Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to get to heaven. Not.

Here's a nice video that looks at Jesus's teachings on how to get into heaven.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Race and track & field revisited

I asked the question why supposed racial groups don't perform the same across the male-female divide. Two different bloggers questioned some of my examples and pointed out that women face more obstacles in participating in sports. Regarding the latter, this is valid even in the United States. Also, countries where female runners have dominated, besides the US and the UK, are China, Russia, and other ex-Soviet or ex-Communist regimes like East Germany and Czechoslovakia. A number of records set by women have been unchallenged for many years as well, pointing to doping questions as well as perhaps suggesting a somewhat uneven playing field for women (although more records might suggest the same).

Two suspicious records are close to being challenged or broken. I'm talking about the 800m, which hasn't been broken since Kratochvilová's 1983 record performance of 1:53.28, and the 10,000 meters, which hasn't even been remotely challenged since Yunxia Qu knocked around 40 seconds off the previous record in 1993 (one blogger mentioned that he read that there were suspicions that this was run on a short track; I found nothing on the internet, which neither supports nor detracts from the question of the record -- it just makes it harder to research for a part-time blogging enthusiast).

Pamela Jelimo just ran 1:54.01 in the 800m and looks poised to challenge the record. The record is certainly suspicious -- East European athlete sets record in the early 1980s when steroids were apparently undetectable. I found no mention of a controversy with her. Compared to the men's 800m record, the women's record is actually simliar: since 1981 the record was tied one, then broken twice -- all three performances by the same man, the same summer (within 5 or 6 weeks of each other). The record hasn't been challenged since. This doesn't mean that Kratochvilová's record isn't suspect, it just means that the women's race has followed a similar patter as the men's -- a plateau has been reached and now (as opposed to 11 years ago) is being challenged.

The women's 10,000 meter has stood since 1993. I suspect that Yunxia Wang was clean, since athletes like Ben Johnson had already been caught (back in 1988). If the track was short, then the record obviously is a farce. The only women under 30:00 (almost 30 seconds slower than the record race) were in this year's Olympics final! The winner, Tirunesh Dibaba holds the world record in the 5,000m and her time, by various calculators, is just under or just above Wang's record time for the 10,000m. According to McMillan's "World famous" calculator, her 14:11.25 (I had to enter 14:11.0 as the site doesn't allow fractions of a second) is equivalent to a 29:28 over 10,000 meters. The different calculators here give the following equivalents: 29:43.77, 29:30.54, 29:33.20, 29:34.80. Only one of those would lower the world record, two are just short, and one is well back. She's closing in but still has plenty of work to do.

Of the track events (100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, mile, 5000, and 10,000), only one record has been set after 1996: Dibaba's 5000m record from this year. On the other side, men's records have been set this year in the 100 and 200, the 400 record is from 1999, the 800 from 97, the 1500 and mile in the late 1990s, while the 5000 and 10000 have been set recently.

Some records have rarely been broken on the men's side:

The 200m record has been broken 4 times since 1968: twice by the same man the same summer.
The 400m record has been broken twice since 1968.
As mentioned earlier, the 800m record has been broken twice since 1983 (both by the same man, the same summer).
The 100m record, on the other hand, has been broken 13 times in the past 20 years.

To summarize: the women's records set by Flo-Jo in the 100 and 200 are suspect (in part given her untimely death, but also due to ties with known dopers; on the other hand, her 200m record is similar to the men's 200m record -- broken few times), the 400 is definitely dope-driven; there are records of Marita Koch participating in studies of steroids for East Germany. Kratochvilová's record is suspicious, but at least follows the trend of the men's 800m). The Chinese records from 1993 may be suspicious (1500 and 10,000). The mile record was set by Masterkova in 1996 -- at a slower pace than the 1500m record.

Back to the question of race: the thinking on racial advantages shows West African men performing well in the springs (100 to 400m, more common among men of West African descent) while the long and middle distances are dominated by East Africans, with some notable north African runners (namely the world record holder in the 1500m and mile). This tendency bears out in the world records and World and Olympic champions in most cases, but there are some notable exceptions: the dominant 400m runner the past few years has been Jeremy Wariner, a white kid from Texas who Michael Johnson thinks will even break his record some day. Alan Webb, while performing poorly in big meets like the Olympics and World Championships had the fastest time in the world last year in both the 1500m and the mile. He's white too. And why was the world's best hurdler the past few years Chinese?

On the women's side, the middle distances have been dominated primarily by Russians and other East Europeans in the middle distances, though several African runners have done really well - Mutola from Mozambique and a couple Kenyans, including this year's find, Pamela Jelimo. In the last Olympics, a Bulgarian sprinter won the 100m as well. One of the top 400m runners was Ana Guevara from Mexico (not sure she won a gold medal; I'll have to check that).

Genetics obviously have plenty to do with athletic performances. It's why I'm not a professional athlete and the genetic tools have made it possible for people like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to be top performers in their fields. One doesn't set world records or win elite-level races on genetics alone (or even make it to the NFL or NBA or MLB, etc.). I wonder how much local competition has in helping athletes reach their full potential. A few years ago, Alan Webb could easily beat pretty much any American miler without a problem. But when he raced in Europe and in the Olympics...a different story. He's improved as a result and I hope it's just a matter of time before we wins a World Championship or an Olympic gold. The US is the only country in the world to have 400m runners under 44 seconds. If someone wants to make the Olympics in that event, they have to be able to run under 45 seconds (better if they can run under 44, obviously, but very few people can at a given time).

It's also hard to see the genes lined up by racial categories, since the three different regions (in Africa) that have produced or are been "held responsible" for the best runners, are categorized by radically different genetic populations -- one that isn't even "black" -- north Africans are often categorized as Caucasian! Also, which genes do these athletes possess that are strictly "African" genes?

Unless studies show that a certain genetic pattern, unrelated to training regimens and geographical advantages, show a clear advantage for those who possess those patterns -- and evidence showing that this pattern is concentrated in certain geographical areas, I'm assuming the difference between runners like Wariner and Merritt are due primarily to their training and their mental focus, and only secondarily on their genetic makeup, which has nothing to do with one being light skinned and the other dark skinned.
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Friday, August 29, 2008

Why are Americans obese?

Apparently it's because they (we) eat too much (I'm not overweight, much less obese, but I'm a yank).

On CNN they have a health quiz up and the answer to "how many calories does an average American consume?" is about twice the recommended average: 4,000 calories.

Even if these people are somewhat active (say an hour or so of exercise daily), that's at least 1,000 (probably 1,500 or more) calories per day -- that generate excess weight (in other words, fat). That's two pounds a week in pure weight gain! (Almost one kilogram, for most of the rest of the world).

I wonder how long it will be before Americans have two classes of people: fit and fat. The fat have the numbers. The fit will live longer.

It was really depressing to see this but it explains a lot.

Some other reasons why Americans are fat:

-- food subsidies make fattening foods cheaper (dairy, meat, bread) while fruits and vegetables are expensive
-- serving sizes have grown (a small drink at restaurants is the size of an extra large from twenty or thirty years ago)
-- cheap meals are fattening: fast food meals are extremely unhealthy and have far too many calories
-- having so many overweight people around makes healthy people look (too) skinny (the Wall Street Journal ran an article asking if the healthy physique of Obama made him un-electable since he's "out of touch" with overweight American voters; of course, Bush was elected twice, but maybe his lack of intelligence made him appear "one of us" to the idiotic masses)
-- of course, busy workdays make it hard to find time to exercise.

I'm sure there are more. I'm simply in total shock at the consumption of calories by Americans.
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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Catholic church strives to remain relevant; no speeches for you

This news reports notes that the Wilmington, Delaware, archbishop says
will not permit the Senator even if elected Vice President of the United States of America to speak at Catholic schools.

The Catholic church has tried to remain relevant in recent years, hardening its position on politicians who don't support church positions, most notably on abortion.

The article continues:
When asked for the Bishop's take on Senator Biden and his stand in favor of abortion, Krebs directed to Bishop Michael Saltarelli's 2004 statement on 'Catholics in Political Life' which, said Krebs, "very plainly states Bishop's position in this matter."

In that document Bishop Saltarelli notes that, in line with the US Bishops Conference policy, "Our Catholic institutions will not honor Catholic politicians who take pro-abortion legislative positions or invite them to speak at our functions or schools."

I'm curious why Catholic bishops and archbishops emphasize the abortion issue as opposed to the death penalty (which the church opposes) or even capitalism (the church nominally opposes this as it derides materialism).

