Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Poetry Thursday

This week's Poetry Thursday assignment was to carry a poem around with you and write about how that act affected you. Well that didn't work for me since I was carrying a poem, or more precisely a concept for a poem and working on the poem. The concept came about Thursday last week when I was in my back yard taking pictures and looking at all the insects that were mating or eating to get fat enough to mate and I started thinking that in the popular mind, spring is the time for reproduction and rebirth.

But for many species, late summer and fall is that time. Many aquatic invertebrates which had indulged in asexual reproduction during the summer, now switch to sexual reproduction. Cicadas have emerged and are frantically seeking mates; the grasshoppers are coupling everywhere. Indeed I think John Ashcroft, who is remembered for covering breasts on statues with cloth, would probably throw a huge tarp over my garden to protect young minds from thoughts of what those grasshoppers are doing. And they are not even using the missionary position. The plants...Oh the plants! This is the time for some of the best bees in Kansas to come out and strut their stuff among the plants...But I won't go there.


The poem finally fell into place over the weekend when we had approximately seven inches of rain and the Datura (Nightshade) pictured here ( their "white slips" showing) remained open during the day. So here is the result:

Late Summer Rains

Late summer comes in a rush
Of cicadas buzzing the air.
Monarch larvae fatten
On mother aphid laden leaves
Of seed spilling Asclepias
And grasshoppers leisurely couple
In armored fetish wear
While wee worms French kiss
In the soil and the pond.
Oh and the pond with its animalcules
Commingling their DNA
And playing craps with time-
The pond opens itself
To receive the pulses of rain
Which surprise the world with fervor
And the night working flowers
Caught unaware of the time
Show their white slips
In the day.

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Catholic Reactions to Father Coyne's Replacement

My blog entry about Father Funes' statment has been picked up by Inside Scoop, the blog for Ignatius Press. There is very interesting discussion about the language used by scientists to talk about evolution and genes and I think this discussion should be seen by scientists. The discussion mentions a book by David Stove called Darwinian Fairy Tales. The book apparently raises some interesting points about the langauge used by scientists to describe(if only metaphorically) genes, for instance describing genes as "selfish" or "altruistic". Stove was not a creationist of any stripe or even a religious person and he has no truck with ID as near as I can tell. But this looks like an interesting read.

The article quoting Joseph Sobran says:


Stove, who died in 1994, was a noted Australian philosopher. He was neither a scientist nor a creationist, but an atheist. He didn’t entirely reject the theory of evolution, and in fact had great respect for Darwin himself. But as a rigorous practitioner of linguistic analysis, he thought Darwin and his successors, from T.H. Huxley to Richard Dawkins, had relied less on scientific method than on the abuse of language.

The result was what Stove called “Darwinism’s Dilemma.” The facts simply didn’t — and couldn’t — square with the claims of the theory, particularly in its account of human life. And the Darwinians, while claiming to explain evolution and “the descent of man” as an enormous accident of a blind struggle for survival, have had to keep smuggling teleology — purpose — into their arguments.

They reject the idea of God as an intelligent designer, but they persist in using such expressions and metaphors as intelligent genes, selfish genes, tools, tactics, devices, calculated, organized, goal, and design. By implication, these words transfer the notion of purpose from a benign, superhuman God to subhuman entities like genes and “memes.” Dawkins, who posited (he’d say “discovered”) memes, flatly calls “altruism” “something that does not exist in nature.” After all, altruism would be a fatal handicap in the ruthless struggle for survival."

Now personally I think there is a failure to understand that our modern view of natural selection is more general than Darwin's notion and I am not sure that Stove, or Sobran for that matter, really understands the underpinnings of modern evolutionary theory.

Update! More on Catholics and Evolution and the Pope's evolution seminar.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Funes Speaks about Vatican Appointment

Update! Father Coyne is apparently underging chemotherapy for colon cancer. Thanks to Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble to the tip.

Father Funes
has apparently sent an e-mail which has been spreading through the astronomy community about his appointment to the directorship of the Vatican Observatory. I am posting the text in it's entirety exactly as I received it from a friend, since I have no reason to doubt it's authenticity. This appears to be the statement cited in today's Arizona Daily Star.

My earlier blog report with background is at

Father Funes writes:

Hello everyone,
Probably you may have learned that I have been appointed new Director of
the Vatican Observatory. At the time of the appointment, I was
participating in the IA General Assembly in Prague and George Coyne was
taking a very well deserved vacation. I've talked to George on the phone
and we both agreed that I would send a message making the "official

Unfortunately, The Daily Mail has published an article entitled "Pope
Sacks Astronomer Over Evolution Debate". This article is absolutely false.

