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Comment: Re:Only YEC denies it (Score 4, Interesting) 669

by damienl451 (#48259551) Attached to: Pope Francis Declares Evolution and Big Bang Theory Are Right
Many evangelicals will be willing to grant some kind of natural selection that you'd have to be blind not to accept. They won't insist that the earth was created a couple thousand years ago. But my experience is that you'd better not say that you accept evolution unless you want all the zany people, whether young or old earth, to start trying to talk you out of it every opportunity they get. In the average evangelical church, an outspoken "evolutionist" would be marginalized and de facto excluded from positions of leaderships.

Yes, most churches won't come out and say that you need to be a YEC or a OEC. But they'll still have that double standard that someone who talks about Adam and Eve being directly, physically created by God will never have any problem, while those who point out that it's scientifically inaccurate will be labeled intolerant, divisive, unfit for leadership, etc.

Around 30% of evangelicals accept evolution. And that's with a very generous definition of evolution that allows for God to guide the process. If you ask people whether they think evolution is true and that was due to natural processes, i.e. the scientific consensus, you're down to 8%. I'm wondering if the Pope is not also leaving the door open to that when he says "evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve".

And note that many among the 30% are not the most committed people. If you were to look at the leadership and other influential people in churches, the percentage would be a lot lower.

Comment: Re:Can you stop your patronizing already ? (Score 2) 322

by damienl451 (#47824027) Attached to: The Argument For a Hypersonic Missile Testing Ban
It's not patronizing to point out that both Russia and China are much poorer countries that the US. All you need to do is look at their GDP/capita figures to see the wide gap. As for scholastic achievements, cross-country comparisons are always difficult especially when dealing with non-democratic countries that need to look good for propaganda purposes. Examining the latest PISA figures, it doesn't look like Russian students fare better than Americans. Russia and the US have similar scores for math, but Americans are better at reading and science. Unfortunately, no data is available for China as a whole. Students in Shanghai perform much better than Americans but this is comparing apples and oranges and I doubt that students in poorer, rural areas of China would score as high.

Comment: Re:Hamas are Terrorists (Score 4, Insightful) 402

by damienl451 (#47594531) Attached to: The High-Tech Warfare Behind the Israel - Hamas Conflict
Two-state solution = apartheid. Would the ANC have accepted a two-state solution in South Africa, which would only have vindicated the racist ideology of white South Africans who claimed that blacks and whites had to be separate? That's something that pro-Israel people never understand. Whenever someone says 'apartheid', they'll talk to you about the Arab minority in Israel, which completely misses the point. Apartheid, in this case, refers to the fact that, in the area that is historically known as Palestine, there is apartheid in that the goal is to have a Jewish state and a Palestinian state even though both groups believe that they have claims over the entire land.

This is why it's very different from many other conflicts: in Ukraine, for instance, you could potentially partition the land since you have a rather clear line dividing east and west over language and political views. Same in (South) Sudan for instance where you could separate majority Muslim populations from majority Christian ones. Not so much in Palestine, at least if you go back to 1946 before there were large population transfers.

If you look at population statistics from that era, you find that Palestinians outnumbered Jews virtually everywhere. If you had had a free and fair referendum and assuming that people would have voted along ethnic lines (why would Jews vote against having their own state, why would Palestinians decide that they wanted to be ruled by Jews), the Jewish state would have been the Jaffa region, period. And that's a huge problem. The right to self-determination is not only for white people, even though it took Western countries close to 20 years to finally realize that. The Jewish people certainly had the right to go to Palestine, purchase land following willing-buyer-willing-seller principles and perhaps one day become a majority there. I believe in open borders, so I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is when people claim that the fact that their ancestors may or may not have been forced to leave that area 2000 years ago means that they now have a right to exclude people who are currently living there. We all have roots somewhere in modern-day Kenya, that doesn't mean it's now okay for me to go and colonize that place. There's been invasions, etc. for thousands of years everywhere on earth and we don't go back 2000 or 3000 years to see who *really* has a claim on the land.

Comment: Re:Hamas are Terrorists (Score 1) 402

by damienl451 (#47594205) Attached to: The High-Tech Warfare Behind the Israel - Hamas Conflict
Of course, it depends on what you mean by 'recognize Israel's right to exist". If it means that the Palestinians are supposed to say that it's fine for the Israelis to keep their own separate state while they're confined to their little Bantustans, then it's no wonder that they're not so keen on doing this. The two-state solution is literally apartheid since it involves separating the inhabitants of Palestine based on their ethnicity/religion and letting them develop separately.

