Saturday, November 17, 2007

Observing Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving it might be a good idea, just to deepen our understanding of why we celebrate the day, to watch a movie. Not just any movie but a movie that will impress upon us how glad we should be that we live in the United States and not somewhere else.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • The Lives of Others
  • The Pianist
  • Schindler's List
  • Beyond the Gates
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • Blood Diamond
  • Tears of the Sun

They're each R-rated, with all that that entails, so be advised, but each of them in its own way will make you thankful every minute that you watch it that you're an American living in this country at this time in history.

If anyone can think of other suggestions send them in via our feedback function by Wednesday, and I'll post them.


Coming to a Mosque Near You

This is a glimpse of what radical Muslims are blowing themselves up for in order to impose it upon your children:

A court in the ultra-conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia is punishing a female victim of gang rape with 200 lashes and six months in jail, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

The 19-year-old woman -- whose six armed attackers have been sentenced to jail terms -- was initially ordered to undergo 90 lashes for "being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape," the Arab News reported.

But in a new verdict issued after Saudi Arabia's Higher Judicial Council ordered a retrial, the court in the eastern town of Al-Qatif more than doubled the number of lashes to 200.

A court source told the English-language Arab News that the judges had decided to punish the woman further for "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media."

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict Islamic doctrine known as Wahhabism and forbids unrelated men and women from associating with each other, bans women from driving and forces them to cover head-to-toe in public.

This story actually gets worse. Read the rest at the link.


A Uniquely Human Gift

Perhaps you've been wondering lately about the state of research into demonstrating the close kinship between apes and humans by teaching apes how to express themselves in language.

If so, you might be interested in an article by Clive Wynne in Skeptic. Wynne concludes that, contrary to popular misconception, all attempts to teach genuine language to apes have failed.

He notes that:

[T]he French philosopher Ren� Descartes observed that, "it is very remarkable that there are none so depraved and stupid, without even excepting idiots, that they cannot arrange different words together, forming of them a statement by which they make known their thoughts; while, on the other hand, there is no other animal, however perfect and fortunately circumstanced it may be, which can do the same." Descartes' opinion had survived three centuries unthreatened by possible contradiction....

But then researchers set about in the 1960s and 70s to teach apes to express themselves using signs and symbols. The hope among some was that if apes had the ability to develop language skills of some sort it would provide evidence of our evolutionary relationship. After some initially exciting results enthusiasm subsequently waned, and Wynne concludes:

Descartes was right, there really are no beasts, no matter how fortunately circumstanced, that can make known their thoughts through language. Next time you see [an ape] on a television documentary, turn down the sound so you can just watch what he is doing without interpretation from the ape's trainers. See if that really appears to be language. Somewhere in the history of our kind there must have been the first beings who could rearrange tokens to create new meanings, to distinguish Me Banana from Banana Me. But the evidence from many years of training apes to press buttons or sign in ASL (American Sign Language), is that this must have happened sometime after we split off from chimps, bonobos, and gorillas. Since then we have been talking to ourselves.

The problem is that apes can be taught to manipulate symbols but they cannot be taught (or have not been taught) grammar, which is the essence of language. This appears to be a uniquely human capability and thus the distance between us and our alleged anthropoid cousins seems to widen the more we learn about both them and us.

As we've noted before, it must be frustrating to be a Darwinian materialist nowadays. So little of what science is discovering about the world seems to support that view.