Saturday, December 30, 2006

He Died for You

The 2006 edition of the Darwin Awards are out, and they are as always entertaining. Although it didn't make top billing, my favorite is this guy:

In August, a congregation's 35-year old pastor insisted one could literally walk on water, if only one had enough faith. Big and bold was his speech. He extolled the heavenly power possessed by a faithful man with such force that he may well have convinced himself.

Whether or not he believed in his heart, his sermons left room for only shame should he leave his own faith untested. Thus, the pastor set out to walk across a major estuary, the path of a 20-minute ferry ride. But the man could not swim.

He has made the world a better place through his absence.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Clemson Sucks

Clemson sucks.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Having just barely escaped Denver after last week's big storm, it looks like we're getting hit again:

Eighteen inches of snow was forecast for the Denver area starting Thursday, with as much as 2 1/2 feet of snow in the foothills. That could shut down area highways all over again and possibly delay flights at Denver International Airport, where thousands of holiday travelers were stranded for about two days during the last storm.

Frontier Airlines, the airport's second-busiest carrier, canceled more than 50 flights Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the storm.

It's a good thing I opted for the extended vacation and didn't try to get back as soon as X-mas was over. Although if I had flown out yesterday I suppose it would have been fine. Still, there's going to be one hell of a mess to contend with when I get back.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Karen Floyd sends War on Christmas Greetings.

Remember Karen Floyd? The creationist and hard-core voucher advocate who ran for South Carolina State Superintendent of Education but lost by a hair? To show she had no hard feelings, she went out and shot a few dozen ducks and then sent Christmas cards to everyone bragging about it:

In case you are wondering, yes, this is real. Aside from the poor taste the card exhibits, this kind of large kill is most likely in violation of SC hunting laws. Who knows how many of our children she would have slaughtered if elected Superintendent? I shudder to think.

(hat tip to NVB.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Travel Fun

Okay, things didn't quite work out like they were supposed to. I got to the Denver airport over two hours before I was supposed to leave on Friday. I figured that would be plenty of time. Wrong.

Flights had been suspended since around noon on Wed. and weren't resumed until noon on Friday. My plane was scheduled to leave at 3:20 on Friday and, unlike a lot of flights, it had not be canceled or delayed. But when I got to the airport, the place was a refugee camp. The lines for the check-in counter were horrendous. Far worse however was the line to get through security -- it literally wrapped around the entire airport twice, and it took over an hour just to get up to the point where you could then wait in line for another 20 minutes to get screened. They had no mechanism to separate out people who had flights leaving soon, and for that matter no one tending the lines at all. It's amazing that it wasn't complete chaos. By the time I got checked in, made it through security, and took the train to my concourse, my gate had been closed. If I had made there just ten minutes faster, I would have gotten on the flight since, unlike most people trying to escape Denver, I had a confirmed ticket. All that shit for nothing.

The best they could do was to get me a 8 am flight through Detroit (my original connection) to Greenville. So I left and came back the next morning, this time giving myself three hours. Security was just as bad, but it ended up that the 8 am flight was postponed until 10:10, so there was no rush. However, because the flight was delayed, I couldn't make my connection in Detroit. The next flight from Detroit to Greenville left at 9:30 pm, giving me a nearly 7 hour layover. I was really very lucky that I was able to get on the flight to Detroit at all, since I had been put on standby, and a lot of people on standby weren't getting anywhere because there was no room left on any of the flights. At one point, there were over 5000 people stranded at DIA; many of the people I talked to had been there since Wed. Some of them won't get to where they're going until after Christmas.

All's well that ends well I suppose. I spent over 17 hours in commute yesterday, which did not make me a happy camper. The only consolation is that I got put in a first class seat from Denver to Detroit, and given my frustrations, I was more than happy to take full advantage of the situation and run up Northwest's food and booze bill as much as I could. And I also figure that when I missed my original flight, some poor soul who had been stranded since Wed. and had been placed on standby was able to get a seat that he otherwise wouldn't have had, and therefore he got to make it home to see his family. If you are that person, Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Flying Out

Well, it appears that might flight out today hasn't been canceled, and now that I've spent the better part of my morning digging my car out, my trip to SC looks like a go...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dude, Where's My Car?

So I ventured out to see if I could find my car buried under the snow. Here it was:

I got off easy. I could have been this guy:

Or these guys:

Or, my personal favorite, this guy:

The Vise Strategy Undone

Barbara Forrest has written an article that will supposedly appear in January’s print edition of Skeptical Inquirer but is available online now. Titled, The “Vise Strategy” Undone, it’s a recount of the events leading up to and including the Dover trial. And it contrasts William Dembski’s pre-trial fantasies about forcing “Darwinists” to testify under oath (his self-described “vise strategy”) against what actually happened, which is that pro-science testimony carried the day while Dembski and most of his crew chickened out.

Although we’ve all been inundated with tales of Dover for the last year, this article contains a lot stuff that was new to me. This part was my fave:

Dover’s problems actually started in 2002. Bertha Spahr, chair of Dover High School’s science department, began to encounter animosity from Dover residents toward the teaching of evolution. In January 2002, board member Alan Bonsell began pressing for the teaching of creationism. In August, a mural depicting human evolution, painted by a 1998 graduating senior and donated to the science department, disappeared from a science classroom. The four-by-sixteen-foot painting had been propped on a chalkboard tray because custodians refused to mount it on the wall. Spahr learned that the building and grounds supervisor had ordered it burned. In June 2004, board member William Buckingham, Bonsell’s co-instigator of the ID policy, told Spahr that he “gleefully watched it burn” because he disliked its portrayal of evolution.

That’s so wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin.

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

The Blizzard

We got dumped on some more. Below are pictures of the same subjects I posted yesterday. It was bad then, but compare with the last post to see just how much more we got.



Believe it or not, it is still snowing. Later I might venture out just for fun, or to see if I can actually find my car underneath all this mess.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


We're getting snow. Lots and lots of snow. It is no fun driving through, but I'm done with that for the day. Here is what my patio looks like:

And here is what my bike looks like; I don't think I'll be riding it today:

These pictures were taken at 1:30 MST. It's not supposed to stop snowing until noon tomorrow. Good thing I've got food in the fridge, because I don't think I'm going anywhere for awhile.