In May, after 28 years, George asked our superiors if they didn't think it
was time for the Vatican Observatory to select a new director and they
agreed to accept his resignation as well as appoint a new director. George
will take a year's sabbatical in Raleigh, N.C., before rejoining the
Vatican Observatory in September 2007. He continues to direct the Vatican
Observatory Foundation.

All the staff are most grateful to George for his years of inspired
directorship. Personally, I am very happy that George Coyne will
continue as President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation and that after
the sabbatical year he will be back with the Vatican Observatory. We need
George back. I am also quite pleased and happy with the full support that
I have from all the staff, included George.

The Vatican Observatory I "receive" is in very good shape. We enjoy being
at Steward Observatory and I hope that we continue this very fruitful

Finally, I would like to say that we, at the Vatican Observatory, we try
hard to keep up with the pace of the most recent astronomical
developments. Since last week we now have two categories of directors; the
giant, classic directors and the 'dwarf' ones. George Coyne belongs to the
first category and the current director... literally belongs to the
second one.

Jose Funes, S.J.

Jose G. Funes, S.J.
Specola Vaticana
Vatican Observatory

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Can our President use Binoculars?

Looks like he can't, but a quick check at suggests otherwise. This image maybe real, indeed the very next image shows the binoculars with the lens caps off. So the good folks at Snopes conclude that Bush does know how to use binoculars.

Earlier disseminated images of Clinton at the Korean DMZ appear according to Snopes to have digitally fabricated lens caps. Looks like both sets of partisans were looking for a killer image like the famous Dukakis tank image that helped in a small way to end the Dukakis campaign.

This and similar images have been around for awhile but frankly I hadn't seen them until today when a friend forwarded a forwarded-well you get the drift-to me in my little corner of the noosphere.

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Another Flag Flap.

Relax Meade! It's in Colorado and involves a geography teacher who got reprimanded for displaying foreign flags in his class. Supposedly it violates Colorado state law.

The story is in the Progressive relying on the Denver Post. Apparently the teacher was going to quit over this but now a compromise has been worked out between him and the school administration so he can keep the flags up for six weeks at a time.


I don't get it. But maybe I am just to liberal, ya think?

The Voltage Gate

I know we have scads of science blogs in the noosphere, but I say the more the merrier. I recommend that you charge on over to Jeremy Bruno's blog, The Voltage Gate (hmm sounds like he's had neurobiology). Jeremy is an undergraduate interested in science journalism. Right now, Jeremy features a series of articles about the phylogeny of the Red Panda and, unlike the rest of us slobs, he carefully documents his sources.

Why is it that editors think sports and other soft beats require specialized talent but science gets short shrift? I have whined about this before, and maybe with the rise of good science blogging the mainstream media will finally pay attention or else just go the way of the sauropods and big gas guzzling trucks.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Saturday Plant Blogging

I love plants and though I am not a botanist I really love plant forms, the symmetry of flowers and stems and I am particularly drawn to both succulents and orchids, both of which make up the bulk of my house plants. At any rate, as an antidote to all the stuff that goes along with the start of a new semester (I even managed to miss Poetry Thursday), I took yesterday afternoon and today to shoot some plant pictures.

Most of these are on my flicker photostream , so if you want larger versions clicking on the picture will take you to my photostream images for the picture. Look for the "all sizes" and magnifying glass to see the available sizes for download.

The first set is from inside the JCCC greenhouse-it was too windy to get many good outside shots.

jccc greenhouse

For Donna, our extremely talented and dedicated greenhouse manager is a waterlily bloom from her stock tank pond inside the greenhouse:


Often the plants I enjoy are plants that only a biologist can love such as many cacti but I think everyone can appreciate this one from the greenhouse. There wasn't a label with it so I need to look up what it is.


In addition to cacti we some other interesting succulents including this Stapelia in bloom. The full size view is very nice so you might want to get it here.


Also in the greenhouse is this nice Opuntia cactus; I don't know the species. Opuntias are often called prickly pears and the stems form flattened pads. What I had forgotten about is that in the same family is another group called chollas.


These cacti have cylindrical stems and succulent leaves at least some of the time. I was reminded of this today when I went to my Sunrise Garden Center in Lawrence to look at their new succulents and one of the plants that had to come home with me was this Opuntia subulata:


Looks like the taxonomy is a bit uncertain as some sites list it as Austrocylandropuntia subulata. Maybe this depends on whether or not you are a lumper or a splitter.

Of course I picked up some other nice plants while I was at the garden store such as a wonderful succulent Peperomia.


I know this genus as consisting of tropical non-succulent houseplants with wrinkled leaves that I have always had problems growing for any length of time. What I like about this plant is that the undersides of the leaves are a deep red color in contrast to the green upper surface. Hopefully this plant does better for me than it's moisture loving sisters. By the way this genus is in the family Piperaceae which includes..You guessed it..the pepper plant from which black pepper is made.

