Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Happiness Project: Why Alicia Silverstone’s “Dumbest Celeb Quote” actually gives profound insight into the nature of happiness.
"One mystery of happiness is why some people choose to be unhappy. One answer: It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light. And you don’t get credit for being light. It looks easy and effortless. No one thinks much about you or tries to accommodate you. You get taken for granted."

I think Ms. Rubin is missing the true nature of happiness. It's not something you choose, or something you strive for. In the words of Robertson Davies: "Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

IntLawGrrls: Justice Antonin Scalia on "so-called torture" and rights, if any, of Guantánamo detainees:
"BBC: If you look at countries with a common law tradition, of which we are one, and you are another, but also, lots of other countries around the world, and in the developing world – if they look at decision of the Supreme Court which affirm the death penalty, and which perhaps affirm torture, although that hasn’t happened yet, does that not set a moral tone?
SCALIA: Well, I urge them not to do that. I don’t look to their law. Why should they look to mine? I don’t purport to be prescribing some universal moral law. I am interpreting the meaning of the text of my Constitution, which was adopted at a certain time by my people, and had a meaning to those people at the time. That’s all I’m doing. I’m not charged with, with figuring out the content of the natural law. If you want to look at our decisions, what you could derive from it is what a wonderful Constitution we have. Or, if you don’t like it, you can say what a terrible Constitution we have. But we don’t pretend to be moral, you know, some Western mullahs, who what decide what is right and wrong for the whole world."

So if morality, what is right, what is wrong, has no part in this Supreme Court justice's decisions, and it is only deciding if a certain legal ruling or piece of legislation is in accord with the literal text of a 200+ year old document, does "justice" have any meaning relevant to our lives in the real world? I really do not understand the incredibly smug mindset of people like this. And even worse than Scalia is Thomas. They say these words had a meaning to "those people at the time". But those people who wrote the Constitution had an understanding that natural law, common law, was "self-evident". Scalia is correct, morality is not mentioned specifically in the Constitution. But the writers DIDN'T THINK THEY NEEDED TO! It was SELF-EVIDENT!

Too bad for us that they wrote those words "self evident" down in another document, the Declaration of Independence, which is NOT a part of our Constitution. For justices Scalia and Thomas and many more like them, they have no bearing on anything at all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chaos In Food Webs: The Balance Of Nature Concept Takes A Beating | Scientific Blogging:
"The traditional idea of the balance of nature gets quite a beating by a study that appears in the current issue of Nature. Using a long-term laboratory experiment, the authors conclude that, even under constant conditions, all species in a food web continued to fluctuate in a chaotic fashion. Chaos makes long-term prediction of species abundances impossible. Theoretical ecologists already argued in the 1970s that populations of plants and animals might fluctuate in an unpredictable manner, even without external influences. These predictions, derived from chaos theory, attracted a lot of debate. However, only few scientists believed that species in real ecosystems would truly fluctuate in a chaotic fashion. The common perception was that species fluctuations result from changes in external conditions, driven by climate change or other disturbances of the balance of nature. This classic perspective has been radically changed by new findings of graduate student Elisa Beninc�and Professor Jef Huisman of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in collaboration with colleagues from Wageningen University (The Netherlands), the University of Rostock (Germany), and Cornell University (USA)."

Since the study was done on very small organisms, perhaps as the organism becomes larger and more complex the effect of chaos becomes less powerful because the organisms are more adaptable? And isn't it essential for evolutionary theory that chaos be not just possible but likely?