The Liberal Media Strikes Again!!!

We all know what happened with the Iraq war. After the initial success of the invasion and lots of hoopla, reports soon start emerging that there's a growing insurgency; the Right says that it's just dead-enders who shouldn't be paid any attention to. There are reports that basic services and infrastructure aren't working; the Right says that everything is going well and attacks the media for not reporting on the great progress being made. The media reports that the insurgency has grown, sectarian violence is rampant, and the whole country is on the verge of civil war; the Right says it's all liberal bias and that things are just dandy in Iraq. Finally, after almost four years of this, the Right concedes that things aren't going so well after all.

Now if you're a sane person, you probably see this as evidence that the Right's belief in "liberal media bias" is not only wrong, but has become so badly exaggerated in the conservative mind that they've lost the ability to discern reality from fantasy.

But if you're not a sane person, then you come to conclusions like this:

In the end, I think the media bears fundamental responsibility for this. Had they been less biased–had they reported acts of heroism and the many good things we have done in Iraq–I think conservatives would actually have taken their reporting of the problems in Iraq more seriously. In effect, the media’s consistent liberal bias discredits even its valid reports.

But you are right that MSM’s failings place a burden on smart conservatives not to be too dismissive, just because of the bias. We wish the media were more balanced, and therefore more believable. But we only hurt ourselves if we automatically dismiss anything MSM reports. Again, I think the media bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for this problem.

You see, it's not conservatives' fault that they didn't believe that things were going badly -- it's the media's fault for telling them that things were going badly. If only the media had been more wrong, then conservatives wouldn't have been so badly misled. Or something like that.

(hat-tip to Kevin Drum.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

L'Affaire Sternberg, Part Eighty Million and Three.

There is another issue about L'Affaire Sternberg that I think needs to be expounded upon, one that doesn't seem to have been addressed much at length up to this point. And that is the role of the Office of Special Council (OSC) in releasing their preliminary findings that tried to make a martyr out of Sternberg. After all, the Souder report is little more than the OSC findings warmed-over; as far as I can tell the body of the report contains nothing new. The bulk of that report consists of the OSC findings restated and used as a form of evidence in and of themselves. The report even attacks the Smithsonian for not accepting the OSC's findings at face value. Consider this passage attacking the Smithsonian's response:

Finally, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary continue to ignore the clear findings of the Office of Special Counsel in its “pre-closure” letter to Dr. Sternberg. The OSC found that Dr. Sternberg’s allegations of discrimination were supported by the evidence uncovered through its preliminary investigation.

And then it continues for another 4 paragraphs about the OSC, never once questioning its veracity, finally concluding...

The Deputy Secretary responded on May 3, 2006, by claiming that the Smithsonian has “conducted an internal inquiry, including a review of OSC’s preliminary findings, and concluded that Dr. von Sternberg is a Research Associate in good standing at NMNH, and that he has the same access to office space, laboratories, collections, libraries and other common facilities as that accorded to other Research Associates.”76 Tellingly, the Deputy Secretary’s statement completely failed to address the central question of whether the harassment and discrimination identified in the OSC report took place. Indeed, from the Deputy Secretary’s non-responsive “response,” one cannot determine whether the Smithsonian’s “internal inquiry” even addressed this issue. [emphasis original]

This passage exemplifies the extreme dishonesty of the report; those things that the Smithsonian inquired about -- Sternberg's office space, access to collections, status as a Research Associate, etc. -- were the very things that the alleged harassment and discrimination consisted of. In other words, the Smithsonian investigated the charges made in the OSC report, found them to be without merit, and got on with their business. Outside of those specific charges, there wasn't any harassment or discrimination to inquire about.

So contrary to the Souder report, the Smithsonian did not ignore the OSC's preliminary findings -- the letters sent by the Secretaries both to Sternberg and the politicians directly address most if not all of its allegations -- it's that they found the report's claims and hysterical rhetoric completely wrongheaded. What makes the Souder report something more than just a repeat of the OSC is that it contains an appendix with all of the emails and letters that were used as evidence of Sternberg's supposed persecution. Thanks to these materials, we now know that the Smithsonian was right and the OSC was wrong. The question is, how could this have happened? Since when did the OSC abandon its mission of protecting whistleblowers and instead become a political chop shop?

The answer is, ever since Special Counsel Scott Bloch was put in charge.

A comprehensive review of Bloch's malfeasance would take up too much time and space. The following links have the full story if you're interested (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), plus many, many more can be found on Google. I'll just summarize:

  • Bloch is a far-right wing activist and a notorious homophobe.

  • Upon taking office Bloch immediately removed references to sexual orientation discrimination from the OSC website. Bloch has indicated that he will not protect gays from discrimination in contradiction of White House policy.

  • Bloch is alleged to have used the OSC for partisan political purposes by ignoring claims made against Republicans while vigorously pursuing complaints lodged against Democrats.

  • Bloch doubled the number of political appointees in the OSC, giving high paying salaries to many of his friends and fellow right-wing activists who have no relevant experience. He has simultaneously eviscerated the OSC's professional staff, much of whom has either been fired for not relocating on short notice or resigned in frustration.

  • James McVay, who wrote the preliminary report concerning Sternberg, is one of Bloch's more controversial political appointees. He has no experience in employment law, whistleblower law, or federal-sector work.

  • Many hundreds of meritorious cases, which by all accounts should have been investigated, were dismissed without investigation by Bloch's office. Meanwhile, matters over which OSC has no jurisdiction have been pursued rigorously. (Sound familiar?)

  • According to the OSC's own polling, Federal employees are extremely dissatisfied with the work being done by the OSC, and effectively no whistleblowers have received relief as a result of the complaints they filed.

  • When complaints were made about Bloch's behavior and mistreatment of the staff, Bloch not only dismissed the complaints, he allegedly retaliated against the people who made them and issued a gag order preventing the OSC staff from speaking to anyone outside of the agency. Ironically, it is precisely this type of retaliation and intimidation of whistleblowers that the OSC is tasked with investigating.

