Friday, December 16, 2005


Who is turning Christmas into a war zone? Most of us in America are happy we can believe as we wish and pray or not pray as we wish without fear that the government will come knocking down our doors to ask us to take loyalty oaths to it's idea of god. Aint it great? So what's with these unelected Christians who run around like thought police trying to make everyone think and speak exactly as they want them to speak and think? Smacks an awfully lot of those unelected talibans in Afghanistan who ran around making everyone think and believe as they believed when chaos ruled there. These Christian folk are pretty scary people aren't they?


Read to the end of this informative passage about statistical realities, pages 142-143 from THE ANCESTOR'S TALE, and you'll see more than one reason that I include it. The passage begins with a familiar but intriguing explanation of how the ancestors of some species evolved after those ancestors "probably" rafted from one continent to another or island to another in a long ago evolutionary past.

[Open quote.] This is a good moment to repeat that the improbability of a rafting event is very far from being a reason for doubting that it happened. This sounds surprising. Usually, in everyday life, massive improbability is a good reason for thinking that something won't happen. The point about intercontinental rafting of monkeys, or rodents or anything else, is that it only had to happen once, and the time available for it to happen, in order to have momentous consequences, is way outside what we can grasp intuitively. The odds against a floating mangrove bearing a pregnant female monkey and reaching landfall in any one year may be ten thousand to one against. That sounds tantamount to impossible by the lights of human experience. But given 10 million years it becomes almost inevitable. Once it happened, the rest was easy. The lucky female gave birth to a family, which eventually became a dynasty, which eventually branched to become all the species of New World monkeys. It only had to happen once: great things then grew from small beginnings.

In any case, accidental rafting is not nearly so rare as you might think. Small animals are often seen on flotsam. And the animals aren't always small. The green iguana is typically a metre long and can be up to two metres. I quote from a note to Nature by Ellen J. Censky and others:

"On 4 October 1995, at least 15 individuals of the green iguana, Iguana iguana, appeared on the eastern beaches of Anguilla in the Caribbean. This species did not previously occur on the island. They arrived on a mat of logs and uprooted trees, some of which were more than 30 feet long and had large root masses. Local fishermen say the mat was extensive and took two days to pile up on shore. They reported seeing iguanas on both the beach and on logs in the bay."

The iguanas were presumably roosting in trees on some other island, which were uprooted and sent to sea by a hurricane: either Luis, which had raged through the Eastern Caribbean on (5 September, or Marilyn, a fortnight later. Neither hurricane hit Anguilla. Censky and her colleagues subsequently caught or sighted green iguanas on Anguilla, and on an islet half a kilometre off shore. The population still survived on Anguilla in 1998 and included at least one reproductively active female. Iguanas and related lizards, by the way, are especially good at colonising islands, all over the world. Iguanas even occur on Fiji and Tonga, which are much more remote than the West Indian islands.

I can't resist remarking how chilling this kind of 'it only had to happen once' logic becomes when you apply it to contingencies nearer home. The principle of nuclear deterrence, and the only remotely defensible justification for possessing nuclear weapons, is that nobody will dare risk a first strike, for fear of massive retaliation. What are the odds against a mistaken missile launch: a dictator who goes mad; a computer system that malfunctions; an escalation of threats that gets out of hand? The present leader of the largest nuclear power in the world (I am writing in 2003) thinks the word is 'nucular' He has never given any reason to suggest that his wisdom or his intelligence outperforms his literacy. He has demonstrated a predilection for 'preemptive' first strikes. What are the odds against a terrible mistake, initiating Armageddon? A hundred to one against, within any one year? I would be more pessimistic. We came awfully close in 1963, and that was with an intelligent President. In any case, what might happen in Kashmir? Israel? Korea? Even if the odds per year are as low as one in a hundred, a century is a very short time, given the scale of the disaster we are talking about. It only has to happen once. [Close quote.]


My current bedside going to sleep reading is BETTE DAVIS SPEAKS by Boze Hadleigh. My carry around in backpack sitting over coffee at Starbucks or Rocket reading book is THE FARFARERS by Farley Mowat. I love his name. This next quarter instead of algebra I'm going to take a philosophy course with Doctor Glen Cosby over at SCC called "Modern Philosophical Problems". The fliers posted on the wall over at the school have the word "god" on them. Should be fun. I wonder what comic book Bush is reading.


Saw a Dove covered sign plastered on the window of some gas guzzler which read, CHRISTIANS UNITE. VOTE BUSH.

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