Everything Blog

Friday, September 29, 2006

Senate Kills Habeas Amendment on Torture Bill

By Justin Rood - September 28, 2006, 12:21 PM

The Senate just killed an amendment to ensure federal courts could review the legitimacy of individual' imprisonment on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. The amendment had been proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It is a fundamental protection woven into the fabric of our Nation," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who supported the measure. It was defeated 48-51, largely along party lines.

Former torture victim Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), portrayed as a "maverick" by earlier bucking the White House on the issue of detainee treatment, voted against the amendment. The White House also opposes the changes the amendment would make to the bill. Sens. John Warner (R-VA) and Lindsey Graham ( R-S.C.), who had also challenged the White House over the bill, joined McCain in voting against the amendment.

The Senate is expected to vote on -- and pass -- the entire bill later today.

Story about very good sales manager

Was one sales manager. He has gone to get a job. Whether long shortly the resume dispatched, and has somehow come to one office on interview with the general director. Also there was at them an interview six hours. Already both director became wet, and the manager asked three times of water. And all in any way they cannot agree.
They began with two hundred dollars a month - and already for two and a half kilodollar and percent, and bonuses, and any else there sports halls, mobile communications, dinners, elevating, insurances, holiday argue, both, travellers, the machine service, noutbuk, the manager to itself has beaten out a heap of everyone. The general director has surrendered as a result, all conditions has executed. Everything, that the manager asked - has given.
The manager has started work, and for the first month has tripled sales, then ten times, then a hundred times, then in general all in office has sold, including furniture, stationery, the secretary - to dawgs in a pub, a database of clients to competitors, and the chief  to the tax police.
Because he was, damned, very good sales manager!

How to Identify Replica Watch Rolex

Probably one of the easiest ways to identify a fake Rolex is by the caseback. Counterfeiters will often use a clear display, or "skeleton" caseback, thus allowing you to view the inner workings of the watch. The problem is Rolex does not make such a watch, therefore, these models are easily identified as counterfeit. (Please Note: There are only 2 "known" examples of Rolex watches with glass "exhibition backs", and they are both vintage manual wind models from the 1930s, and they were not "production" models.)

In addition to the "clear casebacks" listed above, engraved casebacks are another easy way to identify counterfeit Rolex watches. Again, Rolex does not engrave the caseback with logos, hallmarks, or designs (as shown in the example above). Genuine Rolex models will have a "smooth" caseback, and are free of these engravings.

The rare exceptions to this are ladies' models (prior to the mid 1990's) which had "Original Rolex Design" or a similar variation thereof, engraved on the caseback in an arc fashion. Another exception is on the Sea-Dweller case backs which will have "ROLEX OYSTER ORIGINAL GAS ESCAPE VALVE" engraved around the outside of the caseback in an arc fashion.

Genuine Rolex models are shipped new from the factory with a Hologram-encoded (3-dimensional) sticker on the caseback. This sticker features the trademarked Rolex "crown" positioned above the watch's case reference number. The hologram can be easily identified by viewing it from different angles, thus causing the background pattern to change.

However, "most" counterfeit stickers are not holograms at all, but rather simply a repetitious "Rolex" pattern which does not change in appearance when viewed from different angles. It is worth mentioning that the genuine Rolex hologram stickers did not feature the "crown logo" as a part of the hologram until (around) 2002, when the sticker was redesigned. At that time, the Reference number was also changed from gold lettering to black, as it is currently.

For authentic Rolexes, the crystal (on all current date models--excluding the Sea-Dweller) will have a glass bubble, or "cyclops" attached to the crystal, positioned over the date. Its purpose is to magnify the tiny aperture and does so at 2.5 times magnification.

However, on MOST counterfiet models the date magnification is more like 1.5 times, at best (as shown in the example above). This may not sound like much of a difference, but when looking at the dates side-by-side it's obvious. The date window should practically "fill up" the cyclops--the fakes don't even come close. It is worth mentioning that some counterfeits are now featuring a new larger font date wheel to give the "illusion" of being magnified at a full 2.5 times.

Rolex models featuring the Triplock crown (i.e. Submariner, Sea-Dweller and Daytona) utilize an extra seal within the threads of the winding crown's tube. This gasket resembles a black o-ring and can be visible when the winding crown is unscrewed fully. As shown in the example above, (most) counterfeit models will not feature this o-ring seal, but rather will have basic screw-down threads. It is worth mentioning that some new counterfeits will feature a "similar" looking rubber seal, but upon closer examination you will see that it is merely cosmetic, and is not functional.

As shown in the image below, the Triplock crown can be identified by 3 tiny dots positioned under the trademarked Rolex "crown" logo, which is engraved on the end on the winding crown.

Genuine Rolex Yacht-Master models feature a "minute" hand which is considerably thicker than those on other Rolex sports models. However, to save money, counterfeiters will often use the same hands found on the Submariner. This can be easily identified when viewed side-by-side (as shown in the example above).

Counterfeiters will often use hands which are of the wrong size and/or shape. In the example shown above, the genuine Daytona features a "minute" hand which reaches all the way to the outer "hash" marks. However, the counterfeit model shown features much shorter hands. This is often the case because counterfeiters use whatever stock of parts they have available, which is usually whatever is the cheapest.

You will also note that the "shape" of the hands on the counterfeit is incorrect. modern Daytona models feature hands which are "rounded" on the tips. Again, counterfeiters will often use whatever hands they have available, and in this case they have used hands from a Day-Date model, which are flat on the tip.

Genuine Rolex Daytona models feature mini-registers on the dial which perform Chronograph "stop watch" functions (i.e. elapsed hours and minutes). It is also worth mentioning that the large "sweep" hand on the dial is also part of the stop watch function, and is not the primary second hand-- the second hand for the watch is the small 20/40/60 register.

However, counterfeit models will rarely perform these functions, but rather will be used for "day of week", "date", and "24-hour time". (Please Note: not all counterfeit models will be "printed" with these incorrect functions, but their operations will still be incorrect.)

Furthermore, the size and position of these mini registers will often be incorrect on counterfeits. As shown in the example above, the counterfeit model features much smaller registers which are positioned too far inward on the dial, while the genuine Daytona features registers which are positioned much farther outward--almost touching the 3-6-9 hour markers.

Brand new for 2002, Rolex has started micro-etching a tiny "coronet" (or crown) logo into the crystal, at the 6 o'clock position. This mark is quite small, so it is difficult to see with the naked eye. However, when viewed under a loupe, the faint outline can be distinguished, as seen in the examples above. (Please excuse the poor quality pics... the only thing more difficult than locating the etching is photographing it.)

Probably the most accurate way to identify a genuine/counterfeit Rolex watch is by locating the Serial and Case Reference Numbers. These special identification numbers are engraved on the side of the case, located between the lugs (as shown in the example above).

As you can see in the examples above, the engraving between the lugs of a genuine Rolex feature very fine lines, which actually catch the light similar to that of a diamond cut edge. However, (some) counterfeits will feature a sandy (acid) etched appearance, as seen in the example above. Furthermore, the spacing on these numbers is often too close together. It is worth mentioning that counterfeiters frequently use the SAME numbers on their watches. Thus, the example shown above: "R863698" is seen quite often, and is a pretty good sign of a fake.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fifteen Myths About Diamonds


A diamond will only be forever if you take care of it. If you don't a diamond can chip, fracture, or break. Even a diamond should come with a care instruction tag.