  • As a result of OSC failing to discharge its duties and taking revenge on aggrieved staff, former staff members and numerous whistleblower protection groups have filed a complaint with the Office of Personnel Management, which has launched an investigation (still on-going, as far as I can tell). Additionally, two Senate committees were forced to hold hearings concerning Bloch's behavior.

It almost couldn't get worse. There is a long and sordid history since Bloch took over the OSC of cronyism, political bias, shirking, and unfair treatment of staff. Scott Bloch makes former FEMA director Michael Brown look like a brilliant leader and seasoned professional by comparison.

This explains how the OSC managed to produce an preliminary investigation on the Sternberg affair that is so completely divorced from reality. Put simply, it was a political hatchet job, yet another in a long line of abuses that the OSC has become infamous for. What's perhaps most telling about all of this is that in spite of having a major backlog in cases, in spite of trying to pare down this backlog by dismissing meritorious cases without investigation, the OSC somehow found the time to investigate a case for which they knew they had no jurisdiction. Amazing, isn't it? If you are a whistleblower who needs protection, or a gay federal worker who's been discriminated against, the OSC simply doesn't have time for you. They're too busy pursuing cases outside of their jurisdiction in service of the Culture Wars.

Considering that Sternberg should have known that the OSC lacked jurisdiction, it is my belief that the Discovery Institute referred him to Bloch's office knowing that even though the case was outside the OSC's purview, even though there were more appropriate venues for handling a legitimate grievance of this kind, Bloch and McVay would dutifully issue a preliminary report that would serve the propaganda purposes of the DI. One even wonders if the DI wrote the report for them.

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

L'Affaire Sternberg, Part Eighty Million and Two.

Ed Brayton has post up about the Souder report which is more thorough than the one I posted on Saturday.

Ed points out, as I did, that Sternberg was subjected to no material harm whatsoever as a result of his unethical practices surrounding the Meyer paper. At most, Sternberg suffered from people thinking he was an idiot, and such sentiments appear to have been expressed almost entirely in private. A point that I think needs to be made very forcefully here is that people have a right not to like you. There is no guarantee that your colleagues will think highly of you, and contrary to the Souter report, it does not mean there is discrimination, harassment, or the existence of a hostile work environment just because your coworkers think you screwed up. There isn't one office in the country that could continue to function if an investigation were opened every time there was bad blood between two or more of its members. And I should point out that Sternberg wasn't part of the same office or lab as the Smithsonian people in question; he basically worked by himself.

I'll have more to say about this later.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

War on Christmas Update

Today's ski trip was to Copper Mountain. Aside from generally good snow and reasonable weather, we got an added bonus at the end of the day -- we got to meet the Big Man himself. Here we are posing with St. Nick and one of his real live reindeers (Dopey, I think):

In spite of having been constantly attacked by Menorah wielding Christmas haters, no one could keep Kris Kringle away from his primary duty -- posing with slack-jawed yokels at the ski slopes. Sadly, Krampus could not be in attendance. Word has it he's busy working the malls.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

L'affaire de Sternberg, Part Eighty Million

Ah yes, Richard von Sternberg. The Discovery Institute's poster boy for fake martyrdom. The case that just won't go away. Rather than go into a lengthy discussion about the affair, I'll just give background links: here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Now the latest shot has being fired by Rep. Mark Souder (R - IN), whose office has released a "report" accusing the Smithsonian of having politicized science and violated Sternberg's rights. Souder, by the way, is an ally of the Discovery Institute and is on record as an ID advocate, in case anyone is wondering about his objectivity.

The Souder report is a dishonest political hatchet job of the worst kind. Having read the appendix that accompanied the report, it turns out that basically all of Sternberg's material claims are false, and that the report's conclusions are totally unfounded and without evidence. I'll review the most important of Sternberg's claims below, which can also be seen on his web page and the outrageously dishonest piece by David Klinghoffer published in the Wall Street Journal.

Sternberg claimed that his keys had been taken away an an act of retaliation. What really happened is that the Smithsonian changed over to a badge system and had all employees relinquish their keys. Sternberg was given a badge that gave him access to all areas for which he was authorized. Additionally, Sternberg was in possession of a master key that Research Associates (RAs) were not supposed to be in possession of; Sternberg himself agreed that this was unnecessary and inappropriate and agreed to return the key. There is not one shred of evidence that anyone tried to take away a key from Sternberg in order to hinder his work.

Sternberg also claimed that he was denied office space and/or moved from one office to another, presumably, again, as an act of retaliation. Yet the emails make it abundantly clear that there was a general restructuring going on that affected numerous staff and RAs, and that Sternberg was merely one of the many who were affected. In every email discussing the moves, Sternberg's name appears next to one or more others who are also being moved around. This change couldn't possibly have been instituted for the purpose of negatively affecting Sternberg since it involved a large swath of the staff.

And finally, Sternberg claimed that his access to the collections had been restricted. What happened instead is that procedures for handling specimens were updated that affected all RAs, Sternberg included. The email in which the change in procedures is announced was sent to several others besides Sternberg. It may have well been the case that Sternberg himself precipitated the updating of the rules, but it wasn't because of the Meyer paper. It was because Sternberg had an atrocious track record in his handling of specimens, keeping large numbers of them strewn about his office, not caring for them properly, and not returning them when asked. He currently has access to anything he needs, assuming he hasn't destroyed it already. I might also point out that his handling of library materials was if possible even worse -- he had more than 50 overdue library books that were never returned in spite of repeated requests (they were sent back to the library after Sternberg vacated his former office), and there were "dozens" more unaccounted for.

