Friday, March 27, 2009

Johnny - We Wish We Never Knew Ye

John West has got as confusing and frustrating a job as a Lubbock high school biology teacher. It's got to be tough to try to keep the Young Earth Creationists inside the Intelligent Design Big Top while simultaneously trying to bamboozle the secular community with a puff of smoke and a broken pocket mirror. After all, the Discovery Institute isn't going to fund itself and I don't see a lot of patents pending in the near future.

John picks a nit:

Part of the problem is that Foster (pro-science advocate) doesn’t seem to know anything about what the State Board of Education is actually doing.

Neither does the State Board of Education, or John, or me, for that matter (although I've been trying to follow along). He goes on to say that Foster is mistaken in thinking that the state board is trying to change the wording in the textbooks while what they are really trying to do is change the wording in the state science standards. Fucking up the textbooks comes later.

John moves in for the kill:

To reiterate: the Board is not amending textbooks, so it can’t possibly be considering “multiple proposed amendments” to textbooks. I suppose what Dr. Foster meant to say was that there are multiple amendments to add things like the “young earth” to the science standards. Except he’s wrong about that too. There are no proposals to add young earth creationism to the science standards. None.

Great. Except that board member Barbara Cargill, - biology teacher (now I'm praying) and born again cosmologist, sneaks in an amendment at the end of the day to strike language about the universe being 14 billion years old. I'm sure Ms. Cargill was concerned that the students be aware of the 1% controversy in the commonly accepted age of the universe. Move along. No young earth creationism to see here.

John gets to the meat of the matter:

Finally, Jarstfer and Coghlan concisely summarize the scientific challenges to modern Darwinian theory, including the Cambrian explosion, irreducibly
complex biological structures, and the harmfulness of random mutations.

At last, something I can sink my Wiki-teeth into. Better yet, I think I'll check pub Med to get a feel for where the real work is going on. Now granted, consensus isn't everything but given that I am woefully undereducated in the specialities of invertebrate paleontology, statistics and comparative genetics, the only way I can get a feel of who's investigating what is to see who's publishing what. I am making the assumption that these scientists are honestly trying to advance the sum total of human knowledge (or angle for a Nobel prize) and are not part of a global satanically induced conspiracy to advance atheistic Darwinism.

Irreducible Complexity:
Uh oh. To paraphrase Doc, "it appears we're off to a poor start." 18 hits. One on sado-masochism in Bronte's Jane Eyre (WTF?), one paper by Pennock (agin), nine that have to do with medical care and don't relate to the ID concept, one to do with non-biological chemical process, two dealing with the philosophy of science and the need for better descriptions of emerging biological processes discovered through evolutionary theory. That leaves five, none of which supports the idea of Irreducibly Complex Systems as proposed by Behe. None written by Behe or West or Wells or any of the Discovery Institute luminaries. Pretty anemic for 20 years. Strike one.

Cambrian Explosion:
102 hits. That's better. However, I can't find any that claim that the emergent body types were created all at once out of thin air. I've never understood the creationist fascination with the Cambrian period. Is the assumption that God created the major body types at the beginning of the Cambrian and that they evolved from there? At any rate the controversies concerning this particular period are not as advertised by the Discovery Institute and seem somewhat advanced for a high school biology class. Strike two.

Harmful mutations and Beneficial mutations:
497 and 1854 hits respectively. Lots of work being done here. All under the umbrella of current evolutionary theory. Not a lot coming from the Biologic Institute. Strike three. West, you're outta here!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Joe Scarborough - Postnosticator Extraordinaire

Okay. Pretend for a second that I don't know anything about economics. Kind of like Jim Cramer. Forget for a moment that the only time my investments have made money have been totally by accident or by just dumping some dough in a 5 year CD because I was too lazy and/or stupid to figure out how to transfer the IRA to an investment fund. Lucky me.
Here's what I think happened. The Bush Administration decided to maintain their faith in free market principles and let Lehman Bros. fail as a trial balloon to see what would happen. This was the first domino in a cascading series of potential bank failures accompanied by panic selling, abandonment of commercial credit and the inability of AIG to cover the losses. Members of both parties looked at each other, said "Oh shit!", and stuck a big pile of money between the last domino falling and the rest of them. (Something spooked everyone bad because I've never seen Congress act that fast - even after 9/11). Did it work? I think so but I really have no idea. Maybe some of those MIT'ers who developed these mortgage derivatives could put their brains on a better model of economic probabilities. It's done with the weather. Are the markets more chaotic than the weather? Probably, but the idea that nobody really knows what's going on makes me really uneasy.
So Joe (God, I miss Imus) Scarborough, concern troll that he is, with a pathological need to reaffirm his 90's era Newt Gingrich Contract with America conservative cred, jabbers on this morning about the small cabal of Republicans who were "right" to stand in the way of the bailout plan. All because of the pittance in bailout money going to bonuses. Right about what, Joe? The bailout, the stimulus, what? It pisses me off, too, but so what? If it keeps me from digging turnips in the frozen fields of Pennsylvania for sustenance, I'm all for it. What's the alternative - 1929 GOP solutions for a 21st century economy? And don't give me that revisionist crap about the New Deal prolonging the Depression. It may not have ended until the war started but it sure put a lot of people to work. And who funded the war, anyway? Hint, it wasn't small businesses. This post-hoc ethereal pristine theory of economic development ignores the real social forces of vast numbers of unemployed tugging this country back and forth between socialism and fascism. FDR saved the American Way of Life. Greatest President, evah!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Leave Jim Alone!

