22 December 2008

Interesting things I've read in the past week

Friend, watching me read the Sunday LA Times: "Do you really read all of that, every day?"
Me: "You know how when you ask me sometimes 'Why/ How do you know that?' This is how."

  1. We - humanity - are so, so close to winning a big one against the bad guys - disease. Yeah, Team!

    "Health workers are on the verge of eradicating Guinea worm disease in what would be just the second time in history that a disease has been wiped from the planet, the Carter Center said Friday.Cheap interventions such as hygiene education, using larvicides to kill the worm and distributing inexpensive cloths
    to help filter parasites from drinking water have cut the infection rate by 99%, the center said.Fewer than 5,000 cases of Guinea worm disease, also known as dracunculiasis, remain in Mali, Niger, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan and Ethiopia, the Atlanta-based center said. There were about 3.5 million cases in 1986 when the
    global effort to get rid of the disease began."

    See what the application of human effort, discipline, and - GASP! - science can do for the betterment of life on this planet? (Even in the Middle Ages, when "god" seemed to be more engaged, at least according to contemporary common beliefs, there's no evidence that the plague's path was altered, no matter how much prayer and parading of the virgin and killing of the Jews was done.) Regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit that reducing a disease, the effects of which are horrific , is amazing (and don't read it all unless you have a stout stomach, but know that:

    "During the time that the worm is emerging and being removed, the affected person suffers intense pain and often cannot work or resume daily activities for months. Farmers cannot tend their crops, parents cannot care for children, and children miss school. Even after the worms are gone, people are often left with
    scarring and permanent crippling. Infection does not produce immunity, and many people in affected villages suffer the disease year after year.")

    From 3.5 million cases to fewer than 5,000 cases is a tremendous triumph of human will, human good will, human intelligence, and yes, applied human rationality through science, with which we should all be just thrilled! Think of all of the people who have dramatically increased opportunities in life because of this; who have less pain, less hunger, fewer nightmares, fewer days lost to working to improve their material condition for themselves and families? The population of Connecticut or Oklahoma is around 3.5 million. Again - Yeah, team!

  2. An atheist's take on Christmas:

    "There were festivals and celebrations at the time of the winter solstice long before there was a Christian church, for a couple of centuries at least before Jesus may have lived. The early Roman Church simply commandeered all shrines and festivals to itself... What happened in the Greek and Latin worlds also happened in the Celtic, Germanic and Nordic lands. Old gods had their myths and festivals stolen and dressed up as Christian festivals. Celtic heroes became rewritten as Christian Saints. For the most part the people as a whole didn't seem to mind too much. There were still bonfires, feasts, gift-giving and excuses to get drunk..."
  3. Proof that Americans have evolved on racial and other issues in profoundly progressive ways over the past forty years, and proof that we have a long way to go (read the whole thing, it's fascinating):
  • In April, 1968, "53% of non-Blacks agreed that there should be laws against marriages between Negroes and whites."
  • "In August, 1968, 67% of whites believe the statement Negroes 'are asking for more than they are ready for'."
  • "In August, 1968, 63% of whites believe the statement Negroes "have less ambition than whites'."

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