Nope! There is more of a man-made shortage than a natural shortage. The distribution of the number of diamonds put on the market each year is highly regulated. There are really enough diamonds to give each man, woman and child in the United States a whole cupful.


This one is almost true, but not quite. Even though most women believe that bigger is better, there are still quite a few women out there that will sacrifice size to get a better quality diamond.


The truth is there are quite a few more expensive gemstones on the market. For example, a top quality ruby can be worth over thirty thousand dollars a carat.


Size is only one criterion by which a diamond can be judged. A small, high-clarity, high-color diamond can cost more than a large, low-clarity, low-color diamond.


Usually there are no shavings, only dust. Most diamonds are ground down and there aren't any little pieces left over to cut anything else. Most people believe a diamond is whittled, not ground down. This is another myth.


All diamonds, to a certain degree, are difficult to cut, and some very large diamonds take more time and effort to cut than smaller diamonds do. But one diamond is not harder to cut than another just because of the shape.


Webster's dictionary defines investment as "an outlay of money for income or profit." Since most people purchase diamonds to be worn and not to be resold, diamonds are not a good investment. Only through proper education and training could diamonds become a good investment. For the average Joe, I would recommend buying a diamond for the enjoyment and prestige it brings and don't be too concerned about making a buck.


A lot of people believe "what I can't see can't hurt me!" Well, we all know that blind ignorance will only lead to disaster. Practically any diamond looks good in a jewelry store. The jeweler spends quite a bit on spotlights to make any quality diamond sparkle. But unless you plan on carrying a spotlight with you everywhere you go, you'd better check the four C's or you might purchase a diamond that only looks good in a jewelry store and is lifeless everywhere else.


I don't know why some people believe this. I constantly have clients tell me that they like emerald cut diamonds but know that they are the most expensive and can't afford them. This is crazy! The emerald cut diamond is the least expensive of all the shapes. You see, it is the shape that is most like the natural shape of the rough, so there is a little bit less waste during the cutting process. If you like emerald cut diamonds, enjoy them, don't avoid them; they are not any more expensive.


Diamonds may not be a good investment for the average person, but they certainly aren't a bad investment. If a diamond is purchased at the right price, it will most certainly hold its value. Since the diamond crash of 1979, when D flawless diamonds fell in value from seventy-five thousand dollars to under fifteen thousand dollars, the price of diamonds has been increasing constantly.


The definition of a perfect diamond would be a diamond free from inclusions and blemishes when viewed under 10X loupe (flawless), with no trace of color (D-color), and perfectly proportioned. Even though they are rare, there are such diamonds around. See article An Evening at Sotheby's


Any good jeweler can tell the difference immediately. A cubic zirconia has more of a plastic look. There seems to be a light-blue cast throughout the entire stone. One sure way to determine the difference is by weighing the cubic zirconia. A cubic zirconia will weigh approximately 65 percent more!


Some are; some aren't. It depends on their quality. Believe it or not, it's possible to get a one-carat diamond for as low as three hundred dollars if it's junky enough.


This one would have stumped me, too. I've always believed that all women like diamonds. It wasn't until recently that I learned there are some women out there that very much dislike diamonds and think they are a waste of money. I guess for them maybe a dog is their best friend.

The Top 10 Reasons Why a Healthy Person Is a Successful Person

Most people agree that good health is an essential ingredient for a good life. Now you can take that to the next level. By putting your health first and respecting your needs,your business will benefit. Here's why:

1. Exercise tames tension.
The number-one tension tamer is exercise. It releases endorphins, which shut down your body's stress response. You cannot control the moods of your boss or your customers, but you can control your response to them. With exercise, you are more relaxed and are able to anticipate rather than merely react to issues.

2. You have energy to burn.
Your day goes smoothly when you are in good physical condition. You will catch your bus, ferry, train and still have energy to gain that big account.

3. Prevent major illnesses.
By focusing on preventative care now, you save yourself grief and higher costs on your business health insurance later. For example, the focus of nutrition has moved from the issues of deficiencies toward chronic disease (cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes) prevention and health maintenance throughout all phases of life.

4. You enjoy a positive outlook on life.
Looking at the brighter side of things makes you 50% less likely to have a heart attack than your pessimistic competitors.

5. You eat to live-- not live to eat.
Instead of inhaling 1 or 2 big meals a day, you spread food across many meals. By developing nutritional awareness and paying attention to what your body is telling you, you savor your food as you savor life.

6. You decide when to drink not the circumstances.
You do not need alcohol to network or to loosen-up at functions. You are already light.

7. Water fuels your life's processes.
It is difficult to imbibe in too much water. At a minimum, you need 8 glasses a day. Water is essential for life. Have a bottle of water at your desk, in your car and take it with you as you commute to remind you to drink, drink, drink.

8. You are simply, irresistibly attractive as work is only one part of your life.
You have a life outside of your business. People, relationships and interests enhance and add richness to your work.

9. Experience virtually no stress.
You experience few stress-related symptoms (headaches, digestive problems, backaches) and are more effective at work because you have your boundaries established and honored. A stress-free business life is your gain.

10. You are a model.
Especially if you are a coach, you are a model for your clients. When discussing personal integrity and a healthy lifestyle, you are your number one client. Do it for you - be a model for them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Top 10 Reason to Try Yoga

Give yoga a try and discover what it can do for body and mind.

A central premise in yoga is "everything is connected." That's clear when looking at the health and fitness benefits of yoga that have long been reported by practitioners and are now being confirmed by scientific research.

Yoga reduces the physical effects of stress on the body. By encouraging relaxation, yoga helps to lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Related benefits include lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improving digestion and boosting the immune system as well as easing symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, asthma and insomnia.

Yoga can ease pain. Studies have demonstrated that practicing yoga asanas (postures), meditation or a combination of the two, reduced pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases and hypertension as well as arthritis, back and neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome and other chronic conditions. Some practitioners report that even emotional pain can be eased through the practice of yoga.

Yoga teaches people to take slower, deeper breaths. This helps to improve lung function, trigger the body's relaxation response and increase the amount of oxygen available to the body.

Yoga helps to improve flexibility and mobility, increasing range of movement and reducing aches and pains. Many people can't touch their toes during their first yoga class. Practitioners begin to use the correct muscles to make the movement and, over time, the ligaments, tendons and muscles gradually lengthen and elasticity is increased. These gradual changes can mean that more and more poses are possible.

Yoga asanas (postures) use every muscle in the body, helping to increase strength literally from head to toe. And, while the postures practiced in yoga strengthen the body, they also provide an additional benefit of helping to relieve muscular tension.

Yoga (even less vigorous styles) can aid weight control efforts by reducing the cortisol levels as well as by burning excess calories and reducing stress. Yoga also encourages healthy eating habits and provides a heightened sense of well being and self esteem.

Yoga helps to improve circulation and, as a result of various poses, more efficiently moves oxygenated blood to the body's cells.

Even gentle yoga practice can provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake during exercise.

Yoga helps to improve body alignment, resulting in better posture and helping to relieve back, neck, joint and muscle problems.

Yoga helps us to focus on the present, to become more aware and to help create mind body health. It opens the way to improved coordination, reaction time and memory.

