Lame Duck

From Google Images

From Google Images (with apologies to Energizer Holdings, Inc.)

Talk about the Energizer Bunny, this family has staying power. A few weeks ago (seems like months) I caught onto the story of the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame:

Yes, one of the tenants of Christian fundamentalism is condemnation of homosexuality, and Robertson’s recapitulation of the scripture on this did not sit well with the LBGT community. Nor with the show’s producers. A&E dropped Robertson from the show, likely forever.

Not to worry. The LGBT community aside, Robertson has many defenders, even among those who never watch the show.

So I’m finally getting down to the essence of this post. Robertson is receiving daily support from religious and political interests, and in this process we on the outside are gaining additional insight into this remarkable man and his philosophies. Now comes a revelation that is so startling that it’s bound to dominate the headlines for weeks to come. One Ian Bayne, preparing to run for the Illinois 11th Congressional District next year, has disclosed information not previously available to me or others. Besides being a protector of the Christian faith Robertson is also a civil rights defender of stellar proportions. He’s not just a summertime soldier when it comes to civil rights. He’s up there with the big time. Did I mention Martin Luther King? Maybe not. Did I mention Rosa Parks?

Of course that was good news. Queer-baiting Phil Robertson turning out to be a civil rights icon, standing shoulder to shoulder with Rosa Parks and others in the movement. But at the price of public scorn.

Not quite.

The good news, of course, is that A&E has re-instated the show Duck Dynasty to its rightful place, with father Phil still at the head of the clan. Ratings for the show are in the dumps right now, likely not so much due to Robertson’s anti-gay tirades, but more likely to viewer fatigue. Reality shows are great entertainment, but viewers’ appetite for coarse-talking backwoods men sporting Taliban beards has limits.

All this redemption has emboldened father Phil to re-paste his stance on homosexuals and the homosexual lifestyle:

Speaking at the Rock the South festival in Cullman, Alabama, over the weekend, Robertson defended his controversial comments made in a GQ profile last year when he said that being gay was a sin and compared homosexuality to bestiality.

In this latest tirade Robertson claims that he was really just “trying to help those poor souls and turn them to Jesus.”

Turn them to Jesus? What an idea. The reason queers are gay is because they have turned away from Jesus. Who would have thought? Of course, this ignores the millions of homosexuals who are devout Christians:

People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts,” declared the best-selling author of numerous books about faith and culture. “A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.

What’s surprising is the “best-selling author” who has made this startling statement is none other than George Barna – who is a conservative author and pollster. His latest poll is a spiritual profile of “homosexual adults” and the “surprising insights” are that gays and lesbians are just as apt to believe in God and be Christians as any other human being, despite their sexual orientation.

As a Christian who happens to be a lesbian, the findings, for me, are a big, “Well, duh.” But, it’s heartening to see Barna doing such a survey and then making a very big and important statement that gays and lesbians are not the “godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers” that the media and right wing Christian organizations portray us as. The best thing about Barna’s latest research is that, finally, a respected conservative voice has given credibility to the idea that one can be both gay and Christian.

These people do not need to be “turned to Jesus.” What does Phil Robertson propose these people should do?

It is quite possible that when Robertson made these ill-conceived remarks he did not know about the millions of homosexual Christians. This is not surprising, since he turned out to be unaware of a number of other well-known facts:

Phil may have missed out on a lot that was going on in his neck of the woods 50 to 60 years ago. He may not have noticed that black people were prevented from voting. He might not have noticed that an uppity black teenager could be murdered for insulting a white woman, and the jury would give the murderers a walk. He might not even have noticed that black people had to sit in the back of the bus. It’s easy to miss out on a lot of stuff when you’re growing up in the Louisiana backwoods. However I’m thinking it would have been hard to miss the conversation at the dinner table, and it would have been hard to miss the sermons delivered from the pulpit assuring the congregation that subservience by black people was ordained by God.

Personally, I cannot begrudge Robertson his intellectual shortcomings. Here is a person who has parlayed a family business into a multi-million-dollar industry. That kind of success speaks to a pragmatic approach and a capable head. Of a certain leaning.

Fronting The Brand


I’m recycling a title here. I started the theme a few weeks ago in response to the stance taken by some American business enterprises:

Chick-fil-A was the featured enterprise then. Now it’s Hobby Lobby. Full disclosure: The person who runs things in this house is sometimes a customer of Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby, Inc. was founded by David Green in 1972. The current president is Steve Green, an evangelical Christian. Green’s other activities include promoting Bible study courses for public schools.

What is at stake here follows from two clauses in the First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …

The first clause keeps the government from establishing a religion or giving support to a religion. The second clause prevents the government from interfering in the practice of religion. To a point.

I call the second clause the “Right to Act Foolishly in Public Clause.” Clearly, if a sect’s religious practices involve human sacrifice, the law is going to step in. Courts have gone further in allowing legal intrusions. Parents who, for religious reasons, deny medical care to minor children can be and have been prosecuted for felony crimes.

There can be more benign cases. A church that rings its bells too loudly on Sunday morning might be forced to tone it down. A mosque that broadcasts calls to evening prayer too loudly might also find itself in violation of local noise ordnances.

The issue in the Hobby Lobby case is that the Affordable Care Act requires concerns employing 50 or more people to sponsor a health insurance plan. Stop just a moment. I have worked at a number of companies that provided health insurance plans, and in no case was the company required to pay any or all the premiums. Some companies I worked for provided the plans, but I was required to pay the premiums. Nobody has said that employers, and particularly Hobby Lobby, would be required to pay the premiums under the Affordable Care Act.

The deal, then, with Hobby Lobby is the owners of the company, the Green family, do not even want to touch anything smelling of abortion. Contraception is no worry for the Greens. CNN this morning reported that the company has no problem with their insurance plans covering 20 different methods of contraception. The remaining four, the owners have decided, provide the opportunity to induce abortions and thus terminate life. To this they object.

A minor problem is the scientific consensus holds that these four, including the so-called morning after pill, do not have the capability to induce abortion. The owners apparently have their own view of science, which view they obtained from sources unknown. If the Greens reached that view through religious inspiration, then this is yet another case of religion trumping science. Which explains the cover image for this post.

The Public Accommodations Act (Civil Rights Act of 1964) requires public business to serve the public without bias. This was instituted in response to businesses at the time that refused service to certain races and ethnic groups. Courts have more recently extended this protection to people of diverse sexual orientation.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from a studio that refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony, letting stand a New Mexico high court ruling that helped spur a national debate over gay rights and religious freedom.

However, the Hobby Lobby case does not involve customers, only employees.

As I write this the Supreme Court is preparing to announce its decision in the Hobby Lobby case. I will continue in a few minutes when the decision is announced.

The Court has just handed down the decision in the Hobby Lobby case. CNN reports that legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is reading the decision and will announce the results shortly.

And it’s 5-4, with Justice Samuel Alito writing the opinion. The opinion of the Court is that Hobby Lobby is a “closely-held” concern and, as such, can express its religious preferences contrary to national law.

What’s the impact?

Hobby Lobby’s insurance plan will not be required to cover the objected pharmaceuticals. No big deal. This stuff is cheap. Women do not need insurance to pay for a “morning-after” pill. But wait.

If a doctor’s prescription is required, will there be a stipulation in the insurance plan that no physician will be allowed to prescribe the medication? Some additional digging is required, and I will take that on later.

In the mean time this decision appears to be heavily political. All five justices concurring with the decision were appointed by Republican presidents. All four justices dissenting were appointed by Democratic presidents. All three women in the Court voted against this decision. Surprise, surprise!

No man is going to have his insurance coverage affected by this decision. Again we have decisions affecting only women decided only by men. Folks, that’s the way it is in the Bible. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it’s going to be.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Manchurian Candidate

From ABC 22, Dayton, Ohio

From ABC 22, Dayton, Ohio

I try not to make this stuff up. Usually I don’t have to. For example:

The loser in a recent Republican primary is claiming that his opponent, Oklahoma Representative Frank Lucas, is unqualified for office because he has been replaced by a robot.

Timothy Ray Murray posted a press release — addressed to “News Person” — in which he demanded the Oklahoma Board of Elections shift votes from Rep. Lucas to him on account of the fact that “it is widely known Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed [sic] by a look alike.”

Mr. Murray posted the following on the Tim Murray for Congress for Oklahoma’s 3rd District site:

The election for U.S. House for Oklahoma’s 3rd District will be contested by the Candidate, Timothy Ray Murray. I will be stating that his votes are switched with Rep. Lucas votes, because it is widely known Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed by a look alike. Rep. Lucas’ look alike was depicted as sentenced on a white stage in southern Ukraine on or about Jan. 11, 2011.

This is a situation similar to the Senators’ from Kentucky situation in the 2012 election. I am contesting that this matter has happen since his election was blocked, because of the U.S. Defense Department’s use of Mr. Murray’s DNA. To my knowledge, the U.S. Defense Department has not released to the public that information, as it is their confidential information about many people. Congress is likely wanting me to state that all my DNA used will not result in benefits to people I have never had relations with of a family nature. I have been bound to protect that information unless it causes harm to The People.

The contest of election and or petition will be correctly filed with county election boards and with federal offices. I, Hon. Mr. Timothy Ray Murray, fully meet all Constitutional, Federal and Oklahoma requirements for election and for holding Office if the voters’ results show that is the case.

This is fascinating at so many levels. Let’s start with “Rep. Lucas’ look alike was depicted as sentenced on a white stage in southern Ukraine on or about Jan. 11, 2011.”

People, I can’t even figure out what is meant by “sentenced on a white stage.” Can somebody clue me in? I had to resort to the Internet to search for similar uses, and none of my sources provided the slightest clue.

The Washington Post also clicked on The Manchurian Candidate connection. Only, they were a lot quicker than I was:

The Manchurian candidate….of Oklahoma?

That was the headline. The article added:

“A lot of stupid things happen in Oklahoma politics,” says Keith Gaddie at the University of Oklahoma, “but this may be the stupidest I’ve ever heard. Welcome to Oklahoma.” (At the end of our phone call, Gaddie asked that I make sure the word “stupid” appeared in his quote.)

