The Crucible


We lived in a small Texas town, and were a family of limited means. I recall we obtained our first TV set in 1953, and there was at the time a running drama in the news.

From Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, Volume 1, Eighty-Third Congress, First Session, 1953:

Elected as a Wisconsin Republican in 1946, Senator McCarthy had burst into national headlines in February 1950, when he delivered a Lincoln Day address in Wheeling, West Virginia, that blamed failures in American foreign policy on Communist infiltration of the United States government. He held in his hand, the senator asserted, a list of known Communists still working in the Department of State. When a special subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee investigated these charges and rejected them as ‘‘a fraud and a hoax,’’ the issue might have died, but the outbreak of the Korean War, along with the conviction of Alger Hiss and arrest of Julius Rosenberg in 1950, lent new credibility to McCarthy’s charges. He continued to make accusations that such prominent officials as General George C. Marshall had been part of an immense Communist conspiracy. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s election as president carried Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and seniority elevated McCarthy to chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Committee organization:

JOSEPH R. MCCARTHY, Wisconsin, Chairman
KARL E. MUNDT, South Dakota
HENRY M. JACKSON, Washington
JOHN F. KENNEDY, Massachusetts
ALTON A. LENNON, North Carolina

JOSEPH R. MCCARTHY, Wisconsin, Chairman
KARL E. MUNDT, South Dakota
HENRY M. JACKSON, Washington 1

A recurring dialogue (page 234):

The CHAIRMAN. I think Mr. Cohn had something in mind. But first let me ask you this. It has been suggested that certain questions be asked each witness who appears here, those who work in government. May I say that I know nothing whatsoever about you, to this question is no reflection on you at all. It is just a usual custom. I did not even know your name before yesterday, and all I know about you is just from examining you today, so therefore do
not misunderstand these questions as reflecting upon you.

Question Number one is: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?

Mrs. KERR. No, sir.

The CHAIRMAN. Number two, have you ever belonged to any organization that has been named by the attorney general as subversive?

Mrs. KERR. No, sir.

Page 282:

The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Toumanoff, there is one other question that it has been suggested that I ask all the witnesses who appear in government. And you understand this is no reflection upon you.

The mere fact that we ask this question is no reflection on you. I do not know you, never met you before today so that I know very little about you. For that reason, I emphasize that the mere asking of this question does not indicate that we feel the answer should be ‘‘yes’’ or anything of the kind. But the question is: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?

Mr. TOUMANOFF. No, sir.

The CHAIRMAN. Question number two. Are you now a member or have you ever belonged to any organization which the attorney general has put on the subversive list?

Mr. TOUMANOFF. I haven’t seen the very latest list, sir, but to my knowledge I have not.

The CHAIRMAN. Could you give us the names of the organizations to which you have belonged? First, the ones to which you belong at this time. That you should have no trouble in remembering.

Mr. TOUMANOFF. I don’t belong to any at this time, as far as I know. And the organizations that I have belonged to were—there was a psychology club at Harvard University. There was an honorary psychology club called, I think, Psi Chi, at the University of Chicago.

Page 315:

The CHAIRMAN. Just one question, and we ask this of all witnesses who have appeared before us, and I hope you understand the mere asking of the question does not indicate that we have any opinion on the matter at all; it does not indicate that we know anything of any adverse nature about you or otherwise. I want to ask you now, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?

Mr. HUNT. I never have been a member of the Communist party, and I am not now a member.

The CHAIRMAN. And, number two: Do you now or have you ever belonged to any organization that is listed by the attorney general as subversive?

Mr. HUNT. To my knowledge, I have never been.

Page 613:

The CHAIRMAN. I think we will adjourn now. Just before you leave, Mr. Vedeler. We will want you to check your files back there, and we will want you to check your records, and be prepared, when one of the members of the staff will call you. We want you to be prepared to give us a complete history of any connection you had with either the Jeri Stary case or the Hitchmenova case.

One other question: Have you ever been a member of the Communist party?

Mr. VEDELER. No, sir.

The CHAIRMAN. Have you ever been a member of any organization that has been listed as subversive or Communist-front by the attorney general?

Mr. VEDELER. Not so far as I know, sir.

The movie script was written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, and the film was directed by George Clooney. Production took place ten years ago for release in 2005 by Warner Brothers. The title is the signature closing line by Edward R. Murrow for his program, See It Now: Good Night and Good Luck.

This movie has top notch production credentials. Late in the game this production was, it still used film. The credits show Technicolor, but the sets were color neutral, and post production rendered everything in monochrome. Photographic rendition is high key, meaning saturated blacks and complete detail in the highlights.

As war came to Europe in 1939-1940 American journalists brought the story to their audiences across the Atlantic. William Shirer stayed with the story on the continent for eight years until the Nazis expelled him, and Edward R. Murrow conveyed the word to America by radio under the heading “This is London.” Subsequently Murrow returned to America and by the early 1950s was doing news and commentary on television. The movie opens with a speech Murrow gave “to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in 1958.” Old friends in the news broadcasting business were there, and Murrow reminded them of their responsibility to bring out unpleasant facts.

The main plot line begins in 1953.


Clooney has reproduced life in the 1950s with stunning fidelity. The sixty years past have not entirely erased my memories of those times, and I can readily buy Clooney’s rendition. People arrive at the CBS building and take an elevator up to the news section. The women are wearing hats, and as I watch this I try to recall the last time I saw women wear hats to work. Men are wearing hats, as well. I do recall when men quit wearing hats. That was in 1961 when President John Kennedy started appearing in public hatless, sending hat makers into bankruptcy across the country, except in certain regions of Texas. And everybody smoked. After sixty years it’s startling to watch people light up in the office, at the dining table and even in the television studio control room. Murrow’s signature was his cigarette, which he held aloft while speaking into the camera.




The opening news item involves Milo Radulovich, an Air Force reservist in Michigan who has been forced to resign because his father subscribed to a Serbian newspaper and because Lieutenant Radulovich refuses to denounce his father. Radulovich, himself, appears in the movie from news footage regarding the story. Radulovich died in 2007, but was involved as a consultant on the movie. The movie shows news producers watching Radulovich’s interview on film in a projection room.


For readers out there who have not read any of the history of the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy was at the time making a name for himself by conducting what amounted to a witch hunt. He chaired the Senate committee investigating (among other things) communist infiltration of government affairs. As the temperature increased he exhibited a decreasing regard for the truth and for the rights of people being questioned by his committee, many being accused of complicity in communist subversion.

Senator McCarthy

Senator McCarthy

Murrow and the CBS producers challenged McCarthy, indirectly at first, but then openly after McCarthy accused Murrow of being a communist. The film grippingly captures the chill that settled withing the CBS news center. This was a time when careers were being destroyed by the merest hint of Communist association. One staffer under the remotest of suspicion committed suicide. Scenes in the movie could have just as well come out of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible or Shakespeare’s Richard III.

The task for Murrow and his CBS producers devolved into merely showing the facts on television for all to see. Much of what was shown involved the antics of the Senator. Particularly galling was the case of Annie Lee Moss.


Mrs. Moss had worked in a government cafeteria and ultimately secured a position as a communications clerk in the Pentagon. A routine Army security screening resulted in the recommendation she be discharged. She appealed the decision and was reinstated in 1951. The film features news footage of her grilling before the committee:

Senator McCarthy: Now, is that testimony true?

Mrs. Moss: No sir, it is not. Not at any time have I been a member of a Communist Party, and I have never seen a Communist card.

Senator McCarthy: You have never seen a Communist card?

Mrs. Moss: No sir, I haven’t…

Senator McCarthy: Have you ever attended any Communist meetings?

Mrs. Moss: No sir, I’ve never attended any Communist meetings.

Senator McCarthy: Have you ever subscribed to the Daily Worker?

Mrs. Moss: No sir, I didn’t subscribe to the Daily Worker, and I wouldn’t pay for it.

Senator McCarthy: Uh… Now, Mrs. Markward, who was working for the FBI who joined the Communist Party under orders from the FBI has testified that while she never met you personally at a Communist meeting that your name was on the list of Communists who were paying dues.

Uh… Can you shed any light upon that?

Mrs. Moss: No, sir. I don’t even know what the dues are or where they were paid.

Senator McCarthy: So you have never paid any money to the Communist Party. Is that correct?

Mrs. Moss: That’s right.

Senator McCarthy: You’ve never paid any dues, payment…

From Volume 5, pages xiv – xv:

The subcommittee had gotten the name of Annie Lee Moss from an FBI informant, Mary Stalcup Markward, who told them that she had seen ‘‘a woman by the name of Annie Lee Moss on the list of card-carrying, dues-paying members.’’ However, Markward could not recall having met Moss personally. Moss, an African American, had worked in a government cafeteria before getting a job as an Army Signal Corps communications clerk at the Pentagon in 1950. She had been cleared by loyalty boards of the General Accounting Office in October 1949 and by the army in January 1951. In September 1951, the FBI raised questions about Moss, and offered Markward’s testimony as evidence, but the army did not reopen the case. Senator McCarthy described Moss herself as ‘‘not of any great importance,’’ but he demanded to know: ‘‘Who in the military, knowing that this lady was a Communist, promoted her from a waitress to a code clerk?’’ Due to ill health, Moss did not attend an executive session and made her first appearance before the subcommittee at a televised public hearing on March 11, 1954.8

The army described Annie Lee Moss’ position as a relay machine operator who received and transmitted ‘‘unintelligible code messages.’’ When the charges against her became public, the army first transferred her to a supply room and then suspended her entirely. At the public hearing, Moss denied having been a member of the Communist party, having paid any dues, or having attended any party meetings. She testified that her late husband had received copies of the Daily Worker, although she was uncertain whether they had been addressed to him or to her. Moss had paid dues to a cafeteria-workers’ union in 1943, but could not say whether the union had any Communist party connections. Appearing frail and perplexed at the hearing, she seemed an unlikely espionage agent even to Senator McCarthy, who left midway through her testimony. The hearing was replayed on Edward R. Murrow’s popular See It
Now television program and proved a public relations blow to the chairman. The army eventually reinstated Annie Lee Moss, placing her in its finance and accounts office. In 1958 the Subversive Activities Control Board confirmed Markward’s assertion that Moss’ name had appeared on the Communist party rolls in the mid-1940s. But the board conducted no further investigation of Moss, and the following year it concluded that ‘‘Markward’s testimony should be assayed with caution.’’ 9

This is from another part of the transcript. The movie may have played some of the clips out of sequence. It is obvious that multiple cameras were in action during the proceedings, and the view jumps from one speaker to another with some loss of continuity. In reconstructing the transcript I often had to rely on recognizing the voices of various speakers, and mistakes are bound to exist.


Most telling are those actions of Senator McCarthy. He appears to realize his cow has dried up, and he excuses himself. In his absence Counselor Roy Cohn continues in his place, and Cohn’s actions incite the outrage of Senator John McClellan. McClellan was a conservative politician from Arkansas, and nobody could accuse him of being “soft on Communism.” His cutting response eviscerated the corpse of McCarthy’s witch hunt and laid bare the rot that had set in.

Senator McCarthy: Mrs. Moss, let me say for the record, for your information … for the information of your counsel that you are not here because you are considered important in the Communist apparatus. We have the testimony that you are, and have been, a Communist. We are rather curious, however, to know how you suddenly were shifted from a worker in a cafeteria to the code room. I am today much more interested in the handling of your case by your superiors than in your own personal activities. However, counsel will question you about your own activities also.

Counsel for Mrs. Moss: Mr. Chairman!

Senator McCarthy: We will not hear from counsel. You have been told what the rule is. If you have anything to say, say it through your client.

Roy Cohn: Chairman.

Senator McCarthy: Did you begin work at the General Accounting Office in… ?

Mrs. Moss: Yes, sir.

Senator McCarthy: And, prior to that time, had you been a cafeteria worker?

Mrs. Moss: Yes, I had.

Senator McCarthy: I see. While in the Pentagon, since have you had any connections with coded messages? Have you ever handled coded messages?

Mrs. Moss: No more than to transmit ’em.

Senator McCarthy: Pardon me?

Mrs. Moss: No more than to transmit the message.

Senator McCarthy: Than to transmit them? Did you transmit codes?

Mrs. Moss: To receive or transmit messages was all I had to do. And I’ve never been into a courtroom in my life. [The voice in video says “code room,” not “courtroom.”]

Senator McCarthy: Do you know the type of classification… Do you know if they were secret, top secret, confidential?

Mrs. Moss: No, sir.

Senator McCarthy: You wouldn’t know the degree of classification?

Mrs. Moss: No, sir.

Senator McCarthy: I see. I’m afraid I’m going to have to excuse myself, I’ve got a rather important appointment to work on right now, and I wonder if, Senator Mundt, you would takeover as Chairman?

Roy Cohn: Chairman. Uh…

(likely) Senator Mundt: Cohn.

Roy Cohn: I have no further questions of this witness at this time. We have the testimony of Mrs. Markward, the undercover agent for the FBI stating that Annie Lee Moss was a member, a dues-paying member of the Communist Party the Northeast Club of the Communist Party. We have corroboration of that testimony by another witness who was called before the Committee and gave a sworn statement to the effect that she also knew Mrs. Moss as a member of the Northeast Club of the Communist Party.

