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Showing posts from September, 2006

Scrambled eggs and Mao

Last September 22, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Hermogenes Esperon attended a symposium on "Untamed Conflict and Arrested Development: Finding a Way Out of the Vicious Cycle" at the University of the Philippines. This forum was sponsored by the Association of Political Science Majors.

On the way out the General and Professor Alex Magno were pelted with eggs. A woman army officer was hit in the face and the Prof had to lecture with a suit of scrambled eggs.

The protesters belonged to the STAND -UP and League of Filipino Students (LFS). These groups subscribe to a Maoist ideology. While all sorts of ideologies are tolerated on campus, violation of freedom of expression and academic freedom are not.

While I may believe that Prof Magno is entitled to his own opinions and that I think he is an apologist for Mrs Arroyo, this time I have to agree with him. In his "Philippine Star" column today he was saddened about the level of debate in the University of t…

Some thoughts on gender and sex

Some social scientists say that gender is a social construct and that society tends to agree on the roles of its members. Some natural scientists working within the Darwin-Wallace paradigm would say that sex is linked to gender and the biological construct (a product of natural selection) tends to form the basis of the social construct. Thus to some evolutionary biologists, there are only two apparent sexes, male and female.

To some extent this is true, most animals and plants are recognizably male and female. Some plants would have the two sexes in one organism, but still the male reproductive organ is distinct from that of the female one. One of the biggest questions of biology is why there is a need for a male and female. What advantages does sex confer? And what is the tradeoff? Should males and females be in competition? Is gender necessary for sex?

There is one school of thought that say males and females in order to be evolutionary stable should not be in competition with each ot…

On the Professor Pope's latest lecture.

Pope Joseph Ratzinger now known as Benedict XVI is an excellent professor. One of the main responsibilities of a professor is to disturb minds so that minds may be opened or shut. A professor cannot ensure that minds will be opened or shut. The responsibility for such belongs to the owner of the mind. Benedict has thrown a heresy on modern society. Our modern society seems to accept the relativeness of moral positions and the supremacy of Science in understanding the world. For many a contrary view is not politically correct. A heresy by another post-modern Western term.

Papa Ratzi's latest lecture in the Great Room (aula magna in Latin) to the science faculties and students of Regensburg is certainly a mind opener. I saw on BBC World the ruckus made by one statement which does not really represent the opinion of the Pope Prof (Prof Pope must sounnd better!) but the opinion of one of the last Byzantine emperors. The Prof Pope's exposition of the subject is historical. He do…

Not secular enough

University of the Philippines law professor and dean, Raul Pangalangan wrote and essay in the Inquirer “ Church-State Separation in the Diliman Republic” Philippine Daily Inquirer 15 September 2006. about Church and State separation in the university. The university denied the request of a civic group to unfurl the largest Philippine flag (that would set a Guinness Book record) and hold a prayer gathering on grounds that this would violate Church and State separation clause in the constitution. The university as a publicly funded institution has to be neutral with regards to religious belief.

That is at the core of the secular principle. But is the University of the Philippines secular enough? Surely it cannot pretend to be separate from the rest of Filipino society the majority of members believe in God, gods and the supernatural. Thus it is interesting that constitutional tests for the secular ideal would be serious business in the UP but rarely on the outside.

One test of a truly se…

Refreshing!

The Vatican has indicated that it will publish the minutes of Pope Benedict XVI's meeting with former students held last summer in his holiday residence at Castel Gandolfo. Surely a meeting (that would have brought memories of a "tute") between a professor and his former students wouldn't merit a yawn in the world press. But if your prof became Pope and the topic was evolution, this would really, really attract the attention of opinion editors and of course bloggers like me.

Even if his predecessor John Paul II had apologised for the Galileo affair and said before the Pontifical Sciences Academy that evolution "was more than a hypothesis" the public perception that the Church still is in conflict with science is hard to kill. And it's no longer just the Catholic Church's fault. The separated brethren churches (read as Protestants) that read the Bible literally have added fire to the controversy. Having lost legal battles in the USA about equal time f…

Language muddle

A recent bill in the Philippine Congress seeks to reestablish English as the language of instruction in the schools. The sponsors of the bill list competitiveness in the global marketplace and workplace as supporting arguments in favour of its passage.

