Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Circus of the Spineless #12

Welcome to Circus of the Spineless #12! Given that this completes the first full year of the Circus, I decided to reflect for a bit on what makes this circus better than other circuses. Afterall, we've all been to the circus before. Why should people attend the Circus of the Spineless when there are so many others to choose from? Below I'm going to compare our attractions to those of a normal circus, and hopefully show why our circus is better. And that means that money spent at the Circus of the Spineless (you did pay your $40 admission fee, right?) is money well spent indeed. Here goes...

Normal Circus: Flying trapeze.

Our Circus: Flying ants.

Tortoise Trail shows us some pictures of a massive swarm of ants, so thick they look like a big flock of birds. Clearly more fun to watch than the flying trapeze. And when was the last time you saw trapeze artists having sex in mid-air? Our circus is clearly superior on that score.

Normal Circus: Asian Elephant Poop

Our Circus: Costa Rican Film Loop

Enter the Naturally Connected tent, and you'll find not just one picture, but bunches organized together into a film loop. This loop contains pictures of insects taken from her trip to Costa Rica, including some awesome stick insects and mantids. Now isn't that more fun than looking at elephant crap?

Normal Circus: Trained Lions

Our Circus: Trained Aphids

Henry's Webiocosm presents us some adorable pictures and a discussion about some aphids found in his yard. These aphids are trained by their ant protectors to secrete sugary honeydew from their rear end when stimulated. The ants get a nice meal, and the aphids in turn are kept free of predators and parasites. Now, how many animal trainers do you know who can get a lion to secrete a delicious meal out of its ass on cue? Precious few I'll bet.

And while you're at it, check out the development of a larval mud dauber as it devours its caterpillar prey. Mud dauber nests kind of remind me of peanuts, but I can't think of any circus angle here.

Normal Circus: Caricature Artist

Our Circus: Paleo-artist

You know that guy who draws silly caricatures that make you look stupid, and then charges you 10 bucks for the humiliation? Well we've done them one better. Our artist, Carel P. Brest van Kempen of Rigor Vitae, draws pictures of long extinct invertebrates from the primordial seas. His latest masterpiece, showing critters of the Ordovician, beats the hell out of any 5 minute caricature. I hear that the creatures presented therein are highly pleased with the results, but no word on when they're forking over payment.

Normal Circus: Lumbering Elephant

Our Circus: Aquatic Worm

Sure, a normal circus can do big. But when it comes to small, we've got them beat. Days Between Stations shows us some pictures of a cute (and unidentified, someone help us out here) aquatic worm, presumably a nematode of some sort. But that's not all. Order now and at no extra charge, you also receive not one, but two extra invertebrates, a butterfly and a forest spider. What normal circus could ever guarantee that?

Normal Circus: Bengal Tiger

Our Circus: Tiger Swallowtail

A DC Birding Blog (yeah, I know, birds) has some pictures of butterflies taken from the National Arboretum. Included are the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Monarch, mightiest of butterflies. Unfortunately, he was unable to get them to jump through flaming hoops, though I do hear that he successfully stuck his head in one of their mouths.

Can't get enough Tiger Swallowtails? 10,000 Birds has another great photograph of the beast. But I have to wonder, given the usual subject matter of these blogs, if there may be some confusion among these guys as to the phylogenetic placement of lepidopterans

Normal Circus: Wooden Puppet Show

Our Circus: Invertebrate Shadow Puppet

Rurality presents us with something sure to thrill the kiddies. An invertebrate shadow puppet, making cool shapes with its appendages. See if you can guess what it is. No peeking, the kids will be awfully disappointed if you give it away. You'll have to scroll down the page at Rurality's tent to discover the secret.

Normal Circus: Candied Apples

Our Circus: Caterpillar Infested Apples

Over in the Thomasburg Walks tent, you'll find some pictures and descriptions of a gorgeous Cecropia caterpillar munching on a McIntosh apple tree. Now why would anyone want one of those sticky, tooth-decay-inducing candied apples that you get at a normal circus when you get caterpillars at ours?

And you get a bonus. While you can play skee ball and win a teddy bear at a normal circus, at our circus you can have a teddy bear bee free of charge when you buy any caterpillar infested apple tree. What a bargain.

Normal Circus: Bearded Lady

Our Circus: Hermaphroditic Snail

Maybe the bearded lady has had a bit too much testosterone, but what circus goes all the way and gives us hermaphrodites? The Circus of the Spineless, that's who. The aptly named Snail's Tales presents to us Melampus bullaoides, a hermaphroditic species of snail. Feel free to taunt and jeer at it, but please don't tell it go f-itself. S/he's heard that one a million times.

