The Short List

Many readers of this will be too young to remember the events, but there was a time when the president of the United States was hounded out of office by resentful Democrats and not a few indignant Republicans, to say nothing of an unsympathetic justice system. If people were spiteful of Richard Nixon, they rested in the knowledge the favor was returned.

It became known at the time that the president kept a list of enemies, an enemies list. These were people who had come cross-ways with a person possessing an extraordinary ability to hold a grudge. Many notables got on this list, and it turned out to be fairly easy to gain membership to the club. Doing the right thing at the wrong time was the short route.

I was quite young at the time. My hair had only just barely begun to turn white. I was then as forever after, vastly unaccomplished and knew it full well. Even so, my soul burned with envy. What I would have done to get on this list. Because I knew then, as now, that this  was a list of honor. membership generally indicated you were doing something right.

There are other lists of honor, of course, and I am not sure that I am on any of them. For over twenty years I have been trying to give the creationists a hard time, and I haven’t gotten so much as a “So’s youre old man” from them. OK, once a creationist called me a liar, and when I disputed this he briefly appeared ready to throw a punch. And there is another creationist who for a while kept my name on a Google search first page. But nothing has come my way I could frame and put up on the wall.

Then there are some people who just hit it out of the park without breaking a sweat. Such a person is Sandra Fluke.

Rush Limbaugh has done a lot of things over the course of his career, but female bonding would probably not be on the list.

And yet, there was Chelsea Clinton reminiscing with Sandra Fluke, who made headlines for her stance on contraception coverage earlier this year, over their shared Rush beat-downs.

Fluke had the audacity to stand up for the idea of having women’s reproductive health services covered by her insurance plan. Clinton won the honors by standing too close to her father, Bill Clinton. I know that envy is a dark and odious quality, but I do so envy those two women. If I could get on Rush’s list I would walk ten miles through snow to attend a hundred creationist meetings. Even that, I think, would not do it for me. My goal must forever remain beyond my reach. For I am not a woman.


Good Looking Guy

I know for sure I never looked that good, even when I was that age. Sarah B. Weir has the story.

Miss Universe Canada Disqualifies Transsexual Contestant: She was Born a Boy

I don’t think we even had any girls that looked that good in my high school class.

Miss Universe Canada officials have banned 23-year-old transsexual Jenna Talackova from participating in the pageant finals to be held in Toronto in May, 2012. The Vancouver contestant was one of sixty-five women chosen to compete in the national contest (which is owned by Donald Trump). The Daily Mail Reports that Denis Davila, national director of Miss Universe Canada, asserts that every contestant must be a “naturally born female.” Critics of the decision claim that the rules do not specifically address sex change or plastic surgery.

OK, now we know for sure, although we have long suspected it. These contests are all about sexism. Amazing!

Charles Darwin wrote all about it in his book on sexual selection. Natural selection was the topic of his first famous book. It was about how nature selected individuals for survival, and the selected characteristics came to predominate in population of a species. Sexual selection has nothing to do with survival qualities. It has to do with sexual pairing off, and how that leads to characteristics that come to predominate in a population, even though they are not great survival traits.

Only not quite. Barbie Doll may be an ideal, but she certainly does not predominate in our population. Barbie represents an ideal against which women are often measured by men who then proceed to reproduce with a woman of ordinary appearance. First, since men and women are about equal in number, there simply are not enough Barbies to go around. Second, while most men may idolize Barbie, they realize that a long term relationship is based on more than extraordinary physical features. And there is one more thing that most men are reluctant to speak of. If you have something that all the other men want, you will have the worry that you are not what every woman wants. Mathematician John Nash analyzed a situation similar to this using game theory and won the Nobel Prize in economics.

Sorry, Barbie.

The Etch-A-Sketch Candidate

The word is out by now, and it’s old news. But here it is:

My favorite Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, won big in the Illinois primary on Tuesday, and his campaign workers were feeling mighty good. Note this is Obama country, even though he is from Hawaii (or Iran, depending on which commentator you listen to). And Romney won big in Chicago, the city of the mayors Dayley and the seat of Obama’s political power. This where the Democrats held their infamous 1968 convention. This is Democrat country.

In the hinterlands of the state, where some people have been accused of wearing shoes, Romney did not do so well. My other favorite Republican candidate Rick Santorum did quite well where English is the favorite language and where some people even speak it.

Anyhow, in the glow of the moment, Romney campaigner Eric Fehrnstrom became a trifle more candid than befits a politician and let loose the cat from the bag.

Asked whether Romney’s positions in the primary might be too far to the right to win in November, Eric Fehrnstrom said on CNN: “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

By the time it took the electronic image to hit 70 million flat screen TVs it was too late to close the barn door.

The Romney campaign had hoped to spend the day talking about its double-digit triumph in Illinois on Tuesday and the endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. At a town hall meeting outside Baltimore, Romney sought to keep his focus on President Obama, mocking his trip out West to talk about energy prices.

But his rivals seized on the comments from Fehrnstrom, forcing Romney to respond.

