Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Animal Blogging: Random Cat Pictures

Not terribly original, but at least it's cute.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

How to Grow Basil

This picture is to make my Mom jealous. See that small speck in the lower left? That is a life-size hippopotamus. That's how big this plant is. It's so big, I have saved at least three African nations from starvation with this plant alone. New species of birds have evolved within its branches, and a team of ornithologists who went in to describe them is currently missing. Global warming is no longer a problem thanks to this plant having sucked up all of the excess carbon. The stomata are so large they make Madonna look like a virgin. It excretes pure plutonium. People in China complain because the roots have gone so deep, they puncture through to the other side...

You get the idea.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Libertarian Hearts Creationism

One of my persistent gripes about libertarians is that their views on social policy (which I generally favor) almost always take a back seat to their rather extreme views on economic policy (which I do not favor).

Case in point is a man by the name of Howard Rich, a wealthy New York libertarian who has taken to bankrolling a lot of South Carolina candidates. Barbecue and Politics has the scoop on this guy in what is now a five-part series (one, two, three, four, five). It's worth reading the whole bit. I will for the time being ignore the unethical and possibly illegal nature of using deceptive front groups to circumvent campaign financing laws, because I am more interested in just who this money happens to be going to and for what reason.

Rich's main cause appears to be what is euphemistically referred to as "school choice", which means giving vouchers for those parents who choose to send their children to private schools. Financed with public funds, it's easy to see how such programs could result in a net drain of money away from public schools. Within the Cato Institute crowd (which Rich is an active member of) there is nothing wrong with this, because they have an avowed goal of eliminating public education altogether. However, I will gladly grant that this agenda isn't universal among voucher proponents. There is a reasonable case to be made that some public schools are in bad shape and that giving parents a choice to opt-out and go to a private school might improve their lot significantly, especially among the poor. It's not a case I find highly persuasive, but it's a legitimate argument.

But then there are parents who want vouchers because they are 1) wealthy and already send their kids to private schools, and would like a taxpayer subsidy for doing so; or 2) religious nuts who don't want their children learning about science and being exposed to comprehensive sex education (you know, the kind that actually works).

Now let's see, do we know any prominent examples of such people? Well, yes. The first category would describe Gov. Mark Sanford, and the second would describe Superintendent of Education candidate Karen Floyd.

Both Sanford and Floyd have been recipients of money from Howard Rich, as detailed by Gervais and this article in The State:

Many of the candidates they support are receiving thousands of dollars in contributions from a group of corporations and individuals around the country who support school choice.

Through corporations set up in New York, Maryland, Texas and Georgia, a New York real estate developer named Howard Rich has contributed nearly $40,000 to Floyd and seven House challengers.
So Floyd is the benefactor of the largess from this wealthy, Cato Institute libertarian. What else is his money buying? It's buying us a Superintendent who is a creationist and sides with the Discovery Institute in their jihad to weaken science education in public schools. This is something that libertarians are supposed to be against. While they like the idea of privitizing public education, at which point any nonsense one wishes to teach is fair game, they are generally (or supposed to be) strong advocates of church-state separation. And as long as public education remains public, church-state separation applies. Karen Floyd isn't just arguing for teaching creationism (or its derivatives) as a matter of choice in the private schools that she wants funded by taxpayers, she advocates that public schools should have it taught as well. And as for Sanford, he's stated similar beliefs although he's so far out there that I'm willing to just chalk it up to unfamiliarity with the issue and general stupidity. Floyd, on the other hand, knows exactly what she's doing.

So here we have a libertarian who is, wittingly or unwittingly, funding a creationist candidate with a creationist agenda. He is doing so presumably because of her views on "school choice", which apparently take precedence over her views on science. Perhaps Howard Rich is just oblivious, but there's really no excuse for that. As I said at the outset, libertarians often give social issues short shrift in favor of their economic agenda. This is perhaps no surprise when libertarian organizations receive funding from wealthy individuals and corporations who are attracted primarily to the anti-tax, anti-regulatory facet of the libertarian philosophy.

There is a God...

And it happens to be whoever is the programming director at Comedy Central.

Via Pharyngula, I see that Futurama, the sci-fi comedy cartoon by Simpsons creator Matt Groening, is returning from the dead. In one of history's great crimes, it was cancelled after only a few seasons, but the enormous popularity of the re-runs got the cable channels interested in making new episodes.

