Monday, July 31, 2006

George Bush, Fundamentalism and Science

Karen Armstrong has an interesting article in the Guardian about the connections between the administration's actions concerning science. My perceptions of why Mr. Bush does what he does is no secret and I think that her article deserves to be read and discussed throughout the country by patriots of all political and religious stripes and whether or not agree with her theological stance.

Dr. Armstrong is an expert on religious history and I don't think her conclusions ought to be dismissed out of hand. She notes in part that:

"The fundamentalists' rejection of science is deeply linked to their apocalyptic vision. Even the relatively sober ID theorists segue easily into Rapture-speak. "Great shakings and darkness are descending on Planet Earth," says the ID philosopher Paul Nelson, "but they will be overshadowed by even more amazing displays of God's power and light. Ever the long-term strategist, YHVH is raising up a mighty army of cutting-edge Jewish End-time warriors."

UPDATE! The other Paul, Paul Nelson is not the source of the previous quote. See this discussion. The original source is here.

This misquotation has created its own controversy. More to come!!! Paul

They all condemn the attempt to reform social ills. When applied socially, evolutionary theory "leads straight to all the woes of modern life", says the leading ID ideologue Philip Johnson: homosexuality, state-backed healthcare, divorce, single-parenthood, socialism and abortion. All this, of course, is highly agreeable to the Bush administration, which is itself selectively leery of science. It has, for example, persistently ignored scientists' warnings about global warming. Why bother to implement the Kyoto treaty if the world is about to end? Indeed, some fundamentalists see environmental damage as a positive development, because it will hasten the apocalypse."

We already know from history that rejecting science for the sake of religious dogma is bad for both science and religion. I just hope we aren't about to find out first hand just how bad this can be for civilization.

Other links:
Bush's fondness for fundamentalism is courting disaster at home and abroad

Bill Moyer's Interview with Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong's Path to Light

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Saturday, July 29, 2006


Of course after tweaking my template and not saving it Blogger lost everything.

Sigh..that will teach me to back stuff up.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

And Shame from My Home State


Intimidation is wrong all the way around folks. See my earlier post on Kansas. From Provincetown MA in my home state comes this unfortunate set of incidents. Again just because someone disagrees with you in this case on the issue of gay marriage, that's no reason to do some of the things described in this article.

What I find most interesting is what the article reports from the Pastor of the local Catholic Church:

Dahl said he is offended that some proponents of same-sex marriage have equated the opposing view with bigotry. "I'll take ownership of being a Catholic and being a signer of the petition, but I won't take ownership of being a bigot"

I know myself, as a pro gay marriage Catholic, that people of good conscience can disagree here, but that doesn't automatically make them a bigot or for that matter homophobic. Both these terms in my opinion are way over used.

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A Little Chuckle

Grading exams I couldn't resist this definition of homology:

"Homology is the study of man's life".

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Another Shameful Kansas Controversy

Now I think Kansas has a lot going for it, the Board of Education and the Phelps posse not withstanding, but here is another flap in Kansas that needs to be publicized. Seems a bed and breakfast owner in Meade Kansas is getting all kinds of grief for quite innocently displaying a rainbow flag. Those fundamentalists who have nothing better to do but imagine some sort of gay agenda hidden in every children's toy or television show have taken offense at this and are threatening the bed and breakfast owner and making wild statements and comparing flying a rainbow flag to flying a Nazi flag in a Jewish neighborhood.

As noted by an area television station, the Bed and Breakfast owner, J.R. Knight

...Says the radio station has called him threatening to remove the restaurant'’s commercials if he does not remove the flag. A local pastor stopped by said it was equivalent to hanging women‚Â’s panties on a flag pole. When Knight jokingly said he might consider that the preacher said he would have him arrested.

Thanks to Pam's House Blend for exposing this shameful episode.

Now, some might say that of course theforce is going to be sympathetic as a Liberal commie pinko (ummm lavender?) evolutionist, but isn't that beside the point? The model of society that America holds before the world is one of non-sectarian tolerance. It is well and good to discuss values. Quite frankly that needs to be done more. But when these discussions grade into threats and boycotts and attempts to drive people whom you don't agree with out of business over their beliefs and exercise of fundamental American rights that is going too far.

