Archive for: June, 2006

Religion and Policy

Jun 29 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Religion's been on my mind a lot lately. It's come up in a number of blog posts and articles I've read recently, and there have been some acrimonious debates on the topic at Panda's Thumb and elsewhere. All this thinking about religious issues has sparked a crisis of belief for me. That's nothing new, really. It happens so often that I've got my own mug down at the crisis center. I've actualy become almost comfortable with the uncertainty.
I mention this because it might explain why, after reading this post at The Island of Doubt, I went and read Barack Obama's speech at the Call to Renewal Conference. And why I read it again. And again. And why, after reading it three times, I still have some very mixed feelings about it.

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An ecosystem in crisis

Jun 28 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

The rise of factory farming over the last half-century has resulted in a crisis for family farms. Factory farming benefits from the economy of scale, producing much, much more of whatever their product is - milk, beef, pork, whatever - at costs per unit that are far lower than a family farm can achieve. This allows the factory farms to sell their products cheaper than the family farmer can, driving the small farms out of business.
Over the past decade or two, the decline of the family farm has received a fair amount of attention, mostly focused on the people who are affected, but there's more to the story than you might think. The decline of the family farm has done more than threaten a way of life. It's also created a biodiversity crisis, in an area that normally escapes attention.

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What makes a good science teacher

Jun 27 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

It's taken me a while to take a swing at this particular Ask A ScienceBlogger question, mostly because I just don't know the answer.
It's definitely true that some science teachers are better than others. The best teacher I had in high school was my physics teacher. The worst teacher I've ever had was for biochem. Thinking about it, I can figure out what made the bad teacher bad, but I'm having a much harder time figuring out what makes a good teacher good. If I had to guess, I'd say that the traits tha make a good science teacher are probably the same traits that make a good teacher in any subject. I think it comes down to enthusiasm for teaching, and the ability to deal with every student as an individual.

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Bloggers' Challenge Update

Jun 27 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

I've been rather lax in promoting my Donors Choose challenge, and it's time to change that. The initial three challenges I picked have all been funded, mostly by people not involved in my challenge. That meant that I hadn't come close to fulfilling my goal, but didn't have any projects left on my list for people to donate to. I just went back to the Donors Choose site, and added three more projects to my challenge.
If you haven't already done so, I'd like to really encourage you to donate - if not to my challenge, then to one of the other challenges that ScienceBloggers have running right now. The challenge ends on July 1, so please donate soon.
Thanks!

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Whoopee!

Jun 27 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Here's a nice bit of breaking news from the conservation biology front: The birth of two Whooping Crane chicks in Wisconsin. (Scroll down this page at Operation Migration's site to the June 23rd entry for pictures of the birds.)
This is absolutely tremendous news. These birds are part of the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population, and these births mark the first time in over a century that Whooping Crane chicks have hatched in the wild in the Eastern US. There's still a long way to go, though. The chicks have a couple of months to go before they're ready to leave the nest, and even if they survive the total population of the species is still under 500 individuals - counting both wild and captive animals. So keep your fingers crossed for these birds.
No matter what happens, though, this hatching is a tribute to the time and effort that a lot of amazingly dedicated individuals and groups have put into the recovery of the cranes. Let's have a big round of applause for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

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Firing Ward Churchill

Jun 26 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Remember Ward Churchill? He's the apparenty-soon-to-be-former University of Colorado academic who stirred up controversy when he referred to 9-11 victims as "little Eichmanns" in a 2001 essay. Today, the UC Boulder Interim Chancellor announced that the university, following a very lengthy investigation, intends to fire Churchill for cause. (Hat tip: No Se Nada)
Back in 2005, when the whole Churchill affair was big news, I wrote a letter to the campus paper explaining why I disagreed with the decision a number of university groups had made to bring him out to UH as a speaker. That was in my pre-blogging days, and the letter doesn't seem to be available online, though it was published, so I'll try to find it and post it here later on. In a nutshell, though, my position was (and is) that Churchill had a right to express his opinions, but that bringing him to Hawaii as a speaker went beyond supporting his right to express controversial views, and instead served to reward him for expressing those particular views.
In the letter, I also said that if he was fired, I would contribute to his legal defense fund. I've decided not to do that. Here's why:

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Shooting the messenger?

Jun 26 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I find this Washington Post article about the effect of the Daily Show on attitudes towards politics and politicians. The article reports on the results of a published study that found that people who watch the Daily Show regularly are more likely to be cynical about politics. The authors of the study (and the author of the WaPo piece) conclude that this is a Bad Thing, because, "negative perceptions of candidates could have participation implications by keeping more youth from the polls."
The WaPo article, with it's uncritical recitation of the study's findings sparked my interest enough to get me to go read the actual journal article. Interestingly, it appears that the actual article doesn't actually suport that speculation with a lot of evidence.

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Hawaiian Evolution 2: The Islands Evolve, Too.

Jun 26 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

In the first post in the Hawaiian Evolution series, I wrote a bit about why evolution is so readily apparent on Islands. Today, I'm going to shift away from the biological a little bit, and talk about a different type of evolution - the evolution of the islands themselves. Because of the way that the islands are formed, they go through a distinct lifecycle as they form over the hotspot, then move off to the west and erode. The evolution of the islands is one of the things that shapes the evolution of life on the islands, so let's take a look at it.http://scienceblogs.com/cgi-bin/MT/mt.cgi

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Weapons of Mass Deception

Jun 23 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

In the latest news from the planet the Republicans wish we lived on, weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. This news comes to us courtesy of a couple of Congresscritters - Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan , and Senator Rick Santorum, Theocrat of Pennsylvania. Supporting their bold statement, these exemplary members of the surreality-based community have - wait for it - a newly declassified intelligence report, courtesy of Bush appointee John Negroponte.
I am shocked, shocked I say, to find the Republicans resorting to selective declassification of intelligence information to support a partisan political agenda - particularly when it's as blatanly lame as this one. I am less shocked to find Santorum involved in this fiasco, since he's more full of crap than a bull that's been sewn shut at one end. For people who are more interested in the reality of the situation, here's the deal:

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The GOP and the Voting Rights Act

Jun 22 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Today's episode in the ongoing tragicomic farce that is the American Congress involves the renewal of several provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Over the years, the VRA has gained a wide base of bipartisan support, and renewal of the act has typically been relatively easy. This time wasn't looking all that different - the Democratic caucus, White House, and Republican Congressional Leadership were all in favor - but that seems to have changed rather quickly today.

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