A Rick Santorum campaign spokesman showed up at the site of Romney’s Maryland campaign kickoff event to hand out miniature versions of the Etch-A-Sketch.

Fehrnstrom’s analogy, Alice Stewart told reporters, “confirms what a lot of conservatives have been afraid of. He used to be pro-abortion, he used to be pro-gay marriage, he used to be for a Wall Street bailout, climate change. Now he’s talking a different language, but the campaign acknowledged that if need be, if he won the primary, he’d go right back to the middle in order to win the general.”

And that was it. In order to win the privilege of running for president as the Republican Party candidate, Romney has had to disavow many of his greatest political assets and paint himself just to the right of Margaret Thatcher. But in order to win in November he will need to answer to the American voter, and the American voter, by and large, despairs of an American theocracy, and many voters, as well, know why there is both a North Korea and a South Korea. Some even know that Intelligent Design is a form of theological pseudo science and that Darwin seems to have gotten it right over 150 years ago. And these people tend to vote Democratic.

In order to steal from Obama those voters who are both politically conservative and  can also think, Romney will need to suddenly appear intelligent again, right after he is crowned as the Republican nominee.

But here’s where it gets me. Hordes of my fellow Americans are shocked, shocked, that a candidate will say one thing to get elected and will put all that aside in order to govern the country once elected. To these Americans I say, “People, please begin to live in the real world.” Also, please find out there is a North and a South Korea and why. It would also help if some of them knew how many American soldiers died to ensure there still is a North and a South Korea. But I overreach.

The next thing that appalls me is why Romney is winning. It’s not because he is the smartest (he is) candidate running for the post or the most capable (he is). It’s not for any of those idealistic reasons that Mitt Romney is trouncing a field of pompous clowns (Jon Huntsman excluded). Back to the real world: It’s money.

Whenever one of the other Jake-leg contenders seemed to be gaining ground, Romney would simply pull out some long green and mow him down. Yes, voters. You can be bought. And you are. All the time.

At one place I worked my boss told me the department head was known to believe the last thing somebody told him. If you wanted your idea to stick, you had to make sure nobody else got in a word after you. That’s us, voters. We believe what we are told. We believe what we are told and told and told.

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

That was supposedly said by Joseph Goebbels, and I will not tell you who he was and why he and his wife killed their children right before ending their own lives by having a couple of their flunkies shoot them in the head. The answer is left as an exercise to the reader. And while you are at it, find out why there are two Koreas.

As you may know, I am a supporter of the current president. I voted for him and will again this year. In a future installment I will remind you that Mr. Obama has done the same thing that Mitt Romney is doing now. So, don’t be shocked.

Orange You Glad

Aren’t you glad you don’t work for this company?

This Friday, 14 workers wearing orange shirts were called into a conference room, where an executive said he understood there was a protest involving orange, the employees were wearing orange, and they all were fired.

Of all the low rent moves by a supposedly serious business concern! The orange shirts were not a move at insubordination. These former employees were just planning on getting together for happy hour after work. It was Friday.

The company is the law firm of Elizabeth R. Wellborn P.A. in Deerfield Beach, FL. I just mentioned that in case you are looking for a reputable company to handle your legal needs.

Elizabeth R. Wellborn, PA focuses on the representation of mortgage lenders, servicers and private investors since its inception. We provide foreclosure, bankruptcy, eviction, litigation, loss mitigation, title claims, REO Closings and title insurance throughout the State of Florida. Through our well trained, multilingual staff of attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants, and business professionals, our office is able to deliver comprehensive legal services to the mortgage banking community.

When you drop by their offices, please tell them I sent you. Just don’t wear an orange shirt.

Inner Santorum

Nothing heavy today. Everything that’s any excitement is already OBE. However, there is Rick Santorum, as quoted by the Atlantic Wire. He was in Puerto Rico this week, ostensibly to pick up some Republican delegates. Puerto Rico has been a United States territory ever since we snatched it away from Spain over 110 years ago, and the people living there are U.S. citizens. However, they cannot vote for the president, because Puerto Rico does not have any delegates to the electoral congress. As explained to me in high school the people do not elect the president directly, but they elect delegates to go to Washington to vote for them. Each state gets to send one delegate for each congressman from the state and one for each senator (every state has two). But U.S. territories do not have any senators and no voting congressmen, so there is nobody to vote on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands.

However, parties are not bound by this rule, and U.S. territories can send delegates to the nominating convention. And candidates need these votes. With this in mind Santorum told a local newspaper:

“Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law … And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language.”

I am sure the people of Puerto Rico were gladdened to hear this, and surprised perhaps. I am sure that any professor of political science at a major university would have been surprised, as well, and so would many high school graduates.

As Reuters helpfully points out, there actually isn’t a federal law mandating English as the national language, though some states have chosen to pass one themselves.

Anybody knowing the history of this island will quickly come to realize that one way to tic off its citizens is to sideline their culture, so it’s hard to imagine that Santorum is totally ignorant of the facts in this case. OK, maybe he is, but in any event he must know by now that he is blowing off the territory’s 40 delegates for, what? The guess is the for what is the affection of his conservative base back on the North American Continent. A bunch of these unbudgeables feel that the English language is already threatened in Virginia, so why give away any ground on one of our Caribbean islands.