Somehow the whole thing reminds me of that old story I heard growing up about these two ministers talking. One boasted that he had saved thousands of souls and had this huge church (here's an example) and he asked the other minister how many souls have YOU saved? The other minister answered simply "one".

Update: Clearly there is enough bad behavior going on all over the place, so hop on over to this more recent post from my home state.

The Meade Kansas Story is updated here.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Poetry Thursday!!!

Well it is that time of week. If you are not familiar with Poetry Thursday, each Monday you are given a totally optional assignment or focus for your poetry. This week's assignment was food. What you do is you respond to the Poetry Thursday entry for that assignment with a live link to your poem which you host on your blog. People then visit your site and comment on your poem, in a positive constructive sense. So check out my submission, but more importantly jump on over to Poetry Thursday for this week's banquet of poems.

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An audio of Jack Kreb's discussion of the Kansas science standard is at the Kansas Citizens for Science Web site at

Earlier link including Jack's handsome mug:

On another note we have the saga of the mysterious vanishing transcripts from last summer's BOE evolution hearing. They were not there last week, but mysteriously here they are. Apparently this was a computer glitch at the BOE.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

You Handsome Devil You....

A student came up to me today and told me I remind her of Professor Snape from Harry Potter. Now I do think Snape is pretty nice, when his hair is clean that is, but I don't think I look a whole lot like him...hmmm do I?

Oh, you might visit Severus Snape's Slytherin Society.

Well I do teach biology which in some people's minds is akin to the Dark Arts.

Seeing the Xylocopa


Seeing the Xylocopa
bite the base of these flowers
Fills me with the smell of nectar
When I learned to pull the florets from the heads
Of sweet clover,
Taste that barely sweet liquid before it is reduced
By bees for food for their young.
And I should be filled with good comforting thoughts
Of my innocent times and my first crush on a girl.
But standing among the Xylocopa all I can think of
Is hurting you without thinking
When I wanted to fit in with the boys.
And suddenly I smell a nectar
Better suited to the flies.

This is my submission for this week's Poetry Thursday and this week's theme of food. Not exactly a food poem; a more foody poem is at my poetry site:

Neither of these are comfort food type poems. If you want comfort today, look elsewhere. The Xylocopa poem is new as of this morning and the trigger for the poem came yesterday when I was at the greenhouse where I teach taking pictures and there were all these carpenter bees(Xylocopa virginica) some of which were doing what this one was doing-biting the bases of flowers to get at the nectar and that reminded me of this little thing I did when I was small-picking a bunch of florets from clover and eating the bases to taste the sweet nectar.

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Angry Astronomer: South Dakota republicans don't even bother hiding it

Check this out!

Angry Astronomer: South Dakota republicans don't even bother hiding it

Why does science have to get so political? Science is science. Now what to do with scientific knowledge can be a legitimate political and religious issue but not science.

Truth: the Ultimate Family Value

krebsatjcccJack Krebs gave a wonderful presentation last night at JCCC about the controversy over the Kansas Science Standards and why we should care. So here are a few of my comments about this controversy. Ultimately why we should care gets at the importance of science for our civilization. If science is to advanced there must be adherence to the notion that truth is fundamental. But let's examine the claims made about the standards. The Board of education and the intelligent design folks at the Discovery Institute, claim that the science standards do not mention intelligent design.

Well that in a sense is true...For instance in the 8th through 12th grade indicators intelligent design is not overtly mentioned. But why do the standards have statements such as the following little gems in bench mark 3? By the way all of these statements are false or distortions of modern biological thought!

...The sequence of the nucleotide bases within genes is not dictated by any known chemical or physical law.

This is like saying, as Jack pointed out, that since you cannot predict whether or not a coin will come up heads or tails that coin flipping is somehow supernatural. Further, we do know something about what dictates the sequence of nucleotides. Those sequences that lead to gene products that confer higher fitness will end up being selected for. Since the BOE seems to want to allow microevolution then just maybe they are contradicting their own statements.

...Patterns of diversification and extinction of organisms are documented
in the fossil record. Evidence also indicates that simple, bacteria-like life
may have existed billions of years ago. However, in many cases the
fossil record is not consistent with gradual, unbroken sequences
postulated by biological evolution.

This one is false as any paleontologist will tell you, though it is true that the fossil record is biased and incomplete. Given the rarity of fossils and the sorts of organisms that leave fossils this is not surprising.

