Archive for: April, 2008

Here's another great example of what "support the troops" really means

Apr 30 2008 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops

Back at the beginning of April, ATA airlines suddenly went out of business. With no prior warning, they filed for bankruptcy and suspended all flights. This decision was sparked by FedEx's still unexplained decision to drop ATA from the group of airlines that they use to fulfill their military charter contracts as of October 1st.

Before going belly-up, ATA did a lot of military charter business. So much, in fact, that the loss of the carrier means that troops are still facing delays of several days in coming home from the war zone. Apparently, FedEx has been unwilling to suck up the extra costs that they'd face if they brought in another carrier to make up the lost flights.

Of course, the military authorities don't seem to think this is actually a problem:

According to Sgt. Douglas DeMaio, an Army Central Command spokesman, the entertainment offerings on base in Kuwait keep most troops happy while they wait for flights.

That's right. You may not have seen your family for 15 months, and you may be stuck in Kuwait for another week just because there's no airplane to take you home, but it's all good - you can play Donkey Kong while you're waiting.

Good job, guys. Take another $1.93 out of petty cash, and buy another magnetic ribbon for your SUV.

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I know you've got a brain, Senator Clinton. Now, if you'd be so kind as to remove it from your...

Apr 22 2008 Published by under Elections, Presidential

Senator Hillary Clinton has apparently decided to join John McCain in calling for a "gas tax" holiday for the summer. Their plan would suspend the 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gas (and the 24.4 cent tax on diesel fuel) from Memorial Day to Labor Day, giving consumers a temporary break from the high cost of fuel. If, that is, the companies that sell the fuel don't decide to raise their prices and erase the relief.

In a Presidential campaign season that's been marked by more than its fair share of stupid ideas, this one's still a standout. Nothing says "responsible leadership" (or, for that matter, "intelligent campaigning") in times like this than proposing a measure that would:

  1. Potentially result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs that are created by the federal highway projects that the gas tax pays for.
  2. Result in a massive spike in gas prices at the end of the summer, two months before election day.
  3. Create benefits for the average consumer only if the gas companies don't decide to raise their prices to collect some or all of the federal subsidy.
  4. Encourage consumers to buy more foreign oil this summer.
  5. Increase demand (and possibly well-head prices) during the summer.
  6. Provide a disproportionate share of the benefits to consumers who purchase massive, gas-guzzling SUVs.

Thank you, Senator Clinton, for once again reassuring me that backing Obama isn't as bad an idea as the alternative.

7 responses so far

It's a bought and paid for bragging point, but it's still a bragging point.

On Sunday, Chris Mooney and Randy Olsen both tried to make the case that Ben Stein's "Evolution Caused the Holocaust" movie was a success at the box office. Both of them have been rather spectacularly condemned for calling Expelled a success, but I'm not sure that they're entirely wrong. I just don't think that they took a hard enough look at some of the issues involved.

Let's start with the basic facts. Expelled hit theaters on Friday. It was aggressively marketed prior to release, and opened on 1,052 screens - the most ever for any documentary. On Sunday, estimates suggested that the movie would bring in well over $3 million for the weekend, but the actual figures were not quite that high. That's probably because (Randy Olsen's assertion notwithstanding) ticket sales fell off rapidly over the course of the weekend. (Expelled brought in $1.2 million on Friday, but only $990,000 on Saturday, making it the only movie in the top 50 in theaters this weekend to drop from Friday to Saturday. The slide continued on Sunday, when the movie brought in $775,000.)

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23 responses so far

Richard Sternberg, Casey Luskin, and Gross Dishonesty

Apr 17 2008 Published by under Anti-Evolutionism

Casey Luskin is currently in the middle of a multi-part "rebuttal" to Michael Shermer's review of Expelled. In the latest installment of his whine, Casey (again) brings up the case of Richard Sternberg. Sternberg, some of you might remember, orchestrated the publication of a pro-Intelligent Design paper near the end of his term as editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

As punishment for this heinous crime, Sternberg suffered the indignity of not getting fired from the unpaid editorship that he had quit months before the paper actually appeared. His punishment further included the cruel and unusual steps of not dismissing him from his unpaid position as a Smithsonian Research Associate, not declining to renew the unpaid position when the term expired, and not firing him from his paid job at NIH. The draconian nature of the consequences that he ultimately suffered - some of his colleagues said bad things about him - obviously makes him the ideal example of an open-thinking scientist railroaded by the Darwinian Inquisition.

I'm not going to deal with the vast majority of Casey's attempt to obfuscate the real events that surrounded the whole Sternberg affair. He raises absolutely no new points, and all of the points that he does raise have been rebutted before. Instead, I'm going to focus on two points in Luskin's post where he massively misrepresents things that other people wrote.

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81 responses so far

Bruce Chapman is losing it.

Apr 15 2008 Published by under Accidental

Bruce Chapman has an article up over at the Discovery Institute's Media Complaints blog that is really a must read. There are several statements in there that would qualify as absurd even by DI standards (like the one where he talks about someone being "outranked" by other scientists), but one in particular is so totally off the top that I'm having problems thinking of an anti-evolutionist statement that tops it. (If you can think of one, feel free to cite it in the comments.)

The following quote is taken directly from Chapman's article. I'm going to place it below the fold to give you a fair opportunity to stop eating or drinking before you read it.