Anyhow, so much for Rick Santorum. It’s apparent to anybody who will notice that he has grand delusions of adequacy, and the very most he will ever hope to achieve with his candidacy is to hand the election to Barack Obama

That leaves us with the topic of Puerto Rico and statehood.

I have been to Puerto Rico and to several places in the Caribbean. Another place in that region is the American Virgin Islands, and that is a place about as American as you can get. It’s English wall-to-wall, since it’s been in our possession for about 100 years. We acquired it from Denmark, which is why they drive on the left there. I forgot to mention, at the time we acquired the islands Denmark drove on the left, but back in the 1960s Denmark switched to the right side like the rest of mainland Europe, but the Islands stayed put.

Sint Maarten is Dutch, and Saint Martin is French, and they share an island about the size of Rockwall County. English is spoken everywhere, and the American dollar is the currency of fact in Sint Maarten. The French in Saint Martin speak very good English, and they will take American dollars, and euros.

St. Kitts, St. Barts, Nevis, Saba, Anguilla, even Aruba are fluent in English, and they flow with the dollar. Even the Dominican Republic is very dollar and English friendly.

When you stop by Puerto Rico it’s obvious you are in a different country. Spanish is the language there, although the menus at Hooters are in English. My initial impression was  this was a country that wanted to be independent.

I recall that back in my youth independence was a very big thing in Puerto Rico. In 1950 Harry Truman was president of the United States, and two pro-independence activists tried to kill him in Washington, D.C. In the shootout that resulted a policeman and one of the gunmen were killed. In 1954, four independence gunmen opened up in the Congress House of Representative chamber with semi-automatic pistols. Five congressmen were cut down, but nobody died.

Anyhow, things have cooled down a bit since then, but the dust-up over Vieques Island (part of Puerto Rico) a few years ago got things stirred up a bit. The Navy had been using part of the island for a target range, but that activity has since been moved to a less sensitive area.

Anyhow, independence sentiment has slacked off, and the principal thought is on statehood. State number 51 (what would our flag look like) would have two senators and voting rights in the House of Representatives. Previously Puerto Rico received special tax treatment that made it profitable to invest in the island, but that has gone away, and companies there have to compete with low wage regions of the world. As a state, Puerto Rico would be much like Hawaii but with a better road system. Just about all worldly goods would experience a boat trip before it reached consumers. As an independent country the island would be left to shift fairly much on its own. Forget about Cuba and especially Haiti. Life on Puerto Rico as an independent country would be more like the Dominican Republic. Travel to the United States would require a visa, and I would no longer be able place calls back home on my cell phone.

And they might decide to speak English along with the rest of the region.

Democratic Outrage

This is old news. I’ve been busy.

The Democrats were outraged, did I say, outraged? Outraged at the recent antics of the Golden Rush. They want Rush to apologize, they want his sponsors to drop his show, they want him off the air.


Party operatives have been jumping with joy for the past few days. They are shouting “Go, go, begone.” They are whispering, “Say it again and again and again. And please, please stay.”

Nothing puts the lie to the “family values” mantra of the conservative faction like a leader of the conservative faction being his own true self and speaking true conservative values. “Slut, whore” and more. Say it again.

Beyond that there is the humorous fallout from the whole debacle. Liberal phonies were calling for Rush’s head and conservative agitators were asking when liberals would be prepared to take on the Huffington Post for slandering the Catholic Church:

CHICAGO, February 29, 2012— It appears the progressive Huffington Post is showing a hypocritical, radical, and hate filled side. Larry Doyle, one of their contributors, published a thoroughly hate filled anti-Catholic screed last week.

He carefully couched his religious contempt as an attack on Rick Santorum.

Within his February 24 column “The Jesus-Easting Cult of Rick Santorum” Doyle viciously attacks the Catholic Church and practicing Catholics exhibiting extreme prejudice, spite, and hate. The same kind of prejudice and hate that persecutors use to justify pogroms and genocide.

This from the Washington Times, which is owned by the Unification Church. Meanwhile, Catholic Online had this to say:

According to Larry Doyle of The Huffington Post, the Catholic Church conducts barbaric rituals; its priests wear black robes and cast spells; its devotees eat Jesus meat in a cannibalistic reverie and take orders from the Pope, who is a “former” Nazi, chats with God and will be the real president if Santorum wins. Oh, and Doyle believes that Christians are vicious, ignorant and intolerant.

Of course, what Doyle forgot to mention is that the Church runs many worthwhile charities, and countless priests devote their lives to the betterment of their congregations. In reward, while senators who vote against the Church’s wishes are threatened with excommunication, those priests who bugger young choirboys are protected from discovery and prosecution. But why pile it on.

So, the conservative operative on Sunday morning cable was demanding to know when these phony liberals were going to apologize for the left-leaning Huffington Post (and maybe cancel their subscriptions). I noted that the liberal spokeswoman had little in response. To bad I was not there.

