The Religious Makeup of the New Congress

And not a single goddamned atheist….

WASHINGTON — The new Congress will, for the first time, include a Muslim, two Buddhists, more Jews than Episcopalians and the highest-ranking Mormon in congressional history.

Roman Catholics remain the largest single faith group in Congress, accounting for 29 percent of all members of the House and Senate, followed by Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews and Episcopalians.

While Catholics in Congress are Democrats by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1, the most lopsidedly Democratic groups are Jews and those not affiliated with any religion. Of the 43 Jewish members of Congress, there is only one Jewish Republican in the House, and there are two in the Senate. The six religiously unaffiliated members of the House are all Democrats.

Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries of 2006

I hope I’m not ruining it if I give you numbers 1 and 2:

1. Valley of the Kings Tomb
KV63 was the first tomb to be excavated in the Valley of the Kings since Tutankhamun’s in 1922. The chamber held seven 18th Dynasty coffins.

2. 3-Million-Year-Old Child
After years of chiseling tiny bones out of sandstone blocks from Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, paleontologists announced the discovery of a nearly complete Australopithecus afarensis child (see “The New Face of Evolution”).

(via Mystery of the Haunted Vampire)

Man Jumps In Front of Subway Train to Save Stranger

The epitome of heroism:

Who has ridden along New York’s 656 miles of subway lines and not wondered: “What if I fell to the tracks as a train came in? What would I do?”

And who has not thought: “What if someone else fell? Would I jump to the rescue?”

Wesley Autrey, a 50-year-old construction worker and Navy veteran, faced both those questions in a flashing instant yesterday, and got his answers almost as quickly.

Mr. Autrey was waiting for the downtown local at 137th Street and Broadway in Manhattan around 12:45 p.m. He was taking his two daughters, Syshe, 4, and Shuqui, 6, home before work.

Nearby, a man collapsed, his body convulsing. Mr. Autrey and two women rushed to help, he said. The man, Cameron Hollopeter, 20, managed to get up, but then stumbled to the platform edge and fell to the tracks, between the two rails.

The headlights of the No. 1 train appeared. “I had to make a split decision,” Mr. Autrey said.

So he made one, and leapt.

Mr. Autrey lay on Mr. Hollopeter, his heart pounding, pressing him down in a space roughly a foot deep. The train’s brakes screeched, but it could not stop in time.

20 Ways the World Could End

Or at least 20 ways we could become exctinct:

3 Collapse of the vacuum In the book Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut popularized the idea of “ice-nine,” a form of water that is far more stable than the ordinary kind, so it is solid at room temperature. Unleash a bit of it, and suddenly all water on Earth transforms to ice-nine and freezes solid. Ice-nine was a satirical invention, but an abrupt, disastrous phase transition is a possibility. Very early in the history of the universe, according to a leading cosmological model, empty space was full of energy. This state of affairs, called a false vacuum, was highly precarious. A new, more stable kind of vacuum appeared and, like ice-nine, it quickly took over. This transition unleashed a tremendous amount of energy and caused a brief runaway expansion of the cosmos. It is possible that another, even more stable kind of vacuum exists, however. As the universe expands and cools, tiny bubbles of this new kind of vacuum might appear and spread at nearly the speed of light. The laws of physics would change in their wake, and a blast of energy would dash everything to bits. “It makes for a beautiful story, but it’s not very likely,” says Piet Hut of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. He says he worries more about threats that scientists are more certain of— such as rogue black holes.

Dawkins on Saddam’s Execution

Executing Saddam Hussein was an Act of Vandalism:

In any case, revenge is an ignoble motive. The usual arguments against the death penalty in general apply. If Bush and Blair are eventually put on trial for war crimes, I shall not be among those pressing for them to be hanged. But I want to add another and less obvious reason why we should not have executed Saddam Hussein. His mind would have been a unique resource for historical, political and psychological research: a resource that is now forever unavailable to scholars.

Imagine, in fancy, that some science fiction equivalent of Simon Wiesenthal built a time machine, travelled back to 1945 and returned to the present with a manacled Adolf Hitler. What should we do with him? Execute him? No, a thousand times no. Historians squabbling over exactly what happened in the Third Reich and the Second World War would never forgive us for destroying the central witness to all the inside stories, and one of the pivotal influences on twentieth century history. Psychologists, struggling to understand how an individual human being could be so evil and so devastatingly effective at persuading others to join him, would give their eye teeth for such a rich research subject. Kill Hitler? You would have to be mad to do so. Yet that is undoubtedly what we would have done if he hadn’t killed himself in 1945. Saddam Hussein is not in the same league as Hitler but, nevertheless, in a small way his execution represents a wanton and vandalistic destruction of important research data.

Saddam Hussein could have provided irreplaceable help to future historians of the Iran/Iraq war, of the invasion of Kuwait, and of the subsequent era of sanctions culminating in the current invasion. Uniquely privileged evidence on the American government’s enthusiastic arming of Saddam before they switched loyalties is now snuffed out at the tug of a rope (no doubt to the relief of Donald Rumsfeld and other guilty parties — it is surely no accident that the trial of Saddam neglected those of his crimes that might — no, would — have implicated them).

(via J-Walk)