Friday, March 30, 2007

Help me! Help me!

For some reason, my blog looks like crap in IE 7. Last time I checked it looked fine, but now the lines are failing to wrap and the page is as wide as my longest paragraph. My template is a simple one I wrote myself. Unfortunately, my knowledge of HTML is limited to simple layout. I'm not sure what any of the Blogger scripting that I inserted means. If anyone knows how to make the lines wrap in IE 7 please leave a clue in the comments.

Oh, and while I'm asking, can anybody tell me how to make Gravitars show up in my Haloscan comments?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Stupid boss stories

It seems being under thirty is no guarantee of swiftness.
Apparently, Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard before he had a chance to take any history classes.

That might explain the 22-year-old's tired retread of Jerry Rubin's "Never trust anyone over 30" rhetoric at a venture capital conference.

According to VentureBeat, Zuckerberg told attendees at the Y Combinator Startup School event at Stanford this weekend that old people (you know, over 30), are just well, a little slow.

"I want to stress the importance of being young and technical," he stated, adding that successful start-ups should only employ young people with technical expertise. (Zuckerberg also apparently missed the class on employment and discrimination law.)

"Young people are just smarter," he said, with a straight face, according to VentureBeat. "Why are most chess masters under 30?" he asked. "I don't know...Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family."

Zuckerberg has just opened his company up to a lawsuit by every job applicant over the age who didn't get the job. Go get 'em, geezers. Why fulminate when you can litigate.

Friday, March 23, 2007

He doesn't know the meaning of the word "irony"

President Bush addressed the nation this afternoon surrounded by people in various uniforms. Bush said the House had abdicated its responsibility to protect the troops and denounced the vote as "political theater." Really. I'm not joking.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Time passes when you're having fun

Four years ago today, I mowed my front yard while fuming about the war that our appointed president was about to start. As soon as the bombs started dropping, it would mean the end of an international order of diplomacy and law that had taken sixty years to build. One petulant little twit's ego was about to return the world to the days of gunboat diplomacy.

I had started to write a long note to my friend David, hoping he would post it on his blog, but I was starting to feel guilty about imposing on him to give me space to express my opinions. I thought about starting my own blog, I even had a name chosen. But I hesitated. Every diary or journal I have ever started has started with a bang and fizzled out about ten days later. Surely I was too old for that kind of pitiful display.

But I kept getting back to the war. This was too big of a moment to let pass without saying something. And there were those other things I wanted to talk about. Most of my grad school friends had moved away, so all of the little observations about culture, conspiracy theories, history, science, and crabgrass just piled up in my head. Maybe if I just got the free blog and tried to keep it up for one month. If I could keep writing for thirty days, I thought, maybe I could do more. No grandiose plans this time. Just thirty days...

Four years, this is my 1,429th post. Archy has had 101,487 visitors, 2,106 comments, currently has a Technorati ranking of 35,160, and a TLB ecosystem rating of 3528. That means, I'm a medium sized blog. I have nowhere near the traffic or productivity of the big kids, but I like my little niche.

I had a big fourth season cliff-hanger ending planned, with mammoths, Nazis, colliding planets, and the lovely Cockroach Dancers doing a line dance to "Archy Blarchy Heart." But the out-of-print book I needed to fact check my post still hasn't arrived, even though I ordered it three weeks ago (they are so not getting a good review). I guess that gives me something to use for my special two hour fifth season premier.

Who is Michael Egnor?

Denialists of all types are fond of arguing from authority. That is, one of their favored rhetorical tactics is to compile lists of smart people who appear to support their position or who "doubt" the current scientific and historical consensus opinion. The most visible use of this tactic is by creationists and climate change skeptics.

This tactic has been so common among creationists for the last thirty years or so that it has reached the level of self-parody and spawned several running gags and parodies. One of the great running gags is the Salem Hypothesis, which states: "In any Evolution vs. Creation debate, a person who claims scientific credentials and sides with Creation will most likely have an Engineering degree." The National Center for Science Education's Project Steve is the classic parody. To counter the engineer heavy lists of doubters maintained by creationist groups like the Discovery Institute, the NCSE has assembled a list of just biologists named Steve who support evolution. The NCSE's list is bigger.

Faced with the fact that their over-dependence on engineers as smart-guy spokespersons has become a cliché and a joke, the Discover Institute has recently begun using medical doctors to write their op-ed pieces. All in all, this isn't a bad tactic. Most people have no trouble understand that a biologist outranks an engineer as an authority on biology. However, doctors have something to do with biology and many people have more respect for doctors than they do for academics, so, in the public mind, a doctor makes an excellent counterbalance to a professor Steve.

And this brings us to Michael Egnor, an evolution doubting surgeon and the Discover Institute's latest star. For the last few weeks, Dr. Egnor has been so active writing editorials and arguing with blogger that I honestly wonder if he still practices medicine. For a sample of the fireworks, browse through the last few weeks at The Panda's Thumb or ScienceBlogs.

