The Best of the ICR

ICR in Dallas

ICR in Dallas

The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) has been around in some form since 1970, when Henry M. Morris, and Nell and Kelly Segraves organized the Creation Science Research Center in Santee, California.

Recently I came across this item on the ICR Web site. It had the following title:

Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis in the Science Classroom?

Michigan State physiology professor Robert S. Root-Bernstein wrote regarding his introductory course on evolution: “I encourage [students] to be skeptical—as long as their skepticism is based on logic and evidence. . . . Questions are what drives science, not answers. . . . Take nothing for granted, I counsel my students: that is what makes a scientist” (“Darwin’s Rib,” in Discover, September 1995, pp. 38–41).

Taking a cue from professor Root-Bernstein that “questions are what drives science, not answers,” what follows is a partial list of questions that could be used to critically examine and evaluate evolutionary theory.

These questions would make good classroom discussions, initiated by either teacher or student, or good student research assignments.

There follows a list of 33 questions that, presumably, creationist should ask in a biology class. So far I’ve had a quick look at them, and most of them are already quite familiar to me and to others. If these ever came out on a CD the disk might be titled The Best of the ICR. I call them the best of the ICR, because this kind of thing is about the best the ICR can come up with.

Following are the 33 questions I have pasted directly from the ICR site, and I will attempt to give an evaluation of each in turn. Here they are, starting with number 1:

1. Microsoft programmers utilized complex codes to create the Windows 95 software. The genetic code, which is more sophisticated, controls the physical processes of life and is accompanied by elaborate transmission and duplication systems. How does evolution, using natural processes and chance, solve the problem of complex information sequencing without intelligence?

The formation of the question is a bit misleading. It starts out with “How does evolution…” and goes on from there. A better framing would have been to start with “How does modern biological science…” and proceed as before.

The complete details of the various steps toward the development of the genetic code mechanism are not known. What can be surmised is that molecular reproduction processes operating under fundamental principles of chemistry produced like molecules, and from time to time variations in the process  resulted in molecules that were better at reproduction. The current coding of genetic information in the double-helix DNA molecule is sufficiently workable that it supports thriving life forms and is amenable to “progressive” biological evolution. By “progressive evolution” I mean evolution that develops new features better suited for survival in the existing environment.

2. Evolutionists believe the Cambrian explosion of new life began about 525–550 million years ago. Stephen Jay Gould writes: “. . . an elegant study, published in 1993, clearly restricts this period of phyletic flowering to a mere five million years.” (Scientific American, October 1994, p. 89.) What is the approximate number of beneficial mutations which must have occurred per year during this 5-million-year period, given that billions x billions of information bits would have to be encoded? What percentage of mutations in multicellular organisms have been recognized as beneficial? List any you find.

This seems to be a multi-part question. First, I reject the suggestion in the question that “billions x billions” of novel information bits needed to be encoded. If David Buckna insists on that number he is going to first be required to justify it. Let’s assume the “approximate number of beneficial mutations” being asked are mutations within a single population.

Since “beneficial” is not a quantitative value, counting beneficial mutations is problematic. Also, consider that a beneficial mutation may not turn out to be beneficial to the population. If a fish hatchling possesses a genetic mutation that renders it able to swim faster than its siblings, the mutation will provide no benefit if the hatchling is immediately eaten by a frog. The same mutation will need to occur multiple times before it becomes “fixed” in the population. At the same time other mutations may in parallel produce the ability for the fish to swim faster, so one of them may become fixed in the population long before any of the others do.

Finally, since the term “beneficial” is vague, my computation will be equally vague. Few (close to zero) beneficial permutations will be required per year over a 5 million year period. Regarding the percentage of mutations that are beneficial, the fraction is very small, close to zero. And that is sufficient to explain the Cambrian Explosion.

3. Within the field of biogenesis studies, there are a number of models which posit that the early, prebiotic earth must have had a reducing atmosphere (without oxygen or ozone). How could life begin to evolve without ozone to protect the earliest life forms from harmful UV radiation?

Ironically, that question has just been answered by a previous post of mine. The post included a quote from an exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

By 470 million years ago, Earth’s landscape was turning green with plant life. Soon this new world would be home to ancestors of today’s insects and other species that could live on land. Other animals would follow.

Life was moving onto land. Why now?

First, the ozone layer—formed when oxygen began to accumulate in Earth’s atmosphere—provided protection from the sun’s harmful radiation. Only water had provided this protection before.

4. Both “left-handed” and “right-handed” amino acids occur naturally. Life forms contain proteins consisting principally of “left-handed” amino acids. Assuming a simple protein molecule of 172 amino acids, what is the mathematical probability that all 172 amino acids would be “left-handed”?

This question seems to have no bearing on the validity of modern theories of biological evolution. Furthermore, asking that question, unless the asking has been done facetiously or in jest, exhibits ignorance of some basics of organic chemistry. I’m not going to answer that question directly. Instead I’m going to cite an article on chemical chirality from Wikipedia.

For this reason, the d/l system remains in common use in certain areas of biochemistry, such as amino acid and carbohydrate chemistry, because it is convenient to have the same chiral label for all of the commonly occurring structures of a given type of structure in higher organisms. In the d/l system, they are nearly all consistent – naturally occurring amino acids are all l, while naturally occurring carbohydrates are nearly all d. In the R / S system, they are mostly S, but there are some common exceptions.

If David Buckna insists on a more detailed explanation he is going to need to read the Internet article or any number of other references on chemical chirality.

5. Megatons of amino acids would be required to reach the necessary concentrations for protein synthesis in a vast primordial ocean. Puddles and ponds have a limited duration. Does evolution address this problem?

Strictly speaking, “evolution” does not address this problem. “Evolution” is not a field of science. “Evolution” is a natural phenomenon. What would address this problem would be the study of abiogenesis.

Additionally, this is not a question that would challenge modern theories of biological evolution. Biological evolution involves only the evolution of living things, not the origins of the first living things. Evidence of primordial cell life exists and remains a challenge to alternative postulations regarding the origins of current life forms.

“Megatons of amino acids” is a term David Buckna has introduced into the discussion without any demonstration of its relevance. It is also likely this question has no bearing on the matter of abiogenesis. For a pedestrian’s view of abiogenesis the reader is directed to the entry on Wikipedia, which contains the following:

The chemical processes that took place on the early Earth are called chemical evolution. Both Manfred Eigen and Sol Spiegelman demonstrated that evolution, including replication, variation, and natural selection, can occur in populations of molecules as well as in organisms. Spiegelman took advantage of natural selection to synthesize Spiegelman’s Monster, which had a genome with just 218 bases. Eigen built on Spiegelman’s work and produced a similar system with just 48 or 54 nucleotides.

Chemical evolution was followed by the initiation of biological evolution, which led to the first cells. No one has yet synthesized a “protocell” using basic components which would have the necessary properties of life (the so-called “bottom-up-approach“). Without such a proof-of-principle, explanations have tended to be focused on chemosynthesis. However, some researchers are working in this field, notably Steen Rasmussen and Jack Szostak. Others have argued that a “top-down approach” is more feasible. One such approach, successfully attempted by Craig Venter and others at The Institute for Genomic Research, involves engineering existing prokaryotic cells with progressively fewer genes, attempting to discern at which point the most minimal requirements for life were reached.

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David Buckna’s inaccurate use of language has been noted here. Throughout my responses I will continue to point this out whenever it appears.

6. Molecular biologist Michael Denton (Senior Research Fellow, University of Otago in New Zealand) in his book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, states there is not a trace of evidence on the molecular level for the traditional evolutionary series. Other molecular biologists agree/disagree with his conclusion. Why?

Buckna states that “[o]ther molecular molecular biologists” agree there is no evidence at the molecular level for the “traditional evolutionary series.” This appears to have been taken from page 284 of Denton’s book.

There is not a trace at the molecular level of the traditional evolutionary series: cyclostome → fish amphibian → reptile → mammal. Incredibly, man is as close to lamprey as are fish! None of the higher jawed vertebrate groups is in any sense intermediate between the jawless vertebrates and other jawed vertebrate groups.

This is accompanied by the following comment and diagram:

The figure below gives the percent sequence difference between the haemoglobin of the lamprey and a variety of jawed vertebrates, taken from a sequence difference matrix of the vertebrate globins in the Dayhoff Atlas of Protein Structure and Functions:4

DentonDiagram-01

The footnote references Dayhoff, M.D. (1972) Atlas of Protein Sequence and Structure, National Biomedical Research Foundation, Silver Spring, Maryland, vol. 5, Matrix 1, p D-8.

As far as “the traditional evolutionary series” goes, Buckna is literally correct. However, the reason he is correct is not anything that would make an argument against biological evolution.

Buckna’s “[o]ther molecular biologists agree” appears to be a reference to young Earth creationist Duane Gish. Gish was one of the stalwarts of the ICR, possessing both a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and also recognized skills as a debater. He spent a great part of his time at the ICR debating practicing scientist. That never meant his arguments were well-grounded however, and this was one of those with little ground.

The problem with this argument is that it starts with a false assumption and then proceeds to demonstrate the assumption is false. The reason this argument is a non-starter is that there is no expectation of a progression of differences from a modern cyclostome to modern human. What the differences show is that carp (a jawed fish), amphibian (a descendant of a jawed fish), bird (a descendant of a jawed fish), marsupial (a descendant of a jawed fish) and human (a descendant of a jawed fish) all belong to the same line of descent that split with the jawless fish line of descent a long time ago.

I have previously posted on this. Those interested can follow the link and dig deeper into the discussion.

7. How does evolution explain the emergence and development of sexual reproduction given that both male and female physiology would have to mutate simultaneously?

Again, “How does evolution…” Buckna needs to get right with his terminology.

In the mean time, I can answer that question: It’s not a coincidence that males and females of a species remain sexually compatible throughout a long chain of evolutionary development. Any instance of sexual incompatibility drops immediately from the gene pool, never to be seen again. It’s Charles Darwin’s basic principle of natural selection.

I can only hope the next question is going to be that easy.

8. True or False? Life appears abruptly and in complex forms in the fossil record and gaps appear systematically between various living kinds.

Well, not quite. Life appears gradually and not in such “complex forms” as Buckna might wish to infer. The earliest life forms detectable in the fossil record were single-cell.

The second part of Buckna’s question is whether there are gaps in the fossil record. I have covered this in a previous post. Skip down to the part where I tell I was born in 1940.

I was born in 1940. People have told me that, and I have documentary evidence. My father was born in 1908. His father was born in 1867. His father was born in … Actually I don’t have that evidence handy, but it is around somewhere. The main thing is I don’t need the evidence. I know my grandfather must have had a father. And his father had a father, and so on. I’m going to extrapolate this back 10,000 years. I am sure that 10,000 years there was a male human being from whom I eventually descended. Anything else would be a violation of some basic principles of biology. However, not only do I not have any fossils of all these ancestors, I don’t even have documentation. Yet neither I nor any sensible person will deny that this chain of ancestors once existed.

9. Document from the fossil record the transitional forms leading up to the first fish, from their assumed invertebrate ancestors.

Since I am entirely clueless on this matter, I’m going to just quote from an Internet source. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

The first ancestors of fish, or animals that were probably closely related to fish, were Pikaia, Haikouichthys and Myllokunmingia. These three genera all appeared around 530 Ma. Pikaia had a primitive notochord, a structure that could have developed into a vertebral column later. Unlike the other fauna that dominated the Cambrian, these groups had the basic vertebrate body plan: a notochord, rudimentary vertebrae, and a well-defined head and tail. All of these early vertebrates lacked jaws in the common sense and relied on filter feeding close to the seabed.

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10. Jellyfish consist entirely of soft body tissues. How do evolutionists explain the existence of jellyfish fossils, in view of their argument that soft body tissues of missing intermediate forms did not fossilize?

Again, “How do evolutionists explain…” How about, “How do scientists explain…”

Once more Buckna posits something that is not true. There is no “argument that soft body tissues …do not fossilize” See this:

“The fossil record is biased against soft-bodied life forms such as jellyfish, because they leave little behind when they die,” said study member Bruce Lieberman of the University of Kansas.

These jellyfish left their lasting imprint because they were deposited in fine sediment, rather than coarse sand. The film that the jellyfish left behind shows a clear picture, or “fossil snapshot,” of the animals.

11. The coelacanth fish was thought to be extinct for 70 million years, until one was caught off the coast of Madagascar in 1938. How do evolutionary biologists evaluate the discovery?

Again, there are no “evolutionary biologists.” There are just biologists. Evolution is a major component of modern biology. In Buckna’s thinking all biologists are “evolutionary biologists.”

Biologists were delighted to find a living specimen of the coelacanth. To answer Buckna’s implied question, coelacanth was thought to be extinct because we had seen no living specimens of it. We only had fossils to study until one (and then more) was discovered.

12. Describe one undisputed example of a creature that was transitional between fish and amphibian.

Strictly speaking, this is going to be an impossible task. As soon as I describe an “undisputed example” somebody else is able to step forward and say, “I dispute that.” Then my example is no longer “undisputed.”

That said, please feel free to dispute this:

Creationists claim that there are no transitional forms. This claim is made over and over as if it were a mantra. The plain fact is that there are transitional sequences but they never discuss the details. This is a sequence of fossils which occupy the transition from fish to amphibian.

378 MYR ago- Panderichthys–These are lobe-finned fish. Panderichthys was a rhipidistian,osteolepiform fish. The skull bones of these fish are bone for bone equivalents to the skull bones of the earliest tetrapods. (Carroll 1988, p. 160). These are the only fish whose fin bones fit the tetrapod pattern of humerus, ulna and radius in the forelimb and femur, tibia and fibula in the hindlimb. (Thomson, 1991, p. 488), Yet these limbs still have fins on them (Coates, 1994,p. 174). Their brain case is so much like that of the earliest tetrapod, they were originally classified as tetrapods until a complete skeleton was found. Then is was proven that they were really still fish. (Ahlberg and Milner, 1994, p. 508). This fish also had lungs and nostrils (Vorobyeva and Schulze, 1991, p.87) but also had gills. These things really looked like tetrapods until you see the fins. The teeth had infolding enamel which is identical to that of the earliest tetrapods. Unlike all fish but like the tetrapods, the Panderichthys have lost the dorsal and anal fins, leaving 4 fins in the place where legs would be in the Tetrapods.(Ahlberg and Milner, p.508). This contradicts Gish’s claim that there is no fossil which shows loss of fins. (Gish, 1978, p. 78-79). Unlike fish, Panderichthys had a tail, like the amphibians with the fins stretched out along the top (Carroll, 1995, p. 389; Carroll, 1996, p. 19).

13. There are innumerable evolutionary enigmas, such as eyes, bat radar, and pterodactyl wings. In each case, all the component parts would have to evolve simultaneously in order to function properly. Discuss three other structures which defy evolutionary explanation.

The question presumes 1) eyes, bat (sonar) and pterodactyl wings defy “evolutionary explanation” and 2) there really are three other structures which defy explanation. David Buckna is going to first have to make the case for features that do defy explanation before I can begin to address his “question.”

14. Describe one insect that was transitional between a non-flying insect and a flying insect.

The evolution of the insect wing is described here:

Insect wings are adult outgrowths of the insectexoskeleton that enable insects to fly. They are found on the second and third thoracic segments (the mesothorax andmetathorax), and the two pairs are often referred to as the forewings and hindwings, respectively, though a few insects lack hindwings, even rudiments. Insect wings do not constitute appendages in technical parlance, as insects only have one pair of appendages per segment. The wings are strengthened by a number of longitudinal veins, which often have cross-connections that form closed “cells” in the membrane (extreme examples include Odonata and Neuroptera). The patterns resulting from the fusion and cross-connection of the wing veins are often diagnostic for different evolutionary lineages and can be used for identification to the family or even genus level in many orders of insects.

I acknowledge this is not a description of an insect that is transitional between a non-flying insect and a flying insect. However, this and other sources describe the evolutionary development of flying insects, and this should be a sufficient answer to this “question.”

15. During the Industrial Revolution, dark-colored peppered moths appeared in larger numbers during environmental changes. Did a new species emerge, or did it already preexist? Is this macroevolution?

No development of a new species was involved in this example. This case only illustrates the response of a population to “adaptive pressure.”

16. “Bird-like” dinosaurs such as Struthiomimus were “lizard-hipped,” while dinosaurs such as the low-slung, four-legged Ankylosaurus were “bird-hipped.” How do paleontologists who believe dinosaurs evolved into birds, account for these characteristics?

For once, I’m stumped by David Buckna’s question. I will have to look that up.

OK, I did that, and here is what I found.

Struthiomimus

Struthiomimus (meaning “ostrich mimic”, from the Greek στρούθειος/stroutheios meaning “of the ostrich” and μῖμος/mimos meaning “mimic” or “imitator”) is a genus of ornithomimid dinosaurs from the late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada and Wyoming, USA. Ornithomimids were long-legged, bipedal, ostrich-like dinosaurs with toothless beaks. The genus Struthiomimus currently contains three species. The most well-known species, Struthiomimus altus, is one of the more common small dinosaurs found in Dinosaur Provincial Park; its abundance suggests that these animals were herbivores or omnivores rather than pure carnivores.

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Ankylosaurus

Ankylosaurus (/ˌæŋkɨlɵˈsɔrəs/ ang-ki-lo-sawr-əs or /æŋˌklɵˈsɔrəs/ ang-ky-lo-sawr-əs, and which means “fused lizard”) is a genus of ankylosaurid dinosaur, containing one species, A. magniventris. Fossils of Ankylosaurus are found in geologic formations dating to the very end of the Cretaceous Period (between about 68–66 Ma ago) in western North America.

Although a complete skeleton has not been discovered and several other dinosaurs are represented by more extensive fossil material, Ankylosaurus is often considered the archetypal armored dinosaur. Other ankylosaurids shared its well-known features—the heavily armored body and massive bony tail club—butAnkylosaurus was the largest known member of the family.

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I was unable, in my brief Internet search, to find any link between Struthiomimus and “lizard-hipped.” “Bird-hipped” has been associated with Ankylosaurus, but:

Ornithischia (/ɔrnɨˈθɪskiə/ or-ni-thiss-kee-ə)[1] or Predentata is an extinct order of beaked, herbivorous dinosaurs. The name ornithischia is derived from the Greek ornitheos (ορνιθειος) meaning ‘of a bird’ and ischion (ισχιον) meaning ‘hip joint’. They are known as the ‘bird-hipped’ dinosaurs because of their bird-like hip structure, even though birds actually belong to the ‘lizard-hipped’ dinosaurs (the saurischians).

