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God is no excuse

I’ve had it with being bullied by bigots hiding behind cutouts of gods made in their own image. Enough already.

Burn witches for God. Kill heathens for God. Let people die of Aids for God. And so on and on and on and on. The latest was that God is so huffy about having his picture taken, it was worth killing people over it.

Enough with pretending that these so-called religions pre-empt every other value, from free speech to life itself. To hell with them. Let them go back where they came from.

God is no excuse for killing people. Anyone who pretends so, is not religious. God is no excuse for destroying women. Or for throwing acid in their faces, or for pretending they’re half-human. God is no excuse for letting children starve, while forcing women to produce starving children. God is no excuse for ANY suffering inflicted by one human being on another.

Enough with the rest of us losing all our fight the moment someone pulls out a God-shaped facsimile. The Vatican didn’t condemn the genocide of the Jews when it happened, and it took them damn decades to mumble an apology. Don’t tell me that’s not a shame on all Catholicism. Don’t tell me something is a religion when its leaders would rather protect their priests than condemn sex crimes against children. We’re told that Islam doesn’t actually have anything against women, that all the anti-women sentiment in Islamic countries is cultural. Fine. Then condemn the people who use the religion to justify their “honor” killings and all their hate crimes. Make women judges and imams (and, for the Catholics, priests). Until then, don’t make excuses for hatred.

God is no excuse for spewing hate speech, not even in a sermon. Especially not in a sermon. God is no excuse for spewing lies. If the facts don’t agree with your particular god-story, then tough. God is no excuse to shout down the facts. Especially since God is supposed to have made them.

The irony is that hiding bigotry under a flag full of God is idolatry, in the real meaning of the word. That would be funny, if it didn’t cause oceans of suffering.

People talk of culture wars and clashes of civilizations. Damn right there’s a clash. It’s between people of good faith, with or without a religion, and theocrats dictating how others should live.

It’s time we stopped letting them get away with it. Stop dignifying the theocrats’ excuses with the name of religion. They may be weird cultural practices, or cults, or delusions, or power grabs. People who advocate hurting other people don’t worship God, and we have to stop letting them pretend they do. God is no excuse for the things they do.

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Humans still evolving (No. Really?)

From the NYTimes report: [Requires free registration. Or use BugMeNot for Firefox]

“Providing the strongest evidence yet that humans are still evolving, researchers have detected some 700 regions of the human genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection, a principal force of evolution, within the last 5,000 to 15,000 years.

The genes that show this evolutionary change include some responsible for the senses of taste and smell, digestion, bone structure, skin color and brain function.

Many of these instances of selection may reflect the pressures that came to bear as people abandoned their hunting and gathering way of life for settlement and agriculture, a transition well under way in Europe and East Asia some 5,000 years ago.”

In other news: many trees have green leaves.

I’m sorry, but to me this seems like a “Duh!” moment. Of course humans are still evolving. All Pritchard and company have done is find indications in the DNA that this is so. (These are indications, by the way, and not proof. They are good indications and deserve to be believed, but I expect you will hear people arguing that this isn’t proof.)

The interesting questions are: what kind of selection is happening? Some of it is natural selection, i.e. it has nothing to do with what people admire in mates. Lactose tolerance is probably one of these. People who could benefit from milk survived to reproduce and so their genes for lactose tolerance survived in that population.

Others might be mate selection rather than natural selection. Pritchard and company talk about hair texture genes. It’s hard to see what survival advantage different hair types would bring in a northern climate. (In the tropics, where it can provide an essential insulator, the situation is different.) Hair texture in temperate climates could well be due to the whims of fashion. The important thing to remember here is that sexual selection is notorious for leading to extreme forms that can lead to lower survival rates and even extinction of the whole species. Consider the Irish elk, which developed huge antlers for the purpose of showing off. When the environment changed, and their diet was no longer rich enough to support formation of what was practically an extra skeleton, they ran into big trouble. Sexual selection (and fashion, its young cousin) is an iffy thing.

The other factor is genetic drift. Counterintuitively, random processes can lead to a preponderance of one set of traits. Because of the way reproduction works, once the traits are preponderant, they tend to become even more so. In the end, the minority trait can disappear by random processes alone, without any selection, natural or sexual. Loss of wisdom teeth follows that trajectory. (This is not one of the characteristics the researchers mention.)