Coturnix noticed that the Discovery Institute did a great job in choosing Dr. Egnor. Should a journalist come across him, wonder "Igor who?", and Google his name, they will find a lot about him as a surgeon and a lot written by creationists in his support. The rebuttals to his actual arguments are much less visible, and ScienceBlogs is treated as one blog rather than the sixty or so that it really is. To bump the rebuttals up the page a bit, Coturnix has organized this Google cluster bomb.

I'm glad to help.

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This is wierd. I was just checking out my blog statistics and found out that someone from Johns Hopkins University came here while Googling for the term "balloonosphere." As far as I know, I invented that word to describe a horrible peril facing humanity, more dangerous than transfats, Karl Rove, and reality teevee combined. This blog is the only place on the internet where it appears. I wonder what they were looking for.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I go pogonotrophy

Over at PZ's, we get our word of the day:
Pogonotrophy (po-guh-NAW-truh-fee) noun [From Greek pogon (beard*) + -trophy (nourishment, growth).] The growing of a beard.

From this, we get lots of cool related words: pogonophilia, a healthy love of beards; pogonophobia, an irrational fear of beards; pogonology, the study of beards; and pogonotomy, a fancy word for shaving.

With only a few interruptions, I've had a beard since I could grow one. That was about thirty-three years ago. Several of those interruptions were demanded by my employers in the seventies who didn't want their employees to look like dirty hippies. This was a rather odd attitude to take in Alaska in those days, when the Republican governor sported a full beard, as did many members of the legislature and respectable leaders of business all over the state. Beards are an inseperable part of Alaska's self image as a rustic, frontier territory. Anchorage's mid-winter festival, the Fur Rendezvous, has always included a beard contest.

As a student of history and all things old, I came up with an anthropological defense of beards and critique of shaving. According to my theory, shaving is an attempt by aging males to look younger, as in a beardless youth. I even had some historical evidence to go on, since the fashion of shaving in classical Greece was mostly a result of men imitating the appearance of the boy-general Alexander. But, since a beard is a secondary sexual characteristic that comes with puberty and sexual potency, shaving carries a negative subtext. The shaver makes himself appear pre-pubescent, or not yet sexually potent. Therefore, shaving is an act of symbolic castration and I was having nothing to do with it. I still don't.

That goes double for body waxing.

* Not "opposum" as some might expect.

The 2008 Science Blogging Conference

Coturnix just announced the time and place of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference. It's going to be January 19th, 2008 in Chapel Hill, NC. Chapel Hill has signed up to be the recurring host for the conference, so if we want to have a science blogging conference on the west coast, we'll have to organize our own. As with last year's conference, the organizers will issue a best science blogging anthology. They have already started collecting nominations.

I missed the first conference, but I intend to be at the second. Besides, I've never been east of the Mississippi River and, now that I have lots of friends there, this seems like a good time to visit.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Martyrdom update

Dave Thomas of New Mexicans for Science and Reason sent me this link to The Nugget Newspaper of Sisters, Oregon, the local paper where Helphinstine was fired. Apparently The Nugget is not indexed by Google News. Their coverage adds a lot of details to the stories in the AP and The Bulletin. It confirms most of my suppositions about how far out of line Helphinstine was.
"Actually, I did not teach creationism," Helphinstine said. "That's one thing I did not teach. I understand that's not my job. As far as what I taught. I taught ... natural selection, the effects of natural selection, genetic drifts and allele frequency that's what I taught."

That's not how some parents of students in the class see it. One parent, John Rahm, said his daughter reported that only "one day of 10" was devoted to the study of evolution, with the rest devoted to devoted to "Intelligent Design" materials.

"The test as well was 90-plus percent ID material," Rahm said.


According to Rahm the material was "conspicuously intelligent design type information or teaching. Actually if you took the material and Googled the crucial passages it takes you to a creationist Web site called Answers in Genesis,, that is run by Ken Ham. ... One of the lines in his (Ham's) mission statement for the Web site is any statement which contradicts the Bible is inherently false," Rahm said.

Meanwhile, his ascention to the ranks of the martyred is well underway among self-identified Christian bloggers. While many of these blogs merely link to the story as an example of something that their readers will understand without comment, others have not been able to resist adding their two cents worth (not that I criticize that, I'm up to a buck seventeen). Some samples:

From Oregon
The Big Bang Theory has new meaning: mention the Bible in biology class, and—BANG!—you’re out of a job. Religious intolerance has reached a fever pitch.

From Sharp Arrows:
Is it illegal for a teacher to use Bible references in public school? Perhaps it is, I don't know for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised. A more pertinent question might be, do you want to send your child to a school where the Bible is not even allowed to be mentioned by a teacher? How about one where if the teacher does reference the Bible, the crime is seen as serious enough to warrant termination. That's serious stuff.