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And I guess that answers David Buckna’s question. Here’s some more:

The evolution of birds is thought to have begun in the Jurassic Period, with the earliest birds derived from a clade of theropodadinosaurs named Paraves. Birds are categorized as a biological class, Aves. The earliest known is Archaeopteryx lithographica, from the Late Jurassic period, though Archaeopteryx is not commonly considered to have been a true bird. Modern phylogenies place birds in the dinosaur cladeTheropoda. According to the current consensus, Aves and a sister group, the orderCrocodilia, together are the sole living members of an unranked “reptile” clade, the Archosauria.

Phylogenetically, Aves is usually defined as all descendants of the most recent common ancestor of a specific modern bird species (such as the House Sparrow, Passer domesticus), and either Archaeopteryx, or some prehistoric species closer to Neornithes (to avoid the problems caused by the unclear relationships of Archaeopteryx to other theropods). If the latter classification is used then the larger group is termed Avialae. Currently, the relationship between dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx, and modern birds is still under debate.

On 31 July 2014, scientists reported details of the evolution of birds from theropod dinosaurs.

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17. Is it possible to document from the fossil record the series of transitional forms that led up to any dinosaur species?

The short answer is, “yes.”

The long answer is available from the Wikipedia entry for the evolution of dinosaurs. Here are some excerpts:

Dinosaurs evolved within a single lineage of archosaurs 232-234 Ma (million years ago) in the Ladinian age, the latter part of the middle Triassic. Dinosauria is a well-supported clade, present in 98% of bootstraps. It is diagnosed by many features including loss of the postfrontal on the skull and an elongate deltopectoral crest on the humerus.

The process leading up to the Dinosauromorpha and the first true dinosaurs can be followed through fossils of the early Archosaurs such as the Proterosuchidae, Erythrosuchidae and Euparkeria which have fossils dating back to 250 Ma, through mid-Triassic archosaurs such as Ticinosuchus 232-236 Ma. Crocodiles are also descendants of mid-Triassic archosaurs.

Dinosaurs can be defined as the last common ancestor of birds (Saurischia) and Triceratops (Ornithischia) and all the descendants of that ancestor. With that definition, the pterosaurs and several species of archosaurs narrowly miss out on being classified as dinosaurs. The pterosaurs are famous for flying through the Mesozoic skies on leathery wings and reaching the largest sizes of any flying animal that ever existed. Archosaur genera that also narrowly miss out on being classified as dinosaurs include Schleromochlus 220-225 Ma, Lagerpeton 230-232 Ma and Marasuchus 230-232 Ma.

The first known dinosaurs were bipedalpredators that were 1-2 metres (3.3-6.5 ft) long.

Spondylosoma may or may not be a dinosaur; the fossils (all postcranial) are tentatively dated at 235-242 Ma.

The earliest confirmed dinosaur fossils include saurischian (‘lizard-hipped’) dinosaurs Nyasasaurus 243 Ma, Saturnalia 225-232 Ma, Herrerasaurus 220-230 Ma, Staurikosaurus possibly 225-230 Ma, Eoraptor 220-230 Ma and Alwalkeria 220-230 Ma. Saturnalia may be a basal saurischian or a prosauropod. The others are basal saurischians.

Among the earliest ornithischian (‘bird-hipped’) dinosaurs is Pisanosaurus 220-230 Ma. Although Lesothosaurus comes from 195-206 Ma, skeletal features suggest that it branched from the main Ornithischia line at least as early as Pisanosaurus.

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18. (a) Were the feathers of Archaeopteryx identical to modern flying birds? (b) Are there any undisputed true birds in the fossil record that had teeth? (c) Archaeopteryx had claws on its wings. Name three modern birds that have claws on their wings (either in the juvenile stage or as an adult).

This is a three-part question:

a) Archaeopteryx feathers were very similar to the feathers of modern birds. See the entry for Archaeopteryx on Wikipedia.

b) Once again, the term “undisputed” makes this answer impossible. However, provided nobody disputes me, paleontological studies demonstrate the prior existence of birds with teeth.

The Cretaceous saw the rise of more modern birds with a more rigid ribcage with a carina and shoulders able to allow for a powerful upstroke, essential to sustained powered flight. Another improvement was the appearance of an alula, used to achieve better control of landing or flight at low speeds. They also had a more derived pygostyle, with a ploughshare-shaped end. An early example is Yanornis. Many were coastal birds, strikingly resembling modern shorebirds, like Ichthyornis, or ducks, like Gansus. Some evolved as swimming hunters, like the Hesperornithiformes – a group of flightless divers resembling grebes and loons. While modern in most respects, most of these birds retained typical reptilian-like teeth and sharp claws on the manus.

c) An example of a modern bird with claws on its wings is the hoatzin.

The hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), also known as the stinkbird, or Canje pheasant, is a species of tropical bird found in swamps, riparian forests, and mangroves of the Amazon and theOrinoco Delta in South America. It is notable for having chicks that possess claws on two of their wing digits.

Another reference mentions birds with claws.

Young Turacos also have wing claws which they lose as they mature, as do Yellow Rails . Ratites (ostrich, rhea, apteryx, etc) have wing claws as adults. Loons, storks, screamers, galliforms, Secretary Birds, owls, and finfoots, have small, non-functional claws. It turns out that in many – possibly most – species of birds, occasional individuals have wing claws.

19. Evolution teaches that mammals evolved from reptiles. All mammals have three bones in the ear (and the Organ of Corti) and a single bone on each side of the lower jaw. All reptiles have a single bone in the ear and on average six bones on each side of the lower jaw. Speculate how intermediate forms could have managed to hear and chew, while the necessary restructuring was taking place and the Organ of Corti was being developed.

Once again with Buckna, “Evolution teaches…” The fact is that mammals did evolve from reptiles. The “question” asks us to “speculate.” Let’s do more than that.

A good explanation is given in an item posted on the University of California at Berkeley evolution Web site. Here is an excerpt:

Like birds, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, amphibians, and most fishes, the earliest synapsids had a bone in the back of the skull on either side called the quadrate that made the connection with the lower jaw via a bone called the articular. But mammals today, including humans, use two different bones, called the squamosal and the dentary, to make this connection. How did this new jawbone configuration evolve?

For reasons we don’t fully understand, several lineages of synapsids — including the one that would eventually give rise to the mammals — began to evolve changes in the jaw joint. Originally the quadrate and articular bones formed the jaw joint, but these synapsids (e.g., Probainognathus) evolved a second pair of bones involved in the jaw articulation. The squamosal bone was positioned alongside the quadrate in the upper jaw, and the dentary was positioned alongside the articular in the lower jaw.

Here are a couple of pictures that go along with the explanation:

probain_skull

joints

20. Has any creature been identified as a direct ancestor of primates? Has any creature been identified as the common ancestor of man and apes? Explain your answers.

The answers are “yes” and “yes.” Here is a short explanation.

Primate ancestors:

The first primate-like mammals, or proto-primatesclick this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced, evolved in the early Paleocene Epoch (65.5-55.8 million years ago) at the beginning of the Cenozoic Era.  They were roughly similar to squirrels and tree shrews in size and appearance.  The existing, very fragmentary fossil evidence (from Asia, Europe, North Africa, and especially Western North America) suggests that they were adapted to an arboreal way of life in warm, moist climates.  They probably were equipped with relatively good eyesight as well as hands and feet adapted for climbing in trees.  These primate-like mammals (Plesiadapiformesclick this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced) will remain rather shadowy creatures for us until more fossil data become available.

Some pictures of primate ancestors:

PrimateAncestor-01

From Nova

From Nova: Dryomomys 55 million years ago We've now arrived at one of your very earliest precursors, Dryomomys. Something like this creature begot something that begot something that, after that eternity of time, begot

From Nova: Dryomomys 55 million years ago We’ve now arrived at one of your very earliest precursors, Dryomomys. Something like this creature begot something that begot something that, after that eternity of time, begot

Strictly speaking, a fish is a common ancestor of man and apes. Closer ancestors are the creatures pictured above.

21. Evolutionist Dr. Charles Oxnard (Professor of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia) completed the most sophisticated computer analysis of australopithecine fossils ever undertaken, and concluded that they have nothing to do with the ancestry of man whatsoever and are simply an extinct form of ape (see Oxnard’s The Order of Man, Yale University Press, 1984). How have paleoanthropologists responded to his conclusions?

The short answer may be that paleoanthropoloogists have not responded. A short search did not find any on-line challenge to Oxnard’s findings.

However, there does not seem to be any residual doubt of australopithecine’s role in the ancestry of man.

Most scientists maintain one of the australopithecine species evolved into the Homo genus in Africa around two million years ago. However there is no consensus on which species:

“Determining which species of australopithecine (if any) is ancestral to the genus Homo is a question that is a top priority for many paleoanthropologists, but one that will likely elude any conclusive answers for years to come. Nearly every possible species has been suggested as a likely candidate, but none are overwhelmingly convincing. Presently, it appears that A. garhi has the potential to occupy this coveted place in paleoanthropology, but the lack of fossil evidence is a serious problem. Another problem presents itself in the fact that it has been very difficult to assess which hominid represents the first member of the genus Homo. Without knowing this, it is not possible to determine which species of australopithecine may have been ancestral to Homo.”

There remains the question of why David Buckna considers this to be relevant.

22. Stern and Susman write in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology 60:279-313 (1983) that the hands and feet of Australopithecus afarensis are not at all like human hands and feet; rather, they have the long, curved fingers and toes typical of arboreal primates. How, then, do some insist that the footprints Mary Leakey uncovered in strata (dated at 3.5 million years old) in Laetoli were made byAustralopithecus afarensis, though these prints are indistinguishable from modern man? (Tuttle, Natural History, 64)

Buckna has fallen back on a well-worn volley ball of physical anthropology. The issue is much batted about on the Internet, with lots of evidence of creationist abuse. My advice, take a look at a published paper that directly addresses the issue. Here’s the abstract:

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1987 Apr;72(4):485-514.

Hominid footprints at Laetoli: facts and interpretations.

Abstract

The history of discovery and interpretation of primate footprints at the site of Laetoli in northern Tanzania is reviewed. An analysis of the geological context of these tracks is provided. The hominid tracks in Tuff 7 at Site G in the Garusi River Valley demonstrate bipedality at a mid-Pliocene datum. Comparison of these tracks and the Hadar hominid foot fossils by Tuttle has led him to conclude that Australopithecus afarensis did not make the Tanzanian prints and that a more derived form of hominid is therefore indicated at Laetoli. An alternative interpretation has been offered by Stern and Susman who posit a conforming “transitional morphology” in both the Tanzanian prints and the Ethiopian bones. The present examines both hypotheses and shows that neither is likely to be entirely correct. To illustrate this point, a reconstruction of the foot skeleton of a female A. afarensis is undertaken, and the results are compared to the Laetoli tracks. We conclude that A. afarensis represents the best candidate for the maker of the Laetoli hominid trails.

PMID:
3111270
[PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

23. Nebraska Man (based solely on a fossil tooth) became a significant image in America during the time of the Scopes trial (1925); later, scientists discovered the tooth came from a pig. A report in Nature (August 17, 1995) states that analysis of an incomplete shin bone from a creature dubbed Australopithecus anamensis suggests it walked upright “between 3.9 and 4.2 million years ago.” How should we treat discoveries which have not yet faced the rigors of scientific validation?

For once this is a worthy question and an implied recommendation. We should treat such discoveries with heaps of skepticism, especially if the findings lie far afield of established knowledge.

Having said that, let’s see what this is all about. I could not pull up the full paper from Nature, but here is the abstract:

Nature 376, 565-571 (17 August 1995) | doi:10.1038/376565a0; Accepted 1 August 1995

New four-million-year-old hominid species from Kanapoi and Allia Bay, Kenya

Meave G. Leakey*, Craig S. Feibel, Ian McDougall & Alan Walker§

  1. *National Museums of Kenya, PO Box 40658, Nairobi, Kenya
  2. Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903-0270, USA
  3. Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
  4. §Departments of Anthropology and Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

Nine hominid dental, cranial and postcranial specimens from Kanapoi, Kenya, and 12 specimens from Allia Bay, Kenya, are described here as a new species of Australopithecus dating from between about 3.9 million and 4.2 million years ago. The mosaic of primitive and derived features shows this species to be a possible ancestor to Australopithecus afarensis and suggests thatArdipithecus ramidus is a sister species to this and all later hominids. A tibia establishes that hominids were bipedal at least half a million years before the previous earliest evidence showed.

First glance: this does not seem to be a lot about the “analysis of an incomplete shin bone.” There seems to be more to it than that. Looking elsewhere, The Smithsonian has more to say. This is from a page titled What does it mean to be human?

Australopithecus anamensis

Australopithecus anamensis has a combination of traits found in both apes and humans. The upper end of the tibia (shin bone) shows an expanded area of bone and a human-like orientation of the ankle joint, indicative of regular bipedal walking (support of body weight on one leg at the time). Long forearms and features of the wrist bones suggest these individuals probably climbed trees as well.

Image of a common ancestor face illustration, front view
Where Lived:

Eastern Africa (Lake Turkana, Kenya and Middle Awash, Ethiopia)

When Lived:

About 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago

Australopithecus anamensis lived about 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago.
Year of Discovery:

1995

History of Discovery:

In 1965, a research team led by Bryan Patterson from Harvard University discovered a single arm bone (KNM-KP 271) of an early human at the site of Kanapoi in northern Kenya. But without additional human fossils, Patterson could not confidently identify thespecies to which it belonged. In 1994, a research team led by paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey found numerous teeth and fragments of bone at the same site. Leakey and her colleagues determined that the fossils were those of a very primitive hominin and they named a new species called Australopithecus anamensis (‘anam’ means ‘lake’ in the Turkana lanaguage). Researchers have since found other Au. anamensis fossils at nearby sites (including Allia Bay), all of which date between about 4.2 million and 3.9 million years old.

Height & Weight Supplemental Information:

This species was possibly the size of female chimpanzee, yet there is also evidence of strong male-female body size difference (sexual dimorphism).

We don’t know everything about our early ancestors—but we keep learning more! Paleoanthropologists are constantly in the field, excavating new areas with groundbreaking technology, and continually filling in some of the gaps about our understanding of humanevolution.

Below are some of the still unanswered questions about Australopithecus anamensis that may be answered with future discoveries:

  1. Is Au. anamensis a separate species from Au. afarensis? Many scientists think thefossil material of Au. anamensis and Au. afarensis represents a single lineage that evolved through time.
  2. Is Au. amanensis a direct descendant of the 4.4 million year old species Ardipithecus ramidus?

First paper:

Leakey, M.G., Feibel, C.S., McDougall, I., Walker, A., 1995. New four-million-year-oldhominid species from Kanapoi and Allia Bay, Kenya. Nature 376,565-571.

Other recommended reading:

Leakey, M.G., Feibel, C.S., McDougall, I., Ward, C., Walker, A., 1998. New specimens and confirmation of an early age for Australopithecus anamensis. Nature 393, 62-66.

Ward, C. Leakey, M., Walker, A., 1999. The new hominid species Australopithecus anamensis. Evolutionary Anthropology 7, 197-205.

White, T.D, WoldeGabriel, G., Asfaw,B., Ambrose, S., Beyene, Y., Bernor, R.L., Boisserie, J.-R., Currie, B., Gilbert, H., Haile-Selassie, Y., Hart, W.K., Hlusko, L.J., Howell, F.C., Kono, R.T., Lehmann, T., Louchart, A., Lovejoy, C.O., Renne, P.R., Saegusa, H.,  Vrba, E.S., Wesselman, H., Suwa, G.,  2006. Asa Issie, Aramis and the origin of Australopithecus.Nature 440, 883-889.

How They Survived:

Australopithecus anamensis individuals had thickly-built, long, narrow jaws with their side rows of teeth arranged in parallel lines.  Their strong jaws combined with heavily enameled teeth suggest Au. anamensis individuals may at times have eaten hard, abrasive foods, but they likely were plant-eaters in general, relying on both fruits and tough foods such as nuts.  The sites where remains of Au. anamensis have been found were forests and woodlands that grew around lakes.

Evolutionary Tree Information:

Jaw remains suggest that this species was the direct ancestor of Australopithecus afarensis, and possibly the direct descendent of a species of Ardipithecus.

Image of KNM-KP 29285, tibia

A team led by Meave Leakey found the A. anamensis type specimen, mandible KNM-KP 29281, in Kenya in 1994. In 2006, Tim White’s team found A. anamensis fossils in the Middle Awash, Ethiopia, including the largest hominin canine yet discovered and the earliest Australopithecus femur.

Want to read about the tibia (shin bone) KNM-KP 29285?

It would appear that A. anamensis is a cut above Nebraska Man.

From its initial description, Hesperopithecus was regarded as an inconclusive find by a large portion of the scientific community. Examinations of the specimen continued, and the original describers continued to draw comparisons betweenHesperopithecus and apes. Further field work on the site in the summers of 1925 and 1926 uncovered other parts of the skeleton. These discoveries revealed that the tooth was incorrectly identified. According to these discovered pieces, the tooth belonged neither to a man nor an ape, but to a fossil of an extinct species of peccary called Prosthennops serus. The misidentification was attributed to the fact that the original specimen was severely weathered. The earlier identification as an ape was retracted in the journal Science in 1927.

It’s possible Buckna is going for some low-hanging fruit here. Let’s see what’s next.

24. In 1982, Dr. Lyall Watson stated: “The fossils that decorate our family tree are so scarce that there are still more scientists than specimens. The remarkable fact is that all the physical evidence we have for human evolution can still be placed, with room to spare, inside a single coffin!” (Science Digest, vol. 90, May ’82, p. 44.) Is Watson’s statement still valid today?

The short answer is “no” unless we are talking of a very large coffin. Let’s take a quick look at some of these fossils. Here’s a short list:

As there are thousands of fossils, mostly fragmentary, often consisting of single bones or isolated teeth with complete skulls and skeletons rare, this overview is not complete, but does show some of the most important finds. The fossils are arranged by approximate age as determined by radiometric dating and/or incremental dating and the species name represents current consensus; if there is no clear scientific consensus the other possible classifications are indicated. Deprecated classifications may be found on the fossil’s page.

25. If coal formation was a slow, vertical accumulation of sediments over vast ages (a) why are fossil trees sometimes found upside down in coal seams? (b) why are marine fossils such as tubeworms, sponges, and corals often found in coal beds?

Oops. Just when I thought the fruit couldn’t grow any lower.

