What's New | 7 Apr 23:27 2006

What's New Friday April 7, 2006

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 7 Apr 06   Washington, DC

1. MISSING LINK: FILLING IN ALL THOSE "GAPS" IN DARWIN'S THEORY. 
Every attempt to require public schools to teach alternatives to
evolution has emphasized the "gaps" in Darwin's theory.  In 1859,
when Darwin published "The Origin of Species," it was all gaps. 
It was Darwin's theory that gave organization to the collecting
of fossils, creating the science of paleontology.  The only
surprise is how complete the fossil record has gotten in only 150
years.  Two reports in yesterday's issue of Nature, beautifully
bridged a remaining gap.  Fossils of a 375-million-year-old fish
were found in the Canadian arctic, 600 miles from the North Pole. 
It was a fish with a swivel head, a wrist and an elbow, clearly a
transition between fish and land-dwelling animals.  It seems to
be a perfect candidate for the hypothesized intermediate species.

2. MISSING GENES: FINDING THE KEY THAT OPENS DARWIN'S BLACK BOX. 
It was a lousy day for intelligent design, which has had a lot of
bad days lately.  Even as a missing link showed up on the pages
of Nature, a report in Science from the University of Oregon
showed how a new hormone-receptor pair evolved.  An existing
molecule, created for a different role, was recruited to do the
new job.  The lead author, Joseph Thornton, believes this may be
common in the evolution of complex systems.  Hormone-receptor
pairs would seem to be an example of what intelligent-design guru
Michael Behe calls "irreducible complexity" (ID).  One without
the other would be useless.  However, Behe scoffed to the NY
Times that Hormone-receptor pairs aren't really ID.  Either he's
still a little cranky from the Dover trial, or he just prefers
miracles http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn102105.html . 
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What's New | 14 Apr 22:06 2006

What's New Friday April 14, 2006

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 14 Apr 06   Washington, DC

1. LUNACY: THE "LUNAR CRATER OBSERVATION AND SENSING SATELLITE." 
The excitement is palpable at NASA.  If all goes well, Americans
could be landing on the Moon in 2018, just 49 years after the
Apollo 11 moon landing.  Aside from a spacecraft to get us there,
all we need is a reason, and NASA is working on that.  In 2009,
an SUV-sized spacecraft will smash into the Moon's south pole,
making a big hole and sending up a plume of debris.  The last
time they tried this was the 1999 Lunar Prospector.  It didn't
kick up squat, so they're gonna hit it harder.  What they hope to
see in the plume is water.  Water would allow astronauts to "live
off the land," and "could be used to make fuel," Michael Griffin,
the NASA Administrator explained.  They are free to use my faucet
if it would solve the fuel crisis here on Earth.

2. ISS: COSMONAUT TO HIT THE GOLF SHOT HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD. 
The new Commander of the space station, Pavel Vinogradov, plans
to drive a gold-plated golf ball from a special platform during
an August space walk.  Element 21 Golf, a Canadian company, paid
the Russian space agency an undisclosed amount to allow the
stunt.  It would commemorate the 35th anniversary of a golf shot
Allan Shepard hit on the Moon during Apollo 14.  Taxpayers were
not amused by Shepard's antics, which appeared to trivialize the
space program, but on the space station it seems appropriate.

3. MIRACLE MEDICINE: WILL GOING TO CHURCH HELP YOU LIVE LONGER?
The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine published a
study by Dr. Daniel Hall of the University of Pittsburgh Medical
Center who found that people who attend weekly religious services
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What's New | 21 Apr 20:42 2006

What's New Friday April 21, 2006

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 21 Apr 06   Tucson, AZ

  1. "NUKULER" OPTION: BUSH HEARS FROM 13 PROMINENT PHYSICISTS. 
  Five are Nobel laureates, three are former presidents of the
  American Physical Society and all thirteen believe the use of
  nuclear weapons against Iran would be "gravely irresponsible." 
  Their letter to President Bush was prompted by media reports
  that the White House had called on the Pentagon to prepare a
  plan for a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities,
  which are, unfortunately, largely underground.  No problem! 
  What are nuclear bunker-busters for?  Jorge Hirsch at UCSD was
  behind the letter to the President.  Last fall Hirsch
  organized a petition signed by more than 1,800 physicists that
  opposed any policy of preemptive nuclear strikes against non-
  nuclear adversaries.  Iran, unfortunately, is dying to be a
  nuclear adversary.  It's hard to tell how far they've gotten,
  and how much is just the old Muslim custom of shouting and
  waving their guns in the air.  There has been no response to
  the physicist's letter from the White House, which is not
  surprising since Bush's long-time policy advisor, Karl Rove,
  has been sent packing.  The President's plunging popularity
  raises concern that he might try something really dumb,
  whether he can pronounce it or not. 

  2. DEPRESSION: CORTISOL LEVELS AND THE NEWS FROM WASHINGTON. 
  When our Pleistocene ancestors saw movement in the tall grass,
  their brains released stress hormones, increasing heart rate
  and respiration, dilating eyes to increase awareness and
  diverting blood from the digestive tract to arms and legs. 
  The body was preparing to fight, or run very fast in the
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What's New | 28 Apr 22:44 2006

What's New Friday April 28, 2006

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 28 Apr 06   Washington, DC

1. LEAKS: THE CONFLICT BETWEEN DEMOCRACY AND GOVERNMENT SECRECY.  
CIA officer Mary McCarthy denies having disclosed the existence
of CIA-run prisons in Eastern Europe for suspected terrorists. 
But if she did leak it, she deserves the gratitude of every
American.  As Americans learned of Nazi atrocities in WWII, the
usual reaction was, "they couldn't get American boys to do that." 
Now we outsource it.  Conscientious government employees, willing
to risk their careers by leaking classified information Americans
should know about, may be the only check on government excesses
carried out behind the curtain of national security.  Governments
everywhere love official secrecy; it gives them total control
over information flow.  President Bush doesn't leak.  As former
White House press secretary Scott McClellan explained, anything
the President says publically is automatically declassified.

2. PASSING GAS: MAYBE HIGH GASOLINE PRICES AREN'T THE PROBLEM. 
The outcry over the price at the pump has politicians scurrying
to come up with immediate relief: Republican Senators proposed
putting a $100 bill under everybody's pillow.  This is direct and
simple.  In fact, it's the perfect response to every complaint,
not just high gas prices.  Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) called for a 60-
day suspension of the federal tax on fuel.  That'll work too, but
people will be even happier if we make it permanent.  After all,
the national debt is so far out of control it no longer matters. 
Republicans also want to start exploring for oil in wildlife
refuges.  That won't help much in the short term, but a chance to
screw environmentalists doesn't come up every day.  In short,
American ingenuity will find a way.  Or we could just let gas
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