Monday, December 28, 2009

Anticipation


Anticipation

poised for fish
the reflection still
like nothing else

Monday, November 23, 2009

A snootful of e-mails

The climate noosphere is in an uproar about a bunch of e-mails there were hacked from a global climate site. The e-mails are allegedly from prominent climate scientists and date from the late 1990's. According to this article in the NY Times at least some of the e-mails don't show climate scientists in a very favorable light. For instance one e-mail talks about using a statistical trick, another e-mail calls global warming skeptics "idiots".

Of course skeptics are chortling over what they see as proof that global warming is a hoax and that climate scientists are trying to hide stuff, while the climate scientists involved in the e-mail exchanges seem to view the exchanges as normal give and take between scientists.

I have actually looked at some of the e-mails and quite frankly a lot of it really does look like the kind of give and take that people taking a particular position might have. Somehow I doubt that a similar hack of climate skeptic e-mails would be any different.

It is clear that the scientists involved are aware of the skeptics and how skeptics might react if certain data sets are not properly explained:

"Otherwise, the skeptics have an field day casting
doubt on our ability to understand the factors that influence these estimates
and, thus, can undermine faith in the paleoestimates. I don't think that
doubt is scientifically justified, and I'd hate to be the one to have
to give it fodder!"

Well at any rate, I think this is typical scientific e-mail give and take in a highly politicized arena (been there myself) and I don't think that global warming skeptics should make too much of this stuff. Besides if they are crying foul because some one who disagrees with them in a private e-mail refers to them as idiots then maybe they ought to get thicker skins.

Don't take my word for it. You too can sleuth evil climate scientists e-mail by going to the following site and enter your favorite search term!

http://www.anelegantchaos.org/cru/index.php

Of course I would love to have an equivalent set of e-mails between global warming skeptics - maybe working for a large oil company or perhaps a certain large business group that will go unnamed -and I just bet a little judicious browsing would yield lots of choice quotes. But of course hacking e-mails is wrong, a minor point seems to have been lost in this whole tea pot tempest.

For full disclosure, I have used the word idiot at least 27 times in my e-mail career, all of them of course quite justified.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why do peope repeat falsehoods?

A few months ago I saw a claim that if theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking were in Britain with its socialized medicine he would have been dead by now. I blew it off as another stupid comment but apparently this comment has gotten repeated all over the web. The problem of course is the it is not true as Larry Krauss reminds us in this article in Scientific American:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=war-is-peace

So why do people repeat that sort of tripe?

Krauss asks

"What makes people so susceptible to nonsense in public discourse? Is it because we do such a miserable job in schools teaching what science is all about—that it is not a collection of facts or stories but a process for weeding out nonsense to get closer to the underlying beautiful reality of nature? Perhaps not."

My thought is that whether we are dealing with health care, global warming or various sorts of social issues, we get an emotional high from thinking we are going to win, pull the wool over our opponent's head. Or maybe repetition of simple nostrums and unexamined falsehoods provides us with a sense of security when dealing with the unknown. Maybe such behavior was at one point adaptive maintaining some sort of group cohesion.

Krauss phrases his arguments with examples from the right, but I don't think people of any ideology are immune to this. As I commented in a post to one of my readers it is if we are stuck in a strange attractor or the sort of cycling that a person's brain might get into when they are depressed and can't get out.

As Krauss so ably observes, quoting apparently from an earlier Krauss commentary:

“The increasingly blatant nature of the nonsense uttered with impunity in public discourse is chilling. Our democratic society is imperiled as much by this as any other single threat, regardless of whether the origins of the nonsense are religious fanaticism, simple ignorance or personal gain.”

Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween 2009

This Halloween we decided to go to a party once we disposed of all the trick or treaters (heh heh heh) and we decided to pay homage to our favorite Disney villainesses.

So here is the lovely Maleficent:


















I bet I can make her smile...


and the ever lovely Cruella De Vil:















Don't you like my puppies?

