Thursday, June 30, 2011


Pareidolia On Parade

Kudzu is a fast growing vine that can be quite a problem.

But there is, as far as some people are concerned, nothing that a deity can't use to remind the faithful that he/she/it is around:

Personally, it reminds me of something out of an old Doctor Who episode.


Via The Revealer

Monday, June 27, 2011


Learning From the Stars

The BBC has made available the Reith Lectures, annual radio lectures beginning in 1948 by notable figures on contemporary issues. Among the selections:

1948 Bertrand Russell, Authority and the Individual

1952 Arnold J. Toynbee, The World and the West

1953 Robert Oppenheimer, Science and the Common Understanding

1959 Peter Medawar, The Future of Man

1966 John K. Galbraith, The New Industrial State

1984 John Searle, Minds, Brains and Science

1991 Steve Jones, The Language of the Genes

2010 Martin Rees, Scientific Horizons
Or, of course, you can just watch Dancing With the Stars ...

Saturday, June 25, 2011



From the great musical "1776":

Lewis Morris: Mr. President, have you ever been present at a meeting of the New York legislature? ... They speak very fast and very loud, and nobody listens to anybody else, with the result that nothing ever gets done.
Lew was, for once, wrong. The talking was very fast and very loud and very long but, this time, something did get done ... marriage equality!

Congratulations to the New York State Legislature for finally making me proud of them!

Friday, June 24, 2011


Ignorance Personified

Well, this could be an endless source of amusement.

Dr. Michael Egnor, the Discoveryless Institute's highly skilled meat cutter, has started his own blog. To his credit (and probably as a measure of how much it stung), he has named it Egnorance.

Orac has already tackled some of the inanity flowing now from that direction in Blogger but, in a brief flyby, I noticed that the not-so-good doctor has expanded the reach of Egnorance beyond evolutionary science to my own field, the law.

Egnor is exercised about the case of Schultz v. Medina Valley Independent School District. A school district in Texas planned to include official prayer during its June 4 graduation ceremony. A student sued to stop the district. A Federal judge issued an injunction, which was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ... perfectly normal legal procedure. Egnor, however, egged on by that font of morality, Newt Gingrich, who is searching desperately for any issue that will fire up faithful to save his dead-on-arrival campaign, wants the judge impeached.

In no surprise to any of us who know Egnor, he hasn't a clue ... or any interest in getting one. The judge's decision, as well as the appellate court's, are easily found with a moment's Google.

Here's the comment I left at Egnor's blog:

Typically, for matters subject to "Egnorance," you don't know what you are talking about.

First of all, Federal judges can only be removed for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" (Article II, Section 4). If simply being wrong was a high crime or misdemeanor, you'd already be a life prisoner.

Second, the judge did not order "The young lady who was to give the valedictory address" not to pray. In fact, the appeals court noted that the judge's order "did not expressly address the involvement of the valedictorian in the graduation ceremony." The students (even remotely) in question were, according to the school's own program, slated to deliver an "invocation" and "benediction." If you don't understand the argument that government-sponsored "invocations" and "benedictions" violate the Constitution, that is just a piece with the rest of your "Egnorance."

Third, the judge did not issue the order against the students (and, therefore, no penalty could be imposed against them). He ordered that:

The District, through its officials, shall instruct the students previously selected to deliver the "invocation" and "benediction" to modify their remarks to be statements of their own beliefs as opposed to leading the audience in prayer. These students, and all other persons scheduled to speak during the graduation ceremony, shall be instructed not to present a prayer, to wit, they shall be instructed that they may not ask audience members to "stand," "join in prayer," or "bow their heads," they may not end their remarks with "amen" or "in [a deity's name] we pray," and they shall not otherwise deliver a message that would commonly be understood to be a prayer, nor use the word "prayer" unless it is used in the student's expression of the student's personal belief, as opposed to encouraging others who may not believe in the concept of prayer to join in and believe the same concept. The students may in stating their own personal beliefs speak through conduct such as kneeling to face Mecca, the wearing of a yarmulke or hijab or making the sign of the cross.
Fourth, if a police officer announced that he or she was going to go to your house, illegally search it and beat you up in the process, would a court have to wait until that happened before issuing an order against it? "Irreparable harm" is a term of legal art that you are as "Egnorant" of as biological science. It simply means that the complainant can not be made "whole" if the court waits until after the fact to address the wrong.