...The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified
descendants of a common ancestor (described in the pattern of a
branching tree) has been challenged in recent years by:

This one is a distortion of some recent work that that suggests that there may have been different lineages of protocells contributing to modern cells, the scientific proponents of these ideas in no way deny the existence of evolution and the concept of modification with descent.

...Studies that show animals follow different rather than identical
early stages of embryological development.

Partly true but distortion of the truth. We know and have known and taught that embryos do not faithfully recapitulate phylogeny. The statement in the BOE standards echoes the scientifically debunked claims of Jonathan Wells in icons of evolution.

...Whether microevolution (change within a species) can be
extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new
complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which
appear irreducibly complex) is controversial.

irreducible complexity is an ill formed concept due to Michael Behe that basically says that if a structure has to have all its parts to work then it could not have arisen by evolutionary processes since these imply gradual transitions. This has been debunked.

...Natural selection, genetic drift, genomes, and the mechanisms of
genetic change provide a context in which to ask research questions and
help explain observed changes in populations. However, reverse
engineering and end-directed thinking are used to understand the
function of bio-systems and information.

Only partly true. Evolutionary scientists routinely conduct experiments under natural conditions to examine the function of adaptations in populations.

...Some of the scientific criticisms include:
...The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the
sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical
machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional biosystems,
and the formation of proto-cells; and

It is true that we don't know much about the origin of life and I at least constantly point this out to my students but the Board of Education here as else where takes what are legitimate questions and uses the existence of these questions as evidence for supernatural causation rather than as legitimate scientific problems.

...The sudden rather than gradual emergence of organisms near the time
that the Earth first became habitable.

To at least some scientists this suggests that life can develop very easily given the types of physical and chemical processes present in the early Earth.

One other thing: Has it escaped everyone else's notice that in Bench Mark 1 while isotopes are mentioned, nothing is said about their use in determining the age of the Earth, the age of fossils or the age of archeological artifacts? Do you think just maybe this relates to Steve Abram's belief in special creation? Just maybe? Remember, there is a type of lie called a lie of omission.

So if you live in Kansas pay attention and vote for those candidates who really are interested in truth, not those who want to distort the truth for narrow religious gain. If you are not in Kansas, watch out the same creationist types are already in your state, even if you live in South Dakota. They will paint themselves as only wanting to be fair and you will hear buzz phrases such as teach the the controversy, preying upon our belief in fairness. But it is only a ruse to push an antiscience agenda for their own ends. They are not friends to truth, the ultimate family value.

Documenting Links:

The current 8 -12 science standards.

What the Intelligent Design Network says.

What Kansas Citizens for Science says.

What the Discovery Institute says.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

So it's not about science at all!

Jack Kreb's reporting on John Calvert nicely explains how the controversy about evolution in Kansas is not about science at all.

Check out these road signs and a section of John Calvert's talk.

I especially like how Calvert manages to bring up those antievolutionist red herrings of Haeckel's embryo's. Not sure what the problem is with Darwin's finches-oh that's right microevolution has been shown but it doesn't appear to have direction. Never mind that that is the POINT-evolution is not goal oriented but hey who really expects to win against creationists such as Mr. Calvert anyway.

Calvert says: "That'’s the problem. Government is prejudging the question. Where do we come from? We come from a material cause."

Ya think maybe he is a tad confused about theological vs scientific explanations?

More on Calvert's antievolution roadshow is reported by Silkworm.

Silkworm also has a nice set of summaries related to a young Earth creationist meeting that was held in Wichita during April. Great reading.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

A New Take on the Bible

If you are an irreligious person or like me, a religious person with a quirky sense of humor, you might enjoy the Brick Testament, Bible stories in a whole new way. You will never look at Legos in the same way again or the Bible for that matter.

Those of you who take your Bible as literal truth might ponder for instance The Instructions for Women.

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Are Gender Identity (GI) Conflicts a Disease?

There is a nice discussion of gender identity over at the bioethics discussion blog which asks if gender identity conflicts, usually diagnosed as GID, should be considered a disease.

Bioethics Discussion Blog: Medicalization of GI: Can Conflicts in Gender Identity (GI) Be Considered a Disease?