The movie is based on on a novel by Richard Condon. I previously reflected on the The Manchurian Candidate in a post about modern day politician Allen West. But that was so two years ago. This is fresh stuff.

If you think Oklahoma voters were stunned, consider the plight of Congressman Lucas:

“Many things have been said about me, said to me during course of my campaigns. This is the first time I’ve ever been accused of being a body double or a robot,” said Rep. Lucas.

The congressman was holding back in that statement. Inside he must have been jumping with joy. “Look at the loonies I have to campaign against.” Those are my words, but I further observe: If there be loonies, then make the most of them. As it is the congressman has some issues of his own:

It has been almost two years since the horrific Benghazi terrorist attack occurred, taking the lives of four innocent, brave Americans; however we continue to seek answers from the Administration on what took place that day.

Since 2012, House committees have worked tirelessly to investigate the tragic attack, and they have uncovered many facts. Unfortunately, while House Republicans continue working to seek justice, the Obama Administration continues stonewalling. To make matters worse, it was recently revealed that the White House withheld information regarding Benghazi from Congressional investigators. It causes me grave concern to know the White House refuses to assist and provide pertinent information regarding an attack that killed four of our fellow citizens.

There be loonies, and then there be loonies. It’s a matter of degree, a matter for which the American public can be thankful.

Take a deep breath, readers. Now let it out. We have dodged one of the bullets headed our way. Frank Lucas trounced Tim Murray 82.8% to Murray’s 5.2%. Will this sanity never end?

Newt of Death

Rough-skinned newt (from Wikipedia)

Rough-skinned newt (from Wikipedia)

This story was posted to Facebook, and some of the comments were interesting. Here is one:

I can’t help but wonder about the mechanism by which a attribute like this might develop. The garter snakes could not have developed an immunity since they would be killed. That prevents them from learning to avoid the newts as well. And to think that the mutation spontaneously happened for this specific thing at random does not really make sense either. If that were happening, you would see lots of other non-viable mutations before this one was selected.

I used to think that it was possible that, for example, if one’s parents spent a lot of time in the sun and became really tanned and that went on for several generations, that the children would develop the propensity to tan easily. That makes sense in light of recent discoveries regarding the epigenome of organisms. However, it does not really explain this situation where a non-immune snake would die if it ate a poisonous newt.

Here’s the story:

The scientific tale of the rough-skinned newt begins five decades ago, with a story about three dead hunters in Oregon. Reportedly, the bodies of the hunters were discovered around a camp fire. They showed no signs of injury, and nothing had been stolen. The only strange thing about the scene was the coffee pot. Curled up inside was a newt.

In the 1960s, a biologist named Butch Brodie got curious about the story. The newt in the coffee pot–known as the rough-skinned newt–has a dull brown back, but when it is disturbed, it bends its head backward like a contortionist to reveal an orange belly as bright as candy corn. Bright colors are common among poisonous animals. It’s a signal that says, in effect, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave me alone.” Brodie wondered if the newts were toxic, too.

Toxic, it turns out, doesn’t do the newts justice. They are little death machines. The newts produce a chemical in their skin called tetrodotoxin, or TTX for short, that’s made by other poisonous animals like pufferfish. Locking onto sodium channels on the surface of neurons, TTX blocks signals in the nervous system, leading to a quick death. In fact, TTX is 10,000 times deadlier than cyanide. While we may never know for sure what killed those three Oregon hunters, we do know that a single rough-skinned newt could have easily produced enough TTX to kill them, and have plenty of poison left over to kill dozens more.

Now, if the whole idea of evolution makes you uneasy, you might react by saying, “That couldn’t possibly have evolved.” Experience has shown that this is not a wise thing to say. Brodie said something different: the most plausible explanation for a ridiculously poisonous animal is that it is locked in a coevolutionary arms race with a ridiculously well-defended predator. Another biologist mentioned to him that he’d seen garter snakes dining on rough-skinned newts, and so Brodie investigated. He discovered that garter snakes in rough-skinned newt territory have evolved peculiar shape to the receptors on their neurons that TTX would normally grab.

So here’s the deal. The newt is exceedingly toxic. Garter snakes living in the same territory (not garter snakes elsewhere) can safely eat the newts. These garter snakes have calcium receptors configured differently from their kin in other regions, and the newt’s toxin does not bind well with them.

The Facebook comment rightly questions how this could come to be. The operative statement is:

The garter snakes could not have developed an immunity since they would be killed. That prevents them from learning to avoid the newts as well. And to think that the mutation spontaneously happened for this specific thing at random does not really make sense either. If that were happening, you would see lots of other non-viable mutations before this one was selected.

The comment questions that a “mutation spontaneously happened for this specific thing.”

But that is exactly what happened. And it happened this way:

  • The newt developed a slight toxicity. Garter snakes that ate it did not fare so well.
  • Some snakes already had slightly modified calcium receptors. They fared better. They dined on newts, and their genotype began to dominate the garter snake population in this region.
  • Some newts developed more (or better) toxin. The garter snakes that ate them did not fare so well.
  • Some snakes already had slightly modified calcium receptors. They fared better. They dined on newts, and their genotype began to dominate the garter snake population in this region.
  • Some newts developed more (or better) toxin. The garter snakes that ate them did not fare so well.
  • Some snakes already had slightly modified calcium receptors. They fared better. They dined on newts, and their genotype began to dominate the garter snake population in this region.

And so on and on. It’s the classical evolutionary arms race. Two species advance arm in arm, so to speak, in these peculiar features.

Significantly, the development of the toxin and the modified calcium receptors were not driven by anything. Each change was the result of random mutation.

In the past I was debating a creationist on-line, and he brought up the vast improbability of the development of highly specified features. He questioned how a life form could find just the right mutation.

My response was that biological forms end up trying everything. But not quite. I told him it was up to him to elaborate on the “not quite.” He couldn’t figure it out, and I never told him. The answer is there are some evolutionary developments a specific life form cannot develop. There are future evolutionary evolutionary paths that are forever blocked for a specific species. In spite of this, the remaining, available paths of development give ample opportunity for the existence of the many and varied life forms that exist today.

Creationist object to this line of thought. The convoluted paths of development supposedly followed to obtain existing life forms are too improbable to have involved chance and especially only natural causes. There must have been a guiding hand.

The counter argument to this is a fable that I tell.

A wealthy man has been found shot to death inside a locked room. No weapon is found, but an autopsy has determined death was caused by a .40 caliber bullet wound to the man’s head.

The police decide the man was murdered. Suicide has been ruled out.

Others argue that is impossible. The room was completely secure. No windows, solid walls, stout door locked from the inside. The only key to the door is discovered in the victim’s pocket. The key is required to lock and to unlock the door.

Should the police explore the possibility that space aliens slipped through the solid walls without leaving a mark, murdered the man, then slipped back through the walls, taking the gun with them.


The police will rightly pursue a number of other possibilities, including that there is another key, which is much more likely than the existence of murderous space aliens, said aliens never before having been observed in all history.

In all of this I have not discussed why some animals avoid eating the newts. How do you learn not to eat the newts without winning the Darwin award.

You do not learn. You are born with the predisposition to avoid the newt.

The newt flashes its bright orange underside. Way back some ancestors of existing species had an aversion to orange. They did not eat the newts. Their descendants came to predominate in the gene pool. The orange and the aversion to orange likely developed in parallel in the same way the toxin and the calcium receptors developed in parallel.

I have not overlooked the possibility that the orange underside and the toxicity are associated, but I have not explored this. Such an association would have greatly facilitated the development of the toxin as a survival tool of the newt.

Flash Point

One of a Series

The critical point in the downfall of 19th century Europe came on this day, 28 June 1914. A small group of disaffected reactionaries set out to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. They only barely succeeded and, doing so, brought mighty empires crashing down.

Princip was a Bosnian national, but Serbia was his inspiration for action.

In 1912, many Serbs were being mobilized for the First Balkan War. Princip planned to join the komite, an irregular Serbian guerrilla forces committee of the secret society Unification or Death (Ujedinjenje ili Smrt), also known as Black Hand. Princip, however, was rejected by the komite in Belgrade because of his small physical stature. He then went to Prokuplje in Southern Serbia where he sought a personal interview with Serbian major Vojislav Tankosić. Tankosić, however, rejected Princip as being “too small and too weak”. Vladimir Dedijer argued that this rejection was “one of the primary personal motives which pushed him to do something exceptionally brave in order to prove to others that he was their equal”.

After Tankosić’s rejection, Princip returned to Belgrade where he met Živojin Rafajlović. Rafajlović, who was one of the founders of the Četnik movement, sent him (alongside 15 other Young Bosnia members) to a so-called Center for četnik training in Vranje. There they met with school manager Mihajlo Stevanović-Cupara. He lived in Cupara’s house which is today located in Gavrilo Princip street in Vranje. Princip practiced pistol, bomb and knife management and after he completed training he returned to Belgrade.

[Some links removed]

Learning that Archduke Ferdinand would be coming to Sarajevo in Bosnia to inspect military maneuvers, Princip and five other conspirators crossed into Bosnia and set out to ambush and kill him. The archduke arrived in Sarajevo by train with his wife, Sofie, and the would-be killers lined his expected route. Their plan was for each to launch an attack as the motorcade passed his position. They had firearms and grenades. And they had cyanide capsules. They did not expect to survive the day.

None of the initial attacks were successful. The grenades they had were unlike the modern concept of the weapon. There was no pin to pull and no spoon to release to initiate the fuse. To get the fuse going you had to strike the initiator against a hard surface. Then there was a delay of about 10 seconds before the explosive detonated. When the procession passed him about 10:15 in the morning  Nedeljko Čabrinović initiated his grenade by striking it against a post. This alerted the archduke’s driver, who saw the grenade coming at the car and accelerated out of danger. The grenade exploded beneath a following car in the procession, injuring two occupants plus some bystanders.

This spoiled the efforts of the remaining conspirators, as the crowds and the increased speed of the vehicles disrupted their attack plans. Čabrinović’s suicide attempt failed when his cyanide pill proved worthless. He jumped into the River Miljacka, but it was only a few inches deep. Police arrested him.

