Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dikika Hominid Revisited Devolving Into Tiktaalik Revisited

Actually, this post is not about the Dikika hominid per se, but I just discovered a northern California website promoting creationist misquotes and fake data and felt the need to address a couple of points. Tim Hearden in Redding, repeats the same "lawyer Luskin is a better source for information on early hominids than paleoanthropologists who actually study the material" falsehoods about Dikika, despite being challenged by some commenters. (Thanks to "Procopius" (no direct link to a blog or website unfortunately) who referred Hearden to my earlier comments on Dikika). I have not read all of Tim Hearden's posts on the subject of evolution, having only just found his blog; however, from the comments on the Dikika hominid I can come to some general conclusions:

1. Tim Hearden thinks Casey Luskin presents valid information on evolution in a critical, well thought out manner;

2. Tim Hearden thinks "dissenting views" of evolution should be presented, regardless of their validity;

3. Tim Hearden calls into question PZ Meyers credibility, despite his Ph.D. in biology, because of his blog tagline;

4. Tim Hearden thinks Answers in Genesis and Lee Strobel are credible sources of scientific knowledge;

It is really this last one I want to address. The suggestion that Ken Ham and the Answers In Genesis crowd have conducted ANY legitimate scientific research goes far beyond the realm of reasoned and critical thought. First off, Hearden questions PZ's credibility because of his tagline: "Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal"; OK, I might be able to understand why a Bible-believing fellow like Hearden would object to the word ejaculation, but how about the Answer In Genesis tagline: "Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse". No questions of credibility here, right?

As evidence for his case that "solid research" exists refuting evolution, Hearden cites David Menton, Answer In Genesis lecturer, as discounting any evolutionary significance of the recent fossil discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, an extinct lobe-finned fish. Ed Brayton, at Dispatches From the Culture Wars previously discussed Menton's assessment of the find, and needless to say, finds it lacking in context, factual information and downright truth. Hearden first has to establish Menton's credentials and of course cites the Answers In Genesis bio:

David Menton, an Answers in Genesis lecturer who served as a biomedical research technician at the Mayo Clinic, helped craft the creationist rebuttal.

'[Tiktaalik] is not an amphibian or a reptile,' said Menton, who holds a Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University. 'It belongs to a group of fish called lobe-fin fish.'

To which Brayton correctly responds:

Why is a cell biologist making arguments on a finding in the field of paleontology? Well, because there are virtually no paleontologists who are creationists. The closest they have is Kurt Wise and I've seen nothing from him about this find (Wise is generally careful not to make statements without first doing some study on the subject, unlike Menton, who is more than happy to step completely outside his expertise and make bold statements without any real study of the subject). He doesn't even seem to know that they are called "lobe-finned" not "lobe-fin" fishes. But his point here is totally irrelevant. Of course it's not an amphibian, much less a reptile; no one has claimed such a thing. Yet he states this as though it was in opposition to some claim made about the find.

Now, after reading this, Tim will probably go off and say something like "It's a typical comeback, one heard often from those who espouse the apologetics of evolution -- don't address the subject, impugn the source" and then cite a laundry list of supposed scientists who dissent from the evolutionary viewpoint, almost none of whom actually study evolutionary biology. Before the usual protestations come forward let me say that, no, just because you don't have a degree in the field doesn't mean that you shouldn't be allowed to comment on a subject. The issue has never been about's been about credibility. Menton has no credibility on a paleontological subject. But we don't have to draw this conclusion simply from the fact that his degree has nothing to do with evolutionary biology. We can judge for ourselves from the clear lack of knowledge he has about the issue. Again, from Brayton's discussion:

The lobe-fin fish have bones similar to other vertebrates. Tiktaalik, Menton said, is not unique in having these bones because other lobe-fish, such as "coelacanth" fish, also have them. Evolutionists say the lobe-fin fish became extinct millions of years ago. [from the Answers In Genesis article]

This is utter nonsense. No evolutionist ever said that lobe-finned fish were extinct. It was once thought that coelacanths were extinct, until cousins of the extinct forms were found in the Indian Ocean a few decades ago. That's right, cousins. If you listen to creationists, you would get the idea that the coelacanths that live today were just like the ones thought to have gone extinct some 80 million years ago, but that idea is completely wrong.

Coelacanth, you see, is not the name of a species or even a genus, but of a family of fish. And the specimens that survive today, Latimeria chalumnae and Latimeria menadoensis, are of an entirely different genus than the ones that went extinct long ago. Coelacanths are evolutionary cousins of the Rhipidistian fish that gave rise to amphibians. And here again, his argument is simply irrelevant. Okay, so other lobe-finned fish have bone structures similar to Tiktaalik and other species. How this is an argument against the fish-amphibian transition is a mystery.

Menton goes further and demonstrates how disingenous he really is being:

"It was known in the fossil record a long time before we found a living one," Menton said. "They are a fish; they do not walk on the land; they use these fins to swim with." A 1955 Scientific American article exposing its consistent lineage embarrassed evolutionists, he said, because "it didn't evolve; it didn't change; it looked like the one found in the fossil record."

Brayton points out the obvious to those having studied paleontology seriously:

That is simply a lie. As stated above, the modern coelacanths are so distinct from the 120 or so extinct species of coelacanths that they are placed in an entirely different genus. Not just a different subspecies or different species, a different genus.

Every paleontologist (not cell biologists at the Mayo clinic, not lawyers, not mathematicians) who has actually studied these fossils knows that they are different, they have both shared and derived features (they are all transitional), and they are not like the current ones found off the southern African coast today. Menton, par for the creationist course, has LIED about the evidence. I hope Hearden understands this...Menton lied; he broke God's Ninth Commandment (or are we about to get some Biblical gymnastics that the ninth commandment doesn't mean that at all???).

Hearden also cites the "Cambrian Explosion" as evidence against evolution, but again, you can't buy that depiction of it unless you lie about the evidence.

So why do the Answers In Genesis folks, who Hearden thinks are appropriate sources of scientific information, at worst falsifying and at best, misrepresenting scientific data? Could it be because:
A. They're not really scientists with legitimate knowledge of the subject on which they speak?


B. They are required to "Uphold the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse"?


Dikika Hominid, Round 2

Afarensis continues exposing the minimalist interpretations for the new Dikika hominid (ah, it's just an ape!) that are trotted out as explanations for why creatures with both human and ape characteristics are frequently found in the paleontological record. Again, Afarensis states the errors and provides the actual data in context, but I couldn't help responding myself to this statement in the comments from Reasonable Kansans:

What is so amazing about this creature? Could this not have been an extinct ape that we are not familiar with? What makes it a human ancestor? It seems like it’s an ape with legs slightly different than what we are used to seeing on an ape.