Futurama burst onto the scene right about the time that The Simpsons was beginning its slow decline into mediocrity. The brilliance of Futurama led me to believe that all of the good writers had left The Simpsons and went to work on the new show, but if that was true, they unfortunately didn't go back.

The Return to Blogging...

I've been way out of the blogging loop of late. For much of the week I was in Denver interviewing for a post-doc position, which it appears I will probably accept. So goodbye beach, hello mountains. All of the details have yet to be worked out so I don't know when I might be moving.

Anyway, I've been remiss in my blogging duties and even (gasp!) skipped Friday Animal Blogging yesterday. I'll just have to make up for it next week. In the meantime, I'm going to try to catch up on stuff here in the next few hours.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ten Commandments Congressman Doesn't Know Commandments

This is hilarious. A Congressman who is sponsoring a bill to display the Ten Commandments in both houses of Congress is interviewed by Stephen Colbert. Colbert asks him to name the Commandments. He doesn't do too well.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday Animal Blogging: My Collection of Dead Things

When one collects dead things, living at the beach is a good place to find new specimens. Dead animals wash up all the time. You get plenty of jelly fish, worms, and bits of sponge that aren't good for anything but throwing at old people, but you also get crustaceans, which you can preserve. Last winter, when I was no longer in lab and was writing my dissertation from home, I got to spend time walking the beach when taking a break (meaning that's what I spent most of my time doing). Something about that time of year makes dead animals wash up in abundance, or perhaps it's just that there are fewer tourists around to pick them up and throw them at old people.

But my largest dead thing is currently a horseshoe crab I found washed up near the dunes a couple of summers ago.

This is what he looked like after I first found him. He smelled bad. I used a little trick: I soaked him in water and put him on an ant mound for a week and let them have their way with him. Then I soaked him some more and put him in a bag with baking soda. That mostly removed the smell, so you don't detect anything unless you stick your nose right into his underside. Then I sprayed him with several coats of polycryllic finish, and, violin, I've got a preserved horseshoe crab.

I've since found other, smaller horseshoe crabs. Last winter I found two and was able to preserve them nicely. I gave them as gift to my niece and nephew. I'm sure the boy at least has destroyed his by now. I found a third really nice one that was perfectly intact with the meat still inside apparently. I kept it outside because of the smell until I could get around to performing surgery on it and removing the meat, but a damned raccoon did it first and tore the thing up.

I found this specimen below in what looked like a grave yard of dead conspecifics. I don't know what it was, probably seagulls, but there were legs and carapaces and other bits all over the place. I was able to find just one set of intact legs and one intact carapace, and they fit together just right. All the meat was out of it so all I had to do was glue it and spray it.

I found this ghost crab a ways up on the beach looking perfectly normal except for the part about being dead. I have a soft spot for ghost crabs, having had kept one as a pet for awhile, so I had to do the honorable thing and turn him into decoration. It was a major pain in the ass. He had bits of meat inside that I had to get rid of, the legs would fall off for no good reason, and I nearly gave up several times. I must have used five tubes of superglue on this thing. I put him on my space heater with some paper towels underneath for the purpose of drying out the gooey smelly stuff inside, and in the process one of his eyes melted. Damn. I tried to make up for it the best I could but it's still all messed-up. He turned out okay all things considered.

Here's a little guy I found which required almost no work at all. He was all in one piece but the insides had already rotted away, so I just sprayed him and was done with it. The picture might be a bit misleading, but his carapace is only an inch across.

This is my most recent find. Similar to the last one but significantly larger. Look at that set of uropods.. ymm.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

SC Primary Elections are Today

Today, June 13th, is primary day in South Carolina. Most of the would-be Democratic nominees are running unopposed, but the Republican slate is packed full for a number of races.

The race for state Superintendent of Education has no fewer than 5 candidates running for the Republican nomination. The SCSE page has the response of each candidate during a recent debate to the question of what they thought about teaching “alternatives” to evolution. Read the responses and see what you think. The two front-runners in the race are supposedly Karen Floyd and Bob Staton, and the winner of the nomination will be heavily favored to win the general election. You can read more about Floyd’s opinion on teaching evolution here. Staton is a bit harder to pin down. Most agree that he doesn’t feel strongly about the issue, and therefore his answers tend to be tactfully vague.

Also on the ballot today is Oscar Lovelace challenging incumbent Governor Mark Sanford.

