Bob Beckel is an embarrassment to Democrats and humanity

Beckel has always been a hack; I’ve known him as Cal Thomas’s partner in a series of tag-team columns in which he always ends up conceding. And now he’s a Fox News Democrat, with all that implies.

But this is just beyond the pale. Watch Beckel and his Fox News colleagues call for the blood of Julian Assange. It’s disgusting and uncivilized.

"A dead man can’t leak stuff," Beckel said. "This guy’s a traitor, he’s treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States. And I’m not for the death penalty, so…there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch."

Why isn’t he for the death penalty? He’s for simply shooting the guy outside the rule of law!

I think there’s a reason I never watch Fox News.

Desert Ironwood

About a year ago I was exploring the desert east of Joshua Tree National Park, looking for a good spot to hold a desert camping meetup for readers of Coyote Crossing, and I stopped at a little open spot not far from a mature desert ironwood tree.

It had rained a week or so beforehand, catastrophically so in some places. The storm series that came through closed major roads through the park for some months afterward. Where I stopped there was about a ten-foot earthen flood-control berm put in place to protect the (LA) Metropolitan Water District’s buried aqueduct from storm damage, and a flash flood had taken a slice out of that ten-foot berm that was as straight-sided as if it was a cake recently attacked by a knife.

The ground had recently been very wet, in other words. And when the desert soil gets wet in the late summer, interesting things happen. Winter rains are more predictable, and after a wet winter you can predictably get a pretty damn nice bloom across the desert; yellow primroses and pink desert verbena and white ghost flower covering entire bajadas that are usually shades of brown desert varnish.

But summer rains are sporadic, unpredictable, and usually very localized. A given valley in the desert might go fifty years without a good summer rain. When that valley does get a summer rain, annual plants that have been waiting in the soil seed bank for decades can come up within a few days, flower within a couple weeks, set seed and disperse that seed and die back within a month and a half. My desert botanist friends watch the weather carefully in summer, ready to plan trips out into the backcountry with the plant presses within two weeks of the drop of a hat.

The North American deserts are essentially terra incognita for botanists. There are a few things that are quite well known, because they grow and bloom during the more comfortable parts of the year within a few miles of pavement. And then there are the valleys that are a difficult day’s hike from the hearest two-rut 4WD road, and we generally don’t know what blooms there when it’s 115°F during the day because botanists are not that much more insane than the rest of us. That’s true of herpetologists and entomologists as well, and so we don’t really know some of the smaller fauna of the remote parts all that thoroughly either.

Jim André of the Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center in the Mojave Preserve tells me that if you look out at a typical Mojave Desert landscape, 10% or more of the species in your field of view aren’t known to science. He says that just about every time he goes out in the field he finds either a species or subspecies not formerly known to lie in that area, or even new to science. I’ve been in places relatively easy to get to, the California Black Hills for example, and noted plants that had not been recorded by any botanist whose records are available to the Calflora database: this tiny little cactus being one inconspicuous example:

Echinocactus polycephalus with Size XL Scala hat

But you find totally expected things too, like for instance on that day on which I was scouting out possible meetup campsites. A week or so after a drenching rain, in an area in which a mature ironwood tree had been dropping its leguminous seeds for some centuries, it wasn’t at all surprising to find that a couple had sprouted.

Olneya tesota seedlings

I don’t know how long the seeds had lain there before sprouting. Unlike a lot of other hard-coated desert tree seeds, ironwoods will sprout without scarification — without scratching the seed coats to let moisture in. They might have been there for six months or a century, waiting.

Ironwoods are likely my second favorite desert tree, possibly third if you count saguaros as trees. They fix nitrogen, always in short supply in the desert. They grow slowly, When they die, the wood they leave behind is — in the words of Phillips and Comus’ A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert,“rich in toxic chemicals and essentially non-biodegradable.” It’s supposed to be the second densest wood known after lignum vitae, and it’s a gorgeous chocolate color when carved and polished, which trait southwestern gift shops use to their full advantage. (The Seri Indians pioneered the art of ironwood carving using fallen wood, but the art proved so popular that others appropriated it and started cutting live trees to meet demand.)

It was a little hard to imagine that these tiny seedlings, first true leaves just starting to peek out from between the waxy cotyledons, might within a few months become some of the toughest, most enduring organisms the desert knows.

It’s been a year: I’ll have to go back and check on them.

If you ever wanted a perfect example of why government should be secular…

…just examine the logic and evidence behind this judge’s decision to deny a transgender woman to have a name change.

“A so-called sex-change surgery can make one appear to be the opposite sex, but in fact they are nothing more than an imitation of the opposite sex,” the judge wrote in a seven-page order last year.

“Here, petitioner has not even had the surgery by which his sex purports to be changed. Thus, based on the foregoing and the DNA evidence, a sex change cannot make a man a woman or a woman a man all of which, the Court finds is sufficient in and of itself to deny petitioner’s request for a name change,” Graves wrote.

“To grant a name change in this case would be to assist that which is fraudulent,” Graves wrote. “It is notable that Genesis 1:27-28 states: ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth …’ The DNA code shows God meant for them to stay male and female.”

That is a scientifically and ethically bankrupt position, driven entirely by a fundamentalist interpretation of Biblical dogma. We do not determine gender by chromosome counts; what is this judge going to do to determine the Official Sex of individuals with androgen insensitivity syndrome (XY chromosomes, but physically female)? And how can he make the leap from the book of Genesis to the “DNA code”? The Bible verse he cites says absolutely nothing about the genetic basis of sex, or whether it is fixed and inflexible in any individual.

The Bible is silent on this subject. The science tells us that gender is far more fluid than Judge Black&White thinks it is. Yet that ignoramus is trying to use both to justify a cruel and stupid decision.

Maybe the problem isn’t so much religious people as it is idiots in our judiciary, who think the nonsense their preacher thunders at them from the pulpit is actually information of worth in making a reasonable decision.

Can I add “Published Authority on the Female Orgasm” to my CV now?

Our rebuttal to claims about the adaptive significance of the female orgasm has been published, as Zietsch & Santtila's study is not evidence against the by-product theory of female orgasm. I blogged about this a while back, and also dealt with some counter-arguments, and Elisabeth Lloyd thought my arguments were strong enough to be incorporated into a letter, so there you go…now I just need a badge or a t-shirt with a proclamation about my expertise on it.

Wallen K, Myers PZ, Lloyd EA (2012) Zietsch & Santtila’s study is not evidence against the by-product theory of female orgasm. Animal Behaviour

Kent Hovind writes

I staggered out of bed this morning, feeling much better — my guts are making some very peculiar noises and I have no appetite, but otherwise I’m getting by — and what do I find at the top of my inbox but a letter from Kent Hovind via some guy claiming to be his proxy. I’ve been challenged to a debate!

PZ Myers,

Recently, while researching items for Dr. Kent Hovind, I happened to stumble across your many mean-spirited attacks against him. I read on as you and your minions showed yourselves to be as the apes you claim to descend from (probably your best evidence for evolution). Since you, and most of your ape-like readers, have no point of reference for justifying morality within yourselves, you should be notified that your behavior is downright shameful.

Anyway, I have been informed by Kent Hovind personally that he is ready at any time to consider your best evidence for evolution (in writing). Further, since you have zero capacity to understand even the smallest of spiritual concepts, he is ready to also present empirical evidence in rebuttal to support his position.

While you excel at insult and insensitivity, we wonder how much actual empirical evidence feeds this pompous attitude of yours. For years evolutionists have desired to get Kent Hovind into an “email debate” and he always refused, preferring rather to meet face to face.

However, as you so joyously gloat, that is not currently possible, so you are now being given that opportunity. Kent is officially challenging you to an email debate (**white gloves smacking your face**) under the condition that only one topic at a time be discussed and that it begin with your most empirical, straightforward, undeniable evidence for evolution.

I will number the paragraphs for ease of reference and will post the debate online. I will forward said evidence verbatim to him and then I will return his rebuttal verbatim back to you. I will, that is, should you actually accept the challenge.

This challenge is posted online at

Jonn Mooney for Kent Hovind

Kent Hovind can’t write to me directly, of course, because he’s in prison and won’t be getting out until August 2015.

And no, I’m not interested in a ‘debate’ with Hovind. I’ve been following his poisonous trail for years, and one thing I’m absolutely certain of is that he knows absolutely nothing about evolution, so there would be nothing to argue about. Ignorance is not a credible side in a debate.

But I have a counteroffer, since I do have some sympathy for a guy who’s probably going stir-crazy right now (and started out in the position of the proverbial shithouse rat). Kent Hovind has lots of time to read right now. He can put down his Bible now and then and instead read some basic evolutionary biology, and then when he gets out in three years I’d be willing to have a conversation about it. Not about the Bible, but about a decent, informative text on evolution.

I recommend Why Evolution is True, by Jerry Coyne. It covers a wide range of the evidence for evolution, and would give us lots to talk about.

If Mr Mooney would send me Hovind’s prison address, I’d even be willing to buy and ship a copy to him. It would give him something useful to do to pass the time, too.

Why I am an atheist – j.

My story begins at a very young age.  In my earliest memories my family, and in particular my father, were very religious.  I was initially raised in the Lutheran church. It seems now that the Lutheran church we attended was really quite vanilla and innocuous. However, when I was 12 the church’s new youth minister had an idea: Christian Youth Camp. Mom and Dad ponied up the nominal fee and I was sent to a christian bible camp for two weeks in the summer. All my friends went. Heck, we jumped at the opportunity. It was a chance to get out of town and be preteens away from our parents and bond as budding adults.. It was something different for kids my age stuck in a small industrial town of northern Iowa in the stagnant early 70’s . Every kid that went to Trinity Lutheran Church looked forward to this excursion. For two weeks we were sent to a rural setting that for the most part, looking back, resembled a military boot camp. Cabins, mess hall, summertime activities, a canteen (yes, they called it that) and “counselors” for each cabin of 6 attendees. Every morning there was a revelry, breakfast, bible study and then you were left to your own devices (supervised of course) until lunch. Then more bible study and then you were again left to entertain yourself with canoeing, swimming, volleyball etc. etc until dinner, followed by another hour of bible study and then were freed to explore the woods, go to the canteen for a snack,  or nap if you cared to. At nightfall , however, the nefariousness began. We would all be called to a large hill next to an A-frame chapel. A massive bonfire would be constructed and the proselytizing would intensify. Now it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what was going on here was a well orchestrated manipulation of young minds. The glowing fire, the singing, mass recital of prayer…… preteen and teen boys and girls, hormones…… very powerful stuff. Not to violate Godwin’s Law, but it was very much a nightly authoritarian rally. Flags flying, drums beating anon anon.  Being a child, it took…….. for about two weeks. Then it was back to being a preteen and summer baseball, eating apples from the neighborhood trees and generally coming home only when I was too tired to do anything else. Very, very bucolic.

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