That pretty much does it for any material harm that Sternberg may have suffered -- quite simply, there was none. The Souder report however makes a big deal about the "loss of reputation" that Sternberg apparently suffered as witnessed in the emails. Putting aside the fact that private emails aren't going to impact a person's public reputation (until they've been made public), surely the Souder staff should know that a reputation is something one earns, not something one is entitled to. The Smithsonian staff and administration have every right to have a negative opinion of Sternberg, and to voice their belief that Sternberg acted inappropriately when he published the Meyer paper. Ironically, the Souder report tries to commit the very crime that they falsely accuse the Smithsonian staff of committing, namely the quashing of dissent. As much as I hate the term, I'd have to say that the report is an example of "political correctness" run amok. Scientists are henceforth expected to keep their opinions to themselves, lest ID advocates have their feelings hurt.

In the end, the appendix attached to the Souder report not only fails to support any of the report's conclusions, it directly contradicts them. Sternberg suffered no harm as a result of the row he created when he inappropriately published the Meyer paper. Indeed, the emails paint a picture of the staff doing what they could to accommodate him in spite of a long history of causing problems, both with his mishandling of the collections and library materials and his bad editorial practices. On several occasions the emails make it clear that as long as Sternberg's non-creationist work is sound, he gets to stay. And contrary to Sternberg's dishonest and/or paranoid rantings, not only were there no "efforts to remove [him] from the museum", he was accepted for an appointment as Research Collaborator through the year 2009.

Friday, December 15, 2006

War on Christmas Update

To show those Scrooges in the secular liberal ACLU homo-media that they can't stop you from celebrating Christmas, strike back by making your own holiday Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The Politics of Ressentiment

Spotted on Crooked Timber, offered without comment:

It used to be part of the conservative ideological boilerplate that belief in one’s status as victim was something fostered by left-wing academia, identity politics, etc. No more. But the right does not simply appropriate that attitude by reversing the flow of grievances.

Unlike the multiculti version (which at least gives lip service to belief in the possibility of liberation from oppression), the right-wing discourse of victimization revels in the thought that its suffering will continue, and must soon deepen.

Often the implied scenario is religious (how cruel will be the reign of the anti-Christ!) though not necessarily (how cruel will be the reign of Hillary!) Either way, there is a superficial pretense of panic and alarm that barely disguises contentment at wallowing in ressentiment.

Per Max Scheler, who, literally, wrote the book:

Improvements in the conditions criticized cause no satisfaction – they merely cause discontent, for they destroy the growing pleasure afforded by invective and negation. Many modern political parties will be extremely annoyed by a partial satisfaction of their demands or by the constructive participation of their representatives in public life, for such participation mars the delight of oppositionism. It is peculiar to “ressentiment criticism” that it does not seriously desire that it demands be fulfilled. It does not want to cure the evil: the evil is merely a pretext for the criticism.
Scheler was a conservative. No doubt the “modern political parties” he had in mind were socialist/labor parties. He lived long enough to see the emergence of reactionary mass movements wielding the same kind of “ressentiment criticism.” What he couldn’t have anticipated—and what still proves an enigma—is the present situation, in which a movement can hold state power for years, yet whine incessently about its own powerlessness.

Friday Animal Blogging

Repeat: Hot iguana on dinosaur action.

Don't forget to visit the Friday Ark.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Vast Global Warming Conspiracy

Via Tim Lambert, I see that Cynthia Burack, one of our agents who has infiltrated the Religious Right, has issued a report concerning her espionage activities during the recent Values [sic] Voters Summit:

You may not be surprised to learn that, in the Right world, global warming does not exist. Nay-sayers have been making this claim since scientists first began sounding the alarm about climate change, and no amount of scientific evidence produced in the interim has had any effect on this conclusion. Some may be a little surprised, however, to learn just what it is that the Christian Right says its global warming adversaries are up to and why Americans should reject their claims. A member of Congress, James Inhofe (R-OK), was on hand at the Summit to instruct the hundreds of activists present, and the no doubt larger audience reached by other media, that global warming is a nefarious creation of the United Nations.

Why did the UN cook up the idea of global warming? To "shut down the machine called America." In fact, we learned, global warming is a plot to destroy the US economy and to initiate one-world government--a goal not only of the UN but of the American political left more broadly. Establishing his Christian credentials, Inhofe invoked Romans 1:25 (For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever) to suggest that taking steps to ameliorate global warming would constitute a form of idol worship. And he urged conferees to spread the word about the plot in their churches and in organizations of which they are members.

They're on to us. It looks like we may have to rely on the starving African children hoax to institute our one-world government instead.

109th Congress Not So Lazy After All.

I've previously accused the 109th Congress of being lazy for doing things like working fewer days than any other Congress in history, failing to pass mandatory appropriations bills, and whining when told that the 110th Congress will be expected to work a five day week. Well, maybe I was wrong:

Despite criticism for adjourning last week without acting on several major legislative initiatives, members of Congress can boast significant achievements in at least one area of federal lawmaking -- naming post offices.

Of the 383 pieces of legislation that were signed into law during the two-year 109th Congress, more than one-quarter dealt with naming or renaming federal buildings and structures -- primarily post offices -- after various Americans.

Please accept my apologies, 109th.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

War on Christmas Update

A New Hampshire family who clearly hates Christmas is complaining about some improvements made to their baby Jesus lawn ornament:

The baby Jesus statue, stolen from a nativity scene in New Hampshire, was returned on Tuesday. The statue was taken Thursday morning from the front yard of a Plaistow, New Hampshire home and replaced with a beer can. On Tuesday morning, the owner of the nativity set found the statue in his driveway. He is thankful they returned piece, but the thieves drew devil horns on baby Jesus before giving it back.

Not only did the artists give the family a complementary beer while the work was being done, they put Krampus horns on the Jesus free of charge. What kind of a grinch do you have to be to get upset over that?

Good Christians Who Burn Down Churches.

Today's issue of has an interview with Mikey Weinstein, the former Air Force officer who has spoken out about conservative Christians who are proselytizing within the military and in some cases using their rank to push their religion on others. It's an all-around good interview, but this part really struck me:

But I can tell you that I get -- I don't think I'm in double digits, but it started at about 10 o'clock last night; after the press conference in the morning, I've had nine death threats since about 10 o'clock last night. I usually get about two or three a week. They're very grotesque, everything from wanting to gas all the Jews in America and send the corpses back to Israel to threatening to blow me up, threatening my house will be blown up, raping my wife, blowing up my house. We've had our tires slashed, we've had feces and beer bottles thrown at the house, we've had dead animals placed on the front door of the house.