Comment: Re:Poor Israel (Score 2) 402

by damienl451 (#47594093) Attached to: The High-Tech Warfare Behind the Israel - Hamas Conflict
The amazing thing about propagandists is that one day they'll tell us how great Gaza is and how Palestinians are all liars who want to make it sound like they have it bad ( Then the next they'll come and tell us that Gaza has been chaotic since 2005, presumable because Palestinians are too dumb for self-rule. Plus you have to define 'pulled out completely'. It seems to me that the IDF has been reentering Gaza periodically since 2005 and that Israel still maintains a large degree of control over what and who gets to enter and leave Gaza. They just realized that it was much easier to cordon off the area and do some "grass mowing" (seriously, that's how they refer to it) from time to time, rather than directly maintain occupation in the midst of a hostile population and widespread international condemnation.

Comment: Re:Thanks for the pointless scaremongering (Score 1) 409

That must be one of the main reasons, in addition to perhaps trying out some experimental treatments.

People are complaining about them being flown in now, but give it enough time and they would have found a way to blame the Obama administration for not helping these heroes. Imagine the accusations that they deliberately left them to die because they were conservative Christian missionaries. The mid-terms are coming up in November.

Call me cynical, but this is the best thing that's ever happened to Samaritan's Purse. They're a VERY controversial organization whose president is known for saying that the Obama administration has the “the spirit of Anti-Christ" and for supporting Putin's anti-homosexuality bill. A lot of their work involves using people's needs to try to convert them to Christianity. They're one of the few large organizations that have never signed the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief. Everyone else has: secular ones like Doctors without Borders or Save the Children, but also all the large faith-based organizations (World Vision, Caritas, UMCOR, Norwegian Church Aid, etc.). It's actually cost them money since some organizations require that they become signatories before they grant them money, so it's a deliberate decision. Probably because it requires that "aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint", which is the main reason why Samaritan's Purse exist.

Until this week, when people heard "Samaritan's Purse", they thought "sending evangelical tracts to children in developing countries". Now they'll think "heroic missionary who risked his life/died for the poor". If you check out their website, you'll see that their PR machine is in full motion. Even the statements from the family were obviously written by a professional PR person and are all about how their faith means that they're all fine and happy regardless of what happens, the wonderful support that their God from their church, etc.

Comment: Re:Actually they ARE working on some treatments. (Score 2) 409

I don't believe he was working on them. He is a medical missionary, not a researcher, and the experimental drug was flown in after he had become sick. So, no, he's had no special treatment before. Just a regular guy straight out of residency who had gone to Liberia to provide regular medical care and found himself in the middle of an Ebola epidemic.

Why are they flying him in? Good question. Although it's very unlikely that Ebola would start spreading in the US, there may be isolated cases, which means that it could be a good idea to see what can be done in a more controlled environment, as you point out. Plus it might allow the family to say goodbye to them if they're not gonna recover. Sooner or later, people would have complained that America/Obama/Democrats let down two American heroes who were left to die in a foreign country when perhaps they could have been saved. Especially if they're missionaries working with a rather polarizing organization.

Comment: No so sure about this (Score 4, Insightful) 91

by damienl451 (#47564533) Attached to: Reglue: Opening Up the World To Deserving Kids With Linux Computers

Can we please stop with the "children who have no PC will be at a disadvantage in the classroom" charade? Computers are great and useful, but we don't need to pretend that they will magically help children do better in school. If anything, the limited evidence available from larger-scale voucher programs suggests that they may very well reduce test scores. Which is rather intuitive. Sure, you can use your computer to do your homework and prepare your next presentation. But you can also use it to play games or go on Facebook and Buzzfeed instead of doing more productive tasks. If you're a child with low impulse control/intrinsic motivation to study, having a PC only means one more source of distraction.

This kind of program appeals to nerds like us because we remember getting our first PC, learning how to use Linux to set up our first home server, learning how to code, spending a lot of time online acquiring new knowledge, etc. That's literally the first paragraph of the article. But we're not the average person. Most children will not do that: ask non-nerds around you how they felt about the time their parents bought their first computer and you'll get a "meh" because, in the pre-internet era, you could easily see them as glorified typewriters if you weren't a nerd. Nowadays, the average child will start playing Flash games on the web and be content. And gaming is much more fun than doing your homework.