I feel bad for Jim Cramer. John Stewart's video clip take downs ending in a hearty "Fuck You!" have got to be shaking his confidence. It can't be easy making a living pretending to know the unknowable. I know the feeling. My foray into day trading was less than stellar. I started with $500 in an Ameritrade account. It took me about 2 years to lose it. Every single penny. That taught me a valuable lesson - leave it to the professionals. They've only managed to lose 50% of my 401K. Win!
Jim Cramer is not the kind of guy you want to follow to the exit during a nightclub fire. He's way too excitable. I get a feeling you'll just get trapped in the pileup by the exit with the rest of the investors patrons. Although, in his defense, I did hear him screaming last November that if you were going to need the money within the next few years to sell sell SELL! Of course by then the cliff leading to the abyss was in sight. He seems to feel a compulsion to give Obama advice and the clowns at MSNBC seem equally compulsed to air this advice. I hope to God the President is not listening.

Stewart needs to back off. He could singlehandedly ruin the People Who Get Paid to Pretend to Know What They are Talking About Industry. We can't afford to lose any more jobs.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Nothing Better Than an Irish Funeral

Too bad someone has to die. The Irish do death right. Not a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, at least not in my family, but a lot of drinking and carrying on. My cousin's heart blew up at 48, which is par for the course on that side of the family, usually not so young but for generations now they've just been dropping in their tracks. Too bad, he could really write and was a large living, talented guy and of course, his poor wife was devastated. But, what are you gonna do? Have another drink, I guess.
I got to visit with my Aunt Helen, who is also my Godmother which meant that she was tasked with a nigh on impossible mission. Being the clever godson that I am, I asked her where my three wishes were. She told me I'd get mine after she got hers. I imagine her first wish would be that I shut the fuck up and stop making stupid jokes. That's the impression I got anyway. My Aunt Helen is the last practioner of her generation of the brutally sarcastic art of being an Irish mother. Since my mom died, anyway. My mom was just 5' tall but you wouldn't want to ever cross her. She could cut a grown man down to her size in a hurry with just a couple of words. She was a teacher and I was in her Latin class one year. I always wondered why nobody gave me a lot of shit about that. Turns out it wasn't me they were scared of. Not by a long shot. Don't ever die before your Irish mom, because whatever the circumstance, whether you heart blows up or you get hit by a bus or get bit by a rabid squirrel, it's your fault. You were told to lose some weight or look both ways or stay out of trees.

The mass was at St. Patricks in Gibbsville and the priest nailed the eulogy. I'm used to generic blah-blahs at funeral masses but this was really moving. I guess it helps if you grow up with the deceased. These rituals really do help to bring a sense of belonging. I kept getting distracted by the altar piece which pictured a crudely rendered John the Baptist in a Fred Flintstone suit baptising Jesus while the Holy Spirit/bird flew overhead. The whole thing cantilevered out of the wall and really grabbed your attention. To ease the tension I turned to my brother and asked him why the cave man was drowning Jesus. He didn't laugh. He's pretty devout. Then I accidentally (I swear) sat on my Dad's hat during all the ups and downs. As I handed him the crumpled remains of his fedora he gave me a look that melted 50 years of my life away. Then I was so nervous it was all I could do not to bust out laughing every time I thought about that stupid hat. I barely got through the mass. God, I'm shallow.

Back to Aunt Helen and this Irish mother thing. My mother in law is this way, too. There is no situation, no matter how bad, that they couldn't conceive of some way that it could be worse. So for years my Aunt and my cousin (not the dead one) have been involved in the Charismatic movement within the Catholic church. Kind of like Pentecostalism without the bother of a lot of Bible study. My feeling is that Sister Mary Joseph wouldn't approve. And neither would the nun (and she was the nice one!) who tore up my Mad magazine outside catechism class. A big part of this movement (and I use the term loosely, heh, heh) is looking for signs and visitations of the dead being among us. At least from the snippets of conversation I heard, anyway. And the siren at the firehouse where my cousin voluteered went off, for no reason at all. Right around the time of death. Spooky shit like this is why I don't go visit the ancestral homeland - Scranton.