I would have said “never.” Or “up your nose with a rubber hose.” Demeaning a college student does not even come close to the level of slandering an organization worth billions and possessing  a powerful voice along with hordes to sound it out. This is their world headquarters. Where do you suppose Sandra Fluke lives?

And The People All Said Sit Down

And the people all said sit down.
Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down
Sit down, you’re rocking the boat.

I never knew I had religion. Absolutely clueless, what? I now have Rick Santorum to thank for straightening me out. Yes, the same Rick Santorum who is running for the Republican presidential nomination. He must be really busy right now trying to get all those elitist Southern delegates, but he took time out from his hectic schedule to remind me that I’ve got religion.

It’s called science, you know. Yes, science. The stuff we learned in high school in Granbury. The stuff I studied four years to get a degree. Stupid me, I never noticed the book titled Essential Relativity was really a hymnal. Just goes to show you the quality of people we have running for the highest office these days. They can spot the obvious that’s been under our noses for years.

Romney and Gingrich have changed their views for one simple reason: to pander to Republican voters when the political heat is rising. They sought to ingratiate themselves with trendy liberal elites—despite lack of conclusive, verifiable scientific evidence … Of all the GOP candidates, I am the only one who has not bowed, and will never bow, to this liberal orthodoxy. I did not pander when global warming seemed cool to the press and to Hollywood. We know that climate changes over time, that the earth warms and cools over time. This debate is about whether human activity plays a role, and whether U.S. emissions cuts can have any effect when China and India refuse to go along. The apostles of this pseudo-religion believe that America and its people are the source of the earth’s temperature. I do not.

Now, this is going to sound cockeyed, but the same thing most people consider to be religion (Intelligent Design) Santorum considers to be science. Isn’t that amazing. That’s why we keep Santorum around. To keep us straight.

While we are on the subject:

David Coppedge, a former systems administration lead on NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn, claims he was unfairly terminated from his JPL job for discussing with colleagues California’s initiative to ban gay marriage and for giving them DVDs promoting intelligent design — the theory that life and the existence of the universe are best explained as the result of the influence of God or an intelligent agent.

In Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, had asked in pretrial motions to call an expert witness on intelligent design and whether it constitutes religious dogma.

Becker argued that while a former JPL colleague complained that Coppedge harassed her by giving her the DVDs, the discs do not contain any religious dogma — evidence that Coppedge was a victim of discrimination because “they had already assumed or prejudged what their contents were.”

All of which confuses me, because I was led to believe earlier that Coppedge was claiming religious persecution over his job reassignment and subsequent dismissal.

Coppedge is on the board of directors of a non-profit called Illustra Media, the concern that produces all those fine Intelligent Design videos I have discussed previously.

Illustra Media produces video documentaries that examine the scientific case for intelligent design. Working with Discovery Institute and an international team of scientists and scholars (including Michael Behe, Guillermo Gonzalez, Stephen Meyer, and Lee Strobel), Illustra has helped define both the scientific case for design and the limitations of materialistic processes like Darwinian evolution. These documentaries include Unlocking the Mystery of Life, The Privileged Planet and Darwin’s Dilemma.

Our (my) confusion will end in time, about the time Santorum wins the nomination and ultimately the highest office in our land. And may God have mercy on our souls.

Life After Marriage

Not mine. Somebody else’s.

Saturday I woke up hoping somebody would kill me before I left the house. It was one of those days. I was scheduled to photograph a wedding.

Now I make a little money peddling stock images through various agencies, but the real profit is from portraits and especially weddings. That is: soul-searing, gut-wrenching wedding photography.

One thing can go right shooting a wedding. You can get all the photos you are supposed to get, and they can all turn out perfect.

There are about a thousand things that can go wrong.

Let me tell you what will happen if just one of these things goes wrong with a wedding shoot: You will have to sell your house, change your name and leave town. Your name will be never again be mentioned without a sneer, and the bounty on your head will grow by day.

And you can get sued. One photographer did an expensive wedding contract (Are you aware that the average wedding photography contract is $5000?), and after the wedding the bride’s family noticed the photos of the bride showed her tiara at the wrong angle. They sued to recover the entire cost of the contract plus assembled damages. It can get worse. One photographer finished a wedding contract, got his fee, and went on with his life.  Years later he was contacted with lawyers from the groom. The groom wanted not only a refund, but he also wanted the photographer to pay for shooting the wedding all over again. This included the cost of re-staging the ceremony with all its attendant expenses. Expenses included bringing the bride back from her native Latvia, where she had retreated after divorcing the groom some years back.

These things were on my mind as Saturday morning broke cold, dark and rainy, with threats of thunderstorms. The wedding was going to be held out of doors.

I was praying that somebody would put out a contract on me to be delivered before I had to head out into the storm.

To conclude the story: Piece of cake. No sun? No problem. A little fill flash took care of the light balance. The covered outdoor venue did not blow away, and there were absolutely no equipment failures.