The researchers do mention some genes that affect brain development, whose precise function is unknown. The conclusion in the popular press will probably be that these genes must make some people smarter, faster, and better, if not cheaper. Those qualities are so complex, it is highly unlikely that one or a few genes would have much effect on any of them. The brain genes caught in the act of evolving may well do boring things like determine the distribution of glial cells, or affect the blood-brain barrier in subtle ways. They might well be changing by random genetic drift and have no particular significance.

Take all this stuff with many grains of salt. (It tastes better then, too.)

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Solar panel technology takes quantum leap?

Everybody is boggling over the sudden news about a whole new generation of solar panels that have burst upon us from South Africa. So they’re discussed very tentatively (see below). The news first broke in South Africa on February 11, and was reported in Treehugger on Feb 16.

If this is really true, this is the beginning of a new and different world. It’d be nice if we could keep the oil addicts from turning it all gross and greasy, like everything else they touch.

From Pure Energy Systems wiki:

Professor Vivian Alberts of the University of Johannesburg . . . and his team seem to have developed a flexible, thin, metal alloy that is “photo-responsive”. This alloy is said to result in panels with are only 5 micron thick (compared to a human hair at 20 microns, and silicon photovoltaic cells at 350 microns.) Earlier reports (in 2004) indicated the alloy was copper-indium(gallium)-diselenide (CIGS), with another article inferring the panels would have a useful life of about 20 years, with the energy in fabricating them recovered within the first 1-2 years of operation. And that the materials used could all be later recycled to make fresh cells. It is said that a standard family home would need around 30m/sq (“(about the size of a living room”) of CIGS solar panels to meet all its electricity demands.

Unspecified new storage devices (batteries of some sort) and converters have been created alongside these new cells to store the collected energy. It is suggested these new panels can generate electricity even during winter, not requiring direct sunlight to function. Seemingly German investors are behind establishing European plants, which will be producing 1,000 such panels per day, with local South African factories also be contemplated. Much Thanks to TH Tipster Conrad Z. for pointing us to the piece in the ::Cape Argus.

Update, March 20,2006

The “improved solar panels” mystery grows a bit less mysterious. Via Treehugger comments and other sources, the following more detailed info is available.

Eskom (South Africa Electricity Supply Co.) provided some specifics about the panels in June 2005, (information that could, of course, be out of date by now).

Each 60-W panel to be produced is 1,2 m 5 500 mm in size. “The pilot plant has shown the production cost per watt to be €0,95, verified for a 25-MW production facility, assuming a 10% efficiency and average production yield of 85%,” says Alberts.

This means a 60-W panel would cost around R490, or R8 a watt [which equals approx. $1.27 per watt, compared to current technology costing about $5 per watt].

At the moment, intellectual property resides with PT IP Holdco, a company created by the University of Johannesburg.

Arthur Matteson, an electrical engineering graduate student at Michigan State University, noted in comments that the output of the early versions of the panels is similar to current silicon-based panels of similar size, ie 10% rather than 30%. However, cost is noticeably lower.

IFE is the German company that entered into a licensing agreement with PTIP and will be making the panels. (Web site is in German.)

From the company’s press release (pdf) comes the following, possibly rosy, information:

[my translation of small parts of the pdf]

aleo solar GmbH [IFE's manufacturing subsidiary, I believe] has 16% of market share for silicon-based solar panel manufacture in Germany, and will be making the new panels. It is currently ["Spring 2006" is all it says] building the factory in Brandenburg an der Havel with a 30MW capacity, and expects to start delivering product in mid 2007. In 2009, the company expects to have expanded to a 60 MW capacity.

Eskom in South Africa is also supposed to be producing commercial quantities in the near future. On Eskom’s site, there is also mention of an Australian company producing the panels at some point.

Next year [ie 2006], if all goes according to plan, a full-size plant is to be constructed within South Africa.

This plant will be the first production line of solar panels in Africa. Another plant, in Germany, is set to follow [the Germans seem to be beating them to it], and then possibly yet another, in Australia.

The plan is for any one plant to produce 400,000 60-W panels a year, in order to make up a production capacity of 25 MW per plant.

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