From Wikipedia: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofie in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. Within minutes both would be dead.

From Wikipedia: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofie in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. Within minutes both would be dead.

Thus alerted, the Archduke’s party changed plans. They went to the hospital to see about the injured dignitaries. On the way to the hospital the Archduke’s driver took a wrong turn and drove right past Gavrilo Princip, armed with a pistol. I am reading Hew Strachan’s book The First World War Kindle edition. Strachan describes the critical moment:

One of the putative assassins, a nineteen-year-old consumptive, Gavrilo Princip, was loitering on the corner, having concluded that he and his colleagues had failed. He was therefore amazed to see the archduke’s car in front of him and braking. He stepped forward and shot both the archduke and his wife at point-blank range. They died within minutes.

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 249-252). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Princip’s poison was also ineffective, and he was overwhelmed and arrested before he could use his pistol to kill himself. He was a few days short of the age for the death sentence, but he stood trial and was convicted. He died in April 1918, a few months before the end of the horror he had initiated.

Just Like Old Times

For longer than I care to reveal (OK, over 50 years) I have been distressed by the actions of the creationists. Until about 1989 I just let the matter slide. Starting that year I began to take action. I started reading their books and attending their meetings and their lectures. Through it all ran a common theme: Creationists wanted “creation science” taught in the public schools. Else they wanted Darwinian evolution not to be taught. Else they wanted a disclaimer attached that modern biological science is “just a theory” and that students should doubt it. Else they wanted schools to “teach the controversy.” They wanted pupils to know that the biological evolution is a controversial topic. And it is. The creationists have made it so by raising counter (and false) arguments.

To the creationists various fields of science are controversial. Nuclear physics is controversial. This science provides evidence that contradicts the Bible on the age of the Earth. Modern cosmology is controversial. Modern cosmology provides natural explanations that contradict the Bible, and cosmology got a rough ride in the Kansas public school system several years ago:

This standards document was before the State Board of Education for three months awaiting approval.  However, one state board member put forward an alternative proposal that had completely bypassed any process of review or public comment.  It was largely ghost-written by members of a local creation science organization. This document eliminated any mention of evolution and also removed reference to any unifying scientific theories.  It rather put the focus on “technological science,” and dismissed “theoretical science” as unproven speculation with little practical application.  Fully half the members of the State Board of Education (an elected body under no other political, educational, or legislative body) favored this proposal over the document developed by the education committee, resulting in an immediate deadlock.

In the last turn of events, 3 members of the Board rewrote the standards to produce a “compromise” document.  While not including the more objectionable parts of the alternate proposal, it still eliminated the theory of evolution as a model for understanding the history and diversity of life.  Furthermore it does not mention cosmology (Big Bang) or the Age of the Earth. It also includes errors of fact and misrepresentations of scientific methodology and content.  This version passed the Board on August 12th by a 6 to 4 vote.  The original standards document written and unanimously endorsed by the appointed committee was not even brought to a vote.  This decision was made in opposition to the recommendations of virtually every scientific and educational body in the state.  The Governor of Kansas and all of the presidents of the regents institutions (state universities) appealed to the Board to reject the alternate document.   The academic and educational communities are very irritated by the current situation.

By now you’re getting the idea. When science contradicts personal belief, science is going to have to give a little.

A school director in Pennsylvania is demanding that an environmental science textbook used in high schools be supplemented with a pamphlet about the “true science” of global warming.

Saucon Valley School Director and Tea Party Republican Bryan Eichfeld claimed “there’s a lot of clear propaganda…based on bad science” in the chapter, the point of which “is to teach our students to fear the future and to hate our modern industrial economy.”

He urged his fellow school directors to reject the textbook.

Or maybe a lot.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has long been an advocate for teaching evolution in public schools and conversely for keeping ideologically-driven matter out. Starting a few years ago they realized that the science behind global warming is going to require similar attention:

In recent years, most state-level legislative attacks on evolution have taken the form of “academic freedom” bills, which permit — but do not require — teachers and students to introduce creationist material into science classes. Because these bills are permissive rather than prescriptive, they may have a better chance of surviving judicial scrutiny than has past anti evolution legislation.

There are two main strains of “academic freedom” bills. The first mandates that teachers be able to discuss “the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution,” and offers students “protection for subscribing to a particular position on views regarding biological or chemical evolution.” Bills of this strain typically also include unsubstantiated claims of widespread persecution of teachers and students who criticize evolution. The Discovery Institute’s “Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution” is of this form.

The second strain does not purport to be concerned with student rights, and cites the need to help students develop “critical thinking skills” on “controversial issues.” To this end, it permits teachers to discuss “the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” The listed “theories” often cover several topics of concern to the religious right: primarily evolution and abiogenesis, but also global warming, human cloning and stem cell research. One example of this strain is 2008’s Louisiana Science Education Act.

Eichfeld stated his case and his demands in a letter, which says in part:

Paul Saunders, a local expert on the deceptions of global warming alarmists, has prepared a 10+ page analysis of the most egregious portions of the book. A quick example of the deceptiveness of the text, from page 344 – “some of the findings of the IPCC state that since the third report in 2001, the average global surface temperature increased by 0.75° C”. What is not stated is they picked 2001 because it was a particularly cold year of surface temperatures compared to 1998 and 2002. If they used the trend of global temperatures from 1998 to 2013, then the temperature increase would be trivial and far below the temperature increase predictions of the 1988 computer climate models that were used to scare the Congress and the public. This type of statistical deception is scientifically dishonest, Eichfield believes, that the only reason that such deceptive techniques are used, is to scare our students to fear the future and to hate our modern industrial economy.

Eichfeld believes that it is the school board’s obligation to provide our students with a balanced point of view. Science is not the study of a consensus of thought, it is the study of the actual data and the application of the scientific method. There is credible, rational scientific evidence challenging the man-made global warming alarmist claims and our students should be exposed to it.

The text in question is Environmental Science by Michael R. Heithaus, Karen Arms and Holt McDougal (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2013). I do not have a copy of this book, so I cannot confirm what Eichfeld says about page 344. That given, an examination of history from meteorological stations and the Land-Ocean Temperature Index does not quite quite confirm Eichfeld’s assertion (“they picked 2001 because it was a particularly cold year”). If the authors had wanted to pick a particularly cold year they could have better gone to 2000, which seems to have been colder, or at least just as cold. What they would not do is use 1998, because, as the plot shows, 1998 exhibited a temperature spike. See the following:

From Google

From Google

What matters more and is easier to interpret are the averages, shown in the following:

From Google

From Google

This does not go all the way to 2013, when the book was published, but it does show the five-year average, and that is particularly telling. The 1998 peak is smoothed out, and the red line (five-year average) shows a monotonic increase following a dip about 1994. The black horizontal bar shows the period when the Pinatubo eruption cooled the atmosphere.

I have attempted to identify the “Paul Saunders” in question. The Lehigh Valley News elaborated on Saunders’ testimony:

Paul Saunders, a self-proclaimed “local expert of the deceptions of climate change alarmist,” was invited by Eichfeld to speak on the matter at Tuesday’s board meeting.
In a presentation of his 11-page report on the topic, Saunders said that the textbook’s assertion that carbon-dioxide emissions have driven global climate change over the centuries is mistaken.
He said the book confounds group consensus with scientific fact.
“The temperature is driving [carbon dioxide] emissions, not the other way around,” he said. “The Environmental Science textbook does not adhere to the scientific method. It delivers one-sided advocacy.”
The Bethlehem resident was allowed to present his findings in spite of not being a member of the school district, to the chagrin of some officials and local residents.

I did find this Paul J. Saunders, who posted the following in 2007:

 As the worlds leaders gather in New York this week to discuss climate change, youre going to hear a lot of well-intentioned talk about how to stop global warming. From the United Nations, Bill Clinton, and even the Bush administration, you’ll hear about how certain mechanisms cap-and-trade systems for greenhouse gas emissions, carbon taxes, and research and development plans for new energy technologies can fit into some sort of global emissions reduction agreement to stop climate change. Many of these ideas will be innovative and necessary; some of them will be poorly thought out. But one thing binds them together: They all come much too late.

For understandable reasons, environmental advocates don’t like to concede this point. Eager to force deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, many of them hype the consequences of climate change in some cases, well beyond what is supported by the factsto build political support. Their expensive policy preferences are attractive if they are able to convince voters that if they make economic sacrifices for the environment, they have a reasonable chance of halting, or at least considerably slowing, climate change. But this case is becoming harder, if not impossible, to make.

The Center For The National Interest provides the following profile of Paul J. Saunders:


Paul J. Saunders is Executive Director of the Center for the National Interest and a member of the Center’s Board of Directors.  He is the Center’s Chief Operating Officer and directs its U.S.-Russian Relations Program in addition to leading projects on other issues, including energy and climate change and U.S.- Japan relations.  He is also Associate Publisher of the foreign policy magazine The National Interest, published bi-monthly by the Center for the National Interest.

Mr. Saunders served in the Bush Administration from 2003 to 2005 as Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs. In that capacity, he worked on a broad range of transnational issues, in particular with respect to Russia, Ukraine, and the former Soviet Union, as well as Iraq, China and India.

Paul Saunders on Facebook is this Paul Saunders, who appears to live in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania:

From Paul Saunders' Facebook profile

From Paul Saunders’ Facebook profile

This is an excellent article debunking the claim that most scientists agree that global warming is a crisis. P.S. Dr. Roy Spencer is an award-winning former NASA scientist who with Dr. John Christy is the co-Father of global satellite temperature measurement. It is shameful that any organization uses the utterly corrupt surface temperature data anymore. Only global satellite data is meaningful and even it has problems.
The “link” in question is to this:


The Myth of the Climate Change ‘97%’

What is the origin of the false belief—constantly repeated—that almost all scientists agree about global warming?

May 26, 2014 7:13 p.m. ET

Last week Secretary of State John Kerry warned graduating students at Boston College of the “crippling consequences” of climate change. “Ninety-seven percent of the world’s scientists,” he added, “tell us this is urgent.”

