Field of Science

Clash of the Titans, or something similar anyway

Can we be good without god?

This just came to my attention and I am sorry to say with the late notice I cannot attend. If anyone is able to attend I would enjoy hearing how it turns out.

Apologies for the Previous Post

Thinking about and writing that last post irked the hell out of me. Here's something to make us all feel better....

Been a fan of Birdland since I first heard it. Plus my brother and I grew up on alto and tenor sax (with a modicum of soprano thrown in), so that always hits a heartstring.


Bride of the Creationist "Science" Fair

This is science education?

Yes, its that time of year again, when creationists homeschoolers show off the results of their child abuse. (For the record, I believe that systemic lying to children about reality is child abuse.)

I commented on this religious fair last year. I will try to go again, but I am not sure I have the fortitude. Why might I skip out? Well, this religious fair is advertised as being about science, however the truth is clear from the TCCSA website...

The Scientific Method and Home School Science Fair procedures
Im skipping ahead here...
VII. Science Fair Day. You as the presenter are the key to a great Science Fair Day.
Five things to remember:
1. Know your material.
2. Be Confident.
3. Communicate well.
4. Be thorough.
5. Pray your exhibit will witness to non-Christian visitors.

That is one of our main goals at the Science Fair.
(adapted from: The Complete Handbook of Science Fair Projects, Bochinski, 1996)

First of all, there is no THE scientific method. There are approaches and methods that are scientific, but there is no one true scientific method. See the real point is not science, not doing science, not communicating science. Nope, its main purpose is to convert non-christians to your religious perspective. Think I might be overstating it? Keep reading

7. Approximately 3rd Weekend in February: our science fair presentation at Har-Mar Mall in a public-secular setting for three reasons:
1) To promote home schools,
2) To show that Homeschool students can do good science.
3) To present our science fair project to non-Christian people. This should be a great Gospel outreach.

In reality, this fair should only promote that these home schools lead to close minded indoctrination. If it shows some good science, it will be in spite of, not because of the viewpoint of the TCCSA. Finally, these knobs need to look up what secular means, its seems to me they are confusing secular with atheistic. Science should not be great gospel outreach, that's like saying our history fair should really promote lollipop consumption (at least lollipops taste good).

But why do this?

We heard about one lady who saw the Science Fair displays at the Mall. She began to read some of the verses on the displays and was convicted to start attending church and get right with God. There are probably other stories like this we have not heard but it shows the power of God's Word through our program.

See, its not demonstrating what you learned or how you have used science, its to bring in more customers. The "science" was just a way to get those unsaved pitiful souls to approach until the trap could be sprung, the unsuspecting wretch sees the bible verse and voila! SAVED! Personally, I am not convinced by self-serving hearsay, but then Im a scientist.

To be clear it gets better (and by better I mean worse).

See here is the introductory premise to scientific religious education written by Russ McGlenn (aka Sir Bunghole). Right from the start....

The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. Proverbs 1:7

Hey Sir Bunghole, finish the verse or have you no shame? Nevermind, just finish the verse.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

First, god/lord just depends on the version of the bible you use (although Im sure Sir Bunghole believes his version is the one true version written in the original english language). Now Sir Bunghole, see that little smudge at the end of your sentence? Its not a period, its supposed to be a comma. I can see making that mistake, but what happened to the rest of the clause? I mean your point is to make your god out to be a bully, which is fairly simple to do without distorting the bible. Science is hard and requires deep study and real work (both of which require discipline and leads to wisdom). I wonder mostly about the motive of distorting this passage, since virtually all of those looking at the website will be Christians terrified that their child may learn something the parents personally disapprove of, these are people who will parse any verse to fit their preconceived notions anyway, so why distort?

I think Proverbs 1 is an interesting choice here, because essentially it is set up to warn against rejecting knowledge and wisdom. If I skip ahead a bit...

20 Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech:
22 "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you.
24 But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,
25 since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you-
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
28 "Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.
29 Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD,
30 since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm."

I would argue this argues pretty strongly that avoiding knowledge and ignoring information is considered bad in god's many eyes. I know, I know, this could be argued the opposite way as well, that's the joy of reinterpreting ancient vague texts. Back to the website....

This is a list of questions kids have asked in our brain storming sessions for science fair topics. These are the raw questions as I have not had time to clean them up or rephrase them in a statement for a hypothesis.

It was written in April 2008? Not had time over the last 9-10 months?

We need to train our students and ourselves to ask the right questions.

Anyone know how the "right" questions are determined?

Evolutionists ask this question:
How can I prove that evolution is true (and God does not exist). This may not be stated in this way, but is inferred by their writings. Darwin and others have said that if evolution is true, there is no need for God.

How many inaccuracies and/or logical fallacies can you find in that proceeding set of sentences? I found 4. Can you find more?

Creation scientists need to ask this question:
What can I learn about myself, God, and God's plan for the universe as I study His creation today. I believe true science is a way to learn more about God and ourselves. It is a living class room in which God is the Instructor and we the students. Jesus used common things in nature to illustrate his principles as he taught.

And so if Jesus used simple things to illustrate general principles to illiterate and fairly simple people, we can use simplicity to uncover the intricacies of the universe. You know, this does accurately summarize the approach creationists take to biology.

