Monday, April 28, 2008

Obama, Rev. Wright and anti-science

I caught the Obama interview with Chris Wallace on Fox yesterday, and I must agree with most observers that it seemed to go well. I'd like to look at it again, or read through a transcript, but I'm not aware of any gaffes or controversial sound bites.

Then, last night, I flipped on the TV to catch Rev. Wright at the NAACP dinner. It was a little disturbing, to say the least. Here he was expounding on the basic genetic differences between black and white people, complete with what I felt were rather condescending imitations (parodies? mockeries?) of white people, and their different musical scales, and rhythms, and their different learning abilities. The girls sat on the couch and laughed at his antics, although probably for different reasons than the ones I was nervously chuckling at. Not a great performance in the "uniter" mode. Didn't the authors of "The Bell Curve" get tossed into the darkness because of their ideas about racial genetic differences?

This morning, I caught a few snippets of a question and answer session at the National Press Club with Wright, and I found myself even more disgusted. The arrogance was almost palpable (he had already spoken earlier this weekend of his public "crucifixion," as if THAT profound suffering had anything to do with the controversy that he has created for himself over the last 20 years). Of course, there was no explanation (much less an apology) for his despicable remarks that have come to light over the last few weeks. I wasn't able to catch a lot of what he was saying, but I don't think this guy is good for the Obama campaign.

I'll have to check and make sure, but I doubt if any of the skeptical/anti-antiscience blogs have much to say on this. And I don't really understand why. A lot of time is spent on Phayrngula, and the Bad Astronomy blog, completely in an uproar over the Intelligent Design controversy, or other examples of antiscience thought in our society. Yet they seem strangely silent on the subject of the Reverend and his bogus, Afro-centric ideas about genetics and music and teaching methods, much less his theories about AIDS. And certainly these ideas of Wright's deserve more criticism from the skeptics than they have been getting. I know some in the skeptical community want to think that Obama is a science-positive candidate, but he is unable to "disown" the Reverend and his beliefs. It is at least fair to ask if Obama shares Wright's Afro-centric "science" beliefs."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

In 1979, the group MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) organized a series of concerts to protest the use of nuclear power. All the big acts of the day performed, including Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty. The events were highly successful and spawned a film and a double album, if I remember correctly. It was one of the more successful pieces of anti-nuke propaganda, which after the Three Mile Incident (which resulted in ZERO loss of life) helped shut down the nuclear industry in the U.S.

Then there is this post ( about how the rush to produce biofuels has apparently produced food shortages in some areas of the world. Biofuels have been heavily promoted by Al Gore through his movie and his Alliance for Climate Protection as a solution to the problem of global warming. Now, many are realizing that biofuels not only contribute to food shortages and are partly responsible for the recent surge in food prices, but may also ADD to the problem of global warming, as forests are converted to cropland, removing large and important carbon sinks.

Because of the hysteria of the '80's, our nuclear industry and nuclear capacity has stagnated. Advances in nuclear power generation make it one of the cheapest and safest ways to generate power, with little effect (if any) to greenhouse gases. Think how different our economic situation would be if we generated a huge portion of our power through nuclear energy (France currently generates about 79% of its energy through nuclear plants). Think gas would be $4 a gallon?

And now, because of the hysteria of the '00's (the oughts? the oooo's? the zeds?), we have rushed headlong into biofuels, without considering the consequences. Even in my neck of the woods, many cotton fields, long the dominant farm crop in the area, have given way to corn, as farmers attempt to take advantage of the higher prices they can get for that crop and for the governmental subsidies that make corn a cash crop.

Is global warming real? Yes. Is there a scientific consensus about the causes or the long term effects? No. Do humans contribute to the problem? Probably, but perhaps not in the quantities that Al Gore would have you believe.