I'm sorry, but I'm fighting this urge not to laugh. Bipedalism is "slightly different" from ape-like locomotion? Go to the zoo, watch chimps and gorillas move around their pens, then watch the humans....again, watch the apes, then watch the humans. Australopithecus afarensis walked much more like a human than an ape. Not exactly like a human, no...there are discussions concerning the efficiency of the bipedalism in which Lucy and her kin engaged (i.e., did they walk as well as we do?). But if you were to look only at the way in which an afarensis walked there's no doubt you would include it with the humans. If you looked at its teeth, you would see they are somewhat ape-like, but really more like us (but not quite) and different from the gorilla or the chimp. If you spent your life studying ape and human anatomy and you looked at other skeletal features, you would not be comfortable placing afarensis in the "APE" box, nor would you be comfortable putting afarensis in the "HUMAN" box...they are actually something kind of, (intermediate? transitional?). So, in absence of evolutionary theory, how would you explain the existence of this kind of creature to a group of students?

Reasonable Kansans (does Red State Rabble know about this site?) also points out the following:

Again, most readers are not paleoanthropologists...

No, they are not. And that's why those of who have been trained in that and similar fields get so annoyed when lawyers (Casey Luskin, Philip Johnson) and mathematicians (William Dembski) make comments that are clearly not intended to give the average viewer the appropriate context but rather play to their ignorance on the subject matter. That's also why the subject matter in science classes should be left to legitimate scientists and not the general public.

Friday, September 29, 2006

More on Casey Luskin and the Dikika Hominid

Afarensis has already dealt a blow to Casey Luskin’s disingenuous discussion of the new australopithecine fossil from Dikika in Ethiopia. I don’t wish to re-invent the wheel here, but in reading both discussions, several additional issues crossed my mind and made their way to my pen (well, computer key-board). Luskin, being the good ID advocate he is, needs a “big bang” of hominid (human family, including australopithecines) evolution to rival the Cambrian “explosion” that he, Wells, Dembski and others cite ad nauseum (which means, of course, they also need a paleontological discovery rich in quotations that can be expertly and selectively mined to present a much different argument than any the original authorities intended). Luskin would lead the uninitiated to believe he has found just such a hominid big bang:

These rapid, unique, and genetically significant changes are termed "a genetic revolution" where "no australopithecine species is obviously transitional." One commentator proposed this evidence implies a "big bang theory" of human evolution. Now that “Homo” habilis is best recognized as an australopithecine due to its ape-like skeletal structure (see "The Human Genus," Science, 284:65-71), it is no wonder an article in Nature last year recognized the lack of an clear-cut immediate ancestor for our genus Homo...

Of course, Luskin implies that the reporting of the Dikika australopithecine by the news media is purposely covering up the bigger story: australopithecines are just apes and the Homo lineage seemingly sprang from no where, a la Intelligent Design. (I have to give Luskin credit here: his manipulation is so precise that he gets a shot in for Intelligent Design as an alternative explanation, suggests that paleoanthropologists agree with this, twists gaps of knowledge into support for ID, synthesizes thousands of legitimate research into the written equivalent of a 30 second sound bite, AND slams the “liberal” news media for covering it up, all in a few sentences!).

Anyone familiar with the paleontological record (as it currently stands) of any species knows that the only way to get a clean, sudden appearance of any group of organisms is to ignore the volumes of data that don't fit. In citing the Hawks, et al. 2000 paper in the Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution, Luskin is clearly suggesting that the authors themselves have established the “sudden appearance” of Homo as something quite distinct from australopithecines and again, implies that we have a clear case for Intelligent Design moving the inept humans along a specified path to greatness. First, setting aside for the moment the sneaking suspicion I have that there’s far more to the Hawks et al. paper than Luskin is willing to lay out (or readers of Evolution News and Views are willing to pursue – and Afarensis has delved into some of this already), there are a number of issues glossed over by the Discovery Institute minions.

First, Hawks et al. were discussing Homo ergaster and Homo erectus in the passage he cites. Luskin dismisses the habilines (Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis) as nothing more than australopithecines with a single reference, making the gulf between australopithecines and Homo much wider. Pretty convenient. However, while there have been discussions about whether Homo habilis should actually be Australopithecus habilis, my understanding is that this taxonomic change has not garnered wide support. In fact, new dating of the East African early Homo shows that there are now no early small brained habilines (likely candidates for inclusion with the Australopithecus genus) and that rather, that in the habilines we actually now have potential great ancestors to the larger bodied Homo:

Now the situation has changed. The small Turkana habiline, KNM-ER 1813, is now contemporary with the Olduvai sample. There are no longer any small-skulled early Turkana habilines. KNM-ER 1805 makes sense as a male of the later, small-skulled sample because it is relatively small-brained but robustly built (e.g., with a sagittal crest). That leaves KNM-ER 1470, KNM-ER 1590, KNM-ER 3732, and KNM-ER 3735 as plausible habilines before 1.85 Ma.

This seems like a nice sample as a possible ancestor for both later large-bodied Homo and later habilines. Heck, Wood (1991) even wrote this in his description of KNM-ER 3735:

Some features (e.g. vault thickness) ally it with a Homo erectus-like hominid, but in other areas (e.g. the frontal) it is more like crania such as KNM-ER 1813, a conclusion endorsed by Walker (1987) and by Leakey et al. (1989). Tobias (1989) includes KNM-ER 3735 within H. habilis (Wood 1991:134-135).

What more could you ask of a common ancestor?

The only people who seem to think we can readily dismiss early Homo as nothing more than australopithecines are creationists (and I thought Intelligent Design wasn't creationism...silly me!).

Second, even discounting the early Homo fossils, the ID folks still have a problem with a hominid “big bang”. Human history is still best described as mosaic when you look at the data. Bipedalism started in australopithecines, not Homo (how would the ID folks explain bipedalism in Australopithecus versus early Homo – derived separately in both lineages by a designer?; do they not share an evolutionary relationship?); larger brain sizes begin in early Homo, but do not “explode” but rather show slow increases (even if we discount the habilines and start with ergaster as the ID crowd would prefer we do – so the Designer can’t jump up a couple of hundred cc’s right from the start, but has to develop it slowly?). Technology sure doesn’t explode on to the scene (this is another reason why early Homo just can’t be discounted comfortably – there’s no one else around likely to have created the Oldowan). And what of the Acheulean? Seems to be in use for more than a million years, followed by clearly gradual changes in technology…again, why not in one instance? What is the ID hypothesis that accounts for technological innovation beginning with the Oldowan? Nothing about modern humans appears to have come about in quick, consistent, well-designed fashion. Development of specified physical features as well as technology seems to derive far more from contingency than purposeful design.

Finally, the nature of human paleontology is so complex and changes so rapidly that it is hardly surprising Luskin and the Discovery Institute can hide the nuances of the discipline, skip the real questions and data, and portray a quick and easy final solution to those minds ready to swallow it and not venture forward with the hard work of science. I am reminded of another classic takedown by Keith Olbermann where he gets to the heart of what is deceptive about people (in this case he was discussing Ann Coulter) who depend on ignorance to get their point across regarding regarding science:

Yes, it's long, complex, boring [referencing a brief paragraph on the evidence for evolution]. You got to speed it up, that's the point, that's why some people still believe in creationism, because it's hard to grasp the complexities of evolution -- like why we humans have Adam's apples.

And the complexity is why fake authors with fake ideas can still peddle their crap by crafting their talking points so that honest rebuttals are by necessity, long, complex, and boring, which is why it's important that somebody check out the footnotes.

Don't suppose this refers to the Discovery Institute too?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Blog Update

A reader mentioned to me via email that comments weren't getting through...I've changed the settings, so hopefully anyone can comment now (if I start getting spammed, I'll have to change the settings to something more controlled)...sorry, it wasn't intentional...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Olbermann Strikes a Blow Too!

Keith Olbermann is nothing less than a hero for the media, our constitution and American values. In reacting to President Clinton's interview on FOX, the right-wing propagandists can do nothing better to refer to the former president as "crazed". Locally, conservative Kurt Bonham from Fly At Night can come up with no better counter than that "KO lives in a fantasy world of self-perpetuating greatness"; and "Olbermann is like many who think that they speak with facts but should simply admit that it is all made up to meet their out of control agenda" (This from a man who requires no ad hominem attacks be left on his blog, only that commenters stick with substance...really?). Fly At Night provides no counter facts of his own, only refers the reader to this individual, who fairs no better at intellectual prowess:

Watching this douche clumsily trying to channel his paranoid rage into lofty rhetoric has been one of the true joys of blogging these past few weeks. There’s nothing so pathetic, or entertaining, as someone stupid trying to sound smart; the fact that it’s happening on national TV every night makes it almost too good to be true. And the best part is, the nutroots keep egging him on. Each time he gets a little angrier and the prose gets a little purpler and nastier, and the nutroots fist pumps get a little faster and more intense. We’re building to something here; Olby might not know it yet but he’s fast running out of room to run. Soon he’ll reach the point where there are no more accusations to level at Bush and he’ll have to cross the final frontier. He’s not there yet, but give him time: he’s been scrupulous about referring to the UK terror plot as the “purported plot,” a qualifier that for some reason doesn’t manifest itself when the subject turns to, say, Haditha. He’s inching his way towards the big one. Soon enough.

Gee, I'm speechless. I guess that's the kind of paragraph that would be effective in any debating full of fact and argument that you just obviously see the logic of why we all should stop watching Keith Olbermann. Apparently Keith is a moron because he delivers his views with passion (only Rush Limbaugh is supposed to have passion, everyone else is "crazed"). You can get the transcipts of Olbermann's discussions here. But for the moment, compare some of Olbermann with the paragraph above:

The Bush administration did not try to get Osama bin Laden before 9/11. The Bush administration ignored all the evidence gathered by its predecessors. The Bush administration did not understand the daily briefing entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The Bush administration did not try.

Moreover, for the five years, one month, and two weeks, the current administration and in particular the president has been given the greatest pass for incompetence and malfeasance in American history.
President Roosevelt was rightly blamed for ignoring the warning signs, some of them 17 years old before Pearl Harbor. President Hoover was correctly blamed for, if not the Great Depression itself, then the disastrous economic steps he took in the immediate aftermath of the stock market crash. Even President Lincoln assumed some measure of responsibility for the Civil War, though talk of Southern secession had begun as early as 1832.

But for this president. To hear him bleat and whine and bully at nearly every opportunity, one would think someone else had been president on September 11, 2001 or the nearly eight months that preceded it...

...Except for this: After five years of skirting even the most inarguable facts that he was president on 9/11, he must bear some responsibility for his and our un-readiness, Mr. Bush has now moved on, unmistakably and without conscience or shame, towards rewriting history, and attempting to make the responsibility entirely Mr. Clinton‘s.

Of course, he is not honest enough to do that directly. As with all the other nefariousness and slime of this, our worst presidency since James Buchanan, he is having it done for him by proxy.

Thus, the sandbag effort by Fox News Friday afternoon.

Consider the timing: The very weekend the National Intelligence Estimate would be released and show the Iraq war to be the fraudulent failure it is-not a check on terror, but fertilizer for it.

This president and this administration has done more to put us at risk of additional attack than any previous administration. The world is getting tired of American are at least half of all Americans. I really don't think those who support Bush know how lonely the world is getting for them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Lassen County Times Strikes Back!

Our weekly paper came out today and clearly the cream of the Susanville's intellectual anti-teacher populace over-exerted itself in response to my editorial praising teachers. "Mike Smith" writes:

I give kudos to the paper for printing O'Brien's letter, especially since it shows what a self-righteous person he is.

Wow, I'm stunned. I guess I should give up writing because Mike Smith thinks that when you come to someone's defense, you're being self-righteous. Gee, got me there Mike! Then comes some nonsense that the issue is how much a teacher is required to work versus what they want to work. But the real zinger is at the end:

Thank God for a paper that does not expose O'Brien's anti-God views and humanism. People like you need prayer.

How Mr. Smith logically leaps from an editorial on the worth of teachers to my being anti-God and a humanist escapes me. It could be that he's referring to other articles I've written (in which case, questioning creationists and doubting that geology is governed by Gay Pride Week must automatically make you anti-God). Ok, I'm feeling thoroughly chastened....
(I'll make a bet here: there are several "Mike Smiths" in the community, but what do you suppose that this intellectual giant comes from the same fundamentalist church the Lassen County Times editor attends??).

Next letter is from retired school teacher Pam Montgomery, who apparently doesn't think much about her career:

After reading the September 12 editorial [this is the one blasting teachers - see the previous link], I was amazed as a former teacher how right on the comments were. Where do teachers get off thinking that their profession is better than anyone else's and they deserve to be canonized as saints?

I'll spare you the details, but she then goes on to rant and rave about the "good old days" when teaching was what it should be. Here's some snippets (right out of the conservative "hate teachers" play book):

...Too many kids drop or graduate as illiterates...(meaning: teachers are to blame);

...If we are so perfect, why is the homeschooling community so strong?...(maybe because they prefer their kids are taught midiaeval creationism and not modern science?);

...Why do we force our kids to listen to our agenda and not think for themselves?...(let me guess: evolution, global warming, consequences of war, forefathers not being Pat Robertson Christians, conservation...all are "agenda" items and not considered "critical thinking"???);

...Why do we censor what they read through mindless programs like accelerated reader? I was happy if children read and many chose the Bible...(critical thinking at its finest!);

...Calling the paper was stupid, idiotic and shameful...We teach children not to make prank phone calls and even at times have had police officers counsel children on the right way to use a phone... (meaning: if the paper calls you lazy, part-time employees with a lousy work ethic compared to "average" workers, you're supposed to just sit back and take it like good public servants);

...My only disagreement with the editorial was to say teaching is a calling. I don't think so, not anymore. It is an easy way to earn a living and summer off...(I guess if all you need to do is teach kids not to question the Bible then life would be pretty easy - thinking is such hard work after all!);

Finally she gets to me:

As for Dr. O'Brien's piece of mind, what dribble from a man who claims to have a Ph.D. He is the same man who said the Pool of Siloam was not discovered in Israel, but did he apologize to all the Lassen County readers when the discovery made national news. [no question mark at the end of the sentence - good punctuation for a teacher...].

Well, what to say about Mrs. Montgomery? Well, she can't read for one thing. I NEVER claimed the Pool of Siloam wasn't discovered in Israel [editorial last year, no direct link]...I claimed that the paper got many of their facts wrong about the discovery (and archaeology in general) and questioned how the Times led its readers to the conclusion that Carl Baugh is a bonafide archaeologist who led the excavation.

That's the sum total of the negative response. I guess they showed me. I should probably dismiss a week of getting contragulatory and thankful emails, phone calls and pats on the back for standing up to those who demean teachers.

On the other hand, it's also possible that Mike and Pam have the combined intellectual capacity of a dead beaver.

[Update: well, I can tell you that Mike and Pam provided a lot of hilarious laughter around my house this evening. My wife commented that perhaps Pam meant "drivel" instead of "dribble" - perhaps because she has a lousy command of the English language, although I suppose she could have been commenting on my basketball skills! Not only is the running joke around our house the idea that my wife works only 6 hours a day teaching, but now I sign my letters "The Self-Righteous, Anti-God, Humanistic Dribbler"]

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dilusions of Bill O'Reilly

Anyone who doesn't honestly think that Bill O'Reilly is the most egocentric and dillusional person in the world needs to look at the review of his latest book, Culture Warrior, at Media Matters.

An example from the review:

"I mean, what I don't get about Susan Sarandon and her fellow S-P travelers," Bill O'Reilly writes in Culture Warrior, "is the constant anger" (Page 161). But if there's one thing Bill O'Reilly knows about, it's anger. In fact, Culture Warrior is little more than a string of attacks against people and media outlets O'Reilly doesn't like. O'Reilly presents himself as an independent, someone who opposes any ideological extremes. "Because I criticize what I consider to be dishonest and unfair media, and extremist pundits on both the right and the left as well as corrupt and/or ineffective politicians," he writes, "there is no shortage of people trying to marginalize me, or worse, destroy me" (Page 4). But as anyone who has watched his show knows, this is little more than a pose. A look at the list of people he specifically attacks in the book shows that among the dozens there appear to be only two clear conservatives -- Michael Savage and Ann Coulter.

New Information on the Bosnian Pyramids

Via Archaeoblog, I just saw this update on the Bosnian Pyramids. The area was recently visited by Dr. Robert Schoch of Boston University and he reported his observations here. Unfortunately, I don't know much about Robert Schoch, other than he is a geologist/geophysicist by training. He also apparently thinks the Sphinx is pre-Dynastic in age; I don't know enough about his views on the subject to comment. However, his expertise in geology served him well on the visit to the Bosnian Pyramid...apparently Semir Osmanagic has the same problems interpreting geologic formations as these guys have. It seems pretty clear that the supposed hewn blocks of stone at the Bosnian Pyramid are nothing more than natural sandstone formations:

Where he [Osmanagic] saw concrete blocks and human intervention, I saw only perfectly natural sandstones and conglomerates that had broken into larger or smaller blocks due both to tectonic stresses and gravity slumping...

The rocks have been tilted and bent due to tectonic stresses. The tectonic forces plastically deformed the clays and mudstones, but the sandstones and conglomerates broke into semi-regularly shaped pieces that Osmanagic and his team have excavated in numerous places, interpreting them as “pavements,” “terraces,” “concrete blocks,” “foundation stones,”
and so forth.

As for the supposed "ancient inscriptions", Schoch had a much better explanation:
The much-touted “ancient inscriptions” seem not to be ancient at all. I was told by a reliable source that the inscriptions were not there when members of the “pyramid team” initially entered the tunnels less than two years ago. The “ancient inscriptions” had been added since,
perhaps non-maliciously, or perhaps as a downright hoax.

I applaud Osmanagic for allowing Schoch to visit, although I'm sure the good doctor's conclusions were not what Osmanagic wanted. Too often, the details of high profile discoveries are kept hidden, discussed by "experts" outside the fields of study actually required for critical analysis, but sold to an uncritical media as authentic - when that happens, rest assured someone let the skunk in the door and is trying to convince everyone that it's a kitten. Whenever an individual, group of people or organization is afraid to have qualified experts in appropriate fields evaluate their discoveries, or fail to offer detailed, well written reports on what was discovered, or fail to share their data with colleagues...well, you can bet something fraudulent is afoot.

Updated Blog Template

As you can see, I've updated the Northstate Science page with the new Beta Blogger; so far I like the look and the stretched page. It's also easier to make changes, post photos and add boxes to the design.

I also changed the comment section so that anyone can comment without having to sign on - we'll see how long that lasts (given the experiences with spamming that other bloggers complain about, I might have to change the setting)...

Friday, September 22, 2006

National Museum of Kenya

In addition to previously commenting on the rediculousness of Bishop Adoyo and his insistence that human fossils be hidden from public view at the National Museum of Kenya, I had wanted to post some photos but had been having problems with getting them on the blog. I seem to have fixed that, so here we go....

I had the good fortune to conduct research in Kenya during the late 1980s and early 1990s on a game ranch just outside of Nairobi (near the town of Machakos). It was a wonderful experience, and of course I was able to spend some time at the National Museum (I even received fossil samples (non-human) from the museum for analysis in my dissertation). I always enjoyed the museum, particularly the outdoor "snake park" exhibits. Here are two of my favorites:

This guy was always fairly active for your typical crocodile...but what I really got a kick out of were the signs posted all along the fences:

I also loved the signs in the middle of the open area housing venomous snakes:

I really hope the museum rejects the insane opinion of a superstitious, mideaeval-thinking bishop who seems to be more comfortable with mythology than reason.

Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science

Via PZ and BigDumbChimp I was perusing a new website for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. I agree with PZ - here's a charity I can send my tax-deductible donations to!!! But I was exploring some of the articles on the site and found this one by Johann Hari, which appeared in the London Independent on 21 September. The second paragraph in particular was too good to pass up:

Both Joseph Ratzinger and the Islamists calling for his decapitation believe they have direct access to an invisible supernatural being called “God”. Both believe this God wills them to make decisions that have led to the horrific deaths of tens of thousands of people. Both believe this God finds secular democratic Europe disgusting, an atheistic bog dominated by a “culture of death.” Both hate feminism and gay rights and sexual freedom. Both believe they are infallible, and that the billions who refuse to follow them are incurring the wrath of the Creator of the Universe. The only real difference is the name they give to this creature, and a few added textual tweaks on either side.

There are too many other good points in this article and I would recommend you read it yourself. However, just a couple more that struck a personal chord with me:

The tragedy is that when there are so many good reasons to hate Joseph Ratzinger, this week’s rioters have chosen one of the few bogus ones. For over a decade now, he has been one of the primary defenders of priests who go to the poorest, most vulnerable people in the world and tell them condoms are the cause of AIDS. In the past year, I have sat in two Catholic churches thousands of miles apart and listened while a Catholic priest told illiterate people with no alternative sources of information that condoms come pre-infected with AIDS and are the reason people die of it. In Bukavu, a crater-city in Congo, and in the slums ringing Caracas, Venezuela, people believed it. They told me they “would not go to Heaven” if they used condoms, and that condoms contain tiny invisible holes through which the virus passes – the advice their priest had doled out.

This is one of the main reasons I have a real distaste for missionaries. Their "logic" depends on being doled out to illiterate people - without that, there would be no message. And they use that position to convey some of the most inaccurate information available to people who don't know the difference. Having seen some of this first hand, I have to wonder if many of Africa's problems with poverty, disease, overcrowding and despotism aren't ultimately due to the incessant interference from missionaries. They'd be better off to kick missionaries of all stripes out of their country.

One more item from the article:

But there is a deeper philosophical repugnance to Ratzinger lying beneath these individual decisions. His recent lecture was devoted to the premise that the free pursuit of reason will lead all people to a rational belief in the Christian God described in the Bible. (You know – the God who explicitly supports slavery, commits genocide against the Amelkites, stones prostitutes, and feeds small children to bears). The Christian God is Reason Personified, while the Muslim God is “beyond reason” – hence the fuss. But this intra-superstitious squabble is not the real outrage.

However much he swears it is not, this argument is deeply anti-Enlightenment. The central insight of the Enlightenment is that there are two fundamentally different ways to understand the world. One is divine revelation, where a being contacts you from another realm and discloses some truth. (Another word for this is ‘hallucination’). The second method is reason – observing the world empirically, and drawing conclusions from the things we observe. The ultimate expression of reason is the scientific method. These approaches are fundamentally contrasting, and you cannot simply weld them together with contorted theological trickery.

By claiming that divine revelation leads to reason – indeed, is its central underpinning – Ratzinger is subtly attacking the core principles of the Enlightenment. There is nothing we can observe in the world that leads us rationally to conclude a magical creature created it. But Ratzinger wants to be able to claim the fruits of the Enlightenment, like science, without following its basic principles. Whenever people do try to stretch reason to accord with faith – as he demands – they invariably produce contorted, corrupted unreason like the absurdity of ‘intelligent design theory’ (which should be dubbed Creationism 2.0).

This is one of the primary reasons we left the Catholic Church. Its retreat from reason began years ago, with the realization in America that greater political power (and financial gain) could be obtained if it just re-interpreted its basic principles to be more in line with its conservative Protestant bretheren.

Read the article. And contribute to Dawkins' Foundation.

Bible Historically Valid?

I just saw this in the Sacramento Bee this morning:

SAN FRANCISCO -- The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted Thursday to reweigh its earlier decision that jurors may consider biblical passages on vengeance during death-penalty deliberations.

I started thinking, "Well, that's good, biblical passages on vengeance should not be introduced as "evidence" in trials", but then got to this bit of irony:

Although jurors are forbidden to base their decisions on facts not presented in the courtroom, the appellate panel said the passages were "not, in fact, facts at all."

If I'm reading this correctly, the original appellate decision was that it would be OK to introduce bible passages because, after all, bible passages "are not facts at all" and jurors can't use them to reach a decision. Am I missing something, or did the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals actually rule on the historical validity of the Bible?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bishop Adoyo and the Kenyan Fossils

This story keeps getting discussed on a blogs and I’m glad. Bishop Adoyo, chairman of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya continues to demand that hominid fossils in the Kenyan National Museum not be interpreted as evidence for evolution. In other reports he specifically requested removal of human fossil exhibits altogether or at least moving them to obscure corners of the museum. Of course, Bishop Adoyo is really an evangelical fruitcake who wanted the Kenyan national motto "Harambee" stricken because it originated from Hindu laborers (it simply means let's work together), identified devil worship at every level of society in Kenya (but mostly among the political opponents of Daniel Arap Moi, Kenya's corrupt president - why do evangelicals alwasy seem to support corruption?), claimed golfing clubs lead to the occult, and campaigned to have The Da Vinci Code banned in Kenya. The fact that he wants Kenya to relegate its wonderful human fossil collection (which is largely responsible for putting Kenya on the world map of recognition) to a closet at the back of the National Museum because it personally offends him shows just how culturally backwords this dipstick really is. I was also interested in the large number of Christians in Kenya he supposedly claims to represent. Interestingly, I could find no data on just which churches comprise membership in the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya. Most accounts suggest that this organization represents 13 million people (although the Wired story cited above suggests 9 million). Interesting, according to current stats for the Kenyan populations, Protestants comprise 45% of the 34 million Kenyans (approximately 15 million people). So, therefore Adoyo is claiming that a) almost all Protestants in Kenya are evangelicals, and b) they all follow Adoyo as chairman of the Evangelical Alliance. I find that incredibly hard to believe, especially since a large proportion of Protestant sects have no issue with evolution (but apparently none of these have representation in Kenya!). Fortunately, news reports largely indicate that the National Museum has not received phone calls requesting the removal of the human fossil exhibit, further suggesting that the actual number of people who closely follow Bishop Adoyo is more like...10.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Look Kids, Real Christians!

