Friday, December 07, 2007

Bad News for Science Education in Texas

My folks, who are active in South Carolinians for Science Education, hipped me to this. Political appointees of Bush and Perry have just given the ouster to the director of science curriculum at the Texas Education Agency.

Chris Comer forwarded an email announcing a speech by Barbara Forrest, one of the expert witnesses at the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District trial which challenged the teaching of Intelligent Design as an alternative scientific theory to evolutionary theory. Within a hour, she'd been called into her superiors' office to be dressed down for sending an email that "implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral." The title of this email was 'FYI'. So forwarding information regarding a speech by a person who has been an expert witness at a trial in which a public school system was forced to change science education policy - which should be a subject of concern for anyone in charge of scientific curriculum in American public schools - is somehow inappropriate behavior.

For Christ's sake, let's not have anyone in the TEA actually familiar with the ID/Evolution debate. When even right-leaning BELO's Dallas Morning News comes out unequivocally against this move, you know the TEA is being boneheaded.

A roundup of rated materials:

Thoreau of Unqualified Offerings fame once tipped me off to this excellent article by Bruce Alberts in the journal Cell. The bulk of the article relates to some ideas on reforming science education, especially at the undergraduate level, but he closes with a passage on Intelligent Design that is the most succinct explanation of why ID isn't science that I've ever seen.

What will it take to grab the attention of science faculty at US colleges and universities and make them understand the urgent need for new ways to teach science? We have recently received a wakeup call. A new survey finds that two-thirds of Americans agree with some of our political leaders that “intelligent design theory” should be taught as an alternative scientific explanation of biological evolution. What does this mean? According to intelligent design theory, supernatural forces acting over time have intervened to shape the macromolecules in cells, thereby forming them into the elegant protein machines that drive a cell’s biochemistry (Alberts, 1998). In other words, at least from time to time, living things fail to obey the normal laws of physics and chemistry.

Teaching intelligent design theory in science class would demand nothing less than a complete change in the definition of science. This definition would give those of us who are scientists an “easy out” for the difficult problems we are trying to solve in our research. For example, why spend a lifetime, constrained by the laws of physics and chemistry, trying to obtain a deep understanding of how cells accumulate mutations and become cancerous if one can postulate a supernatural step for part of the process? Yet we can be certain that, without the deep understanding that will eventually come from insisting on natural explanations, many powerful cancer therapies will be missed.

The idea that intelligent design theory could be part of science is preposterous. It is of course only by insisting on finding natural causes for everything observed in nature that science has been able to make such striking advances over the past 500 years. There is absolutely no reason to think that we should give up this fundamental principle of science now. Two-thirds of Americans might seem to have no real idea of what science is, nor why it has been so uniquely successful in unraveling the truth about the natural world. As I write, the Kansas State Board of Education has just changed the definition of science in revisions to the Kansas State Science Standards to one that does not include “natural explanations” for natural phenomena. What more proof do we need for the massive failure of our past teaching of biology, physics, chemistry, and earth sciences at high schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States?

For all those who teach college biology, the current challenge posed by the intelligent design movement presents an ideal “teachable moment.” I believe that intelligent design should be taught in college science classes but not as the alternative to Darwinism that its advocates demand. It is through the careful analysis of why intelligent design is not science that students can perhaps best come to appreciate the nature of science itself.

The purging of an ID skeptic from the TEA is a grim sign indeed, and not one to be taken lightly.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Professional courtesy turns deadly

The guys over at Cops Writing Cops should be proud of their brethren at the Bolingbrook PD. Eighteen times they were called to the home of fellow officer Drew Peterson, and eighteen times they showed great restraint and professional courtesy to their colleague. Sure, they could have been dicks and arrested him, but they recognized that he was one of their own, and they needed to take care of him. Indeed, they took very good care of him, twice arresting his third wife, Kathleen Savio for domestic battery. They recognized that her accusations that Peterson would regularly beat her would be very damaging to his career, and to the police force as a whole, and in many ways to the city of Bolingbrook.