From The Demented Log Blog:
You will get fired for teaching any truth these days. This is a time when darkness is called light and light darkness.

From Rapture
God help us that we have so many in our world today who have bought the lie of evolution hook, line and sinker and want their children to grow up believing in same!

Who would've thought that a day would come when the Holy Bible's teaching would be referred to as something that prevented a child from learning what they "need to know?"

Who would've thought twenty-five years ago we'd see a day come when parents would be concerned that the minds of children could be "POLLUTED" by hearing a reference made to the Word of God in a classroom?

And, in three different fonts and four colors of type, we have The Sope-Bocks:
First, I wonder if Mr. Harrison and Mr. Rahm would have had the same reaction if their children were being given references to homosexuality or pagan rituals. Somehow, I seriously doubt it. This story just goes to show the extreme bias against Christian values. It also shows the lengths some people will go to in order NOT to challenge the religion of evolution.

I applaud Mr. Helphinstine for pushing the students to think critically about what they are being indoctrinated with in public schools. His courage to challenge the system with the truth is admirable. Unfortunately, teaching anything other than extreme liberal thought will be a death-nail to your career in Oregon. Sad, but true.

Almost all of these sites linked to the version of the story carried on Fox News. A small sub-set of the religious right bloggers were less interested in proclaiming Helphinstine's martyrdom as a soldier of Christ than they were excited about his PowerPoint presentation that links evolution, Nazism, and Planned Parenthood.

Again, if Helphinstine is interested in the professional martyr career path, his future is bright.

I don't get animal rights radicals

This had my jaw on the ground.
Berlin Zoo rallied to the defense of Knut, a three-month-old polar bear cub, Tuesday, rejecting demands that the animal be allowed to die after being abandoned by its mother.

The fate of "cuddly Knut" has gripped the German capital since his birth in December. Rejected by his mother Tosca, the cub was adopted by a zookeeper who moved into the animal's enclosure to care for him round the clock.

Some animal rights campaigners think this will humanize the bear too much and want the zoo to stop saving young animals.

"Hand-rearing a polar bear is not appropriate and is a serious violation of animal rights," Bild newspaper quoted animal rights campaigner Frank Albrecht as saying.

"In fact, the cub should have been killed," he added.

Fortunately, the zoo's response was the German equivalent of "don't be a stupid git."

Better off dead?

I'm a moderate where animal rights are concerned. Our cats, Marlowe and Mehitabel, were abandoned kittens adopted from no-kill shelters. I support strong anti-cruelty legislation. I eat meat, but I try to avoid feed-lot meat and buy free-range organic meat whenever possible. I support some animal testing and research for drugs, but oppose its use for vanity products like cosmetics (the skin-care products that Clever Wife makes are all tested on me). I'm a strong environmentalist and preservationist. I believe in hunting for meat, but not for trophies. I find PETA offensive and counter-productive.

I've run into this argument before that states any interaction with animals that changes their behavior is by definition cruel and a violation of an animal's rights. This seems to be the argument that Frank Albrecht is making above. Death is better than domestication is how the argument goes and so the zoo should kill abandoned babies, even when they belong to endangered species.

There are a number of good counter-arguments to this position, including the above mentioned "don't be a stupid git." Why should we believe that Albrecht's concept of an animal's rights in any way resemble the rights that the animal would ask for if it could conceive of such an idea and communicate it to us? All life is governed by a drive to continue, as an individual and as a species. If we could communicate, in any meaningful way, I think most animals would put the right to live at the top of their list of rights. I'm sure they would also object to someone else deciding whether their life is worth living. This is not the same as deciding whether they live. Animals regularly decide that other animals will not live. They make this choice, not because they have made a moral/philosophical judgment that the other animal's life is not worth living. They make it based on the determination that the other animal is more valuable to them as supper than as scenery.

Marlowe and Mehitabel are asleep on a chair in the other room. They are well fed, well groomed, warm, dry, and safe from predators. Their life expectancy is more than twice what it would be in the wild. In exchange for this, we have made some modifications to their behavior that leave them slightly behaviorally stunted and kitten-like. They are more sociable than most adult cats in the wild. Okay, we also took their gonads. If they could communicate, I think they would say they would like to go outside and chase birds more often. I am quite sure they would not say that they would rather be dead than suffer the unspeakable cruelties that I inflict upon them.

What's offensive? Limiting rights is

Via Josh Rosenau we find this little bit of news from Kansas.
A legislative staffer who put an anti-war bumper sticker with a profanity on her car and parked it in the Statehouse garage upset one lawmaker and had the governor and others debating the limits of free speech.


The red bumper sticker contains only two words in white — the f-word followed by “war.”