Via Pharyngula, I came to this story and hope was renewed. After dealing with the fundamentalist crowd around this town, these are the kind of folks who could get me back into the fold....(well, maybe...). I particularly like the essay by Bishop Shelby Spong who has always been one of my favorite Christian writers. He describes "Crosswalk America" - a group of Christians who is trying to take Christ back from the fundamentalists. I particularly like their creed:

They walked to publicize something they called the ‘Phoenix Affirmations’ that involve these principles:
Christians must have an openness to other faiths

Christians must care for the earth and its ecosystem
Christians must value artistic _expression in all its forms
Christians must welcome and include all persons
Christians must oppose the co-mingling of Church and State
Christians must seek peace and end systemic poverty
Christians must promote the values of rest and recreation, prayer and reflection
Christians must embrace both faith and science


They wanted to demonstrate that those who are committed to Christ would not set the citizens of this land against each other over differing religious beliefs and practices. Their desire was to turn the present course of Christianity in America away from its divisive pro-war, anti-female, anti-gay public face, where those who disagree are relegated to an emotional status somewhere between being excommunicated and burned at the stake,to a religion identified with the words ‘love’ and ‘inclusion.’

Yep, that's more like the "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love" version that I was taught as a child, and less like the "Pro-Republican, Anti-Public Service, Pro-Own Anything You Can Get Your Hands On, Anti-Science, Pro Fetuses-Are-Holier-Than-Children, Demean Homosexuals and Athiests, Substitute the Bible for History and Reason" crowd that dominates Christianity today.

I bet the group Spong writes about doesn't think teachers only work 6 hours a day....

Agendas At The Lassen County Times

This is from an email message I received from the Managing Editor of the Lassen County Times discussing my suggestion that the Times is afraid of facts. I won't bother with the whole thing, but here are my comments (in black - the editor's comments are in red). The whole issue is that she's apparently upset that I think the Times has an agenda and that I accused them of being malevolent in their editorial on teachers. Well, I think they do have an agenda and the following comments explain why:

We are not afraid of facts; we have rules to go by. We will not bend our rules for you or anyone else. It is not good business practice and it leaves us open to have to publish everything even if it libelous. I am sure you as a Professor can appreciate that all institutions have standards and that is ours.

Well, I didn’t ask the Times to break the rules; in fact I specifically said that I realized the letter was over the limit imposed by the Times and that they were free to publish it as an editorial instead. I also said to either publish it in its entirety or not – I don’t care for the way the staff edits letters to conform to space limitations. I will also say this:
- my experience with the Times is that those “rules” are not hard and fast and plenty of people extolling the virtues of God and Country have been allowed letters beyond the 500 word limit (other points of view may occasionally be permitted in excess of the standard length but preference is clearly given to the conservative side);
- I also know from reading the Times that they frequently allow multiple opinion pieces and also allow some to run at absurd length (see my comments on the Bill Ashmore piece I responded to several months ago, also here and here – and which got a lot of play around the internet, thanks to PZ, Pandagon, Beware of the Dogma, and some others). The Times has the ability to accomodate more viewpoints than they typicall publish, but I think refuse to do so.

I read your opinion and disagree with many assertions about the staff's believes and why the editorial was written.

As I previously posted, I don’t know for sure what the staff as a whole believes. I can only surmise based on what they’ve written and regularly publish. I will note, however, that the very bottom of the editorial blasting teachers contains a list of people on the “editorial board” (which, let me clarify, is what I am really referring to when I indicate “staff”) that includes the publisher, managing editor, and news editor. Here is what I regularly accuse the editorial board on the Times of:
- they fail to back up their editorials and news reporting with facts, particularly when those facts disagree with their position; they appear not to do any research but generally take the Coulter, O’Reilly and Hannity route to intellectual development: if it doesn’t fit your model, ignore it and make stuff up that does.
- they use significant amounts of space in the paper conducting “ideological posturing”. In this case, what I mean is that they overemphasize fundamentalist Christian news and viewpoints and frequently downplay or denigrate other points of view (including other Christian perspectives);
- they selectively report; again, they emphasize certain perspectives and downplay others; they fail to consider the opinion of people knowledgeable in their fields of expertise;
- I believe they have an agenda, like many conservative papers, to evangelize the local community with positive stories about Christianity (specifically fundamentalist Christianity) while failing to report the factual errors often presented. They also fail to report (or purposely bury) other special interest stores (local kids working to promote a rock concert get a paragraph buried back a few pages; a couple of local kids in a Christian band get front page and half – for example).

This flows into the next series of comments:

To better understand your point of view can you take the time to explain what you mean by

The editorial was a purposeful and malevolent misrepresentation of teachers’ work efforts and it belies a broader underlying agenda that most of us suspect is behind the Times’ selective reporting efforts. [emphasis mine - she's quoting from my letter]

As managing editor I do not believe in selective reporting…I have had no problem publishing your opinions in the past, as you know, though on a personal level, I never agreed with anything you have written.

Ok, first, yes the Times has generally printed everything I’ve written; usually as a Letter to the Editor, but I have one editorial as well. That’s really not what I mean by “selective reporting” although my conversations with people on the street are that they reject far more objections to their weekly reporting than they let on.
This is what I mean by selective reporting:
- two local residents take a trip to Israel, work at an archaeological site and then get front page headlines for three issues on how they’re archaeologists “proving the Bible correct”;
- Carl Baugh, noted fraud in science, gets a fairly descent sized article on his visit to town;
- Missionaries get front page news headlines and several pages of coverage;
- Huge stories are run on the students rights to promote their religion publicly
- Stories are run on prayer circles at the high school
- Editorials criticize school teachers for getting upset that students are proselytizing to others in a setting in which students are forced to attend;
- Bill Ashmore, local pastor, gets an editorial the length of which I’ve never seen in the pages of the Times, making absolutely ignorant statements about geology, weather and God’s revenge on American for having gay people;
- Other pastors get editorial space writing absolute drivel and historically inaccurate statements regarding the Bible;
- A new pastor gets a half page devotion in the same issue the editorial board doesn’t bother with facts and blasts teachers as lazy and money hungry;
- Summer bible classes get incredible coverage;
- And the list goes on…

Certainly, other stories appear, but they seem to rarely get the headline coverage ascribed to fundamentalist Christian activities of the most mundane newsworthiness. Should the Times stop covering such issues…of course not. But they should damn well bring more balance into the picture and stop relegating positive stories about anyone who doesn't flaunt their Christianity to the back pages. Or ignore legitimate arguments against myth being presented as fact.