I think it's also good to distinguish between "cannot afford a computer" and "does not think a computer is worth the cost". What I mean is, if instead of providing a computer or a voucher that can only be used to buy a computer, charities gave people $200 (enough to buy a Chromebook or Chromebox that's sufficient for all school-related uses), would they go out and buy a PC? Or is it a paternalistic endeavor that insists that poor households REALLY need a PC because WE couldn't live without one, so they must just not know what's good for them? Of course, if you give away something for free, people will take it. That doesn't mean they value it as much as you think they do. I see that they're trying to identify people who really need it, so kudos to them, but it's difficult and, so far, willingness to pay remains to best way to do that. Provided of course that people have enough money to have real options. This is where I start my rant about how charities are at best a stop-gap solution fraught with problems such as the fact that people always start them because they think they know what poor people REALLY need ("a PC", "no, toys", "no, cans of food", etc.). What about: a decent income so they can make their own choices rather than having to rely on handouts?

At least, when it comes to PCs, money is quickly becoming a non-issue. A Pi with case, keyboard, mouse and Wifi dongle can be purchased for perhaps $60-$70. Spend a little more and you can buy a Banana Pi or another cheap Chinese ARM machine. When you factor in the time it takes to check that donated computers still work well, set up the Linux OS, coordinate donations, etc., I'm sure 'free' PCs end up being more expensive.

Comment: Re:france has law designed to protect bookshop (Score 1) 309

I've seen this argument on many French websites, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

Before the law:
- €10 book on Amazon: €9.5 (+free shipping)
- €10 book in a bookstore: €9.5 (+ no need to ship it, though the store is free to offer it)

After the law:
- €10 book on Amazon: €10.01
- €10 book in a bookstore: €9.5

Clearly, this tilts the balance in favor of bookstores who can now sell books cheaper than Amazon. They didn't just fix the law, which already ensured that both Amazon and other stores had to sell the book at the same price, but they made books more expensive on Amazon.

You could say that offering free shipping is an extra advantage that should be taken into account. But not only could other stores also offer free shipping if they wanted to, they also offer other advantages that have value to the customer: advice, instant availability, free gift wrap, etc. Why is free shipping any different?

This goes far beyond what the previous iteration of the law did. When the law was passed in the 1980s, no-one suggested that big box stores should be prohibited from offering free parking since that put downtown bookstores at a clear disadvantage.

Comment: Re: Not France vs US (Score 4, Informative) 309

Actually, the law says no such thing. Before this new law, booksellers in France could sell a book with at most a 5% discount relative to the mandatory price set by the publisher. The idea was to prevent supermarkets and larger booksellers from competing on price and driving smaller shops out of business. In the 1980s, it made some sense, as people were afraid that supermarkets would only stock bestsellers and that smaller shops were necessary to ensure the availability of more specialized, less popular books. Back then, the only people shipping books were mail-order book clubs, which re-published bestsellers after a year or two and did not have much market share.

With the advent of the internet, booksellers started complaining that Amazon and FNAC were too successful. Since they could offer both the 5% discount and free shipping, customers paid as little as it was legally possible and enjoyed the extra convenience of not having to visit several bookshops to find the rare book that they'd been looking for. This is definitely a good thing for consumers and Amazon takes care of the long tail much more effectively and efficiently than smaller booksellers. Plus everyone was treated equally: smaller shops could also offer free shipping if they wanted to: they just could not afford it due to the lower volumes involved. Amazon can negotiate very good shipping rates and buy books much cheaper. Publishers sell them their books with a 50% discount, versus 30-40% for smaller bookstores.

The law now says that you can still offer a 5% discount BUT, if you ship the book to the customer, this 5% discount must be deducted from the shipping fees, which cannot amount to zero. Thus, if Amazon sells a €10 book, they probably charge a €0.51 shipping fee, which ends up being €0.01 after the 5% discount. They're still at a disadvantage since a physical store can sell the same book for €9.5. Which means that the law now clearly favors physical stores, much more than it did small bookstores vs supermarkets before.

Comment: Re: Not France vs US (Score 1) 309

France does not prohibit websites from storing credit card information. The regulations say that the merchant must first ask the customer whether they agree to let them store their CC information. If the customer agrees, the customer name, CC number and expiry date can be stored in an encrypted format. What cannot be stored is the CVV number.

This is a common-sense rule that minimizes the risks of identity theft and fraudulent use of credit cards in case customer information gets in the wild, as has happened repeatedly in recent years.

Comment: Re:This just illustrates (Score 2) 365

by damienl451 (#47339749) Attached to: Germany's Glut of Electricity Causing Prices To Plummet

They already do it, but negative prices are a rare occurrence and it's probably not worth investing in additional capacity. Storage and reducing production are both more expensive than paying people to accept the extra electricity. In a way, this is the same as installing resistors, except that you're just letting other people dispose of the electricity without incurring capital expenses yourself.