Coalescence

Even everyday happenings are full of surprises when seen on a different scale of length or time or both and this video of falling water drops coalescing with the surface of water shows this very nicely. There are two effects going on here surface tension and more surprisingly to me a thin film of air. Enjoy!



Tip of the antennae to Sarah S for the find.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lunatic articles travel in packs

Here are two articles that could have been in the Onion but are meant to be serious.

First we have "The Danger of Celebrating Halloween".
http://www.charismamag.com/index.php/prophetic-insight/23723-the-danger-of-celebrating-halloween

This was posted on the CBN web site but was removed so I guess it was even too loony for Pat Robertson. My favorite part?

"During this period demons are assigned against those who participate in the rituals and festivities. These demons are automatically drawn to the fetishes that open doors for them to come into the lives of human beings. For example, most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches."

Next we have this wonderful gem and title pretty much sums the article up:

"The Golden Girls: How One TV Show Turned A Generation Of American Boys Into Homosexuals"

http://christwire.org/2009/10/the-golden-girls-how-one-tv-show-turned-a-generation-of-american-boys-into-homosexuals/

My favorite part of this article:

"The 1980s was an epoch of President Reagan’s manly wisdom and the terrifying threat of Cold War annihilation. America had sobered up from the flashy lights of 1970s disco. We were skipping all night cocaine and sex parties to focus on our careers. Spiritual leaders like Jerry Falwell were telling us that Christianity was in the majority again. On the other side, there was a subculture of homosexuality creeping up on our youths. It gave them an excuse to wear tight jeans and to sneak off to public parks for quick releases with hairy men of different ethnicities."

For the record I was not a fan and am not a fan of Golden Girls.

Tip of the Antennae to an anonymous blogger friend with whiskers for calling my attention to the first article.

File these under humor(I think).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hedge Apple

Hedge Apple

And darkness falls as happens each year when the planets
Turn their eyes from the sun and clouds lid the earth
Wind whip drives the rains raw, what leaves are left
Excoriated by its sharp tongue

And darkness falls even when the sun bleeds
Through the dawn’s fog and slowly melts the frost
Geese honk fading in the air as if no one is around
To hear them in the orange light

And darkness falls even in mid-day through the branches
Now stilled and fires banked smolder in your buds
I feel in vain amongst the thorns on your rough trunk
Until I feel the littlest promise of light
For me to cling

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Click Fox Off?

I am no fan of FOX News but I think MoveOn.org's latest campaign to get Democratic Party leaders to stay off that network maybe counter productive. MoveOn.org's e-mail to its members including yours truly says in part:

"All year, FOX has worked 24/7 to block President Obama's agenda—repeating lies about "death panels," promoting Tea Party protests, and whipping up fake political scandals.1

Now, President Obama is fighting back. The White House communications director said FOX is a "wing of the Republican Party...let's not pretend they're a news network."2 To draw attention to its biased coverage, President Obama will not appear on FOX for the rest of this year.3


It's about time Democrats stood up to FOX! Can you sign this petition asking Democrats to support President Obama's stance by staying off FOX as long as he does? "

Sometimes a boycott can be effective but this one seems likely to promote more FOX network distortions and maybe further unmoore FOX and its supporters from reality. I suggest a two pronged approach if people really feel the urge to boycott FOX. First get MORE Democrats on FOX news and make sure that they are schooled in how to defuse FOX commentator rhetorical tricks.

Second Democrats should boycott FOX and let their cable companies know what they think about FOX. Viewers are after all is what FOX needs to survive. Democrats might also consider avoiding other FOX assets such as Myspace. Here is a list for instance internet assets:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_Corporation#Internet

The MoveOne.org petition link is at http://www.civic.moveon.org/foxobama/

I know, herding liberals and Democrats is like herding cats, but using the channel changer, and your mouse to Click FOX off is probably the best thing to do here. Liberals and moderates are a big enough group that clicking FOX off ought to be a more effective mass strategy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In amber light


In amber light
Originally uploaded by pdecell


My kind of fall leaf shot. From Mary's Lake in Lawrence Kansas. Th ant is Camponotus and is presumably collecting honey dew from the aphids.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thorns


thorns
Originally uploaded by pdecell
Fall sneaks up
in a robe of thorns
the herald of winter
playing her windy bones.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A lesson from my plants

Here are three plants from my collection:

Plant number 1














Plant number 2



















and finally...

Plant number 3















Which are cacti?

A little more information. At least one is a cactus.

The first plant grows in warm semi arid regions in South America. Some members of this group of plants get to be mid sized trees but most are shrubby.

The second plant has reduced leaves that function as thorns and it is found in deserts in the SW United States and Mexico.

The third plant lives in the jungles of Southern Mexico and into Central America.

All three plants have very similar looking and distinctive complex flowers, all organized in the same basic way.

So which are cacti? How do you know?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Orchid at Sunset


orchid at sunset
Originally uploaded by pdecell
You always have to be ready whenever a good picture strikes. I was prepping some steaks to grill and caught the red light of sunset reflecting from some common Dendrobium in bloom. So I dashed upstairs to get my camera to film the luscious colors before the light could fade.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Yet another odd plant

Readers of my blog know I love odd plants. So here is my latest:

Cissus

This is Cissus and I am thinking C. quadrangularis. Got this wonderful plant today at the Lawrence farmer's market. Has these great segmented stems. The plant is in the grape family and apparently has medicinal properties.

This article from Lipid World (Julius Oben , Dieudonne Kuate , Gabriel Agbor , Claudia Momo and Xavio Talla, Lipids in Health and Disease 2006, 5:24doi:10.1186/1476-511X-5-24 )claims:

"Cissus quadrangularis, for example, is used by common folk in India to hasten the fracture healing process. In Cameroon, the whole plant is used in oral re-hydration, while in Africa and Asia the leaf, stem, and root extracts are utilized in the management of various ailments. Phytochemical analyses of Cissus quadrangularis reveal a high content of ascorbic acid, carotene, phytosterol substances and calcium, and there have also been reports of the presence of β-sitosterol, δ-amyrin and δ-amyrone . All these components have potentially different metabolic and physiologic effects. "

The article further concludes that extracts of this plant are effective for weight loss and metabolic syndrome in a randomized double blind placebo experiment. Now don't all go rushing out to buy extracts from this plant because the long term effects of the extract are not known.

Also from reading the materials and methods it really isn't clear whether the effects were do to this plant or other materials in the extract:

"The Cissus quadrangularis formula, Cylaris™, contains a Cissus quadrangularis extract (supplied by Gateway Health Alliances, Inc, Fairfield, California, USA), standardized to contain a minimum of 2.5% phytosterols and a minimum of 15% soluble plant fiber. The formula also consists of a soy albumin extract (supplied by Gateway Health Alliances, Inc, Fairfield, California, ... All active and placebo capsules were manufactured and bottled by Protein Research, Inc."

No where does the article state what was in the placebo beyond that the placebo capsule was identical in shape color and appearance. So maybe the experiment needs a little tighter control to be convincing.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gender identity forum in Lawrence

Lawrence is currently considering adding gender identity to its nondiscrimination ordinance and today the City's human rights commission held a public forum to discuss the issue.

I went as part of a group of people representing different aspects of the transgender spectrum. Most of the people there were supporters adding of gender identity. The committee seemed focused at first about protecting people that were going to transition or had transitioned.

But I and others pointed out the issue is a bit more complex than that. For instance, there are people such as myself who don't fit the gender binary. Are we not to be protected against loss of job? Not to be protected against discrimination in housing?

The sticky wicket in at least one of the commission members minds seemed to be the issue of locker rooms, gyms and bathrooms. What if a man goes in to the woman's bathroom? Well first of all. if some one is transitioned entirely, likely you wouldn't spot them unless you have some thing about carefully scrutinizing the other people in the rest room or locker room. Even some one as myself-strongly transgendered but not planning on transitioning would probably be hard to spot, well OK in a rest room- and we certainly wouldn't go into an all woman's facility; the genitals don't match.

Not only that-quite frankly where ever possible I look either for unisex bathrooms or places with single stalls and a locking door, but on occasion I have gone into a crowded woman's room if absolutely have to. Go in, do my thing sitting down like a genetic woman, wash hands, check hair and leave.

One of the speakers at the forum was a lesbian whom I suppose might be construed as mannish or at least androgyne in appearance. She related how she was harassed by a woman in the women's rooms for being in the wrong rest room. Well I know, having done it accidentally, you don't go into a men's room dressed en femme because there is a fantasy about umm making it with a transgendered or transsexual person and this one man was not going to take no for an answer. I was concerned enough that I had a male friend in the group I was with, walk me to my car when I was ready to leave just in case.

So when it comes to rest rooms creeps are creeps even if they are in the "right" rest room.

As for showers and places where there is nudity involved, those are sex segregated places, and a transgendered person in the middle of transitioning or some one such as myself who's not transitioning can be excluded pretty easily I would think.

One speaker brought up work place issues and the example of a construction worker whose transitioning complaining because she can't wear high heels to do some sort of construction job. Well it is already settled law that workplaces have the right to enforce work related equipment rules. Another speaker felt that it might be difficult to pass a law that is precise enough to be enforceable, and granted courts do throw out laws because of vagueness to the point of unenforceability but it seems there you are trying to prohibit something (Like loud parties).

Here is a relevant counter example. There are a number of definitions of religion-and yet we don't say well that's too vague to enforce. Who would you exclude? Atheists? Granted some on the religious right might want to do that but in our society we define these classes of protected people in the broadest way possible.

I hope seeing a broad spectrum of transgendered people gave the committee a little bit more to go on. They hope to have a recommendation ready by November and a forum related to that before taking something to the City Commission. That is probably where the real opposition will emerge and all kinds of red herrings and bizarre hypotheticals will just pop from the sky.

Link to LJWORLD article.

Other links from The Force:

http://theforcethat.blogspot.com/2009/03/proposal-in-lawrence.html

Now It's Showers!

Sex in Humans: It's a delicate balance

Secrets of Bug Person Exposed!

The Tyranny of the Dichotomous Mind

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Oh Good Grief!

Just when I think anti-evolutionists can't get any sillier some politician comes along to demonstrate that I am wrong. Seems that a mayoral candidate in Tulsa feels the zoo doesn't properly honor Christianity and needs an exhibit on the first book of Genesis.

"Today we are announcing that God will be glorified in this city. He shall not be shunned. Upon our election, we hereby commit to honoring Him in all ways that He has been dishonored," said Anna Falling.

OK...check it out for yourself at:
http://www.newson6.com/global/story.asp?s=10888260

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another curious inversion

The latest tactic of the far right is apparently to try to use the rhetoric of inclusion against any one they would normally want to oppress. The latest example is an attempt to force public libraries to stock books about and by members of the so called ex gay movement

There is a report here from lgbt news:

http://lgbtnewsblog.blogspot.com/2009/08/new-tactic-from-burning-books-to.html

My favorite quote from this report is from a member of a group called PFOX (parents and friends of ex gays) who reportedly said:

"Apparently, the West Bend Community Memorial Library is not interested in diversity," said a PFOX person claimed. "We urge Michael Tyree, the library's director, to be inclusive of the ex-gay community and accept our donation of ex-gay books. According to its own policy, the Library has a 'professional responsibility to be inclusive, not exclusive, in developing collections.'"

Oh right, like these people are really interested in diversity. These are after all the same people who oppose basic civil rights for LGBT people at every turn. Why am I not impressed with their argument?

By the way this group bandies about a new term: heterophobia which they claim is on the rise!

See...http://pfox.org/HETEROSEXUALS_VICTIMIZED_BY_HOMOSEXUALS.html

What do these idiots think we are, stupid? OK, don't answer that.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

At the garden store


orchid6
Originally uploaded by pdecell
Our local garden store got a shipment of orchids. Unfortunately the shipment consisted of hybrids such as this one that really haven't grown well for me. But I love the patterns.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

An important transgender victory...

See this article about Diane Schroer who was refused a job at the library of congress when she revealed her desire to transition from male to female.

http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/transgender/40092prs20090701.html

The Bush administration had argued that transgendered are not protected by existing discrimination laws. The federal court ruled that they are and IMHO their reasoning could have far reaching implications for transgender rights issues. According to the ACLU article the court argued in the following way:

“Imagine that an employee is fired because she converts from Christianity to Judaism. Imagine too that her employer testified that he harbors no bias toward either Christians or Jews but only ‘converts.’ That would be a clear case of discrimination ‘because of religion.’ No court would take seriously the notion that ‘converts’ are not covered by the statute.” The court also ruled that the library was guilty of sex stereotyping against Schroer because of its view that she failed to live up to traditional notions of what is male or female."

The Obama administration has refused to appeal the decision of the court.

If other courts follow this reasoning, then the need for explicit anti discrimination laws covering GLBT people could become moot. But I am skeptical that other courts will follow this reasoning. Were this case to reach the Supreme Court, I would be really surprised if the Supremes bought this argument.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Gasp!

Now that Sonia Sotomayor's papers have been released, conservatives have been ransacking them for juicy incriminating tidbits. For example,David Brody over at the Christian Broadcasting Network has uncovered a letter she cosigned in condemning the ransacking of a dorm room of two gay activists back in 1976.

The letter says in part:

"No matter how much one may disagree with the Gay Alliance or the policies they are advocating, no matter how repugnant one may find homosexuality, the manner of expressing this opposition should be intellectual. At this university we are dedicated to persuasion by reason, not by brute force"

Conservative Brody felt his CBN readers should read this letter. He's right especially since academic freedom has co-opted by conservative Christian groups who feel "oppressed" when they think their rights are being trampled on. But I suspect his conservative readers will cluck and see the letter as confirmation of Sotomayor's radical leftist leaning and not see the hypocrisy in their own position!

A tip of the antennae to GayNewsBlog for calling Brody's discovery to our attention.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Conservatives try the reverse racism ploy again...

I really should write more about conservative rhetorical tricks because they are the current masters. Take their offensive about Judge Sotomayor where conservative bloggers and pundits have been virally quoting this line from one of Judge Sotomayor's speeches:

"First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Now on the surface it sounds like some of those insufferable comments that people on the left used to make in the late 60's when they would romanticize people of color but the problem is that the comment is taken completely out of context-sort of like what's done by the left and right with the Bible.

And as so often the case, the whole point of the narrative is missed and often close by in the narrative a key paragraph is missed, either intentionally or because of some sort of filtering going on in the reader's brain. Here for example is the very next paragraph of the the Judge's speech:

"Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown."

Clearly she is talking about something else entirely than racism, something closer to an appreciation of diversity than FOX's news commentators and Newt Gingrich care to recognize.

Here is the complete speech.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/us/politics/15judge.text.html

Maybe conservatives ought to read the whole thing rather than look for little snippits. They might even find something to like about the judge. But hey maybe they have gotten so hooked on phonics that they have forgotten that reading rquires more than pronouncing the words.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Diversity Conservative Style

Some conservative religious groups complain about the alleged "oppression" of their point of view in secular universities. Well it seems they don't mind suppressing view points on their campuses that don't match their own. First we had the flap about Notre Dame giving Obama an honorary degree and now we have a flap over campus Democratic club at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

Seems that the University's Student Democratic Club cannot be recognised any more by the school because of the Democratic party's alleged support of positions antithetical to the religious teachings endorsed by the private University.

