Movie Tribute of the Week


This is not the first Leonard Nimoy movie I saw. That was Rhubarb, a movie about baseball. Nimoy’s film career goes back even further than that, appearing previously in Queen for a Day. I also saw Francis Goes to West Point. However, I don’t have any of those movies. And this may be the most notable of his early films. It’s Them! from Warner Brothers in 1954, and it stars James Arness and James Whitmore.

Opening shots show New Mexico police scouring the desert from an airplane. They are in communication with cops on the ground. We know this is the New Mexico desert because there are Joshua trees all over. Never mind that Joshua trees are only found in the Mojave Desert, which is not actually in New Mexico. However, for the story line this has to be in New Mexico.

The cops in the plane spot a little girl (Sandy Deschertrudging all alone in the wilderness, and the cops on the ground zero in and pick her up in their car. She appears to be physically unharmed but in a state of shock.


The mystery deepens as police Sergeant Ben Peterson (Whitmore) and trooper Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake) come across the family travel trailer in the desert. It has been torn apart by something unknown. There is blood but no bodies. It would appear the girl is the sole survivor of the Ellison family.

The child safely off to the hospital in an ambulance, the police officers stop by a store along the road. It’s also been torn apart. The proprietor is dead in the basement, crushed and bloody. Here comes the part in all such movies. Trooper Blackburn is left behind to guard the premises while Sergeant Peterson drives back to report.

Everybody watching by now is shouting at the screen. “No, don’t go out side to investigate that strange noise!” Of course Trooper Blackburn does go outside, with his trusty service revolver. And that’s the last we see of him. We hear him firing his pistol and finally giving his last screams for life.


The family in the desert belonged to an FBI agent on vacation. This brings in agent Robert Graham (Arness). A copy of the strange footprint found at the crime scene is sent off to FBI headquarters. This brings in two scientists, Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his glamorous daughter Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon). They arrive in an Air Force B-25 for some odd reason. This means of arrival provides some great optics as Graham and watch feminine legs descend from the bomber’s belly hatch. This movie is going to have sex.


Dr. Medford senior has formed an idea about what’s behind the mystery. He specializes in ants. He passes a sample of formic acid beneath the nose of the young Ellison girl, causing her to break her state of shock and scream, “Them!” and giving the movie its name.

Without changing from their science conference clothing the Doctors Medford journey out to the desert crime scene to investigate. In a blinding sand storm glamorous Patricia wanders into the desert. We know what’s about to happen. She hears the high-pitched screeching noise. A monstrous ant appears. Graham and Peterson open up with their pistols. The giant is stalled. Peterson finishes off the creature with his tommy gun. The mystery is solved.


A huge nest is discovered and soon wiped out using military weapons. But the scientists determine eggs have already hatched. There will be other colonies. The search is on.

At an Army base a sergeant pulls a message off a teletype machine. The sergeant is played by Leonard Nimoy..


This flick is loaded with talent. Future talent, at least. The message is about a pilot who has seen flying objects. He’s been hospitalized in a psycho ward. It’s Alan Crotty played by Fess Parker. This is shortly before Parker went to great fame as David Crockett in the Walt Disney TV and movie releases. For the time being he must remain in the psycho ward. The secret must be kept to avoid alarming the public.


The search continues. We see a ship at sea infested and attacked. Only two of the crew survive. Navy gunfire sinks the hulk, and the survivors are kept at sea. This must be kept secret.

Then in Los Angeles a rail car loaded with sugar is found destroyed. The search is narrowing.


A woman reports her husband and two sons have disappeared. Graham notices how much the city’s enormous storm drains appear to be a perfect place for a giant ant nest. In the drainage channel they discover the remains of a model airplane associated with the missing father and boys.


A huge military operation is assembled. Soldiers in Jeeps penetrate the drainage tunnels with heavy weapons. Sergeant Peterson finds the two boys alive (not the father) and rescues them. Too late. He cannot save himself. We knew all along that Arness was going to get the girl at the end of the movie.


For some reason in movies like this all the original characters have to be in on the final action. This means that even glamorous Patricia dons Army gear and is in on the final assault in the tunnel, along with her soon to be sweetheart Graham, by now wounded and acting very heroic. Too bad the movie ends right there. No long, lingering embrace in slinky evening clothing in a romantic setting. Leaves a lot to the imagination.


Production quality for this film is amazingly high. The cinematography is spot on. The plot fits together well, never mind the Joshua trees. The Joshua trees look good in a desert scene, but the desert setting has to be New Mexico, because that’s where the first atomic bomb was exploded nine years before, triggering the mutant ant population.

This is not just a straight line plot involving unimagined tragedy followed by discovery of the horrific menace followed by destruction of the menace. The plot develops into a detective story as Graham and others seek out remaining giant nests. Colorful characters are introduced without dragging down the plot. This is close to the cream of the monster movies from the 1950s, the very top being The Thing from Another World, also featuring James Arness. Arness was soon to ascend to fame as Matt Dillon on TV.

Gwenn is tops, as he always was, starting with the sinister assassin in Foreign Correspondent right on through as Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. This was close to Gwenn’s final major film role. He died five years later.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

A couple wants to have sex but their son is in the house. The only way to pull off a Sunday afternoon “quickie” with their 8-year-old son in the apartment was to send him out on the balcony with a popsicle and tell him to report on all the neighborhood activities.

“There’s a car being towed from the parking lot,” he shouted. He began his commentary as his parents put their plan into operation.

“An ambulance just drove by.”

“Looks like the Andersons have company,” he called out.

“Matt’s riding a new bike.”

“Looks like the Sanders are moving.”

“Jason is on his skate board.”

After a few moments he announced: “The Coopers are having sex.”

Startled, his mother and dad shot up in bed. Dad cautiously called out…”How do you know they’re having sex?”

“Jimmy Cooper is standing on his balcony with a popsicle.”


Call me crazy


All right! That didn’t quite work out. But first some background.

I’m inclined to analyze things to the bone, so bear with me for a moment. And imagine this scenario:

You’re the only person on the Earth. And you live in a cave. This situation does not apply.

Here’s another scenario. There is another person on the Earth, maybe also living in a cave. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Now suppose this other person is doing something that annoys you. You want him to stop. We can come up with any number of things another person can do to make your day’s less enjoyable. It could be this other person comes over and steals your food. Let’s make this more abstract. Let’s make up something. Let’s suppose that what this person does is draw with yellow chalk. You don’t like this. How to get him to stop?

Psychologists have an illustration for this scenario. It involves a reward and a barrier between the subject and the reward. If the reward is large and the barrier (usually illustrated with a wall) is low, then there is not much of an issue. The subject will go over the wall and get the reward (some food). Now make the wall higher. And still higher. At a certain point the subject will decide the reward (a sandwich) is not worth the effort of scaling the wall. The psychologist can balance out barriers and rewards and discover the subject’s level of initiative or whatever.

Now suppose it’s not a wall, but something else undesirable. You don’t want the subject to do a thing, and you set up a situation that produces an undesirable result if the subject does the thing. At a certain point the subject’s desire to do the thing is overwhelmed by his aversion to the undesirable consequence. The subject will not to the thing.

And this is the basis of the modern penal system. We don’t want people to steal other people’s stuff. We don’t encase their hands in boxing gloves to keep them from picking up other people’s things. We leave their hands free, but we put them on notice that if they steal people’s stuff then something undesirable will happen to them. If potential thieves take this threat seriously they will avoid stealing. At least they will avoid getting caught.

But what about the case where you catch somebody who has stolen somebody’s stuff. You say, “Didn’t you see the sign that says, ‘This is Bob’s stuff, and if you take it you will go to jail?'” Now suppose the thief says, “I saw the sign, and I was sure it would be all right if I took Bob’s stuff.” That is called the “insanity defense.”

Threat of punishment does not work when the subject’s brain is not working. We are relying on a normally-operating brain to make the punishment system work. If the brain does not work, we are just wasting our time. The problem is what we decide to do in such cases.

We have decided that threats of punishment do not work on some people, because these people are legally insane. The definition of legal insanity is the subject does not understand, cannot understand, the consequences of his actions. Since threats of punishment do not affect the actions of those who cannot comprehend the consequences of their actions, we don’t waste our time inflicting the promised punishment. What, then, to do with such people?

I’f they’re still insane we incarcerate them. Until they are no longer insane. Then we release them. Up to a point.

In March 1981 John Hinckley, Jr. opened fire at close range with a revolver in an attempt to kill President Reagan. He was determined to have been operating under a delusion at the time and was not given a life penal term, as would normally apply. He has been incarcerated ever since, but always with the possibility he will someday be found mentally healthy and released back into the arms of modern society. Not going to happen.

Contrary to what the public may believe, the ultimate goal of our justice system is not to protect criminals. None of us on this side of the sanity divide want John Hinckley back out on the street. Back out on the street where he would have no problem obtaining another weapon. Efforts by the Hinckley family and Hinckley Jr.’s attorneys have alarmed many in the justice system. I’m one of those alarmed:

In March 2011, it was reported that a forensic psychologist at the hospital testified that “Hinckley has recovered to the point that he poses no imminent risk of danger to himself or others.” On March 29, 2011, the day before the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt, Hinckley’s attorney filed a court petition requesting more freedom for his client, including additional unsupervised visits to the Virginia home of Hinckley’s mother, Joanne. On November 30, 2011, a hearing in Washington considered whether he could live full-time outside the hospital. The Justice Department opposed this, in the belief that Hinckley still poses a danger to the public. Its counsel argued that he had been known to deceive his doctors in the past.

Hinckley’s case is considered to be a driving force behind rehabilitation of rules regarding the insanity defense:

The verdict resulted in widespread dismay. This resulted in the U.S. Congress and a number of states rewriting laws related to the insanity defense. Idaho, Montana and Utah abolished the defense altogether. In the United States prior to the Hinckley case, the insanity defense had been used in less than two percent of all felony cases and was unsuccessful in almost 75 percent of the trials in which it was used. In 1985, Hinckley’s parents wrote Breaking Points, a book detailing their son’s mental condition.

Federal and some state rules of evidence have since excluded or restricted testimony of an expert witness’s conclusions on “ultimate” issues, including that of psychologist and psychiatrist expert witnesses on the issue of whether a criminal defendant is legally “insane.” But, this is not the rule among the majority of states in the early 21st century.

Vincent Fuller, who represented Hinckley during his trial and for several years afterward, said Hinckley has schizophrenia. Hinckley has been diagnosed with narcissistic and schizoid personality disorders and dysthymia, as well as borderline and passive-aggressive features.

All this came back to us two years ago when a disturbed Marine veteran, Eddie Ray Routh, murdered Navy veteran Chris Kyle and another man, Chad Littlefield. The two took Routh to a gun range in Erath County as part of their program to provide counseling and companionship to troubled veterans. Without provocation Routh gunned down the two and fled in Kyle’s truck.

Routh was charged with wanton murder, no excuses. His defense was that he was mentally insane at the time of the shooting. In Texas that’s a get-out-of-jail-free card. As I said, it didn’t work. The prosecution easily demonstrated that Routh had done something he knew the state of Texas did not want him to do. He knew when he fired the shots he was breaking Texas law.

Was he crazy? Could be. He did some stuff nobody in his right mind would do. Two guys you just met, taking you out to help you get your life straight. You kill them? Not normal human behavior. Profit motive, revenge, response to insult or assault? No evidence of such. This is much the definition of crazy. But in Texas and in most other places crazy doesn’t give you a walk. In fact, it can work against you.

If, for example, Routh had been all along an upright guy, enjoying a day out at the range with some shooting buddies, and something inside just snapped, and in a blind daze he unloaded on the only two other people around him, the jury might just see something redeemable there. But this guy had a long history of causing trouble for family and friends, doing drugs and otherwise running his life into the ground. Efforts to get him institutionalized had come to naught. It appeared to all who would see this was the future trajectory for Routh’s life. Nobody on the jury panel wanted to go the sleep Tuesday night knowing that Eddie Ray Routh would be walking about free in the land of easy access to arms.

A tragedy? Yes, for all concerned. Kyle and Littlefield dead, their families suffering. Routh, his life effectively over, what there ever was to be of it anyhow. Is the justice system here to serve justice? Not always. Ultimately it is here to protect all of us from some of us.

Coulter Again


The book

The book

Some time back I reviewed a book by conservative columnist Ann Coulter. It wasn’t a complete review, because I was only interested in Coulter’s take on creationism. She seemed to be for it. I still have the book, and I figured it was time  for me to read all of the book and obtain a feel for her position on all things.

The book is Godless: The Church of Liberalism. It was going to be interesting to find out what Coulter thought about liberals and God and all that stuff. I read the first few paragraphs. Here’s what I found:

They exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator …. Therefore, God gave them up to passions of dishonor; for their females exchanged the natural use for that which is contrary to nature.

-Romans 1:25-26

So she starts out with a quote from Romans. I was not familiar with this section, so I had to look it up. Coulter’s copy is a bit different from mine, which is the KJV:

Romans 1:25-26King James Version (KJV)

25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

While I’m trying to figure out what this is all about, I will post the opening paragraphs from the book:

Liberals love to boast that they are not “religious,” which is what one would expect to hear
from the state-sanctioned religion. Of course liberalism is a religion. It has its own cosmology,
its own miracles, its own beliefs in the supernatural, its own churches, its own high priests, its own saints, its own total worldview, and its own explanation of the existence of the universe. In other words, liberalism contains all the attributes of what is generally known as “religion.”