This is another two-part question. I will provide two answers without even going to the Internet for assistance.

a) Coal seams are are formed by non-fossilized plant material. There is nothing in the formation of coal that prevents the inclusion of separately fossilized tree trunks.

b) Some coal seams were submersed for a time beneath shallow seas. In such a situation there is nothing to prevent limestone and other fossilized sea life from inntruding into the seams.

26. Oil and gas, trapped within permeable sedimentary rock, remains at high pressure. If trapped for millions of years, why wouldn’t these pressures have dissipated?

Another oldie-but-goody and also nothing to do with biological evolution. The layers containing the oil and gas are sealed from above by impermeable layers of limestone. The matter of “high pressure” not a big issue. The zones above and to the sides of the oil and gas deposits are also at high pressure. It’s pressure differential, not absolute pressure that would drive the oil or gas to migrate.

27. Does the retrograde motion of Venus, Uranus, and Pluto support or contradict the theory of solar system formation?

The short answer is “no.” Also, this has nothing to do with biological evolution.

For readers who would like an extended discussion:

Venus:

So why is the rotation of Venus backwards? Astronomers think that Venus was impacted by another large planet early in its history, billions of years ago. The combined momentum between the two objects averaged out to the current rotational speed and direction.

Uranus:

Uranus has an axial tilt of 97.77°, so its axis of rotation is approximately parallel with the plane of the Solar System. This gives it seasonal changes completely unlike those of the other major planets. Other planets can be visualized to rotate like tilted spinning tops on the plane of the Solar System, whereas Uranus rotates more like a tilted rolling ball. Near the time of Uranian solstices, one pole faces the Sun continuously whereas the other one faces away. Only a narrow strip around the equator experiences a rapid day–night cycle, but with the Sun low over the horizon as in the Earth’s polar regions. At the other side of Uranus’s orbit the orientation of the poles towards the Sun is reversed. Each pole gets around 42 years of continuous sunlight, followed by 42 years of darkness. Near the time of the equinoxes, the Sun faces the equator of Uranus giving a period of day–night cycles similar to those seen on most of the other planets. Uranus reached its most recent equinox on December 7, 2007.

[Links deleted]

Pluto:

Compared with most of solar system’s planets and moons, the Pluto-Charon system is tipped on its side in relation to the sun. Also, Pluto’s rotation is retrograde compared to the other worlds — it spins backward, from east to west.

28. On March 25, 1996, Comet Hyakutake (classified as a short-period comet) made its closest swing by Earth, at a distance of about nine million miles. According to English astronomer Raymond A. Lyttleton and others, what’s the maximum lifetime for a short-period comet?

I’m trying to figure out what this (and the rotation of planets) has to do with evolution. But here is the answer:

The short-period comets have a life expectancy of 50,000 to 500,000 years. This poses the question of why we still have in our planetary system (which is allegedly billions of years old) so many short- period comets. To solve the problem, a theoretically present Oort cloud is proposed which allegedly continuously supplies new comets.

29. The Oort Cloud was first theorized by Dutch astronomer Jan Oort in 1950 to account for the existence of short period comets. Since 1950, has any portion of the postulated Oort Cloud ever been directly observed?

Again, no relation to biological evolution. But here is an answer to the question: The Oort Cloud has not been directly observed. The most apparent indication of the Oort Cloud is the behavior of near-Sun comets.

Most of the comets seen close to the Sun seem to have reached their current positions through gravitational perturbation of the Oort cloud by the tidal force exerted by the Milky Way. Just as the Moon’s tidal force deforms Earth’s oceans, causing the tides to rise and fall, the galactic tide also distorts the orbits of bodies in the outer Solar System. In the charted regions of the Solar System, these effects are negligible compared to the gravity of the Sun, but in the outer reaches of the system, the Sun’s gravity is weaker and the gradient of the Milky Way’s gravitational field has substantial effects. Galactic tidal forces stretch the cloud along an axis directed toward the galactic centre and compress it along the other two axes; these small perturbations can shift orbits in the Oort cloud to bring objects close to the Sun.[36]The point at which the Sun’s gravity concedes its influence to the galactic tide is called the tidal truncation radius. It lies at a radius of 100,000 to 200,000 AU, and marks the outer boundary of the Oort cloud.

[Links deleted]

30. Are new stars forming today? Are new planets which circle faraway stars beyond the solar system actually being discovered?

Another question unrelated to biological evolution. The answer to both questions is “yes.”

31. If the universe is billions of years old, orbital mechanics require that spiral galaxies and galaxy clusters should have blurred or spun apart long ago. How do Big Bang advocates explain their present shape? Is there any direct evidence for the “missing mass” of the universe (Cold Dark Matter)?

Again, nothing related to biological evolution. Besides, I covered this one about twenty years ago. Then I recapped it last week. Here’s an excerpt:

1. Galaxies Here’s the rub. Look into the sky and you see spiral galaxies; clouds consisting of billions of stars spinning about a common center in a pinwheel formation (see Figure 1). Measurement of the rate of motion of the individual stars discloses a troubling concern. The stars near the center of the galaxies are moving at such a rate that they will circle the center more quickly than stars farther out. A quick mathematical analysis will show (and Humphreys has done so) that after a few million years a spiral galaxy gets “wound up” by this process. The spiral shape completely disappears within a half billion years, leaving us to wonder what happens in the remaining fifteen-plus billion years of the universe. Why aren’t all galaxies wound into flat disks by now, especially the Milky Way galaxy where we now are and where we have been for over four billion years? Young Earth creationists will assert that these galaxies have been in existence much less than four billion years, maybe even less than 10,000 years. Of course this misses the question of why the galaxies got wound into a spiral in the first place, a process that ought to take at least a million years.

Strahler cites a work by Steven Dutch2 explaining that even spiral galaxies are approximately flat disks of stars and that the spiral features are bands of new stars that shine more brightly in the blue spectrum, giving the overall galaxy its spiral appearance. Even with this explanation the spiral galaxy argument will continue to provide fuel for the creationists for years to come, since the new star explanation will not be easy to understand by the population at large.

The footnote cited is to an item in a book by Arthur N. Strahler Science and Earth History – the Evolution/Creation Controversy, (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY).

32. In his book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Dr. Michael Behe defines an “irreducibly complex” system as a single system composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where removal of any one part causes the system to effectively cease functioning. Give an example of a system (living or non-living) that could be considered “irreducibly complex,” and explain why.

I will deal only with biological systems. Not only has Michael Behe been unable to discover “irreducibly complex” features, neither has any other biologist. See my previous review in the November 1999 issue of The North Texas Skeptic.

33. In his 1981 address to the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Dr. Colin Patterson (Senior Paleontologist, British Museum of Natural History) asked: “Can you tell me anything you KNOW about evolution? Any one thing? Any one thing that is true?” The answer he got was silence. Can you state any one thing about evolution you know to be true? How do you know it is true?

The answer to the first question is “yes.” I can state a number of things I know to be true. In answer to the second question I can state for a fact that biological evolution has taken place. Organisms on this planet today are direct descendants of organisms that lived here millions of years ago and were nothing like present-day life forms.

And that concludes my short review of David Buckna’s 33 “questions.”

Stupid on Stilts

MeganFox-02-03

As promised, I’m renewing my review of creationist Megan Fox’s review of science exhibits at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

This is so remarkable. What I will do is hopscotch through the 30-minute clip and pick up legible pieces of Fox’s monologue and then apply some Skeptical Analysis. I will start with a screen shot from the video as available on YouTube. The original is not top-notch videography, and there’s not much I can do about that. I pumped up the contrast a bit, but that’s as far as I could go.

Fox starts out by examining a display that describes the development of multi-cell eukaryotic life. Next she heads off to some fossils of extinct animals.

MeganFox-02-01

In what follows, my transcription of Fox’s remarks is going to be a bit loose, but I have tried mightily to retain her intent. She points to the animal fossils and says:

That’s science. Don’t tell me how they got into existence. You don’t have a clue. You don’t have a clue. I don’t want to hear about your theories and your stupid theories about how these creatures came from one cell when you can’t prove it to me. You can’t prove it, and no one can prove it.

She tosses her head and mocks the scientific explanation.

Just show me the animals. Tell me about them. Don’t tell me you know exactly how they came to be, because you don’t. And don’t tell my children that you know either, because that makes me angry. I would prefer that we just tell them it’s OK not to know. It’s OK to say “I don’t know.”

She examines a trilobite fossil and is impressed by it. She doesn’t seem to know that it’s a trilobite, one of the most famous extinct animals of all.

MeganFox-02-02

She views some exhibits, apparently illustrating animal evolution, and she comments. Here’s a truncated transcription of the text from the museum display:

By 470 million years ago, Earth’s landscape was turning green with plant life. Soon this new world would be home to ancestors of today’s insects and other species that could live on land. Other animals would follow.

Life was moving onto land. Why now?

First, the ozone layer—formed when oxygen began to accumulate in Earth’s atmosphere—provided protection from the sun’s harmful radiation. Only water had provided this protection before.

Meanwhile soils had formed that could nourish plant life. Bacteria, algae, and fungi had gained an early foothold on land, secreting acids that broke rock down into its mineral elements…

I could not see enough of the display to transcribe all of the text, but here is a comparable transcript from Cameron Sow on 5 October 2012:

By 470 million years ago, Earth’s barren landscape was turning green with plant life.
Trailblazing life forms, including plants, had made a major move: to land. In the seas, life flourished as temperatures warmed. Fishes diversified in the deep.

Massive reefs sprawled across tropical sea floors. Devonian Period reefs were larger and more widespread than at any other time in history, stretching for miles and reaching hundreds of feet in height.

The seas spawned new life on land.
From this rich diversity of life in the waters, animals—including the first tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates)—were beginning to colonize land.

Soon, this new world would be home to ancestors of today’s insects and spiders, as arthropods evolved that could live on land. Other animals would follow. A Wooded World

Step into a world of warm, swampy forests. Though ice still covered the South Pole, swampy tropical forests stretched across much of Europe, Asia, and North America, which were gathered at the equator.

Anyhow, Fox is purchasing none of this.

How do they know this? They’re talking about 470 million years ago. These are just guesses off the top of their head.

She points to the line about the ozone layer forming.

I love how they [unintelligible] this is what happened for sure. For sure, this is what happened. “First.” Listen how dumb this sounds. “First the ozone layer—formed when the oxygen began to accumulate in the Earth’s atmosphere—provided protection from the sun’s harmful radiation. Only the water had provided this protection before.”

How do you know this? It’s a fairy tale. It’s just a fairy tale. but you want the whole scientific community … and everybody else is supposed to believe this.

“Meanwhile, soils had formed.” How do you know?” [laughs] “How do you know?” This is all a guess, but look at the language. Meanwhile “Soils had formed.” Not “Soils may have formed.” “Soils had formed the nourished plant life.”

And so, here comes the plants. Well, it’s a guess. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe not. Look it. There’s no other explanation here. There no other… There’s not one other explanation. Not, “Well this could have happened, but maybe this happened.” Maybe it all happened at once. Maybe. Maybe there was… Maybe it was alien created. Maybe… No one knows. No one. And so this …

She steps to another exhibit that says:

Where did the first land plants come from?

Earth’s first land plants were small and moss-like, living near the water’s edge. They evolved from one type of algae: green algae.

Algae and plants are photosynthetic. They turn the sun’s energy into food using colored pigments called chlorophylls. Different types of algae have different types of chlorophylls; the chlorophylls in green algae are the same types as those found in plants. This is one reason scientists think plants evolved from green algae.

Fox has an answer for that. Rather a question.

Oh look. “Earth’s first plants were small and moss-like.” Oh yeah. How do you know? Did you have a video camera there? Where’s the tape? I want to see the evidence. Where’s the evidence? Fossils? These fossils are the evidence? Because you have fossils of plants? This is the evidence I’m supposed to believe, that these were the first plants? How do you know? [pointing to the text] “They evolved from one type of algae to green algae.” [inaudible] They even know the type of algae. It was green. They even know the color of it. It was green.

Someone’s going to have to fill me in. There must be a hidden video tape from 470 million years ago that these people all are in possession of and haven’t shared with the rest of us. Because they know what happened 470 million years ago. It’s like the weather people know how to predict the weather on Friday. Everybody knows the past, too.

And at the very end:

“This is one reason scientists think plants evolved from green algae.” [points to the text above] But what does that say here? What does it say here? “They evolved from one type of algae: green algae.” It doesn’t say they think they did. It says they did. [points back down to the following text] Then down here it says well they think they did. Because you’re not going to get down here. You’re going to just read this part and go, “Oh, that’s what happened.” Doesn’t anyone see how ridiculous this is?

Fox gestures to the museum setting.

And this entire building. Look at how much money has gone into this place, to just talk about this… No one really knows.

She wanders off to another exhibit. The text reads:

The greening of the earth

It took around 50 million years, but from the first tiny vascular plants near the water’s edge arose a remarkable diversity of plant life.

Leafy trees towered over a forest floor blanketed with low-growing plants. Roots allowed plants to grow further inland by tapping into underground water sources.

Fox takes issue:

Oh look. “It took around 50 million years.” Why not sixty? Seventy? Maybe forty. How do you know? Where’s the video? [gestures at the display] Again, where’s the video? How about video evidence?

It’s all disgusting. All of it. [Not one bit of evidence]? Just one. There’s no missing link. All this stuff is no missing link. Not one has been found that’s not a hoax, that is not a joke, that is not somebody’s idea of a prank. Or somebody’s idea of trying to get their theory made into laws. There is no such thing as a missing link. [shrugs] Doesn’t exist. That’s why it’s called “missing.” [smirks and gives a little laugh] Why the “missing.” We don’t have any examples of plants going from one type of plant to another type of plant. All we have are examples of plants that have always been algae that have always been algae. And, for example, always been horsetails and ferns that have always been ferns, that have never been anything else. But no. We’re going to just going to continue to believe that there are missing links out there. We just haven’t found them yet.

She turns away from the exhibit.

This will be a good place to pause in my rehash of Fox’s inspection of the exhibits. It’s necessary to digest some of what has just transpired. Besides, I’m about one third through the 30-minute video, and I need to keep from getting bogged down at this point while there’s a lot more left to go. Let’s take a look at what Fox has said.

That’s science. Don’t tell me how they got into existence. You don’t have a clue. You don’t have a clue. I don’t want to hear about your theories and your stupid theories about how these creatures came from one cell when you can’t prove it to me. You can’t prove it, and no one can prove it.

Just show me the animals. Tell me about them. Don’t tell me you know exactly how they came to be, because you don’t. And don’t tell my children that you know either, because that makes me angry. I would prefer that we just tell them it’s OK not to know. It’s OK to say “I don’t know.”

Yes, I know I’m just repasting from what’s above, but you need to see this while I’m discussing it.

When she says “That’s science,” she’s talking about the fossil exhibit. She’s saying these fossils are real. That’s what science is. Theories are what scientist derive from these fossils—that’s not science. She doesn’t want to hear about theories.

Unfortunately for Fox and a vast herd of the scientifically illiterate, theories are what science is all about. It’s almost certain Fox does not know the strict definition of “scientific theory.” A lot of people outside the fields of science have a misinterpretation of scientific theories. To straighten it out for now, a theory is an explanation. In various fields of study a theory is an explanation of observed “facts.” In criminal court an attorney’s theory of the events is a story that explains the evidence presented. In science a theory is a story that explains a collection of observations. We observe the moon goes around the Earth. The theory of gravitation is a story that explains this and a large number of related observations.

Another observation of Fox’s discourse is she presumes to expect too much from the exhibits. This is a museum. This is not a complete course in natural science. The museum exhibits only present the evidence (the fossils) and the scientific conclusions scientists have derived from them and also from vast studies of similar evidence. The museum presentation is of necessity a truncated version of the scientific evidence. Fox takes this to be the complete story and runs with it for the goal post. Whether she does this from ignorance or from a deliberate attempt to subvert known science it’s not easy to tell from the video.

Fox says, “And don’t tell my children that you know either.” That’s significant, because from other sources I get that Fox home-schools her children. Presumably they are not exposed to a complete explanation of how scientists arrived at their conclusions.

She also tells us it’s OK to tell children we don’t know. Presumably when we actually don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with this part, except maybe with the presumption that scientist really are clueless about this science. Here we should make clear, and Fox needs to be aware, that science education typically starts with simple explanations of well-known facts taught in the lower grades. In the lower grades the curriculum doesn’t get much into the imponderables of science. The really tough issues, the topics for which all the evidence may not be in, are held for the upper grades, where there may be some discussion of things unknown. In graduate studies students work at the cutting edge of science. Here long-cherished theories are overturned on the order of several a year. Fox’s contention that science works by hiding ignorance behind bluster is largely without base.

How do they know this? They’re talking about 470 million years ago. These are just guesses off the top of their head.

Of course these are not “just guesses.” Science has developed a number of means for determining the dates of past events. The exhibit is just telling the story of what happened. The viewer is presumed to be already aware of the methods scientists use to work out the details. It’s perhaps too much of an assumption.

“First the ozone layer—formed when the oxygen began to accumulate in the Earth’s atmosphere—provided protection from the sun’s harmful radiation. Only the water had provided this protection before.”

How do you know this? It’s a fairy tale. It’s just a fairy tale. but you want the whole scientific community and everybody else is supposed to believe this.

No, it’s not a “fairy tale.” Scientist and others with a high school science education know how the ozone layer is formed. They also know from geological evidence that the early Earth’s atmosphere was mostly devoid of oxygen. Oxygen is a reactive element that readily combines with other elements to form solid and liquid compounds that remove it from the atmosphere. Oxygen has to be constantly replenished by various processes. The main process that introduces elemental oxygen back into the atmosphere is photosynthesis, a process that is performed by green plants.

The explanation for the formation of atmospheric oxygen may be a little deeper than Fox wants to dig. If she were so inclined she could start with some simplified explanations found on the Internet and read further for additional detail. For example:

The Great Oxygenation Event (GOE), also called the Oxygen Catastrophe, Oxygen Crisis, Oxygen Revolution, or Great Oxidation, was the biologically induced appearance of dioxygen (O2) in Earth’s atmosphere. Geological, isotopic, and chemical evidence suggest that this major environmental change happened around 2.3 billion years ago (2.3 Ga).[2]

Cyanobacteria, which appeared about 200 million years before the GOE,[3] began producing oxygen by photosynthesis. Before the GOE, any free oxygen they produced was chemically captured by dissolved iron or organic matter. The GOE was the point when these oxygen sinks became saturated and could not capture all of the oxygen that was produced by cyanobacterial photosynthesis. After the GOE, the excess free oxygen started to accumulate in the atmosphere.