Fifth, the appeals court reversed the judge's order in no small part because the school district obeyed his order and "abandoned including the words 'invocation' and 'benediction' on the program."

In short, you are bloviating (once again) on a subject you have no knowledge of.

There can be rational arguments about whether the judge in this case was right in the first instance. As usual, you have not come close to making any.


Update: Egnor's blog may not be such a great source of amusement ... at least if you bother to comment over there. It seems he does not deign to respond to comments in anything as mundane as the comments section. Instead, he creates new posts to respond ... which, when done to highlight a particular argument, is okay in moderation. But, frankly, I don't want to have to wade through the entirety of the weird landscape of Egnorland just to see if he's said something remotely relevant to something I've said. Anyway, here's his "reply" to my comment and my replies (Blogger allows only limited amounts of reason in any one reply) to that. I don't know if I will be watching for any sur-drivel.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


What We Say, Not What We Do

This is delicious.

Remember how Casey Luskin, Gofer General of the Discovery [sic] Institute was accusing "Darwinists" of engaging in "conspiracy theories" because they suspected that Intelligent Design advocates had brought pressure on the Editors-in-Chief of Synthese to issue a "disclaimer" concerning "Evolution and Its Rivals"? Ignore the fact (as Casey always does) that it was the community of philosophers who were most exercised about the disclaimer and the unprofessional way it was handled and especially ignore the fact that the EiCs themselves stated that they received "messages that we take seriously as legal threats."

So, now we have this.

Texas, El Paso mathematics professor Granville Sewell, had a paper accepted for publication by the journal Applied Mathematics Letters.
When questions were raised as to why the journal would publish an article that trods the well-worn creationist path of "the Second Law of Thermodynamics proves evolution can't happen," the paper was retracted. You can judge the correctness of the original acceptance and subsequent retraction for yourself. Blog posts by the person who first wrote to the journal editors can be found here and here. The Panda's Thumb deals with the inanity of Sewell's arguments here and why his article should never have been accepted here. Most recently, Jason Rosenhouse has dealt with Sewell's most recent attempt to dumb down American students by getting is guff into Applied Mathematics Letters American Journal of Physics through the back door of criticizing previous articles explaining why the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not bar evolution.

For a lawyer like myself, though, the interesting point was Sewell's reaction to the decision not to publish the article. This Texas professor showed up on the doorstep of a European publisher with a California lawyer threatening a lawsuit. But in the Synthese affair, it was Casey's contention that there was no "nefarious conspiracy involving pressure originating with ID proponents."

If you are going to take that position, maybe you shouldn't crow when the pressure originating with ID proponents sorta* works.


* The publisher (or, more likely, its insurance company) apparently paid Sewell $10,000 but his article was still not published and, as Jason notes, the editors of American Journal of Physics are now also wise to him. From long experience, $10,000 is a figure that any insurance company will pay to make a litigant go away, no matter how dubious the claim, because that is what it'll cost it to hire an attorney to open a file, answer the complaint and file a motion to dismiss.

Of course, the down side is that we'll now have to listen to the IDers claim that the reason they don't publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals (while simultaneously claiming that they do) is because the evil "Darwinists" prevent them from doing so.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Ignorance Is Strength

Newspeak is alive and well and living in Virginia.

As I noted before, the Giles County School Board is operating under a severe handicap ... it is being advised by Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, who is possibly the worst lawyer in America.

Concerning the latest action of the board, Staver had this to say:

"This particular display...has been upheld three times by three different courts of appeal decisions," reports Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, who is advising the board. "So we're very confident."
This, of course, ignores the fact that the Supreme Court recently denied certiorari on an appeal from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that found that "historical displays" that included parts of the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower Compact, the national motto and other documents, along with the Ten Commandments, wasn't enough to demonstrate that government entities weren't engaged in an unconstitutional attempt by to spread a religious message. On the contrary, as I've been demonstrating, the evidence is clear that the motives of the school board majority in this case has been to advance religion in general and Fundamentalist Christianity in particular.

But here is the latest quote from Oceania:

Staver says it would help if the Public Expression of Religion Act, which made it through the U.S. House in 2006 but failed in the Senate, was passed.

"That particular law says that whenever you file suit over these public expressions of religion, that [no] attorneys fees...will be given to the side that prevails," the Liberty Counsel attorney explains. "I think that would ultimately stop the intimidation that we see in groups like the ACLU."
You see, the majority is being "intimidated" by being prevented from using the tax money of everyone to make anyone not in the majority feel like second class citizens who have no rights.