Under the guise of not favoring religion, liberals favor one cosmology over another and demand total indoctrination into theirs. The state religion of liberalism demands
obeisance (to the National Organization for Women), tithing (to teachers’ unions), reverence (for abortion), and formulaic imprecations (“Bush lied, kids died!” “Keep your laws off my body!” “Arms for hostages!”). Everyone is taxed to support indoctrination into the state religion through the public schools, where innocent children are taught a specific belief system, rather than, say, math.

Liberal doctrines are less scientifically provable than the story of Noah’s ark, but their belief system is taught as fact in government schools, while the Biblical belief system is banned from government schools by law. As a matter of faith, liberals believe: Darwinism is a fact, people are born gay, child-molesters can be rehabilitated, recycling is a virtue, and chastity is not. If people are born gay, why hasn’t Darwinism weeded out people who don’t reproduce? (For that, we need a theory of survival of the most fabulous.) And if gays can’t change, why do liberals think child-molesters can? Pedophilia is a sexual preference. If they’re born that way, instead of rehabilitation, how about keeping them locked up? Why must children be taught that recycling is the only answer? Why aren’t we teaching children “safe littering”?

We aren’t allowed to ask. Believers in the liberal faith might turn violent-much like the practitioners of Islam, the Religion of Peace, who ransacked Danish embassies worldwide because a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Mohammed. This is something else that
can’t be taught in government schools: Muslims’ predilection for violence. On the first anniversary of the 9/11 attack, the National Education Association’s instruction materials exhorted teachers, “Do not suggest that any group is responsible” for the attack of 9/11.’

If a Martian landed in America and set out to determine the nation’s official state religion, he would have to conclude it is liberalism, while Christianity and Judaism are prohibited by law. And not just in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it’s actually on the books, but throughout the land. This is a country in which taxpayers are forced to subsidize “artistic” exhibits of aborted fetuses, crucifixes in urine, and gay pornography. Meanwhile, it’s unconstitutional to display a Nativity scene at Christmas or the Ten Commandments on government property if the purpose is to promote monotheistic religion. Nearly half the members of the Supreme Court—the ones generally known as “liberals”—are itching to ban the references to God on our coins and in the Pledge of Allegiance. They resisted in 2004 on procedural grounds only because it was an election year.

The absence of a divinity makes liberals’ belief system no less religious. Liberals define religion as only those belief systems that subscribe to the notion of a divine being in order to dismiss other religions as mere religion and theirs as something greater. Shintoism
and Buddhism have no Creator God either, and they are considered religions. Curiously, those are two of the most popular religions among leftists-at least until 9/11, when Islam became all the rage.

Liberalism is a comprehensive belief system denying the Christian* belief in man’s immortal soul. Their religion holds that there is nothing sacred about human consciousness. It’s just an accident no more significant than our possession of opposable thumbs. They deny what we know about ourselves: that we are moral beings in God’s image. Without this fundamental understanding of man’s place in the world, we risk being lured into misguided pursuits, including bestiality, slavery, and PETA membership. Liberals swoon in pagan admiration of Mother Earth, mystified and overawed by her power. They deny the Biblical idea of dominion and progress, the most ringing affirmation of which is the United States of America.

Although they are Druids, liberals masquerade as rationalists, adopting a sneering tone of scientific sophistication, which is a little like being condescended to by a tarot card reader. Liberals hate science and react badly to it. They will literally run from the room, light-
headed and nauseated, when told of data that might suggest that the sexes have different abilities in math and science. They repudiate science when it contradicts their pagan beliefs-that the AIDS virus doesn’t discriminate, that there is no such thing as IQ, that nuclear
power is dangerous and scary, or that breast implants cause disease. Liberals use the word science exactly as they use the word constitutional.

* Throughout this book, I often refer to Christians and Christianity because I am a Christian and I have a fairly good idea of what they believe, but the term is intended to include anyone who subscribes to the Bible of the God of Abraham, including Jews and others.

[Pages 1-3]

There is just so much there. At the same time, so little. How many ways are there to spell “devoid of content?” I will just take on a few points and let the remainder sort themselves out. Let’s start with Coulter’s first sentence:

Liberals love to boast that they are not “religious,” which is what one would expect to hear
from the state-sanctioned religion.

Really? I’m seeing it now. All those liberals, marching lockstep in parade, lifting their faces to the sky and their voices to wind and shouting, “We are not religious!” That is, except for all of those liberals who are religious. What we’re supposed to do about them is not explained. Also not explained is the myriad staunch conservatives who reject Coulter’s religion and anything like it.

And that appears to set the tone for the book. Gross generalizations, unsubstantiated assertions, some ludicrous examples, some outright fabrications. It’s deserving of another example.

Liberal doctrines are less scientifically provable than the story of Noah’s ark, but their belief system is taught as fact in government schools, while the Biblical belief system is banned from government schools by law. As a matter of faith, liberals believe: Darwinism is a fact, people are born gay, child-molesters can be rehabilitated, recycling is a virtue, and chastity is not.

There’s a lot in those two sentences. What is meant by “liberal doctrines” is not revealed, but I’m going to think Coulter has biological evolution in mind. So biological evolution is less provable than the story of Noah’s ark? That could be the basis for a wonderful research paper. It would get any number of people poring over reams of research. Teams could take sides. Imagine, if you will, the matter being debated back and forth, heat rising, tempers flaring. Never going to happen. Coulter drops it on the floor as a given and moves swiftly on.

The Biblical belief system is banned from government schools by law. True. But why? Coulter does not explain. Weep for the richness of elaboration that Coulter has abandoned, perhaps for expediency, perhaps for other purposes. Missing is the history. Missing is the legacy of Tennessee’s Butler Act and the subsequent trial of John T. Scopes. Missing is Epperson v. Arkansas. Missing is McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Missing is Edwards v. Aguillard. And finally missing, too, is Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Board of Education. And that last is a real tragedy. What an opportunity was missed.

The Kitzmiller case was the one that finally exposed the underpinnings of the creationist movement. Board members of the Dover Area School District contrived to introduce religious concepts into the school curriculum, and thought they had found a route through a new brand of creationism called Intelligent Design. They invited litigation. They invited disaster. And it came, of their own making. Seeking to demonstrate the validity of creationism as a scientific study, they called upon the best minds behind the concept. The pulled on the best available evidence for Intelligent Design. And they brought nothing. They had nothing to show. Furthermore, principals of the Board’s defense witnesses perjured themselves and incurred the wrath of a conservative federal judge.

And still Coulter wonders why creationism cannot be taught in public schools.

And, absent the product of the best scientific minds of our times, what would Coulter call upon us to rely on, to turn to for direction in our private lives? It’s a book. It could possibly be Coulter’s favorite book. She quoted it at the very first of the book. Yes, she did. So I will conclude with another quote from that book:

Numbers 22:30King James Version (KJV)

30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? and he said, Nay.

Nay, indeed.

Bad Movie of the Week


I’m sure I saw this when it first came out. It was in the days before VCRs and DVD recorders. I didn’t get to see it again until recently when I caught it on Turner Classic Movies and recorded it. In the mean time Clay Blair, Jr. came out with his book Combat Patrol in 1975. I read the book, and I recognized in it some of the events in the movie. I haven’t had a copy of the book for several years, and I held off doing a review of the movie until I could get another copy of the book.

I have the book now, so here’s the movie. It’s Operation Pacific from Warner Brothers in 1951 and starring John Wayne and Patricia Neal.



Opening scenes are from an early part of the war. In fact, all the action corresponds to what was going on in the December 1941 through 1942 period. First we see crew from the American submarine Thunderfish rescuing civilians from a Japanese-held island. In the opening days of the war with Japan, the Japanese Empire made rapid and far-reaching territorial gains, quickly capturing the Philippines, what is now Indonesia, much of New Guinea, plus Guam and Wake Island. Particularly around the Philippines and Indonesia the lives of American and European citizens were in question.


So the Thunderfish crew are loading up some rubber rafts with children and two Catholic nuns, and they take them aboard in the middle of the night. Aboard the submarine in combat the children are a nuisance, adding some amount of comedy to a life and death situation as the boat is attacked with depth charges by a Japanese destroyer.


It’s a disastrous mission. The Thunderfish has fired torpedoes into a Japanese ship, but the torpedoes did not explode. This was an actual situation that threatened the operation of our Pacific submarine fleet for the first two years into the war. The movie bears down on the issue of the non-exploding torpedoes. Combat Patrol tells of three critical problems that had to be resolved:

  • Torpedoes would hit the side of a ship but not explode.
  • Torpedoes would run under the target ship without hitting it.
  • The magnetic exploders usually failed. They were supposed to set off the torpedo if it ran under a ship. Most often they would not. Often, too, they would set off the torpedo when it was only part way to the target.

Early torpedo failures also cost at least one of our submarines. The torpedo ran in a circle and eventually came back to the submarine. The movie shows Commander John T. “Pop” Perry (Ward Bond) firing two torpedoes at a Japanese ship. Both explode half way to the target.

The Thunderfish returns to Pearl Harbor with its load of nuns and children, and Lieutenant Commander Duke E. Gifford (Wayne) heads off to a base hospital to check up on a rescued newborn baby. There he runs into ex-wife Lieutenant (j.g.) Mary Stuart (Neal). Some of (a lot of) the old flame is still there. You wonder why they ever broke up.


Of course, there’s a slight problem. Four years out, Miss Stuart now has a new boyfriend. It’s Navy fly-boy Lieutenant (j.g.) Bob Perry (Philip Carey), brother of Commander Perry. Something’s going to have to give.


But that has to wait. First there’s the problem with the torpedoes. Commander Perry has the idea to run some tests. But that’s going to have to wait until after the next combat mission. About this time viewers are getting a bad feeling about what’s going to happen.

Commander Perry does not survive the mission. The first ship they attack feigns surrender after the Thunderfish‘s torpedoes fail to explode. When Thunderfish approaches on the surface the Japanese ship unveils its guns and opens fire.



Commander Perry is killed. That leaves John Wayne in command.


They sink the Japanese ship by gunfire and by ramming and return to base. Duke is posted back stateside, but he elects to stay at Pearl Harbor and run some torpedo tests. They first look at the non-exploding detonators. They drop a torpedo warhead, with dummy explosives) on a steel plate. The detonator does not detonate.


When I watched this as a kid at the local theater this was the part that made me the most uneasy. Anyhow, in the movie somebody suggests the problem might be the aluminum firing pin. In reality I don’t think there ever was such a thing as an aluminum firing pin.


A few years after seeing this movie I found myself aboard a Navy ship studying how firing mechanisms work. You might think that a torpedo running full speed into the side of a ship would just explode, and you wouldn’t need to give it any help. Truth is, people who use explosive weapons go to great trouble to ensure they do not explode until they are supposed to explode. Aboard an expensive warship with a bunch of people around you don’t want to mess with something that will go off due to some minor mishandling.

So, any munition of any size has an elaborate firing mechanism. The main warhead will not explode if you just drop it on the sidewalk. Actually, you can drop an aerial bomb several thousand feet onto a concrete runway, and it will not explode. Big pieces of ordnance have elaborate firing trains to ensure safety and at the same time to ensure the main charge goes off when it’s supposed to go off.

Typically there’s a firing pin. It’s driven by a spring, and it’s aimed at a crush-sensitive explosive, such as fulminator mercury (see Mister Roberts). But the fulminator mercury is shock sensitive, and it could go off if you drop the warhead. So what you do is arrange it so that likely accidents do not result in the main charge going off. One way to do this is to incorporate a mechanism that keeps the detonator from setting off the main charge until the whole business is well on its way toward the enemy. This is typically done by incorporating something that interdicts the firing train until the moment of truth is almost on.

The small detonator charge is not enough to set off the main charge, so there is a booster charge. The booster charge is not shock-sensitive, but it is sensitive to the firing of the detonator. The firing pin strikes the detonator, which sets off the booster charge, which sets off the main charge.

In the case of World War Two torpedoes there was never any matter of an aluminum firing pin. Nobody would use such a thing. In 1943, well into the war, after many torpedoes had been fired into the sides of Japanese ships, after many of our submarines had been sunk following unsuccessful attacks, the Navy was finally convinced to test the damn detonators.

It was simple and straight forward. They fired torpedoes into the side of a rock cliff. The first two exploded. The third one was a dud. Some very stout-hearted men went into the water and put a line around the unexploded torpedo. They brought it ashore at Pearl Harbor and dissected it. The nose of the torpedo had been crushed before the firing pin could reach the detonator. This is the point at which the tests shown in the movie were carried out on a dock at Pearl Harbor.

Aerial bombs had long before solved this problem. The crushing of the nose of a bomb is not what initiates the firing. It’s the shock of the bomb hitting something hard that does it. The nose of the bomb makes contact with an immovable object, and the bomb experiences a short and intense deceleration. A spring-loaded weight in the fuse mechanism now moves toward the front the bomb, and that’s what released the spring-loaded firing pin. When the whole thing is properly designed the firing pin will contact the detonator before it’s crushed by the impact. The fact is that aerial bombs often have tail-mounted or mid-mounted fuses.