Senator John McClellan: She’s already lost her job. She’s been suspended because of this action. I’m not defending her. If she’s a Communist, I want her exposed. But to make these statements as we’ve got corroborating evidence that she is a Communist, under these circumstances. I think she’s entitled to have it produced here in her presence and let the public know about it and let her know about it. I don’t like to try people by hearsay evidence. I’d like to get the witnesses here and try them by testimony under oath.

Senator Mundt: The Chair will rule that the comment of Mr. Cohn be stricken from the record.

Senator John McClellan: I didn’t ask that, Mr. Chairman!

Senator Mundt: …whether we should try to produce a witness in public because the FBI may have her undercover and we don’t want to…

Senator McClellan: You can’t strike these statements made by counsel here as to evidence that we’re having and withholding. You cannot strike that from the press nor from the public mind once it’s planted there. That’s the evil of it!

Senator Mundt: Well, I’d look at it…

Senator McClellan: I don’t think it’s fair to a witness to a citizen of this country to bring them up here and cross-examine them then when they get through, say “The FBI has got something on you that condemns you.”

Senator Mundt: The Chair agrees…

Senator McClellan: It is not sworn testimony it’s convicting people by rumor and hearsay and innuendo.

The outrage of Senator John McClellan

The outrage of Senator John McClellan

The scenes from the hearings are archival footage and feature people who were or who were about to be making history. Please note sitting at the table the future Attorney General Robert Kennedy.


Following the debacle of these Senate hearings the United States Senate censured Joseph McCarthy. He was sidelined and spent the remainder of his tenure with no power and no useful duties. He died three years after his interview with Mrs. Moss.

Mrs. Moss retired as a clerk in the employment of the Army in 1975 and died in 1996 at the age of 90.

Edward R. Murrow eventually parted with CBS in 1961 following the acrimony that developed with CBS chief executive William Paley. He died in 1965 from lung cancer, not unexpectedly.

Modern readers may be surprised at the lingering popularity of the late Senator McCarthy. A less likable public figure would be hard to find.

McCarthy served a total tour of duty in the Marines lasting thirty months, or 2½ years, from August of 1942 to February of 1945, and he held the rank of captain by the time he was discharged in April of 1945. He flew twelve combat missions as a gunner-observer, earning the nickname of “Tail-Gunner Joe” in the course of one of these missions.

He later claimed 32 missions in order to qualify for a Distinguished Flying Cross, which he received in 1952. McCarthy publicized a letter of commendation which he claimed had been signed by his commanding officer and countersigned by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, then Chief of Naval Operations. However, it was revealed that McCarthy had written this letter himself, in his capacity as intelligence officer. A “war wound” that McCarthy made the subject of varying stories involving airplane crashes or anti-aircraft fire was in fact received aboard ship during a ceremony for sailors crossing the equator for the first time.

[Some links deleted]

Real hero of World War 2 and American President Dwight D. Eisenhower had no taste for McCarthy’s methods and aimed to keep some distance:

Nothing would probably please him more than to get the publicity that would be generated by a public repudiation by the President.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, on declining to publicly confront McCarthy’s strategies, as quoted in The Party of Fear (1988), by David Harry Bennett, p. 304

A bit of historical reality may be due. There was an active Communist Party in the United States at the time, but at no time did it ever threaten the national security. Remember, that to impose Communism on the population the Party would first have to get some people elected, and at this they were notably unsuccessful. This is not to say Communists in this country were harmless.

Communism had appeal to segments of society since its formulation in 1848 by philosopher Karl Marx. When Communists took power following the overthrow of the Russian Empire, the new Soviet Union represented the goal of Communist sympathizers the world over and quite regularly attracted the loyalty of Communists in other countries. This was the case in the United States.

Prior to the entry of the United States into World War 2, Communists in the U.S. opposed American involvement, because the Soviet Union was initially allied with Nazi Germany. During the war American Communists aided the Soviet Union in ways that violated U.S. law.

David Greenglass was a Communist sympathizer who joined the Army and worked on the project to develop the atomic bomb. As a machinist he obtained a copy of the design of the mold for the explosive lens that was employed by the plutonium bomb. He made one or more drawings of this design and passed them on to Soviet agents.

At his trial for espionage Greenglass implicated his sister, Ethel Rosenberg and her husband Julius as his contacts, and the two Rosenbergs were tried for espionage and in 1953 were executed. This was during the time of the McCarthy hearings.

Klaus Fuchs, not an American citizen, also worked on the atomic bomb program and delivered classified bomb information to the Soviets. He escaped to the Soviet Union to avoid prosecution.

Morton Sobell served 17 years and 9 months of a 30 year sentence in a case related to the Rosenbergs’ spying. After decades of denial, he subsequently implicated the Rosenbergs.

Alger Hiss worked in sensitive positions in the United States government, including the State Department. He was implicated in espionage by acknowledged Communist Whittaker Chambers, but was not prosecuted, since the statute of limitations had expired for his charges.

More recent espionage on behalf of the former Soviet Union involved greed and other motivations and not Communist allegiance.

During the McCarthy hearings people were advised that Communist Party membership was not crime, and they were then ordered to state their political sympathies and any membership in the Party. Many refused to answer these questions, since Communist association had become tantamount to social and economic ostracism. Careers were destroyed, particularly in the entertainment industries, when Communist association was revealed or when individuals refused to answer the critical questions. In particular, prior to World War 2 there was virtually no stigma associated with Communist Party membership, but people who subsequently renounced their Communist ties suffered eventual retribution.

Government abuse of civil liberties so marked those times that they are sometimes called the “McCarthy Era.” Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee wrote Inherit the Wind, a play highlighting government over reach. The plot parallels, but does not reproduce, the 1925 trial of John Scopes for teaching evolution in public schools. A follow-on movie starred Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.


Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

A successful businessman flew to Vegas for the weekend to gamble. He lost the shirt off his back, and had nothing left but a quarter and the second half of his round trip ticket. All he needed to do was somehow get to the airport, and then he’d be home-free.

So he went out to the front of the casino where there was a cab waiting. He got in and explained his situation to the cabbie. He promised to send the driver money from home. He offered him his credit card numbers, his drivers license number, his address, etc… The cabbie said, “If you don’t have fifteen dollars, get the hell out of my cab!”

So the businessman was forced to hitchhike to the airport and was barely in time to catch his flight. One year later the businessman, having worked long and hard to regain his financial success, returned to Vegas and this time he won big. Feeling pretty good about himself, he went out to the front of the casino to get a cab ride back to the airport.

Well who should he see out there, at the end of a long line of cabs, but his old buddy who had refused to give him a ride when he was down on his luck. The businessman thought for a moment about how he could make the guy pay for his lack of charity, and he hit on a plan.

The businessman got in the first cab in the line, “How much for a ride to the airport,” he asked? “Fifteen bucks,” came the reply. “And how much for you to give me a blowjob on the way?” “What?! Get the hell out of my cab.” The businessman got into the back of each cab in the long line and asked the same questions, with the same result. When he got to his old friend at the back of the line, he got in and asked, “How much for a ride to the airport?” The cabbie replied, “Fifteen bucks.” The businessman said, “OK,” and off they went.

Then, as they drove slowly past the long line of cabs, the businessman gave a big smile and thumbs up sign to each of the other drivers.

Fox on the Barbie


I really need to watch Fox News on a regular basis. At least more often. People may not know this, but Fox News is a wonderful source of useful information. Take scientific misconduct, for example:

Scientific studies conducted in the public interest appear to have veered off course, according to a new report that documents government-sponsored research gems such as having shrimp walk on tiny treadmills to measure the impact of sickness on crustaceans.

While the exercises may be adorable to watch, Sen. Tom Coburn says he’s not so sure it advances the cause of science.

The Oklahoma Republican issued a new report Thursday that concludes the National Science Foundation has misspent $3 billion on “waste, fraud, duplication and mismanagement.” It offers a list of research projects that could have been left as questions for the universe.

This from a 26 May 2011 Fox News report.

That’s right. The National Science Foundation, your government, is spending billions of tax dollars on wasteful scientific research. Reading through the list will certainly bring tears to the eyes of hard-working tax payers. Or at least a gagging sensation to the throat. However, there is one study that has received a lot of Internet bandwidth and also my personal interest. That would include funding for a study which involved placing a shrimp on a treadmill. Conservative Cybercast News Service followed up, and a few months later Fox relayed the cruel facts to viewers:

U.S. Government Has Spent $682,570 to Study ‘Shrimp On A Treadmill’

By Eric Scheiner
December 27, 2011
( -Reports of $500,000 of taxpayer funds to study a project that has shrimp running on a treadmill hit the headlines early in 2011. A recent report now shows that $682,570 in grants has been awarded to the research effort.
According to the National Science Foundation (NSF) website, the money has been granted to the “Taking the Pulse of Marine Life in Stressed Seas” research conducted by biology professors Louis and Karen Burnett at the College of Charleston. The research page describes the professor’s “big question” as “How are human-made marine stresses affecting the marine life that we need?”

Pass over, as I have done, the $682,570 mentioned in the headline versus the $500,000 figure in the body of the story, the fact remains: Taxpayers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a shrimp on a treadmill. This cute meme, which has been floating about the net universe, sums it up.


Call it scandal if you will, but the fact remains that tax payers are footing the bill while liberal scientists are having fun with shrimp. It would appear that now is the time for some skeptical analysis. I will start with . Earlier this month Professor Scholnick, of Pacific University in Oregon, stepped forward with a few words on the matter:

A video clip of a shrimp running on a treadmill has somehow become the nation’s poster child for wasteful spending and grounds for the Republican-led House of Representatives science committee to recently investigate wasteful spending of NSF-funded research projects across the country.

My name is David, and I am the marine biologist who put a shrimp on a treadmill—a burden I will forever carry. To be clear, the treadmill did not cost millions of taxpayer dollars, the goal of the research was not to exercise shrimp, and the government did not pay me—or anyone else—to work out shrimp on treadmills.

Simply put, my colleagues and I were studying how recent changes in the oceans could potentially affect the ability of marine organisms to fight infections—an important question, given that the amount of bacteria a shrimp is able remove from its body is directly related to how much bacteria could potentially end up on seafood-filled plates. And since shrimp are active animals in nature, it was logical to study the immune response of shrimp during activity.

Scholnick cites an article in Forbes listing Thirteen Silliest Uses of Taxpayer Money.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this post included a $3 million treadmill. It has been removed for accuracy.

Troubled Asset Relief Program: $700 billion. Projected budget deficit for 2011: $1.4 trillion. Spending $1.5 million of taxpayer money on a laundry-folding robot:  Shameless.

This is so disheartening. Forbes has dropped further mention of the shrimp treadmill. So, unless somebody has the original copy tucked away on a hard drive, I won’t be able to bring that to you. Wait, there’s more from Forbes. Please note the link to their article:

Apparently there were originally fifteen silliest uses of taxpayer money. Forbes is now down to thirteen. Are we eventually going to get down to The Single Silly Use of Taxpayer Money? Knowing my United States government and yours, I tend to think not.

In case you became confused by the separate items above featuring Louis and Karen Burnett at the College of Charleston and David Scholnick at Pacific University of Oregon, the explanation is obvious. Both Scholnick and the Burnetts have been collaborating on the same project.

For the record, knowledge of things that affect the health of marine organisms is ultimately vital to the national economy. There are important American industries that depend on sustaining healthy marine life. It would be possible for large corporations engaged in these industries to conduct the needed research, but there is little economic incentive for them to do so. The knowledge does no good unless it is publicly shared, and no board of directors wants to spend company profits on activity that benefits the competition. It’s in situations like this that a democratic government is beneficial to a strong capitalistic society. People, involuntarily, pool their resources for the good of all.

Scholnick also cites conservative commentator Mike Huckabee’s attack on the shrimp research. Huckabee’s interpretation is worth watching:

Congress spent money to study how shrimp could function on a treadmill. … $503,000 to watch shrimp on a treadmill. You know, I don’t care what shrimps do on a treadmill. I don’t want my shrimp going to the gym. I want them going to the grill. Or the oven. And then to the table. I don’t want ’em getting skinny so they can outrun me. I want ’em to get fat so they can nourish me.

Please do not pause to observe these statements are remarkable. Do pause to note that this man once ran for the office of President of the United States.

As Scholnick points out in his Journal of Higher Education piece Huckabee linked the shrimp study to limitations on military spending. I’m glad he did that. Allow me to recount some personal experiences with spending on our military.

Not counting my brief career in the military, my first employment related to the military was about 33 years ago.

I went to work for a major American corporation with a sizable business in military contracts. My first task involved heading up a software team to develop a system to locate enemy submarines by sonar. I ultimately had about six highly-paid specialists working on the project, and we purchased an expensive computer system and hooked everything up in a lab at the company’s plant. Then we loaded the whole business up and shipped it to St. Croix Island in the Caribbean for testing. A bunch of us went down there and worked at a sonar test range on the west end of the island for a week or so before taking a break for the Thanksgiving holidays. Then we went  back to finish up. The project was highly successful, and we could locate the mock submarine more quickly and with better accuracy than the Navy team that was working on the same problem. Then the project was canceled.