I discovered this when looking up discussions of John Money who died the other week, since in the gender blogs I read there hasn't been a whole lot of discussion of Money and his legacy.

At any rate, for those that don't know, gender identity issues are often diagnosed as gender identity disorder, and as anyone who has seen Transamerica with Felicity Huffman as Bree knows, sometimes GID is treated medically with surgery. At one point Bree says something to the effect that don't you think it is odd that a mental disorder is best treated with surgery.

My answer to the original question is yes, gender identity conflicts can be considered a disease and as I point out in my response at the bioethics blog, sexual reassignment surgery, hormones and other treatments can and do have a positive effect on the lives of people with severe gender identity disorder.

At the same time there are clearly shades of intensity to gender identity conflicts and many people with GID don't go the whole way but try to accommodate themselves as best they can to a society that is not very tolerant of people who don't fit the binary gender roles our society attempts to enforce. They, maybe I should say we, are uncomfortable but able to function and quite frankly many of the problems faced are with society's preconceptions and biases, and sometimes these are quite severe.

So for us, maybe GI conflicts don't rise to the level of requiring medical intervention, but perhaps we do need some social intervention to encourage greater acceptance of variation in gender expression.

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Mendel's Garden # 3 is out!

The third edition of Mendel's Garden is out at, so hop on over!

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Thanks for the Box Ron!

On Saturday I received a box from Ron Hudson over at 2sides2ron. Inside the box were some epiphyllum cuttings from one of his plants that I had sent him a comment about. He had warned me they were coming and I was a bit concerned since it has been six zillion degrees in the shade...OK I exaggerate--- it has "only" been 106F.

And indeed inside the box were some mysterious green things. I am being circumspect here for a reason that will be revealed.

So having pity on the mysterious green things and after appropriately admiring the wonderful box Ron sent, I took pity on the green things, applied Rootone and planted them in a special well draining mixture.

Let the mixture soak up some water in the sink and then put the poor little cuttings that came in the very nice box in a cool spot(ha!) where maybe they will develop roots and grow. After all they did come in a nice box!

Ron tells me it is bad luck (for the plants, presumably) to thank someone for cuttings..So again Ron:

Thanks for the nice box! :-)

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I Dreamed Of Heidi

I Dreamed Of Heidi
Originally uploaded by Machine.
Recently I have been looking at various photostreams on Flickr since I use Flickr for my photos. In my side bar you will find photostreams of note. Most the photostreams I have picked up on concentrate on insects or plants but there are some others you might check out.

One I stumbled on today is by Machine who does wonderful portraits. This one I dream of Heidi, is part of a great set that I hope my visitors will hop on over and see. Machine does a wonderful job of lighting and the first image I saw (below) was like a Vemeer painting.

Here it is.

My apologies to Machine for downloading it directly but I wanted to keep in in the same post as about Heidi. Machine also has a fun blog Something like a Photographer, worth a look.

Machine's work comes to me via Jen at

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What a Shame

The visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument has been closed as unsafe. Granted, that building has had a history of problems, but I can't help but wonder if this isn't just another example of the Bush administration's failure when it comes to funding basic science. I wonder what is next...Turn that facility over to Dr. Dino? Oh well, at least we can still visit the Monument on the web.

Oh Bush claims to want more science funding, but when you look closely it is only for targeted physical sciences and projects. For example in the area of energy ideologically unpopular programs such as conservation technologies take a hit. Ideologically unpopular facilities such as the Smithsonian languish or are forced to turn to corporate sponsorship and all the ethical problems that entails. Bush wants science funding on his ideological terms and is more than willing to cover up any sort of inconvenient truths that happen to crop up.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Shot I Almost Didn't Take


Yesterday I was mainly after bees and learning how to take macro type shots without a macro lens and was trying to get this Eumenid wasp. She hid underneath a leaf and I almost passed up this shot, and then almost deleted the shot without looking at it closely. I hope you can see why I kept it.

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Another Melissodes

Originally uploaded by pdecell.
Melissodes is one of the most prominent genera of late summer bees in Kansas, especially on composites. I do not know why Kansas selected the honeybee as its state insect when we have so many wonderful and important native bees. I do have a nominee for a replacement...But you need to wait until the Helianthus are in bloom and I have some good pictures of my nominee.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Insects at Sunset

Went out in the garden at sunset tonight. First up is a Melissodes male. I was hoping to get a cluster of males as sometimes a group of males will cluster together on the same plant.