"Yoga leads to a body that is easeful, a mind that is peaceful, which results in a life that is useful." Paraphrased from Swami Satchidananda, a pioneer in bringing yoga to the United States.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thirteen myths of genetic engineering

New Zealand's Consumers for Education about Genetic Engineering has prepared this helpful guide to genetic engineering.

Myth No. 1: Genetic engineering (GE) is not new. It is just the same as speeded-up selective breeding.
FACT: Genetic engineering (GE) and conventional breeding are worlds apart. Breeding does not manipulate genes; it involves crossing of selected parents of the same or closely related species. In contrast, GE involves extracting selected genes from one organism (e.g. animals, plants, insects, bacteria) and/or viruses, or synthesising copies, and artificially inserting them into another completely different organism (eg. food crops). GE usually employs virus genes to smuggle in and promote the inserted genes, and antibiotic resistance genes to act as markers. All these inserted genes are present in every cell of the plant.

Myth No. 2: Genetic engineering is precise.
FACT: The function of only a small proportion of the DNA in a higher organism is known. Modern genetics has shown that genes do not operate in isolation. Rather they interact in a complicated way, changing their behaviour in response to influences from other genes. Although a gene can be cut out precisely from the DNA of an organism, its insertion into the DNA of another organism is entirely random. This results in the disruption of the order of the genes on the chromosome and may result in random and unexpected changes in the functioning of the cells. Richard Lewontin, Professor of Genetics at Harvard University, has said of GE: "We have such a miserably poor understanding of how the organism develops from its DNA that I would be surprised if we don't get one rude shock after another."

Myth No. 3: GE foods vary from non-GE foods only in the characteristic that has been modified.
FACT: The random insertion of foreign genes into the genetic material may cause unexpected changes in the functioning of other genes. Existing molecules may be manufactured in incorrect quantities, at the wrong times, or new molecules may be produced. GE foods and food products may therefore contain unexpected toxins or allergenic molecules that could harm our health or that of our offspring.

Myth No.4: GE food is extensively tested and the GE food at present on our supermarket shelves is perfectly safe to eat.
FACT: No GE food testing is done in New Zealand. We rely almost entirely on the testing carried out by the GE biotechnology companies that have spent billions of dollars developing the food and intend to make a profit selling it to us. There are serious doubts about the adequacy of the testing and the validity of the conclusions drawn from the results. Independent long-term testing is required before we can be sure that GE food is safe to eat. Another health concern is the possible acceleration of the development of bacterial resistance to antibiotics due to the use of antibiotic resistance genes in the production of GE foods.

Myth No. 5: Genetically engineered food has improved nutritional value.
FACT: No GE food produced to date has been shown to be more nutritious than non-GE food. Most GE crops are only designed to be resistant to specific herbicides, to produce their own insecticides or to have an increased shelf life.

Myth No.6: One can always choose not to eat GE food.
FACT: At present most foods on New Zealand supermarket shelves containing GE ingredients are not labelled, so there is no way of knowing whether we are eating them. GE products are likely to be found in foods containing the following ingredients: Soya flour and oil (in many common foods including breads, sausages, etc.); Lecithin (in chocolate, ice cream etc.); Canola oil and Corn (maize) extracts.

Myth No. 7: Farmers will benefit from growing GE crops.
FACT: Seeds of genetically engineered crops are more expensive than those of conventional crops. Farmers in the UK and USA report that yields are generally no better, the crops are less reliable and overall have not improved profitability. Non-GE crops now receive a premium and as more countries reject GE foods, the opportunities to sell GE produce overseas are diminishing. Because of risks associated with GE crops insurance companies in the USA and UK are now reluctant to insure them. Farmers growing GE crops have to sign binding contracts with the biotechnology producers. These commit them to using only the herbicides produced by that company and prohibit them from the traditional practice of saving seed for the next season. Most third world farmers certainly will not benefit.

Myth No.8: GE crops will reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides.
FACT: Crops engineered to be resistant to specific herbicides may encourage more liberal use of those herbicides. This has been anticipated by one manufacturer, who has applied to ANZFA (Australia & New Zealand Food Authority) to have the allowable residue of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®) in foods sold in New Zealand increased by 200 times. In areas of the USA where crops engineered to produce their own insecticide are grown, pesticide use has not decreased.

Myth No. 9: There is no evidence that GE crops are harmful to the environment.
FACT: Insects, birds and the wind carry genetically altered pollen and seeds into neighbouring fields and far beyond. Cross-pollination occurs between GE crops and non-GE crops and their wild relatives. In this way resistance to weed killer, for example, might be transmitted to weeds making them more difficult to control. There is evidence that crops engineered to produce their own insecticide can kill beneficial insects.

Myth No. 10: GE crops will save the world from famine.
FACT: A major cause of famine is the unequal global distribution of food. Food mountains exist in much of the western world and food is regularly dumped. Poor people have limited ability to buy either GE or non-GE food. There is no evidence that GE crops produce higher yields than conventional crops or that GE products will be cheaper.

Myth No. 11: You can trust the scientists that GE food is good for you and the world.
FACT: The money for scientific research on GE here and overseas comes from either the biotechnology companies or the government. Both are committed to the promises of biotechnology. This means that even when scientists have concerns about the safety or commercial application of the technology, it is often hard for them to risk their careers by being openly critical. One respected scientist in the UK who spoke up about his experimental results showing damaging effects of feeding rats on a type of genetically engineered potato was immediately fired from his job.

Myth No. 12: You can't stop progress.
FACT: No of course we can't; and why would we want to? Progress implies change for the better. Change for the worse is regression. We must be sure that GE products have benefits for the consumer and are safe if they are to be introduced into our foods. We must not commit ourselves to a dubious technology that cannot be reversed.

Myth No. 13: There are more important things to worry about than GE foods.
FACT: Many scientists don't think so.For example Joseph Rotblat, the British physicist who won a 1995 Nobel Prize says: "My worry is that other advances in science may result in other means of mass destruction, maybe more readily available even than nuclear weapons. Genetic engineering is quite a possible area, because of these dreadful developments that are taking place there."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Top 10 crowd-free national parks

Visit nature's magnificence, and find that elusive solitude
By Editorial Staff
Sherman's Travel

If you prefer to visit with magnificent Mother Nature in (near) solitude, you'll find our favorite crowd-free national parks in the US and Canada every bit as dramatic as the big headliners, yet agreeably free of the usual mobs. We’ve laid out the details on how to take in the grandest of canyons from a little-known access point, and have proposed two further options in America’s heartland: a park boasting lunar-like landscapes and verdant prairies and another with one-of-a-kind vistas of sweeping sandstone arches. Tree-huggers will relish their seclusion at two ancient forests on both coasts, while water-lovers will delight in untamed Texan rafting adventures, snorkeling at an underwater Floridian marine park, or whale-watching on a Canadian cape. The more remote you go, the more likely you are to find that elusive solitude; to that end, we also highly recommend an archipelago dubbed the “Canadian Galapagos” and an island park home to the world’s tallest volcano and the Hawaiian goddess Pele.

Arches National Park, one of a quintet of stunning Utah national parks, may not attract the same number of visitors as the state’s more-accessible Zion or Bryce Canyon parks, but its surreal terrain of towering sandstone arches makes this Southern Utah wilderness wonderland one sensory experience not to be missed. Two particular arches reign supreme over the 2000-plus that dot the scene: Delicate Arch, a lone-standing arch whose likeness also embellishes Utah license plates; and the slender 300-feet-high Landscape Arch, the largest in the park.