The movie shows the fuse tests at Pearl Harbor. Truth is the torpedo depth tests were performed much earlier, in 1942. They rigged up fishing nets and fired torpedoes into them, and they found the Mark XIV (mark 14) torpedoes ran on average 11 feet deeper than the set depth.

Regarding all these torpedo failures: These torpedoes and the firing mechanisms were developed by the Navy Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) prior to the war. Because torpedoes were expensive ($1500 in those days) they never ran extensive tests.

After fixing the firing pin problem, the men of the Thunderfish head back out on patrol. There is remaining tragedy. At sea they trade movies with another submarine and later recover the movie they traded from the site of a submarine sinking.


But Thunderfish does successfully sink the Japanese sub responsible, and the crew finishes up by rescuing young Bob Perry after he’s shot down.


Duke brings his ex-wife’s boyfriend back safely, and at the dock he gets his reward. It appears the Giffords are going to be a family again.



This movie contains some obligatory plot churn. That’s action that does not contribute to the story line, but is put in to provide maybe some atmosphere but which winds up burning off some film. We are treated to the scene of submarine sailors on shore leave getting drunk and unruly, crashing a luau and needing to be paroled by Executive Officer Gifford. That’s a few minutes of life the viewer will never get back.

The matter of the aluminum firing pin is a bit of fiction that could have been avoided. The actual circumstances make a more interesting story. Admiral Charles A. Lockwood was instrumental in getting the torpedo tests carried out, and he was a technical advisor for the movie.

Now that I have a copy of the book, I’ll be doing a review later this year. Keep reading.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

Whatever you may look like, marry a man your own age.  As your beauty fades, so will his eyesight.
Housework can’t kill you, but why take a chance?
Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.
A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.
The reason women don’t play football is because 11 of them would never wear the same outfit in public.
Best way to get rid of kitchen odors:  Eat out.
A bachelor is a guy who never made the same mistake once.
I want my children to have all the things I couldn’t afford. Then I want to move in with them.
Most children threaten at times to run away from home. This is the only thing that keeps some parents going.
Any time three New Yorkers get into a cab without an argument, a bank has just been robbed.
We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve years telling them to sit down and shut up.
Burt Reynolds once asked me out. I was in his room.
You know you’re old if your walker has an airbag.
I’m eighteen years behind in my ironing.
What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.
The only time I ever enjoyed ironing was the day I accidentally got gin in the steam iron.
Old age is when the liver spots show through your gloves.
My photographs don’t do me justice – they just look like me.
There’s so little money in my bank account, my scenic checks show a ghetto.
My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor.
Tranquilizers work only if you follow the advice on the bottle – keep away from children.
I asked the waiter, ‘Is this milk fresh?’ He said, ‘Lady, three hours ago it was grass.’
You know you’re old if they have discontinued your blood type.

To Hell And Back


Yesterday I reviewed the movie. Today I’m reviewing the book. This is (nearly) the 70th anniversary of the events that earned Army Lieutenant Audie Murphy the Congressional Medal of Honor. The book is an autobiography depicting his time in the war.

To Hell and Back is Audie Murphy‘s 1949 World War II memoir, detailing the events that led him to receive the Medal of Honor and also to become one of the most decorated foot soldiers of the war. Although only Murphy’s name appears on the book cover, it was in fact a collaboration with writer David “Spec” McClure. After securing a publishing contract in 1947, Murphy and McClure worked on the book through 1948 in Murphy’s Hollywood apartment. Murphy did write some of the prose himself, but most of it was “as told to” style with the writing left to McClure. They traveled to France in 1948 where Murphy was presented the French Legion of Honor and the Crois de Guerre with Palm from the French government. While in France, Murphy received permission to visit the battle sites. The two men retraced 1,500 miles of battlefield as Murphy related details of the events to McClure.

It’s apparent when reading the book that Murphy recalls more than was possible. Particularly, detailed conversations are likely reconstructed, based on Murphy’s recollections. However, the narrative is surely the most accurate account of Murphy’s two years in combat.

Years ago I had a paperback of the original. That’s long gone, and this is a review based on the Kindle edition. Tom Brokaw, journalist and author of The Greatest Generation has written a forward. The story begins with what is probably the first death Murphy witnessed, the day he landed on Sicily:

The second shell is different. Something terrible and immediate about its whistle makes my scalp start prickling. I grab my helmet and flip over on my stomach. The explosion is thunderous. Steel fragments whine, and the ground seems to jump up and hit me in the face.

Silence again. I raise my head. The sour fumes of powder have caused an epidemic of coughing.

“Hey, boss. The cahgo–”

The voice snaps. We all see it. The redheaded soldier has tumbled from the rock. Blood trickles from his mouth and nose.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 2). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

This was to be the first of many deaths Murphy would witness. Many were close friends of his. Many more were the enemy. Soon after, Murphy killed his first man:

The following day I am ahead of the company with a group of scouts. We flush a couple of Italian officers . They should have surrendered. Instead they mount two magnificent white horses and gallop madly away. My act is instinctive. Dropping to one knee, I fire twice. The men tumble from the horses, roll over and lie still.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 10). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Murphy grew up in northeast Texas in a sharecropper household. He was one of twelve children whose father abandoned the family when he was twelve. Hunting with a rifle for food in the woods turned Murphy into a crack shot. It was a skill that was to make the difference between life and death during his months in combat.

He shipped over from the United States in 1943 to North Africa, where he joined up with the 3rd Infantry, already in the field. He saw his first action in Sicily, and his battlefield exploits culminated in action in the Colmar Pocket in France, 70 years ago. His actions on 26 January 1945 earned him the Medal of Honor, and in between his exploits became legendary. He served with the 3rd in Sicily, in the invasion of the mainland at Salerno and again at Anzio. Following that he went with the 3rd to invade southern France in August 1945. Along the way his battle skills improved, he exhibited the survival skills of situational awareness and readiness to take action. On multiple occasions he faced the enemy and survived by shooting first.

The movie, based on the book, came out in 1955 and displays a Hollywood version of reality. Major combat actions in the movie don’t show up in the book. At least one incident is both in the book and in the movie, but the country of location has changed! The movie shows Murphy, still an enlisted man, leading a probe across the Volturno River. Nothing like that is in the book. What is in the book is the grim desperation of Murphy and his men holding the front while preparations are made to attack across the river:

I awake like an animal, instantly visualizing the picture. Novak beats me to the tunnel. Nobody is on watch. We drop to our knees and gaze through the slit.

The burst of fire has knocked Antonio down. I shout, “Come back, you crazy fool. Come back,” and seize the BAR to cover him.

He scrambles from the ground, still clutching his canteen. Pure terror stands on his face. He takes a step and his right lower leg bends double. The bone thrusts through the flesh; and he tries to walk on the stump. I cannot locate the enemy gunner, but he either has ammunition to waste or is bored with the lack of targets. His second burst is long and unhurried. The lead eats through Antonio’s mid-parts, like a saw chewing through wood. The kraut is a butcher.

Little Mike screams, “Gah damn sonsabeeches,” and starts around the sandbag wall. I drop the gun and grab him. He kicks me flat. I recover and seize him again. He beats me with his fist; and I throw a hard punch to his stomach. He doubles up. I get a headlock on him and yell for Brandon and Kerrigan.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (pp. 32-33). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

This is the story of a succession of friends who will never return. While still in Italy Corporal Johnson was killed:

We have not long to look before a heavy artillery barrage is turned on us. The shells hit the trees, explode; the woodland shrieks with steel fragments.

I dive into a foxhole. This is a job for our big guns. We can do nothing until the fire lifts.

I am sitting with my helmeted head between my knees when a body tumbles into the pit. It is Horse-Face. His face is ash gray; his smile is feeble.

“So they’ve got you scared at last?” I say.

“Got a drink of water?”

I hand him my canteen, but it slips through his fingers.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” I ask.

“Think I strained my back.”

He slumps forward. I rip off his shirt. It is a small, ugly wound just under his left shoulder blade; and it does not bleed much.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 155). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

But a shell fragment had nicked Johnson’s heart. He was dead before Murphy could get back with a medic.

Action on the day the 3rd Division arrived in southern France earned Murphy the Distinguished Service Cross.

Heaving two hand grenades, we rise suddenly and empty our carbines into the gun emplacement. Our action is followed by utter silence. Then the Germans yell, “Kamerad!”

Brandon peers over the edge of the hole. “They’re waving a handkerchief,” he says. “I’ll go get ’em.”

“Keep down,” I urge. “You can’t trust them.”

“Murph,” says he, “you’re getting to be a plumb cynic. They’ve had enough.”

He climbs from the hole nonchalantly and stands upright. That is all the enemy is waiting for. I hear the slash of machine-gun fire. As Brandon topples back into the pit, he softly mutters, “Murph.” Stunned, I lie for a moment with the two dead Germans beneath me and my comrade on top.

Carefully I ease myself from under Brandon. An abrupt movement may cause his wounds to hemorrhage. I grab his wrist , but there is no beat to his pulse. I start yelling like an insane man for the medics, but I might as well be shouting at the moon. I am all alone; and the hill is rattling with fire.

For the first time in the war, I refuse to accept facts. While Brandon grows cold beneath my hand, I keep telling myself, “He is not dead. He can’t be dead, because if he is dead, the war is all wrong; and Brandon has died in vain.”

Then I get the curious notion that he needs fresh air. I lift the body from the hole and stretch it beneath the cork tree . Why I am not shot during the process I shall never understand. Instinctively I spin about to find a machine gun being trained upon me from a position a few yards to my right. I leap back into the hole, jerk the pin from a grenade, and throw it.

At its blast, I scramble from the pit with my carbine. But the grenade has done its work well. One of the two Germans manning the gun has his chest torn open; the other has been killed by a fragment that pierced an eye.

I pick up their gun and methodically check it for damage. It is in perfect condition. Holding it like a BAR for firing from the hip, I start up the hill.

I remember the experience as I do a nightmare. A demon seems to have entered my body. My brain is coldly alert and logical. I do not think of the danger to myself. My whole being is concentrated on killing. Later the men pinned down in the vineyard tell me that I shout pleas and curses at them, because they do not come up and join me.

When I find the gun crew that betrayed Brandon, the men are concentrating on targets downhill. They do not see me, and I have time to take careful aim before pulling the trigger. As the lacerated bodies flop and squirm, I rake them again; and I do not stop firing while there is a quiver left in them.

In a little while, all resistance on the hill has been wiped out. The company moves up, and we halt on the crest to reorganize.

The voices of the men seem to come to me through a thick wall. My hands begin to tremble; and I feel suddenly weak. Sinking to the ground, I wait until the company moves off through the trees. Then I go back down the hill and find Brandon.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (pp. 176-178). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

There were many other times when Murphy’s quickness made the difference. In one action in the northeast of France he faced and killed a sniper at close range.

Keeping under cover of the brush, I skirt the clearing and move toward the boulder. An acute sense of loneliness comes over me. I and my enemy, it seems, are the last two men on earth. I pause; and fear makes my body grow limp. I look at the hills and sky. A shaft of sunlight pierces the clouds, making the wet leaves of the trees glisten goldenly. Life becomes infinitely desirable.

The hill now becomes infested with a thousand eyes peering through telescopic sights, with cross-hairs on the center of my head. Terror grows. I crash my fist to my forehead. The fantasy passes. I inch forward.

At the boulder I stop. My straining ear can catch no sound. I get to my feet and with my left hand against the rock for support step into the open. It happens like a flash of lightning. There is a rustle. My eyes snap forward. The branches of a bush move. I drop to one knee. We see each other simultaneously.

His face is as black as a rotting corpse; and his cold eyes are filled with evil. As he frantically reaches for the safety on his rifle, I fire twice. He crashes backwards. I throw two hand grenades to take care of any companions lurking in the area. Then I wilt.

When Owl and Barker reach the scene, I am mopping the cold sweat off my forehead.

The sniper is sprawled on the ground just beyond the old machine-gun position. The two bullet holes are in the center of the forehead; and one of the grenades has torn off an arm.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (pp. 214-215). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Days later Murphy’s quick draw reflexes saved his life once more:

We leave the trail and push directly through the woods. Except for sporadic mortar fire, the enemy is quiet, too quiet to suit me.


Paderwicz is dead before his body thuds against the ground. The sniper’s bullet got him just above the left eye. I leap behind a tree. Crack! It is like being struck with a ball bat. The ricocheting bullet digs a channel through my hip and knocks me flat.

The sniper throws his camouflage cape back to get a better view and drills my helmet. That is the last mistake he ever makes. My head is not in the helmet.

I raise my carbine and with my right hand fire pistol-fashion. The bullet spatters between the German’s eyes. It was his brain or nothing. He would not have missed the second time.

I try to get up, but cannot. My right leg seems paralyzed.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 224). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Over 26 years earlier Corporal (later Sergeant) Alvin York gained international recognition in almost single action against scores of German soldiers in France. Murphy recapitulated the feat as he held off a German counter attack in the Colmar Pocket.