She might also want to read up on banded iron formations, considered to be a major corollary with the formation of atmospheric oxygen:

The conventional concept is that the banded iron layers were formed in sea water as the result of oxygen released by photosynthetic cyanobacteria. The oxygen then combined with dissolved iron in Earth’s oceans to form insoluble iron oxides, which precipitated out, forming a thin layer on the ocean floor, which may have been anoxic mud (forming shale and chert). Each band is similar to a varve, to the extent that the banding is assumed to result from cyclic variations in available oxygen.

It is unclear whether these banded ironstone formations were seasonal, followed some feedback oscillation in the ocean’s complex system or followed some other cycle.[8]

It is assumed that initially the Earth started with vast amounts of iron and nickel dissolved in the world’s acidic seas. As photosynthetic organisms generated oxygen, the available iron in the Earth’s oceans precipitated out as iron oxides.

At a suspected tipping point where the oceans became permanently oxygenated, small variations in oxygen production produced periods of free oxygen in the surface waters, alternating with periods of iron oxide deposition.

Going forward:

“Meanwhile, soils had formed.” How do you know?” [laughs] “How do you know?” This all just a guess, but look at the language. Meanwhile “Soils had formed.” Not “Soils may have formed.” “Soils had formed the nourished plant life.”

And so, here comes the plants. Well, it’s a guess. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe not. Look it. There’s no other explanation here. There no other… There’s not one other explanation. Not, “Well this could have happened, but maybe this happened.” Maybe it all happened at once. Maybe. Maybe there was… Maybe it was alien created. Maybe… No one knows. No one. And so this …

“[J]ust a guess?” No, it’s not. Evidence from geology is that originally there were no soils as we know them now. Granite is one of the principal primitive rocks. It’s hard and is formed deep within the Earth under intense heat and pressure. Exposed to the atmosphere, especially to the atmosphere with oxygen and water, it begins to break down. Loose soil, clay, rich in elemental minerals is formed. Plants living on the land can make use of these nutrients. If nothing broke down granite and limestone at the Earth’s surface, then many of today’s land plants would not be able to grow. There is no guessing. This is a thing that had to happen to get us to where we are today.

Oh look. “Earth’s first plants were small and moss-like.” Oh yeah. How do you know? Did you have a video camera there? Where’s the tape? I want to see the evidence. Where’s the evidence? Fossils? These fossils are the evidence? Because you have fossils of plants of plants? This is the evidence I’m supposed to believe, that these were the first plants? How do you know? [pointing to the text] “They evolved from one type of algae to green algae.” [inaudible] They even know the type of algae. It was green. They even know the color of it. It was green.

How do we know the first plants “were small and moss-like?” We know by the fossil evidence. The earliest land plant fossils were small and moss-like. The fossils tell the story. Fox does not know this?

“How do you know? Did you have a video camera there?” No, there was no video camera there. A video camera is a fairly recent invention. Less than a hundred years old. Also, there would have been nobody around to point the video camera had there been one. Fox is trying to make a joke.

Fortunately for science, video evidence is not necessary. There was no video showing the planet Neptune before it was discovered in 1846. Scientist worked out its existence and its location by deduction from observations of the motions of other planets.

The planet Neptune was mathematically predicted before it was directly observed. With a prediction by Urbain Le Verrier, telescopic observations confirming the existence of a major planet were made on the night of September 23–24, 1846,[1] at the Berlin Observatory, by astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle (assisted by Heinrich Louis d’Arrest), working from Le Verrier’s calculations. It was a sensational moment of 19th century science and dramatic confirmation of Newtonian gravitational theory. InFrançois Arago‘s apt phrase, Le Verrier had discovered a planet “with the point of his pen”.

Science does a lot of its work by inference rather than by direct observation.

“They even know the type of algae. It was green. They even know the color of it. It was green.” Yes, it was green. What other color does Fox expect it to be? Algae living on land and employing photosynthesis to extract carbon from the atmosphere (in order to grow) are green, because the chlorophyll gives them a green color.

Next Fox plays word games to make her point. “It doesn’t say they think they did. It says they did. [points back down to the following text] Then down here it says well they think they did. Because you’re not going to get down here.” My observation is this is not much of an argument. Fox may have a low opinion of her expected audience.

She next ridicules the museum. “And this entire building. Look at how much money has gone into this place, to just talk about this… No one really knows.” Yes, it is a lot of money. The museum was founded in 1893 and obtained its present name from a chief benefactor, Marshall Field, of the famous department store enterprise. Think what she may of the Field Museum, it’s one of the largest natural history museums in the world, and it’s supported by the best science of the day. If you want to pick a fight with the Field Museum, you going to have to pick a fight with modern science.

Oh look. “It took around 50 million years.” Why not sixty? Seventy? Maybe forty. How do you know?

Well, why not sixty? Or seventy or forty? Why doesn’t Fox take a stab at an answer on her own? Fox likes to ask questions without positing answers. Again, and Fox may not know this, paleontologists have means for determining ancient ages. Not down to the month, year or even the century. And notice the exhibit says “around 50 million years.” That’s the best science can do. For now. If somebody comes up with a closer figure, then science will adapt to the new findings. It’s the way science works. But for now the best answer is 50 million years.

There’s no missing link. All this stuff is no missing link. Not one has been found that’s not a hoax, that is not a joke, that is not somebody’s idea of a prank. Or somebody’s idea of trying to get their theory made into laws. There is no such thing as a missing link.

What Fox is referring to is “transitional fossils” or “transitional life forms.” If we have what is believed to be the fossil of a life form that is ancestral to an existing life form, then we would like to construct a chain of fossils representing the complete line of descent from the fossil to the present life form. That’s impossible for obvious reasons. A complete chain would comprise the remains, or fossils, from every generation of the chain. Let me give you an example of how that would have to work.

I was born in 1940. People have told me that, and I have documentary evidence. My father was born in 1908. His father was born in 1867. His father was born in … Actually I don’t have that evidence handy, but it is around somewhere. The main thing is I don’t need the evidence. I know my grandfather must have had a father. And his father had a father, and so on. I’m going to extrapolate this back 10,000 years. I am sure that 10,000 years there was a male human being from whom I eventually descended. Anything else would be a violation of some basic principles of biology. However, not only do I not have any fossils of all these ancestors, I don’t even have documentation. Yet neither I nor any sensible person will deny that this chain of ancestors once existed.

It’s the same way with paleontological fossils. Even though we can’t find every fossil we know the intermediary organisms did once exist. Else we would have to accept magical explanations.

But Fox is not talking about the line of descent within a given species, such as my human ancestry. She is referring to the line of descent that transcends the boundaries of species. The argument still holds. We know from paleontological evidence that there was a time when there were no life forms on this planet that belonged to the species Homo sapiens. But we know that every human, living or now dead, had an immediate ancestor. Eventually this line of descent leads back into those life forms that were not human, but must have been ancestral to Homo sapiens. Have we found fossils to represent every generation? No, we have not and for very good reasons.

Fox’s insistence that we produce a fossil representative of every generation leading from, say, me back to some long dead fish, is an insistence on the impractical, impossible and unnecessary. To work out the lineage of any current species we need only to find sufficient fossil evidence to convince a reasonable person that we are on the right track. I have emphasized the word reasonable. Fox would not fit that definition.

And here is what is critical. Not failing to find a “transitional fossil” but finding a fossil that does not fit is would would be crucial to fruitful scientific investigation. The finding of a hominid fossil in Cretaceous limestone would be the death knell to modern theories of biological evolution. Such a thing has never been found in all our searching for the past three hundred years. That is how scientist become convinced, not by finding what Fox may characterize as “concrete proof” (my term).

And speaking of “transitional fossils,” scientists find them all the time. About 16 years ago Carl Zimmer published a very nice book At the Water’s Edge. Zimmer tells about the evolution of aquatic animals to land animals and the subsequent evolution of land animals to aquatic animals. He recounts the then recent paleontological research that supports these findings, and this research produced a number of “transitional fossils” that support these scientific findings. It’s worth a read. Maybe not for Fox, though.

I make no promises that I will complete my journey through Fox’s 30-minute dissection of the Field Museum’s displays. If the remainder of the video turns up anything worth reporting, then there’s going to be one or more follow-up postings.

Bad Movie of the Week

MysteryStreet-01

This is one of those movies. Here’s the title. Do you know what this movie is all about? No, you’re going to have to see the move. It’s Mystery Street from MGM in 1950.

Ricardo Maltalban is police detective Lieutenant Peter Morales of the Barnstable, Massachusetts, police department. Jan Sterling is bar girl Vivian Heldon, who is going to get murdered. But sweet Vivian lives on Bunker Street in Boston, so how does a Barnstable cop get involved. That’s all explained at the beginning of the movie.

Vivian lives in a rooming house managed by conniving landlady Mrs. Smerrling, played by Elsa Lanchester. It all starts when sweet Vivian takes a phone call at the wall phone in the rooming house. Readers, how long has it been since you saw a community telephone mounted on the wall in a rooming house with the phone in a wooden box and a separate earphone at the end of a cord? That was the 1950s.

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Vivian is talking on the phone to somebody who lives in Hyanis, out on the Cape. She says he needs to meet her tonight, because she’s in a jam. She tells him to meet her where she works. He’s going to have to drive into Boston. She arranges to meet him at 10:30 that night. The nosy landlady takes all of this in, including the phone number that Vivian has scribbled next to the phone.

At the bar the mystery man doesn’t show at 10:30. Vivian phones the Hyanis number, but the line is busy. It’s been busy for hours. Somebody doesn’t want to talk to Vivian.

Henry Shanway (Marshall Thompson) is a drunk at the bar. His yellow Ford is parked in a no-parking zone. He needs to move it. He’s too drunk to drive. Vivian offers to drive him home. Instead she drives out to the Cape and leaves Henry stranded while she takes his car. Vivian meets the mystery man who shoots her and dumps her body on the beach. Then he dumps the car in a fresh water pond.

Henry reports the theft of his car, but not Vivian. Henry is a married man. When Vivian’s skeleton is discovered on the beach Lieutenant Morales gets involved and works with the Harvard Medical School to decipher the bones found on the beach, and slowly the mystery is unraveled. At the first level this is a procedural drama depicting the use of science to solve a crime.

At another lever is the mechanizations of Mrs. Smerrling. When the police identify Vivian as the victim, Mrs. Smerrling picks up on the Hyanis phone number and works a blackmail plot of her own.

Henry is prosecuted for Vivian’s murder. Police close in on the real killer. He gets desperate. There’s another murder. There is a dramatic chase through a rail yard with trains and locomotives going every which way. There’s a dramatic finish.

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Altogether not that bad a movie. The one plot weakness I can spot is how the police are able to connect Henry with the crime. The bartender where Vivian worked recounts the last time he saw Vivian and that she left with a man with a yellow Ford. The next we see the police are looking at records of stolen vehicles. In the story nothing is given to indicate to the police the car was stolen. Maybe that’s why this movie is titled Mystery Street.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

I am not a C&W kind of guy, but some of these will bring a tear to your eye:

10.) I Hate Every Bone In Her Body But Mine

9.) I Ain’t Never Gone To Bed With an Ugly Woman But I Woke Up With A Few

8.) If The Phone Don’t Ring, You’ll Know It’s Me

7.) I’ve Missed You, But My Aim’s Improvin’

6.) Wouldn’t Take Her To A Dogfight ‘Cause I’m Scared She’d Win

5.) I’m So Miserable Without You It’s Like You’re Still Here

4.) My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend And I Miss Him

3.) She Took My Ring and Gave Me the Finger

2.) She’s Lookin’ Better with Every Beer

And the Number One Country & Western song is…

1.) It’s Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chewed My Ass All Day

Zealot

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Today may be a good time to bring this up. We’ll see how it works out.

This is not a review of the book. I’ll get around to that later. For now I’m going to discuss the book’s author, Reza Aslan. He’s been in the news the past few days with an on-line panel discussion about Jesus.

Reza Aslan And Theological Scholar Peter Lillback Debate Who Jesus Really Was

The different historical and religious interpretations of Jesus are generally cause for a heated debate, and in a HuffPost Live panel discussion on Monday, author Reza Aslan and theological scholar Peter Lillback had just that.

The “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” author argues that a tension exists between the historical and theological narratives of Jesus, as “many Christians would say Jesus fulfilled” the prophecies detailed in the Bible, while “many historians would say Jesus’ life was crafted so that it would fulfill these prophecies.”

“There are many prophecies of the coming messiah that Jesus does not fulfill,” he added. “It’s kind of a hodge-podge of different prophetic statements about what the messiah’s supposed to do, where the messiah’s supposed to be born, etc.”

Lillback, the President of Westminster Theological Seminary, took issue with Aslan’s claim, firing back that he’d like to “correct” the author about the level of fact to be gleaned from the Hebrew scriptures.

“When we continue to separate history and theology and say they cannot be together, that means that we who are living two millenia after Christ know more about that historical milieu than the people who actually lived there and saw the story,” he said.

Yes, that really is the problem with Jesus. Jesus is supposed to have fulfilled biblical prophesies, thereby making him the promised messiah, the Christ. Unfortunately for the story of Jesus is that none of this fulfillment was realized until many years after the execution a person named Jesus, or Joshua, from Nazareth, in what is now the modern state of Israel.

Today for most Christians around the world is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and an interesting thing about the story of Jesus’s birth is where he was supposed to have been born. Christians celebrate Bethlehem as his birth place, and we are drawn to ask, “Why?” Why Bethlehem?

The answer to that swings the conversation back to the prophesies Jesus is presumed to have fulfilled. One prophesy was that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and the stories of Jesus, written years after his death, point toward Bethlehem.

The problem is there is no evidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. His family, his father Joseph and his mother Mary, are said to have lived in Nazareth, hence “Jesus of Nazareth.” So how did Jesus get born in Bethlehem? Good you should ask.

Supposedly the Roman government was superbly efficient, and they needed a census of all their subjects. So to fulfill the census everybody had to show up at the place of their birth and participate in the census—there.

At this point all kinds of historians and also serious biblical scholars are asking, “Why?” The answer to that question is, “No way!” First, there is no reason an efficient government would require people to return to their place of birth to participate in a census. Second, there is no record the Romans ever held a census about that time, neither a census of this sort of at any time. The solution to this conundrum is simply that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem. And I won’t get into the fable of the star that hangs in the sky over a single point on the ground. There’s some serious physics that argues against that.

What we apparently have is the case of a radical Jewish rabbi from about 2000 years ago who got crosswise with the church and was executed by the Romans for insubordination. And no messiah.

Jesus was gone, along with a number of possible candidates from the time. And no messiah. Years later, in fulfillment of the prophesies, Jesus was nominated as the messiah, now dead, and a (nearly) complete history was concocted of his life, death and ultimate ascent into Heaven. And the rest is history.

Save Jesus

Save Jesus

Now come serious biblical scholars such as Reza Aslan to do the research and to step forward to state the obvious truth and then to catch all heck for their efforts. Most famous was an interview Aslan had on Fox News.

Fox News to Scholar: Why Would a Muslim Write a Book About Jesus?

It’s got plenty of competition but this may just be the single most cringe-worthy, embarrassing interview on Fox News. At least in recent memory. Fox News anchor Lauren Green had religious scholar Reza Aslan on her FoxNews.com show Friday to talk about Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, his book that has been stirring up some online controversy recently. And right off the bat, Green gets to what is important: “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” Aslan seemed a little flabbergasted: “Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just happens to be a Muslim.”*

But Green just wouldn’t let it go: “It still begs the question though, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?” Aslan then starts talking to Green slowly, as if she were a child: “Because it’s my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually.” But Green insisted, accusing him of failing to “disclose” that he’s a Muslim and at one point asking him about a stupefying claim on whether a Muslim writing a book on Jesus isn’t sort of like a Democrat writing a book on former president Ronald Reagan.

Yes, that is a curious question. Why should a religious scholar, who is not actually a Christian, write about Jesus (who also was not a Christian, but that’s beside the point)? Somebody needs to step back and take a real-world look at this question. It’s sort of like asking, “Why would a veterinarian, who is not actually a horse, feel comfortable writing a book about a horse?”

Enough of that. Today is Christmas, and later this morning we’re over the hill and through the woods to grandmother’s house to open presents with people we see three or four times a year. Did I mention some great food?

Merry Christmas to all, readers. And may Jesus have mercy on your souls.

People Unclear

ReligionEntertainStupid

Somebody was bound to do it. Along these same lines, I was bound to catch on sooner or later. It’s the FAKE NEWS SITE. Yes, Web sites that host fake news reports that are supposed to be recognized as fake news, as opposed to other fake news sites. One of these is Huzlers.com:

You can not have missed it, the satire website that has gone viral, Huzler.com is a website that is responsible for bringing some major hoaxes to the world. They published a hoax that McDonald is serving human meat and that Justin Bieber had killed a 7 year old boy, not just after that Huzlers.com published a fake story about the Flappy Bird developer that would have committed suicide.

Huzlers.com is using the fact that people want to believe these kind of stories, some of them are being fooled by false titles and some of the people actually believe the stories. Now the embarrassing part comes when journalists that work for  big news companies report on these idiotic hoaxes. They are one of the reasons why actual relevant news is not being reported on.

The journalists that report on these cases and the Huzler websites and several other affiliates are using these tricks to gain massive traffic. But it is the same method Hackers are using on social media websites to scam on people. They spread massive hoaxes of shocking videos which unaware people click on. These hoaxes often lead to malicious websites that try to fool the user to install a malicious application on their social media account or on their personal computer.

Now, that’s funny.

I mean, who would believe these stories? Like this one:

Semen Found In Starbucks Drinks Nationwide; FDA Currently Investigating

SEATTLE – it has been reported that the coffee selling giant Starbucks has allegedly been including semen in their products for the last 3 months, after semen samples were found in the back of Starbucks stores.
Apparently human semen added “more flavor” to the beverages on sale. The FDA is currently investigating the company as there are many questions to be answered.

The FDA is currently trying to find out where the semen is coming from. It is currently unknown if the semen is from humans or animals; and if from humans, is it infected semen?

Oh, my God! That is so idiotic. Does anybody really believe this stuff? Apparently so.

A pastor known for his opposition to gay rights has warned women to avoid drinking Starbucks coffee because they might become pregnant from the sodomite semen the drinks are laced with.

Pastor James David Manning of the Atlah Worldwide Church in Harlem, New York continues to promote a story fabricated by the fake news site Huzlers.com as “the absolute truth.”

Readers, please meet Pastor James David Manning of the ATLAH Worldwide Church in Harlem:

James David Manning (born February 20, 1947) is chief pastor at the ATLAH World Missionary Church on 123rd Street in New York City. Manning grew up in Red Springs, North Carolina, born to an African American family, and has been at ATLAH since 1981. ATLAH stands for All The Land Anointed Holy, which is Manning’s name for Harlem.