Situated in southwestern South Dakota, the Badlands National Park marries mixed-grass prairies with pinnacles, spires, canyons, and otherworldly buttes of varied colors and shapes to create a lunar-worthy landscape. The product of millions of years of erosion and deposits, this geological anomaly has the Sioux to thank for its name; they called it mako sika or "land bad,” in reference to how difficult it was to cross. Modern-day visitors will be relieved to know that a nicely paved road now connects the park’s nine scenic overlooks, trailheads, and visitor’s center.

Big Bend
For a wild ride, thrill-seekers should raft down the unruly Rio Grande, the 118-mile-long river winding along the southern boundary of Big Bend National Park, one of America’s largest and least-visited national parks. Although named for the substantial bend in its roaring river, most of Big Bend’s acreage actually consists of arid desert expanses, giant canyons, and the Chisos mountain range – a terrain that has disgorged superb fossil specimens of ancient plants and dinosaurs.

Dive in and explore the ocean floor at this unique aquatic national park. The largest marine park in North America (at about 173,000 acres), Biscayne lies just 25 miles from Miami and sits on part of the world’s third-largest coral-reef system. Most of the park is accessible only by boat (kayak, canoe, or motorized tour); scuba diving and snorkeling excursions will help you get up close to the abundant underwater life.

Cape Breton Highlands
Alexander Graham Bell, Cape Breton's famous resident, once said "I have traveled around the globe. I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all." His praise surely extended to the national park occupying its northern edges that’s home to the illustrious Cabot Trail. The park’s rugged coastline, forested plateaus, canyon views, and verdant highlands are marvelous to behold, as are vistas of frolicking whales and soaring bald eagles.

Tree-huggers rejoiced at the founding of Congaree National Park, a 22,200-acre terrain that earned its national stripes as recently as 2003. Located about 20 miles from Columbia, South Carolina, this recent newcomer preserves the largest tract of old-growth floodplain forest in the whole of North America – giant hardwoods, lofty pines, and bald cypresses are just some of the roughly 75 species of ancient trees that form one of the world’s highest natural canopies. Not surprisingly, the incredible biodiversity generated here has earned the park due rank as an International Biosphere Reserve.

Grand Canyon – North Rim
Millions of visitors from around the globe descend on the Grand Canyon each year to try and wrap their minds around its seemingly infinite reach – to do so in relative solitude, head to the canyon’s North Rim instead. Despite being located just 10 miles from the South Rim (and its popular Grand Canyon Village), the North Rim is that much harder to reach that few visitors do – those that do go the extra mile (or 215 in this case, by car) will be rewarded with serenity and an unblocked view of one of Mother Nature’s most stupendous creations.

Gwaii Haanas
Although only 3000 visitors reach this virtually untrammeled park each year, this magnificent archipelago off the coast of British Columbia is arguably one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in all of North America. Home to abundant wildlife – in fact, the island chain is often referred to as the “Canadian Galapagos” – the area is also the ancestral home of the Haida, a Pacific Northwest tribe whose rich culture and settlements is still visible here. Towered over by the glacier-sculpted peaks of the San Christoval Mountains, and home to beautifully carved totem poles and old log-house villages amidst massive old pines, this pristine wilderness is only accessible by boat or float plane.

Hawaii Volcanoes
It’s not all sand and surf on Hawaii's Big Island. This hot spot (geologically speaking, at any rate) also finds fiery lava flowing from the mouth of one of the world’s most-active volcanoes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where the daunting Kilauea regularly spews molten 2100-degree lava that reshapes the landscape as it gushes down into the Pacific. Not to be outdone, the world’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa, is also found here, rearing up 13,677 feet from below sea level. The 11-mile-loop Crater Rim Drive provides a dramatic overview of the scene; do stop at the Halemaumau Crater Overlook to peek into the bubbling lava-filled home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon
Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, two California parks co-managed by the National Parks Service, are often overshadowed by hugely popular Yosemite, but hard to overlook all the same. Dominated by the Sierra Nevada range, whose peaks shelter the headwaters of three rivers, diverse wildlife, and of course, the park’s eponymous groves of massive sequoias, this “land of giants” – so-called for the sheer size of the trees, which can reach heights of over 300 feet and widths of 30 feet – includes the aptly named Giant Forest, where you’ll find the 2200-year-old General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on earth.

Top 10 Whale-Watching Destinations

The sight of a whale swimming in the ocean is truly awe-inspiring; millions of people try to glimpse them from boats or from shore annually. Here are 10 great places to spot these mammals year-round.
By ShermansTravel Editorial Staff
Ahab pursued one. Jonah was swallowed by one. Nowadays, millions of people hop on a boat or gather on shore just to see one. Indeed, whales, those mammoth sea creatures that roam the ocean deep from the tip of South Africa to the edges of the Arctic, continue to capture our imagination and fill us with awe. Our 10 favorite whale-watching destinations will help you spot the best of them all year long, and have a whale of a time doing it, too.

1. The Azores
An isolated island chain in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores and its people are intimately connected to the sea. It's fitting then, that these Portuguese-owned islands would attract beautiful whales to their nearby shores. Of the nine volcanic islands that compose the chain, the best whale-watching is to be had in the waters between Faial, Pico, and São Jorge, where plentiful fish supplies entice abundant water mammals from April to September, including the most frequently sighted sperm and short-finned pilot whales. You can hire a tour boat to observe them from any of the islands, but Pico is considered the most scenic of all. Visit the Azores tourism board at www.drtacores.pt for more information.

2. Cape Cod
There are such frequent whale sightings in the Atlantic waters surrounding Cape Cod, that the World Wildlife Fund named Massachusetts one of the top 10 whale-watching spots in the world. The "wow factor" here is huge, as minke, finback and humpback whales regularly glide through the waters, and glimpses of them spouting and breaching is practically guaranteed. Indeed, many local whale-watching companies declare a 99% whale-spotting success rate during the peak viewing months of April to October. Some of the best excursions leave from Provincetown on Cape Cod. Visit the Massachusetts tourism board at www.massvacation.com for suggested Cape Cod-area whale-watching tours.

3. Dominica
Scuba divers already know this remote Caribbean island thanks to its brilliant coral reefs, magnificent sea life, and bubbling underwater hot springs. But the island recently earned a new title, of "Whale Watching Capital of the Caribbean," which launched this eco-friendly destination to a whole new level. Set between Martinique and Guadeloupe, and often visited by 40-ton whales, who like to socialize, mate and play off its shores, a boat excursion from Dominica promises a 90% chance of spotting one up close. The waters are particularly partial to sperm, killer and pigmy whales, which are most often seen between late November and June. That said, many also like to hang around all year long. Visit the Dominica tourism board at www.avirtualdominica.com for recommended whale-watching tours.

4. Hawaii
Each winter, droves of visitors migrate to the tropical paradise of Hawaii at the same time as the state's animal, the humpback whale, also makes its way to the Aloha State from the northern Pacific. The clear waters surrounding the islands provide visibility of up to 100 feet below the surface, making for incredibly easy sightings between the peak late-November to mid-April season. While whales tend to visit all of the islands, Maui is their number-one watering hole, with many species gathering, at some point, along the southern and western shores between Wailea, Kihei, Lahaina and Ka'anapali. Visit the Hawaii tourism board at www.gohawaii.com for recommended whale-watching tours.

