Buyer’s Remorse

OK, I’m the first to admit that loyalty is only skin deep, sometimes. However, I never thought it would come to Eric Hartsburg.

I first noticed Hartsburg prior to the recent election, and I thought, “Wow! That is way cool!” What the Indiana wrestler had done was to show his loyalty to the Romney-Ryan team by having the RR campaign logo tattooed on the side of his head. Redskins fans, eat your hearts out.

Then, of course, his team lost, and Hartsburg was sorely disappointed. But there was more:

Now, he says he wants the ink gone, but not because Romney failed to unseat President Obama. Hartsburg told Politico he only decided to remove it after he heard Romney’s post-election comments about Obama giving “gifts” to his supporters.

“It stands not only for a losing campaign but for a sore loser,” Hartsburg said. “He’s pretty shameful as far as I’m concerned, man. There’s no dignity in blaming somebody else for buying votes and paying off people. I can’t get behind that or stay behind that.”

General George S. Patton famously said (at least in the movie), “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.” I guess Hartsburg was one of Patton’s Americans. Fortunately for him, somebody has offered to laser off the “RR.” However, I doubt he will be replacing it with a “BO” or even an “OB.”

Advertisements

Is There An Educator In The House?

Can somebody help out here? The Republican party is in a terrible fix and is beginning to get a bad reputation. I know all Republicans are not like this, but you would never know that from the public mouthings of a vocal few. Is there an educator in the house?

With much thanks to Matt Davis

Currents Of Fear

Many years ago I posted this in the newsletter of The North Texas Skeptics. It doesn’t seem this is anywhere near the fad it was back then. Possibly people have gotten smarter or else distracted by really critical issues. From the September 1995 issue:

Currents of fear
By John Blanton

Paul Brodeur has been a writer for The New Yorker for 35 years, and has published several books on issues of environmental hazards, including Currents of Death, The Zapping of America, and Asbestos and Enzymes. His book The Great Power-Line Cover-up (Little, Brown and Company, paperback, 351 pages, $12.95) was published in 1993, and an updated edition was released earlier this year.

The story according to Brodeur begins with “The Calamity on Meadow Street.” Two hundred and fifty yards long with only nine houses, Meadow Street in Guilford, CT, has had more than its share of cancer cases since the 1970s. It didn’t take the residents long to spot the culprit, a prominent electric substation on the street. After explaining the travails of the Meadow Street residents, the author spends the remainder of the book detailing his evidence that man-made electromagnetic fields in general and power lines specifically are a cause of cancer in humans.

The unfortunate inhabitants of Meadow Street are not the only victims. Brodeur describes endangered sites as diverse as Slater Elementary School in Fresno, California, and Essex County Vocational Technical High School in West Caldwell, New Jersey, both of which are located adjacent to high voltage transmission lines. Throughout the book he seeks to show the magnitude of the risk. Using his relentless, well-crafted journalistic style, the author builds a powerful argument for the hazards of electromagnetic fields and for the cover-up he says is concealing the truth from the public. The book includes numerous interviews with residents, who recount their efforts to obtain redress from bureaucrats and elected officials. There are also quotes and interviews with scientists, who all this time have been having trouble finding a link between electromagnetic fields and human health problems.

In June the PBS television series Frontline aired a show called Currents of Fear, which dealt extensively with the subject of Paul Brodeur’s book. The show features, among others, residents of Omaha, Nebraska, who perceive a correspondence between the incidence of cancer in their neighborhood and the presence of power lines. The program’s treatment of the whole issue was so enlightening that it’s worthwhile to present here some major excerpts from the transcript. The transcript reveals the nature of the fears of people like the Omaha group and the difficulty the scientific community has in dealing with those fears.
In the Frontline video resident Dee Hendricks describes the origins of their concerns:

“. . . I knew, instantly, that this was not a normal thing going on. I wondered what it was in my neighborhood or in Omaha that could have possibly caused my son to have cancer, and driving home one night, I noticed that there were huge transmission towers that were scattered throughout the neighborhood.” (From Currents of Fear)

Others in Omaha expressed their outrage and their frustration at the lack of public concern. One was Adrian Dendinger:

“Those are people. My sister, dying of brain cancer. I’ve watched her rot in Mayo Clinic for a year. And then a head of a health department doesn’t come to the meeting? That’s baloney. We get lied to, we get ignored, we have to go get our own information, we have to make our own maps, we have to find out about substations. That is not what our elected officials are for. We’re getting screwed from both sides.” (From Currents of Fear)

The Omaha group went further. Currents of Fear featured a diagram, which I have attempted to simulate in Figure 1. The Omaha group performed a survey, and, in an effort to remove human bias, they correlated the incidence of cancer within postal ZIP codes with the presence of power lines within the zones.

Figure 1. Power lines and ZIP codes

Figure 1 is not the real Omaha diagram, but it will illustrate the point. First, grant either that population densities for the different zones are the same, or else that some compensation is made if they are not. Zones 75044, 75202, 75221, 75234, and 75403 have power lines, and they have a higher average incidence of cancer than 75019, 75066, and 75080, which have no power lines. I will get back to this figure later. The residents considered that this qualified as scientific evidence that cancers were correlated with the presence of power lines.

As mentioned, the scientists were not so quick to pick up on this idea. First of all, there seemed to be no physical basis for a connection. William R. Bennett, Jr., a Ph.D. physicist at Yale University stated on the program:

“The thing that struck me as most puzzling about it is that the fields these people were dealing with are absolutely minuscule. They’re talking about fields of two or three milligauss, fields that are 1/200th or so of the earth’s magnetic fields.” (From Currents of Fear)

Further, the American Physical Society (APS) [see Note] earlier this year released a statement that “purported health effects of power line fields have not been scientifically substantiated, and the cost of mitigation and litigation `is incommensurate with the risk, if any.’” See the sidebar for a full statement from the APS.