I next worked on something called the Navigational Sonar System, which may or may not have ultimately been successful, but I never found out, because I left that job to take a position with another defense contractor that built guided missiles.

The first program I worked on relating to guided missiles was called IRHVTA, and it used an infra-red imaging system to identify fixed, high-value targets, e.g., power plants and bridges, so the missile could attack them without the aid of a gunner. While this technology was useful in follow-on projects, the concept was never implemented.


My next project was called Joint Services Seeker. We installed an infra-red imaging system into the nose of a small missile that was controlled through a fiber optic link to attack tanks and helicopters. The same technology was also developed for the Hellfire missile. Neither of these weapons was ever implemented.

I worked on a project called Smart Weapons. The idea here was to send a missile off on its own to locate and attack specific kinds of enemy targets, e.g., tanks and missile launchers. This was never implemented.

Another program developed technology to identify, locate and eavesdrop enemy radio transmissions. This was ultimately dropped, although some of the technology has found use in other military applications.

I did work for a time on software for the highly-successful Javelin missile, and I ultimately watched CNN video from the most recent Iraq war as soldiers used one of these to attack an enemy strong point. Score one for the taxpayers.

More recently I worked on software for the successful JSOW missile, which after a long evolutionary journey, pulled from IRHVTA technology. And I worked on software funded by the Spanish government (American taxpayers, take a short break) and also software for two military GPS programs and flight simulator software for FA-18 fighters.

Each of these programs represented expenditures of millions of dollars, a lot of it dead-end with little or no benefit at the back end. The wastefulness of some of these military programs can be written off as the cost of maintaining American superiority over some real external challenges. A lot cannot be so justified. One program was later determined to be funded without authorization and was canceled.

Being in the forefront of science (and militarily) comes with a cost, and that cost is borne by the taxpayers. People such as Mike Huckabee, with little understanding of science and also with little regard for important findings of science, can  be expected to say silly things about scientific research. It’s our job to observe these orations and to take note of the source.

Political Science


Earlier this week I posted comments on an item that’s in the most recent edition of Reports of the National Center for Science Education. It’s Science and Society: Evolution and Student Voting Patterns, and it’s by Sehoya H Cotner, D Christopher Brooks, and Randy Moore:

Sehoya Cotner is an associate professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She has written several articles and books on evolution, including (with Randy Moore and Mark Decker) Chronology of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy (Santa Barbara [CA]: Greenwood Press, 2010), and (with Randy Moore) Understanding Galápagos: What You’ll See and What it Means (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013).
Randy Moore is a professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. His recent books include (with Mark Decker), More than Darwin (Santa Barbara [CA]: Greenwood Press, 2008), and (with Sehoya Cotner) Arguing for Evolution (Santa Barbara [CA]: Greenwood Press, 2011).
D Christopher Brooks is a Senior Research Fellow with EDUCAUSE. He is co-author of a several articles on teaching and learning and is co-editor of Active Learning Spaces: New Directions for Teaching and Learning. He has also recently served as a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Skipping over the central points the authors address in this article, I want to focus on a side issue. While American presidents have for past decades been devout Christians, their acceptance of science that conflicts with the Bible is varied. What is most significant has been how their views have tracked with their political conservatism. Here’s the table of quotes from the article:

Figure 2 . Presidential words on science, religion, and the teaching of evolution

“Of course, like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.”
—Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), letter to Winterton C Curtis, August 29, 1922
“There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat Earth in order to
defend our religious faith.”
—Jimmy Carter (born 1924), quoted in “Carter slams Georgia’s ‘evolution’ proposal,” CNN, 2004 Jan 30
“But if it was going to be taught in the schools, then I think that also the biblical theory of creation, which is not a theory but the biblical story of creation, should also be taught.”
—Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), quoted in “Republican candidate picks fight with Darwin,” Science 1980;209:1214
“Well, the jury is still out on evolution, you know,” and “I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught.”
George W Bush (born 1946), quoted in The New York Times, 2000 Oct 29 and 2005 Aug 3
“I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there’s a difference between science and faith.”
Barack Obama (born 1961), quoted in the York (PA) Daily Record 2008 Mar 30

Before going on, let’s pause to reflect on President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was a Democratic president, but this was back during the time the Democratic Party harbored a strong conservative faction. So, was Wilson actually a conservative president who aligned with modern science when it was becoming unfashionable to do so? Some Skeptical Analysis is in order. I will pick from the historical record, as recorded by Wikipedia:

  • Richard Hofstadter has written “Woodrow Wilson: The Conservative as Liberal” in The American Political Tradition (1948).
  • He organized the Liberal Debating Society and later coached the Whig–Clio Debate Panel.
  • Wilson appointed three Associate Justices to the Supreme Court, including “Louis Dembitz Brandeis in 1916. A liberal, and the first Jew appointed to the Court, he served 22 years and wrote landmark opinions on free speech and right to privacy.”
  • Ronald Pestritto has written Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield (2005).

These are just vignettes, but they expose a considerable liberal bent. At the same time, Wilson’s remarks regarding evolution are contra to what was at the time a trending conservative opposition to Darwinian evolution.

One of the most liberal Democratic president’s of modern times has been Bill Clinton. There was not a lot about his take on creationism in my searches, but his response to the creationist legislation enacted in Arkansas over 30 years ago provides a hint. In 1981 the Arkansas legislature passed the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act (Act 590). This law required that teaching creationism be given equal treatment with the teaching of evolution. The case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education was decided in 1982 against the creationists in federal court. Governor Bill Clinton had been voted out of office, but he regained the governorship in a subsequent election, and he vetoed a substitute bill passed by the legislature that would have re-instated the case for the creationists.

This bothersome trend continues to date. During the nomination process for the presidency two years ago a mass of Republican candidates vied for the top job. When they were polled only Jon Huntsman voiced support for evolution. He was quickly eliminated from the running.

Everybody Talking About Heaven


This song has been running through my head:

Heaven, Heaven, everybody talkin’ ’bout Heaven
Ain’t goin’ there Heaven, Heaven
Everybody talkin’ ’bout Heaven, ain’t goin’ there
Well, I’m gonna walk, I gonna talk
All over God’s Heaven, Heaven

So I was wondering about heaven. The song is about not going to heaven. If the singer isn’t going to Heaven, then who is? I tried to find out.

A bit of theatrics here. I didn’t actually go out and conduct this poll. The narrative that follows is pure fiction. However, if I did conduct such a poll, this is quite possibly how it would go.

Me: Are you going to Heaven?

Respondent: I surely hope so.

Me: You hope so? You mean you don’t know whether you’re going to Heaven?

Respondent: The Bible tells me that if I accept Jesus Christ as my savior, then I will go to Heaven.

Me: Do you accept Jesus Christ as your savior?

Respondent: I certainly do.

Me: Then how come you have any doubts about going to Heaven?

Respondent: I’m just being circumspect. Sure, I expect that I will go to Heaven when I die, because I’ve been a good Christian. And I do accept Jesus Christ as my savior.

Me: Then you’re sure you’re going to Heaven.

Respondent: Yes, definitely.

Me: Then there is a Heaven.

Respondent: I beg your pardon?

Me: I mean, you believe Heaven actually exists.

Respondent: Of course.

Me: And you know of people who have actually gone to Heaven?

Respondent: Yes. Yes, I’m sure.

Me: Such as?

Respondent: Well, my father, for one. He was a devout Christian, and I’m sure he went to Heaven when he died.

Me: And this was when?

Respondent: That would be five years ago in May.

Me: And you saw this?

Respondent: Saw what.

Me: Saw your father going to Heaven.

Respondent: Of course not. Don’t be absurd.

Me: I’m not trying to be absurd. I just want to confirm you never actually saw your father going to heaven.

Respondent: I already said that. You don’t see people go to Heaven. They just die, and their soul goes to Heaven.

Me: The people don’t actually go.

Respondent: No. Just their souls go to heaven.

Me: But not their bodies.

Respondent: No. Of course not. I mean, sometimes there’s not even a body. Like, when the body is cremated. Then there’s no body to go to Heaven. You know, you’re getting rather tiresome. Just what is it that you’re getting at?

Me: I’m just trying to figure out if there really is a Heaven and whether people, even just their souls, actually go to Heaven when the people die.

Respondent: Of course they do. It’s in the Bible. Why would anybody ever doubt that?

Me: I’m just concerned that there’s this supposition that people go to Heaven when they die, yet nobody has actually ever observed that someone going to Heaven.

Respondent: Fella, right there’s where you’re wrong, because this has been observed.

Me: ?

Respondent: It’s in the Bible.

Me: ?

Respondent: Look, here’s the passage. [reads from the bible]

Acts 1:9-12New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Ascends to Heaven

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Me: I’ve seen that. What we have here is not somebody seeing Jesus going to Heaven. What we have here is somebody saying that they saw Jesus ascend into Heaven. In fact, we don’t even have that. What we have is a book that says there is somebody who says they saw Jesus ascend into Heaven.

Respondent: Of course. What else do you want? This is eyewitness testimony.

Me: I’ve heard that before, as well. You recognize, of course, this is not actually eyewitness testimony. You have picked up a book and read something out of a book. We don’t have anybody standing here saying he saw Jesus ascending into Heaven.

Respondent: That’s true, but the book was nearly two thousand years ago. All witnesses to the actual events are long since dead.

Me: And gone to Heaven.

Respondent: Don’t get smart with me, Fella. We’re talking my religious faith here.

Me: It’s not my primary intent to disparage your faith. I’m just stating some facts and letting the chips fall where they may.

Respondent: So, get to what you’re getting at, and let’s wrap this up sometime soon.

Me: So there are no actual witnesses to this event—Jesus ascending into Heaven?

Respondent: No. I already said that.

Me: So there are no witnesses.

Respondent: We have testimony of the witnesses recorded in this book. And this is a very respected book, not one of those evolutionary textbooks they bandy around in my kid’s school.

Me: But if you had a live witness standing here, that would be even better.

Respondent: Yes, of course. Barring the two of us actually watching somebody ascend into Heaven, a live witness—somebody who would take an oath with his hand on the Bible—that would be better.

Me: OK then. Let’s talk about something else.

Respondent: Sure.

Me: Do you believe people can walk through walls?

Respondent: Excuse me?

Me: I mean just stand facing a wall and then walk right through it.

Respondent: You mean just crash through the wall?

Me: No, I mean walk through and come out on the other side—without breaking the wall studs, cracking the sheet rock, even smudging the paint.

Respondent: That’s absurd.

Me: I have a witness.

Respondent: He’s lying.

Me: He swore on a Bible.

Respondent: Then he’s going to Hell. He’s a liar.

Me: But he’s a witness. He says he really can do that and has.

Respondent: Then get him over here. We need to see this.

Me: He refused to give me a demonstration.

Respondent: Then he’s a liar.

Me: You doubt his word?

Respondent: Yes.

Me: He swore on the Bible.

Respondent: Then he’s going to Hell.

Me: He says he’s telling the truth.

Respondent: Really? Then get him out here and force him to provide a demonstration. Nobody has ever walked through walls, like you said. You shouldn’t believe a cockamamie story like that without proof.

Me: I agree.

Respondent: Are you being cute with me again?

Me: Of course.

That was all fiction, but who could doubt such a conversation could take place? For the record:

  • I have never spoken to a witness who saw Jesus ascend into Heaven.
  • I have spoken to a witness who told me he has walked through walls.
  • More people have been shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson than have ever gone to Heaven.

Platforms Against Science


Frank Harrold and Ray Eve were early technical advisors for The North Texas Skeptics. Frank Harrold served “20 years as a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington.” Ray Eve spent most of his “career at the University of Texas at Arlington in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.” Together they published Cult Archaeology and Creationism: Understanding Pseudoscientific Beliefs about the Past. I own a copy (current on loan), and if you ever read it you will agree that, despite its title, it’s a real page-turner. Harrold and Eve collaborated extensively on studies related to belief in the paranormal, and a critical finding was the correlation between reliance on pseudo science (including creationism) with political conservatism.

What can be said about the sources of pseudoscientific beliefs? Creation science oriented beliefs merit attention because of their connection with Fundamentalist religious tradition in the United States. Kehoe (1985) has discussed the functions of “creation science” within the New Religious-Political Right of contemporary conservative politics. She contends that the acceptance of the inerrancy of the Bible inherent in “creation science” serves as a manifest sign of dedication to the central value of the New Religious-Political Right: acceptance of authority versus “reality testing” and adaptation. In this context, scientific gullibility may be seen as one facet of deference to authority, a kind of generalized willingness to accept as plausible that which appears to be commonly believed by others or what is asserted in folklore to have been proven by unnamed “scientists” or experts. Harrold and Eve (1987) have given support to Kehoe’s assertions about the political and attitudinal underpinnings of the “creation-science” ideology by showing that Creationism beliefs correlated positively with a measure of dogmatism r = .32, .18, .33 for TX, CA, CT) and a measure of political conservativism (anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, pro-death penalty) which they termed a Moral Majority scale. These findings hold for the USU population, although the correlation was only a moderate one (Creationism-Dogmatism, Pearson’s r = .20; Creationism-Moral Majority, Pearson’s R = relationship with reported number of books read that were not required in an academic course (R = -.24), a finding also reported by Harrold and Eve (1987).