When she was found dead of 'accidental drowning' in the bathtub, I'm sure the whole Bolingbrook PD breathed a sigh of relief, knowing they could rest assured that their friend and coworker was now safe from her domestic abuse.

But now, tragedy has struck. As many of you now know, his fourth wife has gone missing. The villagers are starting to get restless. Apparently they don't understand that cops need to defend themselves against their spouses.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Married to the Sea

Married to the Sea. It assays out at about 78% win content by volume.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why didn't he get me off?

In my continuing efforts to support the law enforcement community, I would like to respond to the following request for assistance from a law enforcement officer. An anonymous LEO posting on the site "" relates the following:

His question, what mentality could lead to an NC state trooper giving a ticket to someone doing 70 in a 55 zone, is an important one. Is it just dickery that drives policemen to hand out traffic tickets? Or do they feel that by doing so they are preventing, or at least mimizing, lawlessness and recklessness on the highways? Or is it that they are essentially tax collectors, who roam the roads deriving revenue from motorists in exchange for the privilege of exceeding speed limits or ignoring traffic signals and signs?

There are numerous explanations for the way traffic enforcement is carried out in this country, but one thing is clear. This officer does not wish to be treated the way that he treats you and me.

Hat tip, Jennifer, of and the Hartford Advocate,

Friday, August 31, 2007

Just under the wire

Hah! Take that, suckers.

You didn't think I'd post at all this month. Well, if you live on the eastern seaboard then you're right. But here it's still August.

This month has been crazy. I'm married, Jack's in school, Jack's fencing, Holly's in school, Holly quit her temp job, Holly's working for the Catholic Charities refugee services teaching ESL, and we're still not unpacked.

Earlier this month, my friend Pat's uncle Jak passed away. He was one of the most genuinely nice people ever to grace this planet. Pat's immediate family have always made me feel like family, but I figured they had to because I spent so much time at their house. When Aunt Betty and Uncle Jak insisted that I was family, that felt like the real thing, because they had nothing to lose by treating me like an acquaintance, but always made me feel right at home, if a bit guilty for not having come by sooner. I had the unique honor to have shared the title of Godfather to Pat's son Jack with Uncle Jak (although he got namesake, too, so he's one up on me, but he deserves it!). Jak was a great artist and musician, who I will always remember for the valiant attempts that he made to teach Pat and Julie and I to play Dixieland. Only my brother Sandy, who was a trained jazz pianist, could keep up with him. But he was one tough hombre, too. Sunofagun invaded Okinawa with the Marines in '45.

Rest in peace, Jak Smyrl.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Wherein The Lunchstealer finds moving to be teh suck

Sometimes moving just makes you want to say FUCK! really loud. Really often.

Friday, June 29, 2007

A Brick of Amontillado

A seven-layer burrito of Awesome, drenched in Win sauce.

By which I mean, "A Cask of Amontillado" illustrated in Lego

Hat Tip, the perfidious Urkobold™

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Chess Set made out of Win

Over on, they display a chess set which one of the commentors correctly describes as being 'made out of win.'

Monday, May 14, 2007

Free at last, free at last, with apologies to Mr. King

H&R pointed me to a blog entry by Wired's John Brownlee that buoyed my spirits considerably.

The Boston Two have been freed, and all charges have been dropped. Berdovsky and Stevens did have to do a combined 140 hours of community service painting a mural for a hospital, which I'd kinda like to see, and did issue an apology regarding the ruckus that surrounded their cute little mooninite installations. But overall the prosecutors seem to have come to their senses. Or at least come to a state of less complete insanity.

Bonus quote: "Incidentally, Peter Berdovsky has to be the most fascinating photogenic specimen in the history of photography. He's one part Belarusian zombie, one part Rastafarian werewolf. I could look at pictures of this guy all day."

But this whole sordid affair brings up another question. Laws based on 'Reasonably Believe' standards. In a previous post, Brownlee goes over the charges against Berdovsky and Stevens, which stem from the following law:

Whoever possesses, transports, uses or places or causes another to knowingly or unknowingly possess, transport, use or place any hoax device or hoax substance with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons shall be punished by imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than two and one-half years or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
For the purposes of this section, the term “hoax device” shall mean any device that would cause a person reasonably to believe that such device is an infernal machine. For the purposes of this section, the term “infernal machine” shall mean any device for endangering life or doing unusual damage to property, or both, by fire or explosion, whether or not contrived to ignite or explode automatically.
My problem here is the 'reasonable belief' clause. This requires a person to correctly guess what other people will see with completely different starting conditions. It is entirely possible to look at a lite-brite style sign which is intended to be viewed lit up at night, and see the wires and circuitry as just necessary to make the piece of art work. It is entirely possible to never conceive of the fact idea that it might appear threatening. However, a homeland security cop for whom 'you can't be too careful' might reasonably see it as a potential bomb, with the lite-brites as some sort of taunting figure to the bomb squads sent to defuse it. But you have to be in that place for this to seem reasonable.

It is therefore possible to do something that to your mind seems entirely harmless and completely legal (these signs were not attached in any destructive way, so they do not really qualify as vandalism) that in just the right circumstances, it might reasonably be construed to be a threat. It seems to me that any standard that can take a person who is in good faith acting within the law, and turn them into a major felon looking at a 5 year sentence, must be a flawed law. It is an established theory of law that the results of legal procedings must be predictable and foreseeable. It is not possible for everyone to see everything in the same light as everyone else. We just don't, as human beings, have the breadth of experience to adequately predict every reasonable person's conclusions.

I think a fairer standard would be 'for a person reasonably and predictably to believe'.

This isn't entirely an issue here, because the law also requires that the person placing or causing to be placed these 'hoax devices' to do so for with intent of causing panic, which is clearly the case with Ignignokt and Er. So the prosecutor, mayor, and really most of the government of the city of Boston and state of Massachusetts have pretty much been acting with their heads applied in suppository fashion. Anyway, they're free at last.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Questions you never expected science to answer

A recent article in Cosmos magazine had a headline that would stump creative genius of even an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters.

Duck genitals locked in arms race

Seriously, would you have written an article on that topic? The topic comes up because ducks, especially mallards, engage in rape at levels far beyond even most fraternities. According to the article, as many as 40% of all mallard matings are the result of males forcing themselves on females.

This also answers a question that Holly posed after spotting a pair of doves gettin' it on. Do birds have penises? The answer is that most do not, but a few still do. Historically they did, but have evolved into a situation where they just have single cloacae on both sexes which they use for waste disposal and sex, the sex being performed by a 'match-the-hole' technique.

Seriously, did you ever want to know all this?

Stupid science.

Hat tip to the guys over at Grylliade.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

MIHOP is bigger than URHOP

I'd been cautiously optimistic about a Barack Obama candidacy. But now, I know that he has no interest in the Truthtm. At his Austin rally in February, he was confronted by one of the courageous activists of the Student Scholars for 9/11 Truth. Given the opportunity to speak on the pressing subject of the 9/11 coverup, what did Obama say? "You know, I think we need to investigate a whole range of options, although I have to be honest, some of the issues you guys have raised I'm not entirely confident are the truth."

So many people don't believe that the destruction of the WTC was brought about by our government. But it's so obvious.

The planning by the US government for perpetrating the 9-11 'attacks' started much earlier than anyone believes. Mathias Rust*, you know, the guy who landed a Cessna 172 in Red Square back in '87, was a plant. As part of a conspiracy between hard-liners in the Kremlin and Pentagon, who both realized that American paranoia was key to sustaining a military industrial complex in both countries (Russian paranoia can pretty much be taken for granted).

Now, the Korean and Vietnam wars were, as everyone knows, carried out with the express purpose of undermining American post-WWII confidence and instilling the appropriate fear of Russia and the Red Menace. However, Vietnam was a miscalculation, which became clear during the Carter administration as American self-confidence sagged so low that Americans were actually begining to lose faith in the cold war, and support for unilateral disarmament - disasterous for both US and Russian military industry - was threatening to break out into the mainstream in the US.

Thus Reagan was brought in, with his "Bear in the Woods" ads and resurrection of the B-1, B-2, M-1, Trident, Minuteman, the 15-carrier navy, and the ultimate military-industrial coup, SDI. Unfortunately, he was too effective, and swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. The cold war became untenable, because America was now clearly too strong. Simultaneously, the Russians began their own misguided adventure in Afghanistan. That campaign was aimed at undermining the confidence in the Big Red Machine, to spur support for subsequent expansions in Soviet military spending. As with Vietnam, this was also too effective.

It was already clear that civilian terrorism was the key to both problems. Military un-fucking-vincible? Easy, introduce 'asymmetrical warfare'. The US/Kremlin power brokers had been tinkering with it in South America for years, as a sort of R&D project, but hadn't figured they'd need to parlay it into a replacement for the traditional cold war.

Now, it is our air force that instills the most confidence in Americans. So a really terrifying attack against America would have to penetrate our air defences. The early experiments in American-soil terrorism, the first WTC bombing and the OKC bombing, had induced yawns in most people. Sure any asshole could drive a bomb up to anything he wanted. It didn't bring the terror.

But they'd already planned for this. A really terrifying attack would have to come from the air. But it could be too clear that they were staged if people didn't already kind of believe that civilian flights could penetrate a really tight air defense. This is where Mathias Rust comes in.

How better to plant the seed of mistrust of air power than by having a some euro-loser land an airplane in Red Square?

It couldn't be an American, because if a plucky American teen had done it, people would have assumed that he'd won through with faith in God, a picture of his sweetheart, and a can-do attitude. It would just reaffirm our faith. But if some German nihilist can put down his collection of Kraftwerk and Autobahn LPs long enough to climb into a Cessna and land in Red Square as some sort of ironic post-modern statement, then maybe - just maybe - even OUR air defenses could be penetrated in such a way.

This was the key to making the American public believe that a bunch of godless Muslims could be responsible for destroying a landmark that we didn't really care about anyway.

*image of Rust from, used under the GNU free documentation license.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Fire, Indeed, is the Cleanser

Say what you will about the state of civil liberties in this country, but some people are just not poster children for personal responsibility. So it is with Robert Daniels, an American who grew up in Russia. At age 26, he found that he had contracted an extremely drug resistant strain of tuberculosis (XDR-TB). Tuberculosis is a very contagious disease, but in the US is generally treatable with antibiotics. Occasionally, strains resistant to general antibiotics pop up, and patients must be treated with so called "second-line" antibiotics. Now in Russia, and a few other places, strains that are resistant to these second-line treatments are turning up. So it is with Mr. Daniels.

So he came back to the US, in hopes of finding better treatment. He started his treatment, and took a job locally in Phoenix. He wasn't healthy. He had lost 50 pounds, and was coughing constantly, and every cough was expelling droplets laden with this extremely resistant and deadly bacterium. Then his doctors found out that he was going out in public without a mask.
“Where I come from, the doctors don’t wear masks,” he said. “Plus, I was 26 years old, you know. Nobody told me how TB works and stuff.”
Public health officials then took the unusual (but not unheardof) step of placing him in involuntary quarantine.

He's upset.

I sympathize, and certainly have mixed emotions about involuntary quarantine. But then again, don't be a moron.

The following is an IM transcript (edited for flow and brevity) wherein Sandy and I make light of his situation.

lunchstealer: Daniels said he realizes now that he endangered the public. But “I thought I’d come to a country where I’d finally be treated like a person, and bam, here I am.”
sandy:{insert he-shoulda-known-about-gitmo joke here}
lunchstealer: Seriously. Couldn't he have just gone to Finland?
lunchstealer: I mean, they'd probably have drop-kicked him into a Fjord, but they'd have been terribly polite about it.
sandy:"hey, no problem, ha ha, but we're gonna put you in de fire-water for cleansing, K? Ha! is Finnish joke. We gonna burn you instead."

Hat tip to Hit&Run for the original link.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Blades of Awesome

Blades of Glory

Blades of Glory's main premise is that Will Farrell and Napolean Dynamite are ice dancers. Sure, they dress the plot up with some arch-rivals- that-must- band-together- for-a- triumphant-comeback buddy-picture window dressing, but that's secondary. The real point of the movie is to have funny people wear funny costumes and prance around on the ice. This it delivers.

Invariably, this will be compared to Talladega Nights, Farrell's previous sports lampoon. And there's no doubt that there was more exploration of male sexuality, the social contradictions in NASCAR's move from redneck-backwater to mainstream sporting event, and American parenting and family structure in Talladega Nights. Blades of Glory is far less ambitious - aiming almost entirely for slapstick appeal.

But Blades works in one way that Nights does not - pacing. At just over 90 minutes, Blades of Glory has clearly had a lot of padding cut out. There are jokes in the commercials that don't make it to the screen, and that's a good thing. The movie works best on ice, and the directors have just barely enough dialogue and story development in between skating scenes to establish some sense of humanity in the characters. But unlike Nights, which had some long laugh-free spells, this film doesn't get bogged down in it. They give you just enough that you are rooting for the dysfunctional protagonists by the end, but not so much that it distracts from the men prancing in funny ways.

You won't see too many people stretching their wings. Will Farrell, Amy Poehler (of SNL fame), and Will Arnette (GOB on Arrested Development) deliver on their core competencies, but you won't see anything new from them. John Heder (Napolean Dynamite) is again playing a delightfully clueless and socially inept man-child, but brings some freshness to it - he isn't out of ideas yet. Jenna Fischer (The Office) is still playing a Pam-like sweet-girl-all-grown-up but again branches out a little bit. The nice surprise is Craig T. Nelson, who's intentionally lampooning his old "Coach" tv persona.

Filmed in - 2 beers. You don't have to be lit to enjoy this movie, but a couple of beers won't hurt.

Depth Gauge - Big puddle. No one would go to a movie that combined Will Farrell with figure skating and expect social commentary. It's not actually stupid, but highbrow it ain't.

Long-story-short - there were at least two times where I was hoping for something lame so I could rest the muscles in my face - they were starting to hurt. If you're in the mood for laughing at a stupid movie, this is the one for you.

Monday, March 26, 2007

New - From MeNuCo!

Rock On - Apply Directly to the Rock!
Rock On - Apply Directly to the Rock!
Rock On - Apply Driectly to the Rock!

Sorry, that just broke into my brain, and I had to exorcise the demons somehow. This is how.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

KERA - If we don't do it, well, cable already did.

Seeing El Anadón Ingobernable's post about how wonderful KERA is reminded me of how they can suck.

Going through the next two weeks of programming on my TiVo to see what I wanted to record, there's plenty of:

  • Suze Orman - I can get that from CNN or MSNBC these days
  • The Rolling Stones - VH1
  • Jerry Lee Lewis - Seriously?
  • Doctor Who - not the kickass old Doctor Who that you can't find anywhere else. No, KERA's got to prove their irrelevance by showing the Christopher Eccleston stuff. Seriously I blew that off on BBCAmerica because I'd already seen every episode on SciFi.
But since it's frakkin' pledge drive, there's narry a Nova or Frontline to be found. They'd better hope their funding doesn't get cut off from the state, because if they can't run what I want during pledge drive, I'm not giving them a dime.

Seriously, I've learned more about food and food science by watching Good Eats on the Food Network than I ever did watching Julia Childs and Yan Cooks Cats on PBS.

Where they still hold up is science and nature programming. Discovery Channel is sometimes doing good work here, but Nova is still the gold standard, with Nature not far behind. And while Frontline is still probably the best current events issue show out there, shows like Anderson Cooper 360 are starting to give it a run for its money.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A smug little treatise on the value of a spontaneous, unplanned economy

Central planning could never come up with an idea as pure in its post-modern geniusiosity as this.

The iBreath. The Soviet Union created some clever chess players, but there's no way in hell they'd have come up with the idea of an integrated breathalyzer/FM transmitter which attaches seamlessly to your iPod. You can now play you iTunes through your car stereo, and be sure you're legal to drive.

Hat tip to The Agitator.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Thursday, February 01, 2007

One of these things is not like the others

Can you tell which one of these is not a bomb? If you picked the one with the lite-brite cartoon character on it, you're qualified to replace Assistant Attourney General John Grossman, who is rumored to be stepping down after discovering that he is, in fact, a moron.

From the AP story on Ignignoktgate:
"This device looks like a bomb."

Some in the gallery snickered.

If you want to kill people you don't make your bomb flip people off. You probably make it look like a massive government transportation and construction project. But I guess that's already been done.

State Attourney General Martha Coakley, Assistant Attourney General John Grossman, and Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke all refer to this as a bomb hoax. Well a hoax is an attempt to make something look like a bomb. This was an attempt to make people see a light that was a funny shape. We've already spent $750,000 shutting down Boston because the police couldn't tell that these weren't fake bombs, but were just funny signs. That is an honest mistake on their part. But once it was clear how the signs worked, and that they were intended to be seen at night, they really should have gained a little perspective. As it is, they're going to waste another $500,000 or more of taxpayer's money prosecuting people with criminal charges for something that is at worst misdemeanor disturbing the peace and maybe vandalism, although it is clear that some care was taken to see that nothing was damaged.

Coakley's already doing a terrible job investigating the malfeasance on the Big Dig project which actually did result in loss of life. Maybe spend a little more time on crimes and less on what is truly an innocent misunderstanding. To do anything else is criminal.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Children of Men (some mild spoilers)

Holly and I were lounging about on New Year's Day, when she suggested we go see a movie. We narrowed it down to Children of Men and The Good Shepard. The Good Shepard was listed as almost 3 hours long, which seemed more of a movie commitment than we were prepared for that day, so we opted for Children of Men.

I knew that it was set in near-future Britain, and that the basic premise was that worldwide infertility had left mankind childless for 19 years. The 'youngest person alive' has just been the victim of a celebrity murder at age 18. The story follows Theo Farron, a former radical who's turned his back on the revolution to become a disinterested government worker in a Britain which is the last western power to resist total collapse. To support their island paradise, the British government has instituted a massive and brutal campaign to remove all illegal immigrants and non-British refugees. Britain is determined to live out her last days in prosperity, and will not share that with Poles, Frenchmen, Germans, Russians, Africans, Americans, or anyone else. If you're not British, you are ruthlessly hunted down, and thrown into concentration camps, where you may be deported if you're lucky.

Then Theo's old underground contacts get in touch with him. They need his goverment contacts to get transit papers for one person to get to the coast. He agrees - for the right sum of cash. Immediately, plans begin to fall apart, and he's got to escort a young girl, secretly pregnant with the first child in two decades, to a rendezvous with a shadowy organization rumored to be working to restore human fertility. They're being sought after by the government and their former comrades in the underground.

The sci-fi elements of the movie are understated, but the pacing and tone are kept up brilliantly. There are some ham-handed allusions to the current Iraq war and to Abu Ghraib, but they are forgivable. The final act of the film is very powerful, and not for the faint of heart. Without giving away too much of the ending, I will say that there are several scenes of brutal violence, and the tension builds right to the very end of the film.

There were several collective gasps from the packed house that I saw it in. While we were waiting in line to get into the film, the previous screening was released, and several people in that group were visibly crying as they left. Our group was no different. One filmgoer who was walking in front of us leaving the theater had been to see A Night at the Museum before coming to this film. His companion remarked, "Wow, that has to be one hellofa contrast." He allowed as how he wished he'd done it in reverse order, as he could do with something light after Children of Men. Holly and I agreed.

Highly recomended.