No More Going Down Town

I just finished watching the president’s short address on his plans to respond to the Syrian military’s use of chemical weapons. Television had crowds of analysts of various stripe explaining how there is really not much the president can do and why. Here are a few of the points made:

The American people will not stand for another protracted war costing billions of dollars a week such as the ones that drained our economy for the past ten years and more. Not only that, but there are no longer the reserves in material and treasury to carry out such an operation. Putting it bluntly, the United States is tapped out.

It has become extremely difficult to make the case for action based on current intelligence reports. Apparently labeling faulty intelligence as a “slam dunk” once has turned out to be one time too many. Bashar al-Assad is going to have to strip down to his skivvies on Letterman and spray the audience with mustard gas to convince some doubters.

AP Sources: Intelligence on Weapons No ‘Slam Dunk’
WASHINGTON August 29, 2013 (AP)
By KIMBERLY DOZIER and MATT APUZZO Associated Press

The intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack is no “slam dunk,” with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria’s chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence officials say.

So much for the value of our intelligence services these days. Didn’t a junior NSA contractor just abscond to Russia with a trove of intelligence data, and didn’t the Army just convict a junior enlisted man of shipping massive quantities of classified material off to an anti-American Web site? What can you do for us next, Military Intelligence?

Wait, there’s another danger associated with striking out at Syria. We might win. Yes, we can go to war with Syria, but we need to be careful not to win. Winning would mean that mass murder Bashar al-Assad would lose his job and those bad old al-Qaeda guys would take over, and didn’t we just spend ten years and billions of dollars just to put a bullet in the head of the previous leader of al-Qaeda? How about having an entire country run by these religious fundamentalist who only crash airplanes into tall buildings and throw acid in the faces of young school girls, but otherwise never ever would hold a seat in the United Nations?

Anyhow, what the president said was that he wants to attack Syria. This he said after being 30 minutes late to his own presentation. I swear, if I had known I would have to wait 30 minutes to hear that Barack Obama wanted to attack Syria I would never have voted for him, twice.

But, that’s all past. What this post is about is just what could and would our military do to make Bashar al-Assad miss his tee time? From this point on I only speculate. Go along with me on this.

I’m listening to all this crowd of TV analysts, and more than one is talking about the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles. This is a pilotless, aerodynamic craft with wings and a jet engine. It’s 21 inches in diameter and has, I am told, a one ton warhead. There’s a reason the diameter of the missile is 21 inches, and if anybody can tell my why it’s 21 inches the first to do so will receive a free, autographed copy of an essay on the conception and development of the Tomahawk missile written by me. Ex Navy people are automatically disqualified from this contest.

Tomahawk missile by Raython Corp.

Anyhow, the deal with the Tomahawk, besides the one-ton warhead, is it has no pilot. This is a slow missile, less than the speed of sound. You can, in principle, shoot one of these down. Were there a pilot, and the pilot got captured the Syrians, there would be hell to pay. The pilot would not fare too well, either. This is the place where children who speak out against Bashar al-Assad disappear from the streets and are returned weeks later to their parents’ doorstep in pieces.

But here is what one analyst speculated about the Tomahawk. It’s not pinpoint accurate. That information may be true in one sense, but not in the sense the analyst intended. Here is one problem with the Tomahawk, and here is why the analyst may have missed the point.

First, since the Tomahawk can be shot down, there is the possibility the one-ton warhead will explode on some child’s birthday party. Talk about hell to pay. Also, the missile can possibly malfunction and crash into a day care center, or worse, into a CNN camera crew. In fact, during our short war with Saddam Hussein in 1991 we got to see the video of a hotel lobby when a Tomahawk apparently crashed outside. The Iraqis contend a hotel worker was killed, and there is no way to dispute that.  Aside from all the just mentioned, this analyst did not consider Tomahawk to be pinpoint in the sense of Paveway pinpoint. There is some history to that.

Back 30 years ago I worked for a major defense contractor, and we were doing a project that would involve a Tomahawk missile. I was just becoming acquainted with this system through items in the news and propaganda videos from the developer, General Dynamics, Corp. The Tomahawk was launched, and it spread its wings and flew at 500 mph for hundreds of miles barely above the ground, and it finally detonated its warhead above a target area about the size of a football field. That was impressive. This was all done using an inertial guidance system (INS) and terrain-following radar. Anybody familiar with INS is aware that it’s essentially a dead-reckoning system based on very sensitive accelerometers, and it is prone to errors of drift the longer the missile is in flight. The ground-following radar was essential to canceling out INS drift errors.

Things have changed. Some time after my first encounter with the Tomahawk I had another view. On the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, there is a building with a room about the size of a basketball court, and this room is chock full of software engineers and systems analysts working on some of our most advanced missile systems. One of these is the Tomahawk. And these people have more recent photographs.

The INS is long gone. Today’s Tomahawk, and many other of our precision attack weapons, employ GPS navigation. Additionally, some are fitted with optical terminal guidance, and I have seen in-your-window photos (unclassified) from one weapon test.

After achieving flight, the missile’s wings are unfolded for lift, the airscoop is exposed and the turbofan engine is employed for cruise flight. Over water, the Tomahawk uses inertial guidance or GPS to follow a preset course; once over land, the missile’s guidance system is aided by Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM). Terminal guidance is provided by the Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) system or GPS, producing a claimed accuracy of about 10 meters.

As precise as it can be, the Tomahawk can never be an in-your-window weapon. It does not have the aerodynamic capability to perform the necessary maneuver. But, with a one-ton warhead, it does not need to come in your window.

Tomahawk is what is called a stand-off weapon. You do not need to get close to the enemy to deploy it. Another weapon with stand-off capability is the JSOW, which acronym stands for Joint Stand-Off Weapon.  “Joint” means it is used jointly by divergent branches of our armed services. JSOW has a slogan, which was on posters in the Tucson room, and that slogan is “No more going down town.” People not old enough to remember the old days need to be reminded that the term “going down town” referred to flying a bombing mission all the way to down town Berlin in World War 2. Pilots dreaded that kind of mission 70 years ago, and they still do.

Anyhow, the JSOW has some stand-off capability, but not hundreds of miles. But it has in-your-window terminal guidance. Could JSOW find employment in Syrian air space? Possibly, given the right conditions. I will get to that later. Here is a short description of JSOW.

This is essentially a glide bomb, but some proposals include a powered version. See the references. The pilot carries a mission “brick” with him to the cockpit when he starts his flight, and he plugs it into the aircraft. The “brick” has all the specifics for the mission, including information to feed into the JSOW. You can launch a JSOW from the wing or from a bomb bay. In any event, once launched it spreads its tiny wings and hurtles along its way to destruction. It can be programmed at mission time to follow a circuitous route to the target to avoid enemy defenses and also to approach from an optimal direction. Multiple missiles can also be launched to arrive on target at pre-arranged times.