5. Kaikoura
Located on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island, the small seaside town of Kaikoura enjoys international acclaim as an eco-tourism center. And, when it comes to whales, it ranks as one of the world's most likely places to see a mighty sperm whale, thanks to the throngs of them that like to congregate off its shores pretty much all year long. What's more, you'll also spot orca (December to March), humpbacks (June and July), and occasional pods of pilot whales, all of them joined by dolphins, fur seals and seabirds that come together here to compose an incredibly rich marine environment. For the chance to witness a sperm whale flap its tail at you, hop onboard a whale-watching tour boat, or, for a truly unique experience, opt for a 30-minute flight that will give you an airborne perspective, and a whale of a tale to tell. Visit Kaikoura's tourism board at www.kaikoura.co.nz for recommended whale-watching tours.

6. Hermanus
There's no need to stretch your sea legs to glimpse a fluke or spout in Hermanus. Located in Walker Bay, at the southernmost tip of Africa, and often referred to as the Riviera of the South, Hermanus offers, hands-down, the best shore-based whale-watching opportunities in the world. In July every year, onlookers eagerly await the annual visit of the southern right whales that love the warm, shallow waters surrounding this seaside destination. A cliff-side path along the coastline makes the perfect perch from which to gaze at whales frolicking in the open waters—you'll find lots of benches, telescopes, and information plaques here to optimize your viewing pleasure. Visit from May through December for the best viewings—better yet, come in September and commemorate the whales' residency with the annual Hermanus Whale Festival. Visit the Hermanus tourism board at www.hermanus.co.za for recommended whale-watching tours.

7. Los Cabos
As if the brilliant beaches, luxury resorts, and near-perfect year-round climate weren't enough incentive to visit Los Cabos, there's the added spectacle of spouting whales each year from January through April. Indeed, magnificent humpbacks migrate from Siberia and Alaska to the warmer waters of Baja California and the Sea of Córtez just in time for peak tourist season; you'll also spot grays, blues and sperm whales. Boat tours aplenty will take you out to see whales mating and mothers nursing and playing with their young; gray whales prefer the protected shallow lagoons of San Ignacio, Magdalena Bay, and Ojo de Liebre. Visit the Los Cabos tourism board at www.visitcabo.com for recommended whale-watching tours.

8. Orcas Island
No list of whale-watching destinations would be complete without a nod to Orcas Island, the largest of the islands off the coast of Washington state. Often touted as the "gem of the San Juan Islands," this nature-lovers' paradise also bears a name reminiscent of the killer whales that gather off its 125 miles of coastline. The island is a haven for marine mammal lovers, who flock here in spring and summer to watch pods of cresting gray whales and orcas; you can observe them too, and a host of rare sea creatures like harbor seals and porpoises, by taking a cruise through the protected waters along the coast. Visit Orcas Island's whale-watching experts at www.orcasislandwhales.com for more information.

9. Quebec
Quebec is home to two types of whales you're unlikely to see anywhere else. Not only might you spot a nearly extinct North Atlantic right whale here—only about 350 remain, making for an especially exciting sighting if you do see one—but you're very likely to see beluga whales cruising down the St. Lawrence River. These massive white beasts are much-beloved for their expressive faces and like to swim with their heads above water, to the great delight of passing whale-watchers. Quebec abounds with picturesque places to see whale flukes and spouts between May and September, but Tadoussac is the best for belugas and Percé for every other variety. What's more, the small, inflatable dingies favored by the province's whale-watching companies can get you so close to these splendid creatures, you'll be able to look one in the eye. Visit the Quebec tourism board at www.bonjourquebec.com for more information.

10. San Diego
Sure, you could visit Shamu and entourage at SeaWorld, like everyone else, or you could opt to encounter gargantuan gray whales, in their natural element, out in the great blue yonder. They pass in close proximity to San Diego Bay every winter (peak viewing time is from mid-December to mid-March), en route to their breeding lagoons at Baja's southern tip (see Los Cabos, above). The sight of these gentle, 50-ft-long whales traveling together on an epic 5,000 mile journey is an inspirational one that San Diego residents and visitors can experience from land or sea—while numerous local companies can bring you up close by boat, you can also head to the city's prime land-based viewing spot, the Cabrillo National Monument, where a panoramic glass-encased observatory will let you take it all in from 400+ feet above sea level. Visit the San Diego tourism board at www.sandiego.org for recommended whale-watching tours.

Top 10 Reasons to Buy a Used Car

There are plenty of reasons to buy used -- some practical and some just fun. Either way, you'll be saving money compared to the comparable new car.

1) Check under the seats for loose change.
Even if the amount is insignificant, there’s something fun about finding money.

2) Go wild with the bumper stickers – it’s used!
When you buy for cash, or pay off your used-car loan, you can do anything you want to your car, without worrying what the bank or lease company is going to say. So save the whales...or show your support for President Bush.

3) There's no need to dread that first dent in the supermarket parking lot
New cars are scary. They're still perfect. When will the aura of newness be broken? Used cars are comfortable. They have nothing to prove. A scrape or a scratch just adds to their character.

4) There’s usually no need to take the car to the dealership for overpriced service
Some carmakers require you have the car serviced at authorized dealerships or they won’t honor warranty work. Guess who pays for those rows of spotless service bays? Dealership service is often overpriced. And have you ever noticed how dealerships are never located near public transportation? Buy used and choose your own local mechanic.

5) The previous owner has already taken the hit on depreciation
The biggest single drop in car values occurs when a new car is driven off the dealer lot. Used car values tend to depreciate more slowly.

6) Lower insurance rates.
Save on insurance compared to a new car. When you own your used car outright, you can choose exactly how much or how little optional coverage to buy. Driving a beater? Delete the comprehensive and collision coverage and save.

7) A carefully inspected used car can be just as reliable as a new car
The sad truth is that all cars, new or used, generate hassles. New cars require service, too. Even if they don't break down, they're subject to recalls. But if you research your used car carefully, it will be every bit as reliable as a new car.

8) Your friends will think it’s new
They no longer change body styles every year. It’s new to you, and new to your friends and family.

9) No monthly payments!
Something you really won't miss: the monthly payment notice from the bank or auto finance company.

10) If you miss that new-car smell, you can always buy it in can
Yes, they really sell new-car smell in a can. But first, consider therapy.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Top Ten Myths About Evolution

by Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

What evidence would it take to prove your beliefs wrong?

I simply will not reply to challenges that do not address this question. Refutability is one of the classic determinants of whether a theory can be called scientific. Moreover, I have found it to be a great general-purpose cut-through-the-crap question to determine whether somebody is interested in serious intellectual inquiry or just playing mind games. Note, by the way, that I am assuming the burden of proof here - all you have to do is commit to a criterion for testing. It's easy to criticize science for being "closed-minded". Are you open-minded enough to consider whether your ideas might be wrong?

1. Humans Evolved From Monkeys

Humans and great apes had a common ancestor about 5 million years ago Humans and monkeys had a common ancestor about 50 million years ago. Nowhere, except in the most illiterate anti-evolution literature, will you find a claim that humans evolved from monkeys.