I was in Topeka, on a book tour, and the local Episcopal priest came out to support me and five hours later his church was burned down. And the local synagogue in Topeka, where I was to speak that night, was desecrated with spray paint saying, "Fuck you, Jews" and "KKK," all that stuff.

Holy. Crap.

Porn Star or My Little Pony?

Here's an extremely difficult game in which you have to guess whether a name belongs to a porn star or a My Little Pony character. I only got 5 out of 12 right. I probably need to watch more porn.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Letters in the Post.

A week and a half ago, Jeff Kieft, one of my colleagues, wrote an article that appeared in the Denver Post supporting the teaching of evolution. Today the Post has published letters they received in response. Three are positive and three are negative. The creationist letters are simply too boilerplate and unimaginative to bother with, but I found this interesting bit from one of the supporting letters:

I am a volunteer at Dinosaur Ridge, where we host many school groups as well as adults and families. The attraction of dinosaurs is a great draw, and we attempt to place the fossils and their associated strata in a proper scientific context. It is fascinating (and disturbing) to see the number of students brought to this place by creationist groups to hear absolutely wrong-headed explanations. We only hope some element of truth and reality may filter through the fog of misrepresentation.

Now I have been to Dinosaur Ridge myself, and I must say that it's the sort of thing that should make a creationist's head asplode. You've got dinosaur tracks in hard rock, some of them at a 45 degree angle on a steep mountain, and water ripples 7000 feet above sea level. It is just in-your-face obvious that this is a place that experienced a huge degree of change over a long period of time, including, among other things, the drying up of a sea and the uplifting of some mountains. Those are not minor changes that we can easily cram into a 6000 year old Earth without anyone noticing. And I know that creationists like to say that Noah's flood is somehow responsible for all geological phenomena we see, and that things like mountain ranges were all formed in the one year in which the flood occurred (which would have released enough energy to fry the planet, but never mind), but in this case we're talking about water ripples that required a shore line, not something that could form during a massive, sudden flood. Dumbasses.

Shocking News -- Evangelical Pastor Resigns for Being Gay

No, not Ted Haggard. Surely you didn't think there is only one mega-church evangelical pastor in Colorado who's been outed as gay in the last several weeks. Our latest hypocrite goes by the name of Paul Barnes:

In a tearful videotaped message Sunday to his congregation, the senior pastor of a thriving evangelical megachurch in south metro Denver confessed to sexual relations with other men and announced he had voluntarily resigned his pulpit.

A month ago, the Rev. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in Doug las County preached to his 2,100-member congregation about integrity and grace in the aftermath of the Ted Haggard drugs-and-gay-sex scandal.

As I said before, there is something really, really rotten in the heart of Christian fundamentalism. I'm not sure entirely what the cause of it is, but if this case is any indication, good old fashioned repression might go a long way towards explaining things:

I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy," Barnes said in the 32- minute video, which church leaders permitted The Denver Post to view. "... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away." [...]

Sitting cross-legged in jeans and an open-collar shirt, Barnes spoke in his video about evolving feelings growing up in a firm moral family: from confused little boy to adolescent racked with self-loathing and guilt.

In their only talk about sex, Barnes said his father took him on a drive and talked about what he would do if a "fag" approached him.

Barnes thought, "'Is that how you'd feel about me?' It was like a knife in my heart, and it made me feel even more closed."

To the degree that fundigelical gay-hating causes people to repress their sexual desires like this, it's a problem of their own making. Had Barnes been able to open himself up and candidly speak about his condition, even if he still thought it was wrong, he wouldn't be today's front page news. I feel bad for the guy, but the blame lies primarily with the attitudes about homosexuality that he has helped to perpetuate.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

From the "I Am Not Making This Up" Department..

Christian action figures!

Guess which one this is. Samson? King David? Pontius Pilate? No, it's Moses! Yes that's right, Moses, looking 25 years old and armed with a sword. I don't know why they just didn't go all the way and give him a machine gun and camouflage.

On a more serious note, it's kind of telling the way in which the male and female figures are portrayed differently. All of the male figures, including Moses and Noah, are muscle-bound hunks armed with weapons. The female figures on the other hand are cute little delicate things dressed up like a Barbie doll, and of course they're unarmed. Even Deborah the Warrior is unarmed. I think that says a lot about the right-wing Christian view of gender equality.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hydrogen is Still Stupid

Not long ago BMW announced its new Hydrogen 7, which can run off either hydrogen or gasoline. For the time being, only a limited number are being produced and given to celebrities, presumably to gin up publicity. But the idea is that if and when such a car goes into mass production, consumers won't have to wait for the hydrogen economy to provide a hydrogen refueling station at every corner before buying and using a hydrogen car. Neat idea, right?

Before going into details, let's review a couple of things: First, the hydrogen is being burned in an internal combustion engine. Not a fuel cell. Fuel cells are very efficient, ICEs not so much. Secondly, the hydrogen is being stored on-board in liquid form. Yes, liquid hydrogen. It takes about 50% of the energy contained within the hydrogen itself to cool it down to that temperature, plus half the tank will boil off within 9 days as the temperature slowly rises.

For all that, how much fuel does it consume? This article in Der Spiegel tells us:

The Hydrogen 7's standard combustion engine has been adapted to run on both liquid hydrogen and regular gasoline as well -- and tons of it. The company says the car will consume an average of 13.9 liters (3.7 gallons) per 100 kilometers (roughly 17 miles per gallon) using regular gasoline and a whopping 50 liters to drive the same distance when fuelled by hydrogen.

In other words, BMW has created an energy-guzzling engine that only seems to be environmentally friendly -- a farcical ecomobile whose only true merit is that of illustrating the cardinal dilemma of a possible hydrogen-based economy.

Yeeeoouch! Not only does it get lousy gas mileage, it consumes nearly 4 times as much hydrogen to go the same distance. That's because hydrogen, even when liquefied, has only one-fourth the energy per unit volume of gasoline. So the car has a massive 45 gallon cryogenic tank in order to hold all that hydrogen. And as large as the tank is, it only takes you 125 miles. And at current market prices for liquid H2, that 125 mile trip will cost you about $76.

