Saturday, June 30, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy July 1-4

Once again, thanks to the tireless efforts of Blue Gal and others, another Blog Against Theocracy commences July 1. Be sure to get your entries in, and please note the instructions for participating.

Field School Fun

I'm back from a great week up at the Eagle Lake Field Station teaching the Osteoarchaeology Course with my colleagues from CSU Chico and the University of Utah. Check out the view from the conference room above (and no, that's not what happens to students who fail the exam! - not my photo, either - it's courtesy of a CSU grad student who will remain nameless until she prefers fame and fortune by appearing on Northstate Science...yeah, right...).
Long week, but always well worth the time and energy. The class was fantastic as usual; lectures on skeletal anatomy and natural history of the major classes of vertebrates followed by lots of time in the lab identifying bone elements; we ended with lectures on the application of zooarchaeological data to problems in California archaeology, reconstruction of Holocene environments and historical ecology. We also provided special discussions on specialized techniques using bones and teeth: dental increment analysis, isotope analysis and ancient DNA.
Of course, we didn't just spend all our time in the lab and conference rooms. We took our usual trip to the "Bat Cave" where we sat beneath a cave ceiling covered with hundreds of western pipistrelles (Pipistrellus hesperus), North America's smallest bat. Although the bats are entering and leaving the cave by the hundreds (using the same small entrance we humans go through...thank natural selection for echolocation!) the hardest part is getting in the cave without using lights as we want to disturb the bats as little as possible. Once inside and some subdued lights come on, the ceiling is literally moving with the small bats. Fortunately all the bat guano is in the center of the cave floor, although the bats occasionally urinate on those below (nothing personal, I'm sure...). My 14 year old daughter joins me on these adventures and the Bat Cave is one of her favorite activities.
And no trip to the field station could be complete without a night drive or two. These events are somewhat difficult to describe. Their purpose is scientific, but through the years they have also attained an air of cultural tradition about them as well. Imagine 5-10 biologists and zooarchaeologists in the back of truck driving slowly through sagebrush and forest with spotlights and nets, searching for small (and not so small) fauna to capture. Creatures wandering across our path suddenly find themselves blinded by lights and surrounded by a bunch of excitedly chattering bipedal monkeys (ok, apes...but if you saw us you'd understand why "monkeys" is a better term) who discuss the anatomy, adaptations and sexual proclivities of animals before releasing them unharmed. Before releasing, however, those who wish to shower themselves with good fortune in their pursuit of science may "kiss the paunch" of the captured animal. As far as we know, "paunch kissing" is a phenomena found only among those who frequent the CSU Biological Field Station...

(Here, yours truly has just finished planting one on the paunch of a large bull frog while my daughter (herself a veteran "paunch kisser"), looks on...I wonder: if PZ ever caught a squid...).
Night drives make for long periods with no sleep (our drive this week went until 2:00 am), but one must still be up by 4:30 am to take advantage of the best opportunities to fish for the famed Eagle Lake trout (Onchorynchus mykiss). Unfortunately, June is not the best time for trout fishing here and all of us walked away empty handed. We did, however, enjoy a wonderful morning on the lake, filled with ducks, grebes, pelicans, ospreys and eagles.

In a couple of weeks we take my daughter's Girl Scout troop up to the field station for a more scientific version of Camporee, where we can expose them to the sights and sounds of the natural history of the Eagle Lake basin. Anyone for the Bat Cave?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Intermittent Blogging

Blogging may be intermittent through the end of next week. I'm heading up to the Biological Field Station on Eagle Lake for a couple of days to co-teach a class on zooarchaeology. The Field Station has internet capability but only on a limited basis...I'll try to post something from there but I can't promise anything. In case you're wondering what the area looks like, here you go...

A Funny Thing Happened In A Redding Bookstore...

While my wife was enduring a 6 hour state teacher's exam yesterday in Redding...I went shopping (I can't remember if we've ever had that kind of role reversal in 20+ years of marriage!). Of course, as a friend pointed out, where I shop and where she shops are two (actually several) entirely different places. But to the point....

After a cup of coffee at Starbucks, I went straight to Barnes & Noble and did some book shopping...I picked up a copy of Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformations: The Beginnings of Our Religious Traditions (I'm a big fan of Armstrong) and From So Simple a Beginning: The Four Great Books of Charles Darwin, edited by E.O. Wilson.

I was perusing the science section, which happened to be located near one of their information kiosks. A customer came up, with a teenager in tow, and said something to the effect, "I'm looking for this new book....something about religion and God, I believe the author's name is Hitchens...."

"Oh", the employee responded, "You're looking for God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens...yes we have a few left right over here"...

I smiled to myself and then continued to look at the science titles. About 10 minutes later, another customer came up..."Where can I find God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens?". A few minutes later I saw the clerk directing another customer to Hitchens's book. Remembering that I hadn't bought my own copy as yet, I hurried over to the section and picked one up before they were all taken!

I had an opportunity to read the first two chapters in the parking lot later (waiting for my wife to finish her exam). The first thought I had was not about leaving organized religion, but what took me so long?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Advise Your Kids - Northstate Science Is Rated PG

From Duane at Abnormal Interests, comes this little gem to help you decide if parental controls should apply to your own blog. And how is Northstate Science rated?

Apparently I use the word "dead" four times, "death" once, and (God help us!) "sex" twice (it must have been the "meat for sex" thing that took my blog out of the sphere of being family-friendly). Following Duane's procedure I ran it two more times but kept getting the same results.

I am not sure what to make of this. Seems like an archaeologist talking about the dead and death would be, well, kind of normal. Ah, we'll just blame it all on the sex....

UPDATE: Whoa! When I take Duane's advice in his comment and log off then back on I get 6 "Dead", 3 "Death", 2 "Kill" and (he, he!) 4 "Sex" references (although I don't know where those are coming from)...and now I'm at PG13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned...

UPDATE II: After several more attempts it seems to have leveled out at an R Rating with 7 references to "Dead", 5 to "Sex", 4 to "Death" and 3 to "Kill"....definately not in the family-friendly range anymore...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Lassen High School Biology Field Trip

Dinner with Lassen County friends the other night proved to be something of an eye-opener for me regarding the profound effect some individuals in this community have had on the teaching of biology at the local high school. One of the major efforts touted locally is the Biology Field Trip taken by high school sophomore biology class students each year. This trip involves taking students to the California coast for a week of camping and presumably studying biology. However, it has historically been lead by individuals with strong ties to the Christian community here in Lassen County. I have been on the field trip as a parent helper and have largely given those involved the benefit of the doubt with regard to their motivations for participating in the field trip, although it was clear that religion is more a driving force than science for many of those involved. My friends all had personal experience with the event and referred to it not as the “Biology” field trip but the “Evangelical” field trip. Stories of proselytizing efforts on the part of the staff, parent volunteers and some students were relayed. I have also received email messages from former LHS students who have suggested their biology training was minimal at best, but the emphasis on evangelism was first-rate...

Recently the LHS biology staff has turned over and hopefully the biology field trip will focus less on personal evangelization and more on actual biology. I know most of the current staff and I am confident this will be the case. I have also offered to take a more active role in both the field trip and as a consultant in my own areas of science expertise. Regardless, after the other night’s conversations with many long time residents of the county who have personally witnessed the non-science shenanigans of some associated with the field trip, I will be paying more attention than I have of late.

Some Thoughts On The Nature Of Biological Sciences

Looney left an interesting comment on my previous post regarding Wells’ pending hysteria over the fact that the PBS Evolution series was still being used in public school classrooms. The bulk of the comment was rambling incoherence and bad analogy - it was the first sentence that peaked my interest:

Last I checked, the admission scores for doctors and engineers were far in excess of biologists.

First, I have to wonder about the legitimacy of that comment - certainly the people I attended graduate school with were generally top of their class; those that weren’t were weeded out during qualifying and prelim examinations. Even if true, however, I suspect that admission scores in those fields function primarily as a tool for cutting students out of impacted majors - I have no reason to believe they reflect innate intellectual capacity. Given rampant grade inflation (the result of considerable student whining “I won’t get into med school if you don’t give me an A++”, parental pressure, cheating and I am sure the occasional pressure from academic/congressional “friends of the family“) and the fact that test scores have more to do with the ability to take tests than to actually understand and apply the information, I find admission scores largely useless measures of performance. As an employer of students, I do look for general trends - students getting a lot of C’s are put into a separate pile from those getting A’s and B’s, but the valedictorians and 4.0 students are lumped with the latter group. It’s what the students have done with that knowledge that counts for me (and a lot of professors I have talked to) - a 4.0 and high admission scores are a dime a dozen and can cover up a lot of weak ability when it comes to using the knowledge rather than simply regurgitating it. Using higher admission scores to weed students also probably says much about the character of the students entering the fields: I suspect most are in it for high salaries rather than the betterment of humanity.

Be that as it may, the sentence nonetheless reflects an commonly arrogant attitude on the part of engineers and many doctors - that those fields somehow require greater intellectual capacity than biology or anthropology. It also implies that their viewpoints should carry more weight. Looney was apparently taking exception to my dismay that creationists typically assume a professional equivalence between engineers commenting on biology and biologists commenting on biology. It is clear he thinks nothing is wrong with this as engineers and doctors have higher admission standards and are therefore qualified to speak with expertise on those disciplines. He reminded me of a discussion I have each semester with my introductory anthropology class on the nature of science.

Ernst Mayer, in The Growth of Biological Thought, has a wonderful discussion on the position of biology within the sciences. The basic theme is that biology is not physics (or for that matter, engineering) and the methodologies and epistemologies of physics are not suited for the study of living things. The efforts of physicists to reduce biology to the sum total of physical laws has not advanced our understanding of biological systems. He quotes G. G. Simpson on this matter:

It is just that living things have been affected for…billions of years by historical processes…The results of those processes are systems different in kind from any nonliving systems and incomparably more complicated. They are not for that reason necessarily any less material or less physical in nature. The point is that all known material processes and explanations apply to organisms, while only a limited number of them apply to nonliving systems…Biology, then, is the science that stands at the center of all science… [emphasis in the original].

In other words, those disciplines that deal only with nonliving systems (such as engineering and physics) ultimately deal with a very myopic view of the universe, particularly in relation to those who study living systems. I would suggest further that engineering in particular as well as most forms of medical practice, as important as they are for our daily lives, focus largely on specific application of principles but are not generally concerned with broader explanations of the world around us (which is probably why many of them can intellectually afford to be creationists). They are, in effect, glorified mechanics.

But in my class, I follow that up with Dawkins, who further explores this relationship of biology to the other sciences. With his usual flair, in The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins suggests not only that physics and engineering are not up to the task of competing with the kind of knowledge exhibited by biologists, but the irony is that, relative to the study of nonliving things, they deal with fundamentally simple phenomena:

We think that physics is complicated because it is hard to understand and because physics books are full of difficult mathematics. But the objects that physicists study are still basically simple objects…They do not, at least by biological standards, have intricate working parts…The behavior of physical, nonbiological objects is so simple that it is feasible to use existing mathematical language to describe it, which is why physics books are full of mathematics.

The point, I tell my students, is that we often think it is easy to grasp biology (and make substantial claims about it) because it does not appear on the surface to be as difficult a subject as physics. But biology deals with systems infinitely more complicated than those in physics (or engineering) and the ability to study and explain those systems requires grasping a body of knowledge inconceivable to most lay people and to many others in different disciplines. Again, this is why it is easy for creationists to cherry pick certain data out of context a paint a picture of uncertainty and apparent falsehoods, when in fact the larger body of data tells a much different story.

But Dawkins goes further and provides us with great analogy on the differences between studying living and nonliving systems:

If you throw a dead bird into the air it will describe a graceful parabola, exactly as the physics books say it should; then come to rest on the ground and stay there. It behaves as a solid body of a particular mass and wind resistance ought to behave. But if you throw a live bird into the air it will not describe a parabola and come to rest on the ground. It will fly away and may not touch land this side of the county boundary.

We can explain the dead bird completely in relation to physics. But the live bird we must explain not only in terms of physics and chemistry, but also anatomy, physiology, zoology, ecology, ethology, paleontology, geology, and a host of additional disciplines. The explanation for living things (what they do and why, how they live and why, where they come from and why) is more complicated than any nonliving system. (I would further argue that adding the cultural complexities of human societies on top of their nature as biological organisms, the complications increase - so anthropology is actually a more complicated science than biology - but don't tell the bio-bloggers that!). The engineer and medical doctor for the most part cannot intellectually grasp the intricacies of biological systems.

So when Looney implies that the intellectual capacity of engineers and doctors allows them by definition to make meaningful statements on the subject of biology…I have to chuckle at the primitive thought process.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wells Worried Students Still Being Shown PBS's Evolution Series

In a recent article in Evolution News & Views, there is an edge of desperation in Jonathan Well’s concern that public school students are still being shown the PBS Evolution series in the classroom. I suppose he should be desperate - it is a wonderful teaching tool for helping explain to students some of the most important concepts in the theory of evolution, a science Wells refuses to accept because of its implications for his personal worldview. Wells would apparently prefer that students read the Discovery Institute’s Viewer’s Guide To PBS’s Evolution, which explains how, in Wells’ words, the PBS “…propaganda extravaganza — like most modern biology textbooks — distorts and exaggerates the evidence to convince people that Darwinism is true”.

Like all creationists, however, what Wells and the Discovery Institute don’t tell you about evolutionary theory is far more revealing than what do say. Strip the DI Viewer’s Guide of its fabrications, out-of-context quotes from prominent scientists and selective use of technical information meant to convey not just a contrary, but often opposite, meaning than that in the original, and you have very few complete sentences in the English language. The National Center for Science Education’s own guide, A Response To Creationist Misinformation, is also worth a student’s reading as it exposes the DI’s attempts to create a controversy where none exists, turn engineers and medical doctors into the professional equals of geologists, paleontologists and anthropologists, and lets the reader know what information the DI is keeping from them. The NCSE Guide reads like a scientific response from the pages of American Scientist; the DI Guide reads more like a presidential swift-boating campaign.

Despite Well’s hysteria, I certainly intend to continue using the PBS Evolution series in my own classroom. I have found that students enjoy the series and they become far better equipped to be suspicious of claims made by Wells and other creationists.

More On The Hadza

Well, once again, thanks to all who took the time to spread the word about the current plight of the Hadzabe. Duane at Abnormal Interests actually took the time to call the US State Department and was successful in reaching two individuals in the Bureau of African Affairs. You can read more about it at Duane's blog. I received an email from the State Department in response to my email inquiries, but it was the usual bureaucratic form letter along the lines of "thank you very much for your concern...the State Department values all feedback...should you require further assistance...yada, yada, yada..." - so, altogether not very helpful. Duane's efforts I'm sure made more inroads. I have heard nothing from Cultural Survival nor Survival International.

I am also in touch with the chairman of the German branch of FPCN (Friends of Peoples Close to Nature) whose organization has been highly involved with the Hadza. A reader also left me a message saying that she had written NBC, ABC and BBC - she and her husband had recently visited the Hadza and was appalled at the efforts to displace them.

Thanks again for everyone's efforts. I will keep you posted should there be any new developments.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hadza Support Letter

Well, I just sent this letter to the UAE and Tanzanian embassies and cc'd the US State Department, Cultural Survival, Survival International and the IPCC. Hopefully someone will take notice:

12 June 2007

To: Embassies of the United Arab Emirates and United Republic of Tanzania

RE: Plight of the Hadzabe Tribe of northern Tanzania

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am writing regarding the reported effort by members of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family to purchase rights to land in the Lake Eyasi region of northern Tanzania. I am greatly concerned that this deal will adversely affect members of the Hadzabe (Hadza, Watindiga) tribe who make their homes in the area. Reports are that the Hadza were not consulted on this issue and that they will effectively lose their right to subsistence hunt. Media reports have further painted the Hadza as “primitive” or “savage” in an effort to culturally excuse the effort by the UAE and Tanzanian government to deny the Hadza their traditional homeland. I find it ironic that these governments would invoke the same language of cultural division used by every conquering society throughout history as justification for taking tribal land away from native people. I would ask if members of either government (UAE or Tanzanian) see any connection at all with their current behavior toward the Hadza and the Arab expansion, conflict and slave trade across East Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries.

I am not an outsider unfamiliar with the area or its people. I lived and worked with the Hadza and other Eyasi people from 1988 through 1993. The Hadza want nothing more than to continue their traditional cultural practices within their traditional homeland. The efforts of the rich to seek their own pleasure at the expense of those wishing only to practice their traditional culture amounts to a human rights tragedy of epic proportions. This travesty has not gone unnoticed amongst the internet blogging community and word is spreading worldwide quickly. I implore both the UAE and Tanzanian governments to cease further consideration of selling or leasing Eyasi region land instead take legal steps to insure that the Hadza may continue their cultural traditions without interference.

I would be happy to offer further insight and discussion on this matter.


Christopher O’Brien, Ph.D.
Susanville, CA 96130

Embassy of the United Arab Emirates
Embassy of the United Republic of Tanzania
U.S. State Department
Cultural Survival
Survival International
Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee

Hadza Diary

I can't thank those of you who have spread the word about the plight of the Hadza enough - beer is definitely on me if you ever find yourself in northern California!

Afarensis started it all, but Abnormal Interests posted, as did Tim at both and at Remote Central; Kambiz posted a clarion call at to "Help Out The Hadza" and got some Diggs on it today! Afarensis came back with another post on my post, and Carl at Hot Cup of Joe picked it up as well and has also summarized the current list of posts on the Hadza (so I don't know why I'm repeating it here, except to express my thanks at the effort!). Schmoo On The Run also posted. From Carl I also see that Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-Ordinating Committee has a position paper on the subject of Hadzabe rights and a link to a Guardian article on the potential for violations of Hadza human rights. Thanks to all those who are currently "digging" it as well...