At the JCCC greenhouse on Friday I was impressed with the subtle coloring on these Echeveria pulvinata blooms:


There just happened to be a young plant of this species at the garden store so it came home with me. Echeveria includes Hens and Chicks which I didn't know!

Next up is an Epiphyllum cutting. This is one of the plants I received in the maill from Ron over at 2sides2ron the other month and I am happy to report that it and it's three mates are all beginning to root and grow.


In the garden there is a lot going on...Weed wise that is and I need to do a lot of weeding. For some reason the Lawrence area has been blessed with lots of rain and between that and the warm weather and the start of the semester-OK and general laziness- the garden has gone wild. As can be seen in this general view of my pond area.


In this view, note the bird house gourd plant taking over in the upper left. It is a volunteer since they really took over last year. But the leaves are nice. Growing up the trellis in the upper right are several Orchid bean plants, just coming into bloom. Not shown is the giant lamb's quarters which has taken over my peony patch.

My last shot may seem a repeat of a water lilly blossom from earlier this year, but this one is from today using my Canon Rebel. The detail is much clearer than my earlier shot taken with my old Kodak. You will probably enjoy the full sized version as well.


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Friday, August 25, 2006

Living with HIV

Certain groups in our society have begun to take AIDs and HIV for granted because of the new drugs we have, or maybe people have just become desensitized to AIDS. Other groups in our society say all it takes is abstinence, or that HIV is brought on by the gay "lifestyle" whatever that is. As an antidote to either position I suggest you read this post by my friend Ron Hudson over at 2sides2ron. Ron has lived for 21 years with AIDS, and he gives us a brief glimpse of what his life is like.

Thanks Ron!

Psssss! A Hot Tip for Americans.

The paper back version of Chris Mooney's book "The Republican War on Science" is just about to be released. Here is an excerpt dealing with Republicans and Intelligent Design. Definitely worth a look!

Not a whole lot new for those of us that follow current Republican antics, but maybe, just maybe Americans-especially Republicans will start to connect the dots and understand the harm the Bush administration is doing to our country.

This quote should give you a feel for Mooney's thesis:

"The next three chapters demonstrate how cultural conservatives have disregarded, distorted, and abused science on the issues of evolution, embryonic stem cell research, the relation of abortion to health risks for women, and sex education. In the process, we will encounter more ideologically driven think tanks, more questionable science, and more conservative politicians willing to embrace it."

Tip of the Antennae to Lee Allison for this one.

Other Links

Chris Mooney's Blog:The Intersection:

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Little Distraction

I am sure everyone in the noosphere is following the controversy about Pluto. You're not? Where have you been hiding? Seems the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has been debating whether or not Pluto 'deserves' to be classified as a planet or not.

Pluto's classification change doesn't bother me. After all we have known for some time that Pluto might not be a planet-at least not in the same sense as Earth or Jupiter. The whole controversy reminds me of the sorts of controversies that happen in biological taxonomy between splitters and lumpers.

Splitters are those taxonomists who make fine distinctions between species and group them into many small catagories. Lumpers take the same sets of species and lump them into a smaller number of more inclusive categories. Indeed the IAU recently considered a scheme that lumped the eight 'classical' planets plus Pluto as planets along with Ceres and a small number of Pluto type bodies, expanding the ranks of objects called planets. Seems like the astronomical splitters won though.

According to the IAU determination a planet is defined in the following way:

"as a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

Looks to me like Pluto does not meet criterion c since sometimes it's closer to the Sun than Neptune, so it joins Ceres and some other bodies as what the IAU calls dwarf planets. If it will make Pluto fans feel better, the IAU calls Pluto the "...Prototype of a new category of trans-neptunium objects. "

Pluto in the meantime will keep on it's lonely funky orbit around the Sun.

Other links:

Good background on Pluto and images of Pluto and its moon:

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Bush Science or Clerical Error?

In Tuesdays Chronicle for Higher Education, Sam Kean reports on a curious omission from a list of majors qualifying for a new Federal grant program meant to provide support for students in important scientific, technological and language areas. Apparently students majoring in evolutionary biology, are not eligible for this program. In the classification system used at the department of education evolutionary biology is shown, but it is absent from the list of eligible majors. Hmm let's not reward people for majoring in the cornerstone of modern biology. To be fair, according to the article related majors are covered and a spokesperson for the Department of Education says that the omission is probably a clerical oversight.

But it is interesting that the only major with evolution in the title is not on the list. Supporting the clerical error idea is the fact that exercise physiology and behavioral sciences are also missing.