In making these statements against pro-choice candidates, the Catholic leaders unwittingly seek to ally with Republicans who support the sort of unregulated capitalism that has frequently shown the world the worst side of capitalism and materialism, as well as allies Catholics with protestants and Christians -- many of whom hate Catholics (are you Catholic or Christian?, for example). Not all Christians feel this way, of course, but at least two universities associated with evangelical groups do not allow Catholic faculty (Wheaton College in Illinois fired a couple professors for converting to Catholicism and at Liberty University, the late Jerry Falwell's university, faculty reportedly sign a statement accepting that the Pope is the Antichrist).

The position of the church privileges one issue (while a hotly contested one, far from the most important issue in the US) at the expense of its general platform (at least of what they pay lip service to). Furthermore, their position of allying Catholics with a large and motivated group that despises them -- one that opposes many tenets of what the Catholic faith is supposed to represent.

I suspect that one of their main motivations is to remain relevant in the lives of individuals who live in an increasingly secular world. It's probably a losing battle -- especially in light of what happened in Europe, where church attendance is practically non-existent and where even Catholic Spain has legalized marriage for gays and lesbians --, especially should Catholics have to coexist with those who despise them and realize that they were simply pawns in the bid of the so-called Moral Majority to establish a theocracy in the US.

In light of this, a few lines from the Dead Kennedys' song "Moral Majority":

Circus tent con-men and Southern belle bunnies
Milk your emotions and then they steal your money
It's the new dark ages with the fascists toting bibles
Cheap nostalgia for the Salem Witch Trials

Stodgy ayatollahs in their double-knit ties
Burn lots of books so they can feed you their lies
Masturbating with a flag and bible
God must be dead if you're alive

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Running, race, and genetics

I stumbled on to a discussion about the relationship between race and running, with genetics often generally substituted for race (it certainly entered the debate in these discussions). I came across the discussion here, which was written as a response to this one; this is another scienceblog response to the question.

First, while race is a contentious issue, it is fair to say that it is much more than a social construction. If it were a social construction, then it would be something that we can choose not to have exist. While racial differences are genetically insignificant for the most part (sure, some genes are found more often in certain groups than others, but that is explained in large part through geographic isolation and other historical consequences). On the other hand, race is a legal matter in many cases in the United States, making it much more than an illusory social construction. One drop of "black blood" (sic) has made a person black for at least decades. Even a fairly recent case in Louisiana of a woman who thought of herself as white, had white friends (maybe even a husband), had parents who were thought of as white was listed as black on her birth certificate (I believe that Louisiana is the only state to state the race of a newborn; I may be mistaken), and sued to be recognized as white instead of what was on her birth certificate. She lost (I know about the case through Walter Benn Michaels's book, Our America, you may want to look there for more details).

A social construction also assigns a way of acting to members of a race. In the case of this woman, she "acted" or "lived" as a "white" person but was still ruled to be black. Is it necessary for all members of a "race" to act a certain way, listen to certain music, etc.? Of course not -- our multicultural education has taught us at least that much.

And on a genetic level (from what I've been able to gather; I'm not a scientist) differences between the races are overall very insignificant -- no more than two unrelated people (of a given ethnic or racial group).

How then to approach the dominance of African athletes at short sprints and long marathons?

1) Sprints have been recently dominated by athletes of West and maybe Central African descent, especially by their descendants in other countries (US, Jamaica, Canada, and Great Britain, but other Caribbean islands as well).

2) Long and middle distances (800m and up) by north Africans (primarily the middle distances -- 800m and 1500m/mile -- and east Africans (primarily long distances, 3000m steeplechase, 5000m, 10000m, and marathon), especially Kenyans and Ethiopians.

Jim Fiore states
Distance running is all about conditioning and little about technique. In other words, you can get quite far on raw, natural talent.

He's comparing running to sports like swimming and gymnastics, so his point is largely valid.

Or is it?

I run and know that there are three key training runs for success in middle and long distances: interval workouts (sprints of 200m to mile or even three-mile repeats for marathoners with breaks), tempo runs (run slightly slower than the anaerobic threshold, generally a bit slower than 10k race pace for most runners), and long runs. Each run has a different purpose: teach body to use lactic acid (or to resist it, as most people think), increase body's ability to use oxygen, improve stride/mechanics (there is plenty of "technique" here), hold a steady pace, improve anaerobic capacity by challenging body near race pace, etc., and overall muscle-skeletal development through the long runs.

Short on technique? Perhaps compared to other sports, but in order to train one needs 1) good shoes (there are many kinds of feet; the wrong shoes will cause injuries), 2) a stopwatch (a heart rate monitor would be ideal, but may not be necessary), 3) ideally a track or some fairly flat area whose distances can be easily measured, 4) a place to run. Not a lot, but sometimes not all of these are present. A fairly flat place to run for tempo runs, ideally with distances vaguely known, is extremely useful too.

Just two observations here:

1) What about the difference between men and women? If it is a racial or ethnic genetic trait that is making athletes from West Africa better in the sprints and athletes in the middle distances from North Africa in the middle distances and East African athletes in the long distances, then why is this phenomenon not nearly as notable on the women's side?

Case in point: only two different African women have ever held the record in the marathon (one broke her own record); the record is currently held by Paula Radcliffe, a light skinned woman from the UK (after first breaking the record, she again broke her own record). This year's marathon at the Olympics was won by Constantina Tomescu from Romania -- another European woman (East European at that).

Another example: the 2004 Olympic 100m (women's) was won by a runner from Bulgaria. She's light skinned too.

Asian women have also done well at long and middle distances: the women's record in the 10,000m is held by Junxia Wang of China (set in 1993; I'm assuming there's a good chance she was clean; Jim notes that the record may be tainted; most of the women's records set in the 1980s most likely are, given where runners have been recently it very well may be). The African record is almost 23 seconds slower (but if the record is tainted, then this point is moot).

2) How much of the difference is psychological?

A lot of races, especially the longer ones (but apparently the sprints as well -- look at Asafa Powell's performance at the World Championship last year and the Olympics this year), come down to strategy. Some examples: Wilson Kipketer, a Kenyan born runner from Denmark holds the record in the 800m (the previous hold was from Britain); he doesn't have an Olympic gold despite being the top of his generation. Another example: Alan Webb ran the fastest 1500m and mile time (as well as the second fastest 800m time) last year; finished 8th at the World Championships last year in Helsinki, didn't even qualify for the US Olympic team this year. And I already mentioned Asafa Powell, who, as current world record holder last year at the World Championships, lost to Tyson Gay (who recently ran the fastest 100m time ever under any circumstances -- it was wind-aided).

Why did these people lose their races? In the cases of Kipketer and Webb, it was poor race strategy/tactics. Kipketer was boxed in (surrounded by other runners) and couldn't get around, much less past, them to win. Webb wins a lot of races because he's faster than the other runners. But speed (in 800m or 1500m) doesn't always win -- especially in championship races where the pace is slower (kind of like the last couple minutes of a basketball game), plus by the time of the championship race, they've already run a couple races over the previous days -- few records are set in those circumstances (the last time the 800m record was set at the Olympics was 1976 when a Cuban runner won both the 400m and 800m.

Why did Jeremy Wariner (a white kid, by the way) lose to LaShawn Merritt in the 400m? Poor strategy at the US Trials, after the loss at the Olympics he said his legs gave out -- he still finished second. It could have been poor training (too hard too close to the Olympics), a bad day, psychological (he had lost very few races the past few years), or even a poor lane assignment (he was in lane 7 -- the best lanes are 3 to 5, from what I've heard).

Considering the level of competition, if someone admits, even on a subconscious level, that the runner next to them is more naturally endowed, most of the time, he or she lost the race before the gun sounded.
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Siberia earthquake

Reuters is reporting a strong earthquake hitting Siberia. Fortunately almost nobody lives there -- it seems to be close to the border with Mongolia.

A picture by the story gives it a score of 9 on the Richter scale. That doesn't seem very precise and it may change as they learn more about it. If a 9.0 holds up, that may make it the fourth most powerful earthquake measured.

Update: I read two reports that have listed it as a 6.3 or magnitude-7, in either case, considerably weaker than the nine (9) mentioned earlier. That's still a pretty strong earthquake.

I read up on the region. It took place near Lake Baikal (Baykal is an alternate spelling) which is the deepest freshwater lake and the largest by volume -- it has more water than the US Great Lakes combined! It also freezes from January to May (at least the top of the lake).

The most powerful:

Chile, 9.5, May 1960
Indonesia (the one that causes the tsunami), 9.3, December 2004
Kamchatka, 9.3, 1737
Alaska (US), 9.2, March 1964
Russian Federation, 9.0, November 1952
Cascadia subduction zone, approximately 9, 1700
The tsunami earthquke's measurement was on a different scale than the other three, so its place may actually be different (I'll look more into it in a few hours). Hopefully I'll have an update on the Siberian quake as well (not that I'm a news source).
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stats about atheists via video

I saw this on Midwest Atheist.

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Some atheism statistics via video

A video with some stats about atheism. Thanks to the Midwest Atheist. He posted the other video and I found out about this one after viewing that one.