The Bible says, "The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge." God will not honor scientist's work if they do not honor Him. Some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs and discoveries were made by Christian men and women.
The following is a partial list of great scientists who were Christians seeking to understand God through His creation as well as the Bible. Sir Isaac Newton began his search for the laws of gravity and motion with this idea: God is a God of order, therefore His must have laws that govern the universe. Kepler discovered the formula for the orbit of planets around the Sun. Faraday developed many of the laws of electromagnetism. Maxwell invented color photography and discovered laws governing the distribution of molecules in gas. Lord Rutherford has been called the father of nuclear physics. Sir John Thomas discovered the electron. Petr Beckmann, a Polish professor who defected to the U.S. during the Cold War, has raised serious questions about Einsteinian physics and has shown that science based on solid experimental data is superior to many of Einstein's theories. These stories and more can be found in Science and Biblical Faith, a science documentary, by Thomas Barnes, 1993.

Some of the greatest serial killers, pedophiles, murderers, rapists, thieves were Christians too. What is the point you are making here? Simple logic is not that tough people. (How much you want to bet Sir Bunghole thinks Sudoku is a demonic ritual?). By the way, thanks Christians for coming up with the number 0. Wait what? Does that mean there will be a bunch of converts to Islam now?

Check out the website for 115 "ideas" for potential projects, I cant list them here because it isnt worth the electrons. However this is currently my favorite: 72. What is God made of? Good luck with that.

I don't know. Im not sure I can subject myself to the subtle undercurrent of hatred that permeates these events this year. Maybe Ill stay home and play with my son.

A Strong Step Forward

Without going into detail, I think the children, and citizens, of Minnesota received a strong step forward today in their science education. More details to come when appropriate....

Thanks to all those involved!

Your American civics acumen in 33 questions

This is kind of fun....

Civics Quiz

You answered 31 out of 33 correctly — 93.94 %
Average score for this quiz during January: 74.2%
Average score: 74.2%

You can take the quiz as often as you like, however, your score will only count once toward the monthly average.
If you have any comments or questions about the quiz, please email
You can consult the following table to see how citizens and elected officials scored on each question.

Where to from here?

Answers to Your Missed Questions:

Question #31 - A. an increase in a nation’s productivity
Question #33 - D. tax per person equals government spending per person

31) International trade and specialization most often lead to which of the following?
A. an increase in a nation’s productivity
My choice B. a decrease in a nation’s economic growth in the long term
C. an increase in a nation’s import tariffs
D. a decrease in a nation’s standard of living

I could take this test again and I would still get this wrong. Well I wouldn't now, but my thoughts (incorrect based on the answer) led me to answer B and would again. Clearly, I need to obtain more education in economics.

33) If taxes equal government spending, then:
My choice A. government debt is zero
B. printing money no longer causes inflation
C. government is not helping anybody
D. tax per person equals government spending per person
E. tax loopholes and special-interest spending are absent

This one was a case of identifying an answer that looked good and not reading any others carefully. If I thought about the answers I would have answered this one correctly, trust me.

More fun, check out the website to see how people do based on a variety of criteria. I particularly like that those who identify as being in politics do worse than the general public.

H/T Sandwalk

Inaugural Address

The entire transcript is here.

A couple of highlights in my estimation:

1. That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

YAY!!! Data as something meaningful!

2. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

First Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. You know the discourse in this country is pretty well stated in the first part of this verse.
However, where in the bible/koran/other religious text would I find the idea that "all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness?" More of a Declaration of Independence feel to me.

3. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This, I find, is a strong rebuke to the isolationist anti-other mind-set of the last 8+ years.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.

Narrow interests? In a country that voted in 2004 for Bush-Cheney in large part because gays were gonna steal our weddins?

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

Suck it GW

4. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Well said sir.

5. For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Read that again "christian nation" proponents, actually read that 100 times. Hell, everyone read that again, it is beautiful prose to say the least. BTW thanks Mr. President, for allowing a non-believer to part of this great country again.

6. This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

I actually found this an important point. President Obama is a Christian with a deep faith. However, unlike many of the unthinking masses that feed from the trough of the local pastor, President Obama has a thinking rationale faith (in many ways it seems analogous to our founding fathers). Here is a statement that directly points to his placement of his god at the center of our existence (in a tangential way, not that the earth was created as is 6000 years ago). However, this is not an exclusionary statement to me. "...calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny." The future is uncertain, and it is dependent on us what that future will be. If the future sucks, its on us. If the future rocks, we rolled. Here god is an amorphous concept, not a specific deity begging for our adulation to get over his self-esteem issues. God as used here is a sense of right-and-wrong, justice, fairness. While President Obama's may believe in a specific god in a specific way. Here, I find he is using god conceptually and inclusively, a nice change from the "my god or the highway" approach of the Bush years.

What Science Is and What Is Not Science: via Youtube

This is an excellent little ten minute video. Get a cup o' coffee, sit back and enjoy.