Normal Circus: Cheese Fries

Our Circus: Dragon Flies

Words and Pictures presents us with one of our main attractions, a dragon fly known as a southern hawker. Dragon flies are voracious predators, whereas cheese fries are helpless prey. I know which one I'd rather have on my side.

But it gets better. Urban Dragon Hunters has two posts up on those insects that are so badass, they are named after a mythical death reptile. The first one showcases some Darners and a Hungarian Horntail Eastern Forktail. And the second post has too many species to list.

Can't get enough dragon flies? Too bad. Research at a Snail's Pace (is there a different kind?) has great picture of one as well.

Normal Circus: Knife Thrower

Our Circus: Pinching Bug

At least the knife thrower tries to miss. The pinching bug, on the other hand, is not something I'd be holding in my bare hands. Bootstrap Analysis has pictures of the pinching bug along with several other insect friends: A pseudo-katydid, a leaf-footed bug, and some milkweed tussock moth larvae. The pinching bug, as it turns out, was originally thought to be dead, until it got its revenge. Then it was put outside, still alive. Suckers.

Normal Circus: Animal Feces

Our Circus: Invasive Species

Why go to a normal circus and see animal dung everywhere when you can enjoy a far more serious ecological disaster? The Invasive Species Weblog tells us of the emerald ash borer, a species of beetle that is attacking, you guessed it, ash trees. On top of it all, they've also got a cool photo of leaf cutter ants.

Normal Circus: "And Now, The Moment You've All Been Waiting For..."

Our Circus: Crayfish Spermatophore

Over at David Nelson's Photoblog we're treated to not one, not two, but four posts on cool critters, the best of which is a blue (yes, blue) crayfish. This animal is being kept as an aquarium pet and/or potential meal. And then there's the homeless bee, so named because it's from Australia. It too is blue. And then there are the tiny temnocephalan flatworms. I suppose they're transparent, but the high magnification makes them look blue. And finally, we've got a Net-Casting Spider, who makes a net of bluish silk.

Normal Circus: Clowns

Our Circus: Clowns

The Bird Chaser went on a recent excursion and found numerous invertebrates, including crabs and sea stars. He seems to think that the value of these critters is for bird food, but why on Earth any bird would want to eat these things, I don't really know. Check out the Blood Star (pictured on left). It's got a hideous and hairy growth protruding from it, so large that few birds could eat it even if they were willing to risk the humiliation.

Normal Circus: "Ladies And Gentlemen And Children Of All Ages..."

Our Circus: Rocks Of Ages

The Hairy Museum of Natural History (the name makes perfect sense after you've had your third crack rock) has dug up some Permian insects for our enjoyment. The area of interest here contains 290 million year old rocks in the Robledos Mountains. And there you'll find insect tracks galore, including some made by ancient insects known as monurans, which means "one tail" in Swahili. Looking at these guys and noting their striking similarity to more primitive arthropods, I could almost buy into that whole evolution myth.

Normal Circus: Strongman And Midgets

Our Circus: Giant Isopod And Midgets

Deep Sea News has a post about the Island Rule -- the fact that species tend to evolve into giants or midgets when isolated on islands -- applied to the deep sea. One animal whose giantism needs to be explained is the deep-sea giant isopod Bathynomus giganteus. One of my profs used to have a freeze-dried giant isopod on a shelf in the classroom, and its hideous visage provided me with the strength I needed to make it through the day.

But that's not all. There's more isopod to be had with DSN's visit to the London Museum of Natural History (no word on its hair status). There you will find giant isopod and giant cephalopod. Then there's the post about where deep-sea organisms come from. And one about sea spiders. Maybe you should just read the whole archive over there.

Normal Circus: Guy Who Guesses Your Age

Our Circus: Bumble Bee Who Guesses Time Intervals

The Blog Around the Clock tells us about some new research on how bumble bees can estimate time so that they can return to flowers after they've had enough time to replenish their nectar. Additionally, he has a post about invertebrate neuronal development.

Well that does it for Circus of the Spineless #12, and for the first full year of the Circus. I hope you've enjoyed the attractions, and will come back to see us next time we're in town. We'll kick off year two of Circus of the Spineless at Deep Sea News. Make sure to send them your submissions for September's Circus and help keep it the greatest show on Earth.

It's Almost Here...

Circus of the Spineless #12 is going up tomorrow. Right here. Prepare yourself to be inundated with gobs of invertebrates.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Clearly Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design

Most people will have seen it already, but at the Panda's Thumb we're doing a chapter by chapter review of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, authored by Discovery Insitute hack Jonathan Wells. Frankly, I don't think they do themselves any favors by publishing in this series, which has earned itself such a poor reputation that even conservatives have lamblasted it. But there's no such thing as being too much of a rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth reactionary for the Discovery Institute. Remember, these were the people who bragged about providing Ann Coulter with source material for her latest piece of garbage. And their main source of funding is a guy who literally wants to instill a theocracy in America.