Two tank destroyers that had been sent forward to back up his platoon were quickly disabled when the enemy attack started. One, hit by tank fire, began to burn. Murphy sent his troops back to a secure position while he remained on the field telephone to direct artillery. As American shells began to fall among the attacking Germans, he started using his sharpshooting skills to take down individual soldiers advancing through the shell fire. He interrupted his sniping from time to time to call in changes to the artillery.

When all seemed hopeless, Murphy was about to withdraw. Then he noticed the machine gun mounted on top of the burning TD. He climbed up and took charge of the gun, all the while continuing to call in changes. When he was asked, “How close are they to your position?” he famously responded “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards.”

The gun has thrown the krauts into confusion. Evidently they cannot locate its position. Later I am told that the burning tank destroyer, loaded with gasoline and ammunition, was expected to blow up any minute. That was why the enemy tanks gave it a wide berth and the infantrymen could not conceive of a man’s using it for cover.

I do not know about that. For the time being my imagination is gone; and my numbed brain is intent only on destroying. I am conscious only that the smoke and the turret afford a good screen, and that, for the first time in three days, my feet are warm.

Now the Germans try a new tactic. A gust of wind whips the smoke aside; and I see an enemy sergeant in the roadside ditch not thirty yards from my position. He peers cautiously about, then turns his head and motions his squad forward. As I spin my gun barrel upon him, a billow of smoke comes betweeen us.

For a minute or so I wait. The tree branches overhead stir stiffly in the gust, the smoke column folds to one side. The twelve Germans, huddled like partridges in the ditch, are discussing something, perhaps my possible location. I press the trigger and slowly traverse the barrel. The twelve bodies slump in a stack position. I give them another methodically thorough burst, and pick up the phone.

“Correct fire, battalion. 50 over.”

“Are you all right, lieutenant?”

“I’m all right, sergeant. What are your postwar plans?”

The barrage lands within fifty yards of the tank destroyer . The shouting, screaming Germans caught in it are silent now. The enemy tanks, reluctant to advance further without infantry support, lumber back toward Holtzwihr.

I snatch the telephone receiver. “Sergeant. Sergeant Bowes . Correct fire: 50 over; and keep firing for effect. This is my last change.”

“50 over? That’s your own position.”

“I don’t give a damn. 50 over.”

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (pp. 241-242). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Murphy finished out the war near Munich in Germany. On leave, he learned of the German surrender while on a train to the French Riviera.

The book does not describe the various awards he received nor their presentation.

To Hell And Back


This is another I saw when it first came out. I needed to review it on the 70th anniversary of the events that earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for Army Lieutenant Audie Murphy, however, I was late getting a copy. So here it is a few weeks late.

It’s To Hell and Back from Universal-International in 1955. It was released ten years after the events, and it stars Audie Murphy playing himself. A successful film career followed the end of the war for Murphy, and he became most famous for western roles.

Audie Murphy was the most decorated American soldier ever, eclipsing Sergeant Alvin York, who only saw a single significant action in World War One. Murphy was from a sharecropper family in Hunt County, Texas. This parallels the life of Alvin York, who was from a poor family in the Tennessee mountains. Suffering a string of failures, Murphy’s father abandoned the family, another parallel to Alvin York. The movie goes into detail about Murphy’s life prior to the war, something that is only touched on in the autobiography of the same name.

The opening scene shows soldiers marching on parade, supposedly in honor of Murphy’s receiving the Medal of Honor. Next, World War Two General Walter Bedell Smith explains the hardships of soldiers in war and the valor exhibited by many. Then Murphy is shown at the age of 12, hunting in the East Texas woods to put food on the table for his family. He learned to become an excellent shot—a single bullet could determine whether there was food.


Come the war and the death of his mother, we see Murphy attempting to join the Marines. They laugh him out of the recruiting office. At the time he was only 17 and gave all the appearance of being just a scrawny kid, which he was. Faked documentation was necessary for him to avoid the age requirement and get into the Army.


I saved the above image, because it depicts one of the memorable moments in the film. It’s in a North Africa base, where the Third Division is preparing to enter combat. One soldier has obtained some suspicious hooch, and he demands his buddy take a drink of it. When the buddy declines he seizes Murphy’s rifle and forces his buddy at gun point to take a swig. It’s awful stuff, and after his buddy has finished the swig the soldier hands over the rifle with the hilarious line, “Now you hold it on me so I can have one.”

Funny it is, but it likely never happened. Early on screen writer Gil Doud takes off and rewrites the book. Critical elements in the book are never mentioned. Things that apparently never happened make for some exciting action in the movie.

In his recount, Murphy tells of his first encounter with the enemy after landing in Sicily. It’s a German machine gun emplacement that cuts down troops close by.


The following day he kills his first enemy soldiers in a bit of the action that was left out:

The following day I am ahead of the company with a group of scouts. We flush a couple of Italian officers. They should have surrendered. Instead they mount two magnificent white horses and gallop madly away. My act is instinctive. Dropping to one knee, I fire twice. The men tumble from the horses, roll over and lie still.

Murphy, Audie (2002-05-01). To Hell and Back (p. 10). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

A major piece of action seems to have been fabricated. That’s Murphy leading a probe across the Volturno River. Still it makes for interesting viewing.


Back in Naples on leave there is a small bit of reality. The tale of Murphy meeting up with an Italian girl and spending the night with her during an air raid is close to the narrative.


Except that director Jesse Hibbs takes a bit of liberty by displaying her bare-shouldered. During this time in Italy only street walkers went out with their shoulders exposed. To this day you cannot get into a church in Italy bare-shouldered. She’s cute, however, played by Susan Kohner.

On the Anzio beachhead the action against the German tanks is realistic. A big part of strategy at this time involved wet ground. The Germans had a passel of tanks, but during the rainy season the ground off the roads was too boggy to support them. Here off-shore guns have disabled the lead German tank. It’s abandoned by its crew, and the other tanks fall back.


During the night the Americans can hear Germans trying to repair the disabled tank, and Murphy leads an expedition out to permanently disable the tank. Murphy’s initiative and remarkable valor are getting him awards and promotions. He is soon a staff sergeant. And he’s not yet nineteen.

Pulled out of Italy, the Third Division is next directed to the south coast of France, and within hours of landing Murphy displays action that begins to accumulate medals. The movie shows Murphy’s friend Private Brandon (Charles Drake) carelessly exposing himself and being killed by a German machine gunner. Murphy becomes enraged and infiltrates the German position, where he steals an MG-42 from some Germans who no longer have need for it. He then wipes out the remaining machine gun positions.


And it pretty much happened that way, except in reality Brandon exposed himself after the Germans faked a surrender. This action earned Murphy the Distinguished Service Cross.

The action that earned Murphy the Medal of Honor came on 26 January 1945 in the battle for the Colmar Pocket.


Again a few liberties have been taken. It’s January, in the Colmar region. And there’s no snow? In the action two tank destroyers came up to support Murphy’s unit. By this time Murphy had been promoted to lieutenant and was as battle wise as it gets. He advised the tank destroyers to take cover, as they were exposing themselves to the approaching German tanks. The drivers gave no heed, and both were quickly disabled when the fighting started.

Murphy is shown ordering his men back to a secure position while he stays forward to call in artillery on the advancing Germans. Presently shells are exploding all around the German units,, but they keep advancing, and Murphy keeps giving closer coordinates. The artillery director on the other end of the phone line finally asks Murphy something like, “How close are they,” and he classically responds, “Hold on, and I’ll let you talk to them.”

He climbs atop a burning vehicle, a Sherman tank in the movie, and opens up with the machine gun on top. Here the film goes light on the butchery that ensued. The Germans were unable to locate the source of their destruction, and they kept on coming. They could not believe that somebody was firing at them from atop a burning tank destroyer.

The war ends there for Murphy in the movie as he struggles back to his men, wounded, and that is the end of the movie. In fact, he finished out the war near Munich. The Colmar Germans were the last enemy troops he killed. Liberating a P.O.W. camp he was dissuading from gunning down a German guard. The prisoners assured him this guard had been protecting them.

On leave, on a train to the French Riviera, Murphy got word that the European war was over.

The book and the movie are named “To Hell And Back” for a reason. Life for soldiers on the front was a hell of fire, mud, vermin and death. Murphy started in North Africa with a group of soldiers who quickly became close friends. By the Colmar Pocket action he was the last one left standing. The rest were dead or invalided out.

Here is a list of the cast principals. Some of the names you will recognize even today:

Game Changer

So I went to this movie, and it was a real thriller. It starred Mel Gibson, and he was in top form. He was tough and resourceful, and he wound up killing a lot of bad guys. Later on I learned the awful truth.

I was talking to my friend Ernie, and he was asking me how I liked the movie, and I told him all about it. “You’ve been scammed,” he informed me.

“Scammed? What?”

“Yeah. Scammed.”

“How? What do you mean?”

Then my friend told me the sorry news. Gibson had been caught using performance enhancing drugs. What I saw in this action-packed thriller was not the real Mel, but the Mel on acid. All this great acting I paid so much ($15 and up per ticket) to see was really just Mel cheating.

By now you’ve guessed that I’ve been making all this up. It wasn’t a Mel Gibson movie I was watching. It was a major league baseball game, and what I had been watching was A-Rod on steroids. He had been cheating.

You cannot imagine my letdown. I feel so abused. I want my money back.

Just kidding.

Comes the news this morning that A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) has apologized. Apologized! To whom? Not to me.

NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez extended his apology tour to include the fans Tuesday, releasing a handwritten letter in which he said he is sorry for his mistakes that led to his suspension for performance-enhancing drug use.

In the letter obtained by ESPN on Tuesday afternoon, Rodriguez called the New York Yankees“gracious” for offering him the chance to use Yankee Stadium for a news conference. But Rodriguez chose to forgo a formal media session.

“I take full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season,” Rodriguez said in the statement. “I regret that my actions made the situation worse than it needed to be. To Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you, the fans, I can only say I’m sorry.

Sorry? Really? Sorry for what? For doing what the fans paid him to do?


By all accounts, a bunch of people with more money than they knew what to do with ponied up $30 to $50 per seat to contribute to A-Rod’s $275 million-dollar pay check (ten years). All to watch grown men play a game? And nobody gets killed?

What fascinates me still is this is in the news. Highly paid news anchors were talking about A-Rod’s apology early this morning, in between stories about Peshmerga fighters holding off yet another attack in Iraq and a follow-up on murders by a terrorist gunman in Denmark. Do we think somebody has their priorities straight?

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.


Heart of Dimness – Part 12


This is the 12th of a continuing series. I’m reviewing items from David Buckna’s post on the Truth.Origin Archive. I previously covered his item 9. Here’s item 10:

10. Evolutionists say mutation, migration, genetic drift, and natural selection produced new life forms. Why then are there so few examples–if there are any at all–of mutations building brand new organs?

Some evolutionists point to a study (2008) of Italian wall lizards (Podarcis sicula). From the abstract: “Here we show how lizards have rapidly evolved differences in head morphology, bite strength, and digestive tract structure after experimental introduction into a novel environment.” The study mentions cecal valves–muscles between the large and small intestine–that “slow down food passage and provide for fermenting chambers, allowing commensal microorganisms to convert cellulose to volatile fatty acids.” (A. Herrel et al., “Rapid large-scale evolutionary divergence in morphology and performance associated with exploitation of a different dietary resource,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105 (12) (2008): 4792–4795.)

But anatomist David Menton noted the original lizards had the ability to digest plant material; they simply preferred insects for roughly 95 percent of their diet. Menton added: “The ‘new’ muscular valve they found between the small and large intestine is simply an enlargement of muscles already present in the gut wall at this juncture.” So, far from being a truly new feature, the shift in available food allowed lizards with larger muscles at the juncture to be more successful at feeding and reproducing.

The “rapidly evolved” cecal valves are possibly just natural selection acting on pre-existing genetic information, helping a population adapt to its surroundings.

The reader is invited to review the paper published by Anthony Herrel et al. It describes a development that occurred over a 36-year period, far shorter than the time spans involved in the study of fossils. That the degree of adaptation observed is so slight should not be surprising. Further, David states:

The “rapidly evolved” cecal valves are possibly just natural selection acting on pre-existing genetic information, helping a population adapt to its surroundings.

In all likelihood, this is exactly what has happened. However, it’s incumbent on David and others making such claims, to demonstrate some evidence. Such research would include:

  • Demonstrate there is nothing in the genome of the latest lizards that was not in the genomes of the starting population.
  • If there are novel genes, demonstrate these are not associated with the new capabilities.
  • On the other hand, anybody proposing that novel genes are responsible for the new capabilities will be required to demonstrate the association.

The illustration below is from the Anthony Herrel paper.

Fig. 4. Photographs illustrating the cecal valves in a male (A), a female (B), and a hatchling (C) P. sicula from Pod Mrčaru. Note the thick cecal wall and pronounced ridges. The arrow in C indicates the position of the cecal valve in a hatchling as seen from the outside.

Fig. 4.
Photographs illustrating the cecal valves in a male (A), a female (B), and a hatchling (C) P. sicula from Pod Mrčaru. Note the thick cecal wall and pronounced ridges. The arrow in C indicates the position of the cecal valve in a hatchling as seen from the outside.

David starts by asking a question:

Why then are there so few examples–if there are any at all–of mutations building brand new organs?