Manning’s congregation, “ATLAH Worldwide Missionary Church” is the former Bethelite Missionary Baptist Church. The church is also the site of the ATLAH Theological Seminary, which offers classes on preaching and prophecy. Through the ATLAH church, Manning hosts an online series called The Manning Report, which features criticism on such topics as the negative influence of black celebrities, homosexuality and the alleged criminal acts of current U.S. President Barack Obama.

[Some links deleted]

DrManningSpeaksTruthPowerObama

How far does this go? It’s worth finding out. The Reverend Manning continues:

“So my question is, where are they getting all this semen from?” Manning rhetorically asked. “My suspicion is that they’re getting this semen from sodomites. And somebody has discovered that semen, like cord blood, has the opportunity and it has millions and millions of little zygotes in it and it flavors up the coffee. And it makes you think you’re having a good time drinking that cup of latte with the semen in it.”

“I’m not making this up!” Manning screamed.

It’s true. He’s not making it up. Somebody else is making it up, and the Reverend Manning is purchasing the entire load. Of course, that’s the Reverend Manning’s stock and trade. As a Christian minister he gets information from a thousands-year-old book of fiction and passes it along as truth. This appears to be a rut that’s difficult to escape.

Is it possible that based solely on his readings of Huzler the Reverend Manning has become an authority on the matter?

In a new video released this week, Manning at first said that the semen had a “synthetic quality” but elsewhere, while warning women not to drink Starbucks coffee, he said the semen was “potent.”

Scandalous! Not even natural-tasting semen. This semen has a “synthetic quality.” I shudder to think how the Reverend Manning became an authority on the taste of semen.

“And if you’re drinking Starbucks, watch out if you’re a woman, you might just get pregnant by drinking Starbucks, because it’s got some pretty potent semen in that drink,” Manning said. “And you will go home and tell your husband you’re pregnant. He said, ‘but we haven’t had sexual intercourse in years. Where did you get pregnant? Is it an immaculate conception?’ No! It was one of Starbucks’ lattes that impregnated you.”

Lord of mercy, another miracle. Pregnancy without coitus. The power of Jesus is not to be trifled with. Now we know how Mary’s husband Joseph must have felt. Can you imagine his reaction:

You little slut. You’ve been to Starbucks again, haven’t you.

Merry Christmas, readers. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

The Worm Returns

KimTheLovely

He’s back.

The American who is perhaps closest to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un — Dennis Rodman — doesn’t seem that excited about “The Interview.”The basketball legend has been thrust into controversies involving the reclusive nation before, but until now, he has remained silent on the Seth Rogen comedy about an assassination attempt on Kim.

“I have no opinion of The Interview. It’s only a movie,” he said Wednesday.

Rodman also knows a good promotional opportunity when he sees one.

“If you want to see the real thing and what really goes on there, go see the screening of my documentary ‘Big Bang in Pyongyang’ at the Slamdance Film Festival at the end of January,” he continued. “It’s going to be EPIC!”

Epic? We’ll see about that. What is fun to see is that Dennis Rodman is back in the game.

Rodman says he was drunk at the time. At the time he was kissing Kim Jong-un’s ass. If that’s the case, then we have to ask: What’s the excuse now. Today you say you’re sober. Is that your lipstick we see on Kim’s ass? Dennis, say it ain’t so.

But before we can take some time to see Rodman’s film we first need to see another epic:

“The Interview” now available on Google Play and YouTube Movies

Posted: Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Last Wednesday Sony began contacting a number of companies, including Google, to ask if we’d be able to make their movie, “The Interview,” available online. We’d had a similar thought and were eager to help—though given everything that’s happened, the security implications were very much at the front of our minds.

Of course it was tempting to hope that something else would happen to ensure this movie saw the light of day. But after discussing all the issues, Sony and Google agreed that we could not sit on the sidelines and allow a handful of people to determine the limits of free speech in another country (however silly the content might be).

So starting at 10 a.m. PST in the U.S., you can rent or buy “The Interview” on Google Play and YouTube Movies. It will also be available to Xbox Video customers and via http://www.seetheinterview.com.

From all accounts The Interview was destined to be a third run comic film. Now we see it’s about to become a cult classic, except maybe in the PDRK.

Just intercepted! An email we were not supposed to see:

From: Sony Pictures Marketing

To: Kim Jong-Un, exalted supreme leader of the PDRK

Thank you very much, thank you very much. It’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me. Thank you very very very much.

The West Wing

TheWestWing

I started reviewing the West Wing series a few months back. This is season 1, episode 10, In Excelsis Deo. The series was created by Aaron Sorkin, arguably one of the best writers for motion pictures and television to come along in the twentieth century. Sorkin first made his name with A Few Good Men, which I reviewed previously. He proceeded to script an outstanding story for The American President, which he then morphed into the television series. The story line centers on the administration of a liberal Democratic president and the people who work for him. It’s a nice look at how things go on behind doors at the White House. Story advisors typically include notable people who have worked there.

Each episode involves a number of subplots, and I will just bear down on the principal one. This starts with the West Wing staff exchanging banter about the coming millennium. It’s late December, the year 1999 is winding down, and there is discussion over whether the new millennium starts on January 1. Stephen Jay Gould is invoked. Then White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) gets a phone call from the D.C. Police.

It’s a cold morning, and we next see Toby talking to a police plain clothes at the Korean War Memorial. A homeless man lies dead on a park bench.

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The man died wearing the coat Toby donated to Goodwill, and Toby’s business card was in the pocket. The man was Walter Huffnagel, as evidenced by his drivers license, which had expired in 1973. Toby, who is known to be a walking encyclopedia, goes further. He recommends the police contact the Veteran’s Administration. He points to a tattoo on the dead man’s arm. Toby tells the cop this man was a Marine who served in Marine 7th Regiment, Second Battalion in Korea.

Toby goes even further. He returns to the park and discusses the death of the homeless veteran with a man operating a vending stand. Toby is directed to a nearby location where homeless people take shelter under a bridge. There Toby finds Walter’s brother George (Paul Austin). He decides to arrange a military funeral for Walter. There’s to be a honor guard.

On the day before Christmas, the West Wing staff have gathered to hear a boys choir sing carols. Toby and the President’s secretary, Doris Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), leave to pick up George and take him to the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Mrs. Landingham’s two sons had previously been killed in fighting in Vietnam.

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The direction at this point is without parallel. The scene cuts back and forth between the solemn proceedings at the cemetery and the staffers stepping in place one by one to listen to the boys choir.

The choir is singing The Little Drummer Boy, and rifle fire from the Marine guard punctuates the stanzas. The Marine guard kneels to present the flag to the dead Marine’s brother. Old and cynical as I am I have never been able to watch this scene with dry eyes.

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The United States military was eager to support and to participate in the production of this scene. It’s taken for granted an actual Marine honor guard is performing this time-honored ceremony. Arlington National Cemetery Superintendent John C. Metzler, Jr. played himself as one of the attendees at the funeral.

 

Political Science

Official Portrait

Official Portrait

This made the news a few years back. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida had an interview with a reporter for GQ Magazine that included the following interchange:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

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

I have to tell you it is so refreshing to hear from an elected official that there are some things about which he is clueless. No, it’s not all that refreshing.

It is not refreshing to learn we have elected officials who are absolutely clueless about some basic science. I’ve mentioned before, this GQ reporter missed a great opportunity to ask the critical question: “Are you a high school graduate?”

Having lost that round, I’m still comfortable with the knowledge that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is the only elected official who couldn’t pass a high school science quiz.

Oops! Apparently I lost that one, as well. A closer look reveals the bad news just keeps piling up.

Earlier this year Republican candidates for Texas Lieutenant Governor tried to out race each other to the bottom in their grab for the nomination. As The Dallas Morning News reported:

AUSTIN — Down to the final five weeks of their hotly contested primary race, the four Republican candidates for lieutenant governor took staunchly conservative positions on abortion, illegal immigration and education in a televised debate Monday.

They struggled to distance themselves from each other on the issues, although Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Sen. Dan Patrick targeted incumbent David Dewhurst over his management of the Senate and other matters.

All four took strong anti-abortion positions, opposing exemptions for cases of rape or incest. Each supported allowing the teaching of creationism in some form in public schools. And each said they disagreed with a state judge’s decision last week to order that a legally dead Tarrant County woman be taken off life support despite the fact that she was pregnant. The case has caught national attention and raised questions about Texas’ end-of-life laws.

I’ve highlighted the essential text from the story. Texas Freedom Network is my source to links on this. A blog post by Dan bores in on the ultimate winner, Dan Patrick, who may have provided the choicest quote:

Our children must be really be confused. We want them to go to church on Sunday, and we teach them about Jesus Christ. And then they go to school on Monday. They can’t pray. They can’t learn about creationism. They must really be confused. And they have a right to be confused because we as Christians have yielded to the secular left and let them rule the day in this country. … When it comes to creationism, not only should it be taught, it should be triumphed. It should be heralded.

In case you missed what the Lieutenant Governor-elect said, allow me to put it into language thinking people can understand: “When it comes to stupidity, not only should it be taught, it should be triumphed. It should be heralded.”

Do you want a bright spot in this? I’ll give you a bright spot. Not all of the nudniks running could get elected. One of those who failed to advance was Attorney General candidate Barry Smitherman. As reported by the Dallas Observer.

In case there were any doubt, Smitherman put them to rest during an hour-long interview this week with Arlington’s Lone Star Tea Party. His praise for the industry, mostly unsolicited, was effusive. Even when the interviewer queried him about Common Core, the federally backed education curriculum currently the subject of innumerable Tea Party conspiracy theories, he steered the discussion back to his favorite topic.

“I was not following this issue previously until a mom down in Corpus Christi showed me a a lesson plan that said ‘Fossil fuels are bad because …’ and then you filled in the blank,” he said. “And the child filled in ‘because they pollute and are not renewable’ and that was the right answer! And as I delved into this more and more, I began to see a curriculum on energy that was completely biased against fossil fuels — this is in Texas! In Texas public schools, talking about the fact that oil and coal and gas pollute!”

Clearly outrageous, just like the notion of global warming. “Now they call it ‘climate change,’ because the earth is not warming,” he quipped. “In fact, up here in North Texas, we know the earth is not warming: it’s been bitterly cold the past four or five days.”

The earth is not warming, and we know that, because “it’s been bitterly cold the past four or five days.” Candidate Smitherman’s grasp of science essentials is breath taking. Another way of saying that is “his grasp of science will take your breath away.”

Don Huffhines won election to Texas Senate District 16 (Dallas). KERA TV in Dallas interviewed him in March and elicited this remarkable comment:

Teaching creationism: “I certainly think all students should be aware of creationism,” Huffines told KERA. “They should be aware of that, absolutely. Teaching it as a science, it should be taught on equal footing.”

By now I should be completely out of breath. However, there’s more.

In September National Journal reported on the text book acceptance process in Texas. Particularly interesting was the stance of Board of Education member David Bradley:

“Whether global warming is a myth or whether it’s actually happening, that’s very much up for debate,” Bradley said. “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.”

Bradley is not a climate scientist, but he’s about to make big decisions governing what Texas students learn about climate change.

In November, Bradley and the rest of the state’s 15-member board will vote to adopt new social-studies textbooks for public schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. When he does, he says that part of his mission will be to shield Lone Star schoolchildren from radical green rhetoric.

Instead, Bradley plans to push for textbooks that teach climate-science doubt—presenting the link between greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity and global warming as an unsubstantiated and controversial theory.

For people who do study the climate for a living, that mission is infuriating as it misrepresents the state of climate science: Surveys of peer-reviewed academic studies show that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activity is the primary driver of global warming. That’s not universal agreement, but it’s a far cry from the “some-say-yes-some-say-no” treatment of the topic that Bradley hopes to see in Texas classrooms.

Of course, not everybody who threw up in science class is running for election. The Dallas Morning News reported in August on an interview with Jason Lisle, “an astrophysicist” and and also the research director at the Institute for Creation Research, now headquartered in Dallas. Lisle bespoke the true sense of “creation science.”

“I think everyone here is doing it because we believe in the message and we ultimately want people to be saved,” he said. “We want people to realize the Bible is trustworthy in matters of history and when it touches science. And because you can trust it in those areas, you can trust it when it comes to how to inherit eternal life.”

ICR in Dallas

ICR in Dallas

Lisle laments that legitimate science journals wont publish works by creationists such as himself. Mainstream science employment is not open to creationists due to the associated stigma. The problem is, creationists generate this stigma principally by their fact-deficient arguments.

Lisle says his team analyzes the same data as secular scientists — but they interpret it differently, and often find flaws in accepted assumptions.

For example, Lisle cites the “spiral winding problem” as evidence that galaxies cannot be billions of years old. Essentially, he says if stars had been swinging around galactic centers for billions of years, they’d look more like massive phonograph records than what we see through telescopes, which are loose, hurricane-shaped spirals.

Or oceans — if they’d been around a billion years, they should be more salty. Or genetic mutations — if humans are hundreds of thousands of years old, there should be more genetic wrinkles in our DNA. Or dinosaur bones — if they’re millions of years old, scientists should not be recovering soft, protein-based tissue in them.

“It’s not proof, but it’s certainly clear evidence that perhaps these fossils are not 65 to 85 million years old as evolutionary naturalism says,” said Frank Sherwin, a zoologist at ICR.

Taking the first of the above, spiral galaxies do not get their spiral signature by the “spiral winding problem” that Lisle cites. The North Texas Skeptics reported on this fallacy twenty years ago:

1. Galaxies Here’s the rub. Look into the sky and you see spiral galaxies; clouds consisting of billions of stars spinning about a common center in a pinwheel formation (see Figure 1). Measurement of the rate of motion of the individual stars discloses a troubling concern. The stars near the center of the galaxies are moving at such a rate that they will circle the center more quickly than stars farther out. A quick mathematical analysis will show (and Humphreys has done so) that after a few million years a spiral galaxy gets “wound up” by this process. The spiral shape completely disappears within a half billion years, leaving us to wonder what happens in the remaining fifteen-plus billion years of the universe. Why aren’t all galaxies wound into flat disks by now, especially the Milky Way galaxy where we now are and where we have been for over four billion years? Young Earth creationists will assert that these galaxies have been in existence much less than four billion years, maybe even less than 10,000 years. Of course this misses the question of why the galaxies got wound into a spiral in the first place, a process that ought to take at least a million years.

Strahler cites a work by Steven Dutch2 explaining that even spiral galaxies are approximately flat disks of stars and that the spiral features are bands of new stars that shine more brightly in the blue spectrum, giving the overall galaxy its spiral appearance. Even with this explanation the spiral galaxy argument will continue to provide fuel for the creationists for years to come, since the new star explanation will not be easy to understand by the population at large.

The footnote cited is to an item in a book by Arthur N. Strahler Science and Earth History – the Evolution/Creation Controversy, (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY).

The ocean salt is a creationist argument that says more about the person making it than it does about the age of the earth:

Throughout recorded history man has longed to understand his surroundings and environment. Science was born from these observations of the natural world. One of the most important questions raised about the world it is. Over time, many different methods of dating the Earth have been attempted, with most of them failing. One such failed dating technique is measuring the present salt content of the ocean to create a time scale to determine how long it has existed. This technique was introduced nearly 300 years ago, and it was researched by many prominent scientists for several hundred years until it fell out of favor because of obvious drawbacks in the method. Curiously, the salt clock method is somewhat of a controversy even today as proponents of a young Earth model are resurrecting it as proof of an allegedly 6,000-year-old Earth. To understand how valid dating methods work, one must explore invalid methods such as the ocean salt clock and know why and how it is ineffectual. One must also know the history of the method and how it came to be.

We can only hope our elected officials are not out there making equally foolish assessments of the world we live in. But don’t bet on it.

Grimm Gets Grimmer

From Google Images

From Google Images

I’ll make this short.

This is not about Congressman Michael Grimm. We’re done with all of that.

Wow! Break a news reporter in half. Now that’s tough. Throw him off the balcony? Maybe a little too far, even for an uppity reporter.

Apparently we’re also done with Congressman Grimm.

Rep. Michael Grimm Is Said to Agree to Tax Fraud Guilty Plea

I guess that is just that.

Wait! What’s that in the first sentence of this item from The New York Times? “[R]e-elected to his third term in Congress last month?”

All right! I think I’ve found the problem here. We have found the problem, and the problem is all of us. The problem is not law makers breaking the laws that they make. The problem is voters who vote for law makers who break the laws that they make. This problem is not going to go away until voters quit voting for people who break the law. Fix it.

Stupidity on Stilts

[Update: I’ve corrected the text to acknowledge that sperm cells have mitochondria.]

Up front, full disclosure: I did not coin the phrase, “stupidity on stilts.” My inspiration is Professor Paul Braterman of Glasgow University.  When blogger  asked him about some creationist pseudo scientific babble he called it “bullshit on stilts.” I’ve merely given bullshit another name and adopted the phrase for my own use. I’m thinking I’m going to find it a lot of employment. Let’s start here.

In  the video embedded below, fundamentalist Christian home-school mom and conservative cultural critic Megan Fox — no relation to “Transformers” actress Megan Fox — visits the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and purports to “audit” the museum for its “liberal bias.”

This is so remarkable. What I will do is hopscotch through the 30-minute clip and pick up legible pieces of Fox’s monologue and then apply some Skeptical Analysis. I will start with a screen shot from the video as available on YouTube. The original is not top-notch videography, and there’s not much I can do about that. I pumped up the contrast a bit, but that’s as far as I could go.

MeganFox-01

She starts by examining a display on eukaryotic cells. The display seems to be explaining the distinction between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. She’s puzzled, having not been exposed to the concept before. True confession: Before I started following the creationists around 25 years ago this was a puzzle to me, as well. If they covered this in my high school class I must have been asleep. For the record, prokaryotes are simple cells with no nucleus. Eukaryotes are more complex cells, having their chromosomes contained within a cell nucleus. Bacteria are prokaryotes. Complex life forms such as us are made up of eukaryotic cells. Here’s what Fox has to say:

Now they’re going to tell you how the evolution of the cell begins.

She reads from the display, and I’ll just transcribe from the image.

MeganFox-02

Eukaryotes are different from other cells because they have a nucleus, which contains the cell’s DNA, and other specialized compartments. These different compartments perform different tasks within the cell.

Only, after Fox says “DNA” she just continues with “blah blah blah.” Then she resumes reading.

At first, all eukaryotes were single-celled, and many still are today.