As for Wells' book, you really need to read no further than the title to know what you're dealing with. As I pointed out in a post earlier this year, the term "Darwinism" is beloved by creationists, but almost never used by practicing scientists. However, Wells uses the word "Darwinist" constantly in his book, even in cases where it's grammatically improper.

But read further we have, painful as it is. So far there are reviews to chapters one, three, and nine. We'll hit 'em all before we're done. Somehow, I got roped into doing chapter 13, so keep an eye out. If the 'Thumb isn't ready for it by the time I finish it, you can check in here to get a sneak preview.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Coming to a Blog Near You: Circus of the Spineless

You've only got four more days (counting today) to get your entires in for the August Circus of the Spineless. I've got several submissions thus far but we need more. Please send your intertebrate pictures and/or stories to sreuland at And I've noticed that the submissions thus far are short of crustaceans, who are my favorite. Go and take some pictures of pill bugs or something.

What Killed Reason?

Via the Poor Man, I see that Chris Mooney's thesis that the Republican Party is at war with science is alive and well. Check out this gem of irrationality:

Not too long ago the blogosphere was rocking with the great debate of Intelligent Design vs Darwinism. It was an interesting debate, though I doubt much that anyone had the mind changed. Be that as it may, the whole thing got me thinking, and today ii occured to me: science is dead. We have reached the end of the Age of Science - what will come after, I don't know, but I don't think that we'll ever again have a time when Science is enshrined as some sort of god-like arbiter of right and wrong. The question now: what killed science?

A lot of different factors - but the main thing was that science could only thrive as it did from about 1650 until 1850 when everyone agreed on the rules. The prime rule of science was truth - everyone involved in science had to tell the truth to the best of their ability, and always be willing to correct one's views when new evidence called in to question previously held beliefs. What killed science was when its strongest advocates stopped telling the truth.

You see, science died in 1850. Relativity, quantum mechanics, genetics, plate tectonics, recombinant DNA, modern medicine -- all piffle. We know this because scientists must be a bunch of liars. Afterall, they tell us things we don't want to hear. What other explanation could there be?

It's important to realize that the creationist wing of the Right isn't just against evolution, they're against science in general. I don't think they started out this way, but when they come to realize that the entire scientific community disagrees with them and rejects their doctrine of scriptural supremacy, they go on to dismiss the entire enterprise of science. It's easier than admitting a mistake.

Note that this missive appeared on something called Blogs for Bush. They aren't just run-of-the-mill right-wing wackos, but are strong pro-Bush partisans. Which is more evidence that this is a Republican problem, not just a right-wing reactionary problem. Of course, the blog isn't actually affiliated with the Bush administration or with the RNC, but they sure want to be. Which makes it doubly sad. (Note to self: Rename blog after Brad Pitt, add small disclaimer at bottom.)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Okay, This is the Last One

For reasons that will forever remain obscure, ABC News decided to put an article up on its website about the now thoroughly-debunked claims of Arthur Brooks. I found this bit pretty hilarious:

[Right-wing douchebag Kellyanne] Conway saw another good side to the story for conservatives.

"It completely demystifies the fact that Republicans aren't having sex," she said. "Unless every Republican is procreating in a petri dish, ah ha, we too know how to have fun."

Someone neglected to tell Kellyanne that it's possible to have sex without having a baby. But then again, her knowledge of human reproduction probably came from Republican sanctioned sex-ed classes, meaning she thinks that kissing boys is enough get you pregnant.

The article is otherwise unworthy of attention, but for two things. First, I find it rather disturbing just how giddy the far-right seems to be over this whole conservatives-are-more-fecund nonsense. Even if there were any truth to it, why would it be something to gloat over? The Ann Coulter wing of conservatism long ago gave up arguing about ideas, and instead argues about people. You're not supposed to dislike liberal ideology so much as you're supposed to dislike liberals. And now that they've finally found one statistic that they believe paints them in a good light, they're running like mad with it. Never mind that this one seemingly good statistic happens to be strongly correlated with a whole slew of bad ones.

The second thing that bothers me is that the assholes at ABC didn't even bother to question Brooks' claims. Couldn't they have run this by a couple of demographers, or maybe some of the people who are involved with the GSS, and solicited a response? You'd think that competent journalists would do this as a matter of habit.

More on Brooks...