Burning hydrogen in an ICE doesn't save much (if any) energy compared to gasoline. In fact, using hydrogen in this context is extremely inefficient. Let's assume that the energy to make the hydrogen actually comes from clean alternatives as BMW's promotional material misleadingly suggests. Being very generous, we'll assume an electrolysis efficiency of about 70%. Then 50% gets lost to liquefaction. Then another 10% for boil-off. By this point we've already wasted more than two-thirds of the energy. Then being very generous, we'll assume 40% efficiency of the ICE, in which case less than 13% of your original energy actually gets used to push the car forward.

Instead of going that route, let's say we used the electricity generated via clean renewables to charge a battery, and we used the battery to drive an electric motor. The battery would lose less than 10% of the energy through charging and discharging, and the electric motor is about 80% efficient. That means an overall efficiency of 72%, over five and half times better than burning liquid hydrogen in an ICE. Unless you want to build 5.5 times as many wind and solar farms, the electric car makes a lot more sense. Five and half times as much sense.

Speaking of wind and solar farms, this isn't where the hydrogen to power the Hydrogen 7 is coming from anyway:

And so, in creating the Hydrogen 7, BMW is announcing a future of putatively clean, full-throttle driving. The new car caters to the pleasing fantasy of customers spoiled by high-horsepower engines: That they can conform to ecological standards without making any sacrifices, burning "clean" fuel to their heart's content. Advertizing images display the Hydrogen 7 against a backdrop of wind turbines and solar panels.

But the image is one of deceit. Because the hydrogen dispensed at the new filling station is generated primarily from petroleum and natural gas, the new car puts about as much strain on the environment as a heavy truck with a diesel engine. Add the loss of environmental benefits involved in the production and transportation of the putatively clean fuel to the consumption of the car itself and you get an actual consumption corresponding to considerably more than 20 liters (5.3 gallons) of fossil fuel.

There's really not much sense in even thinking about hydrogen until a such a point where we can produce large amounts of clean energy. Even if using hydrogen is an environmentally sensible thing to do, it's not environmentally sensible until after we've used clean energy to phase out coal. Using it to produce hydrogen entails a fairly large opportunity cost.

Now to be fair, because BMW is using an ICE instead of a fuel cell, they're making it far less efficient than it has to be. If they were to use a fuel cell to drive an electric motor, they would probably lose about 20% from the fuel cell and another 20% from the electric motor, meaning that they would waste "only" 80% of the original energy rather than over 87%. At those rates, the extra few percent really matters. So why use an ICE? The obvious answer is that this allows them to employ a combination gasoline/hydrogen car without requiring separate systems. The same tank and the same engine can operate on both kinds of fuels. Still, this is considered insane even by pro-hydrogen auto makers:

BMW's competitors are somewhat puzzled by the company's decision to adapt combustion engines -- known for their high fuel consumption -- so that they will run on a fuel as sensitive and problematic as liquid hydrogen. "We think it's nonsense," says Frank Seyfried, research director for hydrogen-based propulsion at Volkswagen.

With the exception of BMW, every car company out there is betting on a different technology: fuel cells, which transform hydrogen into electricity via a chemical process.

Well, every company except for Ford. At any rate, I mention this to make a point: Just because a car company decides to spend gobs of money on something that doesn't mean they had a good reason. A common refrain from hydrogen advocates is that auto makers wouldn't be investing in hydrogen if it they weren't serious about it. That makes sense unless you consider the possibility that hydrogen cars are intended only for show, not for eventually replacing gasoline.

Previous post:

Why Hydrogen is Stupid.

Vote for Panda's Thumb!

PT has is a finalist for the 2006 Weblogs Awards in the Best Science Blog category.

Go and vote now. And then vote some more.

Friday Animal Blogging

Birds, birds, birds.

(Don't forget to visit the Friday Ark.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

War on Christmas Update

How come no one ever told me about Krampus, Santa's evil, devilish side-kick? And for that matter, how the hell did the entire decade of the 1980s pass by without one single heavy metal band naming itself after this dude?

Sadly, in spite of (or because of) Krampus's awesomeness, the vast War on Christmas conspiracy is trying to ban Krampus:

In folklore, Krampus was a devil-like figure who drove away evil spirits during the Christian holiday season.

Traditionally, he appeared alongside Santa around December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, and the two are still part of festivities in many parts of central Europe.

But these traditions came under the spotlight in Austria this year, after reports last week that Santa -- also known as St Nicholas, Father Christmas or Kris Kringle -- had been banned from visiting kindergartens in Vienna because he scared some children.

Officials denied the reports, but said from now on only adults the children knew would be able to don Santa's bushy white beard and red habit to visit the schools.

Now, a prominent Austrian child psychiatrist is arguing for a ban on Krampus, who still roams towns and villages in early December.

Boisterous young men wearing deer horns, masks with battery-powered red eyes, huge fangs, bushy coats of sheep's fur, and brandishing birchwood rods storm down the streets, confronting spectators gathered to watch the medieval spectacle, which is also staged in parts of nearby Hungary, Croatia and Germany's Bavaria state.

Anyone who doesn't dodge or run away fast enough might get swatted -- although not hard -- with the rod.

I'm sure that Bill O'Reilly will be fuming about this on his TV show tonight, and we'll hear legions of Religious Right pundits wailing about the horrors of the vast secular conspiracy trying to stop drunken wastrels from dressing up as a pagan deity running around swatting people and frightening children. I will join forces with them in defense of Krampus, that holiest of Christmas traditions.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Congress to Become Slightly Less Lazy

According to today's Washington Post, the new 110th Congress will be working 5 days a week, instead of the less than 3 days they've become accustomed to under recent Republican rule. That had made the 109th Congress, among its many other sins, the laziest Congress in history.

But not everyone is happy about the change:

"Keeping us up here eats away at families," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."