Minority rights are intimidation.


Thursday, June 16, 2011


Suffer the Children

As the New York Senate continues to debate marriage equality ... not to mention whether I can be, for the first time in my life, actually proud of the New York Legislature ... we have these words of "wisdom" on the issue:

Rev. Duane Motley, a Christian lobbyist, said in Albany on Wednesday that legalizing gay marriage would "undermine the stability of our society" because he said a child of a gay couple could only have one biological parent.
I didn't know that the bill would actually be instigating human cloning!

I suppose we could infer that the Rev's ability to express himself is of the same low quality as his moral and civic reasoning and assume that he meant that only one of the child's parental caretakers could also be his or her biological parent.

So what? Are we now to do away with adoption as undermining the stability of society, because it is often the case that neither caretaker is a biological parent?

Is what the Rev pining for the good ol' days of Oliver Twist-like orphanages?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Displaying Lady Justice

Well, the Giles County School Board has released the minutes of its June 7th meeting at which it approved the "historical displays" that include the Ten Commandments. As I suspected, there is some good ammunition for the ACLU, should it go ahead with its intended suit.

School Board member Drema K. McMahon:

Our teachers and our staff continue to do an outstanding job even though they have not had a raise in 4 years and we are talking about spending $350,000 to fight this to the Supreme Court. They are paying the same fuel cost that we are, the same increased electric bills, they have house payments and car payments and children to feed and clothe and send to college. Our staff here has put hours and hours into this already. Dr. Arbogast has put many hours on emails and phone calls and interviews regarding these documents. His job is commitment to excellence in education for the students of our county. Speakers addressing the School Board have referred to the Ten Commandments, not the historical documents. You have come carrying banners of the Ten Commandments; you wear support of the Ten Commandments on your t-shirts.
This is important in that it shows that members of the school board were fully cognizant of the fact that the support for these "historical displays" was actually support for hanging the Ten Commandments as a religious expression ... a situation reinforced by the statement of a local citizen:

Samuel Marshall:

You were talking about the costs of this. Through southwest Virginia, you not only have the support in this county, you have the support of Christians throughout Southwest Virginia that will fight with you if necessary and the support of this $350,000 or whatever. I thank you again for accepting this. If we have to, we will fight. As a Christian, thanks be to god that it has gone this way and god will prevail. This is not over by a long shot and it wind [sic] up in schools across this country. We thank you.
Another potentially interesting statement was by School Board member J. B. Buckland, concerning a local businessman, Charlie Henderson, who had previously donated a playground and ball fields to the school district and who pledged his "spiritual, physical and financial resources" to the board if it approved the displays. Mr. Buckland said:

We appreciate Mr. Henderson. I think that relieves a lot of pressure thinking it is going to take local funds. He has assured us. He is a man of his word. We appreciate all of you.
Now, of course, the very intent of the law that makes governments responsible for the legal fees of individuals who demonstrate that government action violates the Constitution is to encourage individuals to fight such actions and to discourage governments from engaging in them. The fact that the board is counting on others to bail it out tends to show that the board was not considering what was right under the Constitution but was, instead, following the wishes of the majority in spite of the Constitution.

Lastly, there is this sensible statement:

School Board member J. Lewis Webb, Jr.:

This issue, in my thinking, creates a great conflict between what is in my heart as opposed to my mind. When I first became a school board member, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of this great country and to provide the best possible education for our students. Personally, I feel this issue violates the Constitution as it has been overturned many times by the Supreme Court. I feel that many people are asking the school systems throughout our nation to do more and more to help them raise their children. Schools can NOT do it all. Much has to come from the home and the community. As I've heard said many times before, IT TAKES AN ENTIRE VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD. I applaud all who have stood up for this VERY important issue and respect your opinion very much. All I ask of you is to respect my position as well. This nation would not be the strong nation it is if it were made up of all like thinking people and the freedom of every individual to have an opinion.


Sunday, June 12, 2011


What Really Scares the Discovery Institute

The Discoveryless Institute's creationist slip is showing.

They're trotting out the old creationist bafflegab, claiming that mainstream textbooks contain "bloopers," such as these:

~ erroneous statements that the 1950s Miller-Urey origin of life experiment produced amino acids under conditions that accurately simulated the early earth.