In the continuing the saga of Arthur Brooks' bizarre arithmetic (critiqued here, results of correspondence here and here), there remains the issue of how Brooks came up with the numbers that he relied upon for his simulations. These numbers were supposedly drawn from the General Social Survey (GSS), a publication that I did not have access to and hence wasn't able check. Recall, he's starting with the assumption that self-indentified conservatives have more children than liberals, and then concludes that this will spell doom for the Democratic Party:

According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%.

These numbers didn't look right to me. Even the silly Phillip Longman came up with a gap of only 11%. But since I couldn't check the numbers, I just assumed for the sake of argument that they were correct and then went on to describe why Brooks' conclusion make no sense.

But Half Sigma does have access to the GSS, and he took a look to see who was really having more children. Guess what? Democrats are having more kids than Republicans. It's not a big difference (and honestly, I can't see why it would be), but it's still the opposite of what Brooks is claiming.

Let me add a couple of caveats: I didn't check Half Sigma's numbers in part because I'm not sure if the chart he lists is his own creation or comes straight from the GSS. So if they're off, go yell at him and not me. Secondly, Brooks lists results for liberal vs. conservative (with independents curiously left out) and not Democrat vs. Republican. Not all people who self-identify as conservative vote Republican, and not all people who think they're liberal vote Democrat. (Of course, surveys have shown that a large fraction of people who self-identify one way or the other don't actually fit the label they've given themselves anyway.) So maybe that's where the discrepancy lies. But Brooks doesn't make this distinction himself. For the purposes of his article, liberal=Democrat.

But what really doesn't bode well for Brooks is the fact that ideological self-identification has remained virtually unchanged for 30 years. How does he explain that? Either 1) the idea that conservatives outbreed liberals is wrong, 2) the idea that children reliably adopt the ideology of their parents is wrong, or 3) the whole thing with conservatives outbreeding liberals is such a recent phenomenon that it hasn't had time to show up in the numbers. The only one of these possibilities that doesn't flatly refute Brooks is #3, and it doesn't make much sense.

Update: I just now noticed that Half Sigma has another post about the fertility of Bush voters vs. Gore voters. This time, it is Bush voters who have more children. The seeming descrepancy between the previous results can be explained by people crossing party lines, given the fact that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a large fraction, yet Gore and Bush recieved nearly the same number of votes.

The important thing is, the difference is miniscule. Gore voters have an average of 1.92 kids and Bush voters have an average of 2.03, which is about 6% larger. That's means there's a 49/51 split. Recall, Brooks is claiming a 41% difference resulting in a 41/59 split. Now that's a discrepancy.

Friday Animal Blogging

Nephew with dead pigeon.

Emails with Arthur, Round Two

After yesterday's email exchange with Arthur Brooks, I thought I'd try again to see how he came up with the dramatic shift in ideological identification he did within such a short time frame. My response to his last email:

Mr. Brooks, thanks for your reply.

I guess without seeing the sims I can't figure out exactly how you came up with those numbers. It seems rather extreme for a shift of this magnitude to happen in 8 years due to differential reproduction alone.

I agree that immigration changes things considerably; in fact it almost certainly swamps out trends in native fertility. However, I wouldn't call immigration "intangible" since it can be measured just like anything else, and should certainly be included in any study of voting trends based on demographics.
Any further thoughts would be appreciated,

As you can see, I didn't press him too hard on the "sims" issue, but I was hoping he'd give me something to work with anyway since this is what I asked him about to begin with. Well, he didn't:

Agreed on the immigration issue--it may have a large effect. But this depends on a bunch of steps: legalization, naturalization rates, registration, and then actual voting. At present, latinos vote way below their numbers. This is a challenge for both sides, and maybe the big battleground in the next 20 years. Got yelled at on talk radio yesterday for asserting this.

I found a odd disconnect between the way he handles immigrants and they way he handles natives. With Latinos, things like voter registration and the number of people who show up to the polls are confounding factors. But with young white people, apparently this isn't an issue at all. Latinos, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic (by a split of about 65/35), may be a big battleground over the next 20 years. White people, on the other hand, can be safely assumed to vote the way their parents and grandparents did ad infinitum.

I think I'm starting to see how Brooks comes up with the answers he wants.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Brooks Answers My Email

I sent Arthur Brooks, author of the article that I critiqued in my last post, the following email:

Dear Mr. Brooks,

I read with interest your article in yesterday's Opinion Journal titled, "The Fertility Gap". I had one question. In the article, you write:

"Consider future presidential elections in a swing state (like Ohio), and assume that the current patterns in fertility continue. A state that was split 50-50 between left and right in 2004 will tilt right by 2012, 54% to 46%."

I was curious as to how you arrived at these numbers. Taking into consideration fertility, mortality, and the assumption that new births favor conservatives by the numbers you gave (and ignoring the fact that babies have to wait 18 years before they can vote), there should be only a very small change in the split between liberal and conservative (something like 49/51 by my quick estimate) by the year 2012.