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DaveScot and religion, again

DaveScot responds with a blog post to a comment made over at UncommonlyDense that argues that religious belief is the motor behind ID.

DaveScot replies:

Guilt by association is a logical fallacy.

You can’t ask any ID proponents to give up their religious faith anymore than you can ask an atheist Darwinist to acquire some religious faith. That isn’t how science works.

However, since I’m not a religious person I can quite easily give up any notion that the designer of either the universe or of life itself is a deity. I have no data on the nature of the designer other than what I can determine through the nature of the design.

As far as criticizing ID based on the religious beliefs of a number of its proponents (nearly all of them, actually), DaveScot is correct, it is a logical fallacy. This doesn't mean that ID isn't some sort of religious belief (it is, as I argue below), but it means we shouldn't determine that based on the beliefs of its supporters.

For the same reason, modern evolutionary theory shouldn't be criticized for being supported by a number of atheists (of course, not all supporters are: Ken Miller, Brown University professor and author of one of the most popular biology high school textbooks, is a Catholic -- as is Michael Behe, supporter of ID, to name but one example).

But DaveScot says "I’m not a religious person," a claim that rings hollow given his recent post that correlates ID as proof of God's existence and his claim that ID has a creator.

Here he supports that there was a designer and that designer, while he does not (he compulsively cannot) say it, is a stand in for God. It is an argument from ignorance as well (logical fallacy):

The counter-claim that chance & necessity is capable of the necessary tasks has not been demonstrated. It has not been shown that small mutations can ever accumulate into significant novel functional architectures that we observe in living things today. It has not been shown feasible by computer simulations of population genetics, in a laboratory, or in field observation.

Yes because something "has not been demonstrated" doesn't mean it didn't happen (he applies this rule to ID as well). Science does not work by giving up and suggesting that something supernatural (by definition, the designer is supernatural since there are no "natural" (naturalist is perhaps more appropriate) proofs of its existence) accounted for

directing or steering the course of organic evolution.

In accepting the concept of ID and the concomitant designer behind it, DaveScot is showing that he may not be religious (i.e., he doesn't go to church, pray, read the Bible, what have you), but he certainly believes in something.

In a previous post (commented here on this blog), he states,

So what exactly do they “see” that convinces them that God’s hand is all over the place? Obviously it isn’t rational evidence that can weighed, measured, or otherwise rationally evaulated because that would be science and furthermore it would be the science behind intelligent design.

Here he unequivocally connects "God's hand" with "the science behind intelligent design." If "the science behind intelligent design" shows its supporters "that God's hand is all over the place" -- then why doesn't he believe in God? He may say he doesn't believe in God and he may not even be lying (he may be confused; in order to lie one has to have awareness of an objective reality), but he is certainly confused, unless he doesn't really "believe" the science behind ID. If that's the case, he's just feeding off the money of Christians, just like the televangelists, et al.
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Monday, August 25, 2008

Stupidity is now a crime

Nigerian high commissioner Olu Agbi has made stupidity a crime. Okay, he blames greed.

You've probably received a letter dealing with millions in frozen accounts and your help is necessary to access the money. You pay a small fee (small in comparison with the millions in the account) and the person who sent you the email promises you a percentage in return for your favor.

The scam predates the internet and has had high profile victims recently. This article mentions some:

New revelations in the trial of Mary Winkler, the young American woman who shot and killed her pastor husband at point-blank range, show that the couple had been caught up in a Nigerian scam that no doubt boosted marital tensions. Winkler was in contact with the scammers, who eventually sent her checks totalling US$17,500 from both Canada and Nigeria. When the checks arrived, she was supposed to send thousands of dollars back to the scammers in "processing fees." She apparently did so without waiting for the checks to clear; of course, they bounced.

In New Zealand, a recent Labour Party candidate named David Maka is in disgrace after being caught up in a similar scam, though he took it one step further by soliciting cash from friends in order to "free up" millions of dollars in an offshore account. The 49-year old pleaded guilty in court and is due for sentencing in the next few months. Maka eventually paid all the money back, though he had to sell his home to do so.

Here in the US, a Florida lawyer stole US$300,000 from a client's estate, but when hauled into court to face judgment, claimed that she had lost most of the money in a Nigerian 419 scam. She told the court that the scammer "had a contract with the [Nigerian] government of $38.6 million, and he needed my participation... I was not thinking clearly." Indeed.

These and other similar scams related to Nigeria (apparently there are many fake Nigerian mail-order/internet brides as well, just like Russians) have made it tough for the country to attract investments:

Nigeria. This has, unsurprisingly, cast Nigeria in a negative light. Olu Agbi said that Nigeria's reputation for being involved with the scams has even hurt the country's ability to land business deals. "[T]hose who want to transact business with us are always very suspicious," he told the newspaper.

The newspaper article mentions that Australians

lose at least $36 million a year to the online scams,

serving as a sign of their stupidity.

Despite their losses of a lot of money, he posits that they as just as guilty as the scammers and should be jailed. He told the paper,

He likened victims to gambling addicts. People were in denial about the scams even after being warned because the thrill of a possible windfall at the end raised their excitement and they became emotionally involved.

By this logic, he contends

THE Nigerian high commissioner says people who are ripped off by so-called Nigerian scams are just as guilty as the fraudsters and should be jailed.

Good luck trying to get other countries to jail their citizens for stupidity. I'm not sure any addiction is strictly illegal (though possession of drugs may be, depending on what country you're in -- but that's not jailing you for your addiction per se either).

And here is the rest of it.
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Obama birth certificate not fake; someone sues anyway

Ed Brayton and the WorldNutDaily have noted that Philip J. Berg:
has sued Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic National Committee and the Federal Election Commission, claiming that Obama is not a natural-born citizen and, therefore, is not eligible to be president of the United States.

For his efforts, Ed has given him the not-so-coveted Robert O'Brien Trophy that he awards regularly for special displays of stupidity (he apparently manages to have a blog, see PZ's dungeon for more details about Robert O'Brien.

A summary of Berg's claims are:

Obama was not born an American citizen; lost any hypothetical American citizenship he had as a child (Editor's note: This point is not supported by U.S. citizenship law); may not now be an American citizen and even if he is, may hold dual citizenships with other countries. If any, much less all, of these allegations are true, the suit claims, Obama cannot constitutionally serve as president.

Note that even a WorldNutDaily editor knows more about the law than this crazy fellow.

Obama was born an American citizen, as confirmed by

The certificate has all the elements the State Department requires for proving citizenship to obtain a U.S. passport: "your full name, the full name of your parent(s), date and place of birth, sex, date the birth record was filed, and the seal or other certification of the official custodian of such records." The names, date and place of birth, and filing date are all evident on the scanned version, and you can see the seal

To quell even the most diehard of conspiracy theorists about this:

In fact, the conspiracy would need to be even deeper than our colleagues realized. In late July, a researcher looking to dig up dirt on Obama instead found a birth announcement that had been published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Sunday, Aug. 13, 1961:

Obama's birth announcement

The announcement was posted by a pro-Hillary Clinton blogger who grudgingly concluded that Obama "likely" was born Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu.
Of course, it's distantly possible that Obama's grandparents may have planted the announcement just in case their grandson needed to prove his U.S. citizenship in order to run for president someday. We suggest that those who choose to go down that path should first equip themselves with a high-quality tinfoil hat. The evidence is clear: Barack Obama was born in the U.S.A.

And Philip Berg sues with no basis for his lawsuit because 1) Obama was born a US citizen, 2) even a wnd editor knows that 2) one cannot lose citizenship as a child, 3) is still an American citizen even if 4) he holds dual citizenship (which is not a crime is most cases; embarrassing perhaps, but not a crime; in any case, the US does not prohibit dual citizenship). If Obama were not a citizen or were not born one, then, yes, Berg would be right. Since he was born in Hawaii he is a citizen and unless he specifically renounced (even then, it's not necessarily final) he still is -- and was admitted to the bar, the senate... Maybe Berg will get reprimanded for filing a frivolous lawsuit.
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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Correct grammar and go to jail

Well, not quite.

But the AP reports via CNN that:

Two self-styled vigilantes against typos who defaced a more than 60-year-old, hand-painted sign at Grand Canyon National Park were sentenced to probation and banned from national parks for a year.

Apparently there was historical value to this sign:

Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson pleaded guilty August 11 for the damage done March 28 at the park's Desert View Watchtower. The sign was made by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the architect who designed the rustic 1930s watchtower and other Grand Canyon-area landmarks.

But there's a little more to the story.

Deck and Herson, both 28, toured the United States this spring, wiping out errors on government and private signs. They were interviewed by NPR and the Chicago Tribune, which called them "a pair of Kerouacs armed with Sharpies and erasers and righteous indignation."