Brodeur’s book mentions many instances of fields much higher than this, but still only a fraction of the earth’s magnetic field. Brodeur is not ignorant of this fact, and he has a response:

“There is absolutely no reasonable biological comparison between the earth’s magnetic field, in which we evolved as human beings and which, as some people think is responsible, at least partially, for the way our brains and central nervous systems develop, and the power frequency fields, which have only been with us, really, in a meaningful way for 50, 60, 70 years.” (From Currents of Fear)

Who is right? Obviously Brodeur has not supplied a physical link, and the best physicists in the world have not been able to, either. However, good science tells us that even when a cause-effect relationship is not visible, the presence of a strong statistical correlation hints at some physical connection. Thus, the protesters present their epidemiological studies.

In his book Brodeur cites the results of a recent Swedish study. Epidemiologists there investigated the incidence of cancer among 436,503 people who had lived for at least one year within 1000 feet of Sweden’s high-voltage transmission lines. The results were reported in 1992, and they were astounding. Children exposed to more than one milligauss experienced twice the risk of developing leukemia as children exposed to less than one milligauss. Exposure to more than two milligauss showed three times the risk, and those exposed to more than three milligauss had nearly four times the risk. Results for adults showed correlations for acute myeloid leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia, but these were judged to be not statistically significant. A study of industrial exposure produced similar findings. In this case correlations with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and brain tumors were demonstrated.

If ever there was a smoking gun, this appeared to be one. However, as Frontline pointed out, something seemed to be wrong with the Swedish statistics. To scientists this seemed to be a case of “the multiple comparisons fallacy.” Quoting John Moulder, Medical College of Wisconsin:

“The problem is, when you do as they did, hundreds and hundreds of comparisons, something in the neighborhood of 800 different comparisons, by the standard way we do statistics, we would expect 5 percent of those to be statistically elevated and 5 percent to be statistically decreased. And now you have a problem. If you find, by one measure of exposure, that leukemia is up in a group of kids, is that real, or is that the result of just random noise in the system?” (From Currents of Fear)

Moulder again:

“It is not scientifically reasonable to do all the measurements, but then only pick out the ones that give you the answer you want for publication. If I dredge through their original report, I can find situations which, looked at in isolation, without looking at the rest of the report, that if that was the only data I gave you, I could claim that that proved that power lines protected children against childhood leukemia.” (From Currents of Fear)

Having said this, I ask you to go back and look at Figure 1. This is what is known in the jargon as a “cancer cluster.” What we have here is a small sample taken in isolation. It is possible that a quirk in the statistics produced the result the Omaha group was looking for. Closer inspection reveals more than was originally stated. Look at ZIP code 75066. Even though the power line runs right along its border, residents there seem not to have been effected. Zone 75234 has one case, but that one is not located very close to the power lines within its boundaries. It is clear that shifting the ZIP code boundaries a few blocks in certain directions would have radically altered the results of the survey.

This is not to say that the Omaha group used invalid methods. Naturally, using the actual proximity to the power lines, as the Swedish study did, would have resulted in a more accurate survey, but something like the ZIP code basis can be made to work, provided the sample is large enough.

Figure 2 shows the result of adding “noise” to some underlying signal. Here the signal might correspond to the actual effects of an environmental factor on health. The noise represents the fact that some people will get the disease even in the absence of the environmental factor, and some people do not get the disease, even in the presence of the environmental factor. In this computer simulation, I made the noise 20 times as large as the underlying signal. The graph shows what one would see if 100 samples are taken. With this “signal to noise” ratio, it is still not possible to see the underlying signal. The signal is just swamped by the random noise.

Figure 2. Noisy data with 100 sample points.

In Figure 3, 10,000 samples have been taken, and now the underlying signal becomes apparent. The effect the Omaha group saw was not this but was the result of finding a pattern within a random sample. If they had been able to duplicate their survey in several thousand additional, independent trials, the pattern they saw would have persisted only if there were a real correlation between presence of the power lines and the disease.


Figure 2. Noisy data with 10,000 sample points

The Frontline program further discussed some recent scientific tests that were conducted under controlled conditions in an attempt to find and measure any link between electromagnetic fields and health. Although the studies used laboratory animals, it is hard to see how the results would be different with people. Here is a summary of some results mentioned on the show:
In a test of whether power line magnetic fields caused fetal abnormalities, no effects were found.
In a study involving 12 litters from three generations of animals bred under magnetic fields, no effect on the reproductive cycle was found.
In two studies using cancer-prone mice, no evidence was found that magnetic fields stimulated lymphoma production.
In a study at the Pacific Northwest Laboratories in Washington State of whether magnetic fields could influence a specific cancer gene, the researchers were unable to replicate the results of an earlier New York study that had produced positive results, even after going to the New York laboratory and using their facilities.
A study to determine if electromagnetic fields affect melatonin levels in humans found no effect.
A study involving pregnant women and electric blankets was negative.
The results of a test involving laboratory rats living their entire life span in electromagnetic fields will be available next year.
It is not likely that these arguments will persuade those affected that their fears are groundless. Quoting John Moulder:

. . . [P]eople are less afraid of risks they think they control, and they’re less afraid of risks that they understand, so the things that people are most afraid of is things they can’t control and don’t understand, and certainly power lines fall right in that category.” (From Currents of Fear)

And still many people have a lack of understanding and a lack of trust in science. They do not see science as something in their everyday lives. Tell one of the Omaha mothers that science cannot explain why her child has cancer, but you are sure it is not because of the power lines. There are places where reason does not intrude.

Author Paul Brodeur is a different matter. Here is a guy who has been around the block a few times, so it is hard for him to claim naiveté.

In the Frontline program he expresses disdain for the physicists who assert there is no link between power line electromagnetic fields and health, and throughout his book points out that these scientists and others are tied to the electric power industry. He reminds us that he is the journalist who first alerted the American public to the dangers of asbestos, and he has now made power lines and electromagnetic fields a crusade of his:

It’s pervasive. You literally have millions of unsuspecting men, women and children exposed to power frequency magnetic fields that have already been associated in dozens upon dozens of studies conducted and published in the peer-reviewed medical literature, levels that are associated with the development of cancer. Never before has there been this much epidemiological evidence of the carcinogenicity of any agent, and that evidence subsequently declared to be invalid, and that agent subsequently declared to be benign.” (From Currents of Fear)

The link between electromagnetic fields and health is a new issue, and it is just beginning to be studied seriously. Early on the proponents of this conjecture were motivated by the cancer cluster studies, and they have received recent encouragement by the Swedish survey and some others. All the while, scientific tests of the EMF-cancer link continue to report negative results.

Interested readers can obtain a complete transcript of the Frontline program for $5 from Journal Graphics, Inc., 1535 Grant Street, Denver, CO 80203-1843. Ask for Frontline Show #1319. A copy of the video can be obtained from PBS Video, 1320 Braddock Place, Alexandria, VA 22314. The July 1995 issue of Physics Today has a follow-up on their previous discussion:

For an analysis of electromagnetic fields in the environment, see William R. Bennett Jr’s Physics Today article Cancer and Power Lines (April 1994, page 23) and letters in response (January 1995, page 13, and March 1995, page 124). A background report by [California Polytechnic State University physics professor David] Hafemeister, as well as the complete text of APS’s statement, can be found through the APS home page on the World Wide Web, http//aps.org/.

Further, the August/September issue of APS News carries two letters critical of the APS stance and the involvement of James Randi on the side of the APS. Robert Park of the University of Maryland has responded to these criticisms in the same issue. I will try to get permission to reprint these letters in a future issue of The Skeptic.

Note: John Blanton is a member of the American Physical Society — Editor

Following is the APS sidebar referenced in the main article:

From the APS
APS COUNCIL ADOPTS STATEMENT ON EMFS AND PUBLIC HEALTH

The APS Council approved a statement in April declaring that purported health effects of power line fields have not been scientifically substantiated, and the cost of mitigation and litigation “is incommensurate with the risk, if any.” This is the strongest position on the issue taken by a major scientific society. Since electromagnetic fields (EMFs) were first linked to cancer in 1979, epidemiological evidence has grown ever fainter and proposed mechanisms more speculative. The Council action was a result of several years of discussion and monitoring of the issue by the APS Panel on Public Affairs, and was endorsed by the leaders of the APS Division of Biological Physics. Complete text of the statement follows:
“Physicists are frequently asked to comment on the potential dangers of cancer from electromagnetic fields that emanate from common power lines and electrical appliances. While recognizing that the connection between power line fields and cancer is an area of continuing study by research workers in many disciplines in the United States and abroad, we believe that it is possible to make several observations based on the scientific evidence at this time. We also believe that, in the interest of making the best use of the finite resources available for environmental research and mitigation, it is important for professional organizations to comment on this issue.

The scientific literature and the reports of reviews by other panels show no consistent, significant link between cancer and power line fields. This literature includes epidemiological studies, research on biological systems, and analyses of theoretical interaction mechanisms. No plausible biophysical mechanisms for the systematic initiation or promotion of cancer by these power line fields have been identified. Furthermore, the preponderance of the epidemiological and biophysical/biological research findings have failed to substantiate those studies which have reported specific adverse health effects from exposure to such fields. While it is impossible to prove that no deleterious health effects occur from exposure to any environmental factor, it is necessary to demonstrate a consistent, significant, and causal relationship before one can conclude that such effects do occur. From this standpoint, the conjectures relating cancer to power line fields have not been scientifically substantiated.

These unsubstantiated claims, however, have generated fears of power lines in some communities, leading to expensive mitigation efforts and, in some cases, to lengthy and divisive court proceedings. The costs of mitigation and litigation relating to the power line/cancer connection have risen into the billions of dollars and threaten to go much higher. The diversion of these resources to eliminate a threat which has no persuasive scientific basis is disturbing to us. More serious environmental problems are neglected for lack of funding and public attention, and the burden of cost placed on the American public is incommensurate with the risk, if any.”

For further information contact the APS Washington Office, 529 14th St. NW, Suite 1050, Washington, DC 20045; phone: (202) 662-8700; email: opa@aps.org.

See the item from the APS:

Trio Takes Aim Against Spread of Pseudo-Science

Stupidity At The Top

Over the years I have made numerous attempts to highlight the lack of correlation between intellectual acumen and political stature. Once in a while comes somebody with professional writing skills to perform the task better than I ever have. Most recently David H. Bailey and Jonathan M. Borwein, writing for the Huffington Post, did us all a good service.

What on Earth Do They Think? U.S. Politicians on the Age of the Planet

At least one of the recent presidential candidates (Texas Governor Rick Perry) similarly responded when asked how old the earth was: “I don’t have any idea, I know it’s pretty old,” but then added that he wasn’t sure whether anyone knew “completely and absolutely” the age of the earth.

Along this line, presidential candidates Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Ron Paul labeled climate change “a hoax,” even as the scientific evidence for global warming continues to mount, and the need for world governments to take action grows more pressing.

Is this based on ignorance or political expedience? As the New York Times writes about Rubio, “if his response was more proof of cunning than idiocy, it was still ludicrous.”

Marco Rubio from GQ

As Bailey and Borwein tell it (quoting CBS News), “Paul C. Broun (R-Ga.), who serves on the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee, declared his views in these jaw-dropping terms:”

All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.

I have previously mentioned Broun and others in another post.

Those who read this blog will know that I have contributed money to the Obama campaign and most likely voted for Democratic candidates. Readers will also note that the political exemplars of ignorance I cite tend to be Republican. In fact, I have from time to time referred to the Republican Party as the Party of Dumb. Some may think there is a correlation, and there is. You are going to have to trust me when I say the correlation is from the reports and to my political leanings and not the other way around.

Other outlets have noted the Republican Party’s infatuation with pseudo science and a corresponding disdain for real science.

The Amarillo Globe-News reports on Republican candidate for the Texas Board of Education candidate Marty Rowley’s disdain for modern biological science:

“Evolutionists would say that we progressed to this point through a series of unplanned, random circumstances and random events,” he said. “I don’t believe that tells the whole story. I think there is more to our creation that indicates an intelligent being that has played a significant role.”

Republican contender for the presidency Michele Bachman thinks, among other things, that modern climate science is a hoax:

“The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It’s all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax,” Bachmann said.

Bachmann is also known to be opposed to modern biological science.

It took courage for Senator Bachmann to go on this show and reveal how evolution is even now being forced down the throats of our children; there are very few politicians willing to tell the truth about the liberal conspiracy to teach evolution in our schools. Among the bombshells dropped by Bachmann during her radio appearance were the following:
1) (Evolution) is a theory that has never been proved, one way or the other.
2) The fossil record is a dearth, meaning not much, evidence of evolution.
3) Evolution is a belief; evolution is not a fact.
4) Senator Bachmann charged that the State of Minnesota is going to compel its students to prove that evolution is “true”, and at the same time prohibit students from bringing in evidence to the contrary.

I have also noted the lack of scientific integrity of candidates Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum.

Rick Perry:

It’s the club of those scientists, journalists and other “thinkers” who feel entitled to condemn and mock intelligent design without having first bothered to do even a little homework on their own and learn what ID actually says. The revered “Doonesbury” cartoonist comes out today with a strip where fictional reporter Rick Redfern asks real-life Texas governor Rick Perry, “You’ve dismissed evolution as ‘Just a theory that’s out there.’”

Perry replies: “Yes, I believe in intelligent design.”

Ron Paul:

Well, first I thought it was a very inappropriate question, you know, for the presidency to be decided on a scientific matter. And I think it’s a theory: The Theory of Evolution. And I don’t accept it, you know, as a theory. — Ron Paul on evolution, December 1, 2007

Herman Cain:

“Man-made global warming is poppycock. I don’t believe in it. If people look at the real data, the climate has varied ever since we have known that the planet was here.”

“We know that those scientists who tried to concoct the science to say that we had a hockey stick global warning and they were busted because they manipulated the data.”

Rick Santorum:

There are many on the left and in the scientific community, so to speak, who are afraid of that discussion because, oh my goodness, you might mention the word, God-forbid, “God” in the classroom, or “Creator,” that there may be some things that are inexplainable by nature where there may be, where it’s actually better explained by a Creator, and of course we can’t have that discussion. It’s very interesting that you have a situation where science will only allow things in the classroom that are consistent with a non-Creator idea of how we got here, as if somehow or another that’s scientific. Well maybe the science points to the fact that maybe science doesn’t explain all these things. And if it does point to that, then why don’t you pursue that? But you can’t, because it’s not science, but if science is pointing you there, how can you say it’s not science? It’s worth the debate.

For the record, Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican candidate, has no problem with the science behind evolutionary biology and climate change. Neither does another losing Republican, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman.

So, are there Democratic candidates who could qualify as candidates from Hell? I am happy to report I did find one such, and there could be more. Google was unable to help me locate the ralated news item, so I appeal to readers to bring forward a recent Democratic candidate (this past election) who advocates teaching Intelligent Design.

Headlines From Hell

My ex college roommate in Jakarta sent me these. I am posting just a few at a time to stretch out the joy.

Of course I found this to be shocking news. I will endeavor to be more careful in the future.

I only wish I had known this in advance.

So, Mr. Trujillo, is there anything I should know about your case before we proceed?

Bad Joke of the Week

If this is a bad joke, then today must be Saturday.

A salesman was making calls at houses in the neighborhood. He came up to one house, and asked the little boy sitting on the front step, “Sonny, is your mother home.”

“Yes sir. She is,” the boy replied.

The salesman rang the doorbell and waited. And waited. He rang again. And waited. Finally he turned to the boy and said, “Your mother doesn’t answer the bell. Are you sure she’s home?”

The boy told him, “Yes, I’m sure. But this isn’t my house.”

Losing Touch With Reality

I was raised in a quasi-religious family. Early in life I went to church, sometimes, with my parents. We sometimes attended the Methodist church a few blocks from our house, but then my father stopped going after the preacher denounced labor unions from the pulpit. Both my parents worked full time and belonged to labor unions. It was union wages that paid the bills in our house, and to be told from the pulpit that unions were evil was to be told by God that unions were evil. The union wages my parents brought home were real, so it followed there was something not real about the voice from the pulpit. Or the word of God.

Later on as I grew wiser I came to realize that, compared to real things, like wages, and the workings of the universe, God was less real. In fact, reincarnation, the abrupt creation of the universe, heaven, hell, angels, the devil, all were at best allegorical concepts and at worst the most absurd of the untrue.

So, I was comfortable with that situation. People of faith could accept the allegorical tenets of their respective religions, and it was all right with me if some saw these concepts as absolute truth. Until lately.

In recent years religious fundamentalists, those who accept religious tenets as literal truth, have started to assert their combined influence on the legislative and executive branches of government in this country. They do this through their public statements, through their campaign contributions and through the power of their vote. Politicians, who cannot afford to ignore an invigorated block constituency, have bent to the pressure of this movement. At many levels religious fundamentalists have inserted themselves into the governmental process, acquiring positions on local school boards, in state legislatures and both houses of congress. President George W. Bush proclaimed his religious fundamentalism and asserted the influence of his office to favor religious interpretations of the law. Pat Robertson once ran for the office of president, but prior to that he was a practitioner of faith healing.

In the 1970s and 1980s Robertson was a faith healer, and James Randi devoted a chapter, “A World of Knowledge from Pat Robertson” on Robertson in Randi’s book The Faith Healers. Randi commented that “in 1986, soon after the full importance of the AIDS epidemic began to become evident, Robertson was attempting to cure it” by proclaiming people cured after prayer. Randi commented, “Gerry Straub, a former associate of Pat Robertson and his television producer, pointed out in his book Salvation for Sale the astonishing fact that God seemed to time miracles to conform with standard television format,” and “God would stop speaking to Pat and stop healing exactly in time with the theme music.” Randi explained that “in 1979, it appeared to Robertson’s staff that their boss had been taking lessons from Oral Roberts” and “proposed to film the Second Coming!”. The project was eventually publicly dropped, but “budget allocations [CBN] are made for their development.” Martin Gardner also criticized Robertson’s faith healing in Gardner’s work Beyond Reason.

[Citations removed]

We can wonder at what damage a person of this type could inflict if given the power of the presidency. Others before, such as Lincoln and Eisenhower, have avowed their belief and their faith and prayed to God on their knees. Then they got up and did the right thing for their country. A president who would hear the voice of God and take the country into war on that basis is the kind of thing that should keep us all awake nights.

With the most recent election comes a wave of religious-driven posturing that should also give pause. Opponents painted the president as unchristian, as though that should matter. Following his re-election has come a surge of proclamations of doom and damnation and a call for the truth of God to be a governmental guiding principle. One recent such proclamation came from Franklin Graham, s0n of Christian evangelist Billy Graham.

As Graham denounced the Obama years, Newsmax’s Kathleen Walter asked, “So we’ve become too secular a nation? How do we bring God back into government?” Graham replied:

“Maybe God will have to bring our nation down to our knees—to where you just have a complete economic collapse. And maybe at that point, maybe people will again begin to call upon the name of almighty God.”

Economic calamity was the one option Graham mentioned—as if only such a disaster could move the United States in the right direction.

It would be nice to believe that Graham and others are only speaking metaphorically, but the truth is obviously different. Graham does believe there exists an unknown, unseen person possessing ultimate power (created the universe in six days) and having a personal interest in what people do. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that Graham believes the government should operate as though this were the truth.

The problem with all of this is that what the government does affects real people and has real consequences. What to spend money on, how to manage natural disasters, where to send troops; these decisions need to be based on reality and not on the mythical consequences derived from centuries-old legend. We may all go a little crazy from time to time, but we should never loose our grip on reality. We should give Graham and his type their due. Listen, smile, nod our heads. Then act on the facts.

Is There An Edtor In The House?

I don’t make all this stuff up, readers. I poach heavily on people I know plus others.

A former college roommate sent me this. He is a writer and has a wonderful sense of meaning in language. He notes that editors provide a priceless service to all writing. However, there appear to be times this service goes on vacation. Here are three sample. More to come in future weeks.

It’s possible some significance has been lost here. How come there never is an editor around when you need one?

If only it were never so.

Come on now, readers. Don’t tell me you have never had government like this before.

Go West

That should be “Go, West.” Begone, Congressman West. You have shamed us and your party enough. It is time for you to leave.

I previously mentioned the congressman from Florida when it became known he laid claim to the fact that up to 80 Democratic members of Congress were communists. I compared him to the fictional character played by actor James Gregory in the 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate. The senator in that classic film settled on 57 for the number of communists after his controlling wife read the label on a ketchup bottle. Where Allen West pulled his number from I would be reluctant to guess or even to mention in a family publication.

Allen West is my Tea Party icon, the symbol of that is all that is wrong with the movement. While the “Tea Party” may have some admirable goals, such as honest government and lower taxes, its zeal and reactionary nature make it a powerful attraction to all sorts of nut cases and others who just want to jump on the wagon and ride it to victory. West seems to be one of the former.

Tea Party candidates made big inroads in the 2010 election, but since then voters have had a look at the reality and have started to see these nutters for what they are. Earlier in life West seems to have picked up a load of venomous baggage, and his tenure in Congress was marked by charged releases. In one such outbreak he observed that drivers with Obama bumper stickers are “a threat to the gene pool.”

Democrats targeted West for defeat in the 2012 election, and newcomer Patrick Murphy narrowly defeated him in Florida’s 18th congressional district.

West challenged the results that showed him about 2,000 votes short of Murphy in Florida’s 18th Congressional District but was unable to persuade local officials to grant him a full recount. He released a statement on Tuesday saying he plans to take “no further action to contest the outcome of this election.”

West has been invited to move to Georgia to run again in a neighborhood where his free-wheeling relationship with the truth is more acceptable.

Oh, My God!

Are you ready for another Democratic president in 2017? The Republican Party is. Not only are they getting ready, but they are paving the way.

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

That’s Marco Rubio, Tea Party darling and likely candidate for president in 2016. Of course Senator Rubio is not a scientist. Being a scientist is not a requirement for holding office, even as senator or president. Neither is the guy who changes the tires on my car a scientist. Nor the person at the checkout counter at H-E-B. But at least they know how old the earth is. Has Senator Rubio missed something in his education? In his upbringing? Has he not learned to discern fact from fiction?

Now, this is not to say that all Republicans are stupid. Mitt Romney knows how old the earth is, and he has not been reluctant to defend that position. In winning his party’s approval, Mitt Romney beat out others who demonstrated considerable difficulties with fact and fiction. That would include our own Rick Perry and our own Ron Paul plus Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum. Candidates Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and possibly Donald Trump were wiser, but they, too were winnowed out in the nominating process. And Mitt Romney lost the election to an ex-lawyer who is quite sure of the age of the earth.

So, all of that is behind the great party of Abraham Lincoln, right? Well, not so fast.

Other likely Republican candidates in 2016 include Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Kentucky senator Rand Paul. And it’s not looking good for Republicans.

When asked the E question, Governor Christie dodged the issue:

“That’s none of your business,” Christie said in May 2011 when asked where he comes down on evolution versus creationism.

At a town hall a week earlier, Christie said that he believed the decision to teach creationism alongside evolution should be made at the local level. A week later, Christie clarified that this position was not an endorsement of teaching creationism. “That is not to say, as it was interpreted by some that I was advocating for the teaching of creationism,” Christie said. “Folks never really have a hard time figuring out when I’m advocating for something.”

Governor Jindal also seems to think creationism has some scholastic merit:

Jindal signed a law that permits teachers at public schools to supplement standard evolutionary curricula with analysis and critiques that may include intelligent design. The law forbids “the promotion of any religious doctrine and will not discriminate against religion or non-religion.” Louisiana ACLU Director Marjorie Esman says that if the act is utilized as written, it is on firm constitutional footing, but there is strong potential for abuse, stating that the Act is “susceptible to a constitutional challenge.” Despite calls for a veto from groups such as National Review, and some of Jindal’s genetics professors at Brown University, Jindal signed the Louisiana Academic Freedom Act which passed with a vote of 94–3 in the State House and 35–0 in the State Senate in 2008.

Senator Paul appears to be as clueless as Senator Rubio:

Last Friday, Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul attended a meeting of the Christian Homeschool Educators of Kentucky (CHEK), where he gave a speech promoting homeschoolingand fielded questions from the audience. At one point, a questioner asked Paul about his personal faith and how old he thought the planet was. Paul responded by saying that he forgot to say he “was only taking easy questions,” provoking laughter from the CHEK crowd, and then said he would “have to pass on that one“:

Please do not leave off reading this post and head out to tell people I am calling the Republican Party the Party of Dumb. That’s because I don’t need to. The above mentioned people just did that for me.

And Your Little Dog, Too

Pat Robertson is my favorite creationist, and I just love him. I’m telling you that if ever he croaks and flies off to heaven I’m going to just… Just… Well, you know what. Now I must share with you the latest from Pat:

Robertson: ‘Miserable’ Atheists Trying to ‘Steal’ Christmas
Submitted by Brian Tashman on Monday, 11/19/2012 12:00 pm

The “War on Christmas” has arrived and the 700 Club is doing all it can to stoke fears that Christmas may cease to exist. Host Pat Robertson warned that “the Grinch is trying to steal our holiday” as “miserable” atheists “want to steal your holiday away from you” simply because they can’t stand the joy of Christmas. “Atheists don’t like our happiness, they don’t want you to be happy, they want you to be miserable,” he said. “They’re miserable so they want you to be miserable.”

And, folks, Pat is so right. I am terribly miserable. I am so miserable that every night I go to bed thinking about how miserable I am. I could just cry. Then I think about Pat and all the joy he has brought into my life, and I give a little smile and go right off to sleep.

And I want you all to be miserable, too. I want you to be miserable this Christmas season as you join your family around the Christmas tree and and enjoy a meal together and exchange gifts and share experiences. Just miserable.

So, thank you, Pat. Thank you for lifting me up in my time of misery. Thank you for bringing immense joy into my worthless life. You are such a godsend, Pat. Truly a gift from God if ever there was one.

So, Merry Christmas to all of you out there. Drink your holiday nog, sing carols and warm your feet around the fire. And join me in celebrating the most joyous creationist of them all.

And Merry Christmas to you, Pat. And a Happy New Year!

Religion and Politics

Did you notice that religious issues came up often in the most recent election. Words flew back and forth about who was a Christian, who was a Muslim, who was holier than whom. Then finally it was all over, and the religious issue was decided. For those of you who consider religion an important part of your politics, here is my brief assessment of what just transpired.

One candidate believes that nearly 2000 years ago a god disguised himself as a man and walked upon the earth for over 30 years before finally beginning to preach. This god-man then contrived to get himself tortured and killed. He then recovered from his death and walked upon the earth for over a month before ascending into outer space.

The other candidate believes that nearly 2000 years ago a god disguised himself as a man and walked upon the earth for over 30 years before finally beginning to preach. This god-man then contrived to get himself tortured and killed. He then recovered from his death and walked upon the earth for over a month before ascending into outer space.

This second candidate also believes that wearing magic underwear will protect the wearer from harm.

For those who want religion in their politics it is quite possible you received a bit less than you could have.

Thank You Note to a Real Conservative

This is a thank you note to Mitt Romney, a real conservative

Thank you for stepping briefly out of your life of comfort to mix briefly with ordinary people.

Thank you for taking the time to explain to the American public what you really think of them. The news media always appreciate it when an enlightening story is handed to them on an almost daily basis.

Thank you for selecting as a running mate a person who clearly and vocally reminded the public of of that which runs at the base of the Tea Party movement.

Thank you for your support of our dedicated military personnel and the sacrifices they daily endure to keep this country secure, even though you and your sons were never able to actually serve.

Thank you for taking full responsibility for the lack of success of your party’s effort to regain control of the presidency, even while other members of your party are blaming the loss on pandering to the masses.

Thank you for, by every action and word over the past year, working to ensure that a real representative of the American people would be able to serve them for another four years.
And finally thank you for reminding us what a person really means when he claims to be a conservative.

Goodbye, My Congressman, Goodbye

Incredible! Has it really been almost two weeks since the election? It’s taking me much too long to get caught up on all that’s happened. Take my congressman.

Earlier this year I began to get interested in my new congressional district. I had just moved to San Antonio, and the election was coming up in November, so I looked up the details. There are places on the Internet that will tell you your congressional district if you put in your postal ZIP code. So I put in mine and got back two answers. Apparently my zone is split between Texas districts 20 and 23. It appeared that district 20 fit my address, so I contacted the congressional office listed on the Web site. I supplied my street address and got back a response that they could not deal with me, because I was not in district 20. So I contacted the office of the district 23 congressional representative. That was the office of Congressman Francisco Canseco. I received a favorable response and have been receiving e-mail from the congressman ever since.

So I decided to vote against Congressman Canseco, and I began to have a little fun with him on this blog by highlighting some of the amusing information he sent (or a staffer sent) to me.

Quickly a source of amusement presented itself in the form of the congressman’s statements about gasoline prices.

Gasoline prices are rising to levels not seen since 2008 and I am concerned about the impact it will have on family budgets already struggling to pay mortgages, health care premiums, and other expenses. As a nation we should be pursuing policies of energy independence. By removing our dependency on foreign oil we can remove the threat it poses to economic and national security, and lower prices. Simply put, we need to produce more American energy.

Obviously gasoline prices were not rising at the time. In fact they were falling and would continue to do so for many weeks. Additionally, gasoline prices were not at an all-time level, even when adjusted for inflation. I put the congressman’s statements off to election year hot air and provided readers with a little fun at his expense.