So, what can the United States military accomplish with all this capability, and what course of action are they likely to take. Here are some considerations. H-hour, and the mission is launched. What happens?

The first concern is Syrian air defense. Things have changed a bit since our pilots went to down town Berlin, and these changes have been driven by those experiences and by more recent experience in Korea and most of all in Vietnam. We have seen a new approach used very effectively against Iraq, then against Serbia and finally against Iraq again. The first order of business is defense suppression.

Modern air defense systems rely heavily on radar, and radar has seen marvelous improvements since its first use in WW-2. One drawback remains, and that is radar requires an antenna placed so it can illuminate attacking aircraft. Also, any coordinated defense requires rapid and reliable battlefield communications. An attacker can get by the first few hours with minimal communications capabilities, because everybody on the attacking team knows the game plan. The defenders need to detect the incoming attackers, and this information needs to be quickly relayed to a central command center and digested before a coordinated defense can be mounted. These days an attacker first goes after the enemy’s command and control system and its air defense network. That’s what a Tomahawk can do.

Radar is the easiest, since the systems must be exposed to be effective. A one-ton blast a few yards overhead will do in most missile defense radar systems. To the extent that the enemy does not have a well-concealed and hardened command and control network, that will be vulnerable to a Tomahawk attack. Heavy air defense missile centers will also be prime targets. Critical to all of this, of course, is that we will need to have up to the minute information on the placement of these systems, because they are typically mobile.

Of course, the Syrians can counter the Tomahawks just as well as they can, say, an F/A-18 Hornet. The Tomahawk is, after all, much slower. The situation with the Tomahawk is multi-fold. It is smaller and presents a much smaller target if you are shooting at it. Wing area of an F/A-18 is many times that of a Tomahawk. Also the Tomahawk will be flying what is called knap-of-the-earth, very close to the ground, nestled among lots of ground clutter. Forget about taking out a Tomahawk with a radar-controlled missile. The radar will never even see it. A shoulder-fired infra-red-guided missile can, however, run a Tomahawk down and kill it. But for this to happen the missile has to fly practically right over the soldier launching the missile.

In his speech today Obama spoke of a mission of limited duration, and the TV analysts were using the words “48 hours.” That’s not long enough to suppress air defenses and launch precision attacks. The first suppression sweep is over in a few minutes, but following that you need to go in and clean up the assets the defender has kept hidden and is just now bringing out to shoot down your precision air strike. I seem to recall it requiring several days to adequately suppress air defenses in order to give our forces complete domination of the air. Recall Gulf War 1.

In the early hours we launched Hellfire missiles to knock out outlying defense radar stations, and we simultaneously launched fighters. We also launched Tomahawks to take out Iraqi systems in and around Baghdad. Only one fighter failed to come back that first night, and the pilot was never found.

So, is the U.S. likely to follow a similar pattern against al-Assad in the next few weeks? Could be, but what else? After suppressing Syrian air defenses, what next? Who do we kill?

My first choice would be all of al-Assad’s pretty houses and military command buildings. I have been told this will not happen. Decapitation, much as it would please me personally, will not happen. I am thinking al-Assad’s air force is next.

An air force represents a considerable array of valuable and vulnerable assets. American tax payers are shelling out a minimum of $20 million for one of these flying weapons systems, and I am guessing al-Assad is paying around the same levy for each of his. Al-Assad has four choices: He can bring them into the air and lose them to an onslaught of Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles. He can leave them parked and pick up the pieces after we have left. He can hide them in hardened bunkers, rendering them useless for the duration. (Saddam buried his in the sand.) Or he can fly them to Iran or to Russia and save them for another day. I am thinking that if al-Assad ever brings them back there will be no place for them to land.

We can go after al-Assad’s army. A major component of the Syrian army is its tank corps. Syria has in recent years relied heavily on its mechanized divisions, and that part of its army is healthy, but notably lacking in military success except against civilians. Israeli forces scored heavily against Syrian tanks in their previous encounters. Tanks are mobile, but not that much so. You can only put so many miles on a tank before it has to be serviced. The primary means for getting tanks around are railroads and tank carriers. Railroads are sitting targets, and tank carriers are limited to movement on developed roads. Both of these factors make tanks an inviting target. Aside from deconstructing al-Assad’s air force, locating and grinding down his tank assets would send the kind of message that President Obama wants to send, namely that using chemical weapons was not such a good idea.

Whichever course of action President Obama choses, it’s generally considered he is hosed. His political career is over. He is never going to get anything good out of this mess. In the beginning he did not want to take sides and arm the rebels against al-Assad. Now the al-Qaeda forces, being better supplied by their friends in the region, have gained the upper hand in the rebellion, and the secular rebel forces are pissed at us for standing by wringing our hands while the Syrian army killed rebels and also civilians. President Obama does not want to topple al-Assad, because that would unleash al-Qaeda in Syria. The United Nations Security Council will never grant the OK to strike at Syria, because a unanimous vote is required, and Russia sits permanently on the Council. Vladimir Putin will veto any action against Syria. The British Parliament just voted down Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for action against Syria, mainly because they are tired of hearing about “slam dunk” intelligence. If Obama does nothing, then al-Assad will truly know in his heart that it’s perfectly all right to use chemical weapons against civilians, because nobody is ever going to do anything about it.

My prediction: Congress is going to give the president the approval to do something. If they do not OK a strike, then the president is off the hook. He can blame Congress, and that is something the Republicans will not want to happen.

In the next few weeks look for some startling news out of Syria. Then come back and read this post again. We will all see if I called this one or if it’s time again for me to eat some more crow.

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Bad Joke of the Week

OK, this is not so much a bad joke as it is a public service announcement. You need to take care and to heed this advice:

There is a scam going around, and it is so insidious. Here is the way it works.

A man will come to your door, and when you answer the door he will ask to see your bum. If this happens to you, close the door immediately. Do not talk to this man, and above all do not allow this man to come into your house. This man is not what he purports to be. He is a fraud. All he really wants is to do is to see your bum.

I only wished somebody had alerted the public much earlier. I feel so used and ashamed.

A Very Gratifying Experience

Finally, to round out the summer here is a post that’s not about anything much. Just a reminisce of some good times. And the best part is the state of Texas picked up the tab.

Last year when I decided to quit my job and retire I cast about for something to take up my slack time. When the opportunity presented itself to assist in the review of curriculum materials for Texas public schools I volunteered.