H/T Evolving Thoughts

Update on Bats and Fungi

I previously posted on "White Nose Syndrome," a disease that has been devastating bat colonies in the NE US recently. Well the newest issue of Science has a new Brevia by the same group. (BTW Science, loving the cover this month.) There is not really anything too new here, basically a variety of bats from VT, MA, CT, and NY were autopsied and again fungi were found and identified as belonging to the Geomyces family. Remember these are psychrophilic (cold-loving) fungi, which makes sense based on where they are growing. Anyway, this was a nice little addition to the issue of WNS and a decline in the bat populations in these caves.

However, I do not believe there is sufficient reason for anyone (and I am NOT suggesting the authors are doing this) to conclude this fungus causes WNS. The fungus could in fact be killing all these bats analogous to how Salmonella causes food poison. Conversely, the fungal infection could simply be an additional symptom of an unidentified problem. A think a perfect analogy is the onset of oral thrush (caused by the fungus Candida albicans) and fungal meningitis (caused by Cryptococcus neoformans) in young men during the 80s. These infections, the latter being extremely lethal, were caused by essentially run-of-the-mill fungi, one of which (C. albicans) lives in essentially every person on the planet. Death was often the endpoint, however the reason these fungi were causing diseases in the first place was as a complication of an immunodeficiency caused by the HIV virus. So, in this human example a fungal disease was due to a problem caused by the viral disease. If we take care of the C. albicans infection, the patient would still be sick with pneumonias, acquiring rare cancers, etc. The problem was HIV.

So, what do I think is killing the bats? In reality, I don't know. Here are some thoughts though. I think three possibilities are most likely: 1. its a problem caused by the fungus; 2. its a disease analogous to the HIV example above; 3. same as #2 except the underlying problem is not due to a biological entity, but an environmental entity like a toxic chemical.

I am not a fan of #1 for the following reason. Not all bats that die have overt fungal growth (not the best evidence I agree). Also the fungus seems to be restricted to the surface of the bat, infecting the epithelial (skin), hair follicles, and sweat glands. There is no internal organ involvement or other major dissemination that would clearly lead to death. Also, and most interestingly, these bats lack brown fat reserves. These are the reserves that sustain the bats during hibernation. The lack of brown fat explains why some bats wake up too early (starving) or lack the strength to forage when they wake up on time. But why would they be depleted? Maybe a virus is causing a metabolic problem that leads to the depletion. BTW fighting off microbes takes a lot of energy, so maybe as these reserves are depleted the bats immune systems go south. Similarly, an environmental toxin could cause a similar problem. To confound things further, I do not believe it has been determined when the brown fat depletion occurs. Maybe the problem is that the fat reserves never build up in the first place or that they never build up sufficiently or that they build up normally but are not maintained or used correctly. These are, I think, important and interesting questions and they do matter. If we decide to treat the fungus, but it isnt really the underlying problem, then we probably haven't dealt with the problem. So how can these kinds of questions be answered? Not easy. One possibility is to capture a fair number of bats from a cave suffering from WNS during the growing season, some early, some in the middle, some late, and then those after hibernation. We can autopsy the animals and see what's going on physiologically. Since not every bat suffers from WNS, we would need a collection of bats to analyze. Another possibility, if we can determine brown fat without euthanizing the bats, we could tag 20, 50, 100 bats and see what's happening to them over the course of a winter without having to euthanize them. In reality there are lots of ways to address these and other questions. None of this means it will be easy, but I do think people should be asking these questions.

Insights from the Eric Holder Hearing

Hopefully everyone is aware that the senate is holding hearings to help determine whether President-Elect Barrack Obama's choices for cabinet et al positions are appropriate. This is an important function of the senate and its great to hear it in action (via NPR). I was most struck listening to Eric Holder's confirmation hearing for attorney general as this was supposed to be the most contentious based on decisions made by Mr. Holder when he was a deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration. (You remember Clinton, the president who committed real crimes like lying about getting his dick sucked by a non-wife chick, not a persecuted president who is getting railroaded by simply trashing the document he swore to uphold among other things). Anyway...

There were three things I found most interesting during Mr. Holder's hearing and I wanted to briefly (in 8000 words or less) discuss them. Two of these are from republicans and I think one tells us a lot about the pro-life strategy and another about covering our asses. Of course, the remaining one comes from a democrat, basically because I love the exchange.

First, senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah):
HATCH: OK. But back to our prior point, is the president's inherent authority under the Constitution -- can that be limited by a statute?
HOLDER: The president's inherent authority. Well...
HATCH: Right.
HOLDER: ... it's...
HATCH: I mean, you're relying on the statute as though that's binding on Article 2 of the Constitution.
HOLDER: Well, the president obviously has powers under the Constitution that cannot be infringed by the legislative branch.
Glad someone has read the constitution That's what I was saying earlier. There are powers that the president has, and that have been delegated to him that he has. And in the absence -- Congress does not have the ability to say, with regard to those powers, you cannot exercise them. There's always the tension in trying to decide where that balance is struck. And I think we see the best result when we see Congress interacting with the president, the executive branch interacting with the legislative branch, and coming up with solutions..

Anyone see where this is going?

HATCH: That still doesn't negate the fact that the president may have inherent powers under Article 2 that eve a statute cannot vary.
HOLDER: Well, sure. The...
HATCH: Do you agree with that statement?
HOLDER: Yes, there are certain things that the president has the constitutional right, authority to do, that the legislative branch cannot impinge upon.

See it yet? Here it comes...

HATCH: OK. Now, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 included important civil liability protections for those providers who assisted the government with the Terrorist Surveillance Program in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Now, according to this act, in order for the liability protections to apply, the attorney general must first file a certification with the court. Now, last fall, Attorney General Mukasey filed the appropriate certifications with the court. You're aware of that. OK. Now, do you believe that those private partners who assisted the government should be given civil liability protection?
HOLDER: Well, that is now contained in a statute. The duty of the Justice Department is to defend statutes that have been passed by Congress, unless there is some very compelling reason not to. President-elect Obama was against the -- immunity was granted to those ISPs, Internet service providers -- but nevertheless voted for the statute that contained that immunity. It would seem to me that unless there are compelling reasons, even given the opposition, unless there are compelling reasons, I would not -- I don't think that we would reverse course.
HATCH: OK. So, if confirmed as attorney general, you will honor the certifications by Attorney General Mukasey.
HOLDER: Yes, I believe that we would. Obviously, we have to look at if there are changed circumstances, if there is some basis to change that determination. But in the absence of that, I don't think we would.
HATCH: Well, thank you. There have been numerous calls for prosecution of various individuals, ranging from the vice president to attorneys at the Office of Legal Counsel, for their support or approval of the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the CIA's interrogation and detention program. Now, if confirmed as the attorney general, do you intend to undertake, order or support a criminal investigation of those individuals, including those individuals at the Office of Legal Counsel, who were involved in drafting legal opinions on these matters? Or are you willing to acknowledge that there can be differences of opinion, but they acted in accordance with their best good faith efforts under the circumstances at the time?

Whoomp! There it is.

HOLDER: Well, senator, no one is above the law. And...
HATCH: I'll agree with that.
HOLDER: We will follow the evidence, the facts, the law, and let that take us where it should. But I think President-elect Obama has said it well. We don't want to criminalize policy differences that might exist between the outgoing administration and the administration that is about to take over. We certainly don't want to do that.
HATCH: But would you consider these policy differences, or policy decisions?
HOLDER: Well, one of the things I think I'm going to have to do is to become more familiar with what happened that led to the implementation of these policies. I've not been read into a variety of things that I will be exposed to, should I become attorney general. And that would, I think, better inform any decision that I would make in that regard.
HATCH: OK. Let me just switch the subject -- I've got just another 40 seconds -- and explore your position -- well, let me just start with this.

Short version:
Hatch: Are you willing to say you won't go after any illegal activities conducted by the REPUBLICAN administration?
Holder: I don't want to, but I have to see what happened first and if so (probably not) maybe.

Second, senator Charles Schumer (D-New York)

This line of questioning follows the following premise...

And I want to thank you for your years of service. I worked with you when you were deputy attorney general. I was impressed then as I am now with your integrity, your experience, your excellence. Much of the discussion leading up to your hearing has focused on the question of your independence: Will you be the people's lawyer or the president's lawyer? And I think this is absolutely and correctly at the heart of the matter, because every other day, it seems, another scathing report from the inspector general hits us on the head like a hammer reminding us that the likes of Alberto Gonzales and Bradley Schlossman sullied and demoralized a great legal institution -- probably the finest civil service institution in the country -- that they really dragged through the mud. So we're in dire need of a less political and more independent Justice Department beginning at the very top. And I spent a lot of time in the last Congress, as you know, making this point. Four years ago, moreover, the question of independence was my central consideration when Alberto Gonzales sat in the witness chair: that he was too close to the president, didn't understand the nature of the job of attorney general. As I said when I voted against him at the time, "It's hard to be straight shooter when you're a blind loyalist." And I think that in my entire Senate career, the vote against Alberto Gonzales may have been one of the most vindicated by subsequent history. So some of my friends across the aisle are questioning your independence and making ludicrous comparisons to Mr. Gonzales. And they're cherry picking a few episodes from your long and distinguished career and ignoring, conveniently, other more substantial actions you've taken that manifest a true independent streak in the best traditions of the Justice Department. My colleagues have mentioned them already. I'm not a fan of either the Marc Rich pardon or the FALN. I disagree with your ultimate analysis on FALN -- and on Marc Rich, I guess, although you certainly said that was a mistake. I was a critic then, and I'm a critic now. The essential point, though, is that many who have criticized your role in those pardons -- Democrat and Republican alike -- recognize your entire career and vigorously support your nomination: Jim Comey, Louis Freeh, the Fraternal Order of Police. So if we're going to make an informed assessment about your independence, I think we have to look at the entire record. And as I look at your background and record, it's clear that you are less connected and less beholden to the new president than most attorneys general in the last 50 years.

I love the "cherry picking" line. This sums up 95% of debate in America today. Ok, here comes the coup de grace...and remember the issue is independence...

SCHUMER: Have you ever been President-elect Obama's personal lawyer, like William French Smith had been for years for Ronald Reagan?
HOLDER: No, I have not.
SCHUMER: Have you ever been a staffer to Barack Obama, like Ed Meese had been for President Reagan?
HOLDER: No, I have not, senator.
SCHUMER: Have you ever served as official counsel to Barack Obama, like Alberto Gonzales had been for George Bush?
HOLDER: No, I have not, senator.
SCHUMER: And, by the way, has Barack Obama ever dispatched you to the hospital room of a sick government official...(LAUGHTER)... to get him to authorize an illegal wiretap program?
HOLDER: (Inaudible)
SCHUMER: Yeah, I didn't think so.
HOLDER: No, he has not. (LAUGHTER)
SCHUMER: All right. And I take it you're not a close relation to the new president, like Bobby Kennedy was to Jack Kennedy?
HOLDER: No, we're not related by blood, though people do say we look alike. (LAUGHTER)
SCHUMER: I don't think so. (LAUGHTER) Although you're both very handsome.
HOLDER: I've heard he's handsome. I was going to try to, you know, draft on that.
SCHUMER: OK. Let me ask you this: Have you ever been a professional politician, like, say, John Ashcroft or Dick Thornburg?
HOLDER: No, I've never run for office.
SCHUMER: OK. Before last year, at age 57 after 30 years as a lawyer, did you owe any paid job or government appointment to Barack Obama?
HOLDER: No, I have not. I do not.
SCHUMER: When did you first meet the president-elect?
HOLDER: After he was elected but before he was sworn in as a senator.
SCHUMER: Great. What did the president-elect tell you about what kind of attorney general he wanted you to be?
HOLDER: He said, Eric, you've got to understand you've got to be different. You know, we have a pretty good relationship. That's probably going to change as a result of your taking this position. I don't want you to do anything that you don't feel comfortable doing. You've got to be my counselor. You've got to tell if I'm going to get myself in any kind of trouble. I understand that the Justice Department is different. I understand that you're going to be different. He said he hoped that it wouldn't affect our relationship, but he says he understands that I have a different obligation than other people in the Cabinet.
SCHUMER: OK. Well, that's refreshing, because I doubt that President Bush ever had that kind of conversation with Alberto Gonzales. And it's a refreshing change. So when we talk about independence, we need to keep in mind the notion of independence is often a two-way street. I welcome your nomination, not just because you will be a different kind of attorney general but because Barack Obama will be a different kind of president. So I really want to thank you. I believe that your nomination, should you be approved, will end the rancid politization at the department, because it will mean an end to waterboarding and other shameful forms of torture and because it will mean a full return to the rule of law and our reputation around the world.

Third and maybe most importantly based on what I heard, senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas)

BROWNBACK: That's a big issue for them and I have spoken to Secretary Gates and the chairman of joint chiefs about this as well. Last Congress, Senator Kennedy and I successfully worked to pass a prenatally and postnatally diagnosed conditions act and there's no reason I expect you to know about that bill but what it was targeted at was to provide an adoption list for children borne with Down Syndrome.

You know this seems like a good idea. Although I do not know why someone or adoption service cant simply make a website on their own. I see no reason for the government to have to do this....oh wait, yes I do...

Right now, if you do the in utero test for Down Syndrome, 80 percent of the children are aborted. And both Senator Kennedy and I thought that was a really tragedy. What we need to do is to try to figure a system to try to encourage that they would be warned. And this is a very tough situation, if you can't handle it, BITE ME there are people that want to do this, rather than killing the child FETUS, ITS A FETUS . And we also put in that there would be current information put forward about life expectancy of Down Syndrome children, conditions for early treatment. And we're both very proud that we could get this. The Kennedy family has been great on working with people with disabilities and I was delighted to partner with him on it. The thing I find extraordinary is that the Americans with Disabilities Act, part of which, the Justice Department will be enforcing applies and protects people with disabilities yet we tend to not apply it. But at a certain point of life and the children tend to be killed before it gets applied to them. I would hope you would review with them, the Department of Justice, when you would apply the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. I know there are other agencies that have jurisdiction and maybe primary jurisdiction over this but that you would look at when do we apply the ADA. I don't know if you're familiar with that or if you could make a point of view on it.

Unfuckingbelievable!!! Are we seeing the next round of anti-abortion strategy? Get the ADA to apply to the fetuses with potential disabilities (they aren't disabled in the womb). If that can be done, then the argument (and its a shit one to begin with) is that if ADA applies to the fetuses, then fetuses have rights, thus they are people, thus they must not be aborted. (However, once they are born, we must impinge on their rights to listen to music, read books, watch TV/movies, play games we find offensive. They must believe in a specific set of christian doctrines, dress appropriately, and keep the hell off my lawn.) Are you sickened by this argument? How do you handle this "question."

HOLDER: I think a core of what you're talking about are very personal, difficult decisions that people would have take...
BROWNBACK: I'd say a very legal question on your part.
HOLDER: ... but I think the legal determination is based on what the Supreme Court has said in essence are personal decisions tied to the right to privacy. I think the legislation that you described, that you worked on with Senator Kennedy, is admirable. The possibility of adopting Down's children, that's obviously a wonderful thing. The application of the statute that you mentioned in, I guess, a prenatal sense, I just don't know what the impact of that would be on...
BROWNBACK: Can you see the disconnect here? If that child gets here, it's protected as the ADA applies. If it doesn't, 60 to 80 percent are killed. I would hope you would look at that and say that this should be applied at an earlier point because clearly the intent is to protect this child, not to kill it.