The leading organization in this country working to counter the introduction of anti-science attitudes and teaching in public schools is the National Center for Science Education, headquartered in Berkeley, California. I give them money, and so should you. Their six times a year newsletter Reports of National Center for Science Education provides readers with a quick run-down of the latest events related to pseudo science and public education. There are also essays of interest by qualified researchers and reporters.

The most recent issue features an article by Sehoya H Cotner, D Christopher Brooks, and Randy Moore Evolution and Student Voting Patterns. The authors cite the political correlation previously observed by Harrold and Eve, and they bring these observations into the 21st century:

Democrats, too, have supporters and field candidates, such as Al Gore and Bill Clinton, who believe in a creator but accept evolution. However, Republicans frequently embrace creationism more explicitly than do their counterparts. In the field of candidates leading up to the 2012 elections, only Jon Huntsman (who was eliminated early) was vocally in support of scientific perspectives on evolution (Shear 2011). Perhaps most striking is the willingness of several state Republican parties to make teaching creationism in public schools
a part of their platforms (Figure 1), despite a consistent pattern of state and federal court judgments against this very activity—judgments that are largely based on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”). The recent (June 2014) release of the latest Texas GOP platform highlights the partisan nature of contemporary science—with teaching creationism as part of a bundle that includes “vaccine choice” and climate-change denial.

In particular, the authors published a list of excerpts from state Republican Party platforms that reveals overt support for pseudo science coupled with disdain for critical aspects of science:

Figure 1. State Republican party platforms on evolution and creationism
Alaska: “We support teaching various models and theories for the origins of life and our
universe, including Creation Science or Intelligent Design. If evolution outside a
species (macro-evolution) is taught, evidence disputing the theory should also be
Iowa: “We support a balanced presentation of creationism and evolution in public schools. We believe that textbooks and teachers should clarify that Darwinian
evolution is only a theory and not scientific fact.”
Kansas: “Kansas students should be allowed and encouraged to fully discuss and critique all science-based theories for the origin of life in science curricula.”
Minnesota: “Educators who discuss creation science should be protected from disciplinary action and science standards should recognize that there is controversy pertaining to the theory of evolution.”
Missouri: The party supports “Empowering local school districts to determine how best to handle the teaching of creationism and the theory of evolution.”
North Dakota: The party supports “the rights of teachers to teach and discuss the scientific evidence for and against multiple theories of the origin of life, including intelligent design and evolution.”
Oklahoma: “We believe that the scientific evidence supporting Intelligent Design and Biblical creation should be included in Oklahoma public schools curricula. And where any evolution theory is taught both should receive equal funding, class time, and material.”
Texas: “We believe theories of life origins and environmental theories should be taught as challengeable scientific theory subject to change as new data is produced, not scientific law. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.”

And that brings us to the point of this post. It’s time for some Skeptical Analysis of these odd political positions. Let’s start with Alaska.

The state Republican Party wants to teach “various models and theories for the origins of life and our universe.” I have to say that is really odd.

What do you think these politicians intend by various models and theories? Regarding the origins of life, do they mean students should be exposed to some of the following?

  • Deep sea vent hypothesis
  • Thermosynthesis
  • Clay hypothesis
  • Gold’s “deep-hot biosphere” model

And others.

Actually, the politicians don’t have any of these alternatives in mind. If these were the available options they would not even walk across the street for them. What they have in mind for alternative explanations is spelled out in the wording that immediately follows the suggestion that other theories be considered: “[I]ncluding Creation Science or Intelligent Design.”

First of all I want to reflect my appreciation for the use of capital letters. English standard usage, especially in the United States, requires the names of religious movements be capitalized. The use of capitalization by the Alaska politicians is their honest recognition that these are religious ideas as opposed to scientific.

Next, Creation Science and Intelligent Design are, in fact, armor-plated religious concepts. Creation Science, as traditionally defined by organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research insist on the strict biblical interpretation that the Earth is about 6000 years old, an idea that is refuted by any number of scientific findings.

Additionally, Intelligent Design has been cast as a non-creationism and a non-religious alternative to natural processes. All such attempts to convince the world of this absurdity have ended in failure. Particularly, the religious motivation behind Intelligent Design is continually reinforced by proponents even as they seek to convince us otherwise. The documentary Expelled features actor Ben Stein presenting what are supposed to be the evil consequences of Darwinism. Yet viewers are served a lengthy interview with biologist Richard Dawkins, and they are discussing, what else, the existence of God. When Intelligent Design proponents obtained the opportunity to present their case in federal court in the Kitzmiller case they were totally unable to convince the judge there was no religious intent and further that there was any scientific basis behind Intelligent Design.

Regarding Iowa, the politicians want “balanced presentation.” They want creationism and evolution given equal or at least comparable weight in public schools. They want Darwinian evolution to be presented as a theory and not as a scientific fact.

There are two matters at issue here. First they want a conjecture with no scientific validity to be presented not only as plausible to students but also to be pumped up by the school system to give it credibility it has not earned. This is religious proselytizing at public expense.

The other matter is treating Darwinian evolution as a theory. First, Darwinian evolution is a scientific theory. Calling it a theory is like calling Everest a mountain. You do not diminish an idea by calling it a scientific theory. That’s a promotion. Additionally, there is little reason for not calling Darwinian evolution a fact. First, the fact of evolution is well-established. Evidence accumulates daily that living things on this planet share a common ancestry, and in the more than 150 years since it was put forward no scientific studies have come forward to refute it.

So, what do the politicians of the Iowa Republican Party want? My guess is they want to satisfy a religiously motivated base and also a base that has little appreciation for science.

In Kansas students are “encouraged to fully discuss and critique all science-based theories for the origin of life in science curricula.” A critical flaw in the embedded thinking is that there are science-based theories that are in conflict with Darwinian evolution. If a conscientious teacher in Kansas were to stand at the head of a science class and announce that what follows will be a discussion of science-based theories other than Darwinian evolution a profound silence would settle. Further, if opponents of Darwinism were to propose alternatives with any assumed scientific merit, Creation Science and Intelligent design would stand at the back end of a long line of superior proposals.

Minnesota wants to protect teachers “who discuss creation science.” That, quite obviously, will be a tough row to hoe if any teacher wants to put it into practice. First, an honest discussion of creation science would involve telling students what a stupid idea it is. This has been tried.

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A federal judge ruled that a public high school history teacher violated the First Amendment when he called creationism “superstitious nonsense” during a classroom lecture.

U.S. District Judge James Selna ruled Friday in a lawsuit student Chad Farnan filed in 2007, alleging that teacher James Corbett violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by making repeated comments in class that were hostile to Christian beliefs.

According to a federal judge it’s not OK for a teacher to tell students that creationism is a bunch of crap. Let me put it another way. It’s not OK for teachers to discuss creationism. It’s not OK unless they are willing to be dishonest with students and give creationism some undeserved lift.

Additionally, in Minnesota the politicians want teachers to “recognize that there is controversy pertaining to the theory of evolution.” They want teachers to tell students that creationists have provoked controversy by continually asserting that they have a better idea. Remember, these are not serious researchers making these assertions. These are people like Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, Douglas Axe, William Dembski, Paul Nelson, David Berlinski, Stephen C. MeyerCaroline Crocker, Guillermo Gonzalez, Richard von Sternberg and Ben Stein.

And when teachers break the law by promoting creationism in class, when they break the law by proselytizing for religion in class, they are supposed to be protected. Sadly, no position taken by the Republican Party of Minnesota will protect a teacher who actually breaks the law by promoting creationism. People will still sue, and the courts will still rightly decide this is against the law, and, as in the case with the Dover Area School District, the tax payers will be left holding the bill for a failed legal challenge.

The Missouri Republican platform contains language that parallels the intent of Minnesota. Politicians want to empower school districts, and they specifically mention creationism and evolution. They want to empower the school districts? Really? Creation and evolution and not mathematics? Not even physics and chemistry? Not even automobile mechanics? My guess would be politicians in The Show Me State have their sights set on evolution and not so much on empowering local school districts. Again, the idea is to provide protection, in spirit if not in fact, for districts that break the law by promoting creationism and other religious views.

North Dakota repeats the mistakes of the foregoing. What ever happened to South Dakota? Some investigation may be in order here.

Oklahoma, from whence Texas supposedly obtains all its drain-down wacko, requests the impossible in scientific evidence supporting Intelligent Design (applaud capitalization) and Biblical creation. First of all the scientific evidence supporting would have to be manufactured on the spot by any teacher discussing it, and Biblical creation is so obviously religious the ACLU, and even the Society for the Inclusion of Sanity, would be waiting in the wings for the first teacher pushing those ideas in class.

And finally my favorite state, Texas. I have to love it, because I was born and raised here, and I went through 20 years of public schools here (I was a slow learner). Once again, a state Republican Party wants to allow open discussion without fear of retribution or discrimination. Of course, that is what science is all about, but it is not likely the politicians will receive what they expect were this to be the actual practice.

In actual practice, if strengths and weaknesses were discussed in class, creationism of all kinds would get a pretty rough ride. See the Santa Ana case above. A teacher who tells students that creationism is a load of crap, which it is, would likely not receive protection from retribution or discrimination of any kind as promised by the state Republican Party platform.

These words in the Texas Republican platform, like those in the other states mentioned, have no effect in practice. Statements of political policy are for the benefit of attracting votes and do not contravene existing law. Existing law is that public funds and offices of power cannot be used to proselytize for religion. The voters may not understand these facts, but what concerns me even more is that politicians, including some who hold public office, may not understand. We may, in fact, be getting the government we paid for.


Bad Movie of the Week

Not all that bad, really.



Erle Stanley Gardner was a real life lawyer who found writing pulp fiction more interesting than practicing law. Also writing under various noms de plume, his early works featured lawyers in the principal roles, and in 1933 he introduced the character of Perry Mason in The Case of the Velvet Claws. Gardner left the full time practice of law at that time, and he came to be the most prolific American novelist of the 20th century.

The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat was published in 1935 and released by Warner Brothers as the movie The Case of the Black Cat in 1936. Here’s the cat.




As you can see, the producers needed to shorten the title by exchanging “caretaker’s” with “black,” but they forgot to also change the color of the cat. That’s way movies are made.




First we see sweet Wilma Laxter (Jane Bryan) with her lover Douglas Keene (Carlyle Moore Jr.). They have just returned home from a hot date, and they are being confronted by cousin Frank Oafley (Craig Reynolds). Cousin Frank and sweet Wilma both live in the luxurious home of their grandfather Peter Laxter (Harry Davenport), along with cousin Sam Laxter (Bill Elliott). Grandfather Laxter is filthy rich, and his grandchildren stand to inherit a fortune when he kicks off. Cousin Frank is not cool with the idea of having Douglas court Wilma, because he’s sure Douglas is only after the grandfather’s money, just as he and cousin Sam are.

Wilma, however, is simply fond of her grandfather and has no interest in the inheritance. She is also her grandfather’s favorite, as seen when she goes up to his room after her date.


So why does Peter Laxter phone Perry Mason in the middle of the night and have him come to the house immediately and write Wilma out of his will? He says it’s to keep people like Douglas from taking advantage of sweet Wilma.

Immediately Wilma learns she has been cut out of the will she leaves her grandfather’s house and opens a waffle shop with her own savings to make herself independent of her grandfather’s largess. Immediately the newspaper headlines announce her grandfather has been killed in a mysterious fire in his bedroom. Immediately Perry Mason gets involved again.

This was not the first of the Perry Mason movies, but here we meet characters that eventually lived through the remainder of the 20th century. Perry Mason (Ricardo Cortez) is brilliant and also handsome, and he has an attractive secretary, Della Street (Jane Bryan). The sexual tension between the two is a long-running current throughout the Perry Mason series of novels, movies and television shows.



District Attorney Hamilton Burger (Guy Usher) is here, as well as Mason’s assistant and private detective Paul Drake (Garry Owen). Police Lieutenant Arthur Tragg featured prominently in the television series that ran from 1957 to 1966, but he does not appear in this story.

Richardo Cortez (real name Jacob Krantz) started in films in 1917 (his scenes deleted) and played various roles, but never again as Perry Mason, until finishing with the TV series Bonanza in 1960. Jayne Bryan had a three-year contract with Warner Brothers and left show business completely after that.

The plot follows the familiar theme of the TV series that my generation best remembers. There is a murder. Perry Mason’s client is accused. The case never goes to trial. Perry Mason discloses the true events during a pre-trial hearing. And typically Perry and Della have a short flirtation to wind things down at the end. And I’m not going to reveal the plot, but you can read the story line on IMDB or Wikipedia.