Where did Mr. Kerry get the 97% figure? Perhaps from his boss, President Obama, who tweeted on May 16 that “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” Or maybe from NASA, which posted (in more measured language) on its website, “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.”

Yet the assertion that 97% of scientists believe that climate change is a man-made, urgent problem is a fiction. The so-called consensus comes from a handful of surveys and abstract-counting exercises that have been contradicted by more reliable research.

This Paul Saunders, that Paul Saunders, it’s apparent neither one is a scientist.

The temperature is driving [carbon dioxide] emissions, not the other way around.

That’s a curious statement. Having studied the sciences of chemistry and physics for over 50 years I am at a loss to come up with any known science that supports that claim.

He said the book confounds group consensus with scientific fact.

Mr. Saunders, consensus is a basis of science. What is accepted in science is what is the consensus of scientists working in the field of study. The scientific consensus has been known in the past to be wrong, but it is still science.

The Environmental Science textbook does not adhere to the scientific method. It delivers one-sided advocacy.

The President of the United States summed up this point. When the issue has been examined from all sides there often comes a point when further argument is just silly:

In a speech at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Mr Obama said there were multiple solutions to the “very hard problem” of climate change but said he would not waste time debating those who denied it was happening at all.

“We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” he said. “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.”

I just now sent off a note to Bryan Eichfeld asking for additional information about the text book passage he mentioned. If I get a response I will provide an update.


Bryan responded quickly to my request for additional information. Here is a copy of the e-mail exchange:

Bryan Eichfeld
Today at 7:22 AM

John Blanton
Thank you for your interest, but due to copyright laws I would not be able to send this to you.

On Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 1:51 AM, John Blanton <> wrote:

Mr. Eichfeld,
I am attempting to follow up on the referenced text book review. In your discussion you mentioned the authors’ assertions on page 344. I do not have a copy of that book, but I am interested in the full presentation by the authors. I will be most grateful if you can send me an image of the page and any relevant material.
Best regards,
John Blanton
San Antonio, Texas
I have asked for Bryan Eichfeld’s additional comments, and I will post an update if he has anything further to tell. In the mean time I will try to get the context from page 344 of Experimental Science.

Kiss Me, Deadly

Image from Politicususa

Image from Politicususa

It’s the title of a novel by Mickie Spillane and also for a movie based on the book’s plot, but with a slightly altered title. When the publisher printed up the first 50,000 copies they left out the comma, and Spillane forced them to pulp the entire batch and reprint.

That said, here is The Rest of the Story:

Tuesday night Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) easily defeated former Oklahoma House Speaker TW Shannon in Oklahoma’s US Senate Republican primary. Lankford will move on to the general election this November and likely fill the seat which is being vacated by retiring Republican Senator Tom Coburn. Despite Shannon, the first African American speaker of Oklahoma’s House of Representatives, receiving endorsements from big names within the Tea Party leading up to the primary, Lankford cruised to victory, 57% to 34%.

Who exactly were these heavy hitters that campaigned for Shannon? Well, one kingmaker that came out for Shannon was none other than 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee and half-term Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin. The former mayor of Wasilla jumped on board the Shannon express in March. Back then, when she gave her endorsement, she wrote the normal Palin word salad about self-reliance, entrepreneurship and fighting government waste. She lauded Shannon’s conservative credentials and claimed that Lankford had the backing of “Beltway insiders.”

I have previously posted on The Kiss of Death:

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

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

I have mentioned before that Sarah Palin recently considered running for the presidential nomination and quickly sank out of sight, ignored roundly by Republicans who need to live in the real world. …

Some of you will say to me that Shannon was due to go down in flames anyhow and that Palin and Cruz just showed up to roast marshmallows in the fire. I say that where there’s fire there’s likely to be smoke. Not that it would ever happen, but on my death bed one thing I would dread to see would be a get well card from the former governor of Alaska.

What me worry?


As if Republicans did not already have enough problems:

  • Gun advocates acting crazy
  • Religious nut cases acting… like they always do
  • People signing up for insurance under the ACA
  • Yearly increasing evidence for anthropogenic global warming
  • Absolutely no evidence for Intelligent Design

Can’t get much worse than that. Right?


A big deal has been made about the Republican Party’s so-called Hispanic problem during recent U.S. election cycles. But there’s another group — largely white and male — that has also struggled to increase the number of Latinos in its ranks: America’s religiously unaffiliated. Until recently, that is.

The number of Hispanic American “nones” — those who say they have no particular religion or are atheist or agnostic — is growing at a clip that would make GOP operatives green with envy. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos and Religion, 18 percent of Hispanics are not affiliated with any religion.

The Republican Party has for some time had a problem with “Latinos.” Latinos I define as people whose native language is not English but is Spanish or Portuguese. Also that would include people with Spanish (Portuguese) family names and just plain people from Central and South America. There are a few reasons:

  • Anti immigration policies
  • English-only advocacy
  • General xenophobia

One thing Republicans have going for them with Latinos is religion. Latinos (stereotype alert!) tend to be Catholic. The southern continents were first colonized by Spain, and if there is one thing the Spanish did was to proselytize with prejudice. By that I mean the Catholic friars gave their unwilling subjects two options, convert or die. Many did both. The result is a heavily Catholic society extending from the southern United States border to Terra del Fuego.

Uh, this is a Party that 54 years ago strongly objected to electing a Catholic president. But times have changed. Since the Republican Party became the Party of God about 30 years ago they have found the need to be more accommodating of religious denominations—so long as it is the religion of Jesus, God of Abraham at the very least. Welcome, welcome, Latinos, to the modern Republican Party.

Fade to black.

As more Latinos exempt themselves from religious influence they begin to look more like liberals—Democrats. What to do?

There’s not much Republicans can do. They are basically hosed if enough Latinos lose their religious foundation. The Party is not going to be able to attract Latinos by stumping to post the Ten Commandments in class rooms, requiring schools to “teach the controversy” (relating to biological evolution) and advocating government sponsored prayer.

Republicans can take some consolation. Absence of religion characterizes only one in five Hispanics now. That still gives the Party a shot at one more presidential election. After that Republicans may have to put English-only back in the closet for a few decades.

And may Jesus have mercy on their souls.

Wacko comes to Washington

From The Daily Beast

From The Daily Beast

Actually, it never left. Here’s the latest:

Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and a lady who said she sees angels swooping down into the Supreme Court joined the pro-tradition throngs at the annual March for Marriage.

Steps from our nation’s Capitol, I was approached by Morton, a youthful-looking 68-year-old Virginia native with artificially blond hair and a fistful of fliers that read, “Gay Greed” and “Gay Sex Leads to Adult Diapers.”

“They’re not born with it, you know,” Morton offered, unprompted. “If anybody opens the back door unnaturally from outside, you end up having open-door syndrome. You can’t close the door. Anal sex harms [gays]. It reduces their life by, on average, 25 years—anal or oral sex.” Asked if such sex could harm women the same way it harms gay men, Morton thought for a moment. “Uh, it also has an impact—a strong impact. I’m not certain the exact statistics there.”

“Adult Diapers?” Didn’t I just cover that? Or something like it.

One thing you can say about Washington, here the truth is a sometime thing. And sometimes not even then. The Daily Beast story is intriguing. Let me analyze a few passages:

In between speakers, some attendees walked around wielding signs and some prayed—with their arms stretched toward the sky. Others clutched rosary beads. Actual priests (and a few rabbis) circled, holding religious texts and offering wisdom to passersby.

Priests and rabbis offering wisdom? Hopefully these are not among the some with arms stretched toward the sky. “Wisdom” does not belong in this paragraph.

Among those present was Jim Griffin, wearing a Captain America suit and proclaiming himself “The True Captain America.”

He was at the march, he said, because “the family’s fallen apart… Foreign governments are laughing and we’re on the precipice of something very, very, very bad.” Griffin advised people “study history. Just find out the facts, find out the truth,” to prepare for that very, very, very bad something that is coming soon. Griffin said the March for Marriage was about telling the Supreme Court, “We want to take our country back to founding principles.”

Something very, very very bad is coming soon? It already has.

They said what?


This post is about wacko on wacko. If that doesn’t make sense now, then it likely won’t make sense after you finish reading. Here’s the story:

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) earned its chops over the last few decades by raising public awareness about the cruelty of wearing animal fur. Using hard-hitting, obnoxious photos of fur-covered celebrities, they drove home their point—and changed the way many people think about wearing that mink in the process.

It is unsettling, therefore, to see them adopt the same take-no-prisoners approach to pushing an eccentric theory linking milk consumption to autism.

Readers, wacko comes from all directions. I spill a lot of ink making fun of the wacky outpourings of social conservatives, even right wingers. PETA would not be included among these. Conservatives and other right wingers, that is.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) (stylized PeTA) is an American animal rights organization based in Norfolk, Virginia, and led by Ingrid Newkirk, its international president. A non-profit corporation with 300 employees, it says it has three million members and supporters and is the largest animal rights group in the world. Its slogan is “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any way.”

[Some links removed]

Before proceeding, let’s put a few things straight. Cows are exploited to the extreme to obtain milk. They are carefully bred. Calves not suited for milk production (e.g., bulls) are slaughtered. Milk cows have no lives of their own. They are impregnated artificially, and their calves shortly go the way of other cast off bovines. Pregnancy causes cows to go into lactation, which function is prolonged to the extent possible before the cows are impregnated again. These unfortunate females enjoy no sex life. They spend their entire existence never meeting the bull of their dreams. Immediately when a cow’s milk production ceases to be an economic benefit she is slaughtered. The best a milk cow can hope for is a short life without misery, which is not always the case.

Enough of that. Cows milk does not cause autism.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood. It is one of three recognized disorders in the autism spectrum (ASDs), the other two being Asperger syndrome, which lacks delays in cognitive development and language, and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (commonly abbreviated as PDD-NOS), which is diagnosed when the full set of criteria for autism or Asperger syndrome are not met.