But this was not the only bee getting ready to sleep. I found several of these very tiny bees with a yellow clypeus nestled in my false sunflower plant. I am guessing some sort of small Andrenid. Hopefully I can ID them next week when I get to a 'scope and my Mitchell.


I love this milkweed bug; I didn't remember that they had quite so much white on the wings.


I love Cleome, and one of the first shots I took tonight shows this little beetle, probably a Chrysomelid among the blooms.


And there were predators out. Polistes on the Cleome, and on my plants in the front yard a couple of nice surprises. First this wonderful Salticid on butterfly weed.


Notice the spider silk.

Next is a very young Mantis:


Finally this handsome grasshopper. I should hate grasshoppers for the number they are doing on some of my plants but they really are pretty.


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Thursday, July 13, 2006

How hot was it in Kansas today?

It was so hot... Even the grasshoppers stayed in the shade...


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Poetry Thursday

This week's Poetry Thursday assignment was humor in poetry. I do have a sense of humor but it rarely finds voice in my poetry so I had to "cheat" and dig way back into an old yellowed notebook(and I don't mean a computer) to find an example.

In a previous life, I was a researcher at the Menninger Clinic and one day while my computer (An IBM AT) was crunching some spreadsheets for me I was talking to a friend about poetry, and somehow she challenged me to write a poem on the spot for her, which I did and e-mailed it to her in a about five minutes.

This poem was written well before the recent proliferation of those greeting cards with sappy verses for every occasion. They were around back then, but they have gotten much worse and more abundant and literally for every occasion such as condolences to your ex wife on the loss of her pet ferret...Stuff like that...

So here it is: enjoy...Or not.

Written while the computer is hard at work.

I pity those poor souls who write
Poetry on demand.
Their lives hunched upon a Teflon coated desk,
And experience reduced to a cursor's blink,
They create a trillion permutations
On themes of love and death,
Or of friendship and condolences.

Poor souls who do their making on demand!
Their only fear is lack of liability insurance
Should someone discompose or take offense
Upon the reading of one too hurried gem.
Their only rush is triggered by a glance
At their diploma on the wall
Which brings fond memories back to them
Of writing real poems beneath the gun
In creative writing class.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Two Snakes and a Frog

Yesterday my son Norman and I were hiking on the East side of Haskell Avenue and 31st St in Lawrence when Norman noticed a disturbance in the water caused by two large Northern Water Snakes struggling to eat the same frog. Fortunately I had my telephoto lens and was able to document the fun...

We missed the initial part of this encounter, but we think the snake on the left had just latched on the hind end of this big bull frog that the other snake was trying to swallow head first:


Curiously, the snakes should have been able to see each other but didn't seem to interact with each other. Nor did they seem to notice us...But we were on the other side of the stream:


Finally the snake that had been trying to swallow the frog from the rear gave up living the frog to the other snake.


But the snake had real difficulties here because it could not get the frog's front legs in its mouth and eventually the snake headed away from the water and up the bank...


And the eventually the snake went into the brush with the frog...


We don't know if the snake succeeded in swallowing the frog, but we hope so!

So maybe now we need to coin a new phrase..."Two snakes and a frog" to refer to a situation where two people are competing for the same thing but only one of them can have it. We have "Snakes on a plane" so why not "Two snakes and a frog"?

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Catholics and Intelligent Design

Yesterday Liz Craig, the evil lady of the Kansas Citizen's for Science if you believe John Calvert from IDnet , sent a link to an illuminating interview on Metanexus with the Catholic theologian John Haught which gives a close look at Catholics and Intelligent design. This is an interesting interview since certain people in the political fray about the teaching of evolution have tried to portray Catholics as being intelligent design types. Indeed, some are; for instance Michael Behe, here commenting on an earlier work by John Haught. But others are not such as Ken Miller.

Haught says about intelligent design advocates:

"Particularly regarding the interpretation of scripture, the ID people are not, as a rule, Biblical literalists, although some of them are and some of them come close. What they share is a kind of theological confusion of science with religious ideas, and they tend together to propose that this should be wedged into the science classroom. So, I argued that historically, motivationally, rhetorically, and finally theologically, there is no way that you could logically identify intelligent design with the kind of discourse that goes on in any good science classroom."