~ long-discredited claims that the appendix, tonsils, and other organs are non-functional "vestigial" organs left over from a blind evolutionary process. In fact, these organs are now recognized by scientists to serve important biological functions.

~ fraudulent embryo drawings originating with nineteenth-century German racist Ernst Haeckel that are used to claim that vertebrate embryos are the same at the earliest stages of development (not true).
The first two are staples of "creation science."

The third was popularized by the execrable Jonathan Wells in his book fraud, Icons of Evolution, though Haeckel has long been a target of creation "scientists." The Talk Origins Archive has good resources on Wells' lies, including PZ Myearshertz' article on Haeckel's drawings. Also very helpful is PZ's recent charming but uncompromising talk on the subject.

But that's not the amusing part. The thing the DI is most afraid of is their "friends."

A single curriculum, submitted by International Databases, LLC, attempts to follow the 2009 TEKS by encouraging critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation of Darwinian evolution and the chemical origin of life, using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence. However, this curriculum also includes intelligent design, which is not required by the TEKS, and which Discovery Institute (the leading intelligent design research organization) opposes requiring in public schools.
And that, of course, is because ID doesn't encourage "critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation of Darwinian evolution and the chemical origin of life, using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence" but, rather, depends on things like Wells' lies and long discredited creationist arguments.

But if lies and deliberate stupidity is made official policy, instead of snuck in through the back door by individual teachers who are willing to confuse their hapless students in the name of an ideological TruthTM, then courts can more easily detect the constitutional violation and deal with it.

That's the last thing the DI wants.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Open Mouth, Deposit Foot

They just can't help themselves.

The Giles County School Board hasn't yet posted the minutes to its meeting on June 7, 2011, at which it approved the creation of school displays of several documents of "special historical significance to our community, our county, and our country's history," that just happen to include the Ten Commandments. But the good people from the press were there and have given us some of the flavor of it:

Sammy Marshall, a Giles County resident, said he would provide finances if a legal battle resulted from the board's decision.

"We not only have support for this in Giles County but the support of Christians across Southwest Virginia," Marshall said. "We will fight this. God will prevail. This is not over by a long shot. We will not stop until the Ten Commandments are in every school in this country."
But, of course, the purpose of the board in doing this is purely secular!


Thursday, June 09, 2011


Leap of Faith

Well, the Giles County School Board has gone and done it by a 3 to 2 majority: it will order "historical" displays installed in its schools that include the Ten Commandments.

There were some interesting things in the report in The Roanoke Times:

"This issue creates a great conflict between what is in my heart as opposed to my mind," [Board member Lewis]Webb said after the vote. "I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of this great country. ... Personally, I feel this issue violates the Constitution."
Well, hooray! At least one local official takes his oath of office seriously.

Not so much some others:

Giles County supervisors Chairman Eric Gentry said his board, which provides the school district funds each year from tax revenue, has no stance on the matter.

He supports the commandments in schools and the district going to court.

"The trick there is not to lose," he said Wednesday. "We've got a long way to go before anything happens at all."
You may remember that Gentry was singing a somewhat different song not long ago at a previous board meeting:

Now let me speak to you as Eric Gentry, as a Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Giles County. I talked to all of my board members last night and today. Don’t remove them. We are behind you. We would rather fight the ACLU or whoever would come up than have one anonymous coward who would not even sign the letter come in and tell us how to run our schools. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out and don’t know if it’s going to go that far, but you know you have our support as county people and citizens.”
If the board members detect the faint smell of politicians burning rubber while backing up, wait until this all goes wrong and the school district winds up with a whopping big judgment against them for the plaintiff's legal fees.

Charles C. Haynes, a prominent First Amendment scholar, calls it "a close case" but I think he is being kind to the rubes. He notes that the pro-commandments outpouring from churches and hundreds of citizens will be a factor before the court and "[i]f we all know what's really going on here, the court will look at that." In other words, if it can be demonstrated that this is about promulgating religion in public schools, the district will lose.

But all you have to do is look at the minutes of the board meetings I've already linked to (indeed, every meeting, beginning on January 20th and going through May 19th, except for April 12th, dealt with the Ten Commandments issue to a greater or lesser extent) to see what the motives of the members of the board are ... at least the ones who don't care about their oaths. Mr. Webb will have Buckingham-ish difficulty backing out of his statement about the unconstitutionality of the decision and his testimony is likely to be most awkward for the board.