Comment: Not a coding opportunity (Score 1) 155

by damienl451 (#47292731) Attached to: Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics?

I spend a lot of time writing R code, with occasional forays into SAS-land. But I don't really consider it a coding opportunity, nor would I want people like me to do the actual lower-level coding that is needed to make these software packages work adequately (yes, I know that lots of function in R are written in R, but there's still a majority of C/Fortran code under the hood. Because I'm not a computer scientist or a software engineer. I can write ok code in that it runs, does what it needs to do, and is not grotesquely inefficient. But I have no interest in writing production-quality, well-optimized code since I only want to get statistical results as easily as possible. I enjoy writing the code, but it's a purely utilitarian endeavor and definitely not something that would make me employable in the software industry. Which is okay since my comparative advantage is analyzing and interpreting data, but means that there's room for CS graduates and 'code monkeys'.

Comment: Re:Yep. (Score 1) 649

by damienl451 (#47270733) Attached to: Teaching Creationism As Science Now Banned In Britain's Schools

The largest US denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention, which a) is rather big on creationism, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" and b) is not connected to the Church of England. Their "ancestors" are English nonconformists who were being discriminated against in England because they did not belong to the state church.

Historically, Baptists were staunch defenders of the separation of church and state. For instance, the phrase "wall of separation" has its origins in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist association, who had stated their belief that "Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals" and "that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor".

However, now that conservative Christians and Southern Baptists are the majority in many places, they have decided that having government support for their own brand of religion was rather attractive. It's very important for a religion to maintain a plausibility structure: it's much easier to keep people "in" and to find new adherents when your brand of religion is the default option, is very visible in public, has prominent people within its ranks (evangelical Christians and Tim Tebow, scientologists and famous actors, etc.), and is considered "reasonable". Teaching "the controversy" reinforces the plausibility structure of conservative Christianity by making it look like YEC and evolution are two equally reasonable hypotheses about origins, which only differ in terms of presuppositions (atheism vs theism).

To go back to the OP, the only denomination that is directly connected to the Church of England is the Episcopal Church, which is one of the most progressive denominations. I'd suspect that, in terms of ethics, many Episcopalians would find more common ground with humanists than with a conservative Baptist.

Comment: Re:It works for Delaware, too. (Score 4, Insightful) 155

by damienl451 (#47213357) Attached to: Apple To Be Investigated By the EU Over Tax Affairs

They cannot just emulate them. Ireland derives their advantage from their having low taxes relative to other countries, not from having low taxes in absolute terms. What you suggest is a global race to the bottom, which may be the default "solution" in the absence of effective mechanisms for collective action. Each country has an incentive to attract more business by lowering tax rates, but, if all of them lower rates, most of them will probably end up with lower total revenues than if they could just strike an agreement not to engage in tax competition. This is what the European Union is trying to do.

Whether it is good or bad depends on what you think the effects will be and on how important a weight you place on the welfare of large multinational companies (or rather, some combination of their employees, customers and shareholders, since the tax burden falls on people) versus the public purse and the welfare of their smaller competitors.

This is one of the main reasons why countries are up in arms against these companies. Until recently, Starbucks was not paying corporate tax in the UK. Now, perhaps they were truly unprofitable, although it's hard to believe that such an iconic company would spend more than 14 years constantly opening stores without ever turning a profit AND would also tell investors that its UK operations were profitable when they were not. And there must be something deeply wrong with the UK market since many large, generally profitable companies (Apple, Google, Facebook) often fail to turn a profit there.

The real reason of course is that they use outdated tax laws that were never meant to apply to the kind of international transactions that are possible today to artificially record profits where they will be taxed the least. This is perfectly legal but contrary to the spirit of the tax agreements that were originally meant to prevent rather than encourage tax avoidance. The arms' length principle worked well when a UK company used to buy tomatoes from its Spanish subsidiary to make soup (there are publicly-available market prices for tomatoes), but not so much today when it comes to valuing the right to use the Starbucks logo, name, products and processes. If you manage to pay artificially-inflated fees to a shell corporation in a tax-haven or another EU country that you have made a deal with, you can make it look as if you did not make any profit in a country regardless of its actual profitability.

This makes no sense at all: how much you pay in tax is not a function of real economic factors but of how transactions between units within the company were structured on paper. And it is greatly unfair to smaller competitors who will have to pay taxes. Why should a small coffee shop pay at least 20% on its profits while Starbucks gets to pay a much lower rate even if it sells the same amount of coffee for the same price and has the same cost structure apart from the gimmick of using its own intellectual property?

Somebody's terminal is dropping bits. I found a pile of them over in the corner.