Sea Adventure


This was about 45 years ago. I saw an ad for some books, Harvard Classics. The deal was you sign up for the program, and they will ship you and bill you a book every month. It looked like a good deal. It was the “Deluxe Edition.” It was actually only what I would term the “street edition,” but I liked the books. Not enough to get all 51 volumes. But I have a shelf full. I still have the books, and in all this time I have only read one, maybe two all the way through.

One I did read all the way through was Two Years Before The Mast by Richard Dana. It turns out this is not a book of fiction. About the time Texas was getting its independence from Mexico, and Charles Darwin was sailing around the world on the Beagle, Dana, a Harvard College dropout, signed on to crew a brig, the Pilgrim, to sail around to the California coast. The crew (not the officers) lived up forward on the ship. Up forward of the ship’s masts. These were ships with sails. He was gone from Boston for a little more than two years, hence the title.

Dana kept notes, and he wrote up his adventures when he returned to his Harvard studies. The narrative was instantly popular. His prose is crisp, clear and lively with often powerful phrasing. It was the first and may be the best detailed account of the life of a seaman in the days of tall-masted ships.

When I read this the first time, I had been absent from the sea about eight years, and I strove mightily to identify with the young Dana on such a grueling adventure. I could not. There was no comparison. For one, and in the most crucial way, the modern world has swept away the life that existed for sailors in those days. I went to sea at about the same age as Dana, and it was a great adventure, for me. But aside from being away from my father’s home for the first time and being a member of a ship’s crew at sea, there was no comparison to Dana’s life at sea in the 1830s.

From Google Images

From Google Images


Aircraft carrier Randolph flight deck

You can see things have changed a bit.

The Pilgrim left Boston in August 1834 amid what is considered decent weather for the North Atlantic. The brig headed immediately for Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America and did not make landfall until it reached the Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of Chile. By then one sailor had already been killed, having fallen from the rigging into the Pacific.

For the sailors, life at sea was a nearly constant work detail. The crew was divided into two watches, each one taking four hours of duty while the other rested. That was in principle but not in practice. For purposes of economy shipping companies in those days kept a minimal crew, and when it was necessary to unfurl or to take in sails (often) all hands were called out to work. Work aboard the ship included vigorous maintenance (cleaning and repairs), but the principle tasks involved working in the rigging high above the deck. This on a small craft, of which the Pilgrim was one, that pitched and rolled with the slightest sea.

The early 19th century had little knowledge of nutrition science, and provisions for the crew consisted mainly of salt beef and bread. In the coldest of weather the captain enjoyed multiple cups of hot coffee while the sailors were forbidden anything hot to drink. A ration of grog (rum diluted with water) was standard at sea in those days, and it provided a momentary flash of simulated warmth, when it could be obtained.

No king, no emperor, no petty dictator in a police state ever enjoys more power over people than the captain of a ship at sea. That principle stands to this day, but two hundred years ago this power was frequently abused. Captain Bligh was no mythical character.

While life aboard ship for Dana and his fellow crew members was hard work and dangerous, work ashore on the California coast was merely less dangerous. The Pilgrim belonged to Bryant, Sturgis & Co. of Boston, and its endeavor was to convey goods for trade to the West Coast and to bring back a load of cattle hides. At the time California was part of Mexico, which had only recently wrested itself from Spanish colonial rule. To the north the coast was colonial Russia.

Dana’s description of the California coast provides a telling account of why California is no longer part of Mexico.

The Mexican revenue laws are very strict, and require the whole cargo to be landed , examined, and taken on board again; but our agent, Mr . R——, had succeeded in compounding with them for the two last vessels, and saving the trouble of taking the cargo ashore. The officers were dressed in the costume which we found prevailed through the country. A broad-brimmed hat, usually of a black or dark-brown color, with a gilt or figured band round the crown, and lined inside with silk; a short jacket of silk or figured calico, (the European skirted body-coat is never worn;) the shirt open in the neck; rich waistcoat, if any; pantaloons wide, straight, and long, usually of velvet , velveteen, or broadcloth; or else short breeches and white stockings. They wear the deer-skin shoe, which is of a dark-brown color, and, (being made by Indians,) usually a good deal ornamented. They have no suspenders , but always wear a sash round the waist, which is generally red, and varying in quality with the means of the wearer. Add to this the never-failing cloak, and you have the dress of the Californian. This last garment, the cloak, is always a mark of the rank and wealth of the owner. The “gente de razón,” or aristocracy, wear cloaks of black or dark blue broadcloth, with as much velvet and trimmings as may be; and from this they go down to the blanket of the Indian; the middle classes wearing something like a large table-cloth, with a hole in the middle for the head to go through. This is often as coarse as a blanket, but being beautifully woven with various colors, is quite showy at a distance. Among the Mexicans there is no working class; (the Indians being slaves and doing all the hard work;) and every rich man looks like a grandee, and every poor scamp like a broken -down gentleman. I have often seen a man with a fine figure, and courteous manners , dressed in broadcloth and velvet, with a noble horse completely covered with trappings; without a real in his pocket, and absolutely suffering for something to eat.

Dana, Richard Henry (2012-05-12). Two Years Before the Mast (p. 54). . Kindle Edition.

As the Spanish had before them, the new nation of Mexico viewed the country as a place to be exploited. Little to no enterprise was employed to develop the region, and with the rule of oligarchy that prevailed, there was little incentive for Mexicans to settle the region. Only foreigners, Americans, Russians, British and such came here to do business. This was Mexico, but there were hardly any Mexicans. When the United States made war on Mexico ten years later no defense against the invaders could be put up. When gold was discovered in 1848 the region, which until then had been scarcely populated, quickly filled up with Americans.

Dana stayed until June 1836 on the California coast, sailing up and down the coast in the hide trade, but mainly working ashore as a common laborer, managing the cargo of hides that was being accumulated to take back to Boston. The Pilgrim was scheduled to stay another two years on the coast, but Dana transferred to another company ship, the Alert, and arrived back in Boston in September after a harrowing winter rounding of Cape Horn.

The trip home highlighted another curse of sea life in those days. As the Alert drew even with Bermuda in the run up to Boston sailors began to manifest symptoms of scurvy. This disease is painful, frightening and ultimately fatal, and its cause is lack of vitamin C in the diet. There was no knowledge of vitamins and such in those days, but it was known that eating fresh produce was the cure. The Alert encountered and hailed an outbound ship and acquired some potatoes and onions, which the crew munched on until the ship arrived in Boston. The results of eating the raw vegetables gave the appearance of a miracle cure. A sailor who, before, could hardly open his mouth to chew, within a few days was back to working aloft.

Dana told his tale deep in a vocabulary that no longer existed when I went aboard the Randolph out of high school. He uses nautical terms of those days without elaboration, forcing me constantly to dive into Google as I read through his yarn. The mizzen mast is the third, behind the main mast. To reef in a sail is to gather it in at strategic points to reduce its area, and to unbend a sail is to untie it so as to take it down. Lines and sail cloth made of hemp needed a coat of (usually pine) tar to keep them from rotting, so sailors had to periodically tar these items, giving sailors the appellation tars and the name Jack Tar for a sailor. Whence the name for Jack Tar Resorts. Dana called all pieces of rigging aboard the ship rope, but by 100 years later the United States Navy applied rope only to wire rope, steel cable and such. Everything else is now line, even though it may be several inches thick. See the photo.

My last view of the Kittyhawk, Bremerton, Washington

My last view of the Kittyhawk, Bremerton, Washington

I could not get through this book without avoiding that the basics of life were very dear in times past. An entire ship was sent by the trading company to the California coast, a trip of several months each way, with a significant possibility the ship and its cargo could be lost at sea, just to deliver what would now be two train car loads of cloth and the like and to bring back a load of cow hides. A crew of three officers plus maybe twelve sailors was employed and paid for the entire journey. The capital investment in the ship and cargo was tied up for years at a time in procuring this one transaction. On top of that, the Mexican authorities and possibly others extracted duties on the cargoes. Eventually people purchasing shoes in Boston picked up the tab for all this expense plus a profit for Bryant, Sturgis & Co.

Richard Dana finished his schooling at Harvard, and he revisited the California Coast in 1859 as a successful lawyer and politician. A few years later, following the Union victory in the Civil War, he had the job of prosecuting Jefferson Davis.

This book is available in various Kindle editions from Amazon. Prices start about one dollar.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

This happened on a flight getting ready to depart for Detroit .

Bob was sitting on the plane when a guy took the seat beside him. The guy was an emotional wreck, pale, hands shaking, moaning in fear.

“What’s the matter?” Bob asked.

“I’ve been transferred to Detroit. There are crazy people there. They’ve got lots of shootings, gangs, race riots, drugs, poor public schools, and the highest crime rate in the nation.”

Jack replied, “I’ve lived in Detroit all my life. It’s not as bad as the media says. Find a nice home, go to work, mind your own business, and enroll your kids in a nice private school. It’s as safe a place as anywhere in the world.”

The guy relaxed and stopped shaking and said, “Oh, thank you. I’ve been worried to death. But if you live there and say it’s OK, I’ll take your word for it. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a tail gunner on a Budweiser truck.”

One More Time

We’re having an echo problem. I will deal with it. In the mean time, here’s another one:

Welcome back to the Skeptical Analysis blog. I took the weekend off, but I’m back now, and I need something to comment on. I’m thinking I will start off with the School Shooting of the Week. Do we have a school shooting for the week?

It turns out this week’s school shooting fails to live up to the promise of past events:

  • The shooter was not successful in killing anybody (three wounded).
  • The shooter did not kill himself. Police killed him when he engaged them in a gun battle.
  • It’s not a white kid this time. The shooter was a grown man, a black guy. And a lawyer.

Also, this does not seem to be a plot hatched by ISIS/ISIL. So, I’m sure everybody out there reading this is getting a better feeling right now. This is not foreign terrorism. It’s just another crazy person with a gun:

The Florida State gunman, who opened fire in a university library shortly after midnight Thursday morning wounding three students, has been identified as Myron May, a former student at Florida State University who went on to become a lawyer.

But despite the appearance of a successful and upscale attorney, who listed himself as the in-house counsel for Taunton Family Children’s Home in Wewahitchka, Florida, on May’s Facebook page he posted a number of ominous Biblical passages, a short rant against “our government” and a bizarre image depicting a Google search for “targeted individuals.”

OK, “Biblical passages.” Not quotes from the Quran. I’m feeling better already.

I’ll get back to you with a follow-up on this running topic next week. Or the next school shooting. Whichever comes first.

Do you really, really like my post?

I have this other blog. Actually, I have three other blogs, but there is this one in particular. This particular blog centers on photography and a few related things, such as travel and dining out. For example, when I took a few days’ vacation in Italy some weeks ago, I brought along my Canon 5D and my computer. I generally shot up the place, and I started posting some photo stories to the Specular Photo blog.

Venice P.M.


And I received some responses. Such as this one:

throughopenlens liked your post on Specular Photo of San Antonio

They thought Venice P.M. was pretty awesome.

You should go see what they’re up to. Maybe you’ll like their blog as much as they liked yours!

And this one:

oliveolove liked your post on Specular Photo of San Antonio

They thought Venice P.M. was pretty awesome.

You should go see what they’re up to. Maybe you’ll like their blog as much as they liked yours!

What I noticed right off is both “throughopenlens” and “olivelove” thought my post about Venice P.M. “was pretty awesome.” How remarkable that is. Both responses concluded my post “was pretty awesome.” I guess like minds think alike.

But that was not all. “Andrea Giang | Cooking with a Wallflower” and also “brubio1111” thought my post “was pretty awesome.” This was beginning to sound like a chorus. Wait, there’s more.

I posted “Venice P.M.” at 3:08 p.m. on 28 September.

  • “throughopenlens” responded at 3:17.
  • “olivelove” responded at 3:29.
  • “brubio1111” responded at 3:40.
  • “Andrea Giang | Cooking with a Wallflower” responded at 4:29.

Are we talking diligence here?

Since then I have been running a casual experiment. I post something to the Specular Photo blog, and I get a response from Word Press telling me I just posted this to the blog. It’s an email, and it’s time stamped. Then I watch for responses from “olivelove” and all sorts. The results have been amazing. Some of these people must spend their waking hours hovered over their computer screens watching for the notice that I just posted to my blog. Then right away they respond. And they always think my post “was pretty awesome.”

“Pretty awesome?” Come on, people. The English language is rich. It is broad, and it is deep. And there are multitudes of keys on the typical computer keyboard. There have got to be multiple ways of spelling “pretty awesome.” Unless you’re not using a keyboard.

What if, instead of a keyboard, you’re using a robot, a bot in computer slang. What if you have just set your account to respond to each notification of my posts with a mail saying the post “was pretty awesome.” Even if it was not “pretty awesome.”

I am tempted, only tempted mind you, to post something that is definitely not “pretty awesome.” How about something that says, “This is a test post, and if you respond saying it’s pretty awesome, then you’re a robot and not a person, and you’re not actually reading my posts, so go find somebody else to annoy.” If I decide to do that I will post a short report on the results. I think you will find it to be “pretty awesome.”