The board hasn't posted the minutes of the June 7th meeting yet but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there is more ammunition for the ACLU when they get around to it. In any case, I'm saving all those minutes just in case there is a memory hole accident.


Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Easy Landings

Non Sequitur, June 7, 2001

Saturday, June 04, 2011


Animals All

A random thought ...

While certain animal lovers are moderate and even liberal in their beliefs, can we excuse their enabling of the extremists like PETA and those who would kill biomedical researchers? Most of us would be content to leave animal lovers alone if they simply represented a private activity whose adherents left us alone. But, for obvious reasons, many of them can't, and that's why a lot of us see the more moderate animal lovers as enablers of extremists.

Then again ... someday, maybe, I'll get into the inventiveness and deviousness of the minds of some secular scientists, purportedly animal lovers, and living in Chicago, who nonetheless have the wholly unscientific belief that their looks are somehow enhanced by the fetishistic wearing of the flayed skins of dead animals on their feet.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


A Few Words ...

I haven't posted in a while because of the demands of work and the distractions of a comment thread that has grown to unusual (for my poor blog) length.

One commenter there stated that "I don't respect anyone who calls himself a [particular religious faith]." I think it's clear that s/he would say the same about any follower of any organized religion.

What I want to explore is whether that statement is any different than "I don't respect anyone" ... who "has a different skin color; who has a different gender; who has a different sexual orientation, etc."

I have to explain my own experience first.

When my wife of 31 years, Shirley, was first diagnosed with cancer, she stayed, while I was away at work, with the people for whose son she had been babysitting for several years. When the chemotherapy made her too weak for them to care for her, we put her in the hospital.

On Christmas Eve 2008, Shirley decided that she didn't want any further treatment and, instead, wanted to live out what time she had left with as much quality as possible, rather than just quantity. The friends who had been taking care of her in my absence stated that they could no longer do so ... a totally understandable decision under their circumstances.

I was lucky to have a job that provided insurance that included some hospice care. (Why there isn't universal coverage for such care is another matter!)

But that coverage only paid for 4 hours of care a day. Between my job (and I have to say my bosses were most kind about forgiving time I took to care for Shirley) and the travel time to and from my job, there was least 10-12 hours that Shirley would need to be taken care of a day. It was clear that I could not take care of her myself and would have to put her in some place (such as a VA hospital ... since she was a veteran), where the "quality" of her remaining days would hardly have been a high priority.

I was at wit's end.

The daughter of other friends of ours, who I'll call "Margaret," is a physician's assistant. We had asked her to help with the hospitals and doctors when Shirley first became ill and she was wonderful, terrorizing the medical staff to the point that there was nothing they wouldn't do for Shirley.

But Margaret was, in fact, nothing more than an acquaintance ... the daughter of some friends ... and, in fact, both Shirley and I had, to our shame, made fun of her as a "type A personality" who was too controlling.

When I called Margaret concerning my dilemma about what to do with Shirley, she didn't hesitate and, almost literally, kidnapped Shirley from the hospital the day after Christmas and had her taken to her own house.

She arranged for a hospital bed and all the other of Shirley's medical needs to be installed in a spare room of her home. Being that it was only about a half hour from my job, I could be there most evenings and weekends and frequently stayed the night. Thus, Margaret let two strangers invade her home.

Margaret found a wonderful woman (thanks, Pat!) to (at a rate we could afford) care for Shirley for four hours a day. Margaret scheduled and dealt with the hospice people who cared for Shirley another four hours. And, because of her work schedule, Margaret took care of Shirley the rest of the afternoon until I could get there. Trust me, this is only the briefest sketch of what Margaret did for us.

This went on for an entire year, until Shirley's death on New Year's Eve, 2009.

Margaret also happens to be a deacon at an evangelical Christian church. Shirley was an avowed atheist and I am, as people here know, an agnostic. While Margaret offered to arrange for "spiritual counseling" for Shirley, when that was refused, it was completely dropped. Margaret managed most of Shirley's care for that year but she did not try to control Shirley's, or my, life.

For an entire year, Margaret disrupted her life, and that of her pre-teenage daughter, for an acquaintance. But she never complained. She never became testy (even though Shirley and I sometimes did). She never demanded that we conform to her beliefs. She was the closest thing I ever expect to see in my life to a "saint" ... an admittedly flawed human being who, nonetheless, did good for others far beyond what the vast, vast, majority of people would be willing to do.

If you can't "respect" such a person, then you are a bigot.

Worse, you're an idiot.

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