I think that climate study is important, but far too complex to be able to trot out "definitive solutions" to the problem of global warming--there's just too much that we don't know to sacrifice Western economies to the Kyoto protocols (if global warming is so damn bad, why aren't China and India and other emerging countries included in the carbon caps?). Our experience with the No Nukes crowd, and with the growing biofuels debacle shows that emotional approaches to a complex problem almost always lead to disaster.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Watch out!

I ran across this headline at

Penis Snatching Sorcerers Terrorize Congo

Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 8:11:22 pm PDT

What was left was tiny.”

It's from Reuters, out of Kinshasa. Absolutely priceless.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Terrorists--domestic and otherwise

Just before heading to work this morning, I happened to flip over to IFC (I think it was IFC) on the televisor and caught some of "Bud Greenspan remembers the 1972 Olympics" or something like that. It was a documentary about the '72 Games in Munich which were dominated by the murder of 9 Israeli athletes. I remember it only vaguely from my childhood. Most of what I remember about those Games has to do with Mark Spitz, the US champion swimmer, who took home 7 gold medals that year. The slaughter of the Israeli athletes was a horrible, disgusting crime perpetrated by some pondscum wearing the mantle of Palestinian statehood. One athlete was murdered at the start of the crisis, as the killers (who were referred to in the press at the time as "commandos") forced their way into the Israeli sleeping quarters; the others were slaughtered during a rescue attempt at the airport (4 by a hand grenade tossed into the helicopter in which they were tied up, the other 4 machine-gunned by one of the "commandos" also while they were tied). I knew that the deaths were horrific, but I was not aware of the grisly details. I was also not aware that Spitz had to leave the Games under precipitous circumstances, due to the fact that he was Jewish and the fears for his life were considerable.

It was a sobering moment--this was only 35 years ago, and yet it has become almost a distant memory, almost as distant as the events of 9/11, which now lives on only as a phrase in the minds of most of us, and not as the truly terrible event that it actually was. What else struck me about the show was an almost total lack of international revulsion at the event. Yes, there was some outcry and expressions of regret and sorrow for the slain athletes, but the tactics and the ideas of the terrorists should have been placed beside those of the Nazis and the Klan. Instead, the descendants of these terrorists strut on the world stage today as Hamas, deserving of our respect (at least according to Jimmy Carter).

It is truly interesting that the Palestinians decided at some point that slaughter and murder were THE way to foster and advance their aims--and they receive the sympathies of many here in the West, esp. those on the Left. Contrast this to the plight of Tibet--overrun by China, their spiritual leader in exile, monks killed by the thousands or left to rot in the Chinese gulag--yet not once have I read of Buddhists flying planes into skyscrapers, or Tibetans blowing up Chinese pizza parlors, or firing on school buses full of children in Shanghai. And yet, other than recently in relation to the Olympics coming up this summer in Beijing, there really isn't a lot of sympathetic news coverage on Tibet; you don't see Carter, or Jesse Jackson, or Rev. Wright traveling to Lhasa, or denouncing the Chinese Communist government for their sadistic tactics.

Which brings me to Mr. Ayers, the unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist, who apparently takes great pride in his destructive acts in the '60's and '70's. James Lileks has a great piece today at his website ( should check it out. It links to a review of Mr. Ayers autobiography, which is also required reading here (the review, not the book). Here's Lileks speaking about how the turbulence of Mr. Ayer's heyday was a "difficult time:"

>>It was a difficult time. What a wonderful absolution. Oh, we all went a little mad. Some of us listened to Steppenwolf, some of us bombed government buildings and plotted robberies that killed people, some of us were rotting in Vietnamese prisons having our teeth bashed out by torture experts. Those days are behind us now, best forgotten. (Unlike the McCarthy era, which will be the subject of 163 movies about the blacklist next year, bringing the total to 45,203.)

You know, it may be hard to find a candidate who doesn’t belong to a church whose leader delivers eyebrow-singing speeches on the evils of America and also built a house Jim Bakker would approve, and it may be hard to find a candidate who doesn’t move with ease in the same social circles as some people who bombed the Pentagon, but it can’t be that hard to find one who doesn’t do both.<<

I couldn't agree more.