I tend to agree with their mission. It's too bad that the sign that got them into trouble was hand-painted and sixty years old. Unfortunately, I agree that they should have been fined or even placed on probation. Maybe they were banished because of the embarrassment they could cause pointing out the numerous grammatical errors in national parks.

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NBC, the Olympics, and the openly gay gold medal winning diver

One of yahoo's bloggers for their Fourth-Place Medal Olympics blog noted that the only openly gay athlete of these games won gold in diving (breaking up the impressive run that the Chinese had in diving). Not only is he openly gay, Maggie Hendricks notes:

He is hardly the first gay athlete to compete but he is one of the first to be out while competing

The big news (if you can call it that), since it's hardly a secret that this man is gay?

NBC didn't mention it. Maggie again:

NBC did not mention Mitcham's orientation, nor did they show his family and partner who were in the stands. NBC has made athletes' significant others a part of the coverage in the past, choosing to spotlight track athlete Sanya Richards' fiancee, a love triangle between French and Italian swimmers and Kerri Walsh's wedding ring debacle.

The military seems ready to allow gays to serve openly (I remember seeing at about 75% support from current troops for this but I don't have any stats; there was something on Ed Brayton's blog about this a few months ago), the ballot measure to overturn their state's supreme court ruling that legalized gay marriage seems likely to fail, several tv shows and movies have had openly gay characters (including NBC's Will and Grace -- and the network decides not to mention that this guy is gay.

Furthermore, sports is one area in which gays tend to be closeted (perhaps more so anywhere except among the republicans) -- recently an ex-NBA player came out. From his story it sounds like gays are unlikely to come out anytime soon in basketball or football (consider the homophobic songs of Allen Iverson from a few years ago as one reason why).

Mitcham tries not to make a big deal out of being gay and I have no problem with that. But not mentioning that he is gay and that his partner and family are there (he did win the gold medal, after all) makes a deal out of it. They certainly didn't have to dwell on it -- they could have panned over to his family, including his partner, use the word 'partner' or some other time when introducing him, and then not talked about it (I wonder how many people would even have noticed?).

I guess that puts an end to the "theory" that the media is (are?) actively endorsing homosexuality and encouraging people to be gay.
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Saturday, August 23, 2008

ID's DaveScot an agnostic?

One of the bloggers as Uncommon Descent, the one who goes by DaveScot, claims to be an agnostic. He is certainly convenient for the movement to try to claim that non-religious people can support ID. I normally don't bother with Dumski's website but while checking to see if I managed to register on their radar (so far I haven't, given my blog's lack of popularity, it could stay that way for some time) I saw a post made by DaveScot. I should also note that while I have followed the debate, I have an awareness of who he is but not of his positions (though he had a meltdown some time ago when Dumbski invited O'Leary to join his blog and DaveScot insulted O'Leary in a post that apparently is still available). On the other hand, I've encountered morons who like to invoke DaveScot's self-proclaimed agnosticism to try to refute ID's creationist roots.

But in this post from August 22, DaveScot reveals his own theism. The post is a response to a video prepared by the AAAS to the horrid documentary Expelled.

The video shows a number of science teachers who support the modern theory of evolution and still believe in God.

DaveScot questions their views, writing

So what exactly do they “see” that convinces them that God’s hand is all over the place? Obviously it isn’t rational evidence that can weighed, measured, or otherwise rationally evaulated because that would be science and furthermore it would be the science behind intelligent design.

The statement makes the following connection "God's hand" "all over the place" = "the science behind intelligent design."

This following statement is absolutely bizarre and I am not sure what to say in response:

Personally I think these people are either liars who are not convinced they see God all over the place or they are being truthful in becoming convinced of things with no rational evidence which technically means they are hallucinating and probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car lest they start seeing these big designing hands in the road and swerve to avoid them.

By his (admittedly faulty) reasoning here, if one believes in God, then one supports ID (or should), if one doesn't, then one should support modern evolutionary theory (or should). His reasoning is wrong (as I explain below, there is no reason why one cannot be both a supporter of modern evolutionary theory and believe in God -- Pope John Paul II apparently did) but by his own reasoning, he is not an agnostic since he supports ID.

He closes with the following:

Sorry if I’m offending anyone but these people disgust me. They’re all like “I believe in rational inquiry, science, and bearded thunderers who live in the sky and worry about my immortal soul”. Please. Choose one or the other but not both.

Stephen Jay Gould was fond of saying that religion and science do not interfere with each other (or at least, they don't have to) as they refer to different magisteria. Science is guided by methodological naturalism and is a method of examining the world around us. Religion is not directly contradicted by the claims of science. Even Pope John Paul II had no problems with the theory of evolution: God was important in two moments in the history of the universe: its creation (a point that cannot be proven or disproven by science per se; and one that has no bearing on the theory of evolution -- the creation of the universe is a problem for physics) and giving humans souls (definitely outside the realm of science).

If religion is about the soul and science the body, there is no contradiction. One can use science and say that God doesn't exist -- there's certainly no need for God to exist in science's view (see the concept of God of the Gaps). One can use religion and say we have a soul (it's not measurable by scientific instruments) and science can say that it doesn't have a weight (even dark matter and dark energy are detectable, in part because of their weight and influence they have on the universe), but if you want to believe that, that's fine (as far as science is concerned).

DaveScot wants to eliminate the distinction between religion and science and make them the same. Again, if he supports ID, then he has just professed his faith in the existence of some sort of God. If he doesn't, then he's a hypocrite.

Of course, so far all the evidence that science provides shows that God is not necessary. I read a nice essay before the Dover trial (summer or fall 2005) that pointed out that not only was ID not science, it was also bad theology. Maybe that's why the Catholic church has yet to embrace it (and if they distinguish it from theistic evolution, they probably never will).
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Criticism of Planned Parenthood Videos

The Worldnutdaily has an article with a misleading headline: "Planned Parenthood promotes casual sex to kids on website." The article is misleading for two reasons: 1) the article says nothing to substantiate the claim made by the headline and 2) their claim is wrong.

The videos on the Planned Parenthood website include (this description is from the wnd article):

A review of the promotional videos created by Planned Parenthood show the following scenarios:

* A girl who appears only from the waist up appears to drop her slacks to the floor, then asks a second girl, a third girl, and a boy, "Do you see anything down there?" The counselor advises her to get a test for STDs.

* Two girls, a guy and the counselor talk about what HPV means. The teens' guess is a reference to a sex organ.

* A white youth appears only from the waist up, then a black youth suddenly stands up in front of him, and the white youth says, "I didn't spew."

* A girl says, "I like me. I like spending time with me. It's not like I can get me pregnant or give me diseases."

* The theme song gives the message, "Whatever you call it, you've got to know how to take care of it."

The videos (click here or above on Planned Parenthood to see them) feature several young people -- girls in pink t-shirts, boys in white t-shirts, and an adult adviser -- talking about sexual health issues, talking about sex, or maybe having sex. In most videos, the kids are either talking about an issue of sexual health or are having sex and then are interrupted by the adviser who provides information.

One video singled out for criticism is this one, "I didn't spew." One boy is performing oral sex on another while the adviser walks by. He sees what's going on and asks the kid received the blow job, "where's your prophylactic?" The kid thinks he doesn't need one because "I didn't spew." The adviser contradicts this mistaken view, pointing out that any sexual contact -- even oral sex, even without an orgasm -- can lead to the transmission of STDs. The video does not promote oral sex; it shows it happening (apparently it's on the rise with teenagers, though it may be the media talking about it more) and points out that it is not safe sex.

This website also criticizes the videos, first noting below its headline

WARNING: This item contains shocking and graphic content funded by your tax dollars.

They complain:

On its new website,, the group posts a series of videos so revolting that members of my staff were visibly shaken

and conclude

This site is nothing more than an online playground for the prurient. The screen promises “the ins and outs about the ins and outs,” but the material is highly inappropriate for adults, let alone young children.

There are no graphic images, no nudity, not even the presentation of primary or secondary sexual organs -- just kids in t-shirts and an adult adviser in a shirt, tie, and cardigan sweater talking about sex and sexually-related issues.

To find the videos "so revolting that members of my staff were visibly shaken," I have to ask, is your staff made up of total prudes? I'm appalled that people find it offensive to point out that oral sex is not safe sex or that HPV is an STD (one video features precisely that topic).

I wonder how these people dealt with the news about Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Anyway, the wnd article has a couple other off-the-wall complaints that have nothing to do with the videos.


The Texas-based pro-life group Life Dynamics previously conducted an extensive undercover project in which an adult volunteer posing as a 13-year-old called every Planned Parenthood clinic in the U.S., saying she was pregnant by a 22-year-old boyfriend. Almost without exception, the clinics advised her to obtain an abortion without her parents' knowledge and told her how to protect her boyfriend, who would be guilty in any state of statutory rape.