Any help you can give on this issue is appreciated. Thanks!

He has responded:

Thanks very much for your note.
The sims on this thing have a lot of strong parametric assumptions, obviously. The way I'm working it is to assume that about an eighteenth of the baby differential comes of voting age each year, that the gap is increasing at the historic rate of about .6 percentage points per year, and that consequently the fertile adult population is getting bigger pretty fast among conservatives. The difference gets even bigger if we include the fact that conservatives from voting families tend to vote more frequently than liberals from voting families, although I left that part out in the simple sims for the column (those things will go into more academic stuff probably).
Of course, there are a ton of intangibles that make it silly to see this as destiny, most notably immigration. A few assumptions about latino voter mobilization for the dems, and the whole scenario inverts. Of course, latino voters might move rightward over the next 20 years--who knows?
Thanks again for your comment.
Warm regards,

Really clears things up, doesn't it? Okay, so he is running "sims". That's nice and all, but you don't need to do simulations to get a quick and dirty estimate. As PZ mentions, an 8% shift in just 8 years due to differential reproduction alone is absurd. I might suggest to Mr. Brooks that he scrutinize his simulations more carefully. I'd do it for him, but he hasn't provided enough details.

I think it's nice though that Brooks acknowledges the potential effect of immigration. Too bad he didn't do that in his article, as it would have completely negated his conclusions. But of course he says that immigration is "intangible", whereas all this time I've been laboring under the impression that it can be measured.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Idiots are Multiplying

Awhile ago, when this blog was still very new, I wrote about a rather bizarre demographic argument which holds that since conservatives (or in the previous case, simply people who live in red states) have more children than liberals or blue staters, that this was going to cause a long-term shift towards conservatism in our country. As I wrote at the time, the argument is flawed in numerous ways, the most important of which is that our natural birth rates are very low historically speaking and are swamped out by immigration.

But the argument apparently won't die. In yesterday's Opinion Journal, (a fount of right-wing opinion published by the Wall Street Journal), we've got some dufus by the name of Arthur Brooks making the argument again. And not only does he make all the same mistakes of previous pundits, he seems to have a very serious math problem. Let me reproduce the meat of his argument:

But the data on young Americans tell a different story. Simply put, liberals have a big baby problem: They're not having enough of them, they haven't for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result. According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%. Given that about 80% of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections. Over the past 30 years this gap has not been below 20%--explaining, to a large extent, the current ineffectiveness of liberal youth voter campaigns today.

Okay, we've seen all this before (although I have no way of verifying Brooks' numbers on children, which comes out to a 41/59 split in favor of conservatives; I will accept this as true for the sake of argument.) But next Brooks makes some rather bold predictions, and this is where things get really hairy:
Consider future presidential elections in a swing state (like Ohio), and assume that the current patterns in fertility continue. A state that was split 50-50 between left and right in 2004 will tilt right by 2012, 54% to 46%. By 2020, it will be certifiably right-wing, 59% to 41%. A state that is currently 55-45 in favor of liberals (like California) will be 54-46 in favor of conservatives by 2020--and all for no other reason than babies.

You don't really need to do the math to know that this is certifiable nonsense. But let's do it anyway, starting with Ohio. It's a fairly simple thing to see if we can start with Brooks' assumptions and end up with his results.

The population of Ohio is roughly 11.4 million. In 2002, there were 159,192 births, and 111,550 deaths. Assuming those numbers haven't changed much, and that they'll remain the same going from 2004 to 2012, that would be 892,000 Ohioans that will have died between those years, and 1.27 million that will have been born. We'll ignore the fact that some of those being born will also be the ones who die. What this basically means is that the total population in Ohio in 2012 (ignoring migration -- more on that later) will be roughly 11.8 million, 10.5 million of whom were alive during or before 2004.

If those 10.5 million were split 50/50 between liberal and conservative, and the 1.27 million extras are split 41/59 between liberal and conservative, how much would this change the overall split? We can just multiply the numbers by the percentages to get the totals. We get 5.77 million liberals and 6 million conservatives in 2012. That's less than a 49/51 split. For all practical purposes, unchanged.

How the living hell does Brooks come up with a 46/54 split? I'll have to email his ass to find out.

It might also be worth pointing out something rather obvious that Brooks seems to have missed: Newborns can't vote. No matter what today's fertility rates are, they can't affect the voting age population until 18 years from now. Yet Brooks says that we'll get a 46/54 split by 2012 if current patterns in fertility continue. Unless they're planning on lowering the voting age, this can't be the case. The voting age population of 2012 vs. that of 2004 will be determined by what the fertility rates were 12 to 20 years ago.

But really, how much does the native birth rate affect ongoing demographical changes in Ohio or anywhere else in the country? The answer, as I wrote about previously, is that it hardly affects it at all. Our population changes very, very slowly, just barely in the positive direction, if we rely on native births alone. We live in a society with historically very low fertility and very low mortality, which means that the population doesn't turn-over very fast. Most of our demographic changes are due to immigration, something that Brooks astoundingly doesn't even mention.

So, how do immigrants affect our numbers? Consider the following chart:

You can see that for Ohio's overall net population gain over the last 5 years, nearly 1/3rd of it was from immigrants. (I'm going to ignore the out-migrants, because for all we know, many of them could have been foreign-born.) And immigrants overwhelmingly vote Democratic, by about a 60/40 split. If we assume that immigrants make up exactly 1/3 of the population gain, and if we go with the 41/59 split for native additions, then the overall new additions will have a 47/53 split. In other words, immigration almost completely erases the native birth rate slant in favor of conservatives. And Ohio is a low immigration state. Let's look at a high immigration state like California. Unfortunately, I don't have a nifty graphic, but this passage gives us the numbers we need:
California's Demographics in a Nutshell "The arithmetic of California's recent annual growth rate is simple: nearly 600,000 births (more than one a minute) minus about 225,000 deaths, plus more than 220,000 foreign immigrants, minus a quarter- million net loss to other states. That produces a net gain of around 350,000 a year...

So California gains 350,000 people a year, and nearly two-thirds of that gain consists of immigrants. Using the same assumptions as above, this means that new additions to California's population lean liberal by a 54/46 split. In other words, demographically speaking, California is becoming more liberal, not less. And yet Brooks is predicting that it will be strongly conservative by 2020. What a goddamned fool.

But there's still one question left: What then explains the ineffectiveness of youth voter campaigns? Putting aside the fact that they're not ineffective at all, given the fact that the youth turned out more strongly in 2004 than in any recent election, the answer is simple. The youth make up a smaller percentage of the population than they ever have before. That's what happens when people live longer and have fewer children. The trend will continue in this direction. Nevertheless, let's look at what the trend in youth voting has been:

If Brooks' thesis were correct, we'd expect to see the Democrats losing youth voters and the Repubilcans gaining them. That's not the case. In fact, the Democrats captured their highest percentage of the youth vote in 2004, and the lowest in 1992. If anything, the Democrats are increasing their share of the youth vote.

We Need More Headlines Like This

This is an actual headline in today's news:

Psycho killer raccoons terrorize Olympia.

A fierce group of raccoons has killed 10 cats, attacked a small dog and bitten at least one pet owner who had to get rabies shots, residents of Olympia say.

Thankfully, the raccoons who used to get in my trash every single day weren't like this.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I Am Now A Radical Atheist!

At least according to the Creation Research [sic] Society, in their recent issue of Creation Matters. Unfortunately, the article is really about PZ Myers, attention hog that he is. The Panda's Thumb, the webblog I contribute to, only received a secondary damnation:

Nature Gives Top Blog Honors to Radical Atheists

P . Z. Myers (U of Minnesota) has been one of the most foul-mouthed critics of creation, intelligent design and religion in general. [...]

Yet this man's blog, Pharyngula, was given top honors by Nature in its list of the the five top science blogs on the Internet (Anonymous, 2006). Second with the silver medal was Panda's Thumb, another strongly anti-ID blog to which Myers also contributes.

As PZ points out in comments, the title says "atheists", plural. Yet the only people referred to are himself and those of us who contribute to the 'Thumb. Needless to say, we're not all atheists. (And one wonders what you have to do to be a "radical" atheist when right-wing Christians consider any form of atheism akin to baby-stomping.)

As for myself, I'm a wishy-washy agnostic and am happy that way. There are other PT contributors who are Christians. PZ himself is an atheist, maybe even a radical atheist. But we sure as hell aren't all on the same page as far as religious belief goes. That's the great thing about science. You can be from different religions, nationalities, political ideologies, or even use different kinds of barbecue sauce, yet science remains the same. Evidence is evidence. You either think it matters or you don't.

But what's really stupid about the creationist article is that Nature didn't pick our blogs because they thought they were awesome (which they are), they picked them because they get the most traffic among science blogs. I'm pretty damed proud to be a contributor to the second most popular science blog on the internets, but unfortunately Nature isn't endorsing us. They're just reporting on who's getting the most traffic. My endorsement from Nature will therefore have to wait until I publish that killer research I'm working on.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday Animal Blogging

Okay, it's not my picture, but I came across this awhile ago and thought it was cool.

