Archive for: April, 2007

Speaking as a proud member of an Army Family, I feel so much better all of a sudden.

Apr 18 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

A minute or two ago, I posted this with some commentary, but I just decided to pull my own comments from this - it's so surreal that there's really nothing that can be said.

I received the email quoted in full below from the Family Readiness Group for my wife's unit. They got it through the military channels, along with a message to widely distribute word of the change outlined in the message.

The Acting Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff, Army have emphasized that Army Families are a key component of our readiness. Army Families shoulder a great burden of sacrifice, supporting their Soldier and often enduring long periods of separation from their loved ones. Top notch care and support of Army Families demonstrate our sincere appreciation and gratitude for their many contributions, and allow our Soldiers to fully concentrate on the fight and focus on their duties. Effective immediately, the word "Families" will be capitalized in all Army correspondence. Please ensure wide dissemination of this change. Thanks for your continued efforts to do all you can to provide steadfast support to our Army Families.

See what I mean? Words just aren't going to do this one justice.

22 responses so far

Stupidity, Human Nature, and Ordinary Kindness.

Apr 18 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

PZ Myers has an article up calling attention to a recent article by "conservative scholar" and Hoover Institution fellow Dinesh D'Souza. D'Souza, in his opinion piece, wonders where the atheists go when bad things happen. As "evidence" for the missing atheists, D'Souza points out that Richard Dawkins has not been asked to speak at any of the memorial services. To describe that particular argument as asinine would be an understatement of truly monumental proportions; to call D'Souza a "ghoul," as Myers does, is an insult to the mindless undead. Their vitality-impaired condition may have stripped them of the ability to think, but they don't suck the logic and rationality from everyone in a ten mile radius.

As PZ points out:

Dawkins has not been invited to speak, true enough; it's understandable, since he is living in a far-off country and doesn't have any direct ties to Virginia Tech, as far as I know. Has the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, David Miscavage of the Church of Scientology, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Premier of the People's Republic of China, or David Hasselhoff been invited to speak? Shall we take that as a rebuke of everything they stand for?

There's really nothing more to add to that - a potted plant could probably have come up with a more reasonable argument than D'Souza did. D'Souza, to put it kindly, is a complete and utter jackass.

Now on to new business.

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6 responses so far

Applications of Evolution 1: The Erythrina Gall Wasp

Apr 18 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

This is a repost: Unlike some of the folks here, there really aren't that many of my articles over at the old blog that I thought were worth bringing over here. This is one of the exceptions. It's the first post in a series about the effects of a new invasive insect species on an endemic tree found in Hawaii. I'll be bringing the remaining posts in the series over here over the course of the next week or so. Once I've moved them all over here, I'll post an update on the entire situation.

This article was originally posted on the old blog on 16 August, 2005. I have not updated this post in any way, and I did not confirm that the links are still valid.

Invasive species are nothing new to the Islands of Hawai'i. The first invasive species arrived with, and included, the first Polynesian settlers. Although there does appear to be some evidence that they may have caused the extinction of a few endemic species, the effects of these invasions were most likely relatively minor. Since the first western contact with the islands, the number of invasive species present has skyrocketed, causing a massive ecological disaster. If you want proof of the severity, you need not look any farther than the fact that Hawaii contains well less than 1% of the total land area of the US, but has over a third of the listed endangered species in the US.

At the moment, there is a new invasive species that is making the news here in Hawai'i: a species of "gall wasp" that has been wrecking havoc on trees of the genus Erythrina in Singapore, Taiwan, and a number of other places was found in a valley on Oahu in April. Since then, it has been found in a large number of other places on Oahu, and has started to turn up on other islands, including Maui, and a number of scientists believe that it poses a serious threat to a culturally-significant endemic plant - the Wiliwili (Erythrina sandwichensis). The threat is being taken so seriously that scientists have reportedly begun to bank Wiliwlil seeds as a precaution in case the extant population is completely lost.

So what does this have to do with evolution?

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2 responses so far

Wednesday Morning Roundup

Apr 18 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

I took a break from doing the morning roundup yesterday, but everybody's favorite least-read morning "things that I don't have time to really blog about so I'm going to blog about in one fell swoop" post returns today. Today's load is actually on the light side. There are a couple more consequences of climate change to talk about, a question about disability access to labs, and a little more on framing. Iraq and the Virginia Tech shooting are also in the news, but I'm not going to talk about them here.

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Chad takes me out behind the woodshed, and I'm not totally sure that he's wrong.

Apr 17 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

(I'm not totally sure that he's right, either.)