About every year the Texas Education Agency (TEA) reviews new materials for adoption. Publishers submit books and on-line course material for review, and in November the State Board of Education (SBOE) votes to adopt or reject each item. In the mean time volunteers check the submitted material for compliance with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS). This year the TEA is reviewing new materials for high school physics courses, and since I have a degree in physics I was selected to help with the review.

I am not saying the work is 100% fun, but there was a lot of personal satisfaction involved. My high school experience is over 50 years in the rear view mirror, but I recall we had excellent books and a fine teacher in my small Texas school. What most impresses me is the level of sophistication addressed in today’s physics courses and in the other courses, as well. Students who master this material by the time they graduate will be well-prepared for college level work and for employment working knowledge even if they do not attend college.

The first phase was strictly at home. Reviews were conducted on my computer, sometimes using Internet access to the publishers’ on-line curricula. This was not a sometime task. Each review involved hundreds of items of compliance for both student and teacher TEKS sections. It was a strain for me to complete my reviews within the two weeks available.

The fun part, however, came this summer when teams met in Austin to conduct the final reviews. Apart from closely resembling my previous full-time job, this was a fresh opportunity to meet like-minded people interested in the education of our students. For these sessions each team worked in collaboration at a table and got to know one another well. There were four at my table for the physics review, and I was the only one who was not a dedicated public school teacher. These full-time teachers were a pleasure to work with, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Here’s the happy team at physics table 19. There’s Angie, Scott and Michelle at the table. I’m the geeky guy in the bat t-shirt.

Table 19

Besides the teachers there were a number of highly professional TEA employees who directed the whole operation, managed us and kept us all on track. They were all knowledgeable about their tasks and were dedicated and tireless workers.

Besides that, for a retired guy there’s nothing like getting out of the house for a few days. Barbara Jean said no way was she going out of town five days with me and leave the plants to bake in the Texas sun. So, for a few days I was on my own, watching what I wanted to on TV at night and eating what I wanted and when I wanted. And the best part is the state of Texas was picking up the tab.

Volunteers didn’t get paid, but the TEA put us up in a nice hotel, and I kept thinking about the words to an old Kingston Trio song. The title is Bad Man’s Blunder, and the song contains the following lyrics:

When I was arrested; why, I didn’t have a dime. The sheriff said, “Son, you’re ridin’ free this time.
Where you’re goin’ you won’t need a cent ’cause the great state of Texas gonna pay your rent.

That was a thrill. It’s been over 40 years since Texas ever paid my bills.

Anyhow, the first session was at the Airport Hilton, and what a place that is. In a previous life Austin’s Bergstrom Airport was Bergstrom Air Force Base, and they flew B-52 bombers out of there. The hotel is the base’s renovated command center. I tell you, when the ghost of Conrad Hilton wants to jazz up a military shack, wonderful things happen. Here’s the lobby as it looks now.

Airport Hilton lobby

Nice, what?

But all fun aside, real work got done at the review. Here’s another photo showing in the mass of volunteers and TEA employees taking care of business.

Your tax dollars at work

My previous contract job had been in Austin, and there were people there I needed to visit. Also my daughter, who was desirous of a father-daughter dine out experience with father picking up the tab. OK, that was fun.

I also ran into some other people from out of my past, and that was rather gratifying. Early in my first Austin session I noticed the projector screen at the front of the room had messages for people. One was for Walter Bradley.

I thought, “That’s strange, because I know a famous creationist named Walter Bradley.” Surprise! I later got a chance to hook up with him again after many years.

We were fortunate the SBOE was in session in Austin, and as it turned out SBOE chairwoman Barbara Cargill paid us a visit. Scott, who was at physics table 19, is from The Woodlands, Texas, Cargill’s home town. She had nominated Scott to the review panel and dropped by our table to talk to us. I took this opportunity to seek assistance from the chairwoman, since she was likely to be able to help me if anybody could. In my at-home reviews I had noticed discrepancies in some of the materials, and the compliance tool we work with provides a place to note problems and to make suggestions. I asked Ms. Cargill if I would be getting any feed-back on my suggestions, and she assured me she would inquire and make sure this would happen.

I also got to meet Dr. Bradley later in the day. I had gotten word that some other people I knew were at the session, including Ray Bohlin and Ide Trotter. I had met Dr. Bradley at a symposium at SMU in 1992, and I had met Bohlin and Trotter at a symposium in Dallas in 2003. I spotted Bohlin and Trotter at one of the biology review tables and wandered over after talking to Barbara Cargill.

I struck up a conversation with Ide Trotter and reminded him of our meeting, nearly ten years previous. He remarked on my keen memory, but he should not have been amazed, because I had taken his photo at the time, so my memory was quite fresh. Dr. Trotter is a noted creationist, and I was very interested in talking to him about any progress his movement has made with Intelligent Design in the past ten years. He assured me Intelligent Design is on solid ground.

Also, Barbara Cargill joined us in our conversation. Dr. Trotter and I were discussing Intelligent Design when she walked up, and I am afraid she was confused and thought I was a creationist. She remarked “I’m one of you,” and gave us a reassuring clap on the shoulder. She conferred for a moment with Dr. Trotter over some notes, and she went off to visit other volunteers.

After Ms. Cargill left us I felt a little embarrassed, and I hoped I had not given the wrong impression. I reminded Dr. Trotter that I had previously headed up The North Texas Skeptics, and we were strongly supportive of the teaching the science of biological evolution in public schools. Dr. Trotter assured me that he, too, wanted evolution taught, only he wanted the correct facts to be taught.

I asked Dr. Trotter if he knew where Walter Bradley was, and he pointed him out at another of the biology review tables. I went over and introduced myself. There was no way he remembered me after more than twenty years, but I must say he has not changed much. I did not hesitate to pick up the dialog on biological evolution with him again, and I found him to be delightful to talk with as always. He is a very intelligent man and is sincere in his beliefs. I had Dr. Bradley and Dr. Trotter to pose for a photo, and I later sent copies to them. Here they are. That’s Walter Bradley and Ide Trotter from left to right.

I enjoy talking to people like Bradley and Trotter. Barbara Jean keeps telling me we need to meet more people with interests like our own, but I remind her that I really have more interest in talking to people with whom I disagree. I tend to keep some distance with people who only tell me what I want to hear.

Toward the end of my first week at the review the TEA announced they needed volunteers for the third and final session the following week. I volunteered again and came back after a weekend at home.

The third session was held at a hotel by the freeway in north Austin, and it was close to the home of an old racing buddy. When I say old, I mean that at several levels. James Gardner is pushing 80 and I have known him solidly since he rode his Honda down to Torreon in Mexico for Las Seis Horas de la Laguna, a six-hour endurance race run on the city streets in 1967. I popped over to visit James a couple of times, once to take a bunch of photos and once to hoist a few glasses of Guinness at a local pub. Here’s a photo.