This claim has nothing to do with the videos. It seems a legitimate criticism of the organization, but I tend to agree with their attempts to secure an abortion for this person without parental notification and withholding information about her boyfriend.

The second claim is ridiculous:

Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger supported eugenics through birth control to cull people she considered unfit from the population. In 1921, she said eugenics is "the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems."

What the found did and supported has no logical connection with what Planned Parenthood does today. If there is a connection, it needs to be supported by evidence -- evidence that is not provided here (not a surprise).

I noted at the beginning that their claim was wrong: studies indicate that abstinence only programs fail on a number of levels. Open discussion of sex does not promote sex according to studies of comprehensive sexual education programs -- it promotes safe sex.
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Friday, August 22, 2008

So ID is creationism: ask Denyse O'Leary

A few weeks ago, Rob Breakenridge of The Calgary Herald wrote an article that questioned Albertans' commitment to creationism. He refers to the choice of Albertans because a poll was taken of Canadians from across the country, giving them evidently three options: evolution, humans were created in their present state about 10,000 years ago by God, and don't know. The overall results:

Overall, 58 per cent of Canadians say they are believers in evolution.

But Breakenridge notes a tendency:

By region, the numbers are more or less in keeping with the national average.

And an exception:

However, there's one notable exception in this poll: Alberta.

A shockingly low 37 per cent of Albertans supported the position that humans beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years. An even greater number of Albertans -- 40 percent -- agreed that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years.

He then wonders about why Albertans are different from other Canadians:

Does this represent some serious shortcomings in our educational system? Have we been swayed by the charlatans of the Intelligent Design movement? Is there some truth to the stereotype of Alberta as a hotbed of religious fundamentalism?

And rather than providing an answer suggests:

If these numbers are accurate, we need to understand the source of the problem and correct it. The fact that Alberta boasts Canada's first creation museum suggests that these depressing numbers are not the product of some rogue poll.

And one thing he looks into is the lack of evolution education included in the school system:

but here in Alberta two trouble spots need to be addressed.

Evolution is taught in Alberta schools, but not to the extent that it ought to be. Evolution is a component of Biology 20, and further explored in Biology 30. Of course, for high school students, those courses are optional.

Other experts have cited the need to further incorporate evolution into the science curriculum and, poll numbers aside, the case for such an overhaul is strong.

Furthermore, although Alberta's model of school choice is commendable, is may also be a source of the problem.

Alberta taxpayers should not be subsidizing pseudoscience and religious dogma masquerading as legitimate curriculum.

The government recently announced an increase in per-capita funding to private schools, providing those schools meet a specific set of criteria. That criteria should include a ban on the teaching of creationism and its gussied up offspring, Intelligent Design.

And it is the final sentence in this passage that upsets O'Leary who states her own preference for "humans were created in their present state in the last 10,000 years, writing:

Breakenridge also frets, “An even greater number of Albertans—40 percent—agreed that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years.” That’s easy to explain. It was the only other option (barring “don’t know”). The ever-popular “God uses evolution” choice wasn’t offered.

Forced to choose between excluding God and including him, I’d pick option two, even though I accept NASA’s estimate of our Earth’s age (4.5 billion years) and consider common ancestry a reasonable idea.

That she supports Intelligent Design (she is now a co-blogger at William Demski's blog, Uncommon Descent) and believes that "humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years" and that "God uses evolution" are fairly synonymous with ID is quite telling.

ID has worked hard at its PR campaign (and that's about all ID is, since they haven't produced anything resembling real (scientific) research) distinguished its views from creationism; part of the whole point of calling it Intelligent Design was being able to talk about creation through design without having to discuss the nature of the designer (that's God, in case you lost track).

The strategy has failed thus far. They lost the only important court case they were in (Dover, Pennsylvania) and it was revealed there that their textbook was rewritten from a creationist textbook after the Supreme Court prohibited the teaching of creationism in 1987. No credible scientist has professed an interest in ID. The few that have have only furthered the criticisms that mainstream scientists have of ID by failing to produce any form of research that supports ID.

The columnist, Breakenridge, has a rebuttal to O'Leary's piece which was published by the Herald. He notes:

O'Leary's piece ran Saturday in the Herald, although there is no web link for it. Her piece, though, is very typical of the ID movement - she offers nothing to make the case for ID, but rather attempts to point out flaws in evolutionary theory.

He also presents evidence that undermines her criticisms of evolution.

But O'Leary's biggest mistake was associating her answers with God.

Remember this for the next case; with all these gaffes I'd be surprised if it even makes it to trial.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The most trusted newsman in the US?

Is this the picture of the most trusted man in America?

The New York Times seems to think so.

The article states:
Though this spot is the program’s mocking sendup of itself and the news media’s mania for self-promotion, it inadvertently gets at one very real truth: the emergence of “The Daily Show” as a genuine cultural and political force. When Americans were asked in a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press to name the journalist they most admired, Mr. Stewart, the fake news anchor, came in at No. 4, tied with the real news anchors Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN. And a study this year from the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that “ ‘The Daily Show’ is clearly impacting American dialogue” and “getting people to think critically about the public square.”

“The Daily Show” resonates not only because it is wickedly funny but also because its keen sense of the absurd is perfectly attuned to an era in which cognitive dissonance has become a national epidemic. Indeed, Mr. Stewart’s frequent exclamation “Are you insane?!” seems a fitting refrain for a post-M*A*S*H, post-“Catch-22” reality, where the surreal and outrageous have become commonplace — an era kicked off by the wacko 2000 election standoff in Florida, rocked by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and haunted by the fallout of a costly war waged on the premise of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

Following 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, the show focused more closely not just on politics, but also on the machinery of policy making and the White House’s efforts to manage the news media. Mr. Stewart’s comedic gifts — his high-frequency radar for hypocrisy, his talent for excavating ur-narratives from mountains of information, his ability, in Ms. Corn’s words, “to name things that don’t seem to have a name” — proved to be perfect tools for explicating and parsing the foibles of an administration known for its secrecy, ideological certainty and impatience with dissenting viewpoints.

Over time, the show’s deconstructions grew increasingly sophisticated. Its fascination with language, for instance, evolved from chuckles over the president’s verbal gaffes (“Is our children learning?” “Subliminable”) to ferocious exposés of the administration’s Orwellian manipulations: from its efforts to redefine the meaning of the word “torture” to its talk about troop withdrawals from Iraq based on “time horizons” (a strategy, Mr. Stewart noted, “named after something that no matter how long you head towards it, you never quite reach it”).

But I think the main reason why the show resonates is the following:

For all its eviscerations of the administration, “The Daily Show” is animated not by partisanship but by a deep mistrust of all ideology. A sane voice in a noisy red-blue echo chamber, Mr. Stewart displays an impatience with the platitudes of both the right and the left and a disdain for commentators who, as he made clear in a famous 2004 appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire,” parrot party-line talking points and engage in knee-jerk shouting matches.

The end of history (or end of politics, as you prefer) means the end of ideology (at least so has it Fukuyama). Capitalism winning the Cold War not only discredits communism, it means that we all agree on the best way to achieve economic progress and prosperity. The distrust the show exhibits toward political ideologies (like there's a big difference between the dems and republicans* -- more on this below) resonates with viewers situated at the end of history who have no ideology (if we see the world the same way, then is it an ideology? -- after all, ideology was once defined as false consciousness with respect to one's reality).

Also, the show hardly proposes a solution -- an easy way to stay out of trouble. It makes fun of the powers that be (correctly, in most if not all cases, as far as I've seen) without its own agenda (something that could be made fun of or criticized).

Anyone see the movie Man of the Year with Robin Williams as an anchor of a similar news show who wins an election due to a failure in the electronic voting machines? The movie directors already knew what the Times finally decided to print -- a few years ago. The movie cited statistics about the trustworthiness of comedic anchors like Jon Stewart as well as ratings, though I don't know if they were based on any facts or not. Ahhh -- art is still important, even if it's low art.

* Supposedly Republicans stand for small government and are supposed to be fiscal conservatives. Remember the talk about paying down the national debt? We talked about it 8 to 10 years ago at the end of the Clinton presidency (when we weren't talking about Monicagate, that is) and I remember a discussion of whether we should pay it all off or keep some of it -- we don't have those conversations anymore because we're again in deficit spending and the national debt is growing (warning: inflation may be coming back too, and not just because gas prices have shot up, leading to increasing food prices (also in part because of the misguided decision to use corn for fuel... higher costs of corn, leading to higher meat prices since the animals we eat eat corn...)). When Reagan become president in 1981, the national debt had just reached $1 trillion (that's a thousand billion, or a million million (a billion) for visitors from abroad). Now it's over $5 trillion almost thirty years later. The presidents: 8 years of Reagan, 4 years of George HW Bush, 8 years to Clinton, and now 8 years of George W Bush. That's 20 years of republican presidents, during which time the debt has soared, and 8 years of a democrat, during which time the budget was balanced and the debt began to contract.