WOW! Just WOW!

How to make burkhas more popular

Hey buddy, Had enough of your woman walking around where all those other guys who actually respect women, are smarter than, and better looking than you? Well, there's always the burkha, instant female social invisibility! Once you get her, the chance she'll be able to find someone better is severely limited. But how to get her to wear it? Move to Minnesota! Current outdoor temps of -20°F (without wind chill) basically guarantees she'll only go out wearing a burkha-like wardrobe!

On a positive note, tomorrow will be 40 degrees warmer than the last three. 40 freaking degrees!!! yep, raising it to a balmy 20!

Pic 1 c/o
Pic 2 c/o

A survey that may be worthwhile, though not too funny

Mrs Hot Stuff brought the following to my attention yesterday. This is a survey from on 30 major issues (although I only count 29). A previous completed survey was done to obtain ideas for these issues and the top 3 ideas for each issue was carried forward to this survey. So now you can go vote for your favorite idea for each of these issues....The results of the survey will be given to President-Elect Obama on Friday (thus, voting ends tomorrow!).

Regardless, of the 29 issues (see below), education came in at #18. 9 spots after Other! Now I did not see how the order was determined, but I expect it was based on the amount of interest from the original survey. Why I think this is odd (regardless of why) is that educated individuals and an educated society is essential to address the issues in italics (and I am being conservative in my choices of issues). There's easily 12 issues that required well educated people. I would argue that 28 actually do, Ill leave Other on the shelf. You want to combat genocide, educate people into the similarities between people not the cultural differences, educate people in history, educate people about themselves.

1 Genocide
2 Gay Rights
3 Global Warming
4 Domestic Poverty
5 Immigration
6 Humanitarian Relief
7 Government Reform
8 Energy
9 Other
10 Environmental Conservation
11 Women's Rights
12 Animal Rights
13 Economy
14 Fair Trade
15 Agricultural Policy
16 Health Care
17 Social Entrepreneurship
18 Education
19 Global Health
20 Criminal Justice
21 Foreign Relations
22 Technology Policy
23 Homelessness
24 Human Trafficking
25 Peace in the Middle East
26 Race
27 Global Poverty
28 Iraq War
29 Civic Engagement

I know dealing with and solving problems associated with these issues is not that easy. However lack of a social emphasis in and on education is a serious problem just look at our country. How much time and effort was spent on Barrack Hussein Obama? How often did we hear about a million dollar projector? What time spent dealing with issues was devoted to winks and flag pins? The media is culpable, but more so are the people of this society. When most people get their policy information from The View then "Houston we have a problem." I have some other post ideas on this for another time.

However, I did touch on the choices for the Education issue:
A. Introduce Esperanto as a foreign language subject in schools to help American kids succeed
I am not sure what "succeed" means here. If it is to aid in learning a second or third language, then this is valid. But is this a major problem that needs to be solved this way? To work, Esperanto needs to be introduced early as a stepping stone to foreign language development. Should all US children learns Esperanto? Should all children have a second language? I can say that a yes here would not be a bad thing. However, how many schools are set up to teach anything other than French (mostly worthless - speaking as someone who took it for 4 years) and Spanish (definitely helpful). What about Indian, Chinese, etc. Does Esperanto help here? Will requiring a second language actually lead to more US adults speaking Chinese?
B. Mobilize Mentors, Tutors, and Citizen Teachers to Help Kids Succeed
I like this idea.
C. "The Autism Reform Act of 2009"
Is this an education issue or a societal health issue? I tend to lean towards the latter, although in no way am I down playing the educational burden parents, teachers, and the individual students have.

Personally, I would have preferred a "Teach the best science and engineering to our K-12 students so we don't waste tons of resources fighting creationists all the fucking time and have critically thinking citizens." But whatever...go vote for your top 10!

Hey authors send me your books

Late last December, I bought my first Terry Pratchett book, Making Money. I have wanted to read one of the Discworld series for several years, but am always distracted by other things. Well after completing my teaching duties I picked up Making Money, in part because I had a Barnes and Noble coupon, but mostly because I thought it was the first book in the series. Nope #36! Thirty freaking six! Oh well, it doesn't seem necessary to have read the first 35, to understand this one, at least not that I've noticed.

Anyway back to the point of this post. Less than one week after buying this book, Terry Pratchett was chosen to be knighted by the Queen of freaking England! Now some doubters may suggest I had nothing to do with it. However, Terry Pratchett could have been chosen to be knighted any of the other 60 years of his life, but wasn't. Nope not knighted until after I bought his book. So any authors interested in being knighted next year, send a copy of your book sometime next December. However, to be completely upfront, you better not send any books if I have already read something by you (Im looking at you Tad Williams!) since it only seems to work for authors I haven't read previously.