Reverend Falwell is quoted here as saying:

“They are good, Christian kids who sit with me at ball games. I just hope they find a pro-life family organization to affiliate with so they can be endorsed by Liberty again.“

An e-mail to the leaders of the University's Democratic club allegedly explaining the reasoning for the ban says:

“The Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of Liberty University and to Christian doctrine (supports abortion, federal funding of abortion, advocates repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, promotes the “LGBT” agenda, hate crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc.)”

As a private school, the University may well be within its rights to do this, but it strikes me as a bit extreme. After all Democrats are hardly uniform about the above issues, and the student leaders claim to have views in line with the University's. Plus this is a bad strategy on the part of the University-after all if Falwell wants to change the Democratic party and insure representation of conservative religious tenets, then what better way to do so than to promote conservative Democrats.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Susan Stanton lands a job!

Susan Stanton who lost her job as Largo FL. City manager when her plans to transition from male to female were leaked, has been hired as City Manager of Lake Worth Fla by a 4 to 1 vote.

According to this article in the Palm Beach Post:

"The national discussion that followed Stanton's firing led the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council to persuade West Palm Beach, Tequesta, Lake Worth and Palm Beach County to add provisions to their codes that prevent discrimination based on gender identity."

I would love to think that in 10 or 15 years the whole controversy about Stanton in Largo will seem as both mean spirited and curiously quaint.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Autism

The autistic community has been getting more active trying to dispel stereotypes about autism. For instance here is a new public service announcement put out by a group called No Myths:

http://www.nomyths.org/60windows.html

Also recommended is http://www.autisticadvocacy.org/.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oh Really?

Well it is either Loonie Toons time or time for another school board race in Lawrence Kansas. If you really want quality schools then check out Michael Riley and consider carefully what he says:
"

Those beliefs lead him to maintain that parents should have a primary say in the public school system before the teachers, district, state and federal government.

“I think when I say decentralized, I feel that our primary responsibility is to the parents and then up from there,” Riley said."

Sounds good until you really think about it. After education involves more than just the parents.

And consider this tidbit:

"He says he does know some issues are on the minds of parents and Lawrence residents.

“Sex education and science standards have come up repeatedly,” Riley said. “These are issues that they’re concerned about and they’re concerned to know what school board members feel about these things.” " Oh oh.

Really he must hang out with a different crowd than I do.

He might really be OK, after all his kids did go to public school. But really do you want some of the parents you've met to be the ones that have primary say about running of local schools? Does my stake in the school system stop because my kids are grown and married? Doesn't business have a say here as well?


Come on Mr. Riley. Get real.

Check out the Journal World forums where yours truly has been accused of:

"Pdecell: Way to come out and bluntly tell us that public education is State indoctrination 100%. I'm sure we all want to line up for your brand of brainwashing for each and every one of our children. As a parent, I want you to keep your taxpayer opinions out of my child's easily manipulated mind."

Notice the nice scary rhetorical touches-"state indoctrination", "manipulated mind" oh yes and "brainwashing". Kind of reminds me of an old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Some people...

...watch for the first robin of Spring. What do I watch for? Obviously, the first...

First Bee...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Proposal in Lawrence

The Lawrence City Commission has been asked by the Douglas County Chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition to amend its non discrimination ordinance to include gender identity. Right now the request has been forwarded to the city's human rights commission for study. So we shall see. Watch for the typical fear mongering from the AFA and other opponents of any one who doesn't fit into simple little boxes.

A copy of the proposal is here.


Lawrence Journal World Coverage is here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr. Darwin!

We love birthdays and anniversaries , especially ones that end in zero. This year there are two such numbers related to Charles Darwin-200 years since his birth and 150 years since publication of Origin of Species. Of course there is all sorts of commentary and there should be. After all Darwin's way of looking at the world really did revolutionize biology and society as a whole.