Tip of the antennae to Liz Craig for this one.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Father Coyne Replaced

Update at

to the Religion News Service and beliefnet(see also this), Pope Benedict has replaced Father George Coyne as head of the Vatican observatory. Father Coyne is a strong critic of intelligent design and supporter of modern evolutionary biology. The Vatican has not stated why, but the timing of this close to the Pope's weekend seminar on evolution is interesting. The article notes that speakers at the seminar will include several prominent Catholic critics of evolution.

Coyne is known to be critical of Cardinal Chrisoph Schönborn who is known to have indirect ties to the Discovery Institute which has been pushing intelligent design. According to the Boston Globe, Schönborn was urged by the head of the Discovery Institute to publish an article critical of evolution and that publication was facilitated by the Institute's PR department.

Coyne's replacement is Argentine Jesuit Astronomer, Father Jose Gabriel Funes, whose astronomy interests include the formation of stars and galaxies. It is not clear where he stands on evolution so it could be coincidence that Coyne is being replaced at this time. I hope, given the controversy about Dr. Coyne's replacement, more information will be coming from the Vatican perhaps after the Pope's seminar on evolution.

8/24 Update from the Catholic News Service!

As far as I can find, Father Funes (but see this) hasn't dealt with evolution so it's possible the Pope thinks that evolution can be isolated from the rest of science. If so, that is one hypothesis which is incorrect. Father Coyne said it quite eloquently when he visited Lawrence KS in 1999, when he observed at a talk I attended that we see evolution in action at all scales in the universe, so why should we doubt evolution at the level of biology?

Where is Benedict going to head? One thing I have noticed about this Pope is that he really hates disorder much more so than Pope John Paul II, whether it is ecclesiastical or scientific. For instance he is quoted as saying:

"How many of these people are there today? These people, fooled by atheism, believe and try to demonstrate that it's scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order."

Also see this article from Catholic News in which he clearly is concerned about the diffusion of power in the Catholic Church after Vatican II.

Further, he is seems to be content with the possibility that the Church will become smaller as its positions become less and less accepted by secular Western Society. See for instance the assessment of Benedict in Time(,8599,1051616,00.html)

Given these tendencies of the Pope I am not surprised that he is susceptible to the Sirens of Intelligent Design. I just hope the Church doesn't get crushed on the rocks of irrelevancy.

Other links(You connect the dots):

Father Coyne on thcompatibilityty of Science and Religion:

Father Coyne Clashes with Cardinal

Schönborn lecture on Creation and Evolution:

More on the Pope's Seminar from EWTN:

Benedict is considered to be conservative-but not every conservative Catholic is happy:

Update from Catholic News Service 8/24

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Pseudoscience Kills! HIV and Mr. Johnson.

Just ask the people fighting HIV in South Africa:

Consider this little tidbit from the article:

"Mbeki's government first denied that the HIV virus causes AIDS and then resisted offering HIV drugs to its people, calling them expensive and potentially dangerous.
The government bowed to public outcry in 2003 and launched a public antiretroviral (ARV) drug program which officials now call one of the biggest in the world.
But Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang still questions ARVs and instead promotes home-grown remedies such as olive oil, beetroot and garlic. She says they boost nutrition and immune response but activists say her prescription leads to thousands of unnecessary deaths every year."

Pseudoscience does kill: olive oil and garlic??? These may be good for you but empirical evidence suggests that the HIV virus doesn't care and will evolve within the host to defeat any such folk remedy. People get upset at science when it doesn't give easy answers or when the answers it gives suggests a strategy at odd with one's moral framework.

Is it any coincidence then that Phillip Johnson of Intelligent Design fame was a dissenter early on with regards to the cause of AIDS?

Notice Johnson's Logic here:

"Warning signs that Gallo's virus might not be the cause of AIDS were abundant. Why wasn't the virus itself found in quantity in all of the AIDS patients? How abundant and active was the virus? Mightn't the presence of antibodies imply that the patients had developed immunity to the virus, rather than that the virus was destroying their immune systems? Above all, by what observable mechanism was this retrovirus not only destroying the immune system, but also causing such disparate conditions as Kaposi's sarcoma (hereafter KS) and dementia? The mystery was all the deeper because the virus was supposed to perform its destructive work many years after infection and after being reduced to near non-existence by the very antibodies that provided the evidence of infection."