James on his vintage 305 Honda

Also, Barbara Cargill was back to visit the final week, and she thanked me for volunteering a second time. Of course I would not have missed the opportunity for anything, and I’m hoping to have the chance to do this again another year. Readers who live in Texas should give some thought to this, as well. You have a tremendous stake in the success of the curriculum for our kids.

Creationism, Just Like Old Times

One thing I miss since moving to San Antonio is working with the North Texas Skeptics. I’m still a member, but I don’t get the opportunity to attend the meetings, and I’m not so much involved now in tracking the local creationists. The Dallas area seems to have a lively creationism cult with lots of stuff going on. San Antonio, not so much so.

Of course in Dallas there were always the meetings of the Metroplex Institution of Origin Science (MIOS) that featured talks by creationist Dr. Don Patton. Dr. Carl Baugh’s Creation Evidence Museum is located in nearby Somerville County, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) recently relocated its headquarters from Santee, California, to Dallas, and there has always been creationism activity on a regular basis. So, I’ve been missing out on a lot of the action since I left North Texas.

This summer, however, has seen a bright spot. While doing volunteer work I was surprised to meet up with some creationists from the old days.

Ide Trotter I first met back in November 2003 when he attended a conference in Dallas. Here’s a short write-up from the Baptist Press.

DALLAS (BP)–While the Discovery Institutes’s involvement in the Texas biology textbook case drew considerable media attention, another key player is a deacon at First Baptist Church of Dallas.

Ide Trotter is the spokesman for Texans for Better Science Education, an informal citizens network that banded together to press for changes in the state’s high school biology textbooks.

One of dozens of residents who testified at a 12-hour hearing in September, the Southern Baptist layman is a former university professor with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Princeton University.

His career started in the research division of Exxon. He also served as the dean of business at Dallas Baptist University from 1986-90. Today, he runs his own investment management company.

Trotter noted there are atheists, Jews and others who also challenge evolutionary presentations high school biology textbooks.

Texans for Better Science Education’s primary issue is correcting scientific errors, not advocating for religious beliefs, Trotter said.

“We are only talking about the science,” the spokesman said. “We don’t want intelligent design or creationism taught. We only want error-free science taught.

My own private thought is that creationists such as Ide Trotter would like nothing better than to have concepts such as Intelligent Design explored in the public school system. To creationists, even the so-called Intelligent Design variety, the idea that only natural forces worked to create the universe and all life is anathema. The reality is modern creationists realize the limits of public credulity and legal bounds, and their current goal is to inject into children’s studies doubt about the natural aspect of biological evolution.

I had not had any interaction with Ide Trotter since the meeting ten years ago, and last month I put it to him bluntly. How’s it going with Intelligent Design? My thinking was that in ten years a lot was supposed to happen, and I had seen no movement in all that time. Intelligent Design was still not acceptable curriculum in any public school, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania had ruled that Intelligent Design has no scientific merit and is just another form of creationism, a strictly religious concept. Trotter reiterated for me what he had said in the Baptist Press write-up. He said he is all for evolution. He just wants the curriculum to have all the facts straight.

I have never discussed these facts at length with Trotter, but in the brief conversation we did have he seemed keen on the Cambrian Explosion. Having apparently been shut down on other major fronts, creationist have fallen back on the apparent (to them) miracle that happened around 540 million years ago, when many divergent life forms appeared in the fossil record for the first time. Trotter brought up the writings of Simon Conway Morris, a deadly serious researcher on the Cambrian Explosion, but also somebody with a religious view. I told Trotter I have Morris’ book, The Crucible of Creation and have read it, though I could not recall the name at the time. He cited the oft-used complaint that practically all current animal body plans appear for the first time during this geologically short span of a “few” million years.

Creationist Ray Bohlin was there, too, but I did not have a chance to speak with him. My first personal meeting with Bohlin was at the previously mentioned conference in Dallas.

Bohlin is both remarkable and also typical of modern creationists. His bio on the Discovery Institute Web site sums it up:

Raymond Bohlin received his Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of Texas at Dallas. He is currently Vice-President of Vision Outreach for Probe Ministries and a Fellow at Discovery Institutes’s Center for Science and Culture. He has lectured on more than two dozen college and university campuses, addressing origins issues as well as other science-related topics such as the environment, genetic engineering, medical ethics, and sexually transmitted diseases. Dr. Bohlin’s work has been published in the Journal of Thermal Biology, Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation and the Journal of Mammalogy. He is the author of The Natural Limits to Biological Change (Probe Books 1984), which he is currently revising and updating, and edited the book Creation, Evolution and Modern Science (Kregel, 2000).

He has a real degree in biology from a real university. Full disclosure: I, too, have a couple of degrees from that campus. Bohlin also heads up Probe Ministries in Richardson, Texas. Regarding evolution from a biologist’s point of view, Bohlin has some unusual ideas.

If the Associated Press writer confused a challenge to common descent with “Intelligent Design,” it could be because Intelligent Design proponents with the CSC on occasion do challenge common descent. For example, Ray Bohlin is a CSC fellow and supposedly a spokesman for Intelligent Design. At the Texas Faith Network conference in Dallas on 3 November 2003 Bohlin addressed a large room full of people and stated that common descent was true for all life forms, except humans. You can imagine the confusion of all in attendance.

Ide Trotter and Ray Bohlin in Dallas 2003

I met Walter Bradley, as well. I had not seen Dr. Bradley since the SMU conference in March 1992 that featured a debate between creationist Phillip Johnson and philosopher Michael Ruse. At the time Bradley headed up the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University. He is also a well-known creationist, having previously published, along with creationists Roger L. Olsen, Dean H. Kenyon Charles B. Thaxton (Author) an early book on modern Intelligent Design arguments, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. Dr. Bradley’s page on Wikipedia has the following information:

Bradley is on the selection committee for the Trotter Prize, which rewards work on intelligent design. He is the co-author of The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories which gives a creationist interpretation of abiogenesis, attributing it to a deity rather than natural forces.

Bradley was one of the pioneers of the concept of intelligent design, attempting to explain topics not yet understood by science as the activity of God. Bradley’s writings on the subject anticipated some of the concepts later articulated by William Dembski and Michael Behe, and he was a participant in early meetings regarding the wedge strategy, a religious public relations campaign with a goal of reshaping American culture to adopt evangelical Protestant values.

The Richardson, Texas, based Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) is the publisher of the famous Intelligent Design book Of Pandas and People, featured so prominently in the Kitzmiller trial. Here is what the FTE has to say about The Mystery of Life’s Origin.