The complaint about the sticker came from House Majority Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, a former Marine. He said the language offended him.

“We have a lot of kids coming out of this building every day, and I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Merrick said.

I wonder what it was about the message that offended former Marine Ray Merrick. Was it the profanity or was it the overall message that massed numbers of people trying to kill each other over abstract concepts might be less than nifty. Would he have objected to a bumper sticker that said "I heart war" or one that had the f-word followed by “pacifism”?

There is a serious, free speech issue here and some kind of legal determination on this is long overdue. Does an employer (whether government or civilian) have any business telling their employees what opinions they may express on their personal cars. Each of the last few election cycles has come with stories of people being fired or punished for their bumper stickers.

Employers have always had trouble letting go of control over their workers at the end of their shift or at the door of the workplace. In recent years, many employers have tried to exercise control over their employee's health habits, using the cost of insurance as a justification. I don't think we'll ever get a one hundred percent clear legal determination over the limits of an employer's rights to interfere with their employees' private lives, or just what constitutes "private" in these cases, but free speech should be a fairly simple issue.

Since this touches on three sore points for me -- free speech, privacy, and bullying bosses -- it should be no surprise to my readers to find that I think the employers should take a flying leap. The only limits on an employee's rights either should come from the community at large (such as a general ban on profanity in public) or be justified by a legitimate business interest (a company has a legitimate interest in not providing free parking to an employee whose car carries a sticker that has the f-word followed by the company name).

Notice the restriction I put on enforcement by the company. I don't think they have the right tell the employee not to display that bumper sticker anywhere, but I do think they have the right to deny privileges such as parking on company property for that vehicle. I have a second restriction in mind with that phrasing. Limitation of employee privileges should be justified by a legitimate business interest. Preventing an employee from using the company parking lot to advertise against the company is legitimate, but preventing an employee from using the company parking lot to express an opinion that the employer or even the community at large disagrees with is not. Employers might claim that giving parking space to that opinion implies endorsement of that opinion (this is the argument most likely to come from government), but this argument doesn't pass the smell test. Does anyone actually think that the public is so naive that they believe a company endorses the opinions of every bumper sticker on every private car (not company vehicles) in their parking lot? If I see a bumper sticker at the Ballard farmer's market that says "Disco Roolz" I do not assume that the city of Seattle or the farmers of western Washington (or anyone in their right mind) endorses that opinion. I assume that one poor creature of limited taste managed pass the drivers' test and to pull together enough money to buy a used car.

Why hasn't this been decided by the courts?

Martyr alert

Kris Helphinstine just hit the career jackpot, if he chooses to take advantage of it.
During his eight days as a part-time high school biology teacher, Kris Helphinstine included Biblical references in material he provided to students and gave a PowerPoint presentation that made links between evolution, Nazi Germany and Planned Parenthood.

That was enough for the Sisters School Board, which fired the teacher Monday night for deviating from the curriculum on the theory of evolution.

The Associated Press story, which so far is the only version of the story being circulated, has been picked up by scores of papers, here and abroad. The headline used by most of the publications that I've checked is some variation of "Biology Teacher Fired for Bible References." Significantly, that is the version used by the Christian Broadcasting Network. That headline fits perfectly with the religious right's preferred frame of Christian persecution. It implies that Helphinstine wasn't fired for proselytizing his religion, for violating district policy, for introducing unapproved materials into the classroom, or any other legitimate administrative reason; no, it implies that he was fired for merely mentioning the Bible in the classroom. And that's where he hits the jackpot. If he is so inclined, Helphinstine could milk his martyrdom for years as a paid speaker at religious right conventions and churches.

So far, the news coverage doesn't give any clue as to whether Helphinstine is inclined to do that. Returning to the AP story, the only word from Helphinstine himself, portrays his purpose as religiously neutral and possessing a legitimate educational purpose.
Helphinstine, 27, said in a phone interview with The Bulletin newspaper of Bend that he included the supplemental material to teach students about bias in sources, and his only agenda was to teach critical thinking.

"Critical thinking is vital to scientific inquiry," said Helphinstine, who has a master's degree in science from Oregon State. "My whole purpose was to give accurate information and to get them thinking."

Helphinstine said he did not teach the idea that God created the world. "I never taught creationism," he said. "I know what it is, and I went out of my way not to teach it."

"Teach students about bias in sources" and "critical thinking" could be completely honest and innocent statements of his lesson plan, although they do sound suspiciously similar to creationist buzz phrases such as "teach the controversy."

To see if I could get some more details, I paid the three dollars they asked in order to look behind the firewall at The Bulletin's story. The AP story appears to be not much more than an abridgement of The Bulletin's original story. Helphinstine declined to comment to The Bulletin on his beliefs, but the article provides enough indirect information for us to deduce that his offense was more than just mentioning the Bible in the classroom.