Raise some good questions and then use it to trash the scientific consensus on HIV:

"Serious questions are met with frivolous answers, because HIV science is practiced by people like those domineering jurors, who made up their minds before all the facts were in and then stopped listening. The HIV theory has become axiomatic, and so even patently question-begging answers will suffice to explain away disconfirming evidence. The HIV scientific establishment gets away with this unprofessional behavior because AIDS research is tightly controlled from the top, and because acquiescent science reporters and editors have allowed themselves to be bamboozled by self-serving propaganda. The HIV scientists claim that it is somehow "homophobic" to question the HIV theory, or that reporters who publicize the mounting reasons for doubt will be responsible for furthering the spread of the epidemic. Few voices in the biomedical research community, which depends on HIV money for its funding, are raised in protest. The example of Peter Duesberg, who lost virtually all his funding as a consequence of his dissent, stands as a warning to all the others. "

Of course time and research has proven Johnson wrong. Certainly he and Duesberg were free to dissent, but clearly Johnson is playing some sort of victimology game and the way he characterizes HIV scientists is eerily similar to the way evolutionary biologists are characterised as being dogmatic. Sure scientists are human and sometimes vested interests to come into play but I wonder how many people are being discouraged from going into science because of the mistrust of science foisted on our civilization by Mr. Johnson and other pseudoscientists disquising themselves as "critical thinkers".

How many deaths have been caused by this sort of pseudoscience thinking about HIV? How many deaths are going to indirectly be caused by pseudoscientific thinking in the realm of intelligent design?

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Gregor Mendel at the Field Museum

The Field Museum in Chicago is having an exhibit on Gregor Mendel from September 15 2006 to April 1st 2007. Sounds like theforce will need to get on the road!

Supposedly the exhibit was to be followed by a one day exhibit about creation science including intelligent design on April 1 but the curators couldn't find any creation science (tongue firmly planted in cheek).

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Mendel's Garden #4 is up!

Go on over to the Inoculated Mind for some great genetics gardening at!!

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Kansas Board of Education-What's Next?

There is a good analysis in the Lawrence Journal World of what is likely to happen in Kansas this fall with the board of education elections. Of course the conservatives are putting on their best spin on their defeat and arguing that the remaining conservatives are probably pretty safe from the moderates.

Conservative education activist Cindy Duckett claims for instance that “the pendulum will swing in two years.” I hope not, but the issue will not be settled until the public develops a better understanding of science and true critical thinking as opposed to the pseudocritical thinking pawned of on unsuspecting Kansans by creationists and their 'teach the controversy mantra.'

And I really love her other comment:

“...The primary elections were really about competence.”

She's absolutely right; those candidates that were least competent in their understanding of science tended to loose!

But the fall election will be decided, as are so many Kansas elections, by which relatively small group can best motivate their followers. Sad. Also I wonder where this conservative vs moderate controversy will spill over next.

By the way Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble is really on top of all this stuff so make sure you check his blog for the latest information about Kansas politics. Plus, I see he has a great article about Biblical sex, if Kansas Politics isn't your cup of Java.

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Other Links

John Altevogcommentarytary on media coverage of the Kansas Science Standards:

Kansas Alliance for Education

Another analysis of the Kansas Situation

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Poetry Thursday

July 2000

The first time I wanted to have this conversation,
I was eight, listening to Father Finn
Rail against what was happening then
In 1959 to our Country and I had been watching
My sister and her friends sneak down the isle
Kleenex bobby pinned to their hair and how mad
My mother was that they did not wear their hats
And the Father went on in the background
Until suddenly I heard the phrase 'sex change'
And he was talking about how shameful that was.
I wanted then to tug at my father and ask
What is wrong with Christine Jorgensen;
Why was she so wrong to want to be a woman?
But I knew the script already:
Be constructive; these things go away.
So the conversation was put aside,
Until Rhonda took my bearded face
In her large hands,
Looked me in the eye and asked the question,
What brings you here?
And everything around this moment whorled
Pieces of feeling snapping into place
So I could start this conversation
With myself
And come out into world
As the fireworks crackled all around.

Actually this is for last week's 'assignment' and it is quite autobiographical. This was a difficult poem to write because I wanted to deal with the sorts of unfunished conversations that people have as they are growing up, conversations about sex, gender and identity because of the way we socialize kids. I think things are a bit better today than in the 1950's and early 1960's, but as I look around at society today, kids, especially boys are still socialized in the same sort of way-don't cry like a girl, that (insert your favorite stereotypical behavior) is for sissies, don't cry or show any emotion. Girls too are under great pressure it seems to conform to binary gender stereotypes-at least I see that having raised a daughter but there is greater scope for gender expression allowable for women.

I was amused the other year with the television show "He's a Lady", where men made themselves up as women. On the one hand I thought that this was a positive show and done very tastefully-plus I did get some tips on passing. But on the other hand the there were segments in the show where the men had to be shown doing all sorts of macho things. That's OK to a point if it shows that people are comfortable with their gender, but often it struck me as overdone and saying: "no way am I feminine, it's all outside. I am still a square peg in a square hole and all of you round pegs need to get with the program"

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Thanks for the Private Sector!

Elsewhere I have argued that the Bush Administration has been gutting those aspects of science that it does not like for political and ideological reasons and embryonic stem cell research is yet another example. Normally I am suspicious of privately funded research, but this is a case where privately funded research, especially through foundations, may be crucial if our country is to maintain it's scientific edge.

This seems to be the message in an article in the online edition of Forbes (

The article observes:

" Since the ban, federal funding of embryonic stem-cell work has risen to all of $40 million a year, just one-fifth of the money for other kinds of stem cells and a pittance in the $20 billion research budget of the government's National Institutes of Health. But Eli Broad and a few other billionaires--some of them from President Bush's own Republican Party--and a number of states and private foundations have stepped into the gap. They have funneled three times as much as the federal government into embryonic stem-cell research."

This is really unusual since in these sorts of areas of basic research the NIH typically supplies most of the funding.

Now granted, the anti abortion folks think that embryonic stem cell research is murder since you have to destroy embryos to get at the cells, and they also like to point to the potential for using adult stem cells. But there is not consensus in this country about whether or not these embryos are human. Indeed in practice we do not treat such embryos with the same moral worth as independent humans. If we did, then we would be spending millions of dollars to prevent early miscarriages which cost thousands of embryo lives each year! In fact according to the March of Dimes ( ), perhaps 50% of all pregnancies including those before a woman recognizes she is pregnant end in miscarriage.

Furthermore, even if adult stem cells do ultimately prove to useful on a broad scale, we do need to understand the triggers for cell differentiation and there really is only one system for doing that- human embryos. Yes of course we can use other animals including other primates, but ultimately our understanding has to tested in human systems. examined in human embryos.

And yet our country is faced with attempts to criminalize embryonic stem cell research, such as recent initiatives in California. Should research with human embryos be regulated? Sure, just as we have regulations regarding the use of human subjects. But these regulations need to be crafted carefully to allow research into human development and cellular differentiation, and therapies and yet prevent cloning of human beings (as opposed to human cells).

While other countries have resisted the politicalization of research in the name of "morality" the Bush administration has so restricted NIH funding of embryonic stem cell research that, according to the Forbes article, one researcher has gone out of his way to prevent the mixing of NIH funding and private funding for embryonic stem cell research:

"At Memorial Sloan-Kettering, stem-cell biologist Lorenz Studer ... Cautiously puts yellow stickers on every piece of equipment used for banned experiments to inoculate his operation from any NIH contact. His grad students put stickers on wastebaskets to mock the NIH."

When are we going to wake up to the games being played by our Federal Government in the name of ideology?

Other links:

Testimony of Dr. John Kessler before the US Senate HHS Committee on the need for embryonic stem cell research: (

Ethics and Politics of Stem Cell Research:

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Now I'm Back!

Have been away at Silver Dollar City...So looks like I missed a few things, foiled terrorist attacks, BP oil pipeline problems and all that stuff. At any rate will be catching up and putting some photos online as well. Probably also means a double Poetry Thursday too. So much to bloc and so little time!

So here I was on Thursday enjoying myself and trying on a new hat for school.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

They're Back!


And I don't mean the Kansas Board of Education,but rather monarch larvae on my milkweed. I only have seen two so far, but for a big striped insect they are pretty hard to spot. This one and a smaller one are in my front garden on butterfly plant. I have some swamp milkweed in the back and while monarchs are visiting the plants, there do not seem to have any larvae.

Notice all the aphids. I wonder if the monarch larvae get a little protein boost.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Update on Meade KS controversy

Update again from the Lawrence Journal World 8/2/29/06

I don't know if there is more to the Knight's relationship with the rest of the town or not but this quote about the Phelps clan from the article pretty much sums it up:

“It’s just not right,” said Suzan Seybert, a 30-year resident of the southwest Kansas community, as she watched Shirley Phelps-Roper’s children chanting about homosexuals burning in hell. “I think it’s despicable to start to teach your children at such a young age the word ‘hate’. It’s just the worst thing you can do.”

There is an article
about the rainbow flag controversy in today's Lawrence Journal World. There are some unsubstantiated charges made in the discussion about the article about the motivation of the B&B owners. Meanwhile, someone apparently decide to cut the flag off. Never mind, the Knight's have plenty more flags. One poster, lakeway_hotel_fraud, who claims to be gay, alleges that the Knights basically engineered this whole thing to attract gay business, and further that he has a partial recording to back his claim up. You can read these yourself and decide.

All I know are the documented comments made by various town's people about the flag and gays additional ones are mentioned in the LJ World article. For instance:

Waitress Vicky Best said...