The bride and groom are now happily married (they were already happy to begin with), and everybody had a wonderful time. The food was wonderful, and I had some when taking a short break. Also two Shiner Bocks. Images have been uploaded to the bride’s Shutterfly account, and DVDs with 332 images are safely in the mail.

What, me worry?

Classic Palin

By now you know there is a book out about the 2008 presidential election. The book is Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, and HBO has a TV movie by the same name based on the book. The book is not all about Sarah Palin, but the movie almost is.

If you recall from 2008, war hero turned senator John McCain came out of the candidate selection process under a decided threat from a black Illinois senator, originally from Hawaii, with a foreign-born, Muslim father, who had himself had lived for a time in a Muslim country and also was saddled with the middle name of Hussein. Obviously McCain needed a running mate who would give him an edge. Instead he picked Alaskan governor Sarah Palin.

I have previously mentioned the devastating effect this choice had on the McCain campaign, but the movie shows a deeper view, if reviews are to be believed. But that is not what I am getting into here, so I will get some points out of the way first:

Palin was pulled from obscurity for a perceived popularity with the party’s conservative base. Palin, pumped up and clueless, was tossed into the shark pool after which party staffers  begin to teach her how to swim. At that point a horrifying realization set in:

Palin has only a passing acquaintance with the truth. Todd Palin was (at least at one time) a “member of the Alaskan Independence Party, a fierce states’ rights group that wants to turn all federal lands in Alaska back to the state.” The movie shows Palin demanding when the Republican Party was going to put out a press release denying this fact.

Compared to your average college professor of political science, Palin is dumber than rocks.  She is shown to be ignorant of the Federal Reserve and what it does, and she has no idea why there is now a North and a South Korea. Her knowledge about the two major world wars of the twentieth century is also vanishingly small. There is more, of course.

But for all of this the critics want to see the movie as sympathetic or neutral to Palin.

The movie seems to want you to realize that there’s a human being there, someone who could use a break from the scorn and expectation heaped upon her. In fact, all the major players in “Game Change” could have done a lot worse when it comes to being depicted by Hollywood: Sen. John McCain; his 2008 campaign staff; the election industry; the voracious media; the Palin clan. Nobody comes off looking so great, but there are also no real monsters. (Monstrous behavior, sure.)

A consensus can be perceived that Palin was plucked by the clueless, who have only themselves to blame for the debacle that followed. If Palin is to be tagged with the loss of the presidency in 2008, smarter people than she is will have to come off as the ultimate in campaign saboteurs. She was not the dumb one at the wheel.

Having done with that, what is this all about?

Character is something that a vanishingly few can pull from. When you have received the short end, it can show. Especially, when the chips are down, lack of character can sing. With Palin it shines.

“I believe my family has the right priorities and knows what really matters. For instance, our son called from Afghanistan yesterday and he sounded good and that’s what matters. Being in the good graces of Hollywood’s Team Obama isn’t the top of my list,” Palin said.

No “Jesus, did I ever blow that one.” Not at all. That would show a touch of character. Instead it’s the tired, the poor, the weathered Hollywood Team Obama ogre that’s to blame. It’s the ultimate crutch. Palin could benefit from Hollywood if she had the character to do so. The movie True Grit came out of that place.

Cross Purposes

Our governor is something else. Of course, we are all something else, or we would be all the same.

But for Rick Perry being something else is being something besides a clear thinker. He also seems to have trouble keeping his eye on the ball. But first a round of applause:

Perry applauds state fund to attract researchers

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry is defended (sic) a state-run fund designed to attract high-tech researchers, businesses and jobs to Texas.

Right on, Governor. Now to get them to come. The high-tech researchers, that is. The high-tech researchers with families and children. Children who may want to attend public school. In Texas.

Maybe not so fast.

With his other hand for the past few years the governor has expended a lot of effort to massage his personal preferences while making the Texas public school system a world-class laughing stock.

With support for creationism in the schools and the repeated appointment of unqualified school board officials who espouse creationism and historical revisionism, the governor has shanked with one hand the program he applauds with the other. If a one-handed applause were possible.

Pot Robertson

There are a lot of things I like to do, and I kind of think all of them are legal. If there were something I liked to do, and it were illegal, I am sure I would not do it.

Now there is something that is illegal, and I have never done it, but Pat Robertson, previously a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, now thinks should be made legal, and, if I understand the news item, Pat Robertson wants me to do it.

That brings us around to a number of things that are legal, and Pat Robertson wants me to do these, also, and I do not think I would like to do them, and especially I would not like to do them if Pat Robertson wanted me to do them.

Which brings us to the daily headline:

Pat Robertson Wants You to Smoke Pot Legally

I don’t think so. The New York Times has the story:

“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol,” Mr. Robertson said in an interview on Wednesday. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

It gags me to say this, but Pat Robertson and I agree on something. The war on drugs has not succeeded and is not likely to. But thanks, and no thanks. I have other things to do with my time, and I especially intend to avoid things that Pat Robertson thinks I should be doing.

I don’t pray on my knees. I don’t believe in life after death. I don’t shape my life according to the whims of somebody who claims to talk to God.