According to Sisters' school board, Helphinstine was fired "for deviating from the district's curriculum on the theory of evolution and giving students outside materials that promoted the Bible and creationism." Those outside materials included links to Ken Ham's young Earth creationist group Answers in Genesis. The Bulletin's article still doesn't make clear how he used those materials, but the firmness of the school board’s reaction implies that he was doing more than just providing examples of alternate thought. They fired him for promoting creationism, not for merely mentioning it. In the words of one of the board members, "I think his performance was not just a little bit over the line. It was a severe contradiction of what we trust teachers to do in our classrooms." The only dissenting vote on the board did not feel that Helphinstine was innocent of wrongdoing; he thought that he should have been given a stern warning and another chance before firing.

It’s probably irrelevant whether or not Mr. Helphinstine chooses to take advantage of his fifteen minutes of fame. Even if we don’t hear from Helphinstine, we will surely hear about Helphinstine in the coming days. According to Google News, in the time it has taken me to write this post, the number of newspapers running the AP story has climbed from 62 to 114. That number will probably increase considerably as tomorrow’s morning editions come online. According to Technorati, there are currently 29 blogs posting on “Kris Helphinstine” and that number will surely rise, since bloggers are usually a few hors behind the news outlets. Let’s watch and see what kind of an icon he becomes.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

We need a Manhattan Project like program to find a cure

A new study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior looks into the psychological underpinnings of a familiar pathology.
Some people find angry looks from others so rewarding they go out of their way to encourage them, Michigan researchers said.

"It's kind of striking that an angry facial expression is consciously valued as a very negative signal by almost everyone, yet at a non-conscious level can be like a tasty morsel that some people will vigorously work for," said Oliver Schultheiss, University of Michigan associate professor of psychology.

His study may explain why some people like to tease each other, he said.

"Perhaps teasers are reinforced by that fleeting annoyed look on someone else's face and therefore will continue to heckle that person to get that look again and again," he said. "As long as it does not stay there for long, it's not perceived as a threat, but as a reward."

People with this condition are generally known by the technical term "jerks." Dr. Schultheiss' research indicates, rather unsurprisingly, that jerkdom is associated with too much testosterone. It is too early in his research to talk about a treatment for the underlying causes of jerkdom, so in the interim, I suggest we stick to the traditional methods of treating the symptoms, the punch in the nose and the good swift kick. Of course, I'm not a professional, so you should take my advice with a few grains of salt.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Happy birthday, Albert

Albert Einstein was born at Ulm, Germany on this day in 1879. That means he would have been 128 years old today. However, if he had left the Earth as soon as he was born and flown away at 92 percent of the speed of light, he would only be 64 and still in his productive prime.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More credit where credit is due

Mike Brossar, the opinion editor for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, California, wrote a letter to Media Matters to protest being included on their list of newspapers still carrying Ann Coulter's column. He wants us to know that he, too, dropped her column last week, following her unwarranted insults aimed at John Edwards and his campaign manager. This brings the official count of papers dropping her column to nine. Although Coulter claims her column is carried by a hundred papers, Media Matters has only been able to identify forty that still do. Of those, Media Matters has found only a half-dozen who have made statements that they will definitely keep publishing her column.

The Princess Bride gambit

Vizzini: He didn't fall! Inconceivable!
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I know that joke is starting to get old, but it is the clearest statement of a recurring theme that has run through this administration from the beginning. Today, the word is “responsibility.”

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales just held a press conference about the exploding scandal of politicized firings of at least eight US Attorneys. Gonzales says he "accepts responsibility," even though it's not his fault, he didn't know anything about it, and that the real person behind it all was his chief of staff who just quit. How many times have members of this administration used the phrase "I accept responsibility" to mean just the opposite? They seem to think of it as a magic "Get out of Jail Free" card that absolves them of any need to face consequences--the very definition of accepting responsibility.

Actually, saying the magic words doesn't work by itself. They must be accompanied by throwing an underling to the wolves. It works best if it's someone who recently left the administration and has had critical words, but anyone will do. It's a lot like the failure of a Soviet five-year plan. Failure was never the fault of the planners at the top; failure was caused by saboteurs below. All that was necessary to accept responsibility, was to locate the disloyal underlings and publicly purge them. Once the leaders had destroyed enough lives below them, they could relax and enjoy the perks of being on top--until someone above them felt the need to accept responsibility.

This little pre-fab drama works remarkably well, but it can't be repeated indefinitely. Sooner or later, the audience grows bored and the wolves get bolder. This drama has blown up remarkably fast and shows no sign of settling down. It might be inconceivable to Bush, Rove, Cheney, and Gonzales, but their little "accepting responsibility" act might not be enough this time.