There are three candidates running for Lt. Governor. Incumbent André Bauer is being challenged by Mike Campbell and Henry Jordan. The views on teaching evolution among the first two are not a matter of public record as far as I know, but Jordan has, shall we say, a rather unsubtle opinion. He also has complementary views on religious diversity.

Anway, if you are from South Carolina, please get out and vote. There are obviously other issues to consider, so choose your candidates carefully.

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

Friday, June 09, 2006

You Know Who I Don't Like? Ann Coulter

Because she is batshit insane. Here's proof:

In fact, students are actually required to wear "Creationism Is Shameful" T-shirts in Dover, Pa., where -- thanks to a lawsuit by the ACLU -- the liberal clergy have declared Darwinism the only true church, immunized from argument. Ye shall put no other God before it. Not one.
It probably doesn't need to be said, but no, students in Dover are not required to wear such T-shirts. This is what we would call... let's see, what's the technical name for it.... oh yeah, a blatant fucking lie.

Still though, I'm curious. Where can one get this T-shirt? I'll take three.

Discovery Institute Loses, Declares Victory, Tells Lies

As I reported awhile ago, the Discovery Institute’s attempts to add “critical analysis” language to the parts of the South Carolina biology curriculum that deal with evolution have failed. The Board of Education did not add those changes, and the Educational Oversight Committee, led by creationist Sen. Mike Fair, finally conceded on that front and decided to accept the standards without the creationist language. Fair and his ally Bob Walker, who is a representative in the lower house, are apparently banking on a budget proviso requiring all textbooks adopted by the state to contain no less than 10% material be given up to 10% weighting for the promotion of “higher-order thinking skills”. In the Bizarro world inhabited by the Discovery Institute, where words mean the precise opposite of what they normally mean, this apparently implies creationism. Walker tried to get the House Education and Public Works committee to add an amendment to a bill to codify this somewhere other than in an obscure budget proviso, but that attempt failed miserably.

So that’s where things stand. But remember: The Discovery Institute exists on Planet Bizarro. In their world, things are the opposite of what they seem:

South Carolina Set to Join Four Other States Calling for Critical Analysis of Evolution.

Columbia, SC – The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee (EOC) will vote Monday, June 12, on whether to give final approval to science standards for biology that require students to summarize how scientists “investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.” The standards were approved unanimously by the South Carolina Board of Education on May 31. Four other states (Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and New Mexico) already have science education standards encouraging critical analysis of evolution.

Back here on Planet Earth, the Board of Education did not add the “critical analysis” language to the curriculum standards, and the EOC cannot accept standards containing that language without the Board of Education adding them first. But when declaring victory, why let a little thing like defeat get in your way?

Edited to add: It was brought to my attention that the science curriculum does actually contain one sentence about “critical analysis” that was added a year ago, so the DI press release isn’t technically untrue. It is, however, grossly misleading in that the changes they lobbied for all throughout the first half of this year, which included adding “critical analysis” language to each and every indicator dealing with evolution, were rejected. It was these changes, not the one from last year, that created the impasse between the EOC and BOE. The EOC’s June 12th vote is noteworthy in that it will end this impasse with the Discovery Institute failing to get the changes they wanted.

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

Friday Animal Blogging

Okay, I said I'd have something new up this week. I lied. It's not that I don't have other things to post, it's just that it would take, like, effort and stuff, so it's going to have to wait until next week. So it's more of the same species.

The other day I came to sit down at my computer desk and a reptile goes shooting out from under a pile of papers. (The desk bears a striking resemblance to a jungle floor.) It was the lovely five-lined skink Eumeces fasciatus. These guys are apparently everywhere, including now inside my house. The skink went running back towards the wall, where my non-functioning air conditioner sits, looking for whatever small gap he used to get inside the house so he could get back outside the house. If only they realized that I love them, they wouldn't need to run like that, but they are very shy creatures. It was hard to get a picture of him, hiding like he was, but I did capture him sans head hiding underneath the air conditioner:

And then I got a picture of him sans body hiding above the air conditioner. This was the only decent picture I was able to get.

You can tell from the blue tail that he's still a juvenile. I lost track of him after a bit, and I assumed he made it back outside. He can't have been too pleased with his situation, giving that a large primate acted as if it were hunting him, so sadly I don't think he's coming back.

The day before yesterday, I opened up my door and walked outside, which I do from time to time, and I saw a pretty little Eastern glass lizard, Ophisaurus ventralis, sitting right on my walkway.