During all this, I have of course been reminiscing on my time with the Hadza. I dusted off a couple of my old field notebooks and diaries from my first visit with them and couldn't resist sharing this with you (it certainly made me laugh!!):

7 Sep 1988 Lake Eyasi

This morning I thought I would try my hand at "hunting" some Francolin hens [a type of game bird, although in retrospect, I think I was really talking about guinea fowl at the time] that were innocently rummaging for grubs near the tent. I proceeded, on my hands and knees, to position myself within rock throwing range. I was fortunate enough to launch two of the missiles with no significant effect, although I am convinced that were my aim better we would be eating hen instead of corned beef [Kenyan canned corn beef - I wrote later that not even flies touch the stuff!] tonight. Upon noting my lack of success, I stood up and turned around to notice, quite unexpectedly, that I was the subject of some curiosity by the Hadza women and children, no doubt wondering what the crazy "wazungu" [white man/stranger - my Swahili wasn't too good at the time - I used the plural when I should have used the singular "mzungu"] was doing crawling through the grass! Perhaps a little too much "bongi" [East African version of...well...grass] the night before!

Fortunately the research team didn't have to depend on my hunting skills to eat!

Update: Afarensis has another post up and discusses the IPCC briefing note in some detail. He also recommends following Carl's advice at Hot Cup of Joe to contact the Tanzanian and UAE embassies. Afarensis further suggests the State Department. A great idea!

Update II: has another post;

Monday, June 11, 2007

Friends And The Power Of Blogging

Some very interesting blog reading today...

Afarensis (who originally alerted me to the issue) and Abnormal Interests both picked up on the Hadza post from yesterday. Tim at Remote Central left a comment asking if there was anyone who might be able to intervene in this tragic situation. Fortunately, there are a number of indigenous rights groups about, some of which the original MSNBC article alluded to, although the nature of hunter-gatherer groups (no centralized authority, dispersed, etc.) makes it hard for them to be represented properly. I see that Anthroplogy.Net had also picked up on the story. Kambiz and the other commenters had some good suggestions - spreading the word about the current situation facing the Hadza would help raise awareness and possibly put enough pressure on the Tanzanians internationally to at least make them sit and listen to the tribe. Contacting Survival International was a great idea (I've written to them as well)...Cultural Survival is another group to which one might send an email or letter...I really appreciate everyone's concern on this issue...

Another surprise awaited my daily repertoire of blog reading...Martin at Aardvarchaeology found that the editor of the journal Antiquity quoted my post on archaeology and creationism in the current issue. I was quite frankly dumbfounded...Martin sent me an email over the weekend in which he anticipated posting on "...this blogger who is quoted extensively in the editorial of Antiquity's summer issue...". My first thought was: "Fantastic...I wonder who he's talking about?"...I really appreciate Martin taking the time to point the editorial out to everyone (not to mention I'm delighted a journal the caliber of Antiquity is picking up on my concern that we as archaeologists should take a more active role in combating creationism).

These blog entries spawned a couple of thoughts this afternoon. First, it's wonderful having friends in the blogging community who continue to encourage you by taking the time to reference your writing. I know I was gloating about being picked up by Crooks and Liars last week, but I wouldn't trade Afarensis, Martin or Duane for any of those big ticket blogs. Getting picked up by any of these three guys (and lots of other science-type bloggers) to me is an honor...

Secondly, the blogging response to both the Hadza situation and the current editorial in Antiquity further illustrated to me the power of blogging. I think people take the blogging community more seriously than many of us realize. And many in the blogging community affect change more often than they realize also. I'm proud to be associated with such a cutting edge group of people...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hadza Tribal Lands Being Confiscated By Arab Royal Family

Afarensis notified me of this MSNBC story regarding my friends, the Hadzabe (Hadza) of northern Tanzania. He posted the story and commented on it as well. I can only say that this is the most depressed I have been in while and the lead sentence to the article says it all:

One of the last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers on the planet is on the verge of vanishing into the modern world.

Apparently a United Arab Emirates royal family is trying to use Hadza tribal territory as a “personal safari playground” and has worked out an arrangement with the Tanzanian government to lease 2500 square miles of the Eyasi highlands. Of course the Hadza were never consulted about the agreement and now may well find themselves trespassers on their own land. Previous agreements between the Tanzanian government and other private companies have resulted in a number of Hadza hunters being jailed for subsistence hunting – an experience that ended up killing most of those imprisoned.

Most disappointing of all, Tanzanian officials and others invoked visions of the Hadza as primitive savages in need of being removed from the bush for their own good:

The [Tanzanian] official, Philip Marmo, called the Hadzabe "backwards" and said they would benefit from the school, roads and other projects the UAE company has offered as compensation…

Marmo said the Hadzabe -- who until recently had no use for money, organized religion or standard time -- are "the one backwards group in the country”….

"We want them to go to school," said Marmo, who is
Tanzania's minister for good governance and represents the valley in parliament. "We want them to wear clothes. We want them to be decent."

It is ironic that government officials would be calling the Hadza “backwards”. On the contrary, it appears the Tanzanian government, far from exhibiting a societal maturity more in line with the 21st century, seems to prefer a cultural connection with 19th century Europeans in North America or 16th century Spanish in Central and South America. Indeed, catering to UAE royal family despotism might make Marmo and other Tanzania officials more comfortable with a return to the 17th century Arab slave trade across East Africa.