As for the managing editor not agreeing with any of my editorials or letters to the paper:
1) in response to inaccuracies presented as fact in a series of stories on local residents playing archaeologist in the Holy Land I made the following points:
- Carl Baugh is not a professional archaeologist, has never published a serious article, and his "discoveries" are all fakes; I have made similar points since starting this blog;
- The Times presented Carl Baugh and his group has being professional archaeologists who were invited by the Israeli government specifically to work on these sites; the Times also clearly gave the people of Susanville the impression that Carl Baugh was directing the excavations and not simply a volunteer working with actual professional archaeologists who were calling the shots and publishing the results - I questioned this in an editorial and follow-up Letter to the Editor and published a short article on it for the NCSE (Carl Baugh...Archaeologist?);

So because she doesn't agree with what I have written, I am to conclude that the Managing Editor of the Lassen County Times thinks Baugh is a credible, professional archaeologist, with legitimate discoveries?

2) In response to Bill Ashmore's ridiculously error ridden diatribe suggesting earthquakes are associated with gays, I suggested the following:
- Ashmore "selectively used" data (granted, citing someone else's book) to suggest there is a correlation between earthquake activity and the rise in gay rights activism; I simply looked at the real data and concluded otherwise.

So because she does not agree with what I have written, I am to conclude that the Managing Editor of the Lassen County Times thinks America is being punished for allowing gays within its borders and not taken a harder stance against them? I am also to conclude that she thinks geological data actually support this?

3) In a Letter to the Editor I wrote (not published, but I blogged about it) responding to talk about town that Susanville should start Bible classes at the public schools, I simply requested that if they do that, they should discuss everything about the Bible. Of course, that's not happening in public school Bible classes that are supposed to be objective.

So because she does not agree with what I have written, I am to conclude that the Managing Editor of the Lassen County Times thinks the Bible not only should be taught in public schools, but should be taught as historically accurate and from a "correct" fundamentalist perspective?

So, from all this should I really draw the conclusion that the Managing Editor at the Lassen County Times does not have an agenda?

Finally, this is just incredible:

The editorial has provoked many people though most have read it completely out of context.

I’ve heard from several teachers who talked to her that she now claims the editorial was read wrong and there is no intent to offend teachers. Here, word for word, are some comments from the editorial:

Teachers only work 182 days out of the year compared to the average worker who works 250 days. Teachers work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a lunch break. That is on average a six-hour day compared to the average worker who works eight hours...
That all boils down to the average teacher is paid to work 1,092 hours a year: those are part time hours. The average person works 2,080...
There is no doubt teachers have an important job and deserve fair compensation, but at whose expense?...

…their job is a calling not a way to make money.

How could she not possibly come to the conclusion that this would be offensive to teachers? First, the stats she reports are complete fabrication, made to make the teachers look like money-grubbing politicians.

Second, there are only two reasons to print this: either you’re really, really stupid and just don’t know what teachers actually do to get kids educated, or you have an agenda to make school teacher look bad and promote a lack of confidence in the public school system.

Well, I don’t think the managing editor is stupid....

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Revisiting the Lassen County Times Editorial Demeaning Teachers

The managing editor of the Lassen County Times has responded to an email message I sent and it appears my letter in support of teachers may be published afterall. However, I clearly touched a nerve with the editorial staff there, and will address that shortly.

I did want to revisit what I had written in a previous post regarding the Times editorial. I wrote it at the end of a long day, after hearing how upset the local teachers were and after consuming most of a bottle of wine. Shortly after writing that post (and getting the rejection) I also sent a very flippant email to the editor:

Sad to hear the Times is afraid of facts. Fortunately there are other avenues to get this out...
All the best,

In more sober reflection, I wanted to revisit the nature of what I had written and consider whether or not I had been out of line in my comments. It was certainly not the most thought-provoking piece I have written. So what did I say?:

- I posted the editorial in full and described what the teachers were actually asking for, which is a pay increase to cover increasing costs of medical benefits. The Times kind of indicates this, but then goes on to say: Teachers are not working before or after school until the impasse is resolved, meaning they want more money (emphasis mine). It think this is anti-public school code for "here they go again, the teachers want more money" and like conservative talk shows, it's taken out of context and meant to incite a negative response against teachers;

- I suggested that the staff at the Lassen County Times are right wing conservatives and largely fundamentalist Christian. Under this assumption I suggested that their opinions of issues and other groups of people are probably clouded under a particular perspective. I insinuated that they largely think their taxes should go to something other than public service and that they probably in no way questioned what they published about the teachers as being anti-Christian. On the contrary I suggested that on Sunday they will reinforce their belief in their superior Christian morality and never stop to consider that their actions are un-Christ-like. In retrospect, I reconsider painting ALL of the staff like this, but over the years of reading the Times I see no reason to back off that position in general - I don't know it for a fact, but I'd be willing to take most of it to Vegas...

- My reasoning for making this observation is that I see a clear connection between what I believe to be the broader cultural context with which a significant portion of the Times staff identifies and the published editorial. Christian conservatives, by and large, do not accept public service as a worthy goal of their tax dollars; they do not like the concept of public schools; they do not care for public school teachers, particularly outspoken ones; they do not like specific subjects being taught; and they prefer to have complete control over the kinds of knowledge to which children should be exposed. The editorial was simply projecting a belief I suspect is already being held by many on the Times staff.

I really see no reason to back away from what I previously said.

Friday, September 15, 2006

From The Archives...What Do Teachers Make?

As a further response to the ridiculousness of the Lassen County Times editorial this week, I'm re-posting this...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lassen County Times Propaganda

This is what the Lassen County Times published this week regarding the "worth" of teachers in our area. The story gets exceedingly worse than this, but I'll start here. Teachers in the local school district have not asked for a pay increase in 5 years. However, the district has decided to cap their benefits and the result is that without a pay increase, the increasing cost of benefits will result in a net pay loss. The teachers are only now asking for a pay increase to compensate for the cap in benefits. This is not extra money going to buy Cancun vacations...this is extra money requested to make up the difference for health insurance.

Instead of supporting the good work and public service of teachers, the right wingers at the Lassen County Times prefer to demean teachers and the job they do. The editorial staff consists of typical Christian hypocrites, who demonize the greater good of others and then pat themselves on the back at Sunday services for the "moral" choices they make during the week. They exemplify the kind of self-righteous idealogues who are so blinded by their own faith that they don't see the incredible harm they cause to others. Throw out the morals of the "Good Samaritan", because these hacks have traded in their morals for politics. Better to save tax money so we can add to our collection of OHVs (off-highway vehicles - sorry, this northern Californian, where status is measured by the number of OHVs you have and the height of your rig above the ground...personally, I've always felt that the higher your vehicle above the ground, the less competent you are in bed).