Autism has a strong genetic basis, although the genetics of autism are complex and it is unclear whether ASD is explained more by rare mutations, or by rare combinations of common genetic variants. In rare cases, autism is strongly associated with agents that cause birth defectsControversies surround other proposed environmental causes, such as heavy metals, pesticides or childhood vaccines; the vaccine hypotheses are biologically implausible and lack convincing scientific evidence. The prevalence of autism is about 1–2 per 1,000 people worldwide, and it occurs about four times more often in boys than girls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report 1.5% of children in the United States (one in 68) are diagnosed with ASD as of 2014, a 30% increase from one in 88 in 2012. The number of people diagnosed with autism has been increasing dramatically since the 1980s, partly due to changes in diagnostic practice and government-subsidized financial incentives for named diagnoses; the question of whether actual prevalence has increased is unresolved.

[Some links removed]

PETA bases its case on a study published by Norwegian scientists in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience:

Autistic syndromes are characterized by impaired social, communicative, and imaginative skills. Urinary peptide abnormalities, in part due to gluten and casein, have been detected in some individuals with autism. These abnormalities reflect processes with opioid effect, which may explain the behavioral abnormalities seen in autism. The aim of this single-blind, controlled study was to evaluate the effect of a gluten-free and casein-free diet for children with autism and urinary peptide abnormalities. Observations and tests were carried out with the 20 participanting (sic) children before they were randomly assigned to either the diet or the control group. The experimental period was 1 year, after which observations and tests were repeated. Significant reduction of autistic behavior was registered for participants in the diet group, but not for those in the control group.

“20 participating children” is a small sample size. In the back of my head there is the memory that a sample size of 1500 is required to produce a margin of error of 3%. With a sample size of 20 you have a lot of latitude.

Something else is puzzling. Autism rates seem to be evenly distributed throughout the world, but there are large regions where cow’s milk is not consumed for cultural or genetic reasons. Correlation does not always imply causation, but lack of correlation should be a red flag.

PETA may be a collection of compassionate people, but scientific rigor is not their strong suit. Apparently neither is a deep and abiding respect for the truth.

Bye, bye Bachmann


Nothing new here. I’ve done this before:

Well, we need to grow the middle class and what the middle class needs are jobs. That’s really the problem that the president has to explain. It’s tough to blame President Bush for the current economic woes. We have five years of Obama policies and what do we have? We have people who are really suffering because people made more money. If you look at the median income level, people actually made more money seven years ago than they’re making now.

Truly, Bachmann never ceases to amuse. Wait, there’s more:

WASHINGTON — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) roused a sleepy gathering of social conservatives on Friday with a spirited speech railing against Hillary Clinton, whose record at the State Department “should disqualify her from ever being considered for the presidency.”

“Hillary Clinton reinforces daily to the American people that she is not commander in chief material. She fails to inspire confidence in practically anything that she’s touched,” Bachmann said at the Road to Majority Conference, an annual gathering sponsored by the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

First of all “Faith and Freedom Coalition?” Call me opinionated, but I find that to be a mixed bag.

Disqualified from consideration? Bachmann is telling a conservative crowd they should not vote for Clinton? They were planning to before?

There is another way to tell if you’re not qualified. If nobody votes for you then you are sort of disqualified. You might also be disqualified if you have don’t have a working relationship with the legal system. Bachmann should know.

Representative Michele Bachmann’s presidential hopes ended 20 months ago, but her brief and chaotic campaign continues to be the focus of ethics investigations.

The latest is a federal inquiry into whether an outside “super PAC” improperly coordinated strategy with Mrs. Bachmann’s campaign staff, including her husband, in violation of election laws.

The Department of Justice demanded records from the super PAC last week of its finances and its communications with Mrs. Bachmann; Marcus Bachmann, her husband; and former staff members, according to a grand jury subpoena reviewed by The New York Times.

Bachmann is not running for re-election this year, likely ending her political career. I mourn. A cadre of political cartoonist mourn. We all should.

A Carp Is A Carp

Asian Carp

From on Google Images

One of my conservative friends on Facebook posted this story. Actually it was a repost from Young Conservatives, which, in turn, reposted it from Breitbart. I tracked down the original story just to make sure I was not imagining things:

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The troublesome fish currently known as Asian carp may get a new name in Minnesota over concern that the current one casts people from Asian cultures in a negative light.

Proposals advancing in the Legislature would require the Department of Natural Resources to refer to the fish as “invasive carp,” a reference to the threat the non-native fish pose to Mississippi River-area ecosystems.

Sen. John Hoffman, the Champlin Democrat sponsoring a bill in the Senate, said some people of Asian descent have complained about the name.

So far as I know, Hoffman’s bill has not been passed by the Minnesota Legislature, but that is beside the point. Some critical analysis is due.

“[C]asts people from Asian cultures in a negative light?” Really? Naming a fish “Asian carp” casts Asian cultures in a negative light? Only if you think there is something uncomplimentary about Asian cultures.

Let’s see how this works out for other cultures:

  • Polish ham
  • German sausage
  • French bread
  • Mexican food
  • African dung beetle
  • Egyptian cotton
  • Russian thistle

Is it possible Senator John Hoffman has too much time on his hands? Is it possible some Minnesota voters are now reconsidering their choices?

I have had a lot of fun rubbing it in when my conservative friends go off onto a tangent and pick the losing side of a cultural fight. Such as when a wealthy Louisiana family grew Taliban beards and commenced to become the standard bearers for Christian values and also for American’s ignorance of their own history. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and I find a liberal standard bearer, if that is what Senator Hoffman is, painting the worst possible picture of liberal values. This time it is I who have to swallow the humiliation.

Fellow liberals, do me a favor. The next time you get the urge to do something foolish in public please take some time out and go play with yourself until the urge passes. 100 conservatives making stupid pronouncements about  a magical person in the sky, denying modern science and telling us that guns do not kill people are canceled out by a single self-professed liberal acting like a fish out of water.

Advanced Quantitative Reasoning

One of the most fun things I like to do is to participate in text book reviews for the Texas Education Agency. The next most fun thing I enjoy is being keel-hauled.

Only kidding.

It’s a lot of hard and diligent work, and it’s from 8 to 5 for five days straight. But the pay is exempt from federal taxes, because there is no pay. I did this last year, reviewing physics and math texts, and I volunteered again this year. Early this month I received an e-mail inviting me to have another go at it. So Monday through Friday this week I spent in a conference room at an Austin hotel with about a hundred other volunteers plus some absolutely dedicated state employees.

Here I am in a team of four at table one. We are reviewing Advanced Quantitative Reasoning. This is a high school book, kiddos.

Gang of Four at Table 1

Gang of Four at Table 1

I have to say when I was in high school in Granbury, Texas, we had a fabulous math teacher, Emma Roberson. They named a school after her. We received some first class math instruction, and she even created a course on solid geometry for us. However, we never had anything resembling Advanced Quantitative Reasoning.

One of the volunteers at Table 1 was a high school teacher who actually teaches the subject. Another was a college professor who has written a book Quantitative Analysis for Management related to the material. Then there were two retired engineers, including me.

I will try to give readers an idea of what the subject is all about. So far only one publisher  is producing a text for the course, and this is the first book. Here is an excerpt:

Gregory D. Folwy, Thomas R. Butts, Stephe w. Phelps, Danial A Showalter: Advanced Quantative Reasoning, AQR Pres, Austin,  Page 81

Gregory D. Folwy, Thomas R. Butts, Stephen W. Phelps, Danial A. Showalter: Advanced Quantative Reasoning, AQR Pres, Austin, Page 81

This is not as deep as the book goes, and I assure readers we had nothing like this in Granbury High School in the 1950s.

The TEA puts a lot into getting these reviews right, and the state spends your tax dollars. I figure there were about 100 reviewers, all put up for at least four nights at around $100 a night, plus meal and travel expenses. Air travel was re-imbursed for those who had to fly in.

The Table 1 team waded through AQR in two and a half days and pointed out some helpful changes, which the publisher made and got to us for a re-review later in the week. We also reviewed a book on Algebra 1 by SpringBoard.

But, I’m back now and much the better informed for the experience. I must encourage qualified individuals who can to volunteer for next year’s reviews. Look up the Texas Education Agency on the Internet and figure out how to volunteer.

For fun I made one of my trick videos. Here is the famous Table one assembling for work one morning:

I have directed YouTube to add music to the sound track, but it takes a few hours, sometimes days, for them to do this processing. Come back later to see the finished product.

The Dog Ate My Hard Drive

Winchester Hard Drive

Winchester Hard Drive

Sure, we’ve heard that one before. But guess what, here it is again

Lerner e-mails likely gone forever, IRS claims, as hard drive was “thrown away”

posted at 10:41 am on June 19, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Old and busted: “The dog ate our e-mails.” New hotness: “The dog ate our e-mails, so we put him down.” The IRS announced last night — after a subpoena from House Oversight chair Darrell Issa — that Lois Lerner’s hard drive had been either “thrown away” or recycled, which means at least for the moment that none of her interagency e-mails can be recovered[.]

Wait. Before I dig any deeper into this, let me explain what it’s all about.:

In 2013, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revealed that it had selected political groups applying for tax-exempt status for closer scrutiny based on their names or political themes. This led to wide condemnation of the agency and triggered several investigations, including a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal probe ordered by United States Attorney General Eric Holder. Initial reports described the selections as nearly exclusively of conservative groups with terms such as “Tea Party” in their names. Further investigation revealed that liberal-leaning groups and the Occupy movement had also triggered additional scrutiny, but not at nearly the same rate as conservative groups. The only tax-exempt status denial by the IRS involved the revocation of a previously granted tax-exempt status for a progressive group. The use of target lists continued through May 2013.

[Some links removed]

This is something that is bound to get any political faction up in arms. Unfair treatment. An unfull plate. Especially the far right Tea Party faction. Especially from a left-leaning administration. This calls for action.

No, this calls for a whole lot of words:

The cover up is becoming almost as bad as the crime.

The plot seems to thicken every day now on the infamous “missing emails” from IRS manager Lois Lerner. So only did Lerner’s emails disappear in an alleged “computer crash,” but so did six other IRS officials at the center of the IRS targeting scandal. Now comes news that the IRS actually disposed of Lerner’s hard drive making any data retrieval that more difficult.