West Side Story San Antonio


Anyhow, that was the program bill. It turns out there was more. The program also included:

  • Scherzo Crypto (Alexander Miller)
  • Over the Plains (George Antheil)
  • Prelude and Fugue on a Southern Folktune (Jaromír Weinberger)
  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 22 (Samuel Barber)
  • “Thanksgiving and Forefather’s Day” from New England Holidays (Charles Ives)
  • Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein)

The Scherzo Crypto was a commissioned work by the orchestra’s concert master, Alexander Miller. Enjoyable, but a bit too opaque for me.

Over the Plains also passed by me almost unnoticed. Possibly for reasons of brevity (the program was stretching a bit) the Prelude and Fugue was dropped from the night’s bill.

Julie Albers was stunning with the cello concerto. And the slinky red gown she blessed us with, as well. However, I grew up on Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, especially with Leonard Rose on the Cello and Isaac Stern playing violin. I got spoiled that way.

I can take Ives or leave him. He was independently wealthy and composed major works as a hobby. Again, much too untraditional for me.

What we came for and what we waited for was the Bernstein suite. Here the orchestra, mostly, nailed it. Particularly the prologue captured the intensity and the drama of the opening dance number featuring the gang members. This, and other sequences in the suite, involve multiple, interwoven themes, that, when properly balanced and executed, as in this case, made for an emotional musical experience.

Not so endearing was the second sub theme, based on “Somewhere.” Maybe my hearing is going, but conductor Teddy Abrams left this one a trifle mushy. Not “mushy” as in syrupy and sentimental, but mushy as when you’re trying to walk on deep sand. There doesn’t seem to be a firm footing. Again, through the remainder, the orchestra delivered a crisp and snappy handling of the Bernstein score. Standing applause all around.

This was at the new Tobin Center. It was something else.


I had been down there before. It’s not an easy place to get to, and my past experience was it was not an easy place to park. Barbara Jean, however, assured me we should park in the underground garage. She has in the past been mistaken.

Saturday evening turned out to be one of those seldom times in San Antonio it rains. This did not keep us from arriving on schedule, but finding where were supposed to park was hampered by the darkness and the drizzle, which obscured the few street signs. Street barricades set up all over didn’t help navigation. We inquired about parking. Valet parking, $20. An inquiry at the center: “No parking garage. You need to park on the street. Somewhere. Or try the valet parking.” We paid the $20. I resolved at the time to make plans to miss future events at the new Tobin Center.

Good news! Subsequent investigation by Barbara Jean confirms there will be parking. Next year. The center managers figured it should be performances first, parking sometime in the future. Come next year we will give it a look.

Computer Evolution

This originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. I’m reposting it for no other reason than to remind us what we were doing ten years ago.

by John Blanton

Creationists of the “Intelligent Design” variety have a habit of making the claim that evolution by means of genetic mutation combined with natural selection cannot generate novelty. Many of their arguments are similar to the ones we heard before from the young Earth creationists (YEC). The YECs, for example, will agree that domestic dogs are descendents of wild wolves. However, they maintain that the divergent characteristics of domestic dogs, from the diminutive Chihuahua to the St. Bernard, to the stretch dachshund and the pug-nosed bulldog, are just variations on a theme, and nothing new has been created.

Particularly, creationist author William Dembski likes to point out that a passive and unintelligent process (like evolution using natural selection) cannot generate anything new, but can only take what exists and shape it into different forms (my interpretation of Dembski’s words). Dembski’s most recent book is No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence.1

Nothing is free, Dembski tells us. If you want novelty out you have to put novelty in. Unintelligent agencies are not able to provide any lift on their own.

Computer scientists are not so quick to agree. The idea of using mutation and selection to guide machine-based invention has been around since the 1950s. With the advent of cheap, high-performance computers, the impetus to use them in this enterprise has grown. Today computers employing genetic algorithms are developing new designs and solving problems previously left up to carbon-based thinkers.

Figure 1 helps to illustrate the problem and the approach to a solution. The wavy line represents a problem for the computer to solve. The computer knows the line as just a mathematical function. Given any position on the x-axis, the computer can quickly determine the corresponding height of the line at that point. The specific problem to be solved is a little more difficult. The computer must find the highest point on the line.

1-D solution space
Figure 1
The problem: Find the highest point.

Figure 2 illustrates one approach. First pick a point and determine the height of the line on either side along the x-axis. If one side is higher, then pick a new point on that side and repeat the process.

Which way is up?
Figure 2
The micro approach: Climb the nearest mountain.

Eventually this algorithm will draw the search to point A, at which time it may be convenient to stop and declare victory.

However, the line illustrated in Figure 1 may present some difficulties. Using my remarkable human brain and eyesight, I can readily determine that point A is the highest point. However, the computer is not gifted with my eyesight and certainly not with my remarkable brain. If the search is started in the wrong place, the computer may quickly locate and settle on one of point B, C, D, or even one of the other, minor, unlabeled peaks in the line. That’s because once the computer finds itself at one of the lesser peaks it has no reason to look elsewhere. In every direction away from the point it is only down, and the computer is looking for up.

But what if we told the computer to mount multiple, simultaneous searches? And, furthermore, what if the instructions were to “get outside the box” so to speak. Look beyond the next peak.

Occasionally shake things up a bit and pick new search points, not so close to home, beyond the next peak or valley. That’s the essence of genetic algorithms, and that’s the essence of evolution by mutation coupled with natural selection. Mutation is what shakes things up, and natural selection is what determines that the higher of several choices is the better one.

If the problem of biological evolution were as simple as this illustration then everybody, and not just the creationists, would give a big yawn and look around for something more entertaining. Fortunately for our entertainment value there is more to life than a wavy line. The example shown in the figure is a linear search problem, because it’s a line, in one dimension. Imagine next we are searching a mountain range for the highest mountain peak — better, but still nothing that would raise a lot of excitement.

The problem of life, however, is not just one or two-dimensional. It is multi-dimensional in a grand scale. The number of dimensions of life’s search space is the size of the genome of an organism. The dimensionality of a genome is the millions of base pairs that make up the organism’s DNA, and the organism, in searching this multidimensional space, can vary any of its base-pair sequences that code for a protein. Mutation can produce a change in any code sequence (three-base-pair codon), and we can see what results from that. In living organisms what happens is usually nothing of much consequence, and often times it is bad to fatal. On rare occasions the result is beneficial, and the organism’s offspring climb the hill along one of the dimensions of its genome space.

For an organism, “climbing the hill” as opposed to “descending the hill” is whatever produces an offspring that will have a better chance of reproducing (and producing more copies of the new genome).

Computer scientists have been remarkably successful at co-opting nature’s idea of evolution. It works much like this: The problem of interest has a large number of variables, often mutually independent, that affect the performance of a system to be invented, designed, or merely improved. For example, the performance of an internal combustion engine will be affected by a combination of design parameters, such as the cylinder diameter, the compression ratio, the size and number of valves, the positioning of the spark plug, and more. For the problem to be tractable for the computer it must be possible for the computer to determine the resulting performance of the system, knowing all the design parameters. The computer will determine the performance characteristics by using the design parameters in a simulation of the system. The computed performance characteristics as a function of the design parameters is the solution space of the problem. In real life, the solution space can be as wildly variable as the line in Figure 1, and more so. A real solution space is apt to be very nonlinear—another way of saying that doubling the change in an input variable does not double the change in the output.

A typical approach using a genetic algorithm will mimic life by starting with a large population of trial solutions. Continuing to mimic life, the quality of the different solutions is evaluated, and higher quality solutions are given extended life and allowed to continue to the next generation of the solution population. The algorithm may mimic sexual reproduction by swapping parts of the genomes of the better solutions and introducing mutation by ratcheting some of the genome’s components up or down. This is possible, because in the computer the genome will be represented by sets of numbers that get swapped around and modified.

Let’s take a look at how well this method works. Adam Marczyk has summarized the whole issue of Genetic Algorithms and Evolutionary Computation in a Web article of the same name.2 I will describe just two of his examples:

Edward Altshuler and Derek Linden used a genetic algorithm to design a circularly polarized, seven-segment antenna with hemispherical coverage. The resulting design is “unusually weird” and “counter-intuitive.” It has a nearly uniform radiation pattern, and it closely matched the design specification.3 Kumar Chellapilla and David Fogel used a genetic algorithm to develop checkers-playing neural networks. Using only six months of computer time, the algorithm produced a neural network that plays checkers at a rating of 2045.85. In one game the neural network defeated a player ranked 27 points below master level.4 Dembski is having none of this, of course. He argues all the intelligence exhibited by these computer programs has been “smuggled in” by their designers. In effect he is saying the designing programs were designed to win—to produce good designs. Their makers built the solution in by carefully describing what they wanted out.

If I were inclined to cut Dembski some slack here I would agree that these designer programs were designed to succeed. Once their designer wrote all the code, entered all the initial parameters, and typed the run command, the result was pre-ordained. Even though these programs simulate randomness by using pseudo random number generators, they are, in principle, completely predictable.

But that’s all the slack Dembski gets. Whether the computer programs provide (in principle) predictable results or not, their designers at the beginning cannot predict the results. They cannot rig the programs in advance to produce optimal designs. The programs follow the rules of life, and the results are the same as is often the case in life: The successful candidates survive the winnowing process of, in this case, unnatural selection.

Dembski and the “intelligent design” creationists can attack from another front: “Life does not tell you to design an ideal antenna or a master checkers player. It only tells you to survive. It’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”5 He might further elaborate: “Just because your genome is working (unintelligently) to survive and make copies of itself, that doesn’t explain why you have eyes.”

And it doesn’t. The best answer to that argument is that eyes are so useful—even essential—to survival, that not only do I have eyes, but other creatures have eyes of vastly different designs from my own.

Finally, Dembski and the other “intelligent design” creationists make a lot of noise about “intelligence” and “complexity.” I am not sure they or most other people involved in this argument have a correct grasp of these two terms. How can you tell “intelligence?” Is an Apollo spacecraft the result of intelligent activity? Is an anthill? The creationists seem to be looking for a master designer who exhibits human qualities and wants to do what people do. People design things for the same reason they rearrange furniture in a room. They want to make themselves more comfortable. They want to extend their existence. They want to survive.

Ouch! We’ve come full circle. “Intelligence,” if there is such a thing, is just a manifestation of the need to survive. It’s a product of evolution. A product of nature. A product of the chemistry of carbon-based molecules. Just like William Dembski.


1 You can buy this book from Amazon. The link is at


3 Altshuler, Edward and Derek Linden. “Design of a wire antenna using a genetic algorithm.” Journal of Electronic Defense, vol.20, no.7, p.50-52 (July 1997).

4 Chellapilla, Kumar and David Fogel. “Evolving an expert checkers playing program without using human expertise.” IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation, vol.5, no.4, p.422-428 (August 2001). Available online at

5 See Not a Free Lunch But a Box of Chocolates, A critique of William Dembski’s book No Free Lunch by Richard Wein.

Bad Movie of the Week


Here’s how to tell when you’re about to see a so-so movie:

RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures is an American film production and distribution company. As RKO Radio Pictures Inc., it was one of the Big Five studios of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The business was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theater chains and Joseph P. Kennedy’s Film Booking Offices of America(FBO) studio were brought together under the control of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in October 1928. RCA chief David Sarnoff engineered the merger to create a market for the company’s sound-on-film technology, RCA Photophone. By the mid-1940s, the studio was under the control of investor Floyd Odlum.

The plan is not foolproof. Citizen Kane came out of these offices. Also King Kong. Also They Made Her a Spy.

I’ve been around a while, and I’ve seen a lot of movies. Some were even made before I was born. One thing I’ve observed. Sometimes the title doesn’t give much clue about the movie. If you had never heard of the movie True Grit before, and you came into it without advance notice, you would be several minutes in before you got the idea the movie was about a teenage girl who engages John Wayne to track down the man who murdered her father. If you had never heard of the movie Strangers on a Train before seeing it, you would still come on board figuring the plot had something to do with strangers on a train. However, seeing the title They Made Her a Spy would get you right to the point. You would have half the plot in your pocket when you bought your ticket.

This was made in 1939 while Axis powers were beginning to act belligerent but before Nazi Germany ignited the Second World War by invading Poland. About this time American, and especially British, studios were pumping out titles that pulled on an audience already geared for patriotism and suspicion of foreign mechanizations. This is not one of the better ones.

We get the lead-in with the opening shot. A formation of American bomber planes is seen among the clouds. Cut to the shot (obviously newsreel footage) of a bomber crashing at an air base. Newspaper headlines scream “Sabotage.” What is obviously a studio model shows a munitions factory being blown up. “Sabotage” again in the headlines. Then it gets personal. We see a young Army officer preparing to demonstrate his new explosive. You don’t need a telegraph to know what’s about to happen. His last act is to drop the mortar shell down the tube. The explosion kills two, according to the headlines.



As it is, fortunately for this movie’s plot, Lieutenant Eaton had a sister, Irene (Sally Eilers), and she wants revenge. She is resourceful, she is determined, and she is good looking. She meets in Washington with Army Intelligence to volunteer her services as a spy.