2. It's Only A Theory

"Theory" does not mean "hypothesis" or "guess". "Theory" means an organized set of related ideas. If you have a set of previously disconnected observations, and you come up with a possible explanation, you have an organized set of related ideas - a theory. A theory that hasn't been confirmed is a hypothesis. People commonly but incorrectly talk as if theories and hypotheses are the same thing. All hypotheses are theories, but all theories are not hypotheses.
Number Theory is the branch of mathematics that deals with the properties of numbers. Theories don't get much more proven than this.
Quantum Theory is the theory that describes how and why atomic particles behave as they do. It has allowed us to build computers and lasers. There's nothing "theoretical" about it.
Stress Theory is what engineers use to build buildings, bridges, and keep the wings on airplanes. It works.
Music Theory illustrates another use of the word "theory," to mean the underlying principles of a subject as opposed to actual practice. Music Theory is the set of accepted conventions used in European music. Other conventions are possible. That's why Asian music sounds so different from ours.
The Phlogiston Theory was the notion that heat was a substance that reacted with materials to explain combustion. It's wrong. But it's still a theory. The term "theory" has nothing to do with whether the ideas in question are right or wrong.

3. If Nobody Saw It, We Can't Be Sure It Happened

If you find your house trashed and your TV and stereo missing, will you hesitate to call the police because nobody saw it happen? Would you want the judge to dismiss the case just because you only had forensic evidence, but no witnesses?

4. Science Can't Say Anything About Origins

Maybe not. But once the origin happens, everything after that is history. And historical evidence is preserved in the physical record.

5. Obsolete Concepts

Critics of evolution are fond of citing Piltdown Man or Nebraska Man (actually the tooth of a fossil pig erroneously claimed to be human). These both happened about 100 years ago. They can't cite any cases of false claims of ancient human fossils since then.

"Survival of the Fittest" was borrowed by Darwin from the economic writings of Herbert Spencer. What does "fittest" mean? It's not just a tautology, like saying "the winner of the Super Bowl is the team with the most points." There are objective features that make some creatures fitter than others. If you need to move fast in the water, there is one shape that works best and it's shared by squid, sharks, tuna, dolphins, ichthyosaurs, and nuclear submarines.

6. There Are No Intermediate Fossil Forms

This is a claim for which there is a monosyllabic definition: lie. Not error, which implies honest ignorance, but lie, because the people who make this claim are generally fully aware of the fossil record and simply choose to misrepresent it. Archaeopteryx, the earliest known fossil bird for a long time (some recent finds may be earlier) has a thoroughly reptilian skeleton with a bony tail, teeth, and four paws with jointed fingers (not merely the horny skin growths at the middle joint that a few modern birds have). And it has feathers. If that's not an intermediate, what is? More recently, evidence is accumulating that some dinosaurs had hair and feathers. If we'd lived 100 million years ago, we might have put birds, mammals and reptiles in the same class or at least put the divisions very differently from today. Therapsids are the intermediates between reptiles and mammals, crossopterygians and ichthyostegids are the intermediates between fish and amphibians, and so on.

7. Evolution Is Not Testable

Darwin suggested birds had evolved from reptiles in 1859; Archaeopteryx, a creature with a reptilian skeleton but feathers, was discovered in 1862.

Piltdown Man, the famous early fossil man hoax, actually vindicated evolution. The alleged fossil was controversial from the start precisely because it didn't match evolutionary expectations. It had a modern human skull but an ancient apelike jaw (altered by someone who knew what he was doing), rather than a mix of features on both parts. It was like trying to fake a 1950 car by mixing parts from a 1980 car and a 1920 car. As more and more hominid fossils surfaced, Piltdown Man was increasingly seen as a side branch even if it did turn out to be genuine. It just didn't match the other finds.

8. Evolution Means Humans are Just Animals

Are you a vegetable or mineral? Humans have hair and nurse their young just like all other mammals. Traits like nurturing, cooperation and monogamy are often favored by evolution because they enhance survival of the species.

9. Evolution is Just Random

Is the following number sequence random: 592653589793238462643383279? It not only looks random: it is random. But lacking in meaning? No. These are the digits of pi beginning with the fourth decimal place.

Random does not mean "meaningless." The scientific meaning of random is that something cannot be predicted with better accuracy than that predicted by statistics. The phenomenon is its own simplest description. Biological systems are far too complex to describe or predict mathematically. We have incomplete information, and significant events like climate change or asteroid impact are unpredictable.

10. Complexity Cannot Arise Naturally

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is often paraphrased as:
"Things always go from bad to worse"
"Disorder in the Universe is always increasing"

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is about entropy, which is defined as (Heat Absorbed in a process)/Temperature Entropy can decrease locally if it increases elsewhere. Intuitive notions of "disorder" are of no relevance whatsoever. Any discussion of the Second Law that does not specifically define entropy and show how it relates to evolution is worthless.

Chemical reactions are not random. For example, the atoms in a crystal of table salt are arranged as below, with sodium and chlorine atoms in a strictly alternating square array. If we take the simple-minded approach that we have a one-half probability of getting a sodium or chlorine atom in each spot, the chance of getting 100 atoms arranged as below is (1/2)100 or one in 1.26 x 1030. That's roughly one followed by 30 zeros. According to this reasoning, table salt is impossible.

Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl
Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na
Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl
Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na
Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl
Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na
Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl
Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na
Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl
Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na Cl Na

But of course the reasoning is ridiculous. The chances of getting that arrangement of atoms is close to 100 per cent.

And we know DNA can arise from simpler chemicals because it does so every time your cells divide. Every haircut you get is proof of it. The missing half of the DNA strand is assembled from molecules in the cell fluids.

"But when cells divide, there's a pattern already available" say some anti-evolutionists. Try this: go to the lumber yard and buy the materials for a tool shed. Then put a set of plans on top of the pile, and let me know when the materials spontaneously assemble. I can pour gasoline onto a garbage pile and the molecules in the garbage won't suddenly get the urge to develop into gasoline, even though there's enough carbon and hydrogen to do it. The pattern means nothing. DNA replicates because it can spontaneously self-assemble.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Top 10 Atheist Myths

by Dave Silverman

As I have said many times before, the purpose of this column is not to promote the "us vs. them" mentality against the theists, rather to promote understanding and tolerance.

However, we all know that many theists are so closed-minded about us that they won't even talk to us, let alone try to understand us. This is usually not their fault, as they are told terrible things about us by people they trust, their preachers, whose whole livelihood depends on their parishioners staying in the flock.

It is this prejudice and conflict which is one of the main factors keeping atheists in the closet and theists in ignorance. With dialogue, not prejudice, both sides will benefit and the country will become a freer place. In this article I will therefore mention many of the myths about atheists that are popular among theists, as well as my usual responses. With any luck, this will prepare atheists for future confrontations and therefore make them more confident to announce themselves, as well as allow theist readers to better understand the atheist mentality.


Myth 1 : "Atheists are all the same"

You can understand why theists believe this, after being told this over and over by their preachers. This belief is reinforced by the fact that believers must be bound by
much more than a simple belief in God. For example, Catholics must also have the same stances on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality in order to be called a "good Catholic." It only goes to follow that atheism must be similar.

However, atheism is not a religion, rather the absence of religion. As such, we are bound only by our atheism. We are republicans and democrats, men and women, gays and straights, blacks and whites. We accept every person as they are as equals, and delight in our diversity (not many religions can say that). We disagree with each
other on many issues, and discussion is encouraged and common. Above all, atheists demand the right to disagree, even if it means with each other.