Monday, March 12, 2007

For those keeping score

The Herald & Review of Decatur, Illinois just became the eighth newspaper to cancel the column written by Ann Coulter, who, by the way, I have no nude pictures of.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Another milestone

At 9:03:50 pm Pacific Daylight Saving Time, archy received its 100,000th visitor. The historic visitor came from Atlanta, Georgia and was looking for images of Darrin Bell's fine comic strip Candorville.

Just as I pegged 75,000 as the goal for my fiftieth birthday last summer, I had set a personal goal of reaching 100,000 before the fourth anniversary of archy on March 22.

I'd like to thank all of the College Republican men of low standards who have come here over the last week looking nude pictures of Ann Coulter. There have been over a thousand of you and it is to you that I give credit for pushing me over the top eleven days ahead of schedule. Thanks guys.

PS - Last time I checked, Coulter's column had been cancelled by seven newspapers.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The hidden epidemic

This link is up on CNN's front page right now.

A qiuck jump over to the US Census population clock tells me that our current population is 301,349,664. That means 99.3 percent of the US population suffer from celiac disease, "but most don't even know it." Actually, another quick jump, this time to the story, shows that only three million Americans are esimated to have celiac. Our silent epidemic isn't one of celiac; it's one of bad reading comprehension.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bush brings evil spirits

Many of us have felt like doing this after he visits our towns, too.
Guatemalan Mayan priests reportedly plan to purify an important archeological site following a visit from U.S. President George Bush next week.

The priests will help rid "evil spirits" from the site because Bush's visit is considered an "offense" by the religious leaders, Prensa Libre reported Friday.

Maybe we should tell the priests that the evil spirits were probably just Bush's advance staff, and they will leave with him at the end of the visit to torment the next country. On the other hand, maybe we shouldn't presume to tell them how to do their jobs.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Happy birthday, old squid (with updates)

Tomorrow, March 9, will be the 50th birthday of Dr. Paul Myers the University of Minnesota at Morris, Biology Department, better known to the blogging community as PZ of Pharyngula. We're going to celebrate this august occasion in the only way bloggers know, by having a blogfest. Whether PZ has been a friend, role model, or fierce debating partner, we hope you'll join us in recognizing him for his contributions to our corner of the blogosphere. All day tomorrow, Grrlscientist, Coturnix and I will be posting links to PZ's birthday greetings.

If you have a post for PZ on your blog, pictures of calamari, glowing tributes, haiku, dedicated posts, or simple best wishes, let us know and we'll add you to the linkfests. Our e-mails are: grrlscientist at gmail dot com, coturnix at gmail dot com, or archymarquis at aol dot com. If you don't have a blog, add something to the comments at any of the linkfests and Mrs. PZ will make sure he reads every one (note: prayers for conversion and angry denouncements will be disemvoweled on sight, so don't bother).

After you send your best wishes, hang around and read the others, join the virtual party, have some virtual cake, help us keep Coturnix away from the virtual punchbowl (we don't want a repeat of what virtually happened last year).

Check back in as the day progresses. There will be more fun and surprises all day. I'm saving my contribution for last (mostly because I'm not finished with it)

Update 1: It looks like Coturnix has the first linkfest up already. Since I'm on the West coast, I'll probably have the last one tonight. The real rush begins tomorrow morning at Grrlscientist's.

Update 2, Thursday midnight: The clock just rolled over into the new day, which means it realy is PZ's birthday here in the time zone of his birth. So, let the bells toll and let us celebrate with this linkfest.

The man himself admits it.

The world's best known atheist starts us out with a poem, dashing several stereotypes in one shot.


Bad Astronomy

Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance.

Discovering Biology in a Digital World

Corpus Callosum

Nonoscience (it's a trick post, try highlighting it)

Strange Fruit


Hot Cup of Joe

Medlar Comfits



Evolving Thoughts has a Gilbert and Sullivan moment.

Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)


Dynamics of Cats


Invasive Species

Update 3, Friday, late morning: PZ has noticed that something is happening in the blogosphere, and the links continue.


Omni Brain


Newton's Binomium

Neural Gourmet

Greg Laden

Socratic Gadfly

Sharp Brains


Cocktail Party Physics


Halfway There


John Wills Lloyd

Reed Cartwright at Panda's Thumb

Pen Elayne

Terra Sigillata

3 Quarks Daily

The Two Percent Company

Memoirs of a Skepchick

Action Skeptics

Geoff Coupe's Blog



Zen Curmudgeon

Update 4. Later, that same day:


Galactic Interactions

The Questionable Authority

The Island of Doubt

Respectful Insolence

The Voltage Gate

Chaotic Utopia

The Modulator

Science Made Cool

The Daily Transcript

Rev. BigDumbChimp

Aurora Walking Vacation

The Disgruntled Chemist

Dubito Ergo Sum

Another History Blog


Thoughts in a Haystack

Broken Springboards All the Way Down

The Thermal Vent

Ron’s Blog

Dave at The Galloping Beaver shares the same birthday.