As it is, Intelligence has been having trouble. This spying and sabotage has been going on, but they have had no success in tracking down the ring leader of the foreign agents responsible. They take sweet Irene on and assign her to infiltrate the ring, apparently headquartered in an upscale restaurant. There she meets handsome James Huntley (Allan Lane), and you know something is going to happen between the two before the movie is over.


And it does. Irene meets the head spy at the restaurant and gets into his favor by delivering a copy of a secret treaty and also some blank passports. Figuring this is a girl who can get things done, the restaurant spy leader tells her, “One of our operators is coming by boat from Canada.” He wants Irene to meet him at the beach at night when he swims ashore. It turns out to be Huntley.

By this time the plot has gone off the rails. Their operator is coming in by boat from Canada? And he has to swim ashore? How about just driving across the border from Canada the way everybody else does? And this is the guy who was just in the restaurant attempting to make tête-à-tête with sweet Irene. If he was their operative then, why was it necessary for him to travel immediately to Canada so he could return by boat? Did not the spies notice the Huntley now being hauled in from the beach by Irene is the same Huntley who was hitting on her previously in the restaurant? If the spies didn’t notice, didn’t Irene notice? When she meets him on the beach at night and shines the flashlight in his face and recognizes him, why doesn’t she ask, “How come you drove off to Canada, and now you have to sneak back in by boat a few days later?”

Anyhow, she thinks he’s a spy, and he thinks she’s a spy, so the next thing they need to do is sleep together. He’s soaking wet from his swim, and the police have spotted Irene’s car and given chase, so they need a place to hide out, get dry, and sleep together.



This is the closest this movie gets to an Alfred Hitchcock moment. We’ve seen this in The 39 Steps and in Foreign Correspondent. It’s all comedy. They break into a B&B out in the country, and when the owners show up they pretend to be a married couple needing a place to stay for the night. That’s the only way the owner’s will allow it:

Lucius ‘Paul’ Wilkins: We’re respectable churchgoing folk, we are.

Mrs. Ella Wilkins: And we ain’t aimin’ to turn no house of our’n into a Sodom and Gomorry.

My, how movies have changed since 1939. Since this is 1939, he sleeps on the floor while she takes the bed.

Of course it turns out Huntley is only an imitation spy, and when the real spy ring leader is brought to ground (literally), the two are back at the same B&B, only now on their actual honeymoon.

Did you notice another thing about this movie? It starts out all about sabotage. When we finally meet the spies they are engaged in espionage, not sabotage. No further acts or attempts at sabotage appear after the opening scenes. There is a reason for this.

Sabotage is brief, visual and gripping. You need something like this to open a movie. Espionage can be tedious in depiction on the screen, but it costs less for a studio to produce. So this movie gets off with a bang and then cruises the remaining minutes of its life on espionage. That’s how the studios make money.

Ex Nihilo


The term has some history:

Creation out of nothing, or creation ex nihilo, is the belief that God created this world out of nothing, ex nihilo being Latin for “from nothing.” The Bible is clear that God is the creator of this world (Gen 1:1; Job 38:1-42:6 among many others), but the issue of how he created this world is what is in question. Typically there are two main answers: (1) either God created this world from nothing, or (2) he created this world from pre-existing matter. In the second view God would be the organizer or the one who “ordered the chaos” of this world.

It’s a chain of argument frequently employed by creationists. Henry M Morris was a founder of the Institute for Creation Research, an organization promoting young-Earth creationism and now headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Morris had this to say in 1984 in the ICR publication Acts and Facts:

Evolutionists have frequently criticized creationism as unscientific because of its basic commitment to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo —that is, “creation out of nothing.” The idea that God simply called the universe into existence by His own power, without using any pre-existing materials, is rejected out of hand by evolutionists, since this would involve supernatural action, which is unscientific by definition (that is, by their definition).

Yet now we hear evolutionary cosmogonists maintaining that the universe evolved itself out of nothing! Creationists at least postulate an adequate Cause to produce the universe—that is, an infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent, self-existing, personal, Creator God. For those who believe in God, creation ex nihilo is plausible and reasonable. But even if people refuse to acknowledge a real Creator, they should realize that a universe evolving out of nothing would contradict the law of cause-and-effect, the principle of conservation of mass/energy, the law of increasing entropy, and the very nature of reason itself. How can they say such things?

The hard fact is, from all appearances the universe really was created out of nothing.

Earlier this year I acquired the Kindle edition of A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss. I will get into the book shortly, but first it may be helpful to take a quick look back.

Larry Krauss began popping up in the creation/evolution controversy over a decade ago when the Ohio school board was asked to entertain aspects of creationism, or at least doubts about Darwin, in the science curriculum. Krauss was there to weigh in on the matter, and Richard Ostling reported in the Washington Post in the March 14, 2002 edition an item that has been picked up and preserved by creationism sympathizers. The following is cached on the Discovery Institute’s site:

Whatever the board decides, the Ohio discussion has brought new attention to the fledgling ID movement, a small academic faction but one that flexes considerable brainpower.

Proponents say evolution is typically taught to mean life emerged on Earth spontaneously, and that only undirected natural selection produced the varied life forms. But, they contend, the best evidence indicates that scenario is fantastically unlikely.

Intelligent design arguments touch on everything from the fine-tuned structure of the universe described by modern physics to the information encoded in DNA to make their point.

But “intelligent design isn’t science,” the board was told by Lawrence Krauss, physics chairman at Case Western Reserve University.

Krauss has been involved in the issue ever since and has since added his name to the list of prominent scientists standing up for real science against attacks on diverse fronts. Like many in the field of hard science, Krauss makes no reliance on a religious faith and accepts no truck from religious arguments. So what does he, a researcher in cosmogony, have to say about the supposed origin of the universe? He has his say in this most recent book.


Maybe the second thing you notice about this book is its subtitle, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” That’s a nice question, and it’s question that has some history. Nothing I ever did involved the study of origins, cosmogony, but I did get to it in a round about way. There is a chain of reasoning:

  • How did the Earth get here? That was answered by figuring out the Earth and the other planets in the Solar System formed from the accretion of matter near a star, in our case the Sun.
  • Where did all this matter that makes up the Earth and the other planets come from? Scientists figured out that, as well. When a large star forms it’s mostly hydrogen gas, and gravitational attraction pulls the ball of gas ever tighter into a ball. As the gas compresses the effects of gravity become stronger, because the hydrogen atoms are now closer to the center of gravitational attraction. That’s positive feed back. The tighter the ball, the greater the gravity, the tighter the ball, and so on. Eventually this stabilizes, because the hydrogen will fit into only so small a space. The compression of the hydrogen causes hydrogen atoms in the core, where the pressure is greatest, to fuse together. This fusion produces helium and releases energy. The star gets hot. Eventually the hydrogen is all used up, and mostly helium remains, and that fuses to produce heavier elements and so on. the process continues as heavier and heavier elements are produced at an ever increasing rate until finally iron is produced. When iron is fused no extra energy is produced. More energy is required to fuse iron than would be produced by the fusion process. The sequence of element fusion stops, and the remainder of the star collapses catastrophically, within minutes and ultimately within a fraction of a second. The wave of collapsing material rebounds, and the energy of the collapse is expended in the fusion of elements heaver than iron, producing all the elements in the periodic table beyond number 26 (iron). The star blows up, spewing all these heavy elements into space. That stuff eventually goes into making planets and such.
  • How do stars form? If you start with a large cloud of gas, and if the gas is not very evenly distributed throughout all of space, then the distribution is unstable. Any region that is denser will manifest a greater gravity and will attract gas from other regions. It’s positive feed back again. Stars eventually form. Some big, some not so. The very massive stars burn their hydrogen more rapidly and are the first to collapse and explode.
  • Where does all this hydrogen gas come from? That was not the easiest of questions. The answer has not been so obvious. Ultimately it came to be called the Big Bang. A point in space unzipped (my term) and all existing matter, plus much more, expanded from that point. There was a rapid and continuing expansion. Do not for a moment get the idea that all of this expansion was into the surrounding empty space, because there was no space. No matter, no space existed prior to the Big Bang.

And that’s the theme of this book. The principal theme, that is. Why did a point in non-space unzip to form the universe?

In chapter 9 of this book I mention a fact that I now want to introduce first here. Whenever one asks “Why?” in science, one actually means “How?”.“Why?” is not really a sensible question in science because it usually implies purpose and, as anyone who has been the parent of a small child knows, one can keep on asking “Why?” forever , no matter what the answer to the previous question. Ultimately , the only way to end the conversation seems to be to say “Because!”

Krauss, Lawrence (2012-01-10). A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing . Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

This is a critical divergence from creationist thinking. Creationism in all forms eventually falls back onto a “why.” Creationists can be picked out from a crowd as those who need to see a purpose in everything. Creationists, and a few others, can only view the world from a human standpoint. They have not broken out of the mental cage that is human ego. People do things for a purpose. Other things must happen for a purpose. Everything does happen for a purpose. Nothing happens without a purpose.

Creationists are unable to step back and to see that purpose is a human feature. There is more. Other living organisms besides humans possess purpose. Foxes chase rabbits for a purpose. Foxes need to eat rabbits. If foxes do not catch and eat rabbits they will die. There will be no more foxes. The only foxes that still exist today are those that possess the purpose of catching and eating something. Purpose is something that has developed biologically by the process of evolution through natural selection. Outside this realm of things the concept of purpose does not exist.

I’m not going to detail the findings of the book. You can read the book, it’s only $8.06 in the Kindle edition. The book presents what is the most recent and most likely the best reasoning about why there is something rather than nothing. For free you can read most of these ideas on-line. The book makes it all human by way of a person who has lived these recent developments.

I previously did a review of the creationist video Expelled. This documentary, produced by Premise Media, features a number of people supposedly “expelled” for promoting creationism (Intelligent Design) or at least for disparaging Darwinism. One of these was cosmologist Guillermo Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’ main claim to fame is a book he published and a video on the same subject. The book is The Privileged Planet, with the subtitle How Our Place In The Cosmos Was Designed For Discovery. I have the book and the video, and I promise a review in the future. When the video first came out I did a short review for The North Texas Skeptic, which I will repost here:

One thing Krauss does in his book is to put the kibosh on Gonzalez’ appeal for fine tuning:

Our idea was crazy by any standards . In order to result in a value for the cosmological constant consistent with our claim, the estimated value for this quantity described in the last chapter would have to be reduced somehow by 120 orders of magnitude and still not be precisely zero. This would involve the most severe fine-tuning of any physical quantity known in nature, without the slightest idea how to adjust it.

This was one of the reasons that, as I lectured at various universities about the quandary of a flat universe, I evoked mostly smiles and no more. I don’t think many people took our proposal seriously, and I am not even sure Turner and I did. Our point in raising eyebrows with our paper was to illustrate graphically a fact that was beginning to dawn not just on us , but also on several of our theorist colleagues around the world : something looked wrong with the by-then “standard” picture of our universe, in which almost all the energy required by general relativity to produce a flat universe today was assumed to reside in exotic dark matter (with a pinch of baryons— i.e., us Earthlings, stars, visible galaxies— to salt the mix).

Krauss, Lawrence (2012-01-10). A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (pp. 75 – 76). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

Larry Krauss has developed into one of those national treasures for which all civilization can be grateful. He thinks, he speaks and he acts. It’s a welcome combination.

Krauss is an atheist activist and self-described antitheist. Krauss has participated in many debates with theologians and apologists, including Hamza Tzortzis and William Lane Craig. The debate with Tzortzis (The Big Debates organised by iERA) resulted in controversy when Krauss complained to the Muslim organisers about the gender segregation of the audience; he only stayed when men and women were allowed to sit together. Later, the audience protested at his comment that it’s “not clear” to him that incest is objectively wrong, saying that he wouldn’t recommend it but may listen to rational arguments concerning the objective morality of such acts.

Krauss also featured in a full-length documentary entitled The Unbelievers, in which he and Richard Dawkins travel across the globe speaking publicly about the importance of science and reason as opposed to religion and superstition. They also interview prominent figures such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Cameron Diaz, Sam Harris, and Stephen Hawking.

In his book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing (2012), Krauss discusses the premise that something cannot come from nothing, which has often been used as an argument for the existence of an uncaused cause, or creator. He has since argued in a debate with John Ellis and Don Cupitt that the laws of physics allow for the universe to be created from nothing. “What would be the characteristics of a universe that was created from nothing, just with the laws of physics and without any supernatural shenanigans? The characteristics of the universe would be precisely those of the ones we live in.” In an interview with The Atlantic, however, he states that he has never claimed that “questions about origins are over.” According to Krauss, “I don’t ever claim to resolve that infinite regress of why-why-why-why-why; as far as I’m concerned it’s turtles all the way down.”

[Some links deleted]

There is one thing not answered in this book, and maybe that is the ultimate why? Krauss discusses how the Universe could have and more so why it should have erupted from a point singularity. That’s a plausible explanation of our existence, given that something (or nothing if you will) existed to begin with. The ultimate question may be how (not why) the postulated conditions, or anything, existed. And the answer to this is definitely not “God.”