Evolutionary extremist

I heard this phrase recently and it struck me as odd. This phrase was used in relation to a euphemistic "they" but based on the context I quickly came to the conclusion that this phrase could easily refer to me. So what the hell is an evolutionary extremist? Well, wiki (the resource of all wordly information) has nothing on evolutionary extremist or evolution extremist. Since I inferred the term to be derogatory I even checked conservapedia (the resource of all unwordly information™) and came up blank. However, a simple google search of "evolutionary extremist" gave a number of hits that about sums up my initial thoughts...

Based on context, I think an evolutionary extremist is a person who holds that the theory of evolution is a reasonable explanation to explain the diversity of life on the planet. I envision an evolutionary extremist as one of those ideologues that examines the world around them comes up with some plausible ideas, sees what works, revises their ideas, and repeats as necessary. At the end of the day, this person has a slightly more lucid understanding of themselves and the world with live in. The converse of this (based on the links that use the term) is a christian fundamentalist that believes the bible as explained to them by their pastor is the inerrant word of said pastor god. I know, muslim fundamentalists believe similarly, but their links don't seem to be in the top few I saw.

So, I understand much about the theory of evolution, I also understand much of biblical creation. One works in my life on a day-to-day basis and one doesn't. Since the one that works contradicts the narrow viewpoint some people have regarding the bible, I am the extremist. See, confidence in a theory with explanative and predictive power over the ultra-specific interpretation in a collection of a subset of ancient stories with no explanative/predictive power makes one an extremist.

I know extremist is a word with significant negative connotations, but I think in this case I'll take on that mantle.

Oh and for all you keeping score at home only 57,826 more websites need to state "Hitler was an atheistic darwinian evolutionary extremist." before it will indeed become true. Oops. 57,825....way to go!

NAS looking for input

The National Academies of Science wants to know what matters most to you. As they say, "Based on your input, we will be developing a suite of informational products (booklets, audio podcasts, video podcasts, web sites, and more!) about the topics that matter most to you and other survey respondents." Please take a minute and complete the survey here. (The survey is essential one question and takes less than 5 minutes.) Also, think about what's important to you in the survey and try to avoid simply picking issues that get the most media attention at the moment.

pH: the weak are really strong

I sometimes get comments and usually these are of a nature that either require no response or a simple response. However, the other day I received a question/comment (quomment?) that I have decided to respond to by way of a post (which was started many months ago and completed today). In part, because this quomment allows me to expand on the issue of pH and biological systems.

First the comment, Hi, you mentioned that pH range for growth is 2-10. The growth of my Candida strain stops at about pH 4 - 5. I am not sure why this is the case, the media has a high content of glucose, though. Any suggestions? Does optimal pH for growth depend on the media? What is the best media for growth? Thanks so much for your help! posted by anonymous

What I think we are dealing with here is a "weak acid" versus "strong acid" issue. This came up in your basic chemistry classes, but if you are like me, you probably forgot about it as soon as the test came and went. So I apologize if this brings back painful memories, it actually turns out to be important.

Most organisms, including us live at or near pH 7. However, many organisms can survive and even grow at acidic pH, let's say pH < 6 and others like C. albicans can grow at pH 2! Now I can grow C. albicans at pH 2, but our commenter has trouble growing it at pH 4. This is only a difference in 2 pH units, but this is in fact a 100-fold difference. That's analogous to deciding between buying a $1000 used 1994 Ford Escort or a $100,000 BMW 7 series.

So, why would we be seeing a growth difference? I can think of 3 explanations: 1. Our strains are different, 2. Our growth media are different, 3. There's a technical issue that is the cause of this difference. I suspect that the difference is due to this 3rd issue. Now let's assume we are using the same strain and the same medium. We first need to adjust the pH of our medium and this is done by adding either acid or base depending on the starting and desired pH of the medium. Not surprisingly, since we are making media at pH 2 and pH 4, we will be adding acid. Ok, which acid? does it matter? and if so, why?

We routinely use hydrochloric acid (HCl) to make growth medium more acidic. However, another common acid used is acetic acid (CH3COOH, from here on out AcH). The differences are numerous, but 1M acetic acid has a pH of 2.4, whereas 1M HCl has a pH of 0. So both can be used to get growth medium to pH 4, but only HCl can be used to get to pH 2. These two chemicals also differ in their pKa (acid dissociation constant): AcH is 4.8 and HCl is -8.0 (remember that p in pKa is the mathematical symbol for -log, so the differences in the pKa's of AcH and HCl is ~10,000,000,000,000 (yep, that's 10 trillion!)). Now for those of you who do not want the gory chemical details pKa tells you how much acid is dissociated in an aqueous solution, like inside a cell or in a growth medium (see it will come back around). A pKa < -2 means that virtually all the acid is dissociated whereas higher pKas means that some of the acid is not disassociated and the higher the number the less that is dissociated. What does that mean? Well in general acids are acids because they yield H+ (pH is the measure of H+ in solution and acidic solutions have more H+s than basic solutions). So something like HCl in an aqueous solution does not exist as HCl but as dissociated H+ and Cl-. However, AcH in an aqueous solution exists as a mix of AcH, Ac-, and H+. HCl dissociates so readily that its pKa has only been determined theoretically! So regardless of pH, HCl is found as H+ and Cl-. However, depending on the pH, AcH can either be more or less dissociated. At acidic pHs, where there is an excess of H+ already, any AcH that dissociates to Ac- immediately finds another H+ to interact with reforming AcH. Conversely, at neutral or alkaline pHs, there are fewer H+s so when AcH dissociates to Ac- and H+, it stays that way. This then makes the solution more acidic. Ok, thats what you need to know: under the conditions we are working with HCl is always dissociated and AcH is a mixture, which depends on the pH.