Sunbeams from Cucumbers

Update 5, End of the birthday day: It's almost midnight in the timezone of PZ's birth, but if any more contributions show up, I'll post another update tomorrow morning.

Adventures in Ethics and Science

Thomasburg Walks

Brent Rasmussen at Unscrewing the Inscruitable


Faded Flowers

The Greenbelt

Red State Rabble

The Inoculated Mind


Wanderin' Weeta (With Waterfowl and Weeds)

Good for them

The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana, announced this morning that the paper will drop Ann Coulter as a columnist. They are the fourth to drop her since last Friday when she called John Edwards a "faggot" and referred to his campaign manager, former U.S. Rep David Bonior, as a front for Arab terrorists. I doubt as if these small papers dropping her does much to hurt her income; she probably takes home more from one College Republicans speaking event than she does from ten newspapers. However, it's good see people drawing the line somewhere. If you live near Shreveport, send a note of support to The Times editors.

Update: The American Press of Lake Charles, LA, also has dropped Ann Coulter's column.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Further news

Here are some follow-ups on recent news items.

Three newspapers have dropped Ann Coulter's column over her calling John Edwards a faggot. On the other hand, both Fox News and CNN invited her on to talk about it, thus rewarding bad behavior. She declined the CNN invitation because she might have had to face some real questioning from fellow guest John Aravosis. The newspapers--the Lancaster New Era of Pennsylvania, The Oakland Press of Michigan, and The Mountain Press of Sevierville, TN--all deserve kudos for having standards; CNN and Fox News should be condemned.

Speaking of John Edwards, his campaign says he will not participate in the Fox News sponsored Democratic candidates' debate in Nevada. The Nevada Democratic Party, who had agreed to this, is now scrambling about trying to save it. Their "compromise" with Fox is that Fox will allow one non-Fox questioner on the panel. Considering that Fox News is a little more than the propaganda arm of the Republican Party, and that there are plenty of other opportunities for the voters of Nevada to see the candidates in action, there is no reason why any Democratic candidate for anything should give Fox the time of day.

And speaking of Fox News, I hope you have seen this.

It's hard to say what's going on here. Fox regularly uses the bottom-text to deliver some of their crudest propaganda points, but simply denying reality is a bit much even for them. Is this a "Dewey beats Truman" style headline that they had written in advance and forgot to correct? Are they simply announcing the one charge that Libby was not convicted on and ignoring the other four? Are they insane?

Michael Savage has redefined stalking to mean listening to his nationally broadcast radio show and accurately quoting him. In order to avoid trouble with the law, it’s probably safest to avoid listening to his show and stop your loved ones from listening to it.

News from the home front

Over the last few days I have gotten back in touch with some of the joys of staying home--not of being semi-employed, just of being home when I'm not sick.

At the top of the list is slowing down. Although, I can manage a deadline push or a blitzkrieg house cleaning with the best of them, it's not my preferred pace and I would rather take my time. I'm a putterer. I like to walk. I like to take naps. I like to sit and read or listen to music. At home, I get to give the cats a large part of the undivided attention that they think they are entitled to. I think multi-tasking is one of the worst ideas of the last half-century.

When I'm home I get to cook more. Most nights, our dinner consists of either leftovers from something I roasted or stewed on Sunday, or of a single pot dish that I can slap together in a half-hour. Not that these are bad meals; I have an extensive repertoire of tasty quick meals. But it's not as fun to prepare those as it is do take my time fixing something with layered steps and filling the house with competing yummy smells. Yesterday, I roasted a chicken, taking time to properly brine it and flavor it before tossing it in the oven. That means I started about noon. Today, I'm simmering red beans for my clever wife's Puerto Rican rice and beans recipe.

I get to watch the neighborhood go by when I'm at home. Like the cats sitting on the back of their chair in the living room, watching the bad birds in the yard, I can watch the traffic and the neighbors from my desk.

This noontime, as I sat taking care of some e-mails, two black kids came running up the street. There is a Boys' and Girls' Club a few blocks from here with after school activities. They were headed that direction from the direction of the main bus line through the neighborhood. They got playing some boy game of chase, hide, and ambush and stayed near my house for about fifteen minutes, diving behind bushes and parked cars. It was hide-and-seek, but they were too old to call it that.

After a while, I decided I needed a bell pepper for the beans and put on my hat to walk to the store. As soon as I stepped onto the porch, it started to rain and three police cars pulled up. The cops all got out. The youngest one had his gun drawn. The rain had already made me decide to delay my trip to the store, and, if something bad was happening, I wasn't going to abandon my house and cats, but I knew it would look bad if the old hippie guy stepped out of his house, saw the cops and rushed back in. So I put on a big act of putting my garbage cans away and then loitered around the porch to see what was going on.