At the SMU symposium in 1992 Dr. Bradley was on one of the panels, and the suggestion was passed out that science curricula should be more attuned to our spiritual needs. That amazed me, and when the opportunity for questions came I asked in just way could a science curriculum address this need. Dr. Bradley chose to respond and mentioned the divinity of Jesus Christ. See? That’s my problem. When a creationist comes back with a snappy response I am left absolutely floored. I try to make it a point not to challenge seasoned creationists on the really hard issues.

However, if I have learned anything it’s that I need to get out of the house, get to where the action is, meet people and relive old times. There was creationism yesterday, there’s creationism today and there will be creationism tomorrow. I need never be bored.

The Real Estate Transaction from Hell

The title should have been “Now closing on track 9,” but I have trouble coming up with snappy titles.

I once was out in the boondocks in Utah taking photos of abandoned farm buildings when I got a phone call from Barbara Jean. She wanted to buy a rent house in McKinney, Texas, and I needed to go back to my apartment in Salt Lake City and sign and return the sales contract papers. It turned out we did not buy the rent house, but that’s not the craziest real estate deal we ever did. This latest was it.

We had the house in Dallas since 1996, and we rented it out after we moved to San Antonio. We hired a management company to handle the rental and maintenance of the property. The renters lived there the for a year, and then they wanted to sign a two-year lease to lock in the absurdly low rent we were charging. We said no way, we didn’t want to lock in for two years, so the renters renewed for another year. That was a joke.

Dallas house

At the end of May this year they told us they were purchasing a house in South Lake and would be moving out at the end of June. We noticed this was about two months short of their contract term, and we perhaps innocently figured they were going to take until the end of August to get moved. Not so. They moved out on June 26th and had the water shut off so they wouldn’t be billed for it anymore. Only they didn’t tell us they had ordered the water shut off in the middle of the summer. Besides, they wanted us to return their deposit. Absolutely not.

We told the agent who was managing the property to put it up for sale, and we planned to head up to Dallas in July to see if anything needed fixing up. Turns out something did.

Twenty-two months in the house for these renters was like twenty years for the two of us. They had apparently wanted a surround sound system in the living room, so they strung speaker wire all along the baseboards, in front of the side door and along the back wall, and they tacked it to the molding with staples. One of the solar screen panels in an upstairs window was bent outward, something on the new cook top had been spilled and apparently cleaned with a scouring pad, severely scratching the enamel. Paint on the interior corners was severely chipped off and an Indian muggu design had been painted on the front porch. Apparent lack of watering had caused foundation movement, and the wall board in the high-ceiling front room had parted at the seams. Barbara Jean started to cry.

The muggu on our front porch

Then Barbara Jean checked her cell phone and found a voice mail from the agent. Somebody had written a contract to purchase the house. “As is.” “As is?” “We don’t have to fix anything up?” Barbara Jean stopped crying. The agent, Fred, came by the house to talk to us.

A woman in Richardson wanted to buy the house to live in. She was downsizing, and this was what what she needed. Almost no yard, quiet neighborhood (nobody mentioned being under the approach path to Addison Airport), neighborhood pool and clubhouse. Her contract for purchasing our house was contingent on the sale of her house. She had a sales contract on her house and expected to close in less than a month, and she could move immediately. I never got out my tools. We came back to San Antonio the next day.

Things started working. There was the inspection report. The inspection report from hell. It was as though we had seen the same report before. The outside faucet leaks. No it does not. When we first attempted to sell the house two years before the inspection report said the faucet leaked, and we had it replaced. Leaves in the rain gutters. No way. We had told Fred to have his crew clean the gutters and send us a bill. Fred may not have done this, and he for sure never sent us a bill. The gas fireplace did not work (inspector did not know how to light it). The outside compressor units of the A/C were too close to the neighbor’s fence and needed to be moved to the other side of the house where there was more clearance. Besides, the upstairs unit did not work and would need to be replaced entirely. There was soil settlement in front of the house and piers needed to be installed to fix the foundation. Also a root barrier between the front of the house and the trees. Barbara Jean started to cry again.

But wait. Barbara Jean agreed this looked like an inspection we had seen before. In fact it was an inspection report like the one we had seen before. In fact it was done by the same inspector as the one that had inspected the house two years before, only now working for a different company. Barbara Jean dryly pointed out to the Realtors involved that the same inspector that never mentioned having to move the A/C units two years ago had now decided they needed to be moved. It would appear this inspector was fairly arbitrary about what he found wrong with houses he inspected. The woman buying our house no longer insisted on having all these fixes made. However, her lender would require, and any lender would require, that the foundation repairs be made. No root barrier was needed.

Now, out of the phone booth, decked out in her Wonder Woman costume, stepped Barbara Jean, into the fray. She wasn’t crying anymore. She first had a very direct phone conversation with Fred and informed him of his and his agencies many deficiencies in the handling of the property and the sale. She then took Fred almost completely out of the loop and organized an engineer’s inspection of the foundation and obtained a report outlining what needed to be done. Steel piers were the way to go, and no root barrier was needed. She wrote checks and forwarded them to Fred to make the payments and stomped on people who were late getting progress reports back to her. Things got done. The problems got fixed. People got paid. Receipts and reports were obtained and forwarded to Chicago Title. In the required time we had all our ducks in a row, and we were ready for the closing on Friday, 16 August.

Chicago Title was going to handle the Dallas end of the transaction, and we were advised to contact a local office of the company to handle our sign-off. Barbara Jean contacted three offices, two in San Antonio and one in Austin, just in case none of the San Antonio offices could schedule us in. Almost none could. The only San Antonio office that could handle us on 16 August was down on Military Drive in the south of town. We live in the north of town. That office desired $100 to do business with us. That was better than the $150 requested by the Austin office.

There was only one small hitch. Recall the woman buying our house was selling her own house, and the purchase of our house was contingent on the sale of her house. Enter the buyer of her house. After Barbara Jean had gotten all reports and receipts in to the Dallas office of Chicago Title just days before the scheduled closing, the person buying the woman’s house decided he needed to remove one name from the loan he had negotiated with the V.A. The V.A. loan people now needed to go back and redo all the loan paperwork. The woman’s buyer would not be able to close on his purchase on or before 16 August. Our buyer could not purchase our house on or before 16 August. WTF!

Chicago Title had a suggestion. Come by on Military Drive on the afternoon of 16 August, pay the $100, and sign the paperwork. We did that, and on a Friday afternoon we drove down the freeway to Chicago Title to sign away the house that we bought in 1996. But first there were some problems that needed to be cleared up. Barbara Jean has some real estate training and also the experience of buying and selling multiple houses since 1980, and she knew a screw-up when she spotted one. No release of loan fee was required, but Chicago Title wanted to charge us $20 one. Fred was supposed to get only 2% fee, but Chicago Title was prepared to award him 3%. We sat in the outer office while Dallas Chicago Title fixed the screw-up and transmitted the corrected documents. We signed and then we went home to wait.