Then he proceeds directly to an example of extremely rapid adaptation. The real answer to his question lies in the fossil record, which covers the time scale for such events. I have previously referred to fossil evidence for the development of the mammalian ear:



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.

The example is from “Jaws to ears in the ancestors of mammals” on the UC Berkeley site.

David further invokes the pronouncements of creationist David Menton:

Dr David Menton

Creationist Anatomist

Answers in Genesis USA


Professional Affiliation

  • Biomedical research technician at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota in the Department of Dermatology (1960–62)
  • Associate Professor of Anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri (1966–2000)
  • Associate Professor Emeritus of Anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine (July 2000)

Professional Activities

  • Former guest lecturer in gross anatomy
  • Former coursemaster of Microscopic Anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine
  • Former consulting editor in Histology for Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, a standard medical reference work

Extraprofessional activities

  • Vice-president of Congregation of Faith Lutheran Church of Ballwin, Missouri
  • Sunday school teacher for high school students
  • Former president of the Missouri Association for Creation, St. Louis, Missouri
  • Technical Advisor for the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas
  • Lectured throughout the United States and Canada on the Creation-Evolution controversy


  • B.A. from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota
  • Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University

Of course, a Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University is worth noting. While there is nothing in his resumé indicating he ever did serious work related to evolutionary biology, his right to comment is not denied. However, as I mentioned before, this point has little that relates to whether biological evolution can develop new organs. David is going to have to propose some serious challenges before I can take him seriously.

In a future post I will cover David’s item 11. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

My First Computer


Girls, I think, will always recall their first date. Boys will always recall their first computer. This was mine. It was late summer 1961, and all freshman engineering students at UT Austin were walked through a course in programing the engineering computer. We had one. It was an LGP-30. See above. And what a bruiser it was:

  • Magnetic drum memory
  • 4096 words of memory
  • 32 bits per word (only 31 usable)
  • 8 milliseconds average access time
  • 16 basic operation codes
  • All electronic (vacuum tubes)
  • Electric typewriter (Flexowriter) input/output
  • Mechanical and optical tape readers

And there was a simple programming language called ACT 1.

The figure is from the user’s manual, and it shows the layout of the magnetic drum memory.


Not shown is that the read/write heads are not in-line. They are staggered around the circumference of the drum to accommodate the close spacing of the recording tracks and also to reduce access latency between successive read/write operations. Wikipedia provides some additional background:

The LGP-30, standing for Librascope General Purpose and then Librascope General Precision, was an early off-the-shelf computer. It was manufactured by the Librascope company of Glendale, California (a division of General Precision Inc.), and sold and serviced by the Royal Precision Electronic Computer Company, a joint venture with the Royal McBee division of theRoyal Typewriter Company. The LGP-30 was first manufactured in 1956 with a retail price of $47,000—equivalent to about $408,000 today.

My freshman engineering class comprised 1000 or more (I’m guessing) students, about 100% (I’m not guessing) male. What I find remarkable to this day is the lack of interest exhibited by this hoard of eager young minds. I generally had little trouble scheduling time on the machine. What you had to do was stroll over to the engineering office and sign up for some time, usually after hours, sometimes at 2 in the morning. Before the office closed for the day you would go by and pick up the key. This would let you into Taylor Hall by way of the computer room door. Those were some heady times. It was the dawning of a new age.

Heart of Dimness – Part 11


This is the eleventh of a continuing series. I’m reviewing items from David Buckna’s post on the Truth.Origin Archive. I previously covered his item 8. Here’s item 9:

Regarding vertical evolution (information-building evolution), is there an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?

John Sanford writes in “Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome”: “Bergman (2004) has studied the topic of beneficial mutations. Among other things, he did a simple literature search via Biological Abstracts and Medline. He found 453,732 ‘mutation’ hits, but among these only 186 mentioned the word ‘beneficial’ (about 4 in 10,000). When those 186 references were reviewed, almost all the presumed ‘beneficial mutations’ were only beneficial in a very narrow sense–but each mutation consistently involved loss of function changes–hence loss of information. While it is almost universally accepted that beneficial (information creating) mutations must occur, this belief seems to be based upon uncritical acceptance of RM/NS, rather than upon any actual evidence. I do not doubt there are beneficial mutations as evidenced by rapid adaptation yet I contest the fact that they build meaningful information in the genome instead of degrade preexisting information in the genome.” (pp. 26-27)

Interview with Dr. John Sanford [Nov. 30 and Dec. 7/08]

Whoever wrote this (David?) has got it so screwed up, it’s going to require some unraveling.

First of there’s the glaringly false assumption that a beneficial mutation represents an increase in information. The previous sentence contains two terms that require further elaboration.

Beneficial: What is beneficial to an organism? Let me give an example.

The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascarin the Indian Ocean. Its closest genetic relative was the also extinct Rodrigues solitaire, the two forming the subfamilyRaphinae of the family of pigeons and doves. The closest extant relative of the dodo is the Nicobar pigeon. A white dodo was once incorrectly thought to have existed on the nearby island of Réunion.

Labelled sketch from 1634 by Sir Thomas Herbert, showing a broad-billed parrot ("Cacato"), a red rail ("Hen"), and a dodo (from Wikipedia)

Labelled sketch from 1634 by Sir Thomas Herbert, showing a broad-billed parrot (“Cacato”), a red rail (“Hen”), and a dodo (from Wikipedia)

The dodo can’t fly. How did it get to Mauritius? It didn’t it was hatched there. How did its ancestors get there? They flew there from the mainland. If its ancestors could fly, how come the dodo can’t fly? It’s wings are too small and weak for flight. How could the dodo have descended from a bird that can fly? The species was created—from some species of pigeon that could fly—by the process of mutation combined with natural selection—biological evolution.

But, isn’t this the loss of function? You may say that if you wish. Isn’t this loss of benefit? No, it’s the gain of a benefit. On Mauritius there were no land animals that would prey on the dodo’s ancestors. Flight was not needed. The extra strength of wings was a burden upon life in the paradise of Mauritius. The greater benefit was to be flightless. A benefit, that is, until a certain land animal finally did come to Mauritius by boat and proceed to harvest all those yummy and flightless dodos.

Increase in information: There’s some misconception about an increase in information. Let me give another example, this one of my own construction. Behold the sequence of letters:


Now, let me add some information:



“But,” you will say, “this is just rubbish you have added. There’s no new information.” Wrong. Before you just had a string of letters in alphabetical order. Now you have a string of letters in alphabetical order, and additionally you have a string of letters whose order you could not guess in advance. That is new information.

“But,” you will say, “how is this beneficial?” It’s not necessarily beneficial. New information added to the genome is not necessarily beneficial. It can be destructive. That’s the way Darwinian evolution works. It’s random mutation filtered by natural selection.

David has completely misconstrued the notions of beneficial mutation and increased information. There is no need to chase this argument further. And that’s my case. Anybody wishing to challenge me on this is invited to come head on. You know where I live.

My next post in this series will cover David’s item 11. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

God on Welfare


The omnipotence of God is not what it used to be:

Genesis 1 King James Version (KJV)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

People, that was just the first six days. What might we expect to follow that? Not as much, apparently:

Judges 1 King James Version (KJV)

16 And the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.

17 And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they slew the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. And the name of the city was called Hormah.

18 Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof.

19 And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

It would appear six days sorely taxed The Almighty. The Sun, Jupiter, all its moons, the Earth, all those animals, two people, of opposite sexes, in just six days. Now it would appear that chariots of iron are too much of a stretch. Possibly that first go around was the culmination of moving Heaven and Earth. At least the Creator is still able to run a PR campaign, right? No. Not without assistance from the American taxpayer:

Georgia public school teachers humiliate kids for not praying to ‘God our Father’

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Emanuel County School System in Swainsboro, Georgia after a teacher insisted that the children of atheists participate in daily prayers.

According to the lawsuit, teachers Kaytrene Bright and Cel Thompson forced the children of anonymous plaintiffs Jane and John Doe to join their classmates in prayer or leave the classroom.

The FFRF released the following information:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging the infliction of daily prayer upon a captive audience of elementary school children in the Emanuel County School System, Swainsboro, Ga.

Defendants include Superintendent Kevin Judy, Swainsboro Primary School Principal Valorie Watkins, Swainsboro Primary School teacher Kaytrene Bright and Swainsboro primary school teacher Cel Thompson. Anonymous co-plaintiffs are Jane and John Doe, and their young children, Jesse and Jamie Doe.

“Encouraging the Doe children to pray, or isolating and punishing the Doe children for electing not to pray, violates the deeply and sincerely held moral convictions of the Doe children and therefore their First Amendment rights,” reads FFRF’s legal complaint.

Before lunch, Jamie’s teacher, Cel Thompson, asked students to bow heads, fold hands and pray, leading the class in a call and response prayer: “God our Father, we give thanks, for our many blessings. Amen.”

In Jesse’s first-grade class, Kaytrene Bright led students in this daily prayer: “God is great. Let us thank you for our food. Thank you for our daily prayer. Thank you. Amen.”

When the parents first learned of the prayer practice in August 2014, they immediately contacted Principal Valorie Watkins to object. The teachers responded by telling the Doe children to leave their classrooms and sit in the hallway while the rest of their classes prayed. According to Jesse, the teacher “used her mean voice” when instructing Jesse to wait in the hallway.

After being told to go to the hallway during prayers, Jamie was teased by a fellow student, who thought Jamie was being punished for not praying. After this incident, Jamie began to regularly complain about feeling uncomfortable in class, and Jamie’s parents eventually had to pull their child out of school.

Jesse was pressured all semester long to pray. Bright even held Jesse back from recess to explain her personal Christian beliefs at length, and said that Jesse’s mother was a bad person for not believing in God. At the end of the semester, Jesse began to join in the classroom prayers because of Bright’s and other employees’ continued coercion.

– See more at:

We now see what it has boiled down to. The person, who supposedly created Heaven and Earth and everything else in just six days, is reduced to begging at the public trough for assistance in telling everybody about it. That is, assuming that bit about Genesis is true.

The lawsuit reads, in part:

1. This action challenges the constitutionality of the Defendants’ practice of
allowing employees to organize, participate in, and endorse prayer in the classroom
and proselytize students. Defendants’ religious practices advance and endorse one
religion, improperly entangle the State in religious affairs, and violate the personal
consciences of nonreligious parents and students.
2. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Defendants’ prayer and proselytizing
practices violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, applicable to
Georgia by the Fourteenth Amendment, an injunction prohibiting the Defendants
from organizing, participating in, or endorsing prayer or proselytizing students in
the future, and damages, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, together with recovery of
attorney fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b).

All this gets me to wondering.

I have relatives, and sometimes when I’m about to get together with them, others, other relatives, caution me. They ask I not bring up the matter of those magical six days.

I ask why?

I’m told, religion, that’s why.

But what’s wrong talking about religion?

I’m told I might offend somebody.

But, I wonder, how can anybody be offended by discussing religion. And then I understand. It’s called faith for a reason. One way to translate faith is the belief in something that is not true but must be believed anyhow.

I’ve been around a few decades, and I’ve had many encounters. I’ve been ridiculed, I’ve been called ignorant, I’ve been called a liar, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been assaulted, my life has been threatened. Never in all this time have I ever said, “I will not talk to you about this.”

My concern is the people who do not want to talk about religion may harbor a deep secret, possibly not known even to themselves. They don’t believe. They want to, but deep down they really don’t. Talking about it is disturbing. Talk may eventually touch on the truth. It’s the truth that is so dangerous.

And we mustn’t talk about it.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

The Sharpshooter’s Tale

From Enemy at the Gates

From Enemy at the Gates

People have been going at each other in war since before history. I’m going to start later than that. Early historical battles have been brutish to the extreme. Winston Churchill, in his four-volume A History of the English Speaking Peoples, recounts some of the reality of Medieval England:

Alfred, cheered by this news and striving to take the field again, continued a brigand warfare against the enemy while sending his messengers to summon the “fyrd”, or local militia, for the end of May. There was a general response; the King was loved and admired. The news that he was alive and active caused widespread joy. All the fighting men came back. After all, the country was in peril of subjugation, the King was a hero, and they could always go home again. The troops of Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire concentrated near Selwood. A point was chosen near where the three shires met, and we can see from this the burdens which lay upon Alfred’s tactics. Nevertheless here again was an army; “and when they saw the King they received him like one risen from the dead, after so great tribulations, and they were filled with great joy”.

Battle must be sought before they lost interest. The Danes still lay upon their plunder at Chippenham. Alfred advanced to Ethandun— now Edington— and on the bare downs was fought the largest and culminating battle of Alfred’s wars. All was staked. All hung in the scales of fate. On both sides the warriors dismounted; the horses were sent to the rear. The shield-walls wereformed, the masses clashed against each other, and for hours they fought with sword and axe. But the heathen had lost the favour of God through their violated oath, and eventually from this or other causes they fled from the cruel and clanging field. This time Alfred’s pursuit was fruitful. Guthrum, king of the Viking army, so lately master of the one unconquered English kingdom, found himself penned in his camp. Bishop Asser says, “the heathen, terrified by hunger, cold, and fear, and at the last full of despair, begged for peace”. They offered to give without return as many hostages as Alfred should care to pick and to depart forthwith.