This is dastardly, indeed. The evidence was disposed of even before the crime was discovered. This from an administration that can’t shoot straight?

I’m thinking some skeptical analysis is in order.

Losing e-mails?

At first I found that hard to swallow. I use Yahoo mail, and my experience is they run a first class operation. I have an Internet domain hosted on Yahoo, and they are diligent from the get-go about preserving stuff. When some of my site content got mangled there was no problem going into their backup and reinstating content from previous years.

Here’s how a first class operation runs things.

First, they do regular backups. You don’t keep putting stuff on a disk drive and expect to find it still there five years from now. You do regular backups. And you use RAID, or something like it:

RAID (originally redundant array of inexpensive disks; now commonly redundant array of independent disks) is a data storage virtualization technology that combines multiple disk drive components into a logical unit for the purposes of data redundancy or performance improvement.

Data is distributed across the drives in one of several ways, referred to as RAID levels, depending on the specific level of redundancy and performance required. The different schemes or architectures are named by the word RAID followed by a number (e.g. RAID 0, RAID 1). Each scheme provides a different balance between the key goals: reliability and availability, performance and capacity. RAID levels greater than RAID 0 provide protection against unrecoverable (sector) read errors, as well as whole disk failure.

[Some links removed]

And that’s that. You have a hard drive crash, RAID’s got your back. You can recover whatever was on the drive.

But, did I mention the term “first class operation?” Did I mention the term “United States government?” The two seldom appear in the same sentence.

Obviously the IRS does not use Yahoo mail, else they would still have the missing e-mails. Apparently they do not use a reliable mail server, either, else they would have used a mail server that incorporates RAID. Else they would still have the e-mails.

It could be they don’t use a mail server at all. I’m only guessing here. However, you can have a mail system that does not use a mail server. If everybody is sharing the same computer, especially a UNIX or Linux machine, you can just use UNIX mail. Mail sent between users on the machine go directly to the recipient’s account and get written to the recipient’s file space. One a local hard drive. If the computer in question is not using RAID, then a single disk failure can result in lost data, including lost mail.

This was in 2011. Apparently at the time the IRS system administrators did not know that a major crime was being perpetrated, because after the disk crash they attempted to recover the lost data. That does not always work.

A hard drive crash is typically a case of the read/write head coming into contact with the disk surface. This is catastrophic, because it results in scuffing of the delicate recording surface and erasure of the data at the place where the head makes contact. Also the read head is ruined in the process. Any attempt to read undamaged parts of the disk surface using the damaged head will result in damage and data destruction to those parts. You can see this is not a trivial matter.

What you can do at the most is to open up the drive. If these drives were manufactured after about 1990 you can be sure they incorporate Winchester technology. Winchester technology involves an ultra-clean manufacturing process, disks and heads enclosed hermetically, and very close clearances between the read head and the disk surface.

To recover data from a Winchester drive you have to break the seal, remove the disk(s) from the enclosure and carefully read the magnetic surface by whatever means possible. And that’s about the best that can be done.

No it is not:

“No one believes you:” Rep. Paul Ryan blasts IRS chief over lost hard drive


Koskinen, whose tone was sharp and defensive at times, responded that he has had a long career in government.

“And that is the first time anybody has said they do not believe me,” he said.

“I don’t believe you,” Ryan repeated.

How about that? Republican Congressman Paul Ryan does not believe IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Congressman Ryan thinks Commissioner Koskinen is lying. Congressman Ryan believes the Commissioner Koskinen is committing perjury. Maybe Commissioner Koskinen should go to jail.

Not so fast. Skeptical analysis indicates a number of things:

  • It is in Congressman Ryan’s best interest to not believe Commissioner Koskinen.
  • It is in Congressman Ryan’s best interest to believe Commissioner Koskinen is lying.
  • If Commissioner Koskinen is telling the truth, then Congressman Ryan does not have much left to do during his term in office.
  • Congressman Ryan recently ran for the office of Vice President and was soundly defeated. The American voters rejected him. Him! If the people who defeated him are not liars and scoundrels, then the fault for Congressman Paul Ryan’s defeat lies at his own feet. That’s not good for somebody having political aspirations in Washington.

Am I pleased with the way the IRS handles its data processing systems and especially its e-mails? Definitely not. This is high school stuff.

Do I think Congressman Paul Ryan has a right to be offended, indignant, irate? Only if I believe Congressman Paul Ryan is the ultimate pillar of truth and wisdom in Washington, if not elsewhere. Is Congressman Paul Ryan the ultimate pillar of truth and wisdom? Is Congressman Paul Ryan any kind of pillar of truth and wisdom? It would be interesting to find out.

A search of Congressman Paul Ryan’s record indicates that, while he is not up there with Bill Nye, neither is he card-carrying scientist:

He opposes cap and trade and opposed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. In an 2009 editorial, Ryan has accused climatologists of using “statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change” and he criticized the EPA’s classification of carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

[Some links removed]

Fortunately Congressman Paul Ryan is not one of those coming out for teach creationism in the public schools, possibly why he did not get enough Republican support in 2012 to keep Barack Obama from winning a second term. Translation: he’s not Republican enough.

Full disclosure. I voted against Congressman Paul Ryan and also against Mitt Romney in the 2012 elections, and I just received a phone call from the Democratic National Committee and pledged to send them some more money. That said, it would appear, and any thinking person would find, that:

  • It’s possible some workers at the IRS were too diligent at rooting out Tea Party groups attempting to scam the federal tax code for non-profit groups.
  • There was no covert or overt pressure from the Democratic administration to encourage this activity.
  • The IRS is foolish in the way it manages its data processing facilities, and it is likely this failure exists in many other government agencies, as well.
  • There was no attempt by IRS employees to subvert the legal process by destroying e-mails that were due to be subpoenaed two years thence.
  • Congressman Paul Ryan needs to find something productive to do, something that will make him appear intelligent. I’m thinking that running for national office would not be one of these.

Move Out

I’m continuing to recognize the 70th anniversary of World War Two. I’m following the exploits of Easy Company of the 506th PIR as told in Stephen E. Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers and also the HBO documentary of the same name.

The concept of an airborne corps was new to the American Army at the outbreak of World War Two. However, the German Wehrmact used it successfully in their assaults on Norway, The Netherlands and Crete, and American and British forces quickly caught onto the idea, and after the United States entered the war in December 1941 the Army began to take action.

Americans were so incensed over the brazen attack on our forces in Hawaii by the Japanese Empire that a legion of young men were eager to join up and fight the enemy. In a particular small town several young men killed themselves at the disgrace of not being qualified to serve. The draft began to pull in recruits by the thousands, but all the airborne were volunteers. Whether initially drafted or not, you had to volunteer to be in the airborne. And if you did not make the grade you were sent back to the regular infantry. One of the deciding factors was the pay. Nobody knew what the airborne was about, and there was reluctance when they were told it involved jumping out of airplanes. The $50 dollars per month bonus ($100 for officers) was the deciding factor for many. Also, there was the challenge. If you wanted to fight with the very best, the airborne was the place to be.

Easy Company of the 506th formed up in the summer of 1942 and started a strenuous course of training and weeding out the least diligent. In 1943 they shipped off to England and resumed intensive training. To a man, Easy Company had never been in combat. they had to be trained to kill in addition to being trained on how to kill.

In World War Two the 506th, and the  101st Division to which they were attached, made only two combat jumps. the first was into Normandy in France in the first few hours of Operation Overlord. Commanding general of the 101st was Maxwell Taylor:

General Taylor circulated among the men. He told them, “Give me three days and nights of hard fighting, then you will be relieved.”

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 85). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The 506th jumped into France in the early morning hours of 6 June 1944. They were finally pulled off the line on 29 June. In the mean time they had fought German counter attacks to a stand still and had achieved all their major objectives. The toughest nut was the French town of Carentan. See the maps.


From Band of Brothers

From Band of Brothers

From Band of Brothers

From Band of Brothers

Carentan occupied a critical position on the Cotentin Peninsula. It lies on the main route from the major French port of Cherbourg. The Germans needed to hold it in order to thwart the Allied attack plan. The 506th was given the assignment of taking it:

AT FIRST LIGHT on June 7, Captain Hester came to see Winters with a message. “Winters,” he said, “I hate to do this to you after what you went through yesterday, but I want E Company to lead off the column toward Vierville.”

The battalion had achieved its D-Day objectives, the 4th Division was well ashore , the causeways secured. Its next task was to move south, toward Carentan , on the other side of the Douve River, for the linkup with American forces coming west from Omaha Beach. The route was from Culoville through Vierville to St. Côme-du-Mont, then across the river into Carentan.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 126). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Easy Company had been bloodied on D-Day with the loss of an entire transport of Headquarters Company. Action on D-Day had inflicted additional killed and wounded many with many men being evacuated back to England. Carentan was to be the place where Easy Company bled.

Lieutenant Richard Winters became the active commander of the company and remained in that position for the next few months. His leadership and the thorough training the paratroopers received before entering combat are credited with the company’s extraordinary success against battle-hardened German troops. In the assault on Carentan Easy Company overcame German snipers, machine gun emplacements, fortified houses and buildings and attacks by German armor:

A German tank started to break through the hedgerow on Easy’s left flank, exactly where F Company should have been. Welsh told Pvt. John McGrath to bring his bazooka and come on. They raced out into the open field, crouched down, armed the bazooka, and Welsh told McGrath to fire. The shot hit the turret, but bounced off. The German tank turned its 88 mm cannon toward Welsh and McGrath and fired. The shell zoomed over their heads, missing by a few feet. The tank gunner could not depress his cannon sufficiently , because the tank driver was climbing the hedgerow in an effort to break through.

Welsh started reloading the bazooka. McGrath was saying, over and over, “Lieutenant, you’re gonna get me killed. You’re gonna get me killed.” But he held his place, took careful aim at the tank, which was at the apex of its climb, cannon pointing skyward, the huge vehicle just about to tip forward as it broke through, and fired. He hit exactly where he wanted, the unarmored belly of the tank, and it exploded in a great burst of flame and fire.