And I don’t do drugs.

But I just said that, didn’t I.

The Ultimate Hack

Ignoring how the term that originally meant writing sloppy computer code came to mean network and computer intrusion, we have now encountered the ultimate hack.

‘Anonymous’ hackers busted after one becomes FBI informant

In a world that thrives on deceipt and abuse of trust, the world of computer vandalism has met its own. In the ultimate betrayal a member of the “Anonymous” offshoot “Lulz” traded his integrity for some easy time from the authorities. Screw the nobility of cause these thugs so brightly espouse. At the bottom they are self-centered clods of limited morality. They will not be missed.

Soon after his arrest, he pleaded guilty and began spilling secrets, leading to charges Tuesday against five people in Europe and the U.S., including a Chicago man, and preventing more than 300 attacks along the way, authorities said.

So, What Can I Do For You?

It was summer of 2008, and I swear I was minding my own business. The news item on my computer screen said that John McCain had just picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. That’s the instant I knew.

It was game over. The next president of the United States was going to be Barack Obama. Thank you, Sarah.

I have mentioned before that Sarah Palin recently considered running for the presidential nomination and quickly sank out of sight, ignored roundly by Republicans who need to live in the real world. I was wondering what she might do to get even with Republican voters. Today I learned. From the Associated Press:

Palin backs Gingrich, leaves door open for herself

Hot dog! She’s going to stick it to Gingrich. I swear it could not happen to a nicer guy.

Fact Sheets

In the early days of The North Texas Skeptics co-founder John Thomas dedicated his knowledge and experience to several topics of skeptical interest and donated three essays to the NTS Web site. Extra-sensory perception (ESP) was particularly in vogue then, and John’s discussion is still timely.

Many believe there are some people (“sensitives” or “psychics”) who can receive the thoughts of others, and even transmit their own thoughts to others. This direct mind-to-mind communication is often said to be instantaneous and independent of distance. Proponents sometimes claim all people have this ability to some degree, and that this explains many curious events in daily life, such as apparently pre-cognitive dreams. The catch-all term for this alleged ability is extra-sensory perception, or ESP (sometimes called “psi,” like the Greek letter). Parapsychology is the term used for the serious study of such claims. So far, parapsychology seems to be a science that cannot even demonstrate that its subject matter exists, let alone offer explanations for it.
The claims for ESP fall into four general categories:
Telepathy — a person’s awareness of another’s thoughts, without any communication through normal sensory channels.
Clairvoyance — knowledge acquired of an object or event without the use of the senses.
Precognition — knowledge a person may have of another person’s future thoughts, or of future events.
Psychokinesis — a person’s ability to influence a physical object or an event, by merely thinking about it. (Some researchers consider psychokinesis a part of psi, but not strictly extra-sensory “perception”).
The evidence cited for ESP is usually anecdotal. Sometimes it is claimed, however, that scientific tests at respected research institutions have conclusively demonstrated that ESP exists; or government tests have proved it; or, that the Russians are “working hard” on it, etc. Sometimes proponents cite specific experiments as having confirmed the existence of ESP. In fact, it is the essentially unanimous opinion of psychologists that the existence of ESP has not been shown. All procedurally valid and reproducible experiments have failed to demonstrate the existence of ESP. (See Hansel, Alcock, Marks and Kammann, and Druckman and Swets for detailed reviews of the best-known experiments.) We will first consider why the existence of ESP is such an extraordinary claim, given the current state of our knowlege about the world, and then review the major experiments claimed to support the existence of ESP.

He also wrote on astrology and the not-so-well-known pseudo science of graphology. As usual with John’s writings, the topics are well-researched, and the style is always engaging. These are highly informative pieces, and I recommend the time spent digesting these bits of wisdom.

Discontinuous Thinking

At the cost of being repetitious, here is the story:

Phillip Johnson is considered the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design movement. Digressing further, I make it a point to capitalize Intelligent Design in order to distinguish it from intelligent design. Also, it’s customary in American English to capitalize the names of religious movements (e.g., Catholicism, Islam).

Johnson is a retired professor of law at UC Berkeley and was notably law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren. The classical tale is that Johnson was taking some time off in London and kept noticing a book by Michael Denton in a book store there. The book is Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Johnson bought a copy and also a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, and he read both.

Dawkins argues that 18th century Christian apologist William Paley was wrong in his argument for apparent design in nature. Denton does not so much (not at all, in fact) argue for evidence of design so much as he argues that the modern theory of biological evolution, closely aligned with Charles Darwin’s postulation of the theory, is totally unsupported.

Anyhow, Johnson returned to the United States and helped to inspire and to implement the modern Intelligent Design movement. He was also instrumental in setting the course for the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC), the main organization advocating this modern form of creationism.

It’s really a shame I waited so long to read Theory in Crises, but I had to get some other things out of my life before I could really dig into it. Also, in the many years since I purchased my copy I have developed additional background on some of the topics Denton brings up. Now that I have read the book from cover to cover, I am prepared to discuss only a single chapter. That will be the book’s last chapter, namely “The Priority of the Paradigm.” In this chapter Denton sums up his argument against the modern theory of biological evolution, and it is interesting and quite telling to analyze his argument.