Surprisingly, the pro-family Republicans who ran the 109th Congress never got around to mandating a 4-day weekend (with two extra half-days thrown in) for all American families. Since I know they care about families other than their own, it amazes me that they could just sit by and watch while the 5 day work week tears husbands from wives and parents from children. But then again I suppose they just never found the time, given that they never passed most of the appropriations bills they were supposed to pass either.

My New Look

I've been sick of the old look for awhile, which was based on one of Blogger's preset templates, and so decided to update things. I spent the better part of the evening messing with it, mostly because I had no clue what I was doing, but I like how it's turned out. The first person who can identify where the banner picture comes from will win $50.*

Anyway, I'm still tweaking things, so if weird stuff happens, it happens. Among other things, I'm having a hard time figuring out the haloscan comments code.

*not really.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Who Really Cares about Arthur Brooks pt. II

I don't know why I don't read the Volokh Conspiracy more often. Heck, it's in my blogroll. Maybe it's because I don't like the font. Maybe it's because the subjects broached there only occasionally interest me. Or maybe I just put it in my blogroll to have a token conservative site in order to present the false impression that I'm balanced.

Whatever the case, this morning I chanced upon a critique of Arthur Brooks' Who Really Cares which I wrote about previously. Not to my surprise, Jim Lindgren finds some statistical jimmying:

I am skeptical of basing so much on the SCCBS, in large part because it reports that liberal families make more money than conservatives (it is not clear from Brooks’s book whether the survey is of a representative national sample). In the 2000, 2002, and 2004 General Social Surveys, which are representative samples of the US, conservative families make $2,500 to $5,600 a year more than liberal families in each one. Although I don’t have the ANES data handy, my recollection is that the economic differences between conservatives and liberals are usually in the same direction and even larger in the ANES than in the GSS.

Note that Brooks is assuming that liberals earn 6% more than conservatives when most of the data show that conservatives in fact earn significantly more than liberals. Thus when he controls for income, he's moving his numbers in the opposite direction from which they should move. Perhaps even worse, as far as I've been able to tell, Brooks doesn't control for cost of living. Liberals are more likely to live in urban areas where cost of living is high, and conservatives more likely to live in rural areas where cost of living is low. That means that disposable income can vary widely even if gross income is the same. There's more:

This problem comes to a head in Brooks’s probit and regression models analyzing SCCBS data (pp. 192-193). After controlling for a lot of things that you might not want to control for (i.e., being religious or secular), Brooks concludes that “liberals and conservatives are not distinguishable” in whether they have made any donation in the last year. This is literally true, but he fails to note that in the model liberals give significantly more than moderates, if a traditional .05 significance level is used, while conservatives do not differ significantly from moderates. Yet in Table 6, the significance level used as a threshold for identification with an asterisk is .01, not .05, as he uses in some of the other tables. In one table (p. 197), Brooks even reports significance at the .10 level, as well as at the .05 and .01 levels.

I can’t rule out the possibility that Brooks changed his reporting of the significance level so he wouldn’t have to explain why, after lots and lots of controls, liberals were more likely to have made a donation than moderates, while conservatives did not differ significantly from either liberals or moderates.

Although I don't have the book and am unlikely to take the time to go through Brooks' arguments with a fine-toothed comb, I'll repeat what I said before: Brooks is highly disingenuous and should not be taken seriously.

Monday, December 04, 2006

WSJ Prints Lies

The OpinionJournal, which is an adjunct of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, came out with an article today with the following breathless lead:

Global Warming Gag Order
Senators to Exxon: Shut up, and pay up.

Washington has no shortage of bullies, but even we can't quite believe an October 27 letter that Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe sent to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Its message: Start toeing the Senators' line on climate change, or else.

The only problem is, it's completely untrue. The WSJ was nice enough (or perhaps foolish enough) to provide a copy of the letter written by Sens. Rockefeller and Snowe, and nowhere in that letter is there any threat made to Exxon, nor is there one single implication that Exxon will have to comply with the Senators' wishes "or else" they'll be made to "pay up". It is merely a well-reasoned suggestion that Exxon stop funding anti-global warming kooks and join the rest of the reality based world. Indeed, Exxon is as far as I know the last major oil company that refuses to acknowledge the reality of global warming and is still funding a massive propaganda campaign designed to mislead the public about the scientific evidence. The letter makes this case quite clearly, which the author(s) of the WSJ piece would know if they would pay attention to what's in the letter rather than inventing stuff that isn't.

The article is dishonest in myriad other ways as well. What I find most obnoxious is the fact that while the WSJ makes the false accusation of a "gag order" against Rockefeller and Snowe, there are in fact many real instances of the Bush administration imposing gag orders upon climate scientists who have tried to inform the public about the results of their work. The WSJ piece mentions the case of James Hansen, the respected NASA climatologist, and the 24 year-old George Deutch whose credentials consist only of having worked on George W. Bush's reelection campaign. Deutch imposed a gag order on Hansen by requiring anything that Hansen said publicly to be vetted by Deutch's office first. The WSJ, for some reason, doesn't see a problem with this at all. The fact that Hansen is "one of the most publicized scientists in the world" makes it okay for the Bush administration to censor him, and poor George Deutch is the victim for having lost his job. But even in this small detail, the WSJ can't be bothered to tell the truth. Deutch wasn't fired for being a tool, which would have been perfectly appropriate, he was fired because he lied about having graduated from college.

That would cap my daily allowance of right-wing dishonesty if not for the fact that I chanced upon a couple of right-wingers blogging the story, and not only do they get it wrong, they also add a bunch of other nonsense in as well. This is reminiscent of the Mark Foley scandal where I was rudely awakened to the fact that these people live on an entirely different ethereal plane. This guy for example claims that "Democrats [are] bullying big oil", because "Democrats" have sent that mean, nasty letter to Exxon. Apparently, he's unaware of the fact that Olympia Snowe is a Republican.

Additionally he claims that everyone who is concerned about global warming must walk to work or be exposed as a hypocrite:

If it were truly about the environment or global warming, we’d all be on bicycles right now. Democrats wouldn’t be flying all over the world on their expensive planes, or driving their SUVs and limos, and they would have made damn sure by now that nobody else would have been, either. [...]