The display text continues:

But every organism, living and extinct, that is not single-celled—including you—is made up of eukaryotic cells.

What Fox says at this point is so remarkable.

What? If many still are today, then that would support the theory that they have never changed, that have always been as they are today. Not that they started some place else, and they are here, but that they were always this, and still are today. This makes no sense. No sense.

Fox quotes the text:

… living and extinct, that is not single-celled—including you—is made up of eukaryotic cells.

Then:

Well then doesn’t that suggest that everything was made up of eukaryotic cells in the beginning? Also that they weren’t something else that became eukaryotic cells. They are always and have been eukaryotic cells.

None of this makes any sense. It doesn’t make sense to a 5th grader. It doesn’t make sense to a 3rd grader. It doesn’t make sense to a 30-year-old. None of this makes any sense.

She continues.

This is muddled thinking. This is thinking from like Darwin thinking from, you know, a hundred years ago. And we should know better by now. We really should know better by now. Darwin once said that if the single cell is more complex than I think it is, then all of my theory is … I’m going to have to start all over again.

Between now and then what we have discovered is that the single cell … if the single cell back then were, you know, a Buick, then the single cell now is a galaxy. So Darwin, himself, would have said, “OK, back to the drawing board. None of this makes any sense.” But yet we’re still stuck with 100-year-old science. Disgusting. No one cares. Does no one care? Does no one want to know the truth? Because I want to know the truth. Because this [pointing to the display] makes no sense.

At this point Fox heads off toward another display, leaving views to ponder. Is this for real? Is all this just a put up by some anti-creationists to make creationists look stupid?

Let’s assume for the moment that this is not a joke. Let’s apply some Skeptical Analysis. First of all, who is Megan Fox?

Don’t confuse this Megan Fox with the actor Megan Fox. This one is so-called conservative social critic Megan Fox. That said, about the earliest I could find about this Megan Fox is that she has a YouTube channel and a Facebook page. It does not appear that Fox writes a bunch of stuff. She posts videos on her YouTube channel and then links to them on Facebook. Taking a look at her Facebook page we can get the idea of her conservative bent. First, she seems to be a fan of Ben Carson, a politically conservative hero to many and potential candidate for president as a Republican. Here’s Fox’s take on Carson’s latest book:

Fans of Megan Fox

STORY TIME! Megan Fox checks out Dr. Ben Carson’s newest book. Dr. Carson would make a terrific President. Time to have someone in the Oval Office who is not a lawyer or career politician. Time to have someone with real world experience and the skills of a neurosurgeon to get his country back on track the way he’d tend to a sick patient. His book is HIGHLY recommended!

Fox also seems to align herself with some conservative views on illegal immigration:

Fans of Megan Fox

The CDC has been burying evidence that the “mystery respiratory illness” was rare in the United States until the surge of invaders from Central America over the summer. This disease is caused by the enterovirus that is common in Central America but rare here. The people the Obama regime allowed to flood our border and then redistributed around the country brought this virus with them, and now American children have it.

She does not seem to be a big fan of science and likes to trumpet failures of the scientific establishment.

ANOTHER SCIENTIST CAUGHT MANUFACTURING DATA AND FAKING RESULTS: This is a real problem in the scientific community in the year 2014. I think this started in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. There’s been a culture change, where Alinsky political methods became adopted by the scientific community and they have a “ends justify the means” attitude toward their work now. There’s no longer an atmosphere where faking results and manipulating data to reach desired outcomes is frowned upon. Scientists seem to do this all the time now, and that’s because scientists have become too politicized. This is the result of so many of them getting caught up in the Anthropogenic Apocalypse Cult and joining in the mob intent on propping up the doomsday assertions that the Left wants propped up. Since they fake data for that purpose, it’s no longer forbidden to fake data in other areas too. Like this scientist in Japan caught doing just that, manipulating data to get the results that she wanted:

That posting links to a news story about scientific misconduct:

Japan scientist quits as cell research discredited

Her attitude toward science is colored by a distaste for modern theories of biology and other fields that support biological evolution:

SCIENTISTS ARE AGAIN BAFFLED AND PUZZLED BY DISCOVERY OF NEW FISH IN PLACE THEY THOUGHT FISH COULD NOT EXIST. Life finds a way to continuously defy what scientists say can’t exist or can’t be true. Again and again, scientists are caught having to admit they were wrong (again!) when it comes to some creature that is not as fragile as they claimed. That’s the problem that I have with modern science: claiming all the animals are so fragile. When in reality humans still don’t know all there is to know about the natural world and the assumptions that scientists make are so often wrong. They say animals can’t exist below certain depths…until we find out there’s thriving life down there. They say certain animals went extinct…until we find out they didn’t. The problem with modern scientists (which sets them apart from scientists of the past) is that today these people claim to be the definitive experts on things that we are still learning about. There’s a hubris to these people that did not exist in the past. 30 years ago, scientists weren’t baffled and confounded so often as they are now because the scientists didn’t claim to know everything. The problem is that when science became politicized and the scientists started pushing agendas they left true science behind to pursue this “the animals are fragile!” agenda. In reality, nature is hearty. The animals will thrive long after humans are gone. Watch an abandoned building: in a year, nature has reclaimed it. In five years, the place is unrecognizable. In 10 years, it’s like no building even existed. This is not a fragile planet.

That posting links to a story from ABC News:

How Scientists Found Deepest-Ever Fish 5 Miles Down

What is especially notable is a comparison between what’s in the ABC news item and what Fox says in response. Take for example this excerpt:

They say animals can’t exist below certain depths…until we find out there’s thriving life down there.

Then read the remainder of the ABC News item. I have highlighted a pertinent text:

“We’re pretty confident it’s a snailfish,” Dr. Alan Jamieson from the Oceanlab at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland told ABC News. “Not that we know. It’s a new species.”

The Ocean Schmidt Institute and Oceanlab carried out the 30-day voyage on the ocean vessel, the Falkor, as part of the Hadal Ecosystem Studies (HADES), an international project funded by the National Science Foundation that explores trench and hadal ecosystems. The Falkor, using unmanned landers, encountered the critter with two or three other new species of fish while recording 104 hours of footage at depths as low as 10,990 meters.

The fish is 20 centimeters in length, with a distinct snout similar to that of a cartoon dog. It also has long and very thin and fragile fins described as “tissue paper underwater,” though scientists will not be able to identify it until a physical sample is captured, according to Jamieson.

“If you don’t have a sample, a physical sample in your hand, you cannot do it,” he told ABC News. “Which is why we can’t do it for the fish.”

Fish contain osmolyte, a protein that allows their cells to function under high pressures, allowing them to thrive at low depths. Scientists theorize that the lowest level at which a fish can survive at is 8,200 meters below the surface.

Timothy Shank, the director of the program and an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said the program hopes to capture a physical sample in the near future.

“Absolutely. No doubt,” Shank said. “We put out fish traps. We put out landers that have baited traps on them. We very much want to capture these deep-sea living fish.”

Other voyages in the Mariana Trench through HADES will continue, with one set in the coming weeks on the Falkor again, according to Shank. The current voyage took one physical sample of another, unidentified species of snail fish. It will take approximately one year to formally declare a name for that species.

Jamieson told ABC News that deep-sea exploration is important and necessary for learning more about fish life and the depths at which they can thrive.

“There are still things to find because we weren’t expecting that,” Jamieson said. “And it shows that complex animals such as fish can exist much deeper than we thought.”

“Scientists theorize that the lowest level at which a fish can survive at is 8,200 meters below the surface.” This fish was found at a depth of 8,145 meters. Does Fox have a problem with reading comprehension? If not, is it possible she thinks her readers do?

Again Fox: “When in reality humans still don’t know all there is to know about the natural world and the assumptions that scientists make are so often wrong.” Yes, humans still don’t know all there is to know about the natural world. That’s why we have the study of science. Scientific study is aimed at finding out stuff we don’t already know. Yes, the assumptions scientists make are often wrong. Correcting false assumptions is part of what science does.

Fox’s misinterpretation of what was reported in the ABC News item is one of 1) comical, 2) reflective of a poor understanding of the real world, 3) deliberate misrepresentation. Or some of all three.

What I have noticed is that creationists, Fox apparently being one of them, tend to have issues with science in general. They don’t trust science. Science is telling them things about God and Jesus they don’t want to hear. Science is Neil deGrasse Tyson getting on television and telling kids the universe was not created in six days. Science is bad. Scientists are bad or at least fools.

Unfortunately the creationism camp tends to get followed by the politically conservative faction of society, and these conservatives vote together and put into places of power like-minded people. These elected officials tend to vote against grants for politically disfavored scientific studies, and they attempt to incorporate pseudo scientific notions such as creationism into public school curricula.

It is, then, with particular glee that Fox has highlighted the story of discredited researcher Haruko Obokata. See, science is bad. Evolution is science. Evolution is bad. (my interpretation) What Fox fails to notice, much less emphasize, is that Obokata’s research fell victim to the scientific method. The scientific method incorporates attempts to falsify scientific theories. When one researcher reports something, other scientists attempt to replicate the results. Failing the ability to replicate, scientists get suspicious and demand a closer look. Science, as a result, has proved to be a highly-reliable method for discovering the truth. Only people not comfortable with the truth will find fault with this approach.

I’ve gone all this way examining who and what Megan Fox is, but I’ve yet to examine her examination of the Natural History Museum exhibits. It’s time to do that.

The exhibit discusses prokaryotic cells versus eukaryotic cells. Since I didn’t get any of that from my high school biology (asleep?) I will just take it off the top of my head. Prokaryotic cells are simple. No nucleus. The DNA just exists unconstrained within the cell’s cytoplasm. Eukaryotic cells are more complex. The principal DNA exists in the chromosomes within a defined cell nucleus. The cytoplasm of eukaryotic cells harbors any number of mitochondria. Mitochondria perform a number of useful function for the eukaryotic cell, and they are thought to have originated as bacteria that infiltrated eukaryotic cells in the deep evolutionary past. Mitochondria participate in cell mitosis (splitting) by, themselves, splitting and becoming introduced both daughter cells. Sperm cells have minimal mitochondria, so in sexual reproduction (generally) only the female’s mitochondria are passed on to the offspring.

I’m thinking Fox did not know all of that.

The exhibit explains that originally all organism that were composed of eukaryotic cells were single-celled. Now eukaryotic cells make up all multi-cellular life. No multi-cellular life is composed of prokaryotic cells. So Fox makes the comment, “What? If many still are today, then that would support the theory that they have never changed, that have always been as they are today.”

This 74-year-old brain of mine is unable to come to grips with Fox’s conclusion. How does the statement that previously all eukaryotic life was single-celled, and now all multi-cellular life is composed of eukaryotic cells support the “theory that they have never changed?” May I be allowed to answer that one?

First of all, “they” in fact never changed. “They” all died. A long time ago. What we see around us are “their” descendants. What has happened is biological evolution. The populations of succeeding generations have changed over the millions of years, and we now see, not only single-celled eukaryotic life forms, but multi-celled eukaryotic life forms. An example of a single-cell eukaryote is the paramecium. An example of a multi-cell eukaryote is Megan Fox.

I’m going to leave the remainder of Megan Fox’s commentary for the reader to digest. In fact, I’m going to leave the remainder of Fox’s museum tour for subsequent posts, because this post is becoming overly long. Keep reading.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

I’m posting this on the 70th anniversary of the opening scene. I saw this movie when it was released in 1953 and appeared in the home town of my childhood. The titles started rolling, and this tune was interleaved with another, more spirited.  I had never heard it before. It’s When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home” (sometimes “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again“) is a popular song of the American Civil War that expressed people’s longing for the return of their friends and relatives who were fighting in the war.

It’s a recurring theme throughout this movie, and it was recycled a few years later by director Stanley Kubrick in a brilliantly satirical deployment. But this movie is Stalag 17, and there is little in the way of satire.

The film was adapted by Wilder and Edwin Blum from the Broadway play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski which was based on their experiences as prisoners in Stalag 17B in Austria. (Trzcinski appears in the film as a prisoner.) The play was directed by José Ferrer and was the Broadway debut of John Ericson as Sefton. First presented at the Edwin Burke Memorial Theater of The Lambs, a theatrical club, on March 11, 1951 (staged by the authors). It began its Broadway run in May 1951 and continued for 472 performances. The character Sefton was loosely based on Joe Palazzo, a flier in Trzcinski’s prisoner-of-war barracks.

[Some links deleted]

Stalag17-01

Grim title scene–guards with dogs patrol the wire at Stalag 17

Stalag17-02

Not your typical vacation resort

Not your typical vacation time share

Stalag17-05

One of the prisoners narrates the plot. It’s a few days before Christmas in 1944, and this particular compound in Stalag 17 is inhabited by Army sergeants, all members of the Army Air Corps, survivors of American bombers that have been shot down. Viewers with a little knowledge of history will know that at this time Allied forces have already penetrated into the fringes of German territory, and Hitler’s surprise counter attack in the Ardennes Forest area has initiated the Battle of the Bulge. These prisoners are due to be set free by Allied forces within four months, those that survive. The issue here, and a principal plot theme, is who is going to survive and who is not.

The movie starts with the tragedy of a failed escape attempt.

This opening scene introduces the principal character, Sergeant J.J. Sefton (William Holden). He’s a wheeler-dealer in Barracks 4, where all the principle action takes place, and he is betting the escapees won’t make it. It’s a gravely unpopular position to take, but Sefton is not interested in popularity, only profit.

Two prisoners prepare to make their escape through a secret tunnel.

Two prisoners prepare to make their escape through a secret tunnel.

Cynical Sergeant Septon makes book against the success of the escape attempt.

Cynical Sergeant Septon makes book against the success of the escape attempt.

The grim outcome

The grim outcome

The escape attempt fails spectacularly. The Germans have obviously been alerted in advance, and they machine gun the two prisoners as they emerge from the tunnel in the nearby woods. That sets the mood of the film. Basic humanity is not a big concern for the Germans, even at this point in the war. The camp is run by strutting Luftwaffe  Colonel von Scherbach, supremely played by Hollywood director Otto Preminger. He is concerned about adherence with the Geneva Convention rules for treatment of prisoners, but only to the letter of the rules. On the other side his interest lies in currying favor with his superiors with an eye toward career advancement. Again, students of World War Two history will realize that at this juncture in the war, Hitler and the Nazi leadership notwithstanding, Wehrmact command had come to realize the war was being lost, and in a few months the survivors would be called to face retribution by the Allies. Colonel von Scherbach does not show much sign of this recognition in the movie.

Stalag17-11

Serious as the situation is, a lot of the action is played for laughs. In the opening scenes we also meet German Sergeant Johann Sebastian Schulz (Sig Ruman). Outwardly he is a jovial character, trading barbs with the prisoners, but his true character is a ruthless prison guard, working to keep the prisoners in line and to uncover additional plots.

Stalag17-08

Jovial Sergeant Schultz informs the prisoners the two escapees have been killed.

The movie spoofs the lighter side of life inside a German POW camp. We see the prisoners of Barracks 4 mocking Hitler and the Nazi culture. Sergeant Schultz, like many in the lower ranks, appreciates the humor.

Stalag17-14

Among the many enterprises of Sergeant Septon is a weekly horse race para mutual, only with mice substituting for horses. Your money is not good here. Cigarettes are the currency of choice. Whole smokes only. No butts.

Stalag17-13

 

Former POW Edmund Trzcinski plays himself in the movie. Here he is reading mail from his wife back home telling of the wonderful baby she found and is going to keep. Now, that’s funny.

 

Stalag17-16

Sergeants Harry Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck) and Stanislaus ‘Animal’ Kuzawa (Robert Strauss) provide running comic relief.

Stalag17-09

Here they hatch a plot to penetrate the adjacent compound of Russian women prisoners by faking a work detail.

Stalag17-15

The comedy is cut short by the realization that there is a German spy among the prisoners in Barracks 4, and that spy is likely responsible for the deaths of the two escapees. We early learn the spy uses a light cord in the barracks to signal Sergeant Schultz to a hidden message inside a chess piece on a board in the barracks.

Stalag17-12

The matter of the German plant inside forms the central theme of the plot. This becomes crucial when Army pilot Lieutenant Dunbar (Don Taylor) is is temporarily assigned to the barracks. Following his capture he has committed sabotage by blowing up a German ammunition train. His loose talk among fellow prisoners alerts the Germans, through their spy, and Colonel Scherbach makes arrangements to hand him over to the Gestapo, who will then proceed to execute him. The prisoners need to spring Dunbar before he can be picked up by the Gestapo.

But first the prisoners must discover the identity of the spy. The rescue of Dunbar from the Germans, the exposure of the spy and the prisoners’ method of disposing of the spy and springing Dunbar from Stalag 17 form the climax of the movie.

Holden earned the Best Actor Academy Award for his role. Supporting actor Robert Strauss and director Billy Wilder earned nominations.

A reprise of the movie was the TV series Hogan’s Heroes, with Werner Klemperer as Colonel Wilhelm Klink replacing Camp Commandant Colonel Scherbach, and John Banner as the lovable Hans Schultz.

My evaluation: The top movie ever about World War Two. Plot, writing, direction, acting, cinematography are absolutely tops. The dialog is lively, and the action moves along. The story line is almost believable.

The people who participated are almost all dead. This would have been a good review to post for Veteran’s Day (tomorrow as I write this), but I’m holding for the 70th anniversary next month. Co-author Trzcinski has got to have been a reliable source for life in a Stalag.

In reality German prison life was not as congenial as depicted. The Nazis routinely murdered Soviet prisoners, working and starving them to death, often employing them in bizarre experiments that resulted inevitably in their deaths. On a particular occasion Allied prisoners received similar treatment:

During September – I think it was on 6 September 1944, there came to Mauthausen a small convoy of 47 British, American and Dutch officers. They were airmen who had come down by parachute. They had been arrested after they had tried to make their way back to their country. Because of this they were condemned to death by a German Court. They had been in prison about a year and were brought to Mauthausen for execution.

On their arrival they were transferred to the “bunker,” the camp prison. They were made to undress and had only their pants and a shirt. They were barefooted.

The following morning they answered the roll-call at seven o’clock. The working gangs went to their tasks. The 47 officers were assembled in front of the office and were told by the commanding officer of the camp that they were all under sentence of death.

I must mention that one of the American officers asked the commander that he should be allowed to meet his death as a soldier. In reply, he was lashed with a whip and beaten. The 47 were led barefoot to the quarry.

For all the prisoners at Mauthausen the murder of these men has remained in their minds like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. The procedure was: At the bottom of the steps they loaded stones on the backs of these poor wretches and they had to carry them to the top. The first ascent was made with stones weighing 25 to 30 kilos and was accompanied by blows. Then they were made to run down. For the second ascent the stones were still heavier, and whenever the poor wretches sank under their burden, they received kicks and blows with a bludgeon – even stones were hurled at them.

In the evening when I rejoined the gang with which I was then working, the road which led to the camp was a path of blood. I almost stepped on a lower jaw of a man. Twenty-one bodies were strewn along the road. Twenty-one had died on the first day. The twenty-six others died the following morning.

Bad Movie of the Week

Fountainhead-01

Here’s another one. I saw this when it first came out, and I have to say that even then I was much impressed. I was a mere child (eight or nine) in 1949 when this was released, and some of the impressions have stayed with me for life. It’s The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, only I was too young then to even know who Cooper and Neal were.

What I remembered all this time were the scenes where Howard Roark (Cooper) is trying to get a job as an architect, and nobody will hire him, because his work was too original. Ultimately he has to find work in a stone quarry.

There’s also the scene that introduces Dominique Francon (Neal) as the daughter of Guy Francon, a highly successful architect. She works for a newspaper The Banner but she lives in a plush apartment in a high rise building. She holds an expensive work of art, a sculpture over the edge of the balcony and lets it drop. Her boss comes in and starts a romance with her.

Fountainhead-04

That part I did not recall until after I had seen the movie again, but a scene I never forgot was when Dominique breaks the marble fireplace hearth so she can get Roark to come up to her room in her father’s country house to replace it.

Fountainhead-07

Dominique has gotten the hots for Roark after viewing him working a drill in her father’s granite quarry.

Fountainhead-05

Fountainhead-06

The movie is based on the novel by Ayn Rand, who also wrote the script. And therein lies the problem with this movie. Rand’s writings regurgitate her well-known political philosophies. Nuance in all matters takes a back seat—no conclusions are left at the viewers’ disposal.

Take the example of the character Ellsworth M. Toohey (Robert Douglas). Both this book and Rand’s more famous Atlas Shrugged feature such a person.

Fountainhead-03

Supremely pompous, Toohey pontificates on everything antithetical to Rand’s hyper capitalistic preachings. According to Toohey, those who have ability incur a moral (legal?) obligation to relinquish it for the public good. It’s the stereotypical Communist philosophy—private property is an illusion. Everything of value belongs to all who want a share. Those wanting a share may not include the truly needy, but they do include those in Toohey’s circle of power.

Toohey is the architecture columnist for The Banner, and he wields his influence to force conformity in architecture with extensions into politics and society.

Completely characteristic of Rand’s writing, Roark is the polar opposite of Toohey. He is a creator of value and he refuses to share. Toohey celebrates his own lack of self worth and champions mediocrity. Bob Dylan may accidentally have expressed Toohey most eloquently:

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

Significantly at the time I first viewed this movie there was developing in the country a strong current for conformity. My observation has been that its popularity reached peak about 1961, after which it became so stylish to be different that everybody ended up being like everybody else. Rand’s book came out in 1943 and may have been prescient—forecasting the 1950’s mantra years in advance.

Roark’s critics, principally Toohey and Toohey’s followers, insist loudly that Roark must learn to conform. Only through conforming can the best come to the most (my words).

Excerpts from the movie will do best to illustrate the hackneyed dialog that defeats this film. Rather than transcribe from the video, I’m going to copy and paste comparative text from the book. First, here is Howard Roark’s testimony at his trial, stating the justification for his acts and also laying out his philosophy. Rather, Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

“I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.

“I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others.

“It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing.

“I wished to come here and say that the integrity of a man’s creative work is of greater importance than any charitable endeavor. Those of you who do not understand this are the men who’re destroying the world.

“I wished to come here and state my terms. I do not care to exist on any others.

“I recognize no obligations toward men except one: to respect their freedom and to take no part in a slave society . To my country , I wish to give the ten years which I will spend in jail if my country exists no longer. I will spend them in memory and in gratitude for what my country has been. It will be my act of loyalty , my refusal to live or work in what has taken its place.

Rand, Ayn (2005-04-26). The Fountainhead (pp. 670-671). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Here is Ellsworth M. Toohey speaking, just so you will know what gets his jollies.

Don’t you find it interesting to see a huge, complicated piece of machinery, such as our society, all levers and belts and interlocking gears , the kind that looks as if one would need an army to operate it— and you find that by pressing your little finger against one spot, the one vital spot, the center of all its gravity , you can make the thing crumble into a worthless heap of scrap iron?

Rand, Ayn (2005-04-26). The Fountainhead (p. 332). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Rand wrote voluminously on her philosophy of Objectivism. Reading the book, and watching the movie, we get an extended rehash of Objectivism according to Rand.

The film is entertaining. The heroes are moral and ultimately triumphant. The villains go down in total defeat.  The direction (King Vidor) is superb. Color would have killed this movie. It was shot in high key black and white, matching the characters and the theme.

Viewers who appreciate a poster board premise will enjoy this film. Those comfortable with working through motivations and consequences on their own may feel they’ve had their pockets picked.

You don’t get five minutes into this movie without realizing Howard Roark is really Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was at his peak in those days. He made a major break with traditional design and was initially considered a maverick and a trouble maker. Roark’s design philosophy touches on Wright’s “form follows function” approach. Wright designed Falling Water in 1935, and the movie shows such a home among Roark’s works.

640px-Wrightfallingwater

 

The Company We Keep

CasingsInTheStreet

A person earns the trust and loyalty of others through words and actions. Reputations are built on a lifetime of works. Good intentions are not enough. It’s important to be faithful to critical values. On the other side, a phony front and a hypocritical stance can be exposed by careless associations.

As far as I can tell americannews.com is a fake site devoted to satire:

AmericanNews.com is a Satire or FAKE news website

AmericanNews.com is one of the many new satire or FAKE news sites currently on the internet. Their mission is to make the Tea Party and conservatives look bad by sharing their fake news stories. In essence, this site is like the Onion, just not funny.

What this and sites like it do is take video clips or facts from a real story and make up the rest. This does 2 things:

  1. Gets people angry because they believe the story
  2. Aids in discrediting alternative media

Of course I knew nothing about this until somebody posted this story on Facebook:

BREAKING: Michael Brown’s Family To Be Formally Charged With Fraud

Michael Brown has been exposed as a fraud. An autopsy assistant brought on by the family, Sean Parcells examined Michael Brown’s body beside Dr. Michael Baden after the fatal shooting, but now his reputation has come into question.

Michael Brown, as some may recall, was an 18-year-old black man who was shot to death by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson last August. Wilson is not black. Brown was unarmed. A lot of controversy stormed up due to the nature of Brown’s killing, and even more erupted when a grand jury declined to find any criminal wrong doing on the part of Officer Wilson. Since the shooting and more so since the findings of the grand jury were released there has been considerable polarization centered on the case. Many came immediately to the defense of Brown, rallying to his innocence, before all the facts became known. Similarly for the case with Officer Wilson. Many jumped to his defense without knowing the particulars. The division was mostly along racial lines.

With the release of details that were presented to the jury it has become clear that, while he may not be criminally culpable, Wilson’s unprofessional actions created the situation that led to Brown’s death.

Now the fake story on americannews.com has brought response from both sides of the argument. We may assume that some of the respondents are taking the satirical item at face value. What they have to say tells a lot about what lies behind the front they put to the public. Here are some samples:

Greg Heck · University of Missouri

The biggest fraud is standing behind the Browns, THE Rev Al Sharpton

Greg Heck’s assessment of the Reverend Sharpton gets no argument from me. I have commented on the truth-challenged reverend before:

Giving JFA additional due, I am not the least of Al Sharpton’s critics. The Reverend Sharpton is no stranger to actual race baiting, having earned his stripes in that enterprise. In 1987 Sharpton bought into the fabricated tale of racism and official oppression by Tawana Brawley. He went beyond the limits of knowledge and reason and made false and defamatory statements about public officials.

However, there is more than just Sharpton in the mix. There are a number of comments along this line:

Donna Dupree Miller · Top Commenter

Take away their welfare checks until they’ve paid for all the damage their riots caused.

Does anybody besides me know where this is coming from?

Scott Wright · Top Commenter · Onalaska, Texas

You will have to rid the country of Obama and his power because that’s the head of this snake! These “entitlements” didn’t come along by accident replacing unemployment, I am for drug testing for anyone including the politicians if they receive one dollar of taxpayer funds! That would probably free up a ton of cash! Piss off alot of the people who are scamming the system and that just feels right! LOL

And now we see what’s really at the base of much of this divide. Michael Brown may have been partly culpable in his own fate, and Officer Wilson may be have been legally clear in his actions. And all that may be the final truth. But even the truth sometimes takes a beating from the bad company it keeps.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

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Wonderful Posters from Around the World

Cocktail lounge , Norway :
LADIES ARE REQUESTED NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN IN THE BAR.

Doctors office, Rome :
SPECIALIST IN WOMEN AND OTHER DISEASES.

Dry cleaners, Bangkok :
DROP YOUR TROUSERS HERE FOR THE BEST RESULTS.

In a Nairobi restaurant:
CUSTOMERS WHO FIND OUR WAITRESSES RUDE OUGHT TO SEE THE MANAGER.

On the main road to Mombassa, leaving Nairobi :
TAKE NOTICE: WHEN THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS ROAD IS IMPASSABLE.

On a poster in Johannesburg:
ARE YOU AN ADULT THAT CANNOT READ? IF SO WE CAN HELP.

In a City restaurant:
OPEN SEVEN DAYS A WEEK AND WEEKENDS.

In an Irish cemetery:
PERSONS ARE PROHIBITED FROM PICKING FLOWERS FROM ANY BUT THEIR OWN GRAVES .

Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations:
GUESTS ARE REQUESTED NOT TO SMOKE OR DO OTHER DISGUSTING BEHAVIOURS IN BED.

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
OUR WINES LEAVE YOU NOTHING TO HOPE FOR.

In a Thai bar:
SPECIAL COCKTAILS FOR THE LADIES WITH NUTS.

Hotel , Yugoslavia :
THE FLATTENING OF UNDERWEAR WITH PLEASURE IS THE JOB OF THE CHAMBERMAID..

Hotel , Japan :
YOU ARE INVITED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CHAMBERMAID.

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery:
YOU ARE WELCOME TO VISIT THE CEMETERY WHERE FAMOUS RUSSIAN AND SOVIET COMPOSERS, ARTISTS AND WRITERS ARE BURIED DAILY EXCEPT THURSDAY.

A sign posted in Germany ‘s Black Forest :
IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN ON OUR BLACK FOREST CAMPING SITE THAT PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT SEX, FOR INSTANCE, MEN AND WOMEN, LIVE TOGETHER IN ONE TENT UNLESS THEY ARE MARRIED WITH EACH OTHER FOR THIS PURPOSE..

Hotel, Zurich :
BECAUSE OF THE IMPROPRIETY OF ENTERTAINING GUESTS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX IN THE BEDROOM, IT IS SUGGESTED THAT THE LOBBY BE USED FOR THIS PURPOSE.

Advertisement for donkey rides, Budapest :
WOULD YOU LIKE TO RIDE ON YOUR OWN ASS?

Airline ticket office, Copenhagen :
WE TAKE YOUR BAGS AND SEND THEM IN ALL DIRECTIONS.

A laundry in Rome :
LADIES, LEAVE YOUR CLOTHES HERE AND SPEND THE AFTERNOON HAVING A GOOD TIME…

Bastogne

This is the sixth in a series of posts on the story of Easy Company of the 506 Parachute Infantry Brigade during World War Two. I’m posting this on the anniversary of Easy Company’s call to action for the defense of Bastogne, 70 years ago. I have the book Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose, but it’s easiest for me to follow the narrative through the HBO mini series of the same name. The images are from the History Channel’s syndication release.

Episode five dealt with Easy Company’s participation in the invasion of the Netherlands as part of Operation Market-Garden. Following an unsuccessful attempt by British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery to capture a bridgehead over the Rhine River at Arnhem, the 101st Airborne Division settled into holding the ground captured. In critical action near the Rhine Captain Richard Winters led his men in a ferocious fight to thwart an attempt by German forces to penetrate Allied positions. It was the last time Winters fired his weapon in combat. On 25 November 1944 Easy Company was pulled out of the line as part of an operation that replaced the 101st with Canadian units. They were pulled back to Mourmelon-le-Grand in France after 69 days in the field.

Easy had jumped on September 17 with 154 officers and men. It came out of Holland with 98 officers and men. Lieutenants Brewer, Compton, Heyliger, and Charles Hudson had been wounded, along with forty-five enlisted men. The Easy men killed in action were William Dukeman, Jr., James Campbell, Vernon Menze, William Miller, James Miller, Robert Van Klinken. The company had taken sixty -five casualties in Normandy, so its total at the end of November was 120 (some of these men had been wounded in both campaigns), of whom not one was a prisoner of war.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 255). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The men got passes to nearby Reims, but they had grown so accustomed to fighting that they were soon barred from the town. Trips to Paris were parceled out. Winters went, enjoyed a hot bath at his hotel, rode the metro until it shut down for the night and then walked back to his hotel. He came back to Camp Mourmelon. Easy Company and the 101st enjoyed camp life for the first two weeks in December.

In the mean time German Chancellor Adolph Hitler, still reeling from the attempt on his life five months earlier, had taken over military planning from his generals, whom he no longer trusted. His grand plan was to launch a full court press against the Allied lines, score a decisive victory and secure an armistice, allowing him to concentrate on the very serious threat of Soviet forces pressing Germany from the east. The massive German assault hit against a weakly-defended area of the American line in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium beginning at 5:30 on the morning of 16 December. Within 24 hours Allied commanders had determined the intent of the German thrust, and one conclusion was that the Belgian town of Bastogne would be a key objective.

Easy Company played its part in this vast drama, thanks to the Transportation Corps and the drivers, mostly black soldiers of the famous Red Ball express. At 2030, December 17, Ike’s orders to the 82d and 101st to proceed north toward Bastogne arrived at the divisions’ HQ. The word went out to regiments, battalions, down to companies— get ready for combat, trucks arriving in the morning, we’re moving out.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 273). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The first many in Easy Company knew something was up was when their movie was interrupted. Episode five “Crossroads,” shows men watching Seven Sinners, with John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich. The lights come on, a sergeant steps in front of the screen and announces the situation. All passes are canceled. Everybody is ordered to prepare to load up and move out.

The 101st loads up and trucks 109 miles to Bastogne. They leave without collecting extra ammunition, supplies or winter clothing. Along the way they encounter retreating American and grab ammunition and supplies from them. Then Easy Company moves into position in the woods to the north of town, on the east side of the road to Foy and Noville. There they dig in and prepare to hold off the Germans.

Band of Brothers page 9

Band of Brothers page 9

Episode six, “Bastogne” opens with Easy Company medic Eugene Roe patrolling the woods. He encounters dead troops, American and German, and retreats to his lines.

At dawn on December 20, a heavy mist hung over the woods and fields. Winters rose and looked around. To his left he saw a German soldier in his long winter overcoat emerge from the woods. He had no rifle, no pack. He walked to the middle of a clearing . Two men with Winters instinctively brought their rifles to their shoulders, but he gave them a hand signal to hold their fire . The Americans watched as the German took off his overcoat, pulled down his pants, squatted, and relieved himself. When he was finished, Winters hollered in his best German, “Kommen sie hier!” The soldier put up his hands and walked over to surrender. Winters went through his pockets; all he had were a few pictures and the end of a loaf of hard black bread.

“Think of this,” Winters commented. “Here is a German soldier, in the light of early dawn, who went to take a crap, got turned around in the woods, walked through our lines, past the company CP and ended up behind the Battalion CP! That sure was some line of defense we had that first night!”

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 281-282). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

What appears to be some fiction is the romantic interest involving Private Roe and a nurse caring for the wounded in Bastogne. The two exchange names and personal information, but ultimately Roe returns to the aid station during a German air attack and finds it bombed out. He recovers the scarf the nurse had been wearing on her head, but she is nowhere to be seen again.

BandOfBrothersBastogne-02

Shortly after the 101st moved into Bastogne the Germans cut the road link back to the Allied lines, leaving the Americans with only the ammunition, clothing, fuel and food they brought with them. Immediately a heavy fog settled over the region, making resupply or any kind of armed support from the air impossible. A deep cold settled. It was a cold that veterans recalled when interviewed for the series over 50 years later.

The Germans have the big guns and are constantly on the lookout for targets. Any exposure of position brings death. Building a fire in the woods brings a sudden barrage of shells from the German guns. Enemy lines are close and ill-defined.

Heffron suggested a shortcut across a wooded area. Spina agreed. Heffron led the way. Suddenly he fell into a hole. There was a shout of surprise. Then a voice called out from under Heffron, “Hinkle, Hinkle, ist das du?” Heffron came barreling out of the foxhole and took off in the opposite direction, yelling, “Hinkle Your Ass, Kraut!” He and Spina got reoriented and finally found the E Company CP. (Spina, who recalled the incident , concluded: “To this day every time I see Babe, I ask him how Hinkle is feeling or if he has seen Hinkle lately.”)

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 283). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The situation for the men of Easy Company is not made brighter by their new company commander, a Lieutenant Dike. Dike keeps to himself when at the front line and heads back to the command post when serious combat erupts. The troops do not look forward to future adventures with this reluctant officer.

The story of “Bastogne” is a week of holding out in the cold and enduring artillery fire and probing attacks with ever diminishing supplies and ammunition. A break in the weather brings C-47 aircraft dropping supplies, but it also brings German air attacks. Relief comes the day after Christmas when General Patton’s Third Army breaks through the German encirclement. The battle becomes no less deadly, and attacks on German positions in Foy and Noville are yet to come.

More Fun With Hash Codes

CreditCard-01

A few months ago I posted an item about applied cryptography. That post got into a short explanation of what the MD5 algorithm does. In short, MD5 takes as input a string of data, essentially a sequences of binary digits, and computes a 32-digit hexadecimal string. In my example I executed the following text as input to MD5:

Furthermore, comparison of sequences for the different organisms show what should be expected from evolution. Although cytochrome c performs much the same function in the different organisms it shows these differences due to random DNA copying errors during reproduction. As long as the resulting protein performs a useful (and required) function in the descendent organism, the descendent will thrive and reproduce, and the error will be retained in the subsequent lineage. The further along the line of descent a particular organism is the more accumulated change there will be. If a lineage branches, as during the formation of a new species, the chain of differences will diverge, as well. The result is that the accumulated differences between two living organisms marks the amount of change since the two lineages diverged.