One more thing you need to know. The plasma membrane of the cell does not allow charged molecules to cross into or out of the cell. A charged molecule is something with a + or -, like H+, Ac-, or Cl-. So, the plasma membrane keeps charged molecules in the environment out of the cell. However, small uncharged molecules, like AcH, can readily cross the membrane and get into the cell. See where this is going?

So lets go back to our standard growth medium, which we will assume has a neutral pH. If we add some AcH or HCl, the acid immediately dissociates to H+ and Ac- or Cl-, this lowers the pH a little, and if our organism can grow at that pH everything is cool. Let's add even more AcH or HCl to our growth medium to get the pH to 4. All the HCl is dissociated to H+ and Cl-, but these molecules cannot enter the cell, so as long as an organism is viable at pH 4, it should grow (as C. albicans does). However, not all of the AcH is dissociated to Ac- and H+. The remaining undissociated AcH, which is not charged, can cross the plasma membrane to enter the cell. The cytoplasm of the cell has a pH of ~7, so now the AcH dissociates to Ac- and H+! This acidifies the cytoplasm and kills the cell. Since dead C. albicans don't grow so well, no growth occurs. But realize that this is not due to an inability to grow at pH 4 in general (C. albicans grows in pH 4, and pH 2, medium using HCl), but an effect of weak acid stress.

I would highlight that this is not a trivial issue in microbiological labs. This is a common and historically important method of food preservation. Vinegar, which is mostly AcH, has long been used to preserve foods, like

What I Read (2008)

In reverse order
(Grade A-F, no E's) Title-Author Additional thoughts

B Inside Straight by George R.R. Martin Superhero reality show, go figure
C Spook Country by William Gibson I admit it, I didnt quite get it.
B Genesis of Shannara: The Gypsy Morph by Terry Brooks
A Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll
C What Happened at Midnight by Franklin W. Wilson
B The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
A-C Wastelands: Stories of the apocalypse edited by John J. Adams
B Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
D Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem Interesting idea, but that's it.
A Evolution The Triumph of an Idea By Carl Zimmer Read it NOW
C the Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco Will always read the author of The Name of the Rose.
B The Great Book of Amber by Robert Zelany
C The Great Airport Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon
C A Wonderful Welcome to Oz (2/3 my boy wanted some Hardy Boys)
A Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennet Well written, thought provoking
B America the Book : A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction by John Stewart
A+ I Am America (and So Can You) by Stephen Colbert Scored high in hopes of getting on the show
A The Assault on Reason by Al Gore
A The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs Childhood good memories pushed this up
B Misquoting Jesus : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman
D Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker The idea was good, but only good enough for a short story.

Science , Policy, and the Economy

The Dec 5th issue of Science has an interesting editorial from Dr. Bruce Alberts, the current Editor-in-Chief. The editorial titled "A Scientific Approach to Policy" explores how science and engineering can lead to a stronger economy in the face of the world-wide financial meltdown. This is not new news, but it has been largely ignored over the last two decades. Since World War II, most of the US economic growth has come from technology (science and engineering). Think about that for a moment, over the last 60 years the US economy has grown through the activities of science and engineering, yet a vocal fraction of the US population is anti-science anti-intellectual anti-elitist anti-education. Not a big deal you say, well I rebut that one activist in this anti-science was almost a heartbeat away from the presidency.

The point of Dr. Alberts' editorial was not to belabor this link but to point out the other often overlooked benefits to a society strongly couched in scientific thinking. He points out 3 benefits: optimism, a long-term focus, and determining what works without ideology.

I completely agree with "optimism." As cranky as I and my colleagues often are, we basically believe that our scientific pursuits will bear fruit, that our educational efforts will provide for the next generation, and that it's all worth it.

I mostly agree with a "long-term focus" as well. If you smoke today, you will likely get cancer/emphysema/etc in 30 years, that's science for you. If we say that smoking causes cancer or think about it, it will cost jobs and hurt the economy next quarter, that's politics for you. As a people, we have shifted the balance towards short-term gains and from long-term realities (I say this as fuel efficient car sales have dropped concomitant with gas prices). Why do I not completely agree with this? Well scientists are people too and can succumb to this as well, although I will concur that a scientific mind-set makes this less likely and more easily combatted with evidence.

I am completely mixed on the "determining what works without ideology" idea. In a perfect world that is true, but again scientists are people too. Some scientists are religious, how does this effect their research when dealing with embryonic stem cell research or the morning after pill? All the scientists that I know are moral and would not engage in Tuskegee-like research and that is an ideology (moral approach to human studies) I want to keep despite what might work. See this one can cut both ways. However, Dr. Alberts was addressing the policy issues of the Bush administration, such as abstinence-only sex education (to name one), which were promoted despite evidence that they were failed policies. In these cases the political ideology overrode reality, and I don't care who you are, that's a problem.