Eventually gasoline prices did begin to rise, but unfortunately never to the levels experienced four to five years ago. Anyhow, the fun with gas prices was over and I looked forward to new e-mail. After only a short wait I received additional joyous news from my congressman.

As a devout Catholic and father of three children, I have a great appreciation for the role that traditional values of faith and family play in our lives and communities. As the representative for the 23rd District of Texas, I’ve been fighting to defend these traditional values from a hostile federal government.

I was delighted to know the federal government was hostile to traditional religious values. This was information that had previously escaped my observation. Then I recalled a bit of satire, attributed to comedian Jon Stewart, that somebody had posted on Facebook:

“Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion… perhaps around their necks? And maybe – dare I dream it? Maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.”

Congressman, you are a delight and a gem. I can only hope to receive this kind of hostility from close members of my family.

As much as I enjoyed having Francisco Canseco as my congressman, I sadly sought to end his political tenure. Fun is fun, I thought, but ultimately we need a government of the people and for the people. Others thought the same:

WASHINGTON — A super political action committee created to help Democrats win control of the U.S. House bought $415,000 in broadcast time this fall with San Antonio television stations, officials said Thursday.
The San Antonio media buy by the House Majority PAC is the first sign of the millions that the political parties and interest groups are expected to spend in the 23rd Congressional District. The election is Nov. 6.

Wow! Nearly half a million dollars for a job that pays less than $200,000 per year. I could only hope Democrats were going to get the government they paid for. Anyhow, I was determined to head out on election day, cast my ballot, and end one of the great sources of fun in my life. Actually, I did not wait for election day. I headed out the first day early voting was allowed, and I went to the polling place and obtained a ballot, based on my home address. And Congressman Canseco was not on the ballot!

What a BF! According to the election officials I actually lived in district 20 and was not eligible to vote against Congressman Canseco. I had to vote against somebody else. I definitely felt cheated. Mitt Romney, I feel your pain.

My loss was not without redemption, however. News quickly showed… Actually, news eventually showed, that the Democrats’ money was well spent. Not only will Francisco Canseco not be my congressman next year, he will not be anybody’s congressman next year.

What is so amazing about this outcome is that district 23 has the appearance of being re-crafted by the Texas Republican legislature to give the congressman an easy ride. This is apparently what led to my initial confusion. District 23 originally incorporated much of San Antonio, a city with a Democratic mayor and an inclination to vote for the Democratic Party. A comparison of the 2010 and the 2012 maps shows the shift.

Texas District 23 for 2010

Texas District 23 for 2012

An overall view of Texas District 23 shows what a remarkable piece of real estate it is. It’s the eighth largest district in the United States, and it covers most of the area that borders on Mexico. It reaches almost to El Paso, lapping over two time zones. My impression is that this is the reddest area of Texas. This I recall from 50 years ago when we were reviewing applications for membership in the Campus Guild at the University of Texas at Austin: One applicant from Van Horn, Texas, learned that we accepted all races,  and he withdrew his application stating he did “not want to live with a nigger.” Readers, “I’ve been to one world fair, a picnic, and a rodeo,” but I would never have thought the Republican Party could ever lose a district such as this. Here it is:

Texas District 23 for 2012

Y’all come to visit Texas whenever you get a chance. It’s a whole different world out here.

Bad Joke of the Week

You have been warned, but you did not pay any attention. So, here it comes again. The Bad Joke of the Week. (I received this from somebody else by e-mail, but I take full blame for any consequences.)

Yesterday I was at my local Safeway buying a large bag of Purina dog chow for my loyal pet, Jake, the Wonder Dog and was in the check-out line when a woman behind me asked if I had a dog.

What did she think I had—- an elephant?

So because I’m retired and have little to do, on impulse I told her that no, I didn’t have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again. I added that I probably shouldn’t, because I ended up in the hospital last time, but that I’d lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.

I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and that the way that it works is, to load your pants pockets with Purina Nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in line was now enthralled with my story.)

Horrified, she asked if I ended up in intensive care, because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I stopped to pee on a fire hydrant and a car hit me.

I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard.

Safeway won’t let me shop there anymore. Better watch what you ask retired people. They have all the time in the World to think of crazy things to say. Forward this (especially) to all your retired friends…it will be their laugh for the day!

Photographic Evidence

I get these things all the time. I pick them up from news items, and “friends” post them on Facebook. I don’t know who makes these up, but I truly enjoy the effort. There are some that are hard-hitting, with a passel of bitterness, but many exhibit a great irony, and they are my favorites. Here are some:

Not Moving

Right before the election one of my Facebook friends posted a photo of the White House with a (Photoshopped) moving van in front. I thought to myself, “I’m going to wait for the next photo.” Here it is, the day after the election. Nobody is packing bags.

Irony Writ Large

I’ve seen this same image many times, each time with a fitting and ironic caption.

Alec Baldwin Speaks Out

This may seem like a low blow to the Republican Party, but for a long time the party of the self right has been exemplified by people who can’t keep their stories straight. And bear in mind that the people doing the laughing voted twice for a guy who ran this country with his fly unzipped.

To me the question is, “Did Paul Ryan really claim that God controls elections?” If he did make such a statement then he’s going to have a hard time explaining things to God. If he only thought about it, then apologies to Congressman Ryan.

We paid how much?

OK, this is just Democrats rubbing it in. But I do have to ask, “If they paid that much to lose, how much would they have had to pay to win?” In full disclosure I need to tell readers that I contributed part of that $1.83, and I got the government I paid for.

So much for the fun this week. Next weekend I am going to make you suffer for the laughter you enjoy today. Saturday it’s time again for the Bad Joke of the Week.

Who The Man?

He the man, says Pat Robertson, my favorite faith healer.

Hey, Pat, I’m as much a fan of David Patraeus as the next citizen. He went where we did not want to go, and he did what we could not do. And the country is grateful. So the Reverend Robertson thinks we should give the general a pass.