That was the critical moment in the battle. German tank drivers lined up behind the one McGrath had hit, put their gear in reverse and began to back off . Meanwhile battalion headquarters had stopped the retreat of D and F companies, pulled them together, and pushed them forward about 150 meters, closing the gap somewhat on the left flank.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 145-146). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

From Band of Brother on The History Channel

From Band of Brother on The History Channel

This episode of the HBO series highlights the strange case of Private Albert Blithe. He went through all the same training as the others in Easy Company, and he jumped with them into Normandy on 6 June. The shock of real battle apparently was too much for him, as depicted in the series. He did not get into the fight. He just wandered around the battle field until some of his buddies picked him up, and he joined the rest. After his first combat he turned up at the aid station, blind. Lieutenant Winters talked to him for a few minutes, and then his sight came back.

But he still couldn’t face combat. When the Germans attacked near Carentan he had to be urged to fire his weapon. He finally began firing blindly, going through multiple clips with his M-1. Ultimately he shot a retreating German, and after the battle he went looking for the body. He found were the German, an SS trooper, had died after crawling off, and he retrieved an edelweiss from the dead soldier’s lapel and kept it for a souvenir.

Later, Blithe was point on a patrol when a enemy sniper shot him through the throat. He was evacuated back to the States, but he never recovered. He died in 1948.

Easy had jumped into Normandy on June 6 with 139 officers and men. Easy was pulled out of the line on June 29 with 74 officers and men present for duty. (The 506th had taken the heaviest casualties of any regiment in the campaign, a total of 983, or about 50 percent.) The Easy men killed in action were Lts. Thomas Meehan and Robert Mathews, Sgts. William Evans, Elmer Murray, Murray Robert, Richard Owen, and Carl Riggs, Cpls. Jerry Wentzel, Ralph Wimer, and Hermin Collins, Pvts. Sergio Moya, John Miller, Gerald Snider, William McGonigal, Ernest Oats, Elmer Telstad, George Elliott, and Thomas Warren.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 154-155). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

From 6 June until they were pulled off the line the men of Easy Company never bathed or changed clothes.

General Taylor stopped by, to congratulate the company on its lonely stand on the far right flank at Carentan. The men wanted to know what about his “give me three days and nights of hard fighting and I’ll have you out of here” pre-D-Day promise.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 155). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Many received promotions and awards for valor. Lieutenant Winters was promoted to captain. He had been wounded in the leg by a ricochet round, the only battle would he was to receive in the war. After that it was back to England for the 506th. They would not see combat again until September when they would make their final jump of the war.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

A girl invites her boyfriend to to dinner to meet her parents. Since this is such a big event, the girl announces to her boyfriend that… after dinner, she would like to go out and make love for the first time.

Well, the boy is ecstatic, but he has never had sex before, so he takes a trip to the pharmacist to get some condoms. The pharmacist helps the boy for about an hour. He tells the boy everything there is to know about condoms and sex. At the register, the pharmacist asks the boy how many condoms he’d like to buy, a 3-pack, 10-pack, or family pack. The boy insists on the family pack because he thinks he will be rather busy, it being his first time and all.

That night, the boy shows up at the girl’s parents house and meets his girlfriend at the door. “Oh, I’m so excited for you to meet my parents, come on in!” The boy goes inside and is taken to the dinner table where the girl’s parents are seated.

The boy quickly offers to say grace and bows his head. A minute passes, and the boy is still deep in prayer, with his head down. 10 minutes pass, and still no movement from the boy. Finally, after 20 minutes with his head down, the girlfriend leans over and whispers to the boyfriend, “I had no idea you were this religious.”

The boy turns, and whispers back, “I had no idea your father was a pharmacist.”

The Heritage Foundation Grows Up



It would appear the Heritage Foundation has finally gotten some balls. Grown up.

But first, what is the Heritage Foundation?

Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institution—a think tank—whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

We believe the principles and ideas of the American Founding are worth conserving and renewing. As policy entrepreneurs, we believe the most effective solutions are consistent with those ideas and principles. Our vision is to build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.

There has got to be more. Readers are invited to figure out something about the organization from just the name. You guessed it:

The Heritage Foundation is an American conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. Heritage’s stated mission is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense”.

The foundation took a leading role in the conservative movement during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose policies drew significantly from Heritage’s policy study Mandate for Leadership. Heritage has since continued to have a significant influence in U.S. public policy making, and is considered to be one of the most influential conservative research organizations in the United States.

Yes, they are conservatives. Not that being politically conservative it a bad thing. I mean, even liberals support free enterprise, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense. Limited government, not so much so.

I’m trying to sum up the Heritage Foundation, and I find it most convenient to just quote from Wikipedia’s entry. Here are some excerpts, placed in sequence to tell my story:

In 2005, Heritage established the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom in honor of the former British Prime Minister, sponsoring hundreds of events involving world leaders since its inception. Lady Thatcher has maintained a long relationship with The Heritage Foundation. Shortly after leaving office, Lady Thatcher was honored by Heritage at a September 1991 dinner. Seven years later, Thatcher delivered the keynote address during Heritage’s 25th anniversary celebration. Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol said at the time, “Given that Reagan obviously couldn’t be here, I think it was important to have Mrs. Thatcher because she and Reagan are really the great heroes of conservatism in the last few decades and still today.” In 2002, Thatcher was again honored by Heritage as the recipient of its annual Clare Boothe Luce Award, which was presented by then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Lady Thatcher has since been named Patron of the Heritage Foundation, her only official association with any U.S.-based group.

[Some links removed]

That’s been the general view of the Foundation—working diligently to strengthen core American conservative values. There has, of course, been some criticism:

In 2005, The Heritage Foundation was criticized by Thomas B. Edsall in The Washington Post for softening its criticism of Malaysia following a business relationship between Heritage’s president and Malaysia’s then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. The Heritage Foundation denied any conflict of interest, stating its views on Malaysia changed following the country’s cooperation with the U.S. after the September 11 attacks in 2001, and changes by Malaysia “moving in the right economic and political direction”.

A 2011 study on poverty in America was heavily criticized for being “distorted”, “misleading”, and “wrong”, and for embracing “anti-poor stereotypes” in order to justify the further retrenchment of the social safety net.

[Some links removed]

I didn’t check, but I’m sure about which side the Foundation takes on regulation of firearms.

It couldn’t last, of course. It was bound to be and it finally came to pass. The Ozzie and Harriet Nelson days at the Heritage Foundation are beginning to show some wear:

In December 2012, an announcement was made that Senator Jim DeMint would resign from the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation. Pundits have predicted his tenure may mark a sharper edge for the Foundation. On May 10, 2013, Jason Richwine, who co-authored the think tank’s controversial report on the costs of amnesty, resigned his position following intensive media attention on his Harvard PhD thesis from 2009 and comments he made at 2008 American Enterprises Institute forum. In both Richwine argued that Hispanics and blacks are intellectually inferior to whites and have trouble assimilating because of a supposed genetic predisposition to lower IQ.

[Some links deleted]

We get it. Not a bunch of liberal weak sisters here. Let’s cut to the chase:

Video: Benghazi Panel Turns Ugly After Muslim Woman Asks About Peaceful Muslims

The Heritage Foundation hosted a Benghazi panel on Monday that took a turn for the worse when a Muslim law student asked the panel a question about their portrayal of Islam as universally bad. Their answers, detailed in Dana Milbank’s Washington Post column, quickly turned introduced a comparison to Nazi Germany.

As Milbank notes, the panelists’ intense, angry response to a question from the “soft-spoken” student — along with the standing ovation it triggered from the crowd — was something of an “unexpected turn” to the panel. However, it is perhaps not so surprising when you know that two of the Foundation’s panelists were Brigitte Gabriel of ACT! for America, and Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. Gabriel is a prominent anti-Sharia activist who is a regular commentator on Fox News. Gaffney is one of the architects of a conservative approach to national security that advocates for the profiling and surveillance of Muslim Americans.

[Some links deleted]

I may be premature, but I’m thinking the “individual freedom, traditional American values” part has gotten lost somewhere. Dana Milbank’s column provides additional insight into the proceedings:

“Are you an American?” Gabriel demanded of Ahmed, after accusing her of taking “the limelight” and before informing her that her “political correctness” belongs “in the garbage.”

“Where are the others speaking out?” Ahmed was asked. This drew an extended standing ovation from the nearly 150 people in the room, complete with cheers.

The panel’s moderator, conservative radio host Chris Plante, grinned and joined in the assault. “Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is?” he demanded of Ahmed.

“Yeah,” audience members taunted, “yeah.”

Ahmed answered quietly, as before. “I guess it’s me right now,” she said.

I’m guessing, again only guessing, that Muslim membership in the Heritage Foundation is about to take a dive.

These were not cool people at the “Benghazi Panel,” and we can only hope they are not representative of the entire body or its stated values. Else, American conservatism is beginning to take another downward turn, and it’s in a steep dive already.

The Long Slow Ride

Anniversaries roll around. It was 20 years ago today. But first I need to back up a few days prior to that. And even before that.

O. J. Simpson was, in his time, a football phenomenon. It was notable that he played most of his professional career with the Buffalo Bills team when many considered he could have made a better showing and enjoyed greater financial rewards with a higher profile franchise. He finished out with two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and went on to a successful career in sports broadcasting, product commercials and motion pictures. Who can forget the rental car commercials on TV that show O.J. Simpson running through airports, leaping over parked luggage? His best remembered movie rolls were in the “Naked Gun” trilogy, where he was pure slapstick.

There was a darker side to Simpson that came through when details of his domestic life emerged. His wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, charged him with physical abuse and divorced him. There was trouble following the divorce, and there were omens of what was to come.

A women’s shelter, Sojourn, received a call from Nicole Brown four days prior to the murders saying that she was scared of her ex-husband, whom she believed was stalking her. The prosecution did not present this in court because they thought that Judge Ito would rule the evidence to be hearsay. In addition, friends and family indicated that Nicole Brown had consistently said that Simpson had been stalking her. She claimed that everywhere she went, she noticed Simpson would be there, watching her. Her friends Faye Resnick and Cynthia Shahian said she was afraid because Simpson had told her he would kill her if he ever found her with another man.

