November 2004 Archives

Well Principal Tommy Craft of Cedar Shoals High School, which is virtually next door to my house, read some internet spam (BugMeNot) to the students last week. And it wasn’t cool spam like “buy a diploma from a real non-accredited college” or “these pills will make you larger.” No it was stupid fundy/theocrat spam. You know, the kind of spam where a court decision against Christians forcing their religion on people is turned into persecution of Christians, the kind of spam where reality goes out the window, the kind of spam that contains no ounce of fact. Many of you have probably already seen the trash he read.

New School Prayer

Now I sit me down in school Where praying is against the rule For this great nation under God Finds mention of Him very odd.

If Scripture now the class recites, It violates the Bill of Rights. And anytime my head I bow Becomes a Federal matter now.

Our hair can be purple, orange or green, That’s no offense; it’s a freedom scene. The law is specific, the law is precise. Prayers spoken aloud are a serious vice.

For praying in a public hall Might offend someone with no faith at all. In silence alone we must meditate, God’s name is prohibited by the state.

We’re allowed to cuss and dress like freaks, And pierce our noses, tongues and cheeks. They’ve outlawed guns, but FIRST the Bible. To quote the Good Book makes me liable.

We can elect a pregnant Senior Queen, And the “unwed daddy,” our Senior King. It’s “inappropriate” to teach right from wrong, We’re taught that such “judgments” do not belong.

We can get our condoms and birth controls, Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles. But the Ten Commandments are not allowed, No word of God must reach this crowd.

It’s scary here I must confess, When chaos reigns the school’s a mess. So, Lord, this silent plea I make: Should I be shot, my soul please take!

It’s one think for uneducated dolts to pass this around the internet. It is another thing for high school principal to read this to students because he should know better. His school begins with a moment of “silence” every day. He should know that students can pray in public schools. This serious problem with this poem is that is sends the wrong message to kids about their rights as students.

On their own time, students can pray, read scripture, post the 10 commandments in their locker, etc. Apparently, the principal isn’t part of the reality-based community.

Even beyond that if I were a student with no religion, a child, colored hair, piercings, non-standard dress, or birth control, I’d be offended that the principal is sending the message that I am somehow less of a citizen. Perhaps, the final part is the worse of all. Essentially, the principal told his students that they should be afraid of being shot while at school. Not cool!

Happy Birthday to Me

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Happy Birthday to Me Happy Birthday to Me Happy Birthday dear Reed Happy Birthday to Me

Update

My wife got me the latest Björk cd and a copy of Alton Brown’s cookbook, I’m Just Here for the Food. She also made me a yummy pound cake. Oh yeah, we went out to eat stake last night.

Collard Greens

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We had four Thanksgivings this year.

  • Just my wife and I on Wednesday.
  • With my mother for lunch on Thursday.
  • With my father for supper on Thursday.
  • With my wife’s family on Friday.

My mother is going through some mild chemotherapy and said that she wasn’t going to do much and wanted us to bring a dish. Then she sent me a list of about 10 dishes that she was going to do. So I guess she changed her mind. Anyway she covered all the bases, so there wasn’t much left for me to choose from. I decided to bring collard greens.

The trick to cooking collard greens is to be patient and start the night before. Crock pots work best. Fresh collards should be roughly chopped, leaving large pieces, about the width of lasagna noodles. I sliced one large banana pepper and 4 ounces of fat-back and placed them in the bottom of the crock pot. On top of that, I placed the chopped collards. To that I added enough water to just about cover the greens, about 12 cups. (You don’t want to cover the greens because they will reduce as they cook.) To this I added a tablespoon of ground black pepper, a half tablespoon of kosher salt, a fourth a cup of cane syrup, and a tablespoon of sherry vinegar.

I then let it slow cook for about twelve hours, stirring occasionally. The final dish is sweet and mildly hot and best served straight out of the pot.

Been Meaning to Post This

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What is Evolution?

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As an evolutionary biologist, it is very important to me to have a rigorous definition of “evolution.” The word “evolution” ultimately derives from the Latin verb “evolvere,” which means “to roll out” and referred to the reading of scrolls. In colloquial English, “evolution” refers to “progressive change.” This is what we mean when we talk about “the evolution of politics,” “the evolution of the media,” “the evolution of military power,” “the evolution of stars,” etc.

Now “progressive change” is of course the original meaning of “evolution” and is why development was the first process in biology to be called “evolution.” It is also the reason why “evolution” was later applied to the origin of species. At that point biologists considered the origin of species to be a progressive process where “lower” species changed into “higher” species. When biologists realized that the origin of species was not a progressive process, they still kept the term “evolution” to refer to the origin of species. Instead of coining new terminology, they kept the old terminology but changed its meaning, dropping the connotation of “progression.” As a result, the biological meaning of “evolution” diverged from the colloquial meaning of “evolution.” Many problems in scientific literacy can be traced to this divergence. Ironically, when people use “evolution” with out any specifics, they usually refer to biological evolution.

Creationists, who tend to be scientifically illiterate especially about biology, often take the colloquial connotation of “progression” to extremes. For instance, it is very common for them to think that evolution covers everything from the origin of the universe to mankind. That is that evolution is a progressive process in which nothing changed into man. Of course this is completely wrong; science recognizes no such process, progressive or otherwise. Even when creationists realize that evolution is not such a grand universal process, they still commonly mistake the origin of life (abiogenesis) for evolution. It is a very popular tactic to “criticize evolution” by arguing against a natural origin of life. However, such tactics further demonstrate biological illiteracy. There simply are no common processes between the origin of life and the diversification of life. No single explanation will cover both. (I am using “life” here in a broad sense: imperfect replicators.)

Now I am getting to my point: what is evolution? Well, evolution is both a fact and a theory. The fact of evolution is that characteristics of populations of organisms change over time. The theory of evolution explains this fact by identifying processes that produce such change. Such processes include mutation, selection, genetic drift, migration, isolation, and inbreeding.

Failures of Science Education

Our science education does not live up to our own standards. (BugMeNot)

Statewide, science test scores are low, and science has the lowest pass rate of any of the required state graduation tests, which also include English and writing. In 2004, only 71 percent of first-time test-takers have passed the science graduation test, compared to 95 percent in English and 95 percent in math. When all test-takers are considered, including those who have attempted it in the past, the pass rate dropped to 59 percent, according to figures from the state Department of Education.

In Clarke County, 58 percent of first-time test-takers passed the science graduation test in 2004, a drop from 62 percent in 2003.

Open-Faced Sandwiches

Previously I shared my recipe for baked tilapia. Today I’m going to share my recipe for open-faced sandwiches. This recipe is very flexible for obvious reasons.

Ingredients

1 8-oz chicken breast (serves two) 1 red bell pepper 1 yellow bell pepper 1 portabella mushroom 1 zucchini Fontina cheese, shredded 1 unsliced loaf of bread lemon juice cane syrup salt and pepper olive oil

Directions

Roast the bell peppers and slice them into strips. (If you don’t know how to roast peppers, consult a cookbook or ask.) While the peppers are roasting, slice the mushroom and zucchini and sauté them in olive oil. Set aside the vegetables for use later. Slice up the chicken and begin to sauté it in olive oil. When the surface of the chicken is no longer pink, add a half a cup of lemon juice, a tablespoon of cane syrup, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the chicken is done and the mixture has reduced into a glaze.

Using a good bread knife, cut two 1-inch slices off the loaf and lightly toast them. Place the slices on a broiler pan to begin assembling the sandwiches. The chicken should go on first followed by the vegetables. There will be vegetables left over. Sprinkle the cheese on top and place in the broiler until the cheese has completely melted.

Goes great with oven fries.

Schrenko Indicted

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Our former state school superintendent, Linda Schrenko, has been indicted for embezzling funds to fund her distarous campaign for governor and get a face lift. Schrenko was once the princess of the Christian Coalition–advocating for teaching creationism will do that–and the first woman elected to a statewide office. (And if I remember correctly the first Republican since reconstruction.)

Conservative political commentator Bill Shipp called Schrenko the worst politician in the history of the state. Schrenko spent more time setting herself up to run for governor than doing her job. The last few months in office she never bothered to show up to work. She hired her Augusta friends into positions in the superintendent’s office, including her pastor and his wife. (This was known as the Augusta Cabal.) She didn’t even go to state schoolboard meetings.

I remember Schrenko for giving a talk in Washington to republican lawmakers in support of NCLB. She was arguing that Georgia needed Washington’s help. I couldn’t help but think that Schrenko was our State Superintendent; she has the power to fix our schools herself. Appealing to Washington lawmakers demonstrated to me that she was lazy and ineffectual.

The indictment couldn’t have happened to a better politician.

The suit against Cobb County (GA) school district to remove anti-evolution disclaimers from biology textbooks is going well. I was able to attend part of the trial today and saw most of the testimony of CCSD’s lone witness, Dr. George Stickle, who oversees science education for the county. The Discovery Institute is apparently unhappy with the way things are going (Why Isn’t Cobb Co. School District’s Attorney Mounting More Vigorous Defense? and Can Cobb Co. Attorney Overcome Trial Mistakes in Time to Save School District?).

First some background. A little over two years ago, Cobb County, a suburb of Atlanta and the most affluent county in the state, began to issue newly adopted high school and middle school biology textbooks to students. Due to a petition drive by creationist parents, the school district affixed a disclaimer to the books that stated

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

The superintendent did not want a disclaimer, but proposed an alternate wording in which students were encouraged to critically examine all ideas. The board overruled it and went with the above language, which they developed themselves. Six parents and the ACLU filed suit in federal court to remove the disclaimers as violating of the establishment clause of the US Constitution. (The main issue is quality science education, but there is little constitutional regress for that.)

In constitutional law, there is what is called the “three-pronged” Lemon Test. This standard holds that for a government action to satisfy the establishment clause it must

  • have a secular purpose,
  • have a primary effect that neither advances nor hinders religion,
  • and not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion.

In pre-trial hearings, the judge ruled that religious motivations of parents could not implicate the school board as violating the first prong. The judge did find that there were substantial questions about the others and sent them on to trial. Thus only the latter two prongs are issues before the court in this week’s proceedings. This means that the plaintiffs are tasked with demonstrating that the disclaimers primarily advance religion and/or entangle public biology education with religion. Their strategy involves demonstrating that the disclaimers are wrong scientifically and hurt biology education in a way that appeases people with certain religious beliefs. CCSD’s strategy is to demonstrate that the disclaimers are scientifically acceptable and improve biology education.

Now Seth Cooper, the DI lawyer who prepared an amicus brief supporting the disclaimer, is upset at the way the lawyer for CCSD is handling the case. Cooper’s main complaint is that the defense never called any expert witnesses to cast doubt on evolution. Apparently Cooper is unaware that no expert witness testimony was presented at the trial. Last Friday the judge used a procedural technicality to disqualify all expert testimony. It is suspected that this was done to streamline the trial. Ken Miller, a well known biologist from Brown University, did not testify as an expert witness, but as coauthor of the most popular biology textbook used in Cobb schools. Carlos Moreno, a pathologist from Emory University, testified as a Cobb resident. Although scientists did testify for the plaintiffs, none did so as an expert.

Like I said earlier, I attended the trial today. The purpose of my drive to Atlanta was to assist in cross-examining a potential defense witness, Cobb resident Leon L. Combs, who was expected to testify against evolution and for alternatives. Combs is a chemistry professor at Kennesaw State University. He is a biblical literalist who thinks that “True Science” must agree with God’s “Absolute Truth” and that only Christians can make significant scientific progress. He also is planning on becoming a minister after he retires. However, from what I was told, Combs backed out of testifying this morning. Perhaps he learned that the plaintiffs were extremely well prepared to cross-examine him and got cold feet. (It’s not like you can’t predict what an anti-evolutionist will say and be ready for it.) It’s a shame, since I know y’all would enjoy reading the brutal cross examination that I helped prepare.

With Combs out, Stickle was left as the only witness for the defense. The lawyer for the school district tried to use Stickle to establish that evolutionary theory is questionable and should be questioned by the students. This was to support the strategy that the disclaimer helped education, thus satisfying the Lemon Test. Long story short, on cross the plaintiffs’ attorney got Stickle to admit that evolution was a fact and that new findings have not questioned evolution, only improved our understanding of it. Stickle even said that creationism can sound convincing, but looking into it reveals the distortions of real science. He cited two quote-mines by Strobel for this. I heard that one journalist remarked that Stickle, the defense’s only witness, was the plaintiffs’ best witness.

With nothing left but closing statements, the atmosphere does seem to favor the plaintiffs.

Get Firefox!

Firefox 1.0 comes out tomorrow. To celebrate, I might just start using a script that bugs IE users to upgrade.

Baked Tilapia

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Tilapia is a farm-raised, freshwater fish originally from Africa. (Biologists should recognize them as cichlids.) Tilapia filets are becoming very common in US markets. Its flesh is white and soft and handling can break up a cooking filet, so I prefer to bake it.

Ingredients

4 tilapia filets (total weight is under one pound, serves 2 adults) 1 lime (or lemon if you prefer) 2 tbsp butter Cilantro (fresh or dried) Ground red (cayenne) pepper Garlic power Salt (if using unsalted butter) Salsa verde

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Butter the bottom of a casserole pan just large enough to hold the filets. Place the filets in the pan, overlapping them slightly if needed. Melt the rest of the butter and pour it onto the filets. Slice the lime into four medallions and place one on each filet. Then sprinkle to taste the red pepper, garlic powder, salt, and cilantro over the filets. Bake the fish for about 20 minutes. The fish will be done when they flake easily with a fork.