It's rather cruel to see the poor, peace-loving scorpion getting killed by the vicious meerkat like this, but that's nature for you. Speaking of meerkats, their odd habits go beyond eating live scorpions:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I Should See a Doctor

Because I find myself agreeing with George Will on way too many occasions of late.

P.S. Send you Circus of the Spineless submissions to sreuland at Do it now!

How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate

Lawrence Krauss tells us in an article in today’s New York Times. Step one: Have people who think that the Earth is only 6500 years old running your school board:

The chairman of the school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian, is not merely a strict creationist. He has openly stated that he believes that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, although he was quoted in The New York Times this month as saying that his personal faith “doesn’t have anything to do with science.”

“I can separate them,” he continued, adding, “My personal views of Scripture have no room in the science classroom.”

A key concern should not be whether Dr. Abrams’s religious views have a place in the classroom, but rather how someone whose religious views require a denial of essentially all modern scientific knowledge can be chairman of a state school board.

As they say, read the whole thing.

(Cross-posted to the Panda's Thumb.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Iacovelli Loses It

Not Very Bright has the scoop on an op-ed written by Karen Iacovelli, a woman previously appointed by SC governor Mark Sanford to be on the Educational Oversight Committee. She has since resigned under rather curious circumstances. Iacovelli was, among other things, an ardent supporter of the pro-creationist campaign led by fellow EOC member Mike Fair. And she is also, rather disturbingly for someone appointed to a committee charged with improving public education, an avowed enemy of public education.

Gervais of Barbecue and Politics wrote an op-ed in The State newspaper about his (now sadly ended) career as a blogger, and recounted the tale of Iacovelli and how she coincidentally resigned just after it was made public that she is a signatory to a list of people who "“proclaim publicly that (they) favor ending government involvement in education."” Now Iacovelli has written a response, also published in The State. And as might be expected by people of her type, the response is petulant, hypocritical, and of course, dishonest.

To cut to the chase, the primary issue here is that Iacovelli denies ever having signed the statement proclaiming that she's against public education. But NVB and Laurin have both shown that while her name has since mysteriously disappeared from that list, Google cache has it right there in living color. Sorry Karen, but the internets make covering your tracks just a little bit harder than it used to be. And even if we get real charitable and assume that her name originally ended up on that list by mistake, or perhaps was put there by some prankster (for what reason I have no idea), the fact is that Iacovelli has expressed similar sentiments on other occasions.

What's most notable about Iacovelli's current piece is what she doesn't say. She doesn't defend herself from the general charge of hating public schools. Why is that? How hard would it be for her to say, either implicitly or explicitly, that she's against ending government involvement in education and privatizing all of the schools? I'd think that would be an important point to get across, given that this is what the entire dust-up was based on in the first place. But instead she gives us platitudes about how much she cares about kids (unlike the rest of us, I suppose) and heaps disdain on the National Education Association. Nary a word about her views vis-à-vis privatizing education.

There are a couple of other things in the article that I thought I might highlight, given that they tweak my amusement glands. This one is my fave:

I sit on the Board of Dispoz-o Products Inc., a major manufacturer of plastic disposable products that has done great good for humankind...

Yes, Iacovelli makes her living as the co-owner or whatever of a company that makes disposable plastic cutlery. I guess there's no shame in earning an honest living however you can, but really, great good for humankind? Does she really believe that? I think I can safely state that had disposable flatware never been invented, we wouldn't be measurably worse off than we are now, and we'd probably have a lot less litter to contend with. Sure, plastic forks and spoons are quite convenient when you're on a picnic or having a party, but convenience is not equivalent to great good. Afterall, dumping raw sewage into a nearby river is also convenient.

And this part, right at the beginning, was eminently predictable:

Ross Shealy (On barbecue, politics and what defies parody,” Aug. 1) exemplifies the ignorance and vitriol of the fanatical left.

You see, Iacovelli doesn't know Ross Shealy (aka Gervais Bridges), almost certainly has never read his blog, but she's knows that he's a member of the "fanatical left", whatever that is. In an article in which she complains about Shealy being unkind to her and unfamiliar with her as a person, this is not a promising way to start out. It reveals a tendency to deal with criticism by labeling all critics as fanatical leftist, communist, Pol Pot-worshiping baby eaters. All that does is exemplify her own extremism.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Animal Blogging, Sort Of...

Well, I don't have any animals of my own to share today, so instead I'll direct you to Carl Zimmer's post on a newly discovered parasite that causes cancer in dogs. Here's the catch: The parasite is actually the cancer cells themselves; they've adapted to transmitting themselves sexually from one dog to another. That is just plain freaky, given that we have an example of what appears to be cancer cells turning into their own organism with their own evolutionary trajectory. This particular cell line has been moving from dog to dog for at least a few centuries, possibly longer.