Myth 2 : "Atheists have no morals, since they don't believe in God"

What a sad world it is when people can seriously say that humans need to fear eternal damnation in order to do good. It is the one statement which at the same time stirs both anger and pity in most atheists; anger because it is a bigoted, prejudicial statement which serves no purpose except to promote intolerance, and pity because it highlights the speaker's ignorance and willingness to accept such crap without question.

At the risk of validating the question, a reply needs to be made in order to expose the speaker to the idea that what they've heard is wrong on so many dimensions. It must not be answered with anger, but with compassion.

Humans have the idea of right and wrong imbedded in them by their own brains, as well as their upbringing and society. Atheists do good, not out of fear of reprisal, but because it's the right thing to do. We value family, society, culture, and, of course, freedom. Many of us will - and have - defend these values with our lives. Examples:

1) Many Catholics make judgement calls on moral decisions against their church. For example, some use birth control or have abortions, despite what their church preaches. If these people can make moral decisions despite what their church preaches, then atheists can make similar choices without a church altogether.

2) Slavery was not only acceptable 200 years ago, it was considered a good deed by many, and defended using the bible. The bible was also used to justify the Holocaust, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition.

Why is this relevant? Because it shows that the bible can be used to defend even the most immoral and unethical ideals, and is therefore not an adequate yardstick to
measure moral or ethical behavior.

3) Finally, mention bad religious people. Remember that Hitler was a religious Catholic, and that Jeffrey Dahmer said grace before he ate his victims. Mention also that one need only open a newspaper to find yet another story about allegations against priests for sexual misconduct, often with children. Don't forget our good friends Jim Baker (who swindled millions from his flock) and Jimmy Swaggart (asked for forgiveness only after being caught using prostitutes).

4) Always couple these statements with the fact that, while atheists make up 8-10% of the population at large, we only make up 1% of the population in prison. I mean, think of it, what if 8-10% of the population (on top of all the religious criminals) decided it was OK to steal, rape, and murder? We'd have chaos! These will serve to prove
that religion and ethical behavior are not even slightly related.

Expect these statements to piss off the theists, and this is where you must mention that what you said is verifiable and that their statement is openly prejudicial against 25
million people. This is the opportunity to open their eyes to the fact that just because we're different from them doesn't make us inherently bad.

Myth 3 : "Atheists believe in evolution, but that doesn't answer as many
questions as creationism"

Atheism is not a scientific theory, rather a lack of religion. We do believe in science, and that all questions will eventually be answered with science if they are not answered today. It's gone well so far, giving theories regarding evolution, geological
movement, and the Big Bang, all supported by evidence, but not necessarily endorsed by all atheists.

Creationism does not give all the answers, either. Furthermore, it goes so far as to choose which questions to answer, and discourages the asking of the rest. Believers are loath to discuss where God came from, or what he was doing before the creation. They refuse to give good answers for the many biblical inconsistencies or for the terrible injustices in the world, because they know that no such answers exist. They merely answer with "there are things which we mere humans cannot fully understand" or "the Lord works in mysterious ways". In the end, religion doesn't answer as many questions as it raises.

Myth 4 : "Atheists cannot know there is no God, since you cannot prove he doesn't exist"

Again, this is a two sided coin, but the theists are loathe to admit the other side. Atheists don't need to prove the non-existence of God, any more we need to prove the nonexistence of Zeus or Jupiter. Can theists prove God over any alternatives? Of course not. Nobody can prove God exists, yet they will stand on their heads saying they're sure. Well, if they can be sure despite evidence to the contrary, we can be sure in light of evidence in support of atheism.

Myth 5 : "Atheists seek to remove religion from society, and to force all
people to be atheists"

Absolutely wrong. We seek only the freedom for people to make their choice on their own, free of intervention from the government or public school system. We seek the freedom not to support religion through taxes, forced participation, or special privileges of any kind.

That being said, your thoughts are your rights, and none of our business. Wear your jewelry, celebrate your holidays, and pray in your house, church, or in public if you like. Just don't force your religion on other people. That's what we're all about.

This is in direct contrast to many of the world's religions, including Christianity, which include worldwide expansion as one of their central objectives. Isn't it amazing that they falsely accuse us of doing what they do openly, only with atheism it's evil?

To try to force atheism would by hypocritical, since we would be placing pressure from the state on people to believe a certain way. But let me give a good analogy to our objectives and at the same time answer this charge using the money we use every day.

"In God We Trust," is the government actively promoting religion.

"In God We Do Not Trust," would be the government promoting atheism.

We advocate the complete omission of the statement thereby rendering the money neutral.

We feel the same way about the rest of the government. It should be the "Switzerland of the religious debate," while at the same time being the protectorate of the individual.

Myth 6 : "Atheists are so closed-minded, they can't see that miracles
happen every day!"

Some people look for miracles where none exist (they never do). Allow me to put things in perspective: Someone's cancer going into remission is no miracle, but we can talk when disease suddenly disappears from the face of the earth overnight without help from medical science. Food getting through to a hungry village: human perseverance. Starvation vanishing from earth without a reason overnight: Miracle. One more time: A child is born - science; The spontaneous end of birth defects - Miracle. Got it?

Note: only good things are miracles, so volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes don't count.

Myth 7 : "Atheists are pushing a negative sentiment, and have a dreary

Wrong. We are "pushing" a very positive statement: that living without dependence on a false deity is easy, fulfilling, and positive. We strive to be a positive influence in the world, and think each person can - and must - find their own meaning of life. We are thinkers, philosophers, and we thrive on discussion and diversity. We are proud, happy, and most of all, free. Compare that to original sin and Hell.

Myth 8 : " If atheists are right, then religious people are wasting their time, but at least they're happy. No harm in that! If religious people are right, then atheists are going to hell. It seems logical that atheists should become religious just to be safe."

I like getting this question. I sense another list coming :

1) Drug addicts go through life happy, so would theists suggest we all use drugs and stay home? We would be happy, and not hurting anybody, so where's the harm?
The harm is the same for believers. They go through life happy, but it's a false, wasteful happiness. Atheists get happiness from family, contribution to society, charity, and truth.

2) Religious people should not be lumped into one category for this question. Remember, religions are also biased against each other (Jews vs. Catholics Vs.
Protestants, etc), so no matter what religion the speaker follows, most of the world thinks they're going to hell (or other punishment), just like atheists. Ask them which religion has the worst punishment, and whether they would convert to that religion on that one factor, just in case they're right. When they tell you how absurd that question is, remind them that they asked it first.

3) To convert and practice a specific religion just to ingratiate yourself with God and avoid going to hell is pure, self-serving greed, which is one of the seven deadly
sins. Therefore, by their own thinking, even if they are right and I do convert, I'd go to hell anyway, along with everyone else in the flock whose actions are so motivated (possibly including the speaker).

Myth 9 : "There are no such things as atheists" a.k.a. "There are no
atheists in foxholes"

More fantasy from the believers, that there could never exist a single human whose reason and logical abilities surpass the pressure from society to believe in a deity. This is especially true in a situation of imminent death, where they believe all atheists would drop to our knees and beg God for forgiveness.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could somehow be sure that those who currently disagree with us would come around in the end and know we were right? Just like most other parts of religion, this is blatant fantasy.