Let's not forget that the government has expanded during the W years as we're spying on emails and phone calls (authorized or not; it also happened under Clinton from what I understand; not a good development in any case) as we respond to 9/11.

So let's see: we have increased spending and non-involvement of the government except if you're doing drugs or want to have an abortion or if the government has reason to think you support the terrorists. And doesn't Bush say, 'you're either with us or you hate America.' Postideological politics indeed. Let's see if McCain breaks from that for the sake of the republicans.

And here is the rest of it.
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Are cultures opinions?

Nirvana's song "Territorial Pissings" off their Nevermind CD contains the line, "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions." The album was released in 1991. Of course, history ended in 1989 (or sooner) with the formal collapse of the Soviet Union and, most importantly, its supporting ideology. Nirvana's song (maybe I'm giving Curt too much credit; I hope not, though), or at least that line, aptly describes one view of politics of the post-Berlin Wall world.

Francis Fukuyama popularized the notion of the "end of history" with his far too famous book, The End of History and the Last Man (1992), though an earlier essay, "The End of History?" was published in 1989. As Walter Benn Michaels notes (see his The Shape of the Signifier about Fukuyama's point, the end of history is the end of ideological conflict. This isn't the end of all conflict -- just ideologically based conflict (this is an important distinction). Whereas capitalists and communists disagreed over the best way to organize a society (or a society's economy), it was an ideological disagreement. For this reason, people could switch sides since it was a matter of ideology. Hence there can be American communists and Soviet capitalists (even if the former had to be largely invented).

What has happened since then -- after the end of history (a political scientist who studies Latin America calls it the end of politics) -- is the nature of disagreement has changed. Now cultures opinions and one's political views now define a person or a region: the US is now divided into red and blue states. Ann Coulter's book How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must is another example (well, except that I haven't read it -- and won't). Liberals and conservatives are different kinds of people (note to self, maybe this explains the resistance to gay marriage) and apparently need to be segregated, just like races in the old days in the South.

The reason why I write this today is that Obama recently stated:

One of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism. I have never suggested that Sen. McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest. Now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.

Bush has certainly done what Obama is against: if you are against Gitmo then you're against America. It's standard nationalist bullshit (I'm not sorry for calling it what it is), but is especially indicative of the posthistorical world we live in (Michaels introduced the term to me; I'm not sure to what extent Fukuyama used posthistorical to describe the current state of affairs) in which all politics are identity politics.

All of those kinds of attacks -- you don't love America if... -- are inherently posthistorical (even if they took place before history ended, I would argue). Most importantly, while there may be some good things about posthistoricism -- there are benefits to multiculturalism, for example -- it has led to the end of politics. And my this, we mean the end of interest in real issues.

One simple solution? Pay attention to the real issue. It doesn't have to be governed by a guiding wide-reaching ideology. I'm not sure I like Obama more than I dislike McCain, but I do like this statement here.
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Bigfoot revealed -- to be a hoax

No surprise. This site has the story, as does this one (with bad spelling).

A passage from the first site says:

After the Searching For Bigfoot team and "The Real Bigfoot Hunter" Tom Biscardi began to thaw out the creature in a 1,500 lb. cooler of ice, they discovered it was a rubber suit.

What was the motive of the two men who claimed to have found a cadaver?

What else?

Biscardi contacted Whitton and Dyer and they agreed to admit the truth to the public. When Biscardi arrived at their hotel, the pair had vanished.

Searching For Bigfoot believes that their motive was financial.

They needed to quote a website to suggest that the motive was financial?

I wonder if the wounded police officer of the two men will get his job back. I'm glad I don't live anywhere near where he's patrolling.

The easiest way to determine if it's a hoax about bigfoot: it's about bigfoot.
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Monday, August 18, 2008

CNN finally hears about ACSI-UC lawsuit

CNN has a video about the ACSI v. Stearns case, the one against the University of California's rejection of courses from a Christian high school (Calvary Christian Chapel) in Murrietta, California. The decision was already a week old when this video made it to their "Breaking News" section. No wonder Jon Stewart has become the most trusted person in news.

Note a couple creationist tricks: Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom says "whereas the (sic) UC wants courses to be taught from the perspective that there is no god." Science in no way denies the existence of God; it simply studies what is part of the natural world. God, by definition, is supernatural and thus not part of that world, and therefore outside the purview of science. Many scientists, especially in the United States are atheists. But not all are: Ken Miller, author of one of the most popular high school biology textbooks and a professor at Brown University, is a practicing Roman Catholic and has even been publicly criticized by PZ Myers (author of the immensely popular Pharyngula blog -- one that you should be reading; there's a link off to the right) because of his stance. Science, most correctly stated, does not deny the existence of God any more than it supports it. When scientists conclude that there is no god, they are applying the naturalistic methodology of science to an overall worldview (I do agree with their position, for what it's worth).

A student says that since they're exposed to more theories -- "from intelligent design to evolution" then they must be getting a better, more rounded education. What she ignores is that ID does not follow the rules of science to make its conclusions -- a point (a self goal) made by Michael Behe of Lehigh University and the Discovery (sic) Institute during the Dover trial when he admitted that the rules of science followed by ID would allow astrology to be a science. One of the most important lessons in any field is understanding how that field works. Exposure to ID and creationism -- in a textbook that says that if science and the "Word of God" should conflict, the "Word of God" is the definitive source (apparently even if it's been mistranslated).

A pastor for the school fears that we are moving toward a secular world and that they won't be able to give their kids a Christian education. He is wrong and misses the point: while we may be moving toward a more secular world (I certainly hope so) he and other Christians have the right to teach indoctrinate their kids in their worldview. What they can't expect -- and this was the point of the lawsuit -- is that others are going to accept their indoctrination for legitimate education. No one is keeping them from filling the kids full of lies and half truths. But there's a trade-off: they might not get into the college they want.

CNN? Only a week behind the times -- in a case that started three years ago. Way to go!
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Sunday, August 17, 2008

I want to ride my bicycle I want to get hit by a car

Here's a story that fuels my own rage. Video below the fold.

Two bicyclists are first yelled at by a car driver and then the driver pulls in front of them and stops suddenly, causing an accident in which one is seriously injured (he even lost some teeth and nearly his nose) and the other was thrown from his bike.

The driver had done it at least once before. And he was reported to the police. That cyclist managed to avoid a serious accident but the police did nothing.

As the video notes, charges have been filed against the driver -- a doctor -- and hopefully he'll spend some time in jail.

There was a story a couple weeks ago about another bike rage incident where drivers were upset about a group of cyclists riding.

Since many drivers obviously don't have a clue: the road does not belong to you. The speed limit is a maximum. And, you should stay in the right lane regardless of the presence of bicyclists.

One time I nearly hit a woman after a stop sign where I was preparing to make a right turn. Since there were two bicyclists in the left lane, the woman felt that it was okay for her to be in the left lane -- on a two-lane street. I don't know what she was thinking (she certainly wasn't going to pass them there).

It's also nice how the people the news crew asks about such incidents blame them on the riders. I've ridden a bike regularly and I've nearly been run over a couple of times. One time a guy didn't look in my direction while attempting a turn on red and almost hit me (I was in the crosswalk). I've seen how many drivers fail to stop (in some cases, they barely slow down) for stop signs and worry that a car is going to run me over after running (another) one. Fortunately they wave me on (even when they have the right of way). I have to admit that I didn't always follow the signs or lights -- I would go past red lights (after stopping) if there wasn't traffic or not stop at stop signs (but only if I had the right of way, or would have maintained the right of way had I stopped; stopping is easy but getting started again, that's not always easy, especially when there are hills). Not all riders are nearly as respectful of the signs and rules of the road as I am (and I am not perfect). But most drivers also break numerous laws -- speeding (even if not by much), not using their turn signals, not coming to a complete stop (about a week ago I almost got rear-ended by a car expecting me not to stop at a stop sign) or not stopping at all, failing to yield (this happens all the time), did I mention not stopping? This doesn't excuse anyone's behavior of course.

I hope the guy gets time in jail. There's the incident in question as well as a previous one -- complete with police report. Lock him up for a few months or a couple years, he deserves it.
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No surprise: bigfoot story a(nother) hoax

You weren't expecting anything else, were you? Before the press conference, I saw a larger picture of the head over at the WorldNutDaily (who else who pay this much attention to such a ridiculous story?) and it looked like a gorilla mask. I read somewhere that someone had said that he had or had seen a similar mask.

But then there's the news conference.