She's missing a bit of tail. I blame the local raccoon. Anyway, the lizard held quite still and allowed me to get very close. The only movement she made was that she blinked, apparently to demonstrate to the world that yes indeed, I ain't no snake. It wasn't until I actually touched her that she wiggled off. Legless animals are completely hapless when on concrete, and it takes them awhile to move anywhere, but the second they touch grass, they're off like a rocket. But I got a great head shot:

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Warner for President?

I really hate how the whole election of 2006 has been subsumed by the pending election of 2008 -- it's almost as if the current election didn't matter, but of course it does. In many ways, it may be more important that what happens in '08. One thing that really fries me is that the cable talk shows spend an inordinate amount of time talking about Hillary, as if she were the most important thing going on right now. Chris Matthews seems particularly obsessed with her, and somehow manages to work some Hillary story into nearly every one of his shows. The cynic in me says that this is all part of a ploy to draw attention away from the dismal prospects that the Republicans are facing this November and to focus it instead on the one icon that will fire-up the misogynist Republican "base", thereby making them forget about how irritated they are with their current leadership. One thing that seems to get lost in all of this: Hillary hasn't yet declared her intention to run, must less actually won the nomination. Why are we even wasting time with this? She's going to win her reelection to the Senate in a walk, so why not focus on those Senate races that are in play? The '08 presidential race is not going to be a legitimate issue until about a year and half from now.

Nevertheless, it is worth pondering about. And one candidate that doesn't get the attention he deserves is Mark Warner of Virginia. Again, playing the cynic, I'd say it's because there's nothing that gets people riled up about him. I don't know a lot about him specifically, but he's not Hillary, and therefore for some strange reason he isn't news. But he has a lot of important structural advantages that would make him a killer candidate for the Democrats come '08. And here they are:

1. He is from the South. The last 3 Democratic presidents were all southerners, going all the way back to LBJ. There's a reason for this -- being from the south negates the New England or West Coast "elitist" meme that a lot of Democrats have to deal with; it also allows Democrats to make inroads into what are normally Republican strongholds, and forces the Republicans to play defense on their home turf.

2. He is a former governor, and of the last 5 presidents, 4 of them were former governors. (The other was a former VP.) Governors have the benefit of having been chief executives of their respective states, and can argue that this makes them more suitable for the presidency than a legislator would be (an arguable thesis, but one that resonates with the public). Moreover, Senators and Congressmen have voting records that can plague them, whereas governors don't really have voting records; instead, they have initiatives that are much easier to spin positively, especially if these were popular with the home crowd.

3. He was an extremely popular governor, and this makes the ability to spin his accomplishments all the more easier. People in the rest of the country tend to judge governors according to how those in their home states view them, whereas Senators or Congressmen are judged according to national standards.

4. He is from Virginia, which is a state that has been trending towards swing-state status thanks in large part to the growth of the D.C suburbs in the northern part of the state. Virginia carries massive electoral votes, and if Warner were to lock those votes, the Republicans would be hard pressed to make up for them elsewhere. Assuming everything stayed how it was in '04, they would need to flip a state that carried nearly the same number of electoral votes, and there really aren't that many. Even if they won Ohio and Florida again, they'd still lose. What state could make up for the loss of Virginia? Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Michigan are the only ones I can think of that might be in play. All of these went to Kerry in '04, so we're talking about a massive uphill battle for the Republicans were they to lose Virginia.

None of this is saying that Warner should be the nominee, but he must be the kind of candidate that give the Republicans heartburn at night. And one might think that this would make him more newsworthy than Hillary, but to think this, you'd have to misunderstand how the news actually works.

Happy 666 Day!

Today is the 6th day of the 6th month of the 6th year of the 21st century. Anything could happen.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Friday Animal Blogging

I've put up pics of these guys before, but what the heck, it's been a slow animal week. This is the green anole, Anolis carolinensis and he is showing off his underside at me.

I took this picture from inside my bedroom window. It seems that at about the same time everyday, this one fat specimen takes an interest in my window and comes crawling all over it. I wasn't sure what the deal was until I realized that he's probably seeing his reflection in the window and thinking that it's another anole. My iguana used to go nuts whenever he'd see a reflection of himself, bobbing his head and sticking his dewlap out. Which is what this guy does too:

Okay, so it's just anoles again. I'll have something different up next week. Until then, here's a bumblebee picture free of charge. Have a good weekend!