As a decent member of the human race, you should find the actions of the Palestinians who murdered those athletes morally repugnant. And although Mr. Ayers' actions did not (to our knowledge) result in the loss of life, it his mindset, and most of all, his lack of remorse, that should make all of us step back and take a close look at just how far removed (or not) he is from the "heroes" of September '72, or the "martyrs" of 9/11.

I don't think Obama gave it much thought, do you?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mockingbirds and gun control

Around this time of year, the mockingbirds become extremely aggressive. I don't know if it is a nesting thing, or what, and it's not just here. I remember hours of fun back in New Orleans, watching the little gray devils swooping down on unsuspecting pedestrians who had strayed into their territory.

So, the last few days our backyard has hosted some of the more aggressive of the species. They screech and squawk from the low branches of the pecan trees, from the top of the fence, from the power lines, divebombing our cat as she crosses the yard as nonchalantly as possible. I don't see any nests close by, but I noticed they like the juicy red berries on the holly tree at the side of the house.

This morning, though, the screeching was quite loud. I knew the cat was having trouble keeping her composure as she dashed in the back door, with a mockingbird close on her tail, cursing furiously. It all made sense a few minutes later, when she brought me a nice young bird that she had obviously pounced on. Kitty was quite proud of her catch, batting it around on the floor of the kitchen for me. I had to scoot her out as the bird was loudly protesting its fate and making some feeble attempts at escape, so--out the back door they went, and under the house. The other members of the bird gang sat about, glaring at me and hurling deprecations at the cat (and hurling defecations at me, it seemed).

So what does this have to do with gun control? Not much really, except that in Chicago over the weekend, there was an explosion of gang violence, with something like 32 people shot, 6 fatally (wow--sounds like N.O.). This is in a city with some very strict gun control laws on the books. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the registered gun owners who were banging away in the streets, you know? So, for all of you out there who were waving signs at the DC die-in last week, take note. I agree that we need to address violence in society, especially in the big cities; I'm just not sure that abridging our Second Amendment rights has done much for us.

Remember--when guns are outlawed, ONLY MOCKINGBIRDS WILL HAVE GUNS. . .

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Two nights ago, Vincent Taylor got on a bus, heading for Seattle.

Mr. Taylor showed up at our door back in December one evening at dusk, asking if he could rake our lawn for a few bucks. No problem, I said--and he raked into the darkness, even as it began to rain heavily. Once I realized it was raining, I stopped him, and sent him on his way a few dollars richer. He came by the house about once a week, and we would find him some odd job to do--pulling weeds, raking, digging our "compost hole" (don't ask--it's another story for another day), etc. When it finally got warmer, he was able to scrounge up a mower, and mowed our lawn as well as a few others in town.

He obviously lived on the street. His story was that he was originally from Seattle, and had come here when his mother became sick. His mother got better, but somehow, Mr. Taylor got stuck here. My wife got him hooked up with the food stamp office. Sometimes he had a place to sleep; more often it was a bench outside of the funeral home. The local police didn't take too kindly to this, and actually told him there was a crack house on the other side of town where he could crash. There were a couple of times where I paid his room bill for a couple of nights at the little motel where he was somehow able to get a room.

It seemed like the last few days things got more desperate for him. My wife and I talked about it, and one night, while taking him back up to the seedy motel, I asked him if he'd like to get back to Seattle. There were tears in his eyes as he told me how great that would be.

So--Monday night, he boarded the Greyhound and headed for Seattle. It's like a 3 or 4 day trip, so he's probably somewhere crossing the Rockies by now.

This isn't a post to say how nice I am, or how generous or thoughtful I am. It's about gratitude. It wasn't that long ago that I too found myself without a place to live, and basically had a van full of clothes and my precious books and that's all. I wasn't on the street like my friend Mr. Taylor, but everyone can find rock bottom some where; I certainly had found mine.