Eventually, I overheard enough to gather they were responding to a call about a possible burglary. They didn't seem to know which house was being robbed. They peeked over a few fences and under the big black SUV that was parked in front of my fire hydrant. I began to suspect that someone had seen two young Negro males lurking in the bushes and called the police. A fourth police car arrived. A tiny car from Parking Enforcement came by to see what the fuss was, but didn't ticket the SUV. No one asked the old hippie on the porch if he'd seen anything.

Eventually, the police lost interest and went away. The cat went to sleep on his chair. The rain had stopped, so I went to the store. When I passed the Boys' and Girls' Club, I saw the two kids from before chasing each other around the building. I wish I had that much energy.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Keep the message simple

All the news agencies are reporting that the Libby jury is back and that he's been found guilty of four counts of lying to investigators. The right wing spin machine will be in overdrive for the next few news cycles. They will say that lying to investigators isn't a "real" crime. They'll say Fitzgerald is a vindictive and partisan Democrat. They'll go back to saying Wilson and Plame are the real criminals. They'll say Bush and Cheney didn't know. They'll say Ted Kennedy is fat and "look, a kitten." I don't think it will matter.

This is a complicated issue and most casual news watchers have not worked their way through the technicalities, and will not do so in the future. In a month, all that most voters will remember is that someone from the White House was convicted and jailed for lying and that it had something to do with the war in Iraq. I hope our side keeps the message that simple. We're not just saying the administration lied about the war, and still lies about the war; it's been proven in court.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Yes, we have no nude pictures of Ann Coulter

According to Sitemeter, the most common search phrase binging people to archy so far today has been variations on "Ann Coulter nude." Over a year ago I issued a clear statement of my policy regarding nude pictures of Ann Coulter. I don't have any. If I was a cynical person, I might plant the words "Ann Coulter" and "nude" in close proximity to one another in hopes of padding my traffic figures by getting click-throughs from people who want nude pictures of Ann Coulter. But that would be wrong.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Take Ann Coulter...please! (updated)

I'm sure you've all read about Ann Coulter's appearance at the annual meeting of CPAC, the influential Conservative Political Action Committee. After an introduction by Mitt Romney, Mormon family man and paragon of all conservative virtues, she said, "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I — so kind of an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards." None of the Republican presidential candidates, who had assembled to pander to the far right wing of the party, had anything to say at the time and, so far as I can tell, neither did any of the far right, white, male bloggers who has assembled to drool at the alter of the false goddess Coulter.

Also silent on her comment was Adam Nagourney of The New York Times who filed a long story on the event for Saturday's paper. Nagourney, however, blots out most of his demerits by filing a second story, entirely on Coulter's comments in which manages to get all of the Republican front runners to issue the condemnation that they failed to give at the time of the actual offense. No doubt they were all shocked--shocked, I tell you--into complete silence. Let's keep in mind that all of the three front runners were for gay rights before they were against them.

A spokesman for John McCain, who was not at the event, said this morning. “The comments were wildly inappropriate.”

Rudy Giuliani said, “The comments were completely inappropriate and there should be no place for such name-calling in political debate.”

A spokesman for Romney, who was closest when the Anne-bomb went off, said, “It was an offensive remark. Governor Romney believes all people should be treated with dignity and respect.”

Coulter denied saying such a thing, even though she did, on tape, and said that the thing she didn't say was just a joke that we aren't cool enough to get, even as she took another, similar, cheap shot. “C’mon, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean.” The second cheap shot was just as unoriginal and sophomoric as the first.

At this point, is anyone really shocked that Ann Coulter, presented with a hot microphone and an audience of panting young males, chose to take a cheap shot and dismiss it as humor? If nothing else, Coulter is predictable. The only surprise is that she chose to go after Edwards instead of Clinton or Obama. Nagourney and other reporters should have this story saved as a fill-in-the-blanks template: Coulter appears somewhere, takes an offensive cheap shot, liberals are outraged, her hosts are shocked, Coulter shrugs it off as a joke and schedules her next appearance to perform the exact same act she has been performing fo almost ten years.

Her act is old. It is predictable. It no longer has the power to shock or to outrage; it's just tiresome. All she does anymore is remind us of something that we have all known for years: conservative humor is no laughing matter.

Update - Mick Arran has a very nice analysis of just what makes this Coulter kerfluffel different from previous ones.

Friday, March 02, 2007

I suppose it's not the worst way to go

Yet another quiz.

You'll die from an Unlikely Illness (like the plague).

You will unfortunately succumb to a random and unlikely disease. Only to find out after death that eating more broccoli would have cured you.

'How will you die?' at

I'd rather have made it further on the young/old scale, but if I have to go, mysteriously is the way to go. I'm hoping it's such an unlikely and mysterious disease that they will have to name it after me.

(via Pharyngula)