The Tanzanian government has frequently attempted to “settle” the Hadza and make them good little agriculturalists like we all should be. And, as the article has pointed out, this almost never works:

Government efforts over 40 years to forcibly integrate the Hadzabe into modern society have mostly failed. Instead, the Hadzabe seem to have preferred changing at their own pace, adopting bits of modern life over centuries…

A program to move families into a village of metal houses ended with Hadzabe fleeing to the bush after only a few days. "When it rains, those houses make a lot of noise," said Sarah Makungu, who tried them.

I remember returning to work with the Hadza in the early 1990s, at a time when the government forced them into settlements and brought it western development workers to teach them how to grow corn. Understanding that the Hadza would not be able to feed themselves while they were in “training” to grow corn, truckloads of milled corn were brought in regularly to feed the families until they were able to sow and harvest their own crops. The Hadza graciously accepted this government handout while the process of growing food was demonstrated to them over a number of months. All the while, Hadza men sat in the community meetings, working on arrows and bows. Eventually, the government felt the Hadza had been shown all they needed. The trucks of corn stopped coming, the officials said “good luck in your new economic system” and departed, and the development workers went back to their western countries. And the Hadza? They promptly left the settlement when no one was around and returned to hunting and gathering in the bush.

The one bright spot for me from the article is that the effort to Christianize the Hadza apparently never took hold either:

Missions to spread Christianity have also failed. "We just go to church as if we are pictures," one man said. "Our hearts and minds are not there."

The greatest tragedy in all the efforts to forcibly modernize or convert the Hadza is that these efforts destroy the strong family and cultural ties that members of the tribe have with each other. One year, after an attempt to settle the Hadza into government camps I remember sitting around the fire one night with an old hunter. We were listening to the children singing in their huts. The old man turned to me and said “We can’t go back to the government camps; the children don’t sing there”. Now they have to hide and worry they will be arrested for getting meat to feed their families:

A recent meeting in the Yaeda Valley on the issue ended with several Hadzabe men shouting at Tanzanian government officials for ignoring them. One of the men was later charged with disruptive behavior and jailed for several days. Two others who have spoken against the deal said they have been threatened with arrest and are now on the run, moving from hut to hut to elude police.

"We're not used to that kind of life in jail," said Gudo, an elderly Hadzabe whose best friend, Sumuni, was among those who perished. "Sumuni was my age. Our fathers were friends. We played together, learned how to hunt together," he said, looking away. "I don't want to talk anymore."

Reading the article was also difficult because I recognized the names of many Hadza interviewed: Gudo, Kaunda, Gonga….men I had met, lived with, hunted with and together roamed the Eyasi highlands. There were others that came to mind while I was reading: Makungu, Hamisi, Koiobe, Katembuga, Mahia…I can only hope that their way of life will remain for as long as they choose to live it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

High School AP Biology Classes Must Teach Evolution

Greg Laden has an interesting post up about Advanced Plaement Biology courses in high school. Apparently, many creationist high school teachers are under the impression that they can develop biology courses that "teach the controversy" and still give their students advanced placement credits. According to the College Board, however, that is definately not the case and those biology teachers who think they can weasel in intelligent design or skimp on teaching evolution in an advanced placement course need to be put on notice:

From a College Board memo circulated to AP teachers:

The College Board, in consultation with its Science Academic Advisory Committee, would like to address recent public concerns pertaining to the theory of evolution as it is assessed in the course audit of Advanced Placement (AP) Biology. The objective of an Advanced Placement course is to provide students with a learning experience that is equivalent to a high-quality freshman college course. In order to meet this objective, such a course must present an accurate and modern description of its academic discipline. Therefore, The College Board endorses the consensus of those professional organizations (a few examples are listed below) that delineate the discipline of modern biology. In keeping with this consensus, the College Board must specify that, in order to meet the AP Biology Audit Course Requirements, the course must treat evolution as “the foundation of modern biological models and thought.” Furthermore, a biology course which purports to be “AP” cannot endorse as a scientific alternative any treatment of the origin and development of living things which conflict with the modern concepts of evolution as described by the aforementioned organizations. The College Board understands the deep and profound regard some students, teachers, and schools may have for such alternative explanations, and respects the right of private and religious schools to develop their own curricula. However, in allowing the designation of “AP,” The College Board is compelled to uphold the standards of the consensus of the community of professional biologists. [emphasis mine].