Television evangelist and ultraconservative Pat Robertson doesn’t think General David Petraeus should be condemned for his affair with writer Paula Broadwell. After all, she is “an extremely good looking woman” and “he’s a man.”

OK, there goes commandment number seven. Do I hear it for number ten? Better hurry up, because I have a hankering to covet my neighbor’s wife. Or even his ass.

Thanks, Pat. I was beginning to think you were one of these stuffy televangelists on TV we are always making fun of.

хулиганство

God, I do miss the old Soviet Union. It was such a wealth of contradictions, and it fed our lexicon to overflowing. One thing that failed culture gave the world was the avid use of the term hooliganism (хулиганство). But first let me take you back to my short and unillustrious military career. I was only in the reserves, and we reservists got all the training part without all the action part. And one thing we were indoctrinated in was the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). I do not recall all they taught me about the UCMJ, but one thing that did stick with me was a list of don’ts. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Because if you do, then some very bad things are going to happen to you. The military was prepared to make sure that very bad things happened to you if you did one of the don’t dos. A lot of the don’t dos made sense in any context. Don’t steal your buddy’s stuff, and don’t kill anybody you are not instructed to kill. Everybody learned all of these things and strove mightily not to do any of them. That is, most of us strove mightily. Finally, after the UCMJ had listed all of the don’t dos, they summed up the list with a final do not do. Well actually almost final. This do not do was the famous Article 133. You can read up on it, but I always had it summarized as “conduct unbecoming.” If you did some bad thing that was not on the list, then it turned out it really was on the list. It was Article 133, conduct unbecoming. Step out of line in the military, and if something else didn’t get you Article 133 would. Now, back to the the Soviet Union (USSR), who did Article 133 in spades. Only they didn’t call it “conduct unbecoming.” They called it “hooliganism.” Being a hooligan. Being a bad ass. Doing something the government didn’t like. Yes, it was a crime. Where other governments, like the United States, usually had to just grin and bear it when you stepped on their blue suede shoes, the USSR had you on hooliganism, and you were going to the gulag. When the old Soviet Union filed for Chapter 11 twenty years ago I pined. I thought I had seen the last of its comical eccentricities. I thought I had seen the last of hooliganism and other charming aspects of a communist government. I also thought I had seen the last of Vladimir Putin. Was I ever wrong. Enter the Pussy Riot music group. As Wikipedia will explain to you, the group specializes in afflicting the comfortable, especially the Soviet Union style government of Vladimir Putin. They had the temerity to hold an unauthorized performance in an Orthodox church, a performance which they quickly turned into an on-line video mocking the Church for supporting Putin and his rascally ways. And rascally Putin turned out to be. The government charged three of the performers with hooliganism and put them on trial. One of the defendants received a suspended sentence, but the other two are sitting out two years in the cooler. Literally, I think. I get the impression they have been shipped of to Siberia. See, the old Soviet Union has never left us. It’s just been given a new coat of paint and a sinister grin. And it still has an old friend in the name of hooliganism.

Pussy Riot group prior to their arrest.

Here’s Looking at You, Kid

It’s been a good year for 70th anniversaries. I should have started last year, but I have plans to catch up.

Seventy years ago was the time of four significant military actions by the United States in World War 2. Three I have already mentioned: the Doolittle Raid, the Battle of Midway and the invasion of Guadalcanal. All those actions were in the West Pacific. In November 1942 for the first time the United States struck at Nazi forces across the Atlantic. So naturally the first place we went was Casablanca, and the first people we fought were the French. It went this way.

In 1940 the German army completely trounced the British and the French in Western Europe. The British pulled out what forces they could, and the French surrendered. A condition of the surrender was that German forces occupied Paris and the northern bulk of France. The French concocted a government of occupation that collaborated with the Germans and had its headquarters in the town of Vichy. This government became known as Vichy France, and it controlled (in name only) the southern part of France and the French colonies in North Africa. Not the least a government of resistance, Vichy France pulled more weight for the Nazis than was respectful. This government actively assisted in rounding up French Jews and sending them off to work camps in Germany. While many French officers and administration officials escaped the country following the capitulation, others, including the remnants of the so-called anti-Dreyfusards, stepped forward to assist in the German occupation. The title of these last derived from their stand on the Dreyfus Affair, to which I have previously alluded in posts about recent creationist propaganda.

Anyhow, Morocco was one such country managed by Vichy France, and the French navy and French troops were there when General George Patton brought his forces ashore on the Atlantic coast on 8 November. It was called Operation Torch, and it also involved invasions along the Mediterranean coast. Prior to the invasion the Allies attempted to negotiate the capitulation of Vichy forces, but these talks generally broke down. There was an attempted coup against the Vichy command, but this only served to alert General Charles Noguès to the invasion, and he used the opportunity to prepare to kill Americans. My general impression is that French troops in the lower ranks had no liking for the Nazis, who were at the time occupying their home country and trying to make time with French women. Some of these troops surrendered to the Americans as soon as the opportunity presented itself. After three days the final French forces capitulated, and Allied forces began to land in quantity.

Operation Torch from Wikipedia

The Germans were out of this fight, because their commander, Erwin Rommel was busy retreating westward from British general Bernard Montgomery, who had pushed him out of Egypt a year before. The plan was now to catch the Germans and Italians in North Africa between General Dwight Eisenhower in the west and Montgomery in the east. The drama began to play out starting three months after Torch. In February 1943 American troops met the Germans for the first time and received their first bloody nose when the Germans punched through Allied lines at Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. I will go into that in a later post.

Anyhow, Casablanca was Patton’s prime objective on 8 November and about that time Warner Brothers studio had produced a film set in Casablanca. The title was Casablanca, and it featured Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. When the invasion came off the studio advanced the film’s release to 26 November (had been scheduled for the following spring). There is going to be another post later this month dedicated to the movie, one of my favorites.

A few years back when my brother and I and our wives visited Morocco, we considered a trip down to Casablanca just for sentimental reasons. Alas, we had only three days, and it was too long a drive. Maybe another time. See the movie.

In Morocco signs are in Arabic and French.