There are 25 Million atheists in the country, more that Jews and Blacks combined. Many atheists became atheists not because they were born into it (like most theists), rather because we contemplated god in its many forms and decided it just doesn't make an ounce of sense. This isn't a choice, it's fact - a logical proof. We are simply too logical to believe God is anything more than fantasy.

As far as foxholes go, when I face death, as we all do sooner or later, I will use the last few remaining seconds of my life to remember my favorite moments, and evaluate my contribution to my family and society. I would definitely not waste precious time praying to a deity "just in case I'm wrong" I'm not.

Myth 10 : "This country was founded by Christians, on Christian values,
and should therefore be a Christian country".

True, some of the founding fathers were Christian, but some were Deists (generally believed in God), and some were outright atheists. But a more important point needs to be made: the founding fathers went out of their way to specify that church and state be separate. They believed that their religion was just that: theirs and theirs alone.
They also remembered that they were their trying to be free of the state church of England, and recognized from their first-hand experience that true religious freedom can only come when belief is left to the individual. It is this ideal, among others, for which our forefathers fought and died.

Individual religious choice - including the right not to practice - is still under assault in this country. Those who would prefer to make the choice for you have labeled us criminal, evil ne'er-do-wells and launched a massive campaign to keep freethinkers subdued. They have been successful, mainly because atheism is fragmented and

They continue to be successful, but we can reverse the trend. Atheists must make themselves known. If you are reading this, and you are a closet atheist, you owe it to your country, your fellow atheists, and yourself to let people know how you feel. Start by coming to our convention in June, and meeting other people like yourself.
You'll be amazed at how good it feels to speak, listen, and party with people who openly agree with you. Bring a friend.


(In addition to his work as a State Director for American Atheists, "NJ Dave" is a professional inventor. He welcomes e-mail at dsilverman@atheists.org.)

The article is kept in Mukto-mona Article page.

Top 10 Free Email Services

by Heinz Tschabitscher

If you are looking for a free email service, you can be picky. You'll be rewarded with plenty of storage, effective spam filtering, a fast interface, desktop email program access and more. Find the top 10 free email services to choose from reviewed here.

PS: Looking for free email, you may also be interested in
free Windows email programs or
free Mac email programs.

1) Gmail - Free Email Service
Gmail is the Google approach to email and chat. Practically unlimited free online storage allows you to collect all your messages, and Gmail's simple but very smart interface lets you find them precisely and see them in context without effort. Unfortunately, Gmail does not offer IMAP, only POP access. Gmail also puts contextual advertising next to the emails you read.

2) Inbox.com - Free Email Service
Inbox.com not only gives you 5 GB to store your mail online but also a highly polished, fast and functional way to access it via either the web (including speedy search, custom folders and reading mail by conversation) or through POP in your email program.

3) FastMail Guest Account - Free Email Service
FastMail is a great free email service with IMAP access, useful features, one of the best web-based email interfaces and few ads.

4) Yahoo! Mail - Free Email Service
Yahoo! Mail is a comfortable, reliable and secure email service with a reasonable amount of storage. A pretty good spam filter keeps the junk out, and you can send rich emails using Yahoo! Mail's HTML editor.

5) AIM Mail - Free Email Service
AIM Mail, AOL's free web-based email service, shines with 2 GB of online storage, very good spam protection and a rich, easy to use interface. Unfortunately, AIM Mail lacks a bit in productivity (no labels, smart folders and message threading), but makes up for some of that with very functional IMAP access.

6) goowy mail - Free Email Service
goowy mail is your rich Desktop email program on the web with a fast interface that lets you drag and drop, use context menus and enjoy lots of pleasant eye candy. In addition to email, goowy offers a calendar, an RSS feed reader and games done in a similar fashion. More features and online storage would do goowy mail good, though.

7) MSN Hotmail - Free Email Service
MSN Hotmail comes with solid security features and a straight forward, easy to use yet quite powerful interface. Unfortunately, Hotmail lack of POP or IMAP access, you cannot search messages in Hotmail, there is no support for secure messaging, and email management tools as well as the spam filter could use some improvement.

8) My Way Mail - Free Email Service
My Way Mail is a clean, fast and fun (though not particularly advanced) free email service.

9) Care2 E-mail - Free Email Service
Get a solid Web-based email account and donate to environmental organizations, both for free with Care2 E-mail.

10) Lycos Mail - Free Email Service
Lycos Mail has no advanced features, but it also can be configured to have no spam.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Top Ten Invented Worlds

I've always been a fan of invented worlds - Here's my top ten of those created by science-fiction and fantasy authors:

Middle-Earth, created by JRR Tolkein in the well-known trilogy which I don't need to name since anyone that doesn't know it won't be reading this! There's little I can add that hasn't already been said by many others.

Yrth, created by Gene Wolfe in the tetrology "The Book of the New Sun", a richly-detailed and evocatively-described decayed far-future version of Earth, so far in the future that our own history is just dimly-remembered myths and legends.

The Culture, created by Iain M Banks over the course of several novels. A vision of a really advanced civilisation, described as 8000 years ahead of own, a utopia where 'no-one can dominate others through control of limited resources', filled with 40-mile long spacecraft and artificial 'orbitals' giving almost unlimited amounts of living space.

Glorantha, created by Greg Stafford and others. I felt I had to include one gaming universe, this is that. Forget the formulaic cliched faux-medieval DnD worlds churned out by various d20 publishers and hack novelists, Glorantha, with it's deep mythological background and richly detailed cultures is simply the best gaming fantasy world ever. Originally published as the world to go with the RuneQuest system, it's now being republished with the new Hero Wars game, more suited for epic narratives.

Discworld, created by Terry Pratchett. He's written more than twenty books in the Discworld comic fantasy series now, which are far better than the twenty-plusth book in a series has any right to be. The Disc itself has evolved from a simple parody of fantasy cliches into a richly detailed world which is more and more a reflection of our own world seen through a fantasy lens.

Helliconia, created by Brian Aldiss. The planet Helliconia lies in a system with two suns, and orbits the larger sun in a thousand-year elliptical orbit, giving alternating ice ages and ages when the equator burns. Civilisations rise and fall with the long season, with the two rival races, humanity and the chilly alien phagors alternating in dominance. I find the fauna of the world particularly fascinating, with some creatures hibernating for hundreds of years.

Dune, created by Frank Herbert. Herbert's classic novel with it's variable-quality sequels not only gives us the complex ecology and culture of the planet Dune itself, but also sets it against a backdrop of a quasi-medieval galactic empire with feuding guilds and religious sects.

The Many Coloured Land, created by Julian May. Strongly influenced by Celtic mythology, May's Pleistocene Exiles saga is set a north-western Europe of six million years ago and tells of a world filled with struggles between aliens and time travellers from our own future, both exiles from their own civilisations.

Eden, created by Harry Harrison. What if the comet missed, and dinosaurs hadn't died out? Here we have a world where an intelligent lizard species evolved, using fascinating bio-technology derived from centuries of genetic engineering. They're seen from the viewpoint of their rivals, stone-age humanity.

Pavane, created by Keith Roberts. One of the classics of the alternate history genre, in which Elizabeth I of England was assassinated, the Spanish conquered England, the reformation failed, and the industrial revolution was stifled. We're shown an alternate England of 1968, with communication by a nationwide network of semaphore towers, travel mostly by road steam engine since the internal combustion engine is outlawed by the Church.