Yesterday, after looking at the first few posts that discussed things like gun control following the VT shootings, Chad put up a post that semi-politely suggested that this might be a really good time for people to sit down and shut up. I thought he was wrong, and semi-politely said so. Chad didn't like that response, and not so politely told me what I can do with it. His post is worth a read.

He makes some good points there. I don't think he's right about a lot of them, but I'm not sure that he's wrong, either. Right now, I'm not really in a position where I can look at what he said objectively enough. I really don't like being quoted out of context, and I've got this habit of thinking that swearing at me is like picking on my kid brother - it's something that only I get to do. Chad did both, so I'm going to take a little time (and, yes, I do recognize the irony here) to cool off a little before I try to respond to the points that he made.

11 responses so far

Compare and Contrast: Wide Sacrifice and Supporting the Troops.

Apr 17 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

One of my favorite teaching tools has always been the "compare and contrast" assignment. If you've gone through enough school to be able to read this post, you know what I'm talking about. Take two books, or essays, or sets of facts, compare them to each other, and talk about what's the same, what's different, and what the similarities and differences mean. It's a great assignment, because it forces you to not only examine a set of facts, but to look at them in the context of other data.

Today, I found myself doing a compare and contrast between an old Presidential address and some recent statements and facts. Looking at the more recent events in the context of the old speech made me realize just how far we've traveled as a nation in the last 66 years - and in what direction.

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2 responses so far

This is the time to speak.

Apr 16 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

Today, in Virginia, there was a massive tragedy. Dozens of promising lives have come to an abrupt and unnecessary end. Dozens - hundreds - more lives have been changed forever. All of this has happened because of a single person and his weapons.

There are those in this country who believe that we need to do more to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. Some have chosen to speak up now. There are those in this country who believe that we must be careful not to allow our emotions, after an event like this, to lead us to restrict the basic rights of Americans. Some have chosen to speak up now.

We have been told to shut up. We have been told that this is disrespectful to the families of the dead. We have been told to wait a week, or to not speak up at all. We have been told that if there is ever a time to speak, it certainly is not now, and that we need to show some tact.

The people who say these things are absolutely wrong. This is the time to speak.

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16 responses so far

Gun Ownership, Gun Control, Rights, and Responsibilities.

Apr 16 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

Rob Knop just wrote an article arguing against new gun control laws. He did this hours after someone went nuts at Virginia Tech and shot a whole lot of people. He did so in the full knowledge that many people would find this to be an incredibly insensitive time to make such an argument. He was right that it is an insensitive time to make the argument, and he was also right in his belief that it is at times like this that it is most important to make such arguments.

Rob's basic point is that we - both as people and as a society - tend to react to tragedies like this by demanding that the government take action to keep the tragedy from happening again. When we take such actions, they frequently come at a price to our liberties. The music and movie industries want to keep people from illegally copying and sharing music and movies, and we wind up with digital rights management software that makes it impossible to do things like make backups of CDs and DVDs that we've purchased. A major terrorist incident happens, and we wind up with a law that permits the government to look up your library records.

Events like the tragedy in Virginia today do demand action, but they also demand that care be taken to avoid overreaction. There will, after today, undoubtedly be calls for more gun control legislation. There will certainly be calls for a national dialogue on the issue - and we should have one. Public safety is important, but so is the Constitution - all of it, including the Second Amendment. There does need to be a balance between the two, and it's going to be a very delicate balance.

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60 responses so far

Monday Morning Roundup

Apr 16 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm back after taking (unforgivably, I know) another full weekend off from blogging, and as always there's quite a bit to catch up on. In the news since the weekend, we've got some interesting new research on sleep problems related to PTSD, a truly superb Bill Maher piece on "elitism," Rob Knop on gun control, the White House attempt to redefine "partisan" to exclude themselves, and a brief lesson on the problems that can arise -particularly in the bathroom- when water is too closely associated with electricity.

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I don't even know where to start with this one. . .

Apr 13 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

Dr. Michael Egnor, creationist neurosurgeon and Discovery Institute blogger, has a problem. Either he hasn't figured out that we're way past April Fools Day, or he has just managed to produce what might just be the single dumbest anti-evolution argument that I have ever seen. We're talking about a demonstration of absolute, rock-bottom, Kent-Hovind-eat-your-heart-out, triple-distilled essence of pure stupid.

The argument today - and I warn anyone who knows anything at all about evolution to put down all food and drinks right now - is that if evolution was right, we should see some brain tumors acting to make better brains.

No, I'm not joking. That's his latest argument, in response to a thorough fisking delivered last month by Yale neuroscientist Steve Novella. Brain tumors mutate and are subject to natural selection, so if evolution is correct they should produce better brains:

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47 responses so far

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