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12 responses so far

"Soldiers", "Troops", and an Unreasoning American

The anticipation of reading is almost always wonderful, but the actual reading is often frustrating. You can spend hours enjoying the wonderful indecision of the bookstore before you walk away with the comforting weight of a new release hardcover in your hand. The book can sit on the coffee table for days, weeks, or months before you finally find the time to sit down with it. At some point, you finally find time some quiet evening to pick up the book, sit yourself down with a nice glass of the beverage of your choice, and open the cover. And by page six, you're wondering what on earth the author could possibly have been thinking.

That's what happened to me last night. I get home from work, get a glass of scotch, sit back, put my feet up, and pick up that book that I've been anticipating getting to for the last week. (I'm not going to tell you the title just yet, for reasons that will be clear shortly.) The introduction was good, but very shortly into the first chapter, I was treated to a display of the author's willingness to substitute her assumptions and prejudices for rational thinking and research. The topic of her little excursion from rationality involves the military, politicians, the media, and the use of language. Specifically, it involves the question of just how corruptive the use of the word "troops" can be:

It is difficult to determine exactly how, why, or when this locution began to enter the common language. Soldiers were almost never described as troops during the Second World War, except when a large military operation (like the Allied landing on D-Day) was being discussed, and the term remained extremely uncommon throughout the Vietnam era. My guess is that some dimwits in the military and the media (perhaps the military media) decided, at some point in the 1980s, that the word "soldier" implied the masculine gender and that all soldiers, out of respect for the growing presence of women in the military, must henceforth be called troops. Like the unremitting appeals to folks, the victory of troops over soldiers offers an impressive illustration of the relationship between fuzzy thinking and the debasement of everyday speech.

I can definitely see the involvement of fuzzy thinking here, and it's possible that a dimwit was involved. But I'm not looking in the same place as the author. She's looking at the military, the media, (perhaps the military media), and politicians. I'm looking at her.

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16 responses so far

Photo Quiz - Weather

Apr 03 2008 Published by under Climate/Weather

This one probably isn't the hardest quiz I've come up with, but give it a shot anyway. Here's the question: how is the specific airplane in this picture connected to atmospheric science research?

4-3Quiz

Let's try something new this week: email your answer to me at dunford@scienceblogs.com instead of posting it in the comments. I'll announce the names of everyone to get the right answer on Monday.

9 responses so far

Summary Judgment in California Creationist Case: Behe Shoots, Scores, We Get Point (Part 3 of 3)

Given that today really is April 1st, let me start by saying that although Behe is a fool, this post isn't a joke. Everything you're about to read is real. This is the third part of my post on the summary judgment decision in the California Creationist Case. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.

It would seem that Mike Behe has, once again, managed to shoot an own goal in the courtroom. The last time that he was an expert witness, during the Dover case, the judge quoted extensively from Behe's testimony, but not in a way that he particularly liked. Ultimately, it seems that he scored more points for his opponents than he did for his friends. He's also an expert witness in the California Creationism Case, and he seems to have once again managed to put the ball right through the wrong goal.

Behe's contribution to the pro-science side of the case appears on page 40 of the written order:

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182 responses so far

Summary Judgment in the California Creationist Case: The Lawyers for the Creationists Argue Like Creationists (Part 2 of 3)

(This is Part 2 of a three part post on Friday's summary judgment ruling in the ACSI v. Stearns creationism lawsuit. Part 1 is here; Part 3 will be up later today.)

If you read Judge Otero's ruling on the summary judgment motions in the California Creationist Case, you'll see that he discovered something that most of us already know: if you're looking for dubious argument tactics, you'll almost always find them when you're reading things written by professional creationists. In the case of the California lawsuit, the Christian schools are being represented by the law firm of Wendell Bird. Bird is no stranger to creationism battles - he served as the general counsel for the young-earth creationist Institute of Creation Research, threw a wrench into Arkansas' efforts to defend it's pro-creationsim policies in the McLean v. Arkansas case, and represented Louisiana's interest in promoting religion during the Edwards v. Aguillard case. After so much time spent working on behalf of creationist groups, it probably shouldn't be surprising that Judge Otero spotted many of the same argument tactics in the Christian schools' legal filings that we see when we look at the day to day output of anti-evolution groups such as the Discovery Institute.

There are some real gems scattered through the ruling. I'm just going to hit on a few of the high points.

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6 responses so far

Summary Judgment in California Creationist Lawsuit: Bottom Line, and What's Next (Part 1 of 3)

On Friday, Judge James Otero of the Central District of California issued a ruling granting the University of California's request for partial summary judgment in the California Creationist Lawsuit. I've written about this case several times before now, but it's been a long time since the last update, so before I get into the details of the ruling, I'm going to quickly review the details of the case.

In 2005, a group of plaintiffs that includes the Association of Christian Schools International, Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murietta, and the parents of several students filed a lawsuit against the University of California. In their suit, they claimed that UC unfairly and unconstitutionally refused to accept a number of courses taught at Christian schools as meeting UC's admissions criteria. The courses in question covered a range of topics, including English, history, religion, and government, but I've mostly focused my attention on the biology courses that failed to make the grade, because that's the area that I know the most about.

One of the specific issues that the Christian Schools are challenging in their lawsuit is UC's decision to reject any course that uses either the A Bekka Books or the Bob Jones University Press biology textbooks as the primary text for the course. As I've said before, this decision makes perfect sense to me. Even the most cursory look at some of the things that these books claim is enough to show that the unfortunate students who are forced to use this text are being taught things that are totally incompatible with science. The Christian schools, it should go without saying, disagree with my assessment.

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8 responses so far