"It's hard enough to keep your kids on the straight and narrow without outside influences like that,"she complains. "We stay in a small town to stay away from the crap like that that's happening in big cities,"she said, calling homosexuality 'biblically wrong.' "

Is it any wonder that people are leaving much of small town Kansas in droves?

Other links:

My original post

Kansas City Star article with more details

About Meade KS and environs

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Big Quote Flap and Armageddon

There is a currently a flap in the noosphere over a Paul Nelson misquote by Karen Armstrong. For those who haven't been following this, many Bloggers including me picked up on Karen Armstrong's article in the Guardian on George Bush's fundamentalist beliefs and how they influence policy and we often picked up on her juicy quote of something allegedly said by Intelligent Design advocate, Paul Nelson.

The problem with this quote was uncovered by Nick Matzke and posted on Panda's Thumb.

This has led to a furious discussion on Intelligent design websites such as Telic thoughts, and the Discovery Institute's Evolution News site. The latter site goes so far as to claim that:

"Today there is another urban myth building up a head of steam, and being helped along by Darwinists, about Discovery Fellow Paul Nelson. Guardian reporter Karen Armstrong reports: '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.' And yet this is pure rubbish because Nelson never said anything like this, and it turns out that Armstrong never even interviewed him. Nelson points this out in his letter to the Guardian demanding a correction. "

This flap obscures the bigger point that some people do believe this end of world stuff and this is a big focus of Amstrong's article. She comments:

"American fundamentalists are convinced that the second coming of Christ is at hand; they have developed an end-time scenario of genocidal battles based on a literal reading of Revelation that is absolutely central to their theology."

Clearly this sort of literalist reading of Revelation is common. There is even a rapture index at and here you can find the index's highs and lows for various years:

2003 High 177  2004 High 157 2005 High 161 2006 High 159
2003 Low 133 2004 Low 135 2005 Low 143 2006 Low 151

Record High 182 Record Low 57
24 Sept 01 12 Dec 93

How many people believe the end is close? That is less certain. An often quoted figure is around 59% of Americans responding to a 2002 CNN Times poll. The closest authoritative source for this datum and other related data is, a non partisan site that tracks polling data from a number of sources. So let's examine their cited polling data.

Pollingreport's summary of religious related polls gives reports the 59% data in context:

"As you may know, the last book of the New Testament, called the Book of Revelation, contains passages which some people say predict how the world will end. Do you think the events described in the Book of Revelation will occur at some point in the future or don't you think so?"

Yes, will 59 77 83

Don't think so 33 15 13

Not sure 8 8 4

This is an isolated data point, but consider this poll in Pollingreport's religion polling page from a 1999 Newsweek poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates:


"Now, regarding your own religious beliefs: Do you believe that the world will end, as the Bible predicts, in a battle at Armageddon between Jesus and the Antichrist?"


% % % % %

Yes 40 45 71 28 18

No 42 39 18 54 57

Don't know 18 16 11 18 25


Asked of those who believe in biblical prophecy about Armageddon:
"Do you believe the Antichrist is on Earth now?"


Yes 47

No 31

Don't know 22

So if you take belief in Biblical Armageddon AND belief that the Antichrist is on Earth now as serious belief in the immediacy of the Armageddon, then between 17 and 18% of Americans make up the hard core believers in Biblical Armageddon.

This may seem a small number relative to other strange beliefs that Americans have but certainly Armstrong's larger concern about the role of these sorts of beliefs in shaping Administration policy needs to be addressed. What are we for instance to make of this claim by Joel Rosenberg cited in Media Matters:

"I've been invited to the White House, Capitol Hill. Members of Congress, Israelis, Arab leaders all want to understand the Middle East through the lens of biblical prophecies. I'm writing these novels that keep seeming to come true. But we're seeing Bible prophecy, bit by bit, unfold in the Middle East right now."

After all we do know religious beliefs do influence how people view and react to the world around them. So in these dangerous times, do we really want to trust foreign policy to people who believe not only in literal interpretation of the Bible, but also believe that the end is nigh? It is not clear what the President really believes, but given the dangers present today, especially in the Middle East, maybe we ought to know about not only the President but where other government leaders fall in the spectrum of belief about Amageddon.

Other links and comments:

Bill Moyers:

Bill Moyers is clearly concerned about the effects religion on administration policy:

"We're not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half of the members of Congress are backed by the religious right. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian-right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian Coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who before his recent retirement quoted from the biblical Book of Amos on the Senate floor: "The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land." He seemed to relish the thought."

Media Metters:

Two balanced summaries of what is known about George Bush's religious beliefs and his alleged belief in God's plan for America and his Presidency.