[Some links removed]

When in the early morning hours of 13 June 1994 somebody discovered the bodies of Nichole and a friend, Ronald Goldman, just outside Nichole’s home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, Simpson became an early suspect. He had no alibi for the time, and his movements at the critical hour were suspicious.

Shortly after the time of the murders Simpson boarded a flight at Los Angeles International Airport for Chicago. When police questioned him about his movements his story shifted significantly, and the recollections of various witnesses did not agree with Simpson’s version of events. For example, a limousine driver did not see Simpson’s white Ford Bronco parked where Simpson claimed he had left it all that night.

The 13th of June was Monday, and by Friday police were ready to charge Simpson with the murders of Nichole and Mr. Goldman. But first they had to bring him in. Through the week, as police built their case against Simpson, be became more agitated, and his actions became more erratic. Finally the police had to locate him. Once they did there began the most bizarre police chase in the nation’s history and certainly the most bizarre ever watched live on television.

At around 6:20 p.m., a motorist in Orange County saw Simpson riding in his white Bronco, driven by his friend Al Cowlings, and notified police. The police then tracked calls placed from Simpson on his cellular telephone. At 6:45 p.m., a police officer saw the Bronco going north on Interstate 405. When the officer approached the Bronco with sirens blaring, Cowlings yelled that Simpson was in the back seat of the vehicle and had a gun to his own head. The officer backed off, but followed the vehicle at 35 miles per hour (56 km/h), with up to 20 police cars participating in the chase.

[Some links removed]

It was Friday, and I was off work at the end of the day. This was all that was on TV. It was impossible not to watch. It was a question of which of many possibilities would come first. Simpson would do something drastic. The police would put hands on him. The sun would go down. As the light began to fade the Bronco arrived at his Brentwood home, and Simpson kept the police at bay for the better part of an hour before finally giving in to the inevitable. And it was all over.

From Google Images

From Google Images

No. It was all just beginning.

About this time Barbara Jean arrived home. She had been on vacation with her mother all week. I wanted to share the news. “Wow! How about O.J.?”

“What about him?”

Barbara and her mother had gone all week without switching on the tube or picking up a newspaper. I had to explain that Nicole Simpson and a man had been murdered and that the police had arrested O.J. Simpson for the crime.

To the casual observer it seemed to be a slam-dunk case. Simpson had the motive. He had the demonstrated inclination. He had the opportunity. There were no other suspects. And there was no other apparent motivation for the murder of these two people at this time at this location. It was going to be the trial of the century.

And it was the farce of the century. If there was something the government failed to do to botch this trial, then I failed to notice it.

  • Trial judge Lance Ito completely lost control of the proceedings and allowed the show to go on for the better part of a year, ending in September 1995.
  • For no discernible reason a police lab technician carried incriminating blood evidence back to the crime scene, opening up the defense argument that the evidence could have been “doctored.”
  • The prosecution called a racist cop to testify, and he proceeded to perjure himself on the stand.
  • The prosecuting attorney apparently slept through her Trial Law 101 courses, because she committed an attorney’s cardinal blunder. Junior shysters from the Appalachians back woods know the rule: “Do not ask a question unless you know what the answer is.” The prosecution had a leather glove that was likely used by the killer, and the prosecution insisted that Simpson put on the glove so the jury could see that it was his. It did not fit.
  • Jurors favoring the prosecution continued to unravel during the long period of sequester, and more than one were expelled, to be replaced with jurors possibly sympathetic to Simpson.

We were on vacation on a guided tour when we listened to the news of Simpson’s acquittal. Most were shocked. I was not. Public officials had thoroughly blown the case. A likely murderer walked out of the court room and into a life of mixed adoration and condemnation. Simpson’s actions in the months and years following his acquittal gradually ate into his fan base, and he had few supporters when a few years ago he became involved in another criminal case for which he was convicted and is now serving time.

As for the Ford Bronco, only Al Cowlings knows what happened to it. He reportedly sold it for $200,000. Ford discontinued the model in 1996, and Cowlings refuses to tell anybody what happened to the most famous SUV in the world.

Pale Blue Dot

Voyager 1 from Google Images

Voyager 1 from Google Images

I watched the Cosmos documentary series when it first came out in 1980, and I subsequently acquired it on VHS. Being a realist, I eventually dubbed the tapes to DVD and discarded the cassettes. Carl Sagan‘s presentation is still insightful and compelling. As a 20th century scientist he personified the human side of science, and he emphasized its purely natural character. During the decade of the 1990s I regularly attended lectures and presentations by creationist organizations, and I grew to know the antipathy generated within this segment of society by Sagan’s views and especially by his effective exposure of these views to the public. Sagan’s omission of any consideration for God infuriated these so-called creation scientists. Their outlook was driven (although they often denied so) by religious dogma and not by scientific rigor. Some of these creationists saw Carl Sagan as a messenger from Satan, poisoning the minds of his audience, especially the children. More than once I observed conversations relating to his future in Hell.

These creationist likely felt they got their wish when Carl Sagan’s voice was extinguished much too early in 1996. Their sense of relief may have been premature. Cosmos is back with a vengeance, and the creationists are reacting predictably:

13 Ways Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos Sent Creationists into Total Freakout Mode

Each of Cosmos’s 13 episodes inspired a mixture of panic and outrage from the religious right.
June 10, 2014  | One of the most anticipated  shows of 2014 was Fox’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” hosted by notable astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and produced by Seth McFarlane and Ann Druyan, the widow of Carl Sagan, the host of the original “Cosmos” series. The new “Cosmos” had the largest worldwide debut of a mini-series, capturing an audience of over 8 million viewers in the U.S. Controversy surrounded the show immediately, thrusting Tyson into the spotlight of religious fundamentalists and science deniers on the extreme right. How did each episode upset the religious fundamentalists and call out scientific denialism?

With 13 episodes, Tyson had 13 opportunities to piss off the creationists and other fundamental religious types. I’m glad to see he didn’t pull punches. Some examples from Dan Arel’s piece are indicative. This relates to episode 2:

Creationists often see the eye as far too complex to have evolved, but Tyson tears this argument down, showing viewers how the eye developed from very simple organisms that had an eye just to see light to the very complex eyes we see today, to the flaws in the eye that show if designed, it was done so poorly.

This episode really set off groups like Answers in Genesis, a creationist organization ran by Ken Ham, the owner of the Creationist Museum, most known for his debate with Bill Nye (the Science Guy) about evolution versus creationism. However, just as in the debate with Nye, Ham and his organization could not debunk the science of the episode and instead attempted to redefine evolution and claim that scientists have “hijacked” the word and are not using it properly. They turned to Bible scripture as their only rebuttal, something that became commonplace after subsequent episodes of the show.

From episode 4:

Tyson also discussed our constant search for significance in the world. Humans have a constant desire to assume the earth was made all for us, and that we are special. We find meaning in superstition and myth, yet fundamentalists like those at Answers in Genesis claim that the Bible and Christianity are not superstition and that their beliefs are aligned with the truth. To prove this claim, they again resort to circular reasoning, reciting Bible scripture that simply confirms the Bible is true.

I just finished playing episode 13 from the Blu-Ray set. It quotes Carl Sagan from the original Cosmos:

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

The Pale Blue Dot is a Sagan icon. As part of the Voyager 1 research team, Sagan convinced the directors to aim Voyager’s camera at the Earth as it sailed beyond the orbit of Neptune, effectively exiting the Solar System. Viewed from even this close perspective our planet is just a pale blue dot in the immense Universe. Like the dot, human existence pales to insignificance in the total picture.

This does not sit well with fundamentalists. We are no longer a special creation comforted in the arms of a crazy and vengeful deity. We are products of a mindless nature, the same as the beasts of the field, the pebbles on the beach.

I suspect there is a certain level to this resistance. People have a sense of what is right and what is wrong in human society, and there is a need to enforce societal norms. For some the means has been found in the creation of a mythical being that established these norms and enforces them with the same power that created the world in just six days. That this is effective is not just the summer dream of religious fundamentalists.

For a time in his long life I knew the author L. Sprague de Camp. He was among the many thinkers of the 20th century who denied the existence of any such mythical arbiter. Yet, he told me, we may need the fear of God to keep us in line. Good intentions alone will not do.

One of the prominent creationists organizations in this country is the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. As part of their outreach (propaganda) they host the Evolution News blog. I go to this site whenever I need an update on the latest creationist heartburn. Reliably and recently this site has been the go-to place for digs at the new Cosmos. I’m going to take a moment now to see how long it takes me to find something wrong with Tyson’s interpretation of science. Time me.

Time’s up. For your edification the elapsed time was about five seconds. While CSC lawyer and principal communicator David Klinghoffer spills a lot of ink on helpful advice for improving the format of the presentation, he eventually gets around to the real cause of his indigestion:

I know the single big point that the creators of Cosmos wanted to communicate: That humankind and planet Earth occupy no special, privileged, inherently meaningful place in the universe. Besides being dubious as science, that is a morally corrosive message to teach young people, the show’s primary intended audience, at a time when we’re morally challenged enough already. Don’t forget, this thing is headed straight for the schools, you can be sure.

Unlike many other creationist organizations, such as Answers in Genesis, the CSC is not paved with people who want you to know the Earth is only 6000 years old. However their message comes out the same. When reason and logic tells us differently, when science contradicts religious dogma, it is science and knowledge that must give way. There are places now on this planet where such ideas hold absolute sway on society. I would not want to live there. You would not want to live there. I am sure the creationists at the CSC would not want to live there. So what do these people really want?

The want accommodation. They want the benefits of science. They want scientists to come up with cures for disease. That want the technology that drives modern society. Then they want science to sit down and shut up. It’s as though they ordered a magnificent feast and then gave thanks to an impostor who never showed up.

I have the 13 episodes. I may not have the energy to review all of them, but I will sprinkle comments on this blog in future weeks. Hit the Follow button on the bottom right of this page and keep in touch.