It has been hard, painful work, but I continue to climb up from that bottom. I wake up in the morning in my own bed, with a roof over my head, and a wife and family that love me, and some coffee and breakfast in the kitchen. There are days that I find frustrating, when things don't go the way I planned them. I get angry just like the next guy. But then I think of all that life and God has given me. It certainly puts things in perspective.

I hope, Mr. Taylor, you can find peace; I hope that you can find a way out of your darkness. If I can do it, you can too.

Springtime and religious freedom

Everything is green here--the pecan trees have finally caught up with the rest of the trees. The pale, I-just-sprouted-and boy-is-it-cold green of March has now slid into the robust verdure of April. It's nice that we have some big trees surrounding our house; as the temps start to climb in a few weeks, the shade will be a godsend.

I was struck by the anguish of the Texas FLDS/Mormon mothers who were saddened by the authorities removing their children. I can only imagine the depth of the despair that a mother must feel when she is forcibly separated from her child.

And yet . . . these women did not seem to mind as they watched their pre-teen daughters married off to 55 year old men. For them, this was okay and perhaps even desirable. No--their tears and anger should have been in response to the actions of their church "elders" ("lechers," or "creeps" is probably a better term) rather than in response to the Texas child protection services. I have trouble sympathizing with them. I'm not necessarily happy with SWAT teams raiding "compounds" (what exactly constitutes a "compound," anyways?), but when your religious "expression" encompasses child abuse, or rape, or terrorism, well--then by all means, say hello to my little friends, you know?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Creationism and academic freedom

See--I told you this would be a random collection of random thoughts . . .

Seems there is a bill before the State legislature about teacher's academic freedom. Specifically, the freedom to apparently discuss things like creationism in the classroom, although the bill also mentions human cloning and global warming. The "skeptical-scientist" side is bemoaning the idea that this bill will open the door to the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in the classroom. The bill sponsors feel that this will somehow protect a teacher's freedom and ability to cover controversial subjects in the classroom.

Hmmmm. I read the bill online (just Google it--it was easy to find in pdf and html), and it's hard for a non-legislator like myself to sort through all of the legalese and bureaucratese to suss out what it really says. The bill's critics claim that it is modeled after a similar, controversial piece of legislation passed by a local school board--carefully worded, and sneaky in how it allows the creationists to get it the schoolroom.

I'm not sure about this bill; it really is well crafted (there is a clause about it not it not being construed to promote any specific religious view). I definitely believe that creationism/ID does NOT belong in the science classroom. The scientific evidence (not a "theory" at all) of our origins is overwhelming, and well-proven. I believe that creationism is a religious theory, and has no scientific basis; I think of ID the same way. If you decide to teach Chrisitian creationism in the science class, why wouldn't you also teach the Hindu version of creation, or a Buddhist theory? They may all be elegant and beautiful, but they have nothing to do with science. And a science teacher does not have the freedom to teach unscientific ideas, although they may certainly have those ideas, and express them in a context separate from the teaching of science.

Just some thoughts . . .

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A recent trip to Gulf Shores ("The Redneck Riviera"); that's me in the green chair, plunking on the guitar. It was an enjoyable weekend, although somewhat wet. As a kid (some 40 years ago), my family came here often, camping out in this huge tent that weighed several hundred pounds and slept 40. Of course, there was nothing there then--no condos at all, a string of local mom and pop motels, and a few places to eat. It was truly beautiful then, and it still is, now, just a bit more crowded.
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Okay--I'm going to give this blog thing a whirl. I don't know what it will be about, but I think the "random thoughts" title will give you a clue. Musings about myself, science, politics and life in a small town (making a new start in northern Louisiana) will be the order (or disorder) of the day.
I appreciate visitors and their comments, of course, especially if they are well-behaved. Do I like rude inconsiderate people? Only if they are cooked slightly rare, with a tarragon-aioli on the side.