The next week came. The woman’s buyer could not close until at least Friday (that would be 23 August). The woman’s buyer did not close on Friday. The woman’s buyer would likely close on Monday. Have a nice weekend.

It was a weekend from Hell.

By Monday morning we were still married, but just barely. That was yesterday. My job was to stand by the phone and to watch for e-mail. Barbara Jean tried to get some sleep. I wrote a belated Bad Movie review. I tried to take a nap. I watched news on CNN. Finally I decided I needed to clean up and shave. While shaving I heard my Samsung Tab 2 go “ding.” That’s the sound it makes when an e-mail arrives. I finished shaving and went downstairs to check the e-mail. It was from Janet at Chicago Title. Closing in Dallas was going to happen at 2 p.m. Only… Only we needed to sign again some papers.

I gritted my teeth and woke Barbara Jean up. I regretted it immediately. How come I didn’t wait until the papers actually arrived before waking her up. I apologized and mentioned the required papers were expected to arrive by e-mail shortly. I was reminded to wake Barbara Jean up when the papers actually arrived. Barbara Jean went back to sleep. The papers arrived. I woke Barbara Jean up.

All the screw-ups of all the real estate agents and inspectors and title companies were vested upon me, because I was the only target available. I fled downstairs while Barbara Jean got on her computer to print the paperwork. I was called back. One of the forms had been scanned incorrectly, and the left few columns of print were cut off. In an amazing display of diplomacy and directness Barbara Jean phoned Janet and pointed out the problem and requested could the document please be rescanned and retransmitted? Yes? OK. The deed was done, and Barbara Jean printed out the documents and went over them carefully to make sure there were no more screw-ups. Then we took the warranty deed down to the local Post It mail center and had our signatures notarized, again. Then we came back home and made copies of all relevant documents. Barbara Jean scanned the critical documents to PDFs and transmitted them to Chicago Title Dallas, and we took the real documents back to Post It. Chicago Title Dallas had also transmitted to us a FedEx label in PDF, and Post It stuck that onto a FedEx envelope and sent all our paperwork off to Chicago Title Dallas.

Barbara Jean completes the real estate transaction from Hell

Then we walked across the shopping center parking lot to the Bank of America branch facing onto Loop 1604 and withdrew some cash to live on, and we walked back across the parking lot to Yogurt Zone and treated ourselves to large, fat-free, chocolate frozen yogurts with almond chips all over the top.

Back home a phone call from Chicago Title informed me we would get our money on Tuesday. That would be today, but Monday night Barbara Jean and I put on some civilized clothing and drove down to Ruby Tuesday on Interstate 10 and had their salad with grilled salmon. And we celebrated the completion of the real estate transaction from Hell. And may Jesus have mercy on all your souls.

Amen.

Bad Movie of the Week

This should have been a good movie—front line talent and and photography. However, the plot seems a bit frayed around the edges, and direction could have helped build better suspense.

Movie poster from Wikipedia

Anyhow, the movie is Conspirator, and it was produced in England in 1949 for release by MGM in the United States. It was shot in very good black and white and will chew up 87 minutes of your time. Give it a look.

Melinda comes from America in 1949, and she hardly knows anybody except her friend Joyce, and they are at a very nice ball, and everybody is dancing, but nobody will dance with them, which is amazing, since both are absolutely spectacular looking females, especially Melinda, who is just gorgeous. Of course Melinda is gorgeous, because she’s Elizabeth Taylor, who is only 16 years old playing the role of 18-year-old Melinda.

Anyhow, in comes Michael, and he’s gorgeous, too. But of course he’s gorgeous, because he’s an army major and looks fit and trim in his army major uniform, and also because he’s Robert Taylor, who is 31 and immediately lusts after sweet Melinda.

Anyhow, it’s love (or sex) at first sight, and it’s obvious they will soon be married. However almost immediately we learn Major Michael Curragh’s deep, dark secret. He is a traitor and is a spy for the Soviets, and he gets these postcards with no signature and no return address and only showing the famous Tower Bridge, after which he heads off to a secret rendezvous place by a very circuitous route so he cannot be followed. There he passes on military secrets to two Soviet agents, and we know they are Soviets, because they speak with Slavic accents.

So, even before sweet Melinda and wicked Michael are married he begins to show his dark side by displaying a dispassionate attitude for a rabbit that has been caught in a steel trap. But Melinda marries him anyhow, but eventually discovers his secret when she digs into his pants pocket while he is in the shower and retrieves some pound notes to help pay for his birthday present. A note from between two of the notes flutters out, and Melinda reads it and discovers Michael is a spy.

Melinda confronts Michael with he knowledge, but she does not turn him in. Anyhow, Michael is already in a lot of trouble with his Soviet agent friends, because he married Melinda without their permission, and that’s not the Soviet way.

So Michael’s agent friends order him to get rid of sweet Melinda, which he regrets much having to do, but the opportunity presents itself during a duck hunt when Melinda goes to retrieve a duck the dog has brought in, and Michael is left standing behind her loading his shotgun. It’s not made clear to the viewer why and what happens next. Did the dog brush against Michael, causing the shotgun to go off accidentally, or did the dog cause Michael to miss his target. Anyhow, Melinda is only shaken up by the blast, and Michael knows it’s impossible for him to kill Melinda.

When Michael attempts to confront his Soviet friends to inform them, they have already cleared out, and a phone call to the Soviet embassy only gets him the message that Michael Curragh is dead. Michael gets the message. It is more than a statement of fact. It is a fact he must make true.

Michael goes back to the home he shares with Melinda, but by now she is afraid of him and dashes out of the house to tell Michael’s army friends the bad news. Michael finally puts on his army uniform and stands facing himself in the mirror. As Melinda and the army officials arrive at the house a shot rings out, and it is obvious Michael has killed himself.

Of course Melinda is grief-stricken, but an army friend pulls her aside and advises her the army has known about Michael for a long time and have been feeding him false informaiton. Melinda is asked to keep the secret and only say that Michael killed himself because she was leaving him. The end.

The plot is not well handled. More suspense could have built up were Michael’s double life to be revealed a little at a time rather than in about the second act of the movie. Alfred Hitchcock would have done it much as he did in Suspicion and in Shadow of a Doubt.