Greg considered this good news, as do I, but he had a couple of additional suggestions to strengthen the wording and prevent the intelligent design activists from cherry picking words to develop a Frankensteinian version that actually endorses teaching "the controversy" in AP classes. Regardless, I think the message is quite clear: if high school biology teachers are going to develop AP classes for their students, not only must they not include the non-scientific "alternatives" but the central theme of the class must be evolutionary theory.

Is The Designer Pro Life?

So, according to intelligent design activist and Catholic Michael Behe in his new book, The Edge of Evolution, malaria was intelligently designed. So, Catholics in the audience, pay attention and understand the following (and I quote from PZ's post):

Got that? Plasmodium falciparum was explicitly and intentionally constructed to infect, make ill, torment, and kill human beings. He goes farther than most YECs—the parasite was not simply a product of corruption at the Fall, it had to be carefully modified, built, and released to carry out its designed job of causing suffering.

But Behe's Designer (and let's not pull any punches here, you all know exactly who Behe is talking about: the Christian God of the Bible) apparently was not satisfied in specifically designing a parasite responsible for the agonizing death of millions. No, He felt further moved to provide Plasmodium with an added feature: the ability to trigger leukemia in children:

Now, Arnaud Chene and colleagues have identified CIDRla as the first microbial protein able to spur a latently EBV-infected cell into active production. Their results suggest that P. falciparum-derived proteins can lead to a direct reactivation of EBV during acute malaria infection, increasing the risk of Burkitt lymphoma development for children living in malaria-endemic areas.

So, how does this fit in with God and the Catholic Church being "pro-life"?

Conservative Catholics and other Christian denominations apparently are so hungry to destroy Darwin that they appear to be more theologically comfortable with a God who specifically designs organisms to kill children, than with the idea that humans arose through non-directed processual mechanisms. Isn't this what they call a Faustian bargain?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

More On Virginia Teachers Refusing To Send Atheist Camp Flyers Home With The Kids

From the Institute for Humanist Studies: an interesting follow-up and additional detail on the Viriginia school teachers who refused to hand out flyers promoting an atheist summer camp but are perfectly willing to insure the kids go home with flyers promoting church organizations and bible classes. Mary Ellen Sikes, a resident of Albermarle county and retired employee of the Institute for Humanist Studies sought (and received) permission from the school district to distribute flyers on Camp Quest, a summer camp aimed at the children of non-religious families. According to Sikes:

"Church organizations were now starting to take advantage of this new expanded policy by advertising things like Bible schools and church events for kids, and it seemed to me that families in Albemarle County should have access to other perspectives," Sikes said. "I remember how it felt to learn that I wasn't the only freethinker out there and I wasn't the only one trying to raise kids. I know what it is like to feel isolated in this community of believers who probably do not respect what you're all about."

But it was apparently too much to ask that some teachers apply the same constitutional standards to non-Christians. Unfortunately, Sikes did not realize that some teachers were refusing to send the approved flyers home until it was reported in WorldNutDaily:

"There's a part of me that sympathizes with these teachers," Sikes said. "I'd be pretty uncomfortable as a teacher handing out a Bible camp flyer. But I'd still do it. And if I had a problem with it, I'd go to the principal. I wouldn't just dump it in the trash. That's what is so frightening about these teachers making the decision in the classroom -- based on their own values -- to override a flyer that their school board has approved and decided to be distributed. Just based on their comfort with the message of this flyer. That's censorship. I have to wonder what other messages they're sending to kids about conformity. To send kids the message that you should also conform to the majority view on religion or politics is frightening."

I'm sure Thomas Jefferson is rolling over in his grave about now...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A New Scheme To Reduce Gas Prices...And Email Chains

I received an email message from my brother-in-law today regarding a NEW strategy to get the big oil companies to lower gas prices. The new scheme correctly points out that the previous strategy (don't buy gas on May 15, or whatever day the organizers pick) is nothing more than a big joke for the oil companies...they know what we don't buy on May 15, we'll buy on May 16. This new plan has, I think, a little bit of merit to it (at least I hadn't heard of it before!)...

Don't buy from Shell or Exxon...

The idea is to force one or two companies to begin to lower their prices by essentially boycotting their product in favor of another...theoretically, I think it could work; of course I'm not sure how many of the smaller distributors are actually part of the Shell/Exxon network (are either getting some of the profit from "Joe's Gas" down the street?). Still, it's easy enough to do...

My brother-in-law sent this via a chain email in an effort to spread the word. However, I take perverse pleasure in destroying email chains - something about "if you don't send this on, God doesn't love you" or "you'll be rich in 30 days if you send this to 300 people" messages just infuriate the hell out of me - so I kill them...immediately....and then have a cold beer or a nice glass of wine, sit back in my chair and say "Ahhhhhh"....