Later on he observes quite correctly I believe that there is no unified Catholic stance on evolution but what Catholics reject is materialism as the belief that matter is all there is, since that would imply that there is no God or soul. I am not sure this is a correct theological interpretation, but hey I am not a theologian, just a liberal Catholic biologist trying to muddle along.

At any rate, the interview is definitely worth a look.

Other links:

Trial Transcript of Haught's Testimony in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Hearings.

Evolution of an ID Canard. This page details John Calvert's attack on Liz Craig. Tip of the antenna to Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble for this link.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Gecko takes up Residence in Kansas

I think of geckos as being tropical sorts of creatures who have started working in the marketing department of a certain large insurance company. So I was caught of guard by this article in today's Lawrence Journal World. The Mediterranean Gecko, a non native lizard introduced to Florida has made it's way north to Kansas. One, caught in Johnson County, is on display at the Prairie Park Nature Center. So I will have to check this out. I also didn't realize that two alien lizards have made their way to Kansas.

The other lizard, the Italian Wall Lizard is even found in Lawrence and Topeka. Alien lizards of Topeka has great Italian Wall Lizard pictures. Googling this lizard shows that it has even made it to Long Island! I have seen these lizards around my home and thought they were some sort of I will have to watch more closely for them.

Image © 2001 Arie van der Meijden used with permission.

As an indication of how rapidly these lizards can spread, my 1958 edition of Peterson's A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians by Roger Conant shows theMediterraneann Gecko as being found in a few isolated Spots in the South and South West of the United States, and widespread in Cuba; the Italian Wall Lizard is not shown at all!

These lizards are just another example of the globalization of the planet's flora and fauna brought on by increased transportation, human disturbance of natural habitats and, perhaps global warming, allowing many of these exotic or tramp species to spread.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sometimes I don't even leave the yard.

Was a slow day so I got lunch and sat outside enjoying the sun and spied these great clearwing moths visiting my Phlox.


Look at that proboscis, that's tongue for you Ann Coulter fans..**eg**.


I am guessing that this is Hemaris diffinis, recognizing the dangers of picture keying insects!


Also on the Phlox was this neat soldier fly (family Stratiomyidae).


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Second Part of Poetry Thursday-Audio files

The second part of this week's Poetry Thursday was to share an audio file. I had never made an audio file before but it so happened I had just bought a microphone/headset to participate in an online chat. So after much fumbling around here is what I hit on.

First you need a program to do your recording. The program that comes with Windows is useless. I found a very good freeware program called Audacity at This is an open source program and is available for Linux and MacOS as well. If you are down loading the Windows version you will need to also download the LAME MP3 encoder and the audacity site provides a link for doing that. Do not use the raw project files that audacity creates. You can create a .wav file but they are not compressed. For instance the .wav file for "The Melting" is about 9.79mB and but the .mp3 file is "only" 1.7mB.

The next consideration is where to host your file. There are sites analogous to flickr for hosting audio files or you can host them on your own server. Be aware that band width gets to be a consideration. The several commercial hosting sites I have found are not free for that reason. Also your service provider may have limits on bandwidth so check that out.

I have put a link to "The Melting" and its audio file on my personal poetry site.

This week's poetry Thursday link.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Melting

This week's Poetry Thursday assignment was to focus on poetry related to some intense personal experience. Well it just so happens that I had just this type of poem sitting around waiting to be visited again. I don't want to say a whole lot about the poem except that is was triggered by my father's death but that is not really what the poem is about; nor is it really about some sort of reconciliation but more about an unexpected penetration to a secret.

The Melting

Going over Niagara and looking down
I think there should be snow
Not mud as Kansas at this time of year.
Then come the long lakes splayed out
Their marshes waiting for red wings,
Lakes still deep, mammoth cold.

Going over Niagara comes to mind
My first trip home the other week
With my sister to the hospital to see you.
You frown at us through the mask,
Point to me and whisper to her.
Who is this; is this Christine?

And I spin around this unrecognition,
Wrap reassurances around each other:
He has been through a lot,
Rough day just off the ventilator;
Confused by the medicines.
Our eyes stray to the vitals and the doctor
Is confident, no brain damage.

