After a two-hour walk in the 34°C heat, I actually feel much better. (People who know me can feel free to express surprise and alarm.)
As I mentioned yesterday, spending too much time in a hotel depresses the life out of me. When will I ever again visit Dubai? Probably never. Since the hotel has gone to great lengths to make itself indistinguishable from any other similar hotel in the world, I fled the official corporate tours and hopped the Dubai Metro for Deira, the old part of the city.
Sadly for my scrap-book, and despite having my good camera, I spent nearly the whole time experiencing a place unlike any I'd ever seen rather than photographing it. The best part: a delicious one-dirham loaf of flat bread I bought from a "bakery" that consisted of a guy sitting cross-legged next to a small oven in a shop that couldn't have been two meters on each side. One dirham.
Second best part: hearing about 40 muezzins simultaneously call the faithful to the Asr prayer around 15:20 local time.
I did get some photos; here are two:
And I found that Dubai has lots of very small, completely fearless cats:
In all, despite sweating through every thread of clothing I wore, and despite feeling completely taken in one bit of bargaining I did (but not in the other, when I was only slightly robbed), I think I spent the afternoon perfectly. I feel much better than I did this morning, and I'll feel even more human in 15 minutes when I get out of the shower....
Journalist Robert Wright weighs in on the (ridiculous, I think) question of whether dogs are parasites:
I suspect the historical relationship between dogs and humans has been mutualistic, not parasitic; humans have probably been pragmatic in choosing what kinds of dogs to associate with during dog-human co-evolution, thus keeping wantonly exploitative tendencies out of the canine gene pool. (If anything, the parasitism has probably worked in the other direction.)
And as for the question of whether, evolutionary history aside, the average dog is now parasitic upon its owner: Well, these days we own dogs mainly for the joy they bring us, not to warn us about wild animals. So the question is simple: Does your dog bring you more joy than pain?
Yes, I can say about my own dog, which I feel even more acutely right at this moment owing to Parker's absence. I'm off to the Land of Uk tomorrow, so Parker is with a friend until I get back. I have to say, coming home to an empty apartment—I even took his bed up to the friend's house—really sucks.
A Wisconsin jury has convicted a couple of murder after they allowed their 11-year-old daughter to die right in front of them:
Dale Neumann, 47, was convicted in the March 23, 2008, death of his daughter, Madeline, from undiagnosed diabetes. Prosecutors contended he should have rushed the girl to a hospital because she couldn't walk, talk, eat or speak. Instead, Madeline died on the floor of the family's rural Weston home as people surrounded her and prayed. Someone called 911 when she stopped breathing.
Neumann, who once studied to be a Pentecostal minister, testified Thursday that he believed God would heal his daughter and he never expected her to die. God promises in the Bible to heal, he said.
"If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God," Neumann testified. "I am not believing what he said he would do."
No, if you go to the doctor, you're saving your daughter's life. Or put another way, Proverbs 16:18.
Seriously: praying is fine, especially if it makes the supplicant or sick person feel better. I believe this even though I think prayer acts through a placebo effect (when it works at all, which is usually no more often than random chance). Praying for someone's recovery at her hospital bed is positively admirable, as it combines a demonstrated placebo effect with actual medical care.
What is not acceptable, what is actually kind of depraved, what I hope outrages my Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends as much as it does me, is to have a prayer group stand around watching your own child die in agony on the floor of your house.
I find it odd that Wisconsin Public Radio's report used the word "unrepentant." I'm absolutely sure he fully repents his sins within his understanding of his religion. He just doesn't think letting his daughter die horribly while he and his friends watched qualifies. Fortunately for the last glowing embers of the Enlightenment, the people of Wisconsin think it does.
Via Sullivan, Pew has some interesting data on the differences in opinions about torture held by religious Christians and godless atheists:
More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed....
Therefore, as Sullivan points out, "Christian devotion correlates with approval for absolute evil in America. And people wonder why atheism is gaining in this country." (Emphasis his.)
I'm not a big fan of Seinfeld but I am a fan of this sort of thing:
The debate over religious displays in the Illinois Capitol's rotunda took a farcical turn this week when a student at a Lake Forest boarding school put up an aluminum pole to honor Festivus.