What was it really that Darwin did that was so great? After all he wasn't the first person to speculate that evolution happens, or even to propose how it might happen. Maybe he was just the right person at the right time to be remembered. But I think there is more. Perhaps the best way to answer the question from my perspective is to briefly contrast Charles Darwin with Jean Louis Agassiz. Agassiz was one of the most popular scientists of the 19th century, especially in biology, Harvard Professor, did lots of important work on fossils and glaciation. Yet he never accepted evolution.

I encountered Agassiz in Edward Lurie's biography, Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science. Lurie observed, as I recall, that Agassiz was a proponent of the notion that the geological features of the Earth were molded mainly by a series of catastrophic events and that that the distribution of species could be best explained by a series of creation events. As new data about geology and the distribution of species came out-Agassiz would simply postulate a new catastrophe or a new creation event. So the data are explained.

Darwin was different. Not only did he synthesize masses of data to support his ideas, but he confronted the weaknesses in his ideas head on. After all, Darwin knew that contradictions between observation and theory are not to be feared but provide new opportunities to learn by empirical means what makes the universe work. Agassiz was an accomplished scientist as well and probably understood this idea as well. The difference is that Agassiz did not understand the universality of the principle that contradictions provide new opportunities in all spheres of science, and, I argue, life as well.

So happy birthday Mr. Darwin and here's to biologists today who see contradiction as something not to be feared, or glossed over with rhetorical tricks, but as opportunity for understanding.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter Beauty

Gymnocalycium sp.

Except for a couple of Dendrobium and a few paltry crown of thorns this Gymnocalycium is about the only thing blooming in my house right now. Normally a not very exciting bloom but when the light hit it just right the other day I had to get some shots.

Even the most ordinary can be beautiful in the right light.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Save the Sea Kittens?

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals(PETA) has a new campaign, this time against fishing complete with a splashy new web site designed to hook unsuspecting visitors. The site claims that:

"People don't seem to like fish. They're slithery and slimy, and they have eyes on either side of their pointy little heads—which is weird, to say the least. Plus, the small ones nibble at your feet when you're swimming, and the big ones—well, the big ones will bite your face off if Jaws is anything to go by. "

Hence the make over. The site has places for "Sea Kitten stories" , petitions urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to stop promoting fishing, oh and if you want you can even buy a Sea Kitten Hoodie-imagine the fashion statement that would make at school or in the neighborhood! Another page makes the PETA case a little bit more directly noting quite properly that fish are quite smart, capable sophisticated sensory and cognitive feats and therefore (their leap of logic not mine) ought to not be subject to the cruelty of fishing.

Now the notion that animals are cognitively aware at least of the present does give some moral weight to the notion that we ought to minimize human caused animal suffering and that animals ought to be respected for what they are, but really PETA's effort is a blatant attempt to exploit the healthy sense of empathy that most people have about animals rather than encouraging people to see animals (including ourselves) in a balanced way.

Also Leopold in one of his Sand County Almanac essays argued that in order for people to understand the value of conservation and "The Land Ethic", they have to have an emotional connection to the land. I agree but I don't think that this misplaced empathy is what he had in mind.

By the way, there is a very interesting essay on the Ethics of Eating Animals in Michael Pollan's recent book, Omnivore's Dilemma which tackles animal rights in a more balanced way. Pollan concludes that:

"To give up eating animals is to give up on these places(nota bene: where animals live) as human habitat , unless of course we are willing to make complete our dependence on a highly industrialized food chain."

Now that is a good omnivore attitude!

I recommend Pollan's book as a corrective to anyone who might otherwise be susceptible to the simplistc arguments that PETA foists an all us kitten lovers.

Full disclosure: I have 2 Kittens; well they used to be Kittens. One of them has eaten fish the other one wouldn't have the first notion what to do with a fish. I have been fishing, in fact for catfish. And yes this omnivore did eat them.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Welcome to the Holidays in My World

My wife would not let me put my dinosaurs in her Christmas village. But she didn't say anything about large predatory insects.