In the first 14 chapters Denton provides some background and then covers a comprehensive list of arguments against some absolutely essential components of the theory of evolution. In chapter 15 he brings it all down to continuity, or lack of it, in nature. Here is how it works.

The Darwinian theory of evolution (still incorporated into modern biology) posits a number of things:

  1. All modern life forms trace their ancestry back to a common organism in the distant past.
  2. The line of descent of modern organisms follows a branching path from that common ancestor.
  3. Branches in the line of descent are generated by accidental mutations. From time to time a mutation in the genome of a single organism will produce a small change in an individual of the succeeding generation.
  4. If that small change is beneficial to the survival of the individual or the species, then Malthusian economics will work to preferentially retain the mutation, and eventual the mutation will become dominant in the population of the species.

This is usually summarized as random mutations, coupled with natural selection of beneficial features has worked to produce the variety of life forms on the Earth today.

Anyhow, a critical feature of Darwinian evolution is gradualism. Most genetic mutations are harmful or, at best, neutral. Only a chance mutation will benefit future generations. A single point mutation will (but not always) produce a small change in the next generation. Multiple, simultaneous single-point mutations are required to produce large changes in the next generation. A little mathematical analysis shows that the occurrence of a large, beneficial change has a vanishingly small probability. Darwinian evolution supposes only single single-point mutations between generations.

And that is what gets us to the principle argument of Denton’s final chapter. Darwinian evolution implies a continuum of life forms from the original to the present. The first 14 chapters of Theory in Crisis argue that such a continuum never happened and could never happen. Darwinism hangs on a continuous progression through time, and the evidence, according to Denton, is that the continuity is not there.

The paradigm in the title of chapter 15 is just that. Denton argues that Darwinists (modern biologists) cling to the continuity of life where there is no evidence for it and no evidence that it is possible.

Denton does not deny outright the common descent of modern life forms, but he maintains the line of descent is discontinuous. And there’s the rub, to steal a little from Shakespeare. In all of 15 pages of chapter 15 Denton never explains how the chain of ancestry can be continuous. I am sure that Johnson saw it, and its name was God. But Denton hardly mentions God and never in this context throughout the book. We are left to wonder if Denton presumed we would find God in those gaps of the chain of ancestry.

Ultimately, Denton’s argument is straight-forward. Biologists cannot explain how (in the face of all of Denton’s arguments) ancestry can be continuous, and paleontologists cannot demonstrate an absolute continuity of descent, therefore life (and the entire universe) must be discontinuous.

Here is where I come in. I am going to argue, much as did Denton, that he did not demonstrate complete evidence for discontinuity of descent, and he did not demonstrate, even more, he did not even mention, how life could be discontinuous. Furthermore, there are point-for-point arguments that there is a continuity of life. A brief excerpt from page 345 illustrates Denton’s thesis.

Neither of the two fundamental axioms of Darwin’s macroevolutionary theory-the concept of the continuity of nature, that is the idea of a functional continuum of all life forms linking all species together and ultimately leading back to a primeval cell, and the belief that all adaptive design of life has resulted from a blind random process-have been validated by a single empirical discovery or scientific advance since 1859. Despite more than a century of intensive effort on the part of evolutionary biologists, the major objections raised by Darwins’s [sic] critics, such as Agassiz, Pictet, Bronn and Richard Owen have not been met. The mind must still fill up the “large blanks” that Darwin acknowledged in his letter to Asa Gray.

One hundred and twenty years ago it was possible for a sceptic to be forgiving, to give Darwinism the benefit of the doubt and to allow that perhaps future discoveries would eventually fill in the blanks that were so apparent in 1859. Such a position is far less tenable today.

Since the birth of modern biology in the mid-eighteenth century, nearly all advocates of the continuity of nature have attempted to explain away the gaps in terms of what ultimately amounts to some sort of sampling error hypothesis, very few professional biologists have adopted the alternative nominalist position and explained them away as convenient and arbitrary inventions of the mind.

What Denton is starting to say here, and what he emphasizes in other remarks is that nobody has ever observed the supposed continuity of life, and, even more, nobody has ever justified with other evidence the continuity of life.

And that is Denton’s argument. This is nearly the sum total of his argument in the book.

The problem is that Denton’s argument for discontinuity of life is no better and is even worse than he claims for Darwinian evolution. Nowhere and at no time has anybody ever observed, and nowhere and not at any time has anybody ever demonstrated the discontinuity of life. Additionally, there is good argument against the discontinuity of life. Take the two points one at a time.

First, we never observe discontinuity of life. I had two parents. Each of them had two parents. I knew all of these people. I am told, and a little research conducted on bears out, that each of my grandparents had parents. I am now going to foolishly extrapolate that this process continues on back as far as anybody can trace. At no point in my line of descent was there a person who did not have two parents (parthenogenesis notwithstanding). Let’s go a little further. Study all of recorded human history, and you will not find any individual who did not have parents. This does not count the mythical figures of Adam and Eve of the Bible.