As this news story notes, the DNA test was of two different well known creatures: a human and an oppossum (well, 96% of an oppossum's DNA):
One of the two samples of DNA said to prove the existence of the Bigfoot came from a human and the other was 96 percent from an opossum, according to Curt Nelson, a scientist at the University of Minnesota who performed the DNA analysis.

Missing from the press conference -- and par for the course for hoaxes -- evidence.

They didn't show the body. They didn't even say they could (or would) show the body. They said they would perform an autopsy.

I'm not sure whey the mainstream media even covered the story; they must have been short on "off beat" news.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Taser happy cop charged with murder in rural Louisiana

CNN reports that Scott Nugent, a police officer who apparently tasered a man nine times, has been indicted on murder and criminal malfeasance. The man who was tasered appears to have died before the final shocks from the taser were administered. Considering the man was handcuffed before being tasered the first time, it's hard to see how even one shock was appropriate -- much less eight additional shocks.

The case is from central Louisiana, from a small town called Winnfield, pop. 15000 or so. The police officer is white and the victim was black. The victim, Baron "Scooter" Pikes, was 21 years old and worked at a sawmill (or more likely, the saw mill in town) and ran from the police. He was wanted for cocaine possession. This is where the case becomes a bit bizarre: he told the police he had asthma and had used PCP and crack cocaine. No medical history of asthma was found and no traces of any drugs were found in his system. Perhaps the most bizarre -- and best -- thing is that the cop was indicted. He was fired, though I believe that the officer has appealed his dismissal. I do not know if his appeal has been heard or when any appeal will take place if it hasn't already.
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Good day for conspiracy theorists

Yesterday was a banner day for fans of conspiracy theorists as news broke of two different legendary creatures: bigfoot and chupacabra. You all know the bigfoot story: a very tall, big, and hairy ape-like upright walking creature. The chupacabra is a said to be a creature that kills animals -- apparently first goats (hence the name). Its killing method is a bit odd -- it literally sucks the blood of the animal (the name chupacabra means literally goat sucker -- one that sucks goats -- in Spanish).

There's a video of a dog- or wolf-like creature along the US border with Mexico here. While the animal is perhaps a bit odd-looking, I don't see any reason to see it as the fabled chupacabra. Besides, the stories of the chupacabra range from Puerto Rico to Central America, Mexico, and the border with the United States. How did it get across the Gulf of Mexico to Puerto Rico -- or vise versa? The animal in question is larger than the rats or mice that have spread throughout the world as unwelcome passengers on ships. I am very skeptical -- plus the video looks like it could have been altered; I do not trust the closeups in particular.

One of the problems with the bigfoot myth is the lack of a cadaver. If such a creature exists, why haven't people ever come across a carcass? (The same applies to the Loch Ness monster; apparently the famous photo has been revealed to be that of a bathing elephant from a circus.) But this story is the finding of such a carcass. While I am skeptical of bigfoot stories in general, the discovery of a cadaver and the apparent running of DNA tests to prove that it is something that we have never seen before could be smoking gun evidence. I suspect it is an elaborate hoax, but am willing to examine the evidence (especially when others are doing the hard part). This website has details on the finding and a press conference has been scheduled for this coming Friday (August 15) at noon (PDT; 3pm EDT). I'll be happy to hear what they have to say; but I won't be watching the press conference -- I'm too much of a skeptic.
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Humorless Christians?

Apparently Christians have a sense of humor. It's just not highly evolved. Stuart Shephard of Focus on the Family's political branch, Focus Action, posted a video July 30 asking people to pray for rain at the time of Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. His video garnered numerous hits (over 20,000 page views -- that's 20,000 more than this blog has) and was briefly pulled from youtube and was removed from its site after a few days.

But besides being derided by non-evangelicals, not even everyone at Focus on the Family thought it was appropriate (at least ten Focus members complained about it) and it was removed from their website. What they're saying?
Minnery said the video was taken down because several Focus members complained that prayer shouldn't be used to bring harm on someone else.

"We are not about confusing people about prayer," Minnery said.

But the video is pretty humorless, although it has a light tone. Shephard claims it's hyperbole and it certainly does have that quality. It might be easier to distinguish it as humor though if all their positions were not hyperbolic.
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The Gospel According to the Boss

This story covers Jeffrey Symynkywicz, a preacher at a Universalist Unitarian church, and his new book, The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Redemption from Asbury Park to Magic. Springsteen has long been noted for religious elements in his music -- songs about suffering, redemption, pregnant Marys, and other girls claiming "immaculate concpetion" abound.

The book includes a list of "Bruce's Ten Suggestions for Spiritual Living":

To avoid copyright issues, I'll just include the summary. You may get the list with some additional commentary at the link above.

1. The world has gone awry.

2. There is a power within the souls of men and women to transcend the world and to achieve real victories in spite of the world.

3. The world is as it is.

4. Life without connections is empty and dangerous.

5. Our stories symbolize something deeper.

6. Life is embodied.

7. It's all about change.

8. There is no guarantee of success.

9. Hope is resilient.

10. There is always something more. If Bruce is luminous in his work — shining a light of perception on the horizontal dimension of this earthly life — so he is numinous as well — casting this life we lead in the brilliance of an almost mystic glow; shedding the radiance of discernment on that vertical beam which crashes through the linear plane of existence and points it toward that which is higher, deeper, somehow transcendent.

I had read Springsteen in more existential terms, guided in large part by Deena Weinstein's take in an essay called Serious Rock that addressed Springsteen, Pink Floyd, and Rush, though many of the observations therein apply here.

Considering the first point here, it is certainly fitting that Springsteen wrote an album in light of the terrorist attacks (The Rising) which also includes the "hope is resilient" theme that Symynkywicz notes. One of the clearest examples of these two points is his Nebraska song, "Reason to Believe." The song closes the bleak album (does my use of this term give away my age?), though it is certainly not the only "ray of light" on it (see also "Open All Night" with the urge to get "back to where my baby lives"). But "Reason to Believe" is about the need to have some sort of hope even when there doesn't seem to be any.

The first verse deals with "a man standin' over a dead dog lyin' by the highway in a ditch" who the narrator sees. After describing what he sees, he muses, "Struck me kind of funny seem kinda funny sir to me / Still at the end of every hard day people find some reason to believe." Of course here, the man looking at the dead dog (perhaps there's some symbolism in my dyslexic typing, leading me to frequently type 'god' instead of the correct 'dog') is poking it, hoping that "that dog'd get up and run." The dog doesn't, of course, but the desire is there.

Two other verses deal with failed relationships -- a husband leaves his adoring young wife and in the final verse, a groom waits for his bride to show up, wondering if the wedding is going to happen. The other verse is about baptism and death -- different ends of life. In the final verse, the "Groom stands alone and watches the river rush on so effortlessly," the river symbolizing (of course) the inevitable passage of time and events and the inability of the groom to harness the passing of events to his plans. But the song concludes with the search for a "reason to believe."

This "reason to believe" is also a way of finding the "power within the souls of men and women [that can] transcend the world and to achieve real victories in spite of the world." Suffering occurs with the loss of someone beloved, even if it's "just" a dog (or even a stray). Actually, this one song contains the ten "suggestions for spiritual living" that Symynkywicz describes.

Marcus Griel called Nebraska the quietest punk album made (though punk fans would tend to disagree; no way could Springsteen be punk by their standards). His concerns about the emptiness of modern life certainly agreed with them and he didn't take a stance against materialism (not a prerequisite for punks) per se (though he certainly lashed out against unfeeling corporate goons in songs like "Seeds" and "Born in the U.S.A.") while emphasizing the point of view of common people who had been dislodged or at least suffered in socio-economic terms.

What I find especially interesting is that different artists coincided in a message like this at about the same time -- The Police have the song "Invisible Sun" that, stripped of its specificity about Northern Ireland, is exactly the same thing -- the "reason to believe" that Springsteen's character is an "invisible sun" inside each of us. Springsteen was largely apolitical or even anti-political on his early albums -- that changes on Nebraska (1982) and continues with "Born in the USA" and "My Hometown" on the following album (you know the one). Pink Floyd also became directly political with The Final Cut (1983) and the Police's Synchronicity the same year (1983) also became their most political statement, with the aforementioned "Invisible Sun" and also the critique of modern live in "Synchronicity II" as well as "Walking in your Footsteps" (though the nuclear war paranoia was found on their first album with "Born in the 50s"). Likewise, Springsteen and Pink Floyd had already spelled out their view of the human condition on their earlier albums (see Weinstein's essay). Even as Springsteen and Pink Floyd embodied the 70s in different ways (one they had in common: punks hated both bands -- and many others), they also sensed that something had gone disastrously long as the 1980s band -- and that was something they shared with the punks and the Police (and let's not forget that the Police emerged in the punk climate of the late 1970s as a band that quickly embraced that more mainstream "new wave" label).