Churchill, Winston S. (2013-04-29). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain (Kindle Locations 1698-1711). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In his narrative Sir Winston eventual moves into the next millennium and recounts the effect of the English long bow on warfare. The 1346 Battle of Crécy tells the story:

King Philip, arriving on the scene, was carried away by the ardour of the throng around him. The sun was already low; nevertheless all were determined to engage. There was a corps of six thousand Genoese cross-bowmen in the van of the army. These were ordered to make their way through the masses of horsemen, and with their missiles break up the hostile array in preparation for the cavalry attacks. The Genoese had marched eighteen miles in full battle order with their heavy weapons and store of bolts. Fatigued, they made it plain that they were in no condition to do much that day. But the Count of Alençon, who had covered the distance on horseback, did not accept this remonstrance kindly. “This is what one gets,” he exclaimed, “by employing such scoundrels, who fall off when there is anything for them to do.” Forward the Genoese! At this moment, while the cross-bowmen were threading their way to the front under many scornful glances, dark clouds swept across the sun and a short, drenching storm beat upon the hosts. A large flight of crows flew cawing through the air above the French in gloomy presage. The storm, after wetting the bow-strings of the Genoese, passed as quickly as it had come, and the setting sun shone brightly in their eyes and on the backs of the English. This, like the crows, was adverse, but it was more material. The Genoese, drawing out their array, gave a loud shout, advanced a few steps, shouted again, and a third time advanced, “hooted”, and discharged their bolts. Unbroken silence had wrapped the English lines, but at this the archers, six or seven thousand strong, ranged on both flanks in “portcullis” formation, who had hitherto stood motionless, advanced one step, drew their bows to the ear, and came into action. They “shot their arrows with such force and quickness”, says Froissart, “that it seemed as if it snowed.”

The effect upon the Genoese was annihilating; at a range which their own weapons could not attain they were in a few minutes killed by thousands. The ground was covered with feathered corpses. Reeling before this blast of missile destruction, the like of which had not been known in war, the survivors recoiled in rout upon the eager ranks of the French chivalry and men-at-arms, which stood just out of arrow-shot . “Kill me those scoundrels,” cried King Philip in fury, “for they stop up our road without any reason.” Whereupon the front line of the French cavalry rode among the retreating Genoese, cutting them down with their swords. In doing so they came within the deadly distance. The arrow snowstorm beat upon them, piercing their mail and smiting horse and man. Valiant squadrons from behind rode forward into the welter, and upon all fell the arrow hail, making the horses caper, and strewing the field with richly dressed warriors. A hideous disorder reigned. And now Welsh and Cornish light infantry, slipping through the chequered ranks of the archers, came forward with their long knives and, “falling upon earls, barons, knights, and squires, slew many, at which the King of England was afterwards exasperated”. Many a fine ransom was cast away in those improvident moments.

Churchill, Winston S. (2013-04-29). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain (Kindle Locations 4601-4623). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

All of this was before the introduction of gunpowder into modern warfare.

Early shoulder arms appear to have been merely a means of launching pebbles for long distances at enemy formations. More modern long-barrel weapons quickly doomed the armored knight on horseback. A bullet from one of these weapons would penetrate armor, bringing the foot soldier to the level of prime combatant. Armies in those days appear to have regarded the musket as an improvement on the bow or even the pike. Forces still arrayed themselves in opposing ranks and slugged it out. Then came the American Revolution.

The battles of Concord and Lexington in the opening round of the revolution introduced the British to serious warfare made possible by the musket and the long rifle. Following the initial skirmish, in which colonists took a drubbing, the red coats proceeded to march back to their barracks in formation. For the Americans the battle was not over. They slipped among rocks and trees, sniping away at the marching formations, inflicting horrible casualties against their outraged foe.

The revolution may have been the introduction of the sniper, the sharpshooter who targeted individual soldiers at long range:

Early forms of sniping, or marksmanship were used during the American Revolutionary War. For instance, in 1777 at the battle of Saratoga the Colonists hid in the trees and used early model rifles to shoot British officers. Most notably, Timothy Murphy shot and killed General Simon Fraser of Balnain on 7 October 1777 at a distance of about 400 yards. During the Battle of Brandywine, Capt. Patrick Ferguson had a tall, distinguished American officer in his rifle’s iron sights. Ferguson did not take the shot, as the officer had his back to Ferguson; only later did Ferguson learn that George Washington had been on the battlefield that day.

Marksmanship continued to gain favor with the years, but the Civil War saw ranks of soldiers facing each other and advancing under fire from muzzle loading rifles. Things were changing:

The Minié ball, or Minie ball, is a type of muzzle-loading spin-stabilized rifle bullet named after its co-developer, Claude-Étienne Minié, inventor of the Minié rifle. It came to prominence in the Crimean War and American Civil War.

The Minié ball was employed by the Union Army to great effect. The North had the industrial means to manufacture war weapons on a grand scale, and production of the Minié ball was a major endeavor. It brought the Union Army increased rate of fire over the Confederates, but battle tactics changed little from the time of the revolution. Pickett’s Charge exemplifies the thinking that was to continue into the next century. The tale of the repeating rifle underscores the thicker-than-tar military mindset. The Union had them. Commanders didn’t want to employ them. The used up too much ammunition.

The war that engulfed the European continent from 1914 to 1918 saw the final throes of centuries old monarchies, and also the military thinking that went with them. Something new had been added, something which tragically military leaders were slow to recognize. That was the machine gun.

The ‘battles of the frontiers’ were the first occasion on which most French, German and British soldiers came face to face with modern firepower, and they were devastated and disorientated by the effects. Lieutenant Ernst von Röhm, on coming under heavy French fire in Lorraine, thought that at last he would see the enemy and got out his field glasses, ‘but there is nothing to recognise and nothing to see’. As the fire of his own unit slackened, he stood up and called on his comrades to do likewise. ‘I want to see how many are still fit to fight. The bugler, who has remained by my side like a shadow, says to me sadly: “Herr Leutnant, there is nobody there any more!” And in truth nobody is standing on the whole front line. Only three men are still unscathed, everybody else is dead or wounded.’ On the other end of the line, at Mons on 23 August, the British army found itself holding ground against the main weight of Kluck’s 1st Army. Aubrey Herbert recalled that ‘It was as if a scythe of bullets passed directly over our heads about a foot above the earthworks. It came in gusts, whistling and sighing … It seemed inevitable that any man who went over the bank must be cut neatly in two.’

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 962-972). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Americans entered this gruesome bit of Hell in 1917, welcomed by their French and British, who were rapidly running out of bodies to face the Maxim machine gun. General John J. Pershing did not relish this prospect, and he insisted that American troops serve under American command. This decision may have accounted for the surprising (to the Europeans) success of American forces in the war.

The Allied forces, particularly the French, eschewed marksmanship. French troops obtained little in the way of target practice during their training. It was the Battle of Crécy all over again, only this time with rifles and machine guns.

Alan Axelrod’s book on the Battle of Belleau Wood is a story of the coming of the modern U.S. Marine Corps. Unlike their British and French counterparts, Marines, as well as American Army troops, received extensive training in marksmanship before being shipped across the Atlantic. The Marines, especially, had a different attitude. It was an attitude that made their German opponents very uncomfortable:

Rushed into the fight on a few hours notice, the Marines prepared to advance on the Wood in evenly-spaced ranks, as they had been trained by the French. As somebody who has never seen organized combat, I can only wonder what people were thinking back then. Author Axelrod wonders, too. There was no waiting for dark. There was no creeping along the ground behind bits of cover. There was no firing of smoke shells to provide concealment. There was no artillery bombardment to even frighten the machine gunners. The approach to the German positions concealed in the woods was across a wheat field, in one region a march of 400 yards. It was recipe for slaughter.

The American approach was to lean into the withering machine gun fire as though walking into a gale wind. Where the distance was short the advance wave was able to reach the woods and engage the enemy. The advance that attempted to cross 400 yards of wheat was reversed, although some men managed to crawl forward into the trees.

What amazed the Germans, however, was the action of the Marines as they advanced. They aimed their rifles and killed Germans one by one.

This tactic was something the Germans were unaccustomed to during the four-years of combat. They understood artillery, machine gun fire and massed rifle fire. These threats were impersonal, and if you were exposed there was nothing you could do about it. If you got hit, you got hit. It was all a matter of chance. The German troops were mentally prepared to take the chance.

The Marines’ rifle fire, however, was personal. A Marine put you in his sights and killed you personally. And Marines were very good at this. If a Marine shot at you, you were very likely to take the hit and die. The Germans did not like that.

All of this was during the final weeks of the War to End All Wars. This does not mean that sharpshooting had all along been dead. In fact, the previous Boer War that the British had just finished introduced modern sniping practice, particularly as practiced by the Boers. The British learned well and from that time have maintained mastery of the art.

Well prior to Belleau Wood, the war of the trenches provided fertile ground for sniping tactics. Vast armies facing each other in static positions for months on end provided the ideal setting for sniping tactics.

Sharpshooting skills and sniper tactics blossom in protracted urban warfare. Movement is slow and concealment is ample. So it was that Stalingrad was the birthplace of sniper legends. I have the book Enemy at the Gates, by William Craig. I also have the movie of the same title, inspired by the book. The main character in the movie is Vasily Zaytsev.

In the first scenes Zaytsev and other Soviet troops are herded like cattle into the battle. Armed political officers shoot soldiers who try to evade the murderous German aircraft gunfire by jumping into the Volga. There are not enough rifles for the newly-arrived troops, but all are given an ammunition clip and instructions to get rifles from soldiers who are killed. A frontal assault on a German position results in almost 100% casualties as soldiers who retreat from the slaughter are killed by Soviet troops in place for this purpose. Zaytsev is one of the survivors, and he teams up with a political commissar to wipe out a party of Germans who tarry too long near the field of dead. Zaytsev and the commissar then embark on a program to make Zaytsev famous in order to build morale among the troops.

Wikipedia provides details of Zaytsev’s origins:

Zaytsev was born in Yeleninskoye, Orenburg Governorate in a peasant family of Russian ethnicity and grew up in the Ural Mountains, where he learned marksmanship by hunting deer and wolves with his grandfather and younger brother. He brought home his first trophy at the age of twelve: a wolf that he shot with a single bullet from his first personal rifle, a large single-shot Berdan rifle, which at the time he was barely able to carry on his back.

It’s a background familiar to American marksmen of the two world wars. Corporal (later Sergeant) Alvin York grew up in the Tennessee hills, where he became an expert hunter. The movie Sergeant York shows his training with a repeating rifle in the army and also the amazement of his trainers as he shoots totally in the black his first time on the range. Audie Murphy was the son of share croppers in Texas, northeast of Dallas, where a single bullet determined whether there would be meat on the table. The first time he encountered the enemy on Sicily he shot two fleeing Italian officers off their horses. Both York and Murphy were Medal of Honor recipients.

The unpleasantness in Korea 60 years ago eventually devolved into a static war and a hunting ground for snipers. The newspapers of the time (I read them) told of an American sniper taking on a Chinese shooter who was killing American troops. He had a buddy named Friday, and the two of them worked out a plan. They needed to make the enemy shooter reveal his position, so our guy got into position, and Friday exposed himself briefly. The enemy took the bait and was killed by the American sniper.

The “Vietnam Conflict” saw a resurgence in sniper tactics. The legend of that brief encounter was Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock:

Hathcock only once removed the white feather from his bush hat while deployed in Vietnam. During a volunteer mission days before the end of his first deployment, he crawled over 1,500 yards of field to shoot a high-ranking NVA officer. He was not informed of the details of the mission until he accepted it. This effort took four days and three nights, without sleep, of constant inch-by-inch crawling. Hathcock said he was almost stepped on as he lay camouflaged with grass and vegetation in a meadow shortly after sunset. At one point he was nearly bitten by a bamboo viper but had the presence of mind to avoid moving and giving up his position. As the officer exited his encampment, Hathcock fired a single shot that struck the officer in the chest, killing him.

Hathcock is also known for killing an NVA sniper who had already killed several Marines. Waiting for the enemy to show himself, he saw a glint of light and shot that. His bullet went through the scope of the enemy’s rifle and into his head. Director Steven Spielberg recreated this event in Saving Private Ryan, when he has Private Daniel Jackson shoot a German sniper through the German’s scope.

Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills in the war. The NVA put a $30,000 bounty on his head, and he killed every sniper that came to try for the prize. He died of natural causes in 1999.

Today’s snipers serve in the Marines, the Army Special Forces and in the Navy SEALs. I have previously recounted the story behind American Sniper Chris Kyle.

The legend continues. Notably, a SEAL team was called in to put down the high jacking of the American-flagged merchant ship Maersk Alabama. With the captain, Richard Phillips, being held hostage in a ship’s lifeboat adrift off the coast of Africa, SEAL snipers were airlifted aboard the guided missile destroyer Bainbridge. One of the four pirates was conned into coming aboard the Bainbridge, leaving only three on the lifeboat. When all three shooters announced they were on target the order was given and three shots took down the three pirates. The Maersk Alabama captain was rescued, and the remaining pirate is now serving a 99-year term in an American prison. The movie Captain Phillips dramatizes the events.

On cable TV The History Channel regularly features stories about historical and modern snipers. Police in the United States and in other countries employ sharpshooters to handle cases involving hostages and barricaded desperadoes. When things get slack I will post some of these stories. Keep reading.