If you’re so pissed off about big oil, sell your cars and start walking to work. Otherwise, you’re a hypocrit [sic]. Which, as everyone knows, is the calling card of a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. “Do as I say, but not as I do.”

You want everyone else to ride their bikes, walk to work, etc., but no, not you. You still fire up the furnace when it gets cold out, even though Big Oil is behind that. You still drive to work, even though Big Oil provides you with the means to do so. You still fly from one coast to the other, even though Big Oil provides the fuel your plan is carrying. And if you think that Congress doing the things they’re planning on doing to Big Oil is going to make your life, or anyone else’s, better, then you’ve got another thing coming.

And then there is this idiot making essentially the same argument:

And then there's Arnold who's planning another law to prevent global warming all the while emitting more carbon than the average American he'll try to control. Have Snowe and Rockefeller written to Arnold or to Hollywood, another huge carbon emitter? Or does being a hypocrite by saying one thing and doing the opposite protect one from Snowe's and Rockefeller's nastygrams?

At the risk of being a pedant, I'm going to explain why this line of reasoning is stupid. I think it's necessary because I have seen this brain-dead argument one too many times to believe that it's considered legitimate by only a few wingnuts here and there.

None of us has chosen to live in a carbon economy. That decision was made by people long ago who didn't know about the dangers of global warming and were primarily driven by market forces that were incapable of accounting for the negative effects of fossil fuel consumption. That decision has had wide reaching consequences because our economy contains a vast infrastructure that has made us dependent upon fossil fuels. That's why it's called a "carbon economy" -- because fossil fuels are thoroughly integrated with nearly everything we do.

It is precisely for that reason that we as individuals can't change things no matter how hard we might try. We are forced to use carbon based fuels, either directly or indirectly, if we wish to be economically productive and consume the fruits of our labor. And with the possible exception of some obscure radical here or there, no one in the scientific or environmentalist communities has suggested that we should simply drop all economic activity and go back to living in caves. Economic activity is a good thing. But we would like to generate economic wealth without emitting tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

The idea therefore is that we should transition from a carbon based economy to one that is based on some other energy source. How exactly we're going to accomplish that is rather tricky. My preferred solution is to create a primarily nuclear based economy with wind and solar picking up the slack. Some people don't like nuclear power, so they want renewables to provide all or most all of our energy. Still other misguided souls think that a hydrogen economy will wean us off fossil fuels. Another possible solution is to allow market forces to decide by internalizing the true costs of fossil fuels through a carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme, thereby making alternatives economically preferable. Those that are most cost-effective will then naturally rise to the top, helping to spur on technological innovation that in any other context right-wingers would have absolute faith in.

Whatever the case, the fact is that someone who believes that we should transition out of a carbon economy can under no circumstance be called a hypocrite because he uses fossil fuels. We use fossil fuels because that's what's available. If something else were available and of equal cost, then maybe it would be germane to point out that certain people are using fossil fuels when they don't need to. But making alternatives available and cost competitive isn't going to happen because a few people decide not to drive their cars.

I Will Soon be Interned in Auschwitz

I received the following email this morning:

This message is sent on behalf of the UCDHSC Office of Public Relations

CU in the NEWS!

November 18 - December 1, 2006

The University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center and the University of Colorado Hospital were covered this week in 67 news clips - in newspapers, magazines, journals, TV and on radio. You can access many of these clips online.

Bookmark this!

· The Aurora campus will be named the Auschwitz Medical Campus to recognize total support of $91 million. The billionaire's latest gift will finish a research tower at the old Fitzsimons post.

(Underline added)

A later email clarified that we will in fact be named the Anschutz Medical Campus in honor of billionaire Phil Anschutz who helped bankroll construction of the place. The mistake was apparently caused by an auto-correcting spell checker.

At least that's what they say.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Kieft in the Post

Jeff Kieft, a faculty member in my department, has an opinion piece in Sunday's Denver Post about teaching evolution. It's mostly boilerplate as far as pro-evo pieces are concerned, but it's good to see this sort of thing being broadcast to an audience as large as that of the Post. I just hope they don't decide to engage in a bit of false journalistic "balance" by giving a creationist kook equal space.

Back from the Mountains...

Well I had a good time and got in a couple of days of good skiing. It was brutally cold but I was prepared. The drive up and back wasn't much fun aside from gorgeous scenery. On the way up, it got dark when we were still less than half way, and the further west we got the more ice there was on the road. About half of the way south on US 82, they simply didn't deice the roads at all, which meant I was driving over one continuous ice sheet in my Toyota Corolla with no chains and balding tires. To make matters worse, my windshield washer froze up and as various trucks and cars kept flinging little bits of muddy snow up in the air, the windshield became impossible to see out of. We had to stop a few times to wipe it off with a dirty gym shirt I had sitting in the back.

The way back was better. There was little ice on the roads and it was clear daylight. I had the same windshield problem but finally the washer started working again -- right as we got into Denver. The traffic was horrendous though during the last 70 miles. Apparently this always happens on Sundays with a mass exodus from the ski slopes.

Anyway, here is a picture of how things looked from my hotel room:

You can see the chair lift from the window -- that's how close to the slope we were. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures from on top of the mountain at 12,000 feet because I wasn't going to take my camera skiing. It's not one of those little thin things that you can stick in a pocket.

I did get some pictures of the scenery on the way back though. Or actually, my colleague Wanjun took the pictures. I told him just to snap away with the hopes that at least a few would be presentable.

Below are a couple of pics showing some of the reddish protruding rock, most of it consisting of cliffs that don't get snow or trees on them. This is near Snowmass/Aspen, and you don't see this kind of thing as much to the east. The red of the rocks combined with the white snow and the dark green trees makes for a beautiful contrast, which unfortunately these pictures can't really do justice to:

Below are some assorted pictures of Glenwood Canyon, which we drove through on I-70 just before turning south on US 82. (Of course this is the way back so we were doing the opposite.) Again, the pictures don't do it justice, you have to be there to believe it: