May 2005 Archives

Sunday Question

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I’ll leave y’all with this thought.

Is it possible to fart such that it affects all six senses at once?

Gone Fishing

Today I’m leaving to go deep sea fishing with my dad and brothers in the Gulf. I’ll be back by Thursday.

I’m quoted in Science & Theology News criticizing ID’s new blog:

Unlike most blogs, however, Intelligent Design The Future does not let readers respond online to the posts. Reed Cartwright, a contributor to the evolution blog called The Panda’s Thumb, said preventing readers from adding their comments to the online discussion about intelligent design, also known as ID, shows that those who created it are not interested in running an actual blog.

“If ID is the future, as the title of the blog advertises, can’t it withstand criticism?” said Cartwright, a doctoral candidate in genetics at the University of Georgia. “I think that it is ironic that a movement, which claims to want ‘more discussion’ about biology in schools, does not allow discussion [on their blog].”

Sex Offensive

“Sex offenders” (which includes criminals from serial child rapists to adult men with 17yro girlfriends) are some of the current boogey men in American politics. They are probably the one classification of people that the government is continually willing to twist or break the law in order to punish. In recent years, whenever the media pays attention to some little white girl who was killed by a “sex offender”, politicians rush to be the first to round up all convicted “sex offenders” and hand out new punishments, even if the convicts have already paid their dues to society.

Now comes the “shocking” revelation that sex offenders are getting Viagra paid for by the government. Of course politicians are rushing to denounce such policies and eliminate sex offenders from Medicaid. But can they legally do this? If erectile dysfunction is such an important health concern that Medicaid covers Viagra, then there is little justification for denying such important health care to convicts, especially after the fact.

If “sex offenders” don’t deserve government Viagra, then do any Americans? We don’t give welfare mothers government birth control pills.

Why stop at “sex offenders” and Viagra? Why don’t we just take all felons off of Medicaid? They already can’t vote, drive, or own a gun in many states. Take ‘em all off Medicaid, ban them from hospitals. That way they’ll die sooner and make the nation safer. (Or go to Canada, but it has the same effect.)

If “sex offender” registries are constitutional, let’s expand the policy to cover all felons. Heck, I wouldn’t mind it if we made all felons wear giant signs identifying their convictions for the rest of their life. That, to me, is the most effective way to publish such public information. Imagine all those corrupt politicians trying to write laws in sandwich boards.

The Hawking

Today Tiffany and I decided to spend some time outside. We went to the state botanical gardens and I read a paper while she walked around looking for birds. We did manage to spot a nest of Cooper’s Hawks right off the gardens. We saw three immature birds and one adult bird.

I also finally bought new running shoes and sandles.

I like the filibuster because it protects “minority” interests, but it requires the minority to work for it. Therefore, it can only be used sparingly and only when it really matters.

It makes sense to have one in the senate because it is quite possible that a minority of senators represent a majority of citizens. From what I’ve read, this is true today. The Democratic senators actually represent more Americans than the Republican senators.

I am really hoping that Frist not only loses the filibuster wars but that it backfires completely both against him and the Republican Party. The GOP needs a hard kick in the backside to remind them that they don’t have a mandate to institute totalitarian policies.

P.S., I saw an episode of King of the Hill last week which defended the filibuster.

Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman’s family has become critical of the military for how they covered up his death.

“Pat had high ideals about the country; that’s why he did what he did,” Mary Tillman told the Post. “The military let him down. The administration let him down. It was a sign of disrespect. The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting.”

Patrick Tillman Sr., a lawyer, told the Post he is furious about a “botched homicide investigation” and blames high-ranking Army officers for presenting “outright lies” to the family and to the public.

“After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this,” the father said. “They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy.”

Ouch, them’s some harsh words.

Pat Tillman was an atheist serving as a high profile rebuttle to the despicable claim that there are no “atheists” in foxholes.

Gangsta Cloggers

Last week Tiffany and I were watching Turner South, and a show about a clogging competition was on. One shot showed a group of white kids clogging on stage wearing urban fashion: bandanas, football jerseys, baggy pants, etc. It just wasn’t right. I kept thinking about how these gangsta cloggers would defend their art.

“Man, that is not how it is. I don’t advocate violence or drugs. Don’t you be telling me about my steps. I know what I dance. Man, I clog about life on the street.”

Monkey See Doggy Do

Carolyn L. Ehardt, an anthropologist at the University of Georgia is co-discover of a new species of monkey. The first one found in Africa in the past twenty years.

The scientists said there were probably fewer than 1,000 of the mangabeys living in these areas. The Ndundulo forest is in excellent condition, they said, but the Rungwe forest habitat is under assault by loggers, poachers and others. They expect the new species to be classified as critically endangered.

The newly discovered monkey, a tree-dwelling creature, is about three feet long, with long brownish fur. It has a crest of hair on its head and abundant whiskers. Unlike other Lophocebus mangabeys, which communicate with a “whoop gobble,” the new species has an unusual “honk bark,” the researchers said.

No Words

Committee Meeting

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Well, I had a committee meeting today. My (new) committee appeared to like my eclectic set of projects. Their main concern is scheduling my projects so I can finish. I have a tendency to get something 3/4ths of the way done and then move on to another project. I think I get that from my dad.

I’m meeting with one of my advisors tomorrow morning to discuss the outcome of the meeting.

I use Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird for my web browser and email client respectively. I’ve come to enjoy several extensions for them. For Firefox, Tabbrowser Preferences, All-in-One Gestures, and Google Bar are indispensable for navigation. For Thunderbird, the Display Mail User Agent and Display Mailing List Header offer the very desirable features of displaying icons identifying the software used by an email sender and displaying quick links for unsubscribing from listservers. I use more extensions, but these are my favorites.

I recommend that everyone drop Internet Explorer and upgrade to the more advanced Firefox. Several features on this site are not available to Internet Explorer users because of its primative engine.

Dr. Hager’s Family Values

David Hager is a prominent Kentucky ob-gyn who became popular in conservative circles for his books on how women need to be lead by men. He was appointed to the FDA’s advisory panel and was instrumental in blocking over the counter emergency contraception, despite a 23-4 approval of the panel. His former wife, Linda Carruth Davis, has now spoken out about his treatment of her in their thirty-two year marriage.

According to Davis, Hager’s public moralizing on sexual matters clashed with his deplorable treatment of her during their marriage. Davis alleges that between 1995 and their divorce in 2002, Hager repeatedly sodomized her without her consent. Several sources on and off the record confirmed that she had told them it was the sexual and emotional abuse within their marriage that eventually forced her out. “I probably wouldn’t have objected so much, or felt it was so abusive if he had just wanted normal [vaginal] sex all the time,” she explained to me. “But it was the painful, invasive, totally nonconsensual nature of the [anal] sex that was so horrible.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader is reporting that Hager expects to no longer be on the FDA’s panel.

Broken Lenora

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I broke my computer today. I know, I should have been working, but I got to installing FreeBSD 5.4 on a spare harddrive. My intention was to set up a dual boot system for playing around. Unfortunately somewhere down the line I hosed my partition information for my Windows XP drive. Yeap I had lost everything.

After I came down from freaking out over what I did, I had to figure out how to fix it. Given what I was doing, I determined that the data on my hard drive was not lost, but rather was missing. If I could repair the partition information I could access it again. I booted up the laptop and tried to find programs that would recover the partition information. I tried TestDisk from my Freesbie disc. It was able to detect that I had and NTFS partition, but was unable to recognize that it spanned two harddrives.

There were some other programs that I could try, but I would need to reinstall Windows to get them to work. In order to not lose any data on my main hard drives, I installed Windows over the FreeBSD installation that got me into the problem in the first place. When that was done, I tried PC Inspector File Recovery, but it didn’t work. I then went back to TestDisk, which I was now able to run from Windows. It worked like a charm. My partition information was reconstructed and after a reboot, Lenora was working again.

I love this story.

Princeton University students are showing support for the filibuster by staging their own.

For the last two weeks, students, faculty and congressmen have kept the filibuster going around the clock, reading everything from Einstein’s classic papers to the “Q” section of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

The protest did not begin with a centralized group of students. While a small core group started with what was to be a 12-hour protest, other students wanted to take the protest overnight, and because there was enough interest, the filibuster continued beyond that. Organizers noted that many coordinators hadn’t met each other before the second week, as the movement grew so “organically.”

“We really thought it would not go beyond the first day, but so many people wanted to sign up,” said Asheeh Siddique, a sophomore organizer from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Notable appearances have included U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-New Jersey, and Frank Pallone Jr., D-New Jersey, and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Chuck Pennachio. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek also filibustered.

“We’re taking the message from Frist’s alma mater to his doorstep, and we believe it’s critical for American democracy that he hears it,” said Ben Strauss, a graduate student organizer.

I’m surprised no wingnuts have taken a turn to speak out against the filibuster, homosexuality, minorities, etc. I’m surprised that Fred Phelps hasn’t shown up to take his turn.

Three Day

My wife, Tiffany, wants to participate in the 2005 Atlanta Breast Cancer 3-Day walk. However, she needs to raise $2,100 dollars before October to participate. She has nearly $300 now. If you want to donate, please go to this page to do it.

Prof. Steve Steve

Check out Prof. Steve Steve’s website: http://prof.stevesteve.org. It’s simple right now, but he is working on it.

Journalists are being lazy again when it comes to reporting, but you won’t hear that from the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division. The AP recently carried a report about a “new” tactic by anti-evolutionists: seeding doubt amongst students so that they are unable to learn basic biology. It is not at all new.

Furthermore, the report carries Johnathan Wells’ dishonest “ten questions to ask your biology teacher.” What it doesn’t carry is that NCSE has produce a media friendly response to these questions: Responses to Jonathan Wells’s Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher.

Q: ORIGIN OF LIFE. Why do textbooks claim that the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how life’s building blocks may have formed on the early Earth – when conditions on the early Earth were probably nothing like those used in the experiment, and the origin of life remains a mystery?

A: Because evolutionary theory works with any model of the origin of life on Earth, how life originated is not a question about evolution. Textbooks discuss the 1953 studies because they were the first successful attempt to show how organic molecules might have been produced on the early Earth. When modern scientists changed the experimental conditions to reflect better knowledge of the Earth’s early atmosphere, they were able to produce most of the same building blocks. Origin-of-life remains a vigorous area of research.

Q: DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE. Why don’t textbooks discuss the “Cambrian explosion,” in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor – thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?

A: Wells is wrong: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals all are post-Cambrian - aren’t these “major groups”? We would recognize very few of the Cambrian organisms as “modern”; they are in fact at the roots of the tree of life, showing the earliest appearances of some key features of groups of animals - but not all features and not all groups. Researchers are linking these Cambrian groups using not only fossils but also data from developmental biology.

Q: HOMOLOGY. Why do textbooks define homology as similarity due to common ancestry, then claim that it is evidence for common ancestry – a circular argument masquerading as scientific evidence?

A: The same anatomical structure (such as a leg or an antenna) in two species may be similar because it was inherited from a common ancestor (homology) or because of similar adaptive pressure (convergence). Homology of structures across species is not assumed, but tested by the repeated comparison of numerous features that do or do not sort into successive clusters. Homology is used to test hypotheses of degrees of relatedness. Homology is not “evidence” for common ancestry: common ancestry is inferred based on many sources of information, and reinforced by the patterns of similarity and dissimilarity of anatomical structures.

Q: VERTEBRATE EMBRYOS. Why do textbooks use drawings of similarities in vertebrate embryos as evidence for their common ancestry – even though biologists have known for over a century that vertebrate embryos are not most similar in their early stages, and the drawings are faked?

A: Twentieth-century and current embryological research confirms that early stages (if not the earliest) of vertebrate embryos are more similar than later ones; the more recently species shared a common ancestor, the more similar their embryological development. Thus cows and rabbits - mammals - are more similar in their embryological development than either is to alligators. Cows and antelopes are more similar in their embryology than either is to rabbits, and so on. The union of evolution and developmental biology - “evo-devo” - is one of the most rapidly growing biological fields. “Faked” drawings are not relied upon: there has been plenty of research in developmental biology since Haeckel - and in fact, hardly any textbooks feature Haeckel’s drawings, as claimed.

Q: ARCHAEOPTERYX. Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds – even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?

A: The notion of a “missing link” is an out-of-date misconception about how evolution works. Archaeopteryx (and other feathered fossils) shows how a branch of reptiles gradually acquired both the unique anatomy and flying adaptations found in all modern birds. It is a transitional fossil in that it shows both reptile ancestry and bird specializations. Wells’s claim that “supposed ancestors” are younger than Archaeopteryx is false. These fossils are not ancestors but relatives of Archaeopteryx and, as everyone knows, your uncle can be younger than you!

Q: PEPPERED MOTHS. Why do textbooks use pictures of peppered moths camouflaged on tree trunks as evidence for natural selection – when biologists have known since the 1980s that the moths don’t normally rest on tree trunks, and all the pictures have been staged?

A: These pictures are illustrations used to demonstrate a point - the advantage of protective coloration to reduce the danger of predation. The pictures are not the scientific evidence used to prove the point in the first place. Compare this illustration to the well-known re-enactments of the Battle of Gettysburg. Does the fact that these re-enactments are staged prove that the battle never happened? The peppered moth photos are the same sort of illustration, not scientific evidence for natural selection.

Q: DARWIN’S FINCHES. Why do textbooks claim that beak changes in Galapagos finches during a severe drought can explain the origin of species by natural selection – even though the changes were reversed after the drought ended, and no net evolution occurred?

A: Textbooks present the finch data to illustrate natural selection: that populations change their physical features in response to changes in the environment. The finch studies carefully - exquisitely - documented how the physical features of an organism can affect its success in reproduction and survival, and that such changes can take place more quickly than was realized. That new species did not arise within the duration of the study hardly challenges evolution!

Q: MUTANT FRUIT FLIES. Why do textbooks use fruit flies with an extra pair of wings as evidence that DNA mutations can supply raw materials for evolution – even though the extra wings have no muscles and these disabled mutants cannot survive outside the laboratory?

A: In the very few textbooks that discuss four-winged fruit flies, they are used as an illustration of how genes can reprogram parts of the body to produce novel structures, thus indeed providing “raw material” for evolution. This type of mutation produces new structures that become available for further experimentation and potential new uses. Even if not every mutation leads to a new evolutionary pathway, the flies are a vivid example of one way mutation can provide variation for natural selection to work on.

Q: HUMAN ORIGINS. Why are artists’ drawings of ape-like humans used to justify materialistic claims that we are just animals and our existence is a mere accident – when fossil experts cannot even agree on who our supposed ancestors were or what they looked like?

A: Drawings of humans and our ancestors illustrate the general outline of human ancestry, about which there is considerable agreement, even if new discoveries continually add to the complexity of the account. The notion that such drawings are used to “justify materialistic claims” is ludicrous and not borne out by an examination of textbook treatments of human evolution.

Q: EVOLUTION A FACT? Why are we told that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a scientific fact – even though many of its claims are based on misrepresentations of the facts?

A: What does Wells mean by “Darwin’s theory of evolution”? In the last century, some of what Darwin originally proposed has been augmented by more modern scientific understanding of inheritance (genetics), development, and other processes that affect evolution. What remains unchanged is that similarities and differences among living things on Earth over time and space display a pattern that is best explained by evolutionary theory. Wells’s “10 Questions” fails to demonstrate a pattern of evolutionary biologists’ “misrepresenting the facts.”

This isn’t some new resource, but one that is three and a half years old.

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