Washington Post:

Another good summary with a very different twist: namely that in spite of his religious beliefs George Bush's actions on the international front have furthered the cause of secularism.


So you have your pick in terms of the President's beliefs and how they shape is actions.

Joel Roseberg's web site says it all:

As for Paul Nelson...maybe the Armstrong flap is cosmic payback for a an alleged little distortion of his own.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Mendel's Garden # 4 Call for submissions!

Almost forgot!

Mendel's Garden is hosted this month at Inoculated Mind. So if you have , or find, interesting genetics articles you want to share, hop on over the Garden's home page or the carnival submission link. Remember ya don't have to be a genetics geek to submit something! The deadline for submissions is August 5th.

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Geek alert! Molecular analogy

Most biology students are somewhat familiar with the concepts of homology and analogy in biology. Sandra Porter over at Discovering Biology in a Digital World has unearthed a really cool (no pun intended) example of analogous proteins-that is proteins that have the same function but differ wildly in structure. Check out her analysis of various anti freeze proteins.

This is an interesting analysis because often times intelligent design people treat proteins and protein design space as essentially one design for one function. Thus, if natural selection is some sort of search procedure then it is impossible time wise for natural selection to converge on a working protein related to a particular function. See for instance Dembski's paper on searching large design spaces. But what Sandra's analysis reminds us of is that protein design space isn't really all that sparse; radically different designs can have the same function.

Other links:

In case you have forgotten what homology and analogy are all about:

A more technical look about phylogenetic reasoning and concepts of homology and analogy:

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How High the Moon

how high the moon we are
above the clouds, above the dreams
swinging around the night
how mute she is

how white she is
by the sun
how like a white pleated skirt
twirling round and round

how black she is
in the cape of the sky
like those twisting roads
and rhymin' signs

with counter point of ticking tires
on Route 7 going south to Lenox
and Bill and Laura's roadside stand
where this is the song

among the yellow lamps
and big spot shining on the name
in block letters on the roof proclaiming
this the Quarry with rickety stools

and varnished counter with holes in the wood
I thought were just for my ice cream cone
and Glen Miller blasting from the megaphone
clung to by June bugs and moths

the music with that swing
when people didn't think about how
high the moon was and there were halls
everywhere with real bands

that swung low to earth
so we could grab the moon by her skirt
bring her right down to eye level
and us out of our seats at Bill and Laura's

among the stars and I look her in the eye
and belly up to her how high we are
the moon and I
to do that swing.

This is my entry for this week's Poetry Thursday. Music has a great influence on my poetry and for this I reached way back to some childhood memories. During the late 50's early 60's my parents used to take us to a roadside stand owned by good friends of theirs, Bill and Laura Murphy. The stand was where I described it on Route 7 going south from Pittsfield MA. Their place was open air and pretty much as I descibe it, complete with bug lamps and june bugs. They played lots of swing and big band, probably not Ella Fitzgerald at least I don't recall them playing her, but the song just fits the feelings of that place:

"Somewhere theres music
How faint the tune
Somewhere theres heaven
How high the moon
There is no moon above
When love is far away too
Till it comes true
That you love me as I love you"

The moon shoot was taken with my camera using a tripod and zoom lens. It was taken partly with this submission in mind but also as a check to see if I had my manual focus adjusted for my eyes, as well as to mess around with night shots.

There is some science here, of course, the stanza beginning "how black she is" accurately describes the idea that the surface of the moon is really quite dark and only appears bright because of the intensity of the sun's reflection contrasted against the night sky. If you don't believe me take a look at the moon rocks someday, and you will see that many of them are quite dark, basalts for instance.

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Kansas Board of Education Evolves again..Maybe

Good news for education moderates last night. It looks like the balance of power in the Kansas Board of Education has shifted with the election of candidates opposing the current science standards. In particular, not only has moderate Janet Waugh kept her seat, but Connie Norris who is infamous for her religiously conservative stances on any number of issues from evolution to immigrants, has apparently been defeated by a moderate Republican.

But it looks like John Bacon and Ken Willard are still in the race. This could leave the conservatives with 3 seats (Stave Abrams was not up for election). About the Bacon race, is that he seems to have won merely because the opposition was split between two moderates. Presumably moderate attention will shift to getting Bacon out.

This time the moderates were slightly better organized and given the small voter turn out, primary results are very sensitive to small changes in motivation of one subgroup or another.
As Steve Case notes in the Kansas City Star today:

"“One of the things that really bothers me is that people don'’t vote," he said. "Especially in primaries. Because people with an agenda do vote, and they win."

What a sad state of affairs, only it is one that is nationwide, not restricted to Kansas.

Other links:

Election Results

Kansas City Star

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