Total War


From Wikipedia


From Wikipedia

I have a copy of the movie, and about two years ago I watched it for the second time, the first time being 60 years ago. It’s Gone with the Wind, and it features Clark Gable as Confederate blockade runner Rhett Butler. In the opening scenes we see Butler mingling with the Southern aristocracy prior to the onset of the Civil War, and he is reminding these would-be rebels that there aren’t any factories in the South manufacturing cannons.

This problem for the Confederacy was one of the situations that fed the rebellion. The South was primarily agricultural and it’s economy depended on slave labor. The American industrial might was concentrated in the North, and the rising industrial revolution had little use for slavery. When the North, with its voting majority, began to insist on the abolition of slavery, the South rebelled.

The country split mainly along a line running through Washington, D.C., with all the states to the south seceding from the Union. The United States military split along similar lines, with Southern sympathizers deserting their commands and forming the Army of the Confederacy. Civil war began almost immediately when the Confederate forces attacked the United States post at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

President Lincoln and his military commanders quickly realized the weakness of the Confederacy and initiated a blockade of Confederate ports. If the South could no longer export cotton, it’s chief crop, and could no longer import materials of war from other industrial countries, its military campaign would wither like a vase of plucked flowers.

England and a number of other countries initially chose not to take sides in the conflict and traded with both the Union and the Confederacy, hence the source of Rhett Butler’s wealth during the war. Lincoln realized he needed to break the neutrality of the Confederacy’s foreign suppliers, and he counted on critical victories to demonstrate that the rebels were a lost cause. The capture of Vicksburg and the almost simultaneous crushing of Robert E. Lee’s forces at Gettysburg split the Confederacy east and west at the Mississippi River and put Lee on the defensive for the remainder of the war. The confederacy’s suppliers got the message, and the Confederacy entered a slow death spiral. Only it refused to lie down.

One hundred and fifty years ago Union generals William Tecumseh Sherman and his boss Ulysses S. Grant hit upon an audacious plan to put the final spike into the corpse. Sherman would take a force and cut through the heart of the Confederacy, splitting it once again, along an east-west line through Atlanta, Georgia. At the same time Sherman’s forces would destroy the South’s remaining economic power by laying waste to critical infrastructure. It was to be Total War.

It’s not as though the world had never seen total war. Attila the Hun made a name for himself completely annihilating cities that resisted his power. The American Civil War, however, was the first major conflict fought on an industrial scale. The Industrial Revolution was essential to the conflict. Forces and material were moved by steam powered boats and railways. Armies communicated almost instantaneously by telegraph. Mechanized factories turned out weapons of war on modern assembly lines. Repeating rifles were put to use, and the first machine guns spewed death into massed formations. It was time for total war of a modern kind.

Sherman instigated a campaign against Atlanta, Georgia, that began in May 1864 and ran to September of that year. That was the end of traditional war. Following the conquest of Atlanta, General Grant held Lee’s forces in check at Petersburg in Virginia, allowing Sherman to begin operations without interference. Once again, Sherman’s plan was audacious.

Sherman detached two armies, totaling about 62,000 men and left Atlanta, heading toward the Atlantic coast on 15 November. His forces carried rations for 20 days, and they did not hold the ground they crossed. They were completely cut off once out of sight of Atlanta. For continuing supply they foraged the country side as they advanced. It was an army of necessity on the move. If they stopped they would run out of supplies and die.

Sherman kept his ultimate destination a secret, and this foiled attempts by the Confederates to anticipate his moves and to mount an effective counter attack. Largely the Confederates fed small groups piecemeal into action against Sherman, losing heavily in almost every encounter.

With Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of the previous year, Dred Scott was dead. Any Southern slave who could escape his owner was free. Sherman’s forces made use of this, encouraging slaves to desert their masters, further depriving the South of its economic base.

Material assets were reduced, as well. Lines of communication, especially rail roads were destroyed. Where there was no resistance the Union troops left houses and buildings standing, but complete destruction followed any attacks from locals. Although ordered not to enter people’s homes unless there was armed resistance, Union foragers (bummers) took every bit of food for miles on either side of the two lines of advance.

In planning for the march, Sherman used livestock and crop production data from the 1860 census to lead his troops through areas where he believed they would be able to forage most effectively.

Sherman’s March ended with the capture of Savannah on 21 December. Here was the first conventional battle of the campaign. Confederate General William J. Hardee put up a force of 10,000 against the two Union armies. The Union Navy waited off shore to assist the army whenever contact could be established. On 20 December Hardee pulled his men out of the fight and headed north across the Savannah River. City officials met with Union forces and surrendered the city. Sherman’s exercise is total war was over.

The aftermath was that the South was now truly finished. Grant was to the north engaging Lee’s forces, and Sherman was to the south, now resupplied by the Navy. It was just a matter of time. It took until 12 April the following year for reality to catch up with the Confederacy.

Sherman’s tactic of total war was decisive in finishing off the Confederacy and likely forestalling much future war misery. However it earned him the enmity of the South for its supposed brutality. In truth, Sherman’s tactics and the actions of his troops were more pragmatic than brutal. There was no wholesale slaughter of civilians. Houses were only destroyed when armed opposition was encountered. There was collateral destruction, but the standing order was to reduce only means for making war, which did include railway stations and business that could be used to support the Confederate cause. Generally, claims of destruction later alleged tend to not be based on fact. The action of Sherman’s troops was confined to within a few miles of the lines of march, and a sizable amount of grumbling after the fact came from outside the area of destruction by the military.

The March to the Sea was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy. Sherman himself estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million (about $1.4 billion in 2010 dollars) in destruction, about one fifth of which “inured to our advantage” while the “remainder is simple waste and destruction.” The Army wrecked 300 miles (480 km) of railroad and numerous bridges and miles of telegraph lines. It seized 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules, and 13,000 head of cattle. It confiscated 9.5 million pounds of corn and 10.5 million pounds of fodder, and destroyed uncounted cotton gins and mills. Military historians Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones cited the significant damage wrought to railroads and Southern logistics in the campaign and stated that “Sherman’s raid succeeded in ‘knocking the Confederate war effort to pieces’.” David J. Eicher wrote that “Sherman had accomplished an amazing task. He had defied military principles by operating deep within enemy territory and without lines of supply or communication. He destroyed much of the South’s potential and psychology to wage war.”

[Links deleted]


Freed slaves were particularly hard hit, for which I can assume the Confederates had little sympathy. Sherman’s armies could only feed themselves, and refused to take freed civilians with them. Only those former slaves willing to join forces were accepted and not many of the willing were taken. Many former slaves followed Sherman’s march in hopes of succor, but they were abandoned by the armies, whose only task was to fight the war. Freed slaves suffered along with their former masters from the destruction wrought by the Union armies.

Sherman’s March echoes in the minds of Southern sympathizers to this day, but this is from people with little knowledge of the actual history and without any recognition of the far worse depravity of the Confederate cause—ultimately the enslavement of human beings.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

So there is a penguin driving through the desert when he notices that the oil-pressure light is on. He gets out to look and sees oil dripping out of the motor.

He drives to the nearest town and stops at the first gas station. After dropping the car off, the penguin goes for a walk around town. He sees an ice-cream shop and, being a penguin in desert, decides that something cold would really hit the spot. He gets a big bowl of vanilla ice cream and sits down to eat. Having no hands, he makes a real mess trying to eat with his little flippers.

After finishing his ice cream, he goes back to the gas station and asks the mechanic if he’s found the problem. The mechanic looks up and says, “It looks like you blew a seal.”

“No, no,” the penguin replies, “it’s just ice cream.”

Adventures in Car Shopping

I had this old car.


And that led to a blog post several months ago:

I don’t recall if the second man ever came back, but a third man, wearing a red shirt, came and explained they were having trouble locating the car. Gary later told me, and I firmly believe, a dealership always knows at all times the location of all its inventory. I remarked that if Barbara Jean were running this operation there would be a computer spread sheet and a relational database identifying the location and status of all high-priced inventory such as automobiles costing many thousands of dollars each. We were long past concluding the dealership no longer had the car or else never had the car to begin with. Their aim was to keep us around until some kind of business could be conducted.

As the story panned out, we ended up not replacing the old car. In the mean time we stopped by a dealership in Boerne, Texas. They didn’t have the car either. And they told us they didn’t have the car. I found that so refreshing. But we did consider getting a car for Barbara, instead. But first we drove down the road a ways to another dealership, just to see what they had. What they had was a better deal. Barbara came home with a new car:

So it was that Chambers and Barbara Jean arrived at our house shortly after me about 10 p.m. Wednesday night. Barbara Jean sat at the dining table and signed over her old car and gave Mr. Chambers a check for the new car.

All together, it was a very pleasant car shopping experience. People, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

And Barbara drove her new car, and we took a trip to Pflugerville and back. And she parked her new car in the garage. And we went on vacation for three weeks while her new car sat in the garage. And we came back. We still didn’t have a new car for me.

So we went again to San Marcos, Texas. We needed to replace the furniture upstairs we had gotten rid of. The place in San Marcos had a good deal, so we ordered the furniture. And we left. We went back to the dealership where the previous month we had gotten Barbara’s new car, which was still sitting in the garage back home.

Did they have the car I wanted? Not quite. But they did have these three models. Only new cars. We told them we did not want a white car. No white car. And no black car, either. Black cars tend to get hot when outside on summer days. At night on the freeway they tend to disappear. Most dangerous. We did not want a black car.

So Michael Chambers said he had three models to show us. We went to look.

The first was black. No way. He had a green one. Green was fine. We walked over and looked at it. It was dark dark green. May as well have been a black car. He had one more. We liked the color, and it was not too dark either.


Only, Barbara didn’t like the interior colors. Did it come in any other colors? Chambers said it didn’t. I said I liked the colors.


We got the car. I gave up the keys to my old car, and we drove home in the new car.

Let me tell you, since the last time I got a new car back in the previous century cars have gotten high tech. My old car was completely computer controlled. It had fuel injection, and the computer monitored fuel and air mixture and ensured the correct mixture all the time. The computer also monitored air temperature inside the car and maintained whatever temperature you wanted. Another computer monitored the brakes and made sure none of the wheels locked up while braking in the slick. The new car has all of that. And more.





Looking at the control panel (don’t call it a dashboard anymore) I got the impression of the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet. It has about everything a pilot, rather a driver, needs.

It has a CD player, just like the old car, but who needs that. I loaded up all our music on a 64 GB USB drive and plugged it in. The display shows me what’s on the drive and plays whatever I select. Not interested in what’s playing? Switch to the engine monitor. How fast are you going? What’s your average speed for the current trip? Fuel consumption in miles per gallon for the current trip? It’s all there. And more.

When I switch the transmission into reverse, the display goes to a rear view camera image that lets me know when I’m about to back over a skate board. That is so cheesy.

What Barbara Jean did not notice and what I did not point out to her until after we got the car home is that my new car has alloy wheels, just like the old car. Wahoo! It also has climate control, just like the old car and which Barbara Jean’s new car does not have. It may be a Corolla, but it’s not your grandfather’s Corolla.

When I first met Barbara Jean she was driving a 70s version of the Corolla, and it was a lift back, and it was a little box on wheels. The new Corolla is a century on down the line, but it is still compact, which was essential for me. My old car I could park in my garage in the spot that has the work bench with the radial arm saw up against the back wall. The new car fits just fine, which we verified by measuring before going off to buy it.

We are thinking this is the last car that we’re ever going to get. I kept the Infiniti for nearly 15 years. Fifteen years from now I may be thinking about a walker instead of a new car. This may be the last of the Adventures in Car Shopping.

Adventures in Blogging


This Skeptical Analysis blog is not the hottest item on the Internet. What’s a good day for me? When I get 50 readers in one day. Maybe I once saw 80. Whoa, doggie!

Then came Food Babe:

Crazy on stilts!

Emily Finke posted this on Facebook. Thanks, Emily. Just when I thought crazy had maxed out, you put the spotlight on this. It’s a page cached on Google, and it appears to have come from an actual site called Food Babe. Now I learn that Food Babe is the blog of Vani Hari:

It was like stepping on a land mine. The response was explosive.

My first indication came shortly with an email alert that somebody had posted a comment disputing one of my remarks. I posted a response to that response. Then I went to bed. Then I got up. More emails. Three more comments posted. What was going on? I waddled into the computer room and pulled up the Word Press dashboard on my computer.



Bad Joke of the Week (the usual top favorite), suck gas. Make way for Food Babe.

So what I did was find a load of hilarity in a Food Babe post and then post a copy of that post along with some kind analysis as to why Food Babe was full of shit. That’s when the shit really hit the fan. 1,164 views in the first few hours. What’s going on here?

Now I’m wondering just how many people are following Food Babe. And why am I wasting time and band width posting about Skeptical Analysis instead of a wagon load of bullshit about food and alternative medicine?

“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Henry L. Mencken said that. “Never underestimate the power of understatement.” I said that.