In Suspicion, Cary Grant’s sweet wife begins to suspect he is a murderer, and Hitchcock allows the viewers’ suspicion to grow along with that of wife Joan Fontaine’s. In Shadow of a Doubt we are sure from the start that Uncle Charlie is a killer, and we watch in suspense as sweet, young Charlotte becomes more and more convinced and eventually faces the killer uncle head on.

Of course many of Hitchcock’s thriller’s develop in much this way. In Vertigo James gradually becomes convinced that Kim Novak is actually the woman he used to love and previously thought was dead. In Spellbound sweet Ingrid Bergman is always convinced Gregory Peck is not a murderer, but the audience never gets it straight until the final scenes.

Anyhow, director Victor Saville could have handled the plot better by letting small hints of Michael’s duplicity dribble in a drop at a time until finally both Melinda and the audience becomes horrified at his second nature. Instead, the director drops Michael’s second life onto the audience like a bombshell even before Melinda gets her first kiss.

Also, the handling of the Soviet agents is awkward and stereotyped. My knowledge of these people is only from news reports on their personal lives, and they are never shown in real life to be the hyper-blown fanatics depicted in Saville’s film. Their rhetoric, also, is straight out of a military training film, or better yet, straight out of Dr. Strangelove.

I also found it absurd that British Army officials would knowingly allow an innocent young girl to marry a known Soviet spy so they could continue playing spy games with him. She had every chance of being killed, and the plot did involve that scheme. Any responsible official would have found some reason to at least get this girl seduced by another member of the staff so she wouldn’t wind up getting mired in their deadly game.

I personally got a lot of fun out of watching Elizabeth Taylor, born in London 16 years previously, playing an American girl having recently arrived in England. Her accent is just not quite right.

Wikipedia has information I was not able to glean from watching Conspirator on Turner Classic Movies:

The film created some controversy over the age difference between Robert Taylor, who was in his late thirties, and Elizabeth Taylor, who was only sixteen at the time of production. The producers were careful to cut mentions in the film of British traitors during the Second World War, such as John Amery and Norman Baillie-Stewart, out of fear of litigation by their families. An indirect mention of Baillie-Stewart remained in the film, however, with him being referred to not by name, but simply as “that fellow in the Tower”. The plot of the film also bore some similarities to the later case of the Cambridge Spies, including Donald MacLean.

The Power of Z Wave

Hey look! It’s the 21st century already. What’s old is past, and what’s new is here. To witness.

Years back I dabbled with X10 devices. I had some motion detector lights outside, and I wanted to know when they triggered on, meaning somebody was in my back driveway. So I got the remote X10 device for these units and plugged it in to a wall socket inside the house, and I plugged a lamp into that. Then whenever my outside lights went on my inside light went on, and I could say, “Hey! Somebody’s out in my back driveway.”

It turned out that all kinds of things triggered my outside lights, such as stray birds, stray cats and stuff blowing in the wind. I got tired of the inside light always flashing and bothering me, so I didn’t install anything like that in my new house.

But wait! Now there’s Z Wave. My friend Greg, and also some of his friends, are well up on Z Wave, and I talked to them about it and became convinced it would be worth looking into. Besides, I’m retired now, and I need something to keep me off the streets.

So I logged onto Barbara Jean’s Amazon account last weekend and ordered a VeraLite controller. If you have it already set up it will chug along merrily running the programs you have set it to run. It will turn lights on and off at appropriate times and will also monitor and control other household devices, such as the thermostat, security cameras and motion detectors. It just sits there running and sending out signals by radio to these devices and keeping track of what it’s doing.

If you want to set up your VeraLite, or if you want to change your setup, or if you want to see what’s going on with the VeraLite or get reports from it, then you’re going to need to connect to it with your computer, and for that purpose VeraLite comes with an Ethernet port, allowing you to connect it to your home network. And that is really great. When it works.

So, my VeraLite came yesterday. It’s a small unit, about the size of a Big Mac with cheese, and it weighs maybe a quarter of a pound. And it came with instructions—a sheet of paper with five easy steps for setting up the VeraLite. So I did that. Then the trouble began.

To get everything going you have to get an account at MIOS.com, and then you click on a tab on their Web page to activate your connection to your VeraLite. No go. The screen said that if was still looking at that screen after 15 seconds I should reset my VeraLite and click a link on the Web page. I did that, and it brought me back to the original page.

I will not go into all the levels of frustration I encountered, and, at least in this post, I will stay clear of any mention of brushes with divorce court that ensued.

The first problem was that my router has only four ports. One is for Barbara Jean’s computer, one is for my desk top unit, one is for the network printer, and one is for the power line network adapter. That meant that to connect the VeraLite to my home network I needed to disconnect one of the other devices. Since I was at the time using my laptop computer, which connects through WiFi, I figured it was OK to disconnect my desk top unit, since I was not using it at the time. So I did that.

I thought. If I could have made the worst possible mistake, that would have been to accidentally disconnect Barbara Jean’s computer instead of my own, and that is just what I did. The lawyers came close to getting their fees.

Anyhow, I got Barbara Jean’s computer back on line and got the VeraLite connected in place of my desk top unit, but the VeraLite still was not talking to my computer, as I mentioned before.

To sum up the frustration, here is a copy of the e-mail I sent to Greg:

After much agonizing, which involved going out into the heat and chiseling free my broken down plastic mail box (was cemented into the brick pedestal) and working at fitting in my new, white metal box from Home Depot and having an argument with Barbara about it and giving up and taking Barbara out to Subway for dinner with a frozen yogurt at the yogurt place and coming home and trying some more and then getting a good night’s rest and waking up and taking a walk and having breakfast on my front porch and then watching “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” on DVD, which came in the same order from Amazon as the VeraLite, I decided to confirm a hypothesis.

I powered down the VeraLite, and lo and behold my MIOS.com login still told me it had identified my device at 192.168.1.100.

Well, that was a bunch of crap, so I pulled all other cables out of my router and plugged the VeraLite into port 1, and cycled power on everything. Now I get the VeraLite console when I log on.

But I was still not out of the woods with Barbara Jean, on several accounts:

She sees no practical use for this technology.

The VeraLite is butt-ugly, sort of like a small Bud box with a green cover and a bit of twist to the design. Barbara Jean does not want it anywhere in the house where it can be seen.

The appliance modules are not cheap. $20 and up for each light control and such.

Adding VeraLite to the home network required removing an existing device from the network, and Barbara Jean, being the network administrator, had a lot of heartburn with that.

But, I am accustomed to being screamed at. I remind people that the United States Government use to pay someone to scream at me, call me names and generally make my life miserable. If I survived that then Barbara Jean is only the next level up.

So, while Barbara Jean called me names and openly questioned my mental health, I plugged on, working to bring the VeraLite into use.