For those in the dark, Festivus is a mock holiday popularized by a 1997 episode of "Seinfeld." The pole is a Christmas tree-like symbol, and semi-ironic celebrations of Festivus, usually observed on Dec. 23, include such traditions as the "Airing of Grievances" and the "Feats of Strength."
Michael Tennenhouse, 18, said he was home in Springfield on winter break, taking in impeachment hearings at the Capitol, when he came across a nativity scene, a menorah and an atheist group's display in the rotunda. The exhibits have stirred up controversies, all of which struck Tennenhouse as silly.
I also remember a story I heard years ago. It seems that a missionary had trouble translating important concepts to a tribe in the Amazon. So now, years later, the tribe build an enormous mound of earth and entertain it all day on December 25th. Because on this day, the ton of sod was bored, you see.
Yeah, I know, but I can't get it out of my head.
Another gap in the fossil record has gotten filled:
In a new study of a fossil fish that lived 375 million years ago, scientists are finding striking evidence of the intermediate steps by which some marine vertebrates evolved into animals that walked on land.
The scientists said in a report being published Thursday in the journal Nature that the research exposed delicate details of the creature's head and neck, confirming and elaborating on its evolutionary position as "an important stage in the origin of terrestrial vertebrates."
There seem to be two possibilities here, depending on whether you're voting for Barack Obama or that other one. In the reality-based world, one would say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; this fossil, being entirely consistent with the prevailing explanation of how life evolved on earth, just adds one more bit in favor of it.
Senator McCain's running mate, on the other hand, would say either the scientists made it up, or God did, leaving unanswered the obvious question: why bother? I've never understood that.
Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers sued God, had the case dismissed (God wasn't properly served, you see), and may appeal on the grounds that an omiscient God by definition has adequate notice of the suit. I think he may not be entirely serious, though:
Chambers filed the lawsuit last year seeking a permanent injunction against God. He said God has made terroristic threats against the senator and his constituents in Omaha, inspired fear and caused "widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants."
Chambers has said he filed the lawsuit to make the point that everyone should have access to the courts regardless of whether they are rich or poor.
One skeptic to another, dude: your tactics may not be the most effective of those available to you. (It's worth noting the legislator has served for 38 years.)
Not sure what to make of this in the 21st century:
Penis theft panic hits city
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.
Wow. From Kinshasa's police chief, Jean-Dieudonne Oleko:
"[W]hen you try to tell the victims that their penises are still there, they tell you that it's become tiny or that they've become impotent. To that I tell them, 'How do you know if you haven't gone home and tried it?'"
Via Talking Points Memo, Donny and Marie have endorsed Romney. They also endorse the idea that the Angel Moroni spoke to Joseph Smith and told him that the word of God was written on a collection of golden plates buried (conveniently) near his home; that native Americans spoke European languages and were white; and that white men quite literally rule all others.
Lest you think I'm inflating the religious issue, perhaps drawing too close an inference that having a world-view based on the demonstrably irrational and fantastic writings of a deeply disturbed individual is somehow incompatible with having nuclear launch codes handy, here is Donny Osmond's rationale for his endorsement:
Donny Osmond said Romney's candidacy has been "absolutely wonderful for the Mormon Church" because it has made many more Americans curious about their faith.
Marie added punctuation:
And Marie Osmond had this to say when asked whether Romney should give a speech on his religion similar to the one that John F. Kennedy gave during the 1960 campaign before becoming the nation's first Catholic president: "I hope we've grown up since then. I hope people look at the person and what they've done."
You're right, Marie, Mitt Romney is not John F. Kennedy. Romney supports theocracy, Constitution be damned, while Kennedy quite famously told the country "I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me." So the Osmonds' endorsement, couched as it is in religious terms, and Romney's refusal to distance himself from it, may not be the triviality it seems to be. And I'm not sure that sauntering toward religious rule, no matter what the religion, means we've "grown up."
Don't even start me on Romney's record.
From Christopher Hitchens: "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."