But maybe he is really going right
To the point of what I am,
For so long hidden by a certainty
That I could see all of myself like a model landscape
Of frozen solder scented plastic
Where I could rearrange the wire branched trees
And reorder the trusses and flip trains
From one to another track.

All that gone now, the land
Rebuilding itself from underneath
Only the slightest hint on the surface.

Going home to you for the last time
I feel my landscape opening up,
Filling with red wings in my breast.
And I look out; snow is falling.
Your snow, my marshes and I think
To the music I will sing at your Mass,
My ears filling with screes and chirrups
From the bird's golden throats.

Copyright 2006 © Paul Decelles

This week's poetry Thursday link.

Update! A discussion of audio files and a link to the audio version of "The Melting" is here.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Never go to Best Buy to get something simple such as a scanner. We ended up getting my wife a couple of pieces of equipment that she wanted and a little something that I wanted as well, namely a Canon Rebel digital SLR. Hey, I am an entomologist and want to be able to take better insect pictures.


Not a great image, but consider this. It was taken with the standard 18-55mm lens on close up mode with auto focus. No close up lenses or extender rings and no attempt to adjust any other parameters. The image is also was not digitally magnified but only cropped out of the original jpeg. The actual size of the nymph was maybe 5mm at the outside.

Sure beats our little Kodak used for all my photos in my flickr stream up to this point.

Oh this is for Tara at the Lawrence Best Buy.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Bee Swarm!

...over at Karl Mogel's blog Inoculated mind. Great pictures and an audio recording of the swarm. Sent shivers down my spine since I am allergic to them. Check it out!

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Robots are Coming.

Now for something very different:

You have probably been hearing
about some of the new robots for doing house work being produced by iRobot. They now inhabit the noosphere thanks to Thorn Stevens at Robot Stock News . I have been following iROBOT for awhile and recently heard an interview on NPR with Helen Greiner, one of the founders of iROBOT.

The interview focused on what her company was doing and I found her to be very level headed about what robots can and cannot do and the directions her company is taking in the area of search and rescue type robots as well as the more familiar household robots. So check out Thorn's blog. Thorn covers other robotics companies as well. For instance here is his coverage of a South Korean effort to produce inexpensive household robots by farming out a lot of the processing to a cheap central server. So if you are a capitalist geek (that's geek not pig) his blog is definitely worth a look.

By the way if iRobot or any other company wants to test household robots under real battle conditions, just contact me.

In the interest of full disclosure I was impressed enough to by a small stake in iROBOT. Mind you a small stake...the stock like lots of other small caps is pretty volatile right now, so don't take what I did as being a hot stock tip.

Do I have ethical issues using robots in warfare?You bet. Do I worry about unintended consequences of robotics? You bet. But the technology is coming and one should not bury one's head in the sand over what bad things a technology could be used for.

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Could You Pass?

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!
Could You Pass the US Citizenship Test?

Thanks to fellow Lawrencian Blogger Joel Mathis at Cup o' Joel for the link.

Mendel's Garden #2 is out!

Mendel's Garden #2 is out at Genetics and Health! Hsien has a great roster of submissions. So whether you are a genetics geek or just want to learn a little bit about genetics hop on over to the Garden.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Blogging and a Country Divided

There is a great interview with Razib from Gene Expressions over at Genetics and Health. Razib in case you don't know his blog, is a wonderful geneticist and one with a refreshing independent viewpoint. He has lots of wonderful comments about politics and science, blogging and also genetics of course.

I think his comments fit very nicely with the 20/20 program last night, A Country Divided on ABC. This program documents how the United States is becoming more divided and people on each side of the divide are no longer able to talk to each other. The program looked at the forces that are pushing us apart including the rise of blogs and other politically diverse media that enable people to look just at the news (used loosely here) from their point of view. The program also talks about how our politics also affects where we live.

I had not really thought about this but it is true. Certainly in my case, and I have said this to people, that I choose to live in Lawrence in part because of its liberal atmosphere as opposed to where I work in the next County. To be fair to Johnson County, it's not all that conservative and is represented by a Democrat because the moderate and conservative Republicans are seriously split. But Douglas County having a blue streak in a red state was a consideration in my decision to stay here. Access to KU was a bigger factor.