And here is the rest of it.
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More on UC victory over Christian school

I was delighted to see the final victory of the University of California over a Christian high school in California the other day. Blog posts about the case and the final result may be found here, here, and here. The first two include a link to the pdf of the final decision, the third site had a number of posts about the case over the last couple years -- including analysis back in March when the constitutionality of UC's admission standards (the legality of their evaluation and failure of courses taught at different high schools) was upheld. The first of these, by Ed Brayton, contains another example of the incompetence of the Christian School's lawyers, from an organization known as ACSI -- Association of Christian Schools International.

Ed writes:
This passage is amusing:

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs waived any animus argument when Plaintiffs' counsel stated "We do not intend to argue the case based on proving animus" at the hearing on the parties' first round of summary judgment motions. Plaintiffs dispute this argument, explaining that they did not intend to argue animus until this Court used that term to describe the punishment of disfavored viewpoints prohibited by National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley, 524 U.S. 569, 587 (1998).

Amusing. "We said we weren't going to argue animus until the judge reminded us that we needed to in order to fit the precedents we were citing." Law school 101. Regardless, they didn't actually present any evidence of animus anyway:

Here, Plaintiffs provide no evidence of animus. Instead, Plaintiffs essentially argue that Defendants had no rational basis for their actions and therefore they must have been motivated by animus. This argument adds nothing to the constitutional analysis; if Defendants had no rational basis, the Court need not reach the issue of animus.

Ouch. That's gonna leave a mark.

The court decided back in March that the review of courses by UC officials was constitutional and this final decision was about the status of courses as-applied. The final verdict: universities have the right to review courses and decide which ones adequately prepare students for college and which ones don't. Having attended a Catholic high school, I seem to recall that all of us knew that the religion classes weren't going to count for college but most other classes did (at least 80% of the school's graduates went to college -- and students were accepted into Ivy League schools every year). I had high school biology before the 1987 Supreme Court decision that effectively outlawed creationism (the school, being private, was not subject to that decision anyway) and cannot say that evolution was covered (it may have been, but I don't have any memory of it so maybe it wasn't; my fifth grade teacher, also at a Catholic school, did talk about evolution though). Everything else was academically solid, even if the classes weren't necessarily the best -- I don't recall any classes that were "Catholics in American History" or anything like that, which is part of what this high school had done.
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Monday, August 11, 2008

Update on Tyler chicken

Tyler chicken has decided to celebrate Labor Day after all. This year, all employees will receive an additional holiday as the Muslim holiday commemorating the end of Ramadan will be observed. In coming years, employees will have the option of a personal holiday, replacing their birthday, allowing them to use the day when they feel best about doing so. This seems perfectly reasonable, though if over half the plant is Muslim and chooses to observe the religious holiday, the plant will be nearly idle that day. Hopefully this works out for the best. Read more!

Religious organization lawyers = idiots

University of California vs. ACSI

After witnessing the Thomas More Law Center crash and burn in the Dover trial, and witnessing the regular stupidity of Casey Luskin of the Discovery (sic) Institute regarding Intelligent Design, it is perhaps not a surprise that the lawyers for a Christian high school in California were inept.

Besides losing the case (not a surprise), a scan of the ruling for summary judgment on the remaining claims (I'll address this in a later post in a couple of days; maybe I'll even have a reader or two by then) reveals utter incompetence (on several levels). The document reads:
The newly acquired expert affidavits, in which the experts analyze each of Plaintiffs' 38 challenged course rejections, were signed by the experts on June 12, 2008 (Vitz), June 12, 2008 (Stotsky), June 9, 2008 (Behe), and June 13, 2008 (Guevara).

What reveals one layer of ineptitude is the following:
The discovery deadline passed on July 15, 2007. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(C) required all expert discovery to be complete at least by August 21, 2007, 90 days before the trial date. (Docket No. 48.) One month after this expert discovery deadline passed, this Court continued the trial date indefinitely in light of the massive volume of filings and issues presented by the first round of summary judgment motions. (Docket No. 145.) This continuance did not revive the discovery period for experts.

A further ineptitude is when the testimony served as, what one poster or commenter at scienceblogs (probably at dispatches from the culture wars, though I may have read a post at another scienceblog about the trail and this tidbit) a self goal. Scored by Behe.

In case you weren't aware, Michael Behe is a professor at Lehigh University where he has been largely disowned by his department -- both his website and the department's own site include statements about Behe's interest in Intelligent Design and how his colleagues do not see that as science (they are right, but that's another topic). He was an expert witness for the defense in the Dover trial and tried to argue that ID is scientific. Instead, what he admitted was that in order for ID to be scientific, the rules of science need to be adjusted to as they were in the 18th century, when, among others, astrology was a science. Astrology. Horoscopes. Goal! -- for the prosecution.

In this trial he testified that dogmatic points of view were bad for intellectual development. Goal! This time for the defense. Except he was a witness for the plaintiffs. He was apparently trying to say that presentation of modern evolutionary theory without criticism was a dogmatic approach. Of course, there is absolutely no scientific controversy over evolution. The judge decided to use the statement to criticize the fundy school's use of biology textbooks that say that where science and the Word of God (by Bible, presumably in King James translation) conflict, one should take the Word of God over the results that science provides. Goal -- again, self goal.

With lawyers who can't even follow rules of procedure and "expert" witnesses like Behe, the fundies and other allied groups will continue to lose lawsuits.

And here is the rest of it.
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Sunday, August 10, 2008

another post

For some time I've noticed that many (far too many) news articles -- especially those on the web -- have lame, super-obvious titles that don't say much (hence, my own useless title here). "Osteen's wife denies assaulting flight attendant" is the title this time. I thought she was going to change her mind and admit to the assault, after three years of denials (apparently, otherwise there probably wouldn't have been a trial).

Before a 2005 flight, Victoria Osteen asked to have a half-dollar stain on her armrest cleaned up. She made the request of a flight attendant, and from there the accounts vary. According to the flight attendant, Victoria answered rudely, saying "that isn't my job" and then assaulted her, and later tried to enter the cockpit. Victoria claims they talked and both sides seem to accept that Ms. Osteen cleaned up the stain herself. Both Victoria and her husband Joel (the famous Joel Osteen; otherwise we never would have heard of the case) left the plane and Victoria was fined $3,000 by the FAA.

One of the damages that the plaintiff is seeking is "loss of faith." She is seeking 10% of Victoria Osteen's net worth for psychological damages including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as having her faith questioned. The attorney for the Osteens say that there is no evidence of any of these damages, though the plaintiff has been in therapy. I'm not sure that "loss of faith" is a damage anyway -- maybe you now realize that most preachers are hucksters and can live life knowing precisely that.

I live in the heart of the Bible belt and one of my favorite verses from the Bible is one that is rarely mentioned by Bible thumpers and is one that is in any case absolutely ignored by them -- Matthew 6:5-6: "'When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you."

I don't care if the airline stewardess wins the lawsuit or not; it is nice (again) to see "religious" people exposed as being bad people though. Whether Victoria did anything that warrants the loss of a good part of her private fortune, it is clear that she is hardly an exemplary person. So much for religion being a good thing, take 43,487.
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Monday, August 4, 2008

sterlington mosque and small town ignorance

I managed to hear of a mosque being built in Sterlington, Louisiana. It's a small town (population under 2000) a bit north of a small city -- Monroe and West Monroe (combined population under 70,000). A mosque has been under construction there for a few months now and people have found out what it's going to be: a mosque to serve about 30 Muslim families in the area. There is a video report on the NBC10-Fox14 website (it may be gone from the video section; it's called "Sterlington Mosque").

Not surprisingly, the two townspeople the news crew spoke with didn't seem to be too happy about it. They also spoke with a doctor who is a Muslim. They spoke with a young man who "works in Sterlington" and, when asked about the mosque, he said "we don't have much of that around here." That's the only sentence he manages to put together, otherwise it's grunts of stereotypes about jihadists and stereotypes. They also interviewed a local lawyer who says that she is "worried about the kind of people it's going to bring in" and "what's going to go on there." Needless to say, I wouldn't trust her for legal advice of any kind. The strangest thing is that a town of 1500 that is about 1 1/2 hours from Shrevesport (metro area: 400,000ish) Jackson, Mississippi (metro area: 500,000ish), 4 hours from Baton Rouge (metro area: 400,000ish), 4 1/2 hours from Dallas and New Orleans (now we're talking) is somehow going to be ... a problem. Never mind that a doctor who treats the residents' children and other well educated Muslims will be those who attend (other doctors and PhD holders or candidates). Given the size of the town, they should be happy that anyone wants to live there -- especially doctors (both the lawyer and worker are a bit overweight -- if they're not careful, they're going to need attention for diabetes in a few years, as will most Americans -- not a good time to worry about the religion of the doctor!).
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