Not being 100% sure I would even like VeraLite, I had purchased along with it only a single power outlet unit. This I installed in an upstairs bedroom and listened to Barbara Jean remind me how I had bought the outlet, but I did not buy a matching wall plate, and now I would need to make a special trip to Home Depot just to get a wall plate when I would have gotten one when were were just out running errands and going right by multiple copies of Home Depot. But I got the power outlet installed without a matching wall plate, and to give our marriage some time to heal I went outside to water the plants that live in pots on the patio.

Glory be. When I got back inside, Barbara Jean had reconfigured the home network, and everything was in great shape. She stuck the butt ugly VeraLite in an armoire upstairs where I keep spare t-shirts, and she plugged the power cord into the wall outlet next to the armoire, and she plugged a power line network adapter into the same outlet and plugged the VeraLite’s Ethernet cable into that adapter.

And everything works just fine. I have a table lamp plugged into the Z Wave power outlet I installed, and I can turn the table lamp on and off from my computer downstairs on the dining room table. See the picture below. Isn’t science wonderful!

A sense of absolute control and overreaching power

And I’m still married.

Bad Joke of the Week

A small zoo in Georgia obtained a very rare species of gorilla.

Within a few weeks the gorilla, a female, became very difficult to handle. Upon examination, the veterinarian determined the problem. The gorilla was in heat. To make matters worse, there was no male gorilla available.Thinking about their problem, the Zoo Keeper thought of Bobby Lee Walton, a redneck part-time worker responsible for cleaning the animal cages. Bobby Lee, like most rednecks, had little sense but possessed ample ability to satisfy a female of any species.The Zoo Keeper thought they might have a solution. Bobby Lee was approached with a proposition. Would he be willing to mate with the gorilla for $500.00?

Bobby Lee showed some interest, but said he would have to think the matter over carefully. The following day, he announced that he would accept their offer, but only under five conditions:

“First”, Bobby Lee said, “I ain’t gonna kiss her on the lips.” The Keeper quickly agreed to this condition.

“Second”, he said, “She must wear a ‘Dale Earnhardt Forever’ T-Shirt.” The keeper again readily agreed to this condition.

“Third”, he said, “you can’t never tell no one about this.” The keeper again readily agreed to this condition.

“Fourth”, Bobby Lee said, “I want all the children raised Southern Baptist.”

Once again it was agreed.

And last,” Bobby Lee said, “I’m gonna need another week to come up with the $500.00.

Why you can never go home again

American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, and I have never read it, but I like the title. It makes a great tag line.

It turns out the line is true, not only at the level Wolfe revealed in his novel but at the most basic level. You really can never, never ever, go home again. It was a few years ago that I figured this out and why it is so.

Years ago I worked for this company, and they were across the freeway from the legendary Texas Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys football team used to play. So, on occasion, I was driving down the freeway, and I was thinking there would be a time when the stadium would no longer be there (now it is not). I also realized there would eventually be a time when the freeway would no longer be there. In fact, there will be a time when the planet Earth will no longer be there.

Texas Stadium (from Wikipedia)

So I began to consider what it meant to “be there.” To “be here.” What defines a place?

Of course, I realized, proximity to the stadium could not define a place, because the stadium was in no way permanent. But, what if I came back the very next day? The stadium would still be there tomorrow. Would I then be in the same place as before?

The answer turns out to be “no.” The stadium was big, and the stadium was famous, but the stadium alone did not define the place. There was that post beside the freeway. Suppose by the next day somebody removed the post. If I returned on the morrow would I actually be coming back to the same place? No, because it would not be the same place, because the post would no longer be there. Stadium, post—everything—all are required to define a place in space. And the conclusion is: To go back to the same place it will be necessary for you to go back to the same time. And this is something we cannot do. Yet.

With that in mind, return to this blog in the future and read more.

Which hand’s got the chocolate?

So I don’t drink coffee, but I do get a perk from cola, and I only drink the sugar free. People tell me these artificial sweeteners are associated with all kinds of health dangers, but I remind them that what dangers have been associated with artificial sweeteners no where compare with the known problems with consuming sugar. So, sugar-free it is for me. Especially when I can get two-liter diet cola for less than a buck at CVS Pharmacy.

The test

Anyhow, Barbara Jean and I were shopping at CVS and I was loading up my limit of 5 bottles, and Barbara Jean asked why I was getting the regular Diet Coke. Why not the Coca Cola Zero. It’s supposed to have “Real Coca Cola taste and zero calories.” Game on!

Real Coca Cola tast with zero calories

That sounded like a challenge to me, and a nice opportunity to show the benefits of scientific investigation. Proposed: Coca Cola Zero tastes better than regular Diet Coke. Confirm or refute the hypothesis.

To confirm or refute the hypothesis you need to have somebody taste the two and compare. I knew it was necessary to go an extra step. The first thing to determine is whether anybody can tell the difference between Zero and regular. If you can’t tell the difference, then you are certainly not going to be able to say that one tastes better than the other.

A classic scientific approach that’s employed for a test such as this is the so-called “blind test.” It works like this: If the person tasting the colas knows which cola she is tasting, then it’s possible for personal bias to filter in. She sees Coke Zero. She knows Coke Zero is suppose to have “Real Coca Cola taste.” She expects the Coke Zero to taste better. When she tastes the Coke Zero she feels it must be tasting better. She reports that Coke Zero tastes better.

But if she does not know which drink is regular and which is Zero, then this personal bias is eliminated, and hard science prevails. So, I arranged a test. Readers will, of course, know that an even better protocol than the blind test is the double-blind test. In a blind test it is only necessary for the subject to be kept in the dark about which is which. In a double-blind test everybody present at the test is kept in the dark. The idea of keeping both the experimenter and the subject in the dark is to prevent such as this: The experimenter hands a sample to the subject and says, “Now here taste one,” wink wink. And the subject is influenced by the experimenter’s actions.

Anyhow, I did not do the double blind test, and it turned out not to be necessary. I poured out three glasses of diet cola and brought them to Barbara Jean. She did not see me pour the samples, and she did not even know about the test until I brought her the samples. She thought it was a silly idea (of course), but she went along with the game. Two glasses had one kind of cola, and the other glass had the other kind. I kept which was which to myself. I asked Barbara Jean which cola was not like the other two. She could not tell the difference.

There should be no need for further testing. Nobody I know is as picky about tastes and smells as Barbara Jean. If she can’t tell the difference between Coke Zero and regular diet Coke, then it’s not worth anybody’s time to walk across the street to get Coke Zero. Unless, of course, you like the cool design of the Coke Zero bottle.

So, here are the samples. Which one is the Coke Zero? You can’t tell, can you.

Three Samples