Bloggers are in an interesting position, because the nature of the medium is such that our personal viewpoints show through. That is after implicit in the term blog (from web log) and there are some fine non political science blogs such as Genetics and Health. But often science bloggers let their political and religious view points show through maybe a bit too much. For instance PZ Myers over another one of my favorite blogs pharyngula
advertises his blog as:

"Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal"

and that is OK. But I wonder how many people might get turned off by that message and ignore the science. Clearly he is comfortable with his conscious choice to mix his science with politics.

In a way that is not too dissimilar to what I try to do here. Only in my case I blog heavily about lots of other things because science is only part of what I am and I quite frankly felt that being a science blog was too restrictive for me even though science informs everything that I do. In the 50's and 60's there was a lot of discussion about the two cultures - the humanities versus the sciences and I think we have gone a long way to breaking that false dichotomy, down at least in the academic world, but the society at large has become a psychic Gerrymander of political and cultural groups whose members slide past each other at work and drive past each other on the interstates and yet never really talk to each other.

Razib makes a good point in the Genetics and Health interview:

"One must separate norms, the overarching goals, and the day to day method. I don't think politics, aside from ubiquitous social politics, matters in science on the everyday level, but in terms of emphasis and orientation what your goals and values are seem entirely relevant. If scientists accepted that a zygote was a human being, and that human life is inviolable, then that has public policy implications in terms of stem cell research (one example among many in regards to fetal tissue research)."

But if we are so Gerrymandered that we as a society cannot come to some dare I say compromise on these value issues, get away from the absolutism of our little group, how are we going to deal with these large issues of public policy. We have to realize we are never going to have a perfect society from our individual points of view, so what we need to do is let go a little bit for the sake of having a working society. I know, easier said then done. But if we want a functioning civil society we have to try, liberals and conservatives, authoritarians and libertarians, gay and straight, deists and theists and atheists.

How do we do this? I think a big part of the solution is honest critical thinking. Often times, bloggers will come up with a question, leave it unanswered as a rhetorical device to undercut an opposing point of view. I see this all the time. For instance Big Simon in his really cool blog recently took on Al Gore's documentary on Global Warming and in a post that he files under lies says:

"Al Gore'’s new movie, The Inconvenient Truth, is in the theaters now, and liberals, treehuggers, and disciples of The Way of Clinton are absolutely eating it up. But the truth behind this "Truth"” is that it'’s all based on a lie - the lie of global warming and the destructive effects we, human beings, have on our world.

Don'’t get me wrong: We pollute, and sure, we should stop that. I am convinced it is having some negative effects on the biosphere. But to believe we are the cause of some great phenomenon like Global Warming, well, that'’s giving us a bit much credit.

Why do I say that? Well, Greenland, of course.

A thousand years ago, Norsemen were harvesting grapes in the fields of Greenland. In more recent times, however, explorers have unearthed several World War II-era planes that crashed in 1942. They were found under 268 feet of snow.

How'’d that happen in Greenland got warmer?"

Good question, but notice the rhetoric. He leaves the question as open ended without even bothering to think abut what might be going or even looking to see what is happening with the Earth's climate. Now to be fair, Big Simon is not a scientist, and a blogger's time is limited, but with the wealth of recent information about climate it seems he could have made a stab at answering his own question. Calling Al Gore a liar on the basis of an unanswered question is disingenuous at best.

Here are some links to the science:

NAS study

Spencer Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming

The upshot is that one cannot extrapolate from what happens in one part of the world, say Greenland, to global temperatures and while global temperatures were warm around 1000AD, they were not probably warmer than now; though there is still uncertainty about that. Big Simon and other global warming skeptics might do well to at least examine these graphs about global temperatures discussed in the NAS study. Note that the recent spike in inferred global temperatures is well above the earler warming that affected Greenland. Then read the NAS conclusions concerning about the temperature data. The conclusions are couched with standard scientific cautions about the uncertainty of the data, but independent temperature estimates detailed in the NAS study point to the reality of the spike in glbal temperatures since the mid 19th century.

The message is clear. Don't leave questions hanging..OK? Asking a question is part of critical thinking, but leaving a question hanging without attempting to deal with it is not. Rather that is merely a rhetorical trick, one that unfortunately bloggers of all stripes use. And it is a technique among many others that serves only to further divide us and prevent us to having the important converstaions we must have if we are to survive long term as a civilization.

Update Razib provides a thoughful response to me.

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