Serving

Spread salsa verde on a half of each plate. Then using a spatula gently lift the filets from the plate and place them on top of the salsa. Filets can become stuck together so you may need to carefully break them apart with the spatula before lifting. If you have time, you may want to thicken up the salsa verde on the stove with some corn starch.

Goes great with rice and steamed vegetables.

Aryan Battle?

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In case my readers haven’t noticed, I got an author of an “Aryan Battle” page trying to defend the actions of Marilou Braswell, who retaliated against a student, and was subsequently fired.

The comment is here.

Koko Critcisms

I emailed Tim Sandefur after I spotted some critical comments on his blog about Koko. He has responded the email.

My primary concern is that the interpreters are biased, either because they are looking too hard, or because they see what they want to see, or because of something else. A person who knows sign language would be at least equally susceptible to such a bias as a person who does not, and perhaps moreso.

The problem with the position is that skeptics have often reviewed Koko’s abilities. My understanding is that not a single skeptic of Koko, who has actually interacted with her, doubts her reported abilities. Sandefur’s concerns are based on an incomplete knowledge about the research involving Koko and the other signing gorillas.

There is a wealth of knowledge about the research with Koko on IIDB because one of the posters, Biff the Unclean, works with her and has participated in long threads about the research, answering questions and responding to critics.

I once asked Biff to ask Koko if humans are apes. Her response was that we aren’t pretty enough to be apes.

Miller Spin

Zell Miller has his spin on the election. (It is also copied in the extended entry.) It demonstrates how clueless he is about the election.

America’s faith in freedom has been reaffirmed. With the re-election of President Bush, America recommitted itself once again to expanding freedom and promoting liberty.

America has done no such thing. Bush won not because he was the “freedom” candidate. He won because he is the “no guys kissin’” candidate. Polling indicates that Republicans turned out in droves to vote against gay marriage, and that made the difference. It was a really good policy move by the Republican Party because Bush can now go to the Arab world and point out how much our theocrats have in common with their theocrats.

The Republican Party is not the party of freedom or liberty. Republican policies are not supporting freedom because they know that the Americans will trade freedoms for security, especially if it is their freedoms that are not affected, and even if their security doesn’t benefit. New York, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the places most affected by terrorist attacks, all voted for Kerry. I think that says a lot.

The Republican Party does not promote liberty. If the Republicans really wanted to use war to promote liberty, there are plenty of countries in our own hemisphere that need their patronage. Where are the plans to promote liberty in Cuba or Haiti? I guess liberty requires oil. Our invasion of Iraq was the result of a family feud. Bush had neither humanitarian nor security interests. He wanted to finish what his father started. The Iraqi people have not been liberated; they are not free. Anarchy is not freedom.

It really amazes me how political memes get going without any foundation in reality. If people voted for Bush because he is the candidate of freedom and liberty, then they got a lemon.

Election Views…

No one has yet won the presidential election. I hold out a slim hope that Kerry might be able to pull it off. I can’t understand how we can have a president as bad as Bush, and the Democrats lose ground to him. Apparantly, the primary issue amongst voters was moral values. I guess Bush’s lead in the popular vote is a sign that Americans are firmly against homosexuality and women’s rights.

In Georgia, the Republicans have consolidated control of the government. First thing up on their agenda will be to redraw the congressional districts in their favor. Unlike Texas, the districts we currently have were drawn by the legislature. Hopefully, the Republicans’ plans will be tossed out on procedure. I don’t expect the Republicans will stop their new found power there. I imagine that when the legislature meets in a few months, we will see the Republicans push hard to ban abortion, compromise science education, hang ten commandment plaques, etc. They will pass, and Georgia will die a little.

In good news, the far right candidate for state appeals court has been decidedly beated by the two moderate candidates, who will be in a run off later this month.

And it looks like I will finally have someone in Congress who represents me. Democrat John Barrow appears to have defeated incumbant Republican lap-dog, Max Burns. I guess it is the consolation prize for this depressed voter.

Murder in Michigan

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Man kills atheist because he doesn’t believe in God

The suspect said the victim had told him there was nothing he could say that would convince the 62-year-old to believe in God.

Following this discussion, the suspect said, he went into another room and removed his shirt. Then he shaved his face.

He tried once more to convince the victim to believe in God, but this time, he had the shotgun.

“How long would it take you to believe in God?” the suspect said he asked the victim.

“Not until I hear Gabriel blow his horn,” the victim allegedly replied, while tipping his hat.

That’s when the suspect shot him.

“I did it because he is evil; he was not a believer,” the suspect told police.

A lot of people made a big deal out of Christians at Columbine High School. I wonder what they will say about this.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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