It is true that English is really the world's lingua franca. A great bulk of scientific literature is in that language. The language of electronic media is also in that language. A cliche is that even the Chinese are scrambling to learn the language, why should we abandon it?

The bottom line is competitiveness. If we look at the history of the West, the first lingua franca was probably Greek. (The known Western world was really the Mediterranean). But the Greeks lost the edge largely due to the centralisation of Imperial and later Church authority in Rome. Latin then became the lingua franca. A clear evidence that Greek was once the lingua mundi is in the Canon of the Latin Mass itself. The Latin Mass preserves its Greek origin in …

Crikey!

For Steve Irwin (1962-2006)

There is something strange about our southern land
The land grips and the harshness that is burned into soul
And really not one of us can claim mastery, ownership and all
The best is all we can say, that we are now owned

And the deadlies crawl, slither and surprise
From Barrier Reef to Tasman Heights
And so the Tiger Snake has evolved to eat Mutton Birds
The bushfires one has to deal with
As well as floods that come from the North

And you have gone the way, that I am still afraid
To fall for Nature's barbs, sting and all
But this is the way, you probably wanted it to be
And most of us in the burbs would see it just on the Telly
Or on travel books and natural history guides

Fair Dinkum the pollies proposed
A State Funeral for you, this a complete laugh
Thank God your dad had the sense to chuck it out
For every larrikin bloke would stumble on a grog
Even if this Aussie Icon has done it all about

And an Aussie Icon you really are
And to die on Australian sea is something new
No…

Steve Irwin: In memoriam

The death of Steve Irwin (4 September 2006) came to me as a shock, but hardly a surprise. Anyone who is with nature is exposed to dangerous situations. I was a student in Australia almost a decade ago when Irwin became a global celebrity. He has a unique way of speaking the broad Strine accent. That accent I haven't heard from any true blue Aussie until Irwin came along on the telly.

I got a chance in 1999 to visit Australia Zoo in Beerwah, QLD and saw him go through his routines. Bindi was then a baby. But since then I have followed Irwin's career on Animal Planet and as time ambled along, got tired of his antics. So it was no wonder that his TV show had some major overhauling.

Obviously Irwin is considered as an Aussie Icon. And Aussie Icon who spoke that broad Strine accent with his mouth wide open. Perhaps he had to do some exagerration since he was catering to the American audience. Nonetheless, in a visit to the USA, some of my nephews were big fans of the show.

Irwin'…

Justice Cruz, Manolo Quezon and “A Natural History of Sex”

I have belatedly followed the brouhaha between Justice Isagani Cruz and what he believes are gays’ role in society and the response of some of his critics such as, “The Explainer” Manolo Quezon.

In a democracy, ideas are open for debate and I know that a respected jurist like Mr Justice Cruz knows what the limits of freedom of expression are. But while Justice Cruz and Mr Quezon have a right to their opinions, I’ll dish out some of my own.

Natural scientists and social scientists will have to really define what being gay is. Under the cold logic of Darwinian sexual selection, is gayness functional? What does “functional” mean? Now before I inflame some people, it would be best for them to read Darwin’s “Descent of Man”.

But reading Adrian Forsyth’s “A Natural History of Sex” may be a good starter. I found this book in the really, really bargains pile at the recently concluded Philippine Bookfair in Manila. Forsyth is a leading biodiversity scientist based at the Smithsonian.

Now the whol…

Popping over Pluto's Demotion

Most scientists don’t bother to read Karl Popper. This famous 20th century Philosopher once stated that science progresses by falsifying previously held conclusions. I had to read his thick “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” in preparing to defend my PhD. One of my examiners threw in a few philosophical questions about my scientific theory (if a PhD is to be conferred, the student has to come up with a theory, which is nothing but an explanation about something in nature). For a decent rebuttal, I had to read Popper with popcorn to prevent my head from popping.

After all the troubles and the PhD, I came to appreciate Popper’s statements that scientific conclusions can never be proven despite the experimental evidence in support of it. But a single example contrary to the conclusion clearly falsifies it. It is impossible to prove all swans are white, but a single black one clearly falsifies the idea. So all scientific conclusions are tentative and subject to change once falsified.

What …