no posthumous apology to Charles Darwin for the cold reception it gave him 150 years ago.” Frankly, I doubt that Charles Darwin really cares.

I, myself, have never seen any conflict between believing in Jesus and believing in the theory of natural selection. The conflict only occurs when you interpret the Bible literally to say that God created the world in six days. I realize that not all Christians are creationists, nor should they be, because creationism is silly. The New Scientist article goes on to report that in 2006, Sarah Palin advocated teaching creationism in the schools, but she has since backed down. I pray that it is not “God’s will” that she be our next vice president.

For those of you not familiar with Charles Darwin’s life, I just want to throw out a few quick facts. Charles Darwin was raised as both a unitarian and an anglican. As a man of his times, he was a Christian and, early in his studies, he was influenced by both Lamarckism and William Paley’s notion of “divine design”. His views began to change after taking a 5-year voyage on the HMS Beagle and examining the fossils that he found during this trip. The idea of evolution was already around at this time, but most people believed, like Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ grandfather, that it was based on acquired characteristics.

Charles spent two years researching and studying after returning from his trip. He spoke with zoologists, ornithologists, natural historians, even farmers and pigeon breeders, but it took two more years, while reading about the ‘struggle for existence’ in Malthus’ “An Essay on the Principle of Population”, before he struck on the idea of how evolution might possibly work. Thus, he did not discover evolution, but rather the mechanism, natural selection, by which evolution works. The important part here is, of course, that no divine intelligence is required to guide natural selection. Chance is enough to result in the creation of new species.

Charles Darwin delayed the publication of his idea for twenty years because he knew most people would find it heretical. He finally rushed to publication in 1856 after learning that another young scientist, Alfred Wallace, was reaching the same conclusions. As expected, his book “The Origin of Species” stirred up quite a controversy, and even today, 150 years later, some people still can’t quite get a grip on it.

Throughout his long and distinguished career, Darwin found his faith in Christianity constantly being tested and slowly dwindling. His religious flame was pretty much extinguished in 1851 with the death of his favorite daughter, Annie, at the age of 10.

My only question is who really cares what the Vatican thinks.

Where Have All the Honey Bees Gone?

When my youngest daughter was still a toddler, I trained her to answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with the word ‘entomologist’. This was purely for my own amusement. I know you can’t live out your dreams through your children. (The older daughter was trained to say ‘astronaut’). Besides, people don’t usually ask that question of toddlers.

But somehow, my daughter managed to regurgitate that word when her kindergarten teacher asked her that question. I saw the teacher at back-to-school night, and she very excitedly told me of my progeny’s entomological leanings. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d taught her to parrot this. The teacher thought she had a little genius on her hands. As it turns out, my daughter is quite smart, but she’s 13 now and wants to be a baker, mostly of cakes. I’ve no doubt she’ll succeed.

Still, I’ve always been fascinated with insects. Bees, ants, mosquitoes and cockroaches are my favorites. So I was quite disturbed back in October of 2007 when I saw a show on Nature about the disappearance of the honeybees. Colony Collapse Disorder made lots of headlines after that show aired. But then, of course, it kind of disappeared from the news.

I’ve been trying to keep an eye on it, but while there are lots of theories, there don’t seem to be many answers yet. When the clover patch in my yard turned green in the spring, I actively looked for bees and only saw a few. There should have been more.

So today I came across an article called The Bees’ Needs on the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) website. It offers tips on what individuals can do to help such as planting local vegetation rather than exotic imports. The last tip on building nests for wood-nesting bees looks simple enough. I’m going to give it a try.

On Building Robots

Who among us does not harbor a secret desire to build robots? They permeate our cultural consciousness, from Rosie on the Jetsons to the little Star Wars droid, R2-D2. My favorite fictional robot is Gort from the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. He is both intimidating and benevolent, like a strict disciplinarian father figure, keeping us in line for our own good. Sure, he doesn’t look like much but his power is symbolic, not sexual. I first saw this movie as a young teen and it struck a chord with me, perhaps because my own father had died of cancer a few years earlier and I felt my life veering out of control. Or perhaps the media coverage of Watergate and the Vietnam War and policies of Mutually Assured Destruction, while I may have been too young to understand them at the time, had given me an inkling into the greedy and short-sighted nature of humankind.

I saw on IMDB that they are currently remaking this movie with Keanu Reaves and Jennifer Connelly. Apparently the new film focuses on being kind to Mother Earth rather than preventing nuclear holocaust. I think that’s a good message. Now more than ever, we need to develop sustainable technologies or we may not have a culture left. Given Hollywood’s tendancy to focus on visual effects rather than story-telling, I don’t have particularly high hopes for this film, but I am glad that Tim Burton is not directing.

So yes, I have always wanted to build robots (or maybe synthesizers). I had taken a couple of classes at the local community college in electronics before I was diagnosed with cancer. But I can’t take any classes right now, and I haven’t even bought myself a soldering iron so I haven’t progressed very far with my plans. That doesn’t mean I have given up. Somethings just take time.
Awhile ago I asked my teenage daughter to draw me a picture of a “cute” robot. Gort was certainly not cute. My typical idea of a robot seems to be stuck in childhood images, quite blocky and unengaging. We had both read an article in Wired Magazine about the science of cute, as epitomized by Japanese creations like Hello Kitty and Pikachu. Cuteness requires a large head and small, useless appendages. Just like a baby! Apparently, we humans are biologically wired to perceive helpless beings of this sort as cute.I suppose there is some allowance for variations in taste when it comes to animation styles, but it’s certainly hard to deny that most mammal babies are cute even though they’re not human.

My daughter drew what I perceived to be a very cute robot and I recently turned it into a vector drawing using a trial copy of Xara Xtreme. Xara is a great program for creating web graphics and the like. I also have Paint Shop Pro which is good for formatting but unwieldy for drawing. I liked the little robot so much that I put it on a t-shirt and bought one for myself from Cafe Press. Here’s a picture of the robot. You can click on it to see what the t-shirt looks like.

sad robot

sadrobot

And yet, drawing a robot is not the same as building one. I did run across a very inspiring website the other day called Communist Robot. It has videos from robotics labs around the world. The walking legs from Tsinghua were particularly cool. Maybe I should go buy that soldering iron.