"So here's the big question which the authors don't tackle head on: what is this thing? Is it a medieval Chinese dog that has found immortality? If so, then it resembles HeLa cells, a line of cancer cells isolated from a woman named Henrietta Lacks who died in 1951. After her death, scientists have propagated her cells, and in that time they have have adapted to their new ecological niche of Petri dishes, acquiring mutations that make it grow aggressively in the lab. One biologist even suggested that the cells should be consider a new species.

Sticker's sarcoma has, without any intervention from scientists, become a cell line as well, and one that has survived far longer than HeLa cells have. It is distinct from its dog ancestors, and has acquired adaptations that allow it to manipulate its hosts for its own advantage as effectively as a virus or a blood fluke. A parasite evolved from a dog, perhaps."

Thus spake Zimmer.

Next week I'll try to return to normal Animal Blogging, assuming I can find some animals out here that aren't prairie dogs.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Great Article in The Onion

Retroactive war crime protection proposed

The Bush administration drafted amendments to the War Crimes Act that would retroactively protect policymakers from possible criminal charges for authorizing any humiliating and degrading treatment of detainees, according to lawyers who have seen the proposal.

The move by the administration is the latest effort to deal with treatment of those taken into custody in the war on terror.
Man, The Onion just cracks me up. Oh wait, that wasn't The Onion, it was the Associated Press. Whoops.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Watch Out.

I've just got high speed internet access hooked up in my home. That should faciliate some more frequent updates here than have been going on the last couple of weeks during my transition phase.

And don't forget to send in your Circus of the Spineless entries. The email to send links to is Send 'em in!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Animal Blogging: Denver Edition

When I first rode into town and started driving around looking for a place to live and to familiarize myself with the area, I noticed that vacant lots were often covered with what looked like mounds every few feet or so. My first thought was, oh no, please don't tell me that they've got fire ants out here. But as I looked closer, I saw that the mounds had little whiskered critters poking up out of them, and then I realized what I was seeing. Prairie Dogs. This took me completely by surprise. I figured that prairie dogs lived out in the sticks; the idea that they would live smack dab in the middle of an urban area never occurred to me. And the fact that they'd be so population dense was also a surprise. I took some pictures of the little varmints this morning.

They don't like you getting close to them for obvious reasons. They start chirping like mad whenever you approach, and they don't stop. Here's a little group of them eyeing me wearily. And note the tennis courts in the background. They don't care how close to human structures they get. Any patch of land of any size will do. I've even seen them living in highway medians.

Because you can't get too close to them without them disappearing down a hole, this was the best close-up I could get. The resolution leaves a bit to be desired because I've zoomed in and cropped the photo. One of these days, I might hide for awhile and wait, and then I'll get a good shot.

And this should give you an idea of just how many of these bastards there are out here. This is a field near my house that is just full of dog mounds. The picture really doesn't do the field justice, as it stretches for a long way in every direction.

You can see a number of prairie dogs standing on their hind quarters in the above picture. Try zooming in on the picture and counting them all. I come up with seven varmints.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I Heart Invertebrates

I'm hosting the August Circus of the Spineless. (Be sure to check out the July edition.) I've been in the process of moving here recently and therefore have been away from email/internet, but things are starting to get back to normal and I'll certainly have my act together by the end of the month.

For those of you who wish to submitt, please send your entries to Alternatively, you can leave a comment in this entry with a link to your submission. Thanks!

Creationists Defeated in Kansas

The Republican primary for the Kansas State School Board was held yesterday, and of the 3 4 pro-creationist incumbants up for re-election, two were defeated by pro-science moderates. (There was also a moderate up for reelection, but she won her primary handily.) The third has other two have a Democratic challenger in the general election and may be defeated there. But no matter what, moderates will have at least a 6-4 majority on the board, and the ID curriculum will be no more.

Red State Rabble has the scoop and Nick of the Panda's Thumb has some good analysis. Nick wonders aloud whether or not ID is finished as a political force, since despite heavy funding and campaigning, they have lost just about everywhere that it counts:

The ID movement has been pushing the “intelligent design” strategy for 16 years now, and what has it accomplished? What has the Discovery Institute got to show for the several million bucks it has spent on ID each year for the last 10 years? In three very different forums (court, board politics, and elections), their approach has been rejected. Despite a lot of propaganda claiming they are doing research, the ID movement has nothing but a handful of articles, all of which, upon inspection, fail to be (a) peer-reviewed, (b) original research, and/or (c} actually supportive of ID.

Like Nick, I'm not ready to call the whole thing over, but I do hope that politicians in South Carolina get the message and realize that attacking science education is a proven way to lose your job.