Heart of Dimness – Part 10


This is the tenth of a continuing series. I’m reviewing items from David Buckna’s post on the Truth.Origin Archive. I previously covered his item 7. Here’s item 8:

8. Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA, wrote in 1988: “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” On page one of “The Blind Watchmaker” (1986) Richard Dawkins writes: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose”.

a) If living things look designed–if the empirical evidence suggests purpose–then how do evolutionists know they weren’t designed? b) What is the criteria for “apparent” design?

On Sept. 29, 2009 Richard Dawkins was a guest on CBC’s The Hour. (Watch the interview here.) The host, George Stroumboulopoulos, asked Dawkins: “What is one single thing that you can say that definitively proves that evolution is a fact?”

Dawkins’ response: “Comparing the genes molecularly across all animals and plants. It falls on a precise hierarchical pattern, which is obviously best interpreted as a family tree, and this becomes possible–becomes quantitatively possible–because all living creatures have the same genetic code, which means you have literally reams and reams of textual information, just like a book, in every cell of every body, of every creature, and every plant in the world.”

So…a pattern of highly organized textual information, comparable to books, is evidence there wasn’t any intelligent design involved?

Henry M. Morris wrote: “A number of evolutionists have even argued that DNA itself is evidence for evolution, since it is common to all organisms. More often is the argument used that similar DNA structures in two different organisms proves common evolutionary ancestry.”

“Neither argument is valid. There is no reason whatever why the Creator could not or would not use the same type of genetic code based on DNA for all His created life forms. This is evidence for intelligent design and creation, not evolution.”

David’s item 8 contains a number of statements and two questions. I will deal with the two questions first. Here’s question a):

If living things look designed–if the empirical evidence suggests purpose–then how do evolutionists know they weren’t designed?

This question should not be, “How do evolutionists know they weren’t designed?” but rather “How does any thinking person know they weren’t designed?” A little explanation should clarify this.

First there’s the use of the term design. In all of human history, in the total of human knowledge, the only designing that is done is done by people and apparently by some fairly capable animals. Design by humans, we are familiar with. We also see beavers designing dams and communities with beaver lodges, and we see ants and wasps constructing elaborate nests. We see birds constructing nests with available materials.

We might agree that the beavers, insects and birds have this designing built into their brains at birth—encoded in their DNA. How did it get there? Scientists will say biological evolution. Creationists will say design by a third party. People obviously do original design. The human race was born stupid, lived in caves and crude huts, hunted and grubbed for roots to eat. Now we build computers and send rockets to other planets. In all this time nobody ever witnessed a magical hand coming out of the sky to touch the human brain. There is a more rational explanation for the origin of design. I have discussed this in a review of a creationist book in another post.

The short answer to David’s question a) is that design by a mythical being in the sky has never been observed, neither is it necessary.

David’s question b) is:

What is the criteria for “apparent” design?

After getting past the grammar in the above I would have to reply that the criteria for design would comprise various components of evidence, including:

  • Some actual person was involved.
  • This person was involved in an activity that we commonly refer to as design.

William Paley is noted for expounding on the idea of Intelligent Design over 200 years ago. His example was a pocket watch found in the wilderness somewhere. Would we guess it was designed? Of course we would, because we know of human activity that involves designing and constructing pocket watches.

A logical extension of that would be something like observing a honey bee with all its complex parts working together. Would we consider that to have been designed? No, because we don’t have any knowledge of somebody designing honey bees. Instead we observe a record in nature of living things, such as honey bees, developing from ancestral creatures, significantly different from them, yet at the same time giving the appearance of ancestry. Biological evolution is the more logical explanation for honey bees than design by a third party.

David quotes the late Henry M. Morris, co-founder and previous head of the Institute for Creation Research:

Neither argument is valid. There is no reason whatever why the Creator could not or would not use the same type of genetic code based on DNA for all His created life forms. This is evidence for intelligent design and creation, not evolution.

Henry Morris was evidently incorrect in believing this is a valid argument. The commonalities as well as the difference in the genomes of extant life forms argue strongly for the case of common descent. Unless Morris had the idea that the Creator used biological evolution to create today’s life forms, his argument doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Creationists have used the combination of differences and similarities in their arguments against common ancestry, apparently not realizing what this actually shows. Take the diagram below. I copied it from the creationist text Of Pandas and People, page 38.


A little explanation: Cytochrome C is a protein:

The cytochrome complex, or cyt c is a small hemeprotein found loosely associated with the inner membrane of the mitochondrion. It belongs to the cytochrome c family of proteins. Cytochrome c is a highly water soluble protein, unlike other cytochromes, with a solubility of about 100 g/L and is an essential component of the electron transport chain, where it carries one electron.

Cytochrome C is not the same in all living organisms. When we examine the sequences of the amino acids that make up cytochrome C we note some differences. As the chart shows, the modern horse is different from the modern carp at 13 locations. As I explained:

Please notice for yourself. All other vertebrates diverged from fish at the time of the emergence of amphibians (the frog), and all show about the same molecular differences from the carp (a fish). Quickly, before your lose consciousness from all this BS, please go back to Table 1 and see for yourself.

The carp is a fish, and it differs from other fish, lamprey, dogfish and tuna by 12, 14 and 8. Evaluate these differences in light of the fact that the carp is a boney fish with a jaw, like the tuna, and the dogfish is a kind of shark, a fish with cartilage instead of bone. Fish with jaws diverged from jawless fish a long time ago, and the carp is a jawed fish while the lamprey is a jawless fish. Assume the table is correct and see for yourself whether it correlates well with the hierarchy of life forms on this planet as explained by the modern theory of evolution.

What I find so amusing is that this argument involving molecular homology is the same one that young-Earth creationist Duane Gish used to make in his debates with scientists decades ago. Gish’s nonsense has been picked apart in public rebuttals all this time, and one debater used the term “bullfrog” instead of a similar word when the topic came up. I even published a review in the July 1998 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. There is more in the October 2001 issue.

Of course, protein sequencing is not exactly DNA sequencing. However, the DNA sequence in the genome of an organism determines the amino acid sequence in the protein produced. Protein sequencing is a reflection of the genome. Real scientists, not creationists, continue to work through the interconnections among currently living organisms, and none of their findings have ever contradicted common ancestry. Readers are invited to read the abundant literature on the Internet. Apparently the creationists do not.

My next post in this series will cover David’s item 10. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Bad Movie of the Week


Yes, this one is bad. It’s The Corpse Vanishes from Monogram Pictures in 1942, featuring Bela Lugosi. Did I mention it’s in black and white?

Brides are getting married. Brides are dying right at the altar. The bodies are vanishing.


Here we see a sweet young thing getting married. The preacher asks her the big question. Her last words are “I do.” Should we call an ambulance? No, send for a hearse. The hearse arrives and takes the unfortunate bride away. The real hearse arrives. The first hearse was a fake. The body has been stolen. This has happened before. Newspapers report that another bride has died. And the corpse has vanished. Hence the name of the movie.

The bride's body is loaded into the fake hearse

The bride’s body is loaded into the fake hearse

Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) is a newspaper reporter. She’s going to look into this. She’s going to cover the next wedding and find out what’s happening to these young, virginal brides. She goes. The bride is lovely. Her mother takes delivery of a mysterious orchid delivered right before the ceremony. The bride puts it on.


The ceremony starts. The bride fades away, and her body is loaded into a hearse. This time it’s the real hearse. But the police escort is distracted. The hearse is high jacked, and the body is stolen. Again.

The body is taken to the country home of the evil (maybe even mad) Doctor Lorenz (Lugosi).


Doctor Lorenz draws fluids from the bride’s body and injects them into his ailing wife (Elizabeth Russell). His sick (and evil) wife suffers immensely, and only the fluids from virginal brides will help her.

Pat filches the orchid that was delivered to the bride. It has a peculiar odor. Orchids are not supposed to have an odor. This is a peculiar orchid. Only one person breeds this type of orchid. It’s a certain Doctor Lorenz, who lives upstate. Patricia takes a train upstate to pay Doctor Lorenz a visit. When she gets stranded on the road handsome Doctor Foster (Tristram Coffin) gives her a lift. It so happens he’s also going to visit Doctor Lorenz. Patricia and Doctor Foster glance at each other admiringly. Something is developing.


They are greeted at Doctor Lornz’s house by his servant, Toby (Angelo Rossitto), the obligatory dwarf in this kind of movie.


Toby is the son of Fagah (Minerva Urecal) the house keeper. Her other son, is Angel (Frank Moran), the obligatory brutish half wit. There is no love lost in the Lorenz household. When Toby comes to tell Madame Lorenz they have visitors she tells him to get out of her sight.


Doctor Foster has come to help treat Madame Lorenz. Patricia is not welcome. However, since it is a dark and stormy night, she is invited to stay until the morning. Or even forever. While Patricia is sleeping she is menaced by the evil Doctor Lorenz as only Bela Lugosi can menace.


Patricia uncovers Doctor Lorenz’s plot and arranges with her editor a scheme to expose him. They concoct a fake wedding and hope Doctor Lorenz will fall for the bait.

He does, only sweet Patricia is kidnapped instead of the fake bride. She is taken to Doctor Lorenz’s basement laboratory. Except, Fagah the house keeper is by now upset that Doctor Lorenz has murdered her half wit son, Angel, and her other son, Toby, has been killed by the police while fleeing the fake wedding. Before the evil Doctor Lorenz can begin to draw fluids from sweet Patricia’s body, Fagah stabs him in the back.


Patricia is saved, and she and Doctor Foster enjoy their beautiful wedding, absent the orchids.


For a 1942 movie the cinematography is horrid. This may have been part of a deliberate scheme to evoke Lugosi’s earlier Dracula films. He definitely looks more menacing absent any decent camera work. Besides that, the other actors deliver their lines more as mechanics than as practiced performers.

Furthermore, the plot is a bit stretched. I mean, besides drawing bodily fluids from virginal brides to keep alive the aging wife of Doctor Lorenz. Brides keep dropping dead right in the middle of their weddings, and Lorenz keeps stealing the bodies? Get real. But wait! The title is The Corpse Vanishes. What else should we expect?

Even this was getting late in Bela Lugosi’s career. His final movie was The Black Sleep in 1955, and he died of a heart attack in 1957.

Heart of Dimness – Part 9


This is the ninth of a continuing series. I’m reviewing items from David Buckna’s post on the Truth.Origin Archive. I previously covered his item 6. Here’s item 7:

7. All cells depend on ATP synthase, the world’s tiniest rotary motor. Evolutionists have suggested that part of it was “repurposed” from helicase, a protein used to unwind DNA. But helicase cannot be manufactured, and cannot unwind DNA, without abundant ATP, which ATP synthase provides. How could ATP synthase evolve from a protein that already needed ATP synthase?

Evolutionists may argue that enough ATP was produced by substrate-level phosphorylation, where bacteria produce ATP without ATP synthase and without oxygen. However, even these bacteria require ATP synthase to balance their internal acid content. So again, how could ATP synthase evolve from a different protein when both protein complexes require ATP synthase for acid/base balance?

David asks two questions, and the answer is provided by people who actually work in the fields of biochemistry and evolutionary biology:

The evolution of ATP synthase is thought to be an example of modular evolution during which two functionally independent subunits became associated and gained new functionality. This association appears to have occurred early in evolutionary history, because essentially the same structure and activity of ATP synthase enzymes are present in all kingdoms of life. The F-ATP synthase displays high functional and mechanistic similarity to the V-ATPase. However, whereas the F-ATP synthase generates ATP by utilising a proton gradient, the V-ATPase generates a proton gradient at the expense of ATP, generating pH values of as low as 1.

The F1 domain also shows significant similarity to hexameric DNA helicases, and the FO domain shows some similarity to H+ -powered flagellar motor complexes. The α3β3 hexamer of the F1 domain shows significant structural similarity to hexameric DNA helicases; both form a ring with 3-fold rotational symmetry with a central pore. Both have roles dependent on the relative rotation of a macromolecule within the pore; the DNA helicases use the helical shape of DNA to drive their motion along the DNA molecule and to detect supercoiling, whereas the α3β3 hexamer uses the conformational changes through the rotation of the γ subunit to drive an enzymatic reaction.

The H+ motor of the FO particle shows great functional similarity to the H+ motors seen in flagellar motors. Both feature a ring of many small alpha-helical proteins that rotate relative to nearby stationary proteins, using a H+ potential gradient as an energy source. This link is tenuous, however, as the overall structure of flagellar motors is far more complex than that of the FO particle and the ring with ca. 30 rotating proteins is far larger than the 10, 11, or 14 helical proteins in the FO complex.

The modular evolution theory for the origin of ATP synthase suggests that two subunits with independent function, a DNA helicase with ATPase activity and a H+ motor, were able to bind, and the rotation of the motor drove the ATPase activity of the helicase in reverse. This complex then evolved greater efficiency and eventually developed into today’s intricate ATP synthases. Alternatively, the DNA helicase/H+ motor complex may have had H+ pump activity with the ATPase activity of the helicase driving the H+ motor in reverse. This may have evolved to carry out the reverse reaction and act as an ATP synthase.

[Some links removed]

In the above I have removed links to the footnotes. Read the Wikipedia entry and run down the external references for the complete story.

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

But David notes that “bacteria require ATP synthase to balance their internal acid content.” He might want to read an item posted by Steve Mack:

Date: Thu Nov 1 13:20:51 2007
Posted By: Steve Mack, Assistant Staff Scientist, Molecular and Cell Biology
Area of science: Microbiology
ID: 1192499418.Mi

This is in response to the question “How do bacteria produce energy without a mitochondrion?” Steve’s response is this:

 Hi. Thanks for an interesting question. As you probably know, mitochondria produce energy by generating a gradient of hydrogen ions (aka, protons) across a membrane. This process is crudely outlined in the diagram below (note, this is a cartoon; nothing here is to scale).


As you can see, mitochondria have two membranes (inner and outer), and membrane-bound proteins in the electron transport chain pump protons from the mitochondrial matrix into the intermembrane space. This is sort of like forcing air into a balloon; the pressurized air you forced into the balloon can be used to do work when you open the neck of the balloon, like turn a pinwheel, or make the balloon fly away. So too, an electrical potential develops across the inner membrane that generates a proton-motive force that will drive protons back into the matrix through a suitable channel. The suitable channel provided is usually the ATP synthase complex, which uses the movement of protons across the membrane to generate ATP from ADP.

But, as you point out, Bacteria don’t have mitochondria. So, how do they generate new ATP? Well, a few ATP can be generated via glycolysis, the oxidation of a six-carbon sugar (glucose) to two three-carbon products, like pyruvate (which is then transported into the mitochondrion) or lactic acid (when there is no oxygen available) or to two two-carbon products, like ethanol (in yeast) and two carbon dioxide molecules, when there is no oxygen available. However, glycolysis only generates two ATP for each glucose.

You might want to read the remainder of Steve’s post. David could benefit from reading it, as well.

My next post will cover David’s item 8. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

A Husband takes his wife to play her first game of golf. Of course, the wife promptly hacked her first shot right through the window of the biggest house adjacent to the course.

The husband cringed, ‘I warned you to be careful! Now we’ll have to go up there, find the owner, apologize and see how much your lousy drive is going to cost us.’

So the couple walked up to the house and knocked on the door. A warm voice said, ‘Come on in.’
When they opened the door they saw the damage that was done: glass was all over the place, and a broken antique bottle was lying on its side near the pieces of window glass.

A man reclining on the couch asked, ‘Are you the people that broke my window?’

‘Uh…yeah! , sir. We’re sure sorry about that,’ the husband replied.

‘Oh, no apology is necessary. Actually I want to thank you.. You see, I’m a genie, and I’ve been trapped in that bottle for a thousand years. Now that you’ve released me, I’m allowed to grant three wishes. I’ll give you each one wish, but if you don’t mind, I’ll keep the last one for my self.’

Wow, that’s great!’ the husband said. He pondered a moment and blurted out, ‘I’d like a million dollars a year for the rest of my life.’

‘No problem,’ said the genie ‘You’ve got it, it’s the least I can do.. And I’ll guarantee you a long, healthy life!’

‘And now you, young lady, what do you want?’ the genie asked.

‘I’d like to own a gorgeous home in every country in the world complete with servants,’ she said.

‘Consider it done,’ the genie said. ‘And your homes will always be safe from fire, burglary and natural disasters!’

‘And now,’ the couple asked in unison, ‘what’s your wish, genie?’

‘Well, since I’ve been trapped in that bottle, and haven’t been with a woman in more than a thousand years, my wish is to have sex with your wife.’

The husband looked at his wife and said, ‘Gee, honey, you know we both now have a fortune, and all those houses. What do you think?’

She mulled it over for a few moments and said, ‘You know, you’re right. Considering our good fortune, I guess I wouldn’t mind, but what about you, honey?’

You know I love you sweetheart,’ said the husband. I’d do the same for you!’

So the genie and the woman went upstairs where they spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying each other.

The genie was insatiable. After about three hours of non-stop sex, the genie rolled over and looked directly into her eyes and asked, How old are you and your husband?’

‘Why, we’re both 35,’ she responded breathlessly.

‘No Kidding,’ he said. ‘Thirty-five years old and you both still believe in genies?’

Heart of Dimness – Part 8


This is the eighth of a continuing series. I’m reviewing items from David Buckna’s post on the Truth.Origin Archive. I previously covered his item 5. Here’s item 6:

6. Why do textbooks claim the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how the cell’s building blocks may have formed on the early Earth, when repeated experimentation has never demonstrated this claim?

Efforts to replicate the supposed origin-of-life events have produced embarrassingly small amounts of only some required cellular building blocks (eg. trace amounts of amino acids, sugars) with the majority of the mixture being a toxic tar. Unless the researcher is present to immediately remove and preserve these short-lived compounds, then those water-based side reactions will make a biochemical hash of them.

To make matters worse, our current understanding supports an early Earth with an oxidizing (not reducing) atmosphere, making the synthesis of these cellular compounds even more unlikely, as oxygen would quickly oxidize the traces before they could have a chance to “self organize”.

And as ICR’s Frank Sherwin writes in his 2009 article: “If and when Venter’s team [J. Craig Venter Institute, Maryland] creates artificial life, it will only have been a product of purpose and applied power and intelligence. And its life-likeness will have been almost entirely copied from pre-existing life in bacterial cells.”

David’s item 6 appears to comprise a question followed by three assertions. I will answer the question and then address the three assertions. First the question:

Why do textbooks claim the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how the cell’s building blocks may have formed on the early Earth, when repeated experimentation has never demonstrated this claim?

The short answer is that textbooks claim the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how the cell’s building blocks may have formed on the early Earth, because the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how the cell’s building blocks may have formed on the early Earth. The second part of this question is really an assertion, which is not true.

For a nice dissertation on the Miller-Urey experiment and other research into abiogenesis I recommend Alan D. Gishlick’s review of creationist Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution. In his book Wells features ten of what he terms icons of evolutionary biology. The Miller-Urey experiment is the first. Gishlick provides some background regarding the importance of the Miller-Urey experiment in modern science teaching:

 The Miller–Urey experiment represents one of the research programs spawned by the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis. Even though details of the model for the origin of life have changed, this has not affected the basic scenario of Oparin–Haldane. The first stage in the origin of life was chemical evolution. This involves the formation of organic
compounds from inorganic molecules already present in the atmosphere and in the water of the early earth. This spontaneous organization of chemicals was spawned by some external energy source. Lightning (as Oparin and Haldane thought), proton radiation, ltraviolet radiation, and geothermal or impact-generated heat are all possibilities.

The Miller–Urey experiment represents a major advance in the study of the origin of life. In fact, it marks the beginning of experimental research into the origin of life. Before Miller–Urey, the study of the origin of life was merely theoretical. With the advent of “spark experiments” such as Miller conducted, our understanding of the origin of life gained its first experimental program. Therefore, the Miller–Urey experiment is important from an historical perspective alone. Presenting history is good pedagogy because students understand scientific theories better through narratives. The importance of the experiment is more than just historical, however. The apparatus Miller and Urey designed became the basis for many subsequent “spark experiments” and laid a groundwork that is still in use today. Thus it is also a good teaching example because it shows how experimental science works. It teaches students how scientists use experiments to test ideas about prehistoric, unobserved events such as the origin of life. It is also an interesting experiment that is simple enough for most students to grasp. It tested a hypothesis, was reproduced by other researchers, and provided new information that led to the advancement of scientific understanding of the origin of life. This is the kind of “good science” that we want to teach students.

Finally, the Miller–Urey experiment should still be taught because the basic results are still valid. The experiments show that organic molecules can form under abiotic conditions. Later experiments have used more accurate atmospheric compositions and achieved similar results. Even though origin-of-life research has moved beyond Miller and Urey, their experiments should be taught. We still teach Newton even though we have moved beyond his work in our knowledge of planetary mechanics. Regardless of whether any of our current theories about the origin of life turn out to be completely accurate, we currently have models for the processes and a research program that works at testing the models.

Regarding David’s first assertion, “Efforts to replicate the supposed origin-of-life events …” A search of the literature related to the Miller-Urey experiment and subsequent research finds no mention of embarrassment regarding the amount of biochemical material produced. We wonder where David gets this notion. He does not provide any references.

Additionally, some evidence of chemical knowledge needs to be asserted before we can accept the statement, “Unless the researcher is present to immediately remove and preserve these short-lived compounds, then those water-based side reactions will make a biochemical hash of them.” Again, it would be helpful while assessing David’s claims if he would provide some references.

David’s second assertion includes the following: “To make matters worse, our current understanding supports an early Earth with an oxidizing (not reducing) atmosphere…” Current understanding of Earth’s primitive atmosphere contradicts David’s claim. From Gishlick again:

Instead of discussing this literature, Wells raises a false “controversy” about the low amount of free oxygen in the early atmosphere. Claiming that this precludes the spontaneous origin of life, he concludes that “[d]ogma had taken the place of empirical science” (Wells, 2000:18). In truth, nearly all researchers who work on the early atmosphere hold that oxygen was essentially absent duringthe period in which life originated (Copley,
2001) and therefore oxygen could not haveplayed a role in preventing chemical synthesis. This conclusion is based on many sources ofdata, not “dogma.” Sources of data include
fluvial uraninite sand deposits (Rasmussen andBuick, 1999) and banded iron formations (Nunn, 1998; Copley, 2001), which could nothave been deposited under oxidizing conditions. Wells also neglects the data from paleosols (ancient soils) which, because they form at the atmosphere–ground interface, are anexcellent source to determine atmospheric composition (Holland, 1994). Reduced paleosolssuggest that oxygen levels were very low
before 2.1 billion years ago (Rye and Holland,1998). There are also data from mantle chemistrythat suggest that oxygen was essentiallyabsent from the earliest atmosphere (Kump etal., 2001). Wells misrepresents the debate asover whether oxygen levels were 5/100 of 1%,which Wells calls “low,” or 45/100 of 1%, which Wells calls “significant.” But the controversy controversyis really over why it took so long foroxygen levels to start to rise. Current datashow that oxygen levels did not start to risesignificantly until nearly 1.5 billion years afterlife originated (Rye and Holland, 1998;Copley, 2001). Wells strategically fails to clarifywhat he means by “early” when he discussesthe amount of oxygen in the “early” atmosphere.In his discussion, he cites researchabout the chemistry of the atmosphere without distinguishing whether the authors are referring to times before, during, or after the periodwhen life is thought to have originated. Nearlyall of the papers he cites deal with oxygen levelsafter 3.0 billion years ago. They are irrelevant,as chemical data suggest that life arose3.8 billion years ago (Chang, 1994; Orgel,1998b), well before there was enough free oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere to preventMiller–Urey-type chemical synthesis.

David’s third assertion may or may not have substance, but it’s not relevant to the topic of abiogenesis. Whether Craig Venter’s research successfully creates cellular life (original or not) has no bearing on whether life on this planet had a supernatural beginning.

David has posed a simple question and made a few assertions, none of which support the story of creation outlined in Genesis. We have to ask what he’s getting at. What does he hope to accomplish? If he wants to convince people, those who do not already believe, that God exists and that God created the Universe, the Earth and all living things, then he will need to present some evidence. Lacking that, he’s engaged in tagging the existing body of science, leaving idle minds like mine to come along and pick through his arguments. Well played, David.

The next post in this series will deal with David Buckna’s item 7. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Rolling Thunder

Posted on Facebook

Posted on Facebook

This is choice. Politicians say the darndest things:

Chairman of Alabama GOP: Allowing same-sex marriage will bring down ‘God’s wrath’ upon us

The chairman of the Alabama Republican Party fretted on Wednesday that widespread acceptance of same-sex marriages will bring down “God’s wrath” on the United States and on Alabama.

Did I ever mention that we don’t pay our political leaders enough? Remind me sometime to do this. In the mean time, special consideration is due to party chairman Bill Armistead. By providing us a direct conduit into the inner most thoughts of the Lord God Almighty, Chairman Armistead has provided, not just the great state of Alabama, but all of us an invaluable service. Consider, if you will, what would have happened to us, if we had not gotten too late this vital instruction from the creator of the Universe. Will the name of Chairman Bill Armistead live forever in the annuls of the human race.

Beware, however, of the broken conduit:

Teenager claims it was God who led her to kill 68-year-old pastor

Posted: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 3:00 am

It’s a case where a man of God was allegedly killed by a young woman who says she was following the words of God.

 The slaying of 68-year-old Ronald Browning may be surrounded by questions, but a criminal complaint filed in Raleigh County Magistrate Court can answer a few of them.

Why would a 19-year-old woman kill a pastor? She says it was God who guided her.

“I didn’t even know him,” Camille Iman Browne said in the complaint. “I was just following God’s plan.”

See what I mean. This teenager, this woman, is obviously not a true witness of God’s word. It’s so obvious. We know she’s not because… Because, well just because.

Then how, you might ask, do we distinguish between God’s real switchboard operator and a pretender such as the deranged Camille Iman Browne? The question has been pondered. The answer is obvious:

  • When we hear what we want to hear, it’s the true voice of God.
  • Everything else is the mindless prattling of scoundrels and fools.

God really does work in mysterious, and such wonderful, ways.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.