There may be one fly in my argument. I once worked for a man with an unusual name. A search does not reveal an appreciable number of people with that family name. Don told me that his grandfather came to his a town in East Texas from parts unknown, and nobody ever knew anything more about him. However, I am going to submit that Don’s grandfather had parents.

Now for the second part. How would a discontinuity of life to come about? Denton mentions the giraffe and seems to imply that the formation of such a biological monstrosity must have involved a discontinuity. How could such a discontinuity have happened?

There was an animal that was not a giraffe. It had many of the features of a giraffe, but it did not have all the features necessary for a giraffe. A giraffe has features in its circulatory system that allow its heart to pump blood several feet to its brain at the top of a very long neck. At the same time, when a giraffe drops its head to drink water, the giraffe does not collapse due to all the blood rushing to its head. Something drastic changed between the pre-giraffe and the modern giraffe. It was more of a change than could be produced by a single-point mutation. It was a significant discontinuity in the giraffe’s line of descent.

How do you explain this discontinuity? Discarding the idea of a single-point mutation, there must have been a combination of many mutations that produced a giraffe’s special features, and this giraffe was born of parents who were pre-giraffe and without these features.

Which brings up Shel Silverstein.

This is Donald,
A long-necked preposterous.
He’s looking around for a female,
Long-necked preposterous.
But there aren’t any.

The “poem” is accompanied by a cartoon of a funny-looking bird with a puzzled look on its face. Donald will never find a mate and will never have children. And that is what would have happened with the first and only giraffe if Michael Denton’s idea discontinuous descent had any substance.

Except.. Except, if from time to time entire populations of new species were produced within a single generation, all with genomes matching sufficiently to allow procreation and production of yet another generation. Whether or not this sounds like God to you, it is at the very least a more absurd proposition than the propositions of Darwinian evolution that Denton has attempted to refute in the book’s first fourteen chapters.

And that’s as far as I am going to go with this review. There are many excellent reviews of Theory in Crisis. None of them are positive except from religious and creationists sources. Here are a few links.

Diagnosing the first fourteen chapters of Theory in Crisis is laborious, but I promise at least a chapter by chapter critique in future posts. Hint, the part about molecular homology is hilariously absurd, and many of Denton’s points are recapitulated in the creationist book Of Pandas and People by Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis (edited by Charles Thaxton), which appeared shortly after Denton’s book. Reading all of these creationist books leads one to ask whether all of these writers drink from the same well. That would be an interesting route to follow some day.

liFirst, we never observe discontinuity of life. I had two parents. Each of them had two parents. I knew all of these people. I am told, and a little research conducted on

The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge

The North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge Instructions

The persons named below (“challengers”) will pay the sum of $12,000 (“the challenge prize”) to any person (“claimant”) who can demonstrate any psychic or paranormal power or ability under scientifically valid observing conditions. Prior to any demonstration or test, challengers and claimant will enter into a complete, written agreement called “the protocol”, which will set out what power or ability is to be demonstrated, how it is to be tested, and what test results will constitute success or failure. These instructions and conditions alone are not an offer. No contract to pay the challenge amount is made with any claimant until the claimant and challengers have negotiated and entered into the protocol. The protocol must incorporate the following terms and conditions:

    Claimant must describe the paranormal or psychic ability or power clearly and precisely. Claims must be specific enough to be scientifically testable
    Claims must be clearly psychic or paranormal.

    Claimant must specifically describe any proposed test procedures which will be used to demonstrate the paranormal or psychic power. Claimant and challengers must agree to the test procedures to be used before any tests are performed.

    Claimant must describe exactly what test results will constitute success

    or failure. If success and failure will be described in terms of statistical results, such results must be significantly beyond chance expectation.

    Claimant and challengers will each be responsible for their respective expenses, such as equipment, travel, accommodations, consultant fees, or other expenses.

    In the event the claimant is successful under the terms and conditions of the protocol, challengers will immediately deliver the challenge prize to claimant or claimant’s designee, in full settlement of all claims.

    Claimant and challengers waive all claims, damages, and causes of action against each other arising out of the challenge, for any injuries or damages of every kind, whether to person, property, or reputation.

    All agreements, protocols, correspondence, data, audio or video recordings, photographs or results made or obtained by either party during the challenge or negotiations leading up to the challenge may be used by either party in any way he or she may choose, including publication, and challengers and claimant both waive all exclusive rights to such information.

    This offer is made by the challengers personally and not on behalf of The North Texas Skeptics or any other agency or organization, although others may be involved in the examination of claims.

After challengers have received claimant’s offer to demonstrate a claimed psychic or paranormal ability or power, challengers will promptly enter into negotiations with claimant and attempt to arrive at a written protocol satisfactory to both parties. Neither claimant nor challengers shall have any right of action or damages against the other for failure to enter into the protocol or for failure to conduct any test or demonstration.

Gregory H. Aicklen
John F. Blanton
Prasad N. Golla
Mike Selby
John A. Thomas