The computation produced:

54eb1c5086598e9f925bb3ec30c215f0

I then changed one character in the text and ran the computation again and obtained the following result:

ca27c1bb6311517eb3ed51129bec0804

A quick examination illustrates that a single-character change produces dramatic changes in the hash code. A like result would have been produced by a change of a single bit in the text file.

This is just one nice application of MD5 (and the related MD6). What are some other uses? Here is an example.

Suppose you have a watch for sale. Somebody says they want to buy the watch. They promise to pay on the 20th of next month. You are agreeable to this arrangement, because you have a list of people who have proven to be reliable in paying what they promise. You need to determine the purchaser is one of these people.

You ask, “Who are you?” the person identifies himself. You check your list and determine the person is on your list of reliable purchasers, and you complete the transaction, expecting to receive payment on the 20th of next month.

What this most resembles is a credit card transaction. You are a Best Buy store, and the purchaser identifies himself by means of a credit card. The credit card has a 16-digit decimal number on it that uniquely identifies the customer as being a valid participant.

The problem with all of this is that some nefarious person can get a glimpse of somebody’s credit card, make a note of the 16 digits, make up a phony card with the same 16-digit number and then proceed to make fraudulent purchases. Since the 16-digit identification is also encoded on the credit card’s magnetic strip, a crook can “skim” the card through a hand-held reader and perform the same operation without the trouble of copying the identification number down by hand.

The problem with the embossed number and the magnetic strip is that the identification is visible, either by eyeball or by magnetic skimmer. What you need is identification that is not visible. Here is one approach. I will illustrate with a mock scenario.

A person approaches you and offers to purchase your watch. You ask, “Who are you?” The person identifies himself. You check your list and determine the person is on your list. Now you need to make sure this is not an impersonator. That is, make sure this person is not presenting a phony credit card.

You say, “I know you. You are the only person who can answer the question I’m about to ask.” Then you ask the question. If this is the person he claims to be, then he can provide the correct answer.

How can this transaction be accomplished? Here’s one way.

The purchaser has a credit card with the standard identification. This tells the merchant who the purchaser is claiming to be. The credit card also contains some information that cannot be read by any means, except maybe by obtaining physical possession of the card and dissecting it (destructively). This hidden information is used to complete the identification. Something like MD5 can be used to accomplish this.

Embed in the credit card an integrated circuit (chip) that can do some computation. The chip also contains an identification number that is unique to the card. The merchant’s point of sale (POS) terminal is linked to the credit card company database.

  • The POS terminal reads the visible information from the card and transmits it to the credit card company.
  • The credit card company matches the identification with a copy of the card’s hidden information.
  • The credit card company sends a message to the POS terminal. The message contains information unique to this sales transaction.
  • The POS terminal sends the transaction identification code to the credit card.
  • The credit card combines the transaction identification code with its hidden identification code, producing a data string.
  • The credit card computes the MD5 hash code from the data string and sends this back to the POS terminal.
  • The POS terminal sends this hash code back to the credit card company.
  • The credit card company also combines the transaction code with the hidden card information and computes the MD5 hash code.
  • The credit card company compares the has code it has computed with the hash code from the POS terminal and approves the transaction if the values match.

At no time has the hidden identification code been exposed. It is very impractical for anybody to compute the hidden code from the transaction code and the hash code produced by the card. Except under the most concerted and expensive attack the hidden code in the card remains secure. This approach thwarts credit card fraud that involves phony cards produced from the visible identification codes.

Readers interested in data security and related themes may be interested in a book by Bruce Schneier, Applied Cryptography. Twenty years ago I was participating in an Internet discussion group, and I had a question about something. One of the participants was Bruce Schneier, and he recommended I get his book. I bought the paperback of the first edition. The above link is to a revised edition.

The Devil’s going to get you if you don’t watch out.

SeparationChurchState

I’ve been trying to figure out where this stuff is coming from. Mike Huckabee knows the cause of all this trouble:

Mike Huckabee blames getting God out of classroom for shootings

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Americans should blame their schools, and removal of God from the classroom, for Friday’s murders of schoolchildren in Connecticut, according to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate who is now a pundit and host on Fox News.

Huckabee did not mention guns, gun culture, or assault rifles in talking about the country’s latest mass killing, but said on Fox News:

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.  Should we be surprised that schools would become places of carnage?”

So that’s it. We’ve removed God from our schools, and because of that we have all this trouble, including mass killings. I’m glad we got that cleared up. Sort of.

That news item came out 14 December 2012, apparently right after Adam Lanza got hold of his mother’s  .22-caliber Savage MK II-F bolt action rifle and killed her with four shots to the head. Then he took her Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle to a nearby school and killed 20 children and 6 adults.

That was all so terrible, and now we know the cause behind it.

The reason 20 year old Adam Lanza went crazy in the head and killed his mother and 26 other people is that we have removed God from our schools. Removing God from our schools caused Adam Lanza to develop a psychological disorder, and as a result he successfully defeated his mother’s gun security, took her weapons, killed her, then drove to a school and killed all the other people. And then himself. This is a psychological disorder that did not exist previously. Until state-sponsored prayers were discovered to be against the law in the early 1960s this psychological disorder was completely unknown. The absence of government support for religion is driving people crazy. Who would have thought?

Mike Huckabee has expressed some other interesting takes on government institutionalization of religion. A year ago I ordered a copy of his Learn our History DVD. It was free ($4.95), and I wrote a short review:

As you can see from the cover the creators want us to “Take pride in America’s past.” I already did that. “Learn our history.” I did a bunch of that previously, as well. What’s different is this product wants us to look at American history in a special way.

It’s a cartoon dramatization. Think South Park with a bit more gloss slathered on. Like South Park,One Nation Under God uses children to tell adult stories. In this case, one of the kids is very smart (kids are really smart these days), and he’s invented time travel. That helps in the story development.

In particular, this episode (it’s part of a series) concentrated on separation of church and state, of which there should not be any. To make that point the video illustrates with an example before the American Revolution and the adoption of the First Amendment when we did not have separation of church and state.

This excerpt from the video shows the King’s men entering a church to force worshipers to cease and desist praying in a manner not agreeable to the King.

Puritans meet God in Nottinghamshire

Puritans meet God in Nottinghamshire

All of which leaves me in a thoughtful mood. This video has illustrated a down side of state sponsored religion, so I’m left confused as to what point Mike Huckabee is trying to make. If we allow God into our class rooms, and God turns out to be a Flying Spaghetti Monster, then are the King’s (President’s?) men going to come to the school and force the students to cease and desist? We can only contemplate.

But that story was so two years ago. Time passes. People mature. Truth dawns. But there are no guarantees.

More recently Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, a person who has in the past asked for your vote to make him president of the United States, this Mike Huckabee spoke recently when addressing an audience in Poland. I have viewed a video clip available on YouTube. Here is my transcription of the two segments available:

The president and the congress are not required to defy natural law. They are not required to redefine marriage. They are required to follow the will of the people, the constitution and the law. That law that has given us the greatest nation on earth, a nation that we will lose if we turn our backs on our origins. There is no doubt in my mind that this country would not exist had it not been for the providential hand of God. And I’m also convinced that if we reject his hand of blessing, we will feel his hand of judgment.

And it’s time for us as an American people to say to our own government, “Enough of you restricting us, enough of you redefining our institutions. We are not under an obligation to defy God in order to obey you. We are under an obligation to obey God and the law, and if necessary to defy an institution that is out of control.”

It would appear that Governor Huckabee’s remarks can benefit from some Skeptical Analysis. Where to start?

Let’s start with the first sentence. “The president and the congress are not required to defy natural law.”

That is so profound. By now all readers are wondering how come this person is not already president of the United States many times over?  Imagine what this nation has narrowly escaped, absent this bit of wisdom. Imagine, if you will, that horrific moment when the President of the United States steps to the podium and addresses the American public on prime time TV and relates the dreadful news:

PUTUS: My fellow Americans, I come before you tonight with a sorrowful heart. It is my unfortunate duty to inform you of drastic measures your government now finds itself forced to take, not because we want to, but because we have to.

As you know, the law of gravity has been around for, some would say, over 6000 years. Through the years we have all come to know and to live comfortably with gravity. At times we have found it to be beneficial. However, recent circumstances beyond our control have made it necessary for us to repeal this time honored institution.

Can you imagine the reaction of the press corps to this startling announcement?

Mark Lander: Mr. President!

POTUS: Yes, Mr. Lander of the New York Times.

Mark Lander: What possible reason can you have for repealing the law of gravity?

POTUS: Good question, Mark. Excessive gravity is the problem. It’s interfering with our rocket launches. It’s costing American taxpayers too much to launch space craft. The price of rocket fuel has recently gone through the roof, if you will pardon my pun.

Mark Lander: Only you can issue such a pardon, Mr. President. But, if I may continue, won’t this produce dire consequences? I mean, What’s going to hold the moon in orbit around the earth?

POTUS: That is a touchy issue, Mark, and I assure you and the public that your government is looking into the matter as we speak now.

Mark Lander: Can’t you even give us a hint.

POTUS: You want a hint? OK, here’s a hint. What are your holdings in steel cable futures?

After all the hubbub dies down over that matter, somebody in the press corps is sure to ask the burning question:

POTUS: Yes, Julie Pace, Associated Press

Julie Pace: Mr. President, if you can repeal the law of gravity, then what’s next?

POTUS: I’m glad you asked that question, Julie. As you know, American dependence on foreign oil has long been a national concern. In that regard, although the research is not yet complete, we are considering a repeal of the first law of thermodynamics.

Fortunately none of that is about to happen, and we can thank Governor Huckabee and his incredible foresight. Somebody like Huckabee is necessary to keep our government from running a muck. I am wondering now why I did not vote for him in the previous election.

Enough of that. Let’s take a look at some other of the Governor’s key points. “There is no doubt in my mind that this country would not exist had it not been for the providential hand God.” Really? This nation (the United States) would not exist without the “providential hand” of a mythical being?

Are you kidding me? Some further examination may be necessary.

First of all the governor invokes God. Although the details were not elaborated in the brief clip I viewed, I’m going to make an assumption. This is not the god Vishnu. This is neither Thor nor Mars nor Zeus. I’m thinking Governor Huckabee has in mind Yahweh, the God of Abraham. The same god worshiped by the Jews and the Christians. And the late Osama bin Laden. This nation would not exist without the providential hand of this character from popular fiction.

That is truly amazing. But how would it all work? How would the providential hand of a character out of a book cause this country come into being? What would have been the consequences had this character from an ancient text not intervened? We can explore that.

Had it not been for this mysterious providential hand the North American Continent never would have existed. Not too much truth in that bit of wisdom. North America has been around for millions of years. It was already just about right were it is now years before some Middle Easter tribes began to concoct tales of a magical person who controlled their lives. No, there must be a better explanation of why a mysterious providential hand was necessary.

How about, if not for this providential hand, then Europeans never would have gotten the urge to sail across the western ocean and overthrow the people already living on the North American Continent? Though exceedingly more plausible than the first scenario, this explanation is in defiance of much of the historical record. From all knowledge we have, the Vikings were seeing real estate signs when they executed the short hop from Greenland to North America. Christopher Columbus had in mind making his fortune opening a new trade route with China, which was known to exist west of Spain as well as to the east, a much more difficult journey. There does not seem to have been much of a providential hand working here 500 years ago.

Then, excluding a providential hand in action to get people to come here, was there such a hand in action to create this nation? History is lacking here, as well. The initial English colonies, based on the most reliably known history, sprang from commercial motives. Vast resources were here, and the people already here were primitive by comparison and unable to make an effective armed defense. It was more likely “Come and take it,” rather than any divine direction that drove the English here.

Credit Governor Huckabee one point. There was English migration driven by a providential hand, if we can consider religious persecution to be a providential hand. See the above reference to the governor’s revisionist history.

At the end of the narrative, Governor Huckabee can talk all he wants about a providential hand, but he has never produced a rational argument to support this position. Let’s take the governor’s next point.

He says “And I’m also convinced that if we reject his hand of blessing we will feel his hand of judgment.” We can only hope he was not sober at the time he made these remarks. First comes “reject his hand of blessing.” What can this possibly mean? “His hand?” Whose hand? The imaginary hand of an imaginary being? To compound the disconnect, if we reject the blessing issued from an imaginary hand, we are doomed, get that—doomed, to suffer an imaginary hand of judgment (whatever that means). This person wants to be president of the United States? Lord help us.

The clip on YouTube does not give us any clue about what transpired between the first and the second parts. Hopefully nobody made fun of this respected American politician. Unfortunately he plowed on in a comparative vein.

“Enough of you restricting us, enough of you redefining our institutions.” Really? We can only hope the governor was not being overly broad in his consideration. I recall from history a number of our institutions that required redefinition by the government, slavery being one of them. Unfortunately for him, I suspect his remarks were broad enough to include the suppression of equal rights for others.

“We are not under an obligation to defy God in order to obey you.” The problem is directives from “God” are whatever somebody wants to make of them. I just caught a news item this morning about some people who were directed by God to kill some children going to school in Pakistan. Previously this same God had directed people to murder a Pakistani girl who defied God by attending school. God apparently does not want girls to attend school. Let’s only hope the same God does not get control of Governor Huckabee’s mind. Especially if he ever becomes president.

“We are under an obligation to obey God and the law, and if necessary to defy an institution that is out of control.” These remarks make as little sense as his previous ones. Regarding institutions out of control, there may be some wiggle room.

Bad Movie of the Week

Highway301-01

This one should have been titled “Murder, Inc.,” but I think they reserved that for another movie. It’s Highway 301, and it’s from Warner Brothers in 1950. It’s about a gang of bank robbers, but there is surprisingly little robbery going on. More on that later.

The opening scenes show statements by three state governors. Here is Virginia Governor John Battle telling how this movie should be a deterrent to anybody thinking about a life of crime.

Highway301-02

We are reminded by narrator Detective Sergeant Truscott (Edmon Ryan) telling us why the Tri-State Gang came to Winston-Salem, North Carolina:

This is Winston-Salem, North Carolina, drowsing in the mid-afternoon sun of early spring, not knowing it had been chosen as the scene for the next exploit of the arrogant mob we know as “The Tri-State Gang”. These men operated openly, wearing no masks, boldly flaunting the law. To escape detection, they simply killed anyone who might possibly get in their way.

Right from the get go I figured this movie was going to have problems. It’s already in trouble with the English language. Most criminals flout the law, but I suppose those who’ve got it flaunt it.

Highway301-03

Yes, these are really bad guys, and the casting was right on. I’m sure director Andrew L. Stone told his actors, “Just get in the car and drive. And look tough.”

Highway301-04

Their first job in the movie is this take-over robbery of a bank.

Highway301-05

That one went off almost perfectly, but not quite. Somebody gets a partial on the license plate of the getaway car, and the police begin to close in.

There’s trouble from inside, as well. What’s the good of all that free cash if you don’t have some flashy hides to spend it on. Madeline (Aline Towneis the girlfriend of George (Steve Cochran), the ring leader. Only Madeline is getting cold feet. She doesn’t like hiding out in a hotel room while the guys are out having fun robbing and killing people. She wants out. When pretty and innocent Lee Fontaine (Gaby André) joins up as the new bride of Bill (Robert Webber), fed-up Madeline unloads on her with the truth about what Bill and his pals do for a living. Oops! While Madeline takes a powder, aiming to make a break, Lee lets slip what Madeline just spouted. George figures the ride is over for Madeline and intercepts her before she can beat it out of town. It’s the end of the line for Madeline and also a rude awakening for Lee.

Highway301-06

Things generally go down hill for the gang from there. Bill gets killed in a shootout with the cops, and Lee, figuring she’s going to eventually join up with the late Madeline, makes a try for freedom. There ensues a dramatic cat and mouse game as pistol-toting George tracks Lee down in the darkened streets of Richmond.

Highway301-07

Pause here for a moment and ask yourself why directors always water the streets in night scenes. Then just think to yourself what the above scene would look like if the streets were dry. Like the space behind your refrigerator and almost as interesting.

Without giving away the plot, the gang proceeds to dig itself into a deeper hole, and the police close in on them, the result being a massive shoot-out with at least one cop firing off a Thompson gun.

Governor Battle of Virginia has told us in the introductory narration that only surviving member of the gang “is serving 30 years of his life…” A minor point is that Mary (Virginia Grey) was a member of the gang and got arrested before the final shootout. It’s likely Governor Battle didn’t watch the movie before reading his part.

What impressed me most about the logic of this plot is we see George rubbing out Madeline in plain view of a witness. He’s going to shoot Madeline, but not the witness? Can we have a retake on this scene?

But hey! Look who else is in this movie. Richard Egan is Herbie Brooks, a newbie gangster. Unlike most of the others, Egan went on to better times, including Split Second, which I previously reviewed. Also he was with the absolutely well-endowed Jane Russell in Underwater. I need to review that one soon. Besides Russell, that film houses one of my favorite movie lines in which the would-be pirate threatens to cut Egan’s character into pieces too small for bait.

I obtained additional information from IMDB.com. Their entry notes that although Highway 301 is the name of the movie, and there is a Highway 301 in the Tri-State area where the story takes place, Highway 301 is never mentioned. Also one shot shows palm trees from Union Station in Los Angeles.

GE 45603 Z-Wave Technology Wireless Lighting Control Fluorescent Light & Appliance Module

LampModule

Last year I purchased a few GE Z-Wave Wireless Lighting Control Duplex Receptacle modules and installed them in my house to control lamps. While I am satisfied with the operation of these units, I should have waited. The duplex receptacles are a bear to install. You have to shut off the breaker to the circuit while you re-wire and install the Z-Wave receptacle. The really hard part is stuffing all the wiring back into the wall box. The Z-Wave unit has more bulk, and you are forced to cram the existing wiring back into a tighter space. Another downside is that if you decide you want the unit somewhere else you need to go through whole the process all over again.

The answer is the 45603 light and appliance module. It provides almost the same functional capability as the duplex receptacle unit with addition of ease of installation and portability.

Plug the unit into an extension cord and bring it close to the Z-Wave controller. Place the controller in the add mode and press the button on the front of the Z-Wave module. The module will be added to the Z-Wave network. Then plug the module into any (grounded) outlet in your house, and you have Z-Wave control of whatever you plug into its switched outlet.

The 45603 module has one switched outlet, and the other is always on. The button on the front toggles the switched outlet off and on. One drawback is, unlike the duplex receptacle, this module does not have an indicator light to tell you when the outlet is switched off. It’s good for 15 Amp resistive loads, but also for household fluorescent lighting and motor appliances up to 1/2 horse power. It comes in only one color.