However, this idea made a modicum of sense, so I thought I'd kill the email chain and then post the idea on the blog...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Letting A Secularist Run Rampant In The Creation Museum

This is hilarious...but not until you get to the voice over with the monkey (be patient...)...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Humanity Shouldn't Expect Much From Florida Valedictorian

Today PZ reported on a valedictorian at a Florida high school whose message to the audience was largely that the godless among them would be heading straight to hell unless they opened their hearts to Jesus. My wife and I had a spirited discussion about the incident, the details of which are somewhat vague in the media report. My wife was convinced that the student performed a typical conservative Christian stealth move and switched the speech without notifying the administration or teachers; I don’t know…I didn’t see any indication of that in the news article and would have thought it might have been a major issue to report had it gone down that way. I actually don’t know anything about the rules governing valedictorian speeches, and I suspect they vary from place to place, but I have a feeling the speech might have been given with full knowledge of the immediate administration. My wife was under the impression a teacher review panel must have reviewed here speech for appropriateness prior to graduation, they gave the OK, and that they were culpable for the offensiveness of the speech, not the valedictorian.

Regardless, the valedictorian was clearly using the opportunity to preach to a captive audience. I don’t think that’s an ethical thing to do (and it speaks volumes about this student’s lack of character that she would willingly force others to listen to her personal belief system) but I tended to side with PZ on this: it’s her speech; let’s not have any undue constraints on what she wants to say. My wife, on the other hand, emphatically felt that the content of her speech was inappropriate for the event: again, a captive audience forced to endure Christian proselytizing.

My take on it stems from something I have maintained all along: don’t censure it…compete with it. Obviously, it is a bit tough to directly compete with a valedictorian at the event itself (“And now for our anti-valedictorian, Ms. So and So, who will now have fifteen minutes to respond….). People could get up and walk out…turn their backs…have some universal symbol of anti-conservative Christian protest (a raised fist like the Black Panthers?)…lots of ways to express your opinion in protest, even without being disruptive.

Of course perhaps the best counter protest is to help make it easier for a Buddhist, Muslim, or (god forbid!) an atheist valedictorian to give a speech centered on their own personal belief system. The hurdles in front of such a student getting to be valedictorian are currently beyond comprehension; and the courage it would take for a non-Christian student to do their own proselytizing at the podium hasn’t been seen since the 1770’s. Not likely at the moment…but then again it just takes one to start the ball rolling…

But I wasn't dwelling on these issues. I was really contemplating what this says about our Floridian student. Well, she’s not very courageous…telling an audience made mostly of conservative Christians that the godless among them must find Jesus takes about as much courage as asking a grocery clerk where you might find a head of lettuce. She’s very afraid of the world and needs others to agree with her in order to be safe. She certainly doesn’t have any respect for anyone who doesn’t agree with her. Therefore she has no demonstrated ability to communicate with others in their own terms, or even respect their own cultural contexts. In a future of global communication, travel, and information and cultural exchange, she will have no ability to advance society to future prosperity, security and peace. She’ll probably make a good engineer or “medical mechanic” like Dr. Egnor – stuck in her own world of “application” where her culture can be maintained without challenge. From here she can take potshots at those of us concerned with the broader philosophies of human existence that are the driving force behind human capacity and capability; and have been ever since people used cave walls to demonsrate an ability to ponder the human condition beyond the necessity of having a sharpened Levallois point.

In short, it is doubtful that a 12th grade proselytizer will have anything useful to contribute to the betterment of the human race.

Some Blogs To Take A Look At

Well, in typical fashion, I am usually several weeks (if not months) behind in updating blog links and giving other folks their due (my reading list is actually about 5 books behind!)...I want to highlight a couple of new (or if not new, perhaps less well known) blogs I have found through various means:

You have to stop by and see Dinosaurs: A Creationist's Fairytale; DCF had another right-on critique of Ken Ham's vegetarian tyrannosaur hypothesis. There's a lot of other good stuff there and DCF is clearly not sympathetic to the way creationists have abused dinosaur science for their own cause.

Mikayla from Bits of Starstuff emailed me after we both left comments on Dakata Voice's blog regarding Answers In Genesis. Mikayla was at the Rally for Reason held outside Ken Ham's museum opening and has some interesting things to say about...well, a lot of issues. She's certainly not apologetic about being being enamored of naturalism...

Dan Vojir from The Devil and Dan Vojir commented on one of my posts with a post of his own: the first one on his blog. He's a writer in San Francisco and if his first post is any indication of what will be forthcoming I hope he finds the time to post often. I'm anxious to find out more about his upcoming book, Sacred Cows Make The Best Hamburgers...

Permit Me A Little Gloating

Who needs the Lassen County Times when you're getting picked up on Crooks and Liars?

(Yes, yes, I does not a pattern make - of course that never stopped Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis...).