I wrote a letter to the editor (as I am wont to do these days), describing the usual lack of facts on which the editorial is based. Here is my submitted letter:

True to form, the Lassen County Times substitutes conjecture and ideological posturing for fact in its editorial on Susanville’s teachers (How much money is enough for teachers? September 12). Certainly the self-righteous tone of the editorial is consistent with the frequent evangelism and disdain for public service commonly expressed at the Times. And as usual, the errors are legion.

Am I really living in the Twilight Zone, or do only stupid people believe that teachers “work on average a six-hour day” and “only work 182 days out of the year compared to the average worker”? The data I researched suggests 50-60 hour work weeks are typical for the average teacher; certainly more for beginning teachers. School days are packed with student-focused work from the teachers’ arrival in the morning until their departure, often in the early evening. Class preparation, correcting homework, developing activities, not to mention administrative paperwork is usually completed outside of the “six-hour day” pay period. That’s non-compensated time, people. How many business men and women expect non-payment for services rendered? How many editors at the Times take work home with them? Apparently the Times must be using Haliburton math because the $32 per hour teachers’ make is now looking closer to $15 per hour. And what about those lunch breaks, the average of which for a teacher is 32 minutes? Taken within the calm serenity of the great outdoors, serviced restaurant or quiet lunchroom I suppose? Word I get is that it’s slamming down a sandwich while making sure the kids eat, getting the first bathroom break of the day, and making sure the next lesson is ready. Plus I bet they don’t even get to take that time off on their taxes. But then what about those long summer vacations teachers receive while the average worker slaves away. Ever heard of classroom clean-up? Class room preparation for next year’s class? How about taking classes and professional development? Is any of that compensated? Are we now down to paying our teachers $10/hour to educate the next generations?

I didn’t have to go far to find actual data on the effort teachers put into the education of children. I also know this from personal experience working with teachers. It really doesn’t take much effort to find real data on a subject, and the fact that the Times editorial staff commonly fails to back opinion with fact suggests ideological posturing on their part. Research is probably an anathema to the Times staff; after all, you might find data that runs counter to what you already believe, so best to state the belief and make the facts up to support it. The editorial was a purposeful and malevolent misrepresentation of teachers’ work efforts and it belies a broader underlying agenda that most of us suspect is behind the Times’ selective reporting efforts. Even the backhanded compliment contributed is disingenuous. Having the editorial staff at the Times refer to teaching as a “calling” is akin to the Pharaohs considering Hebrew bondage a “calling”.

Is teaching a calling? Absolutely (they’re certainly not getting paid enough to put up with all the bovine fodder dished out by the public on a regular basis). But the Times fails to seriously consider the implications of that statement, certainly in light of its own perceived purpose in the broader scheme of things. What a calling really means is that teachers’ efforts are further along the yardstick of moral relevance than most jobs. They sacrifice much in the achievement of a greater good. Their annual pay pales in comparison to big business, for example, which provides commodities but largely no redeeming social value. Yet in America today we accept, even applaud the obscene profits of oil companies while demonizing public servants asking for a meager 5% pay increase to help sustain the greater good. Where has our moral integrity gone?

Our teachers put in a lot more work than they get compensated for. The community would be wise to embrace and support this gift horse while it lasts. New data suggest that nationwide teachers are demoralized because of low pay, long hours, and lack of recognition. They’re leaving the profession in greater numbers and entering the field in fewer numbers. Think $90,000 is a lot of money for an experienced teacher? – in another decade the district might have to pay that just to get a young person interested in teaching on a temporary basis.

Shame on the Times for lacking the moral courage to stand up for teachers’ contributions to society and instead taking the cowards’ approach with innuendo, faulty data and cheapshots. Shame on the simplistic malcontents who think the need for some extra money to pay for medical insurance isn’t nearly as important as a yearly vacation to Cancun, outfitted hunting trip to Canada or the next addition to their personal OHV collection. And shame on anyone who thinks the number of digits on their paycheck is any relevant measure for the work they do when compared to that of a teacher.

Here is the response I received from the Managing Editor:

Thank you for your opinion. However, because you are not a member of STA I can only run you letter as a letter to the editor and it is 350 words to long. The Times reserves the right to edit letters, therefore according to you request, we will not publish your letter as it is currently written.
Thank you for your interest in the The Lassen County Times


Barbara France
Managing Editor
Lassen County Times

Now, perhaps I actually am too arrogant to think that the mental midgets at the Lassen County Times have reverse breached some intellectual barrier that makes them think they could reject my insightful wit. Perhaps, because this is a teacher's issue, the Susanville Teachers Association (STA) should actually have priority in upcoming editorials. Reasonable positions, and I do not question them. But the excuse of exceeding the Letter To The Editor word limit by 350 words is fact-dodging bullshit. I've seen far longer "Letters" addressing the virtues of God, Country and Evangelical Fundamentalism printed before. What the Lassen County Times is engaging in is censorship.

Certainly to be expected from a paper that promotes narrow perspective as intellect, innuendo as fact, and information control as a God-given right.

Believe me, there's more to come....

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hope for America

Want to know where the glorious future of this nation resides? It is not in the war-mongering Christian nationalists who thrive on fear and intimidation. It is in the firm, quiet rebellion of America's youth against the tyranny of conscripted allegiance. Such rebellion is fitting with the expectations of our Forefathers:

...But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.....

A Terrorist By Any Other Name

Religious zealotry comes in all forms. This group has often disrupted archaeological sites in the Holy Land, claiming exclusive right to history. In the process they destroy unique archaeological values, all on the pretense of "protecting" their version of Jewish history. I notice the article uses the terms "zealots", "extremists" and "thugs" to describe this group of ultra-orthodox Jews. The only descriptive term missing seems to be "terrorist"....

Blogging Again

I'm back from the detail, but have been busy with teaching a new Archaeology and The Prehistoric World class at Lassen College, two correspondence courses in Biological Anthropology, working on two NSF grants, plus getting caught up on my regular job. Lots to discuss in upcoming posts, however: "advanced" English majors who can't tell the difference between "do" and "due"...environmental activists distorting science with the same regularity as intelligent design advocates...religous zealots disrupting archaeological excavations...and (the big one right now) our local paper's editorial explaining how teachers only work about half as much as regular folks and shouldn't be seeking a pay increase (which they haven't had for five years)...

So stay tuned....