Livin’ on the edge

There’s a great story in the Rake about the Dakotas—that place just a few miles west of where I’m sitting. This is an odd part of the world, where population is actually contracting and drifting away to leave our rural communities standing rather lonely and empty.

Quite obviously, North Dakota has a problem. Even as some of its cities grow and become more cosmopolitan and diverse, namely Fargo and Grand Forks, which huddle against the border of Minnesota, the rest of the state seems to be returning to nature. It’s a conundrum across the country, this decline in rural vitality, but the matter is especially dire in greater North Dakota, which threatens to empty out completely. Various survival plans have been floated. The more mundane involve tax breaks and other financial incentives for those willing to move to, say, the town of Tioga, in the northwestern quarter of the state. Other proposals are more unusual. One suggests turning the better part of the state into a federal grassland, where buffalo and prairie dogs could roam free. Another would make North Dakota a “four-seasons war games zone.” Proponents of that plan talk of the plethora of abandoned houses and barns and silos that the military could use for target practice. These are the people who refer to North Dakota, with very little irony, as “Dakistan.”

It’s not all bad news, though, and these old empty farmlands aren’t a dreadful place to live, as Tara attests. You have to like living at a slower, quieter pace, and you have to think it’s not such a terrible thing for human residents to move away and other beasties to move in.

You also have to be tolerant of interesting weather. Extremely cold temperatures (which we haven’t had much of this year), strong winds, occasional blizzards, tornadoes, the usual. And sometimes we get spectacular sundogs and weird phenomena I never heard of before, like this recent occurence of snow rollers. When the conditions are just right, high winds and temperatures right around freezing, Mother Nature rolls snowballs on the local fields.


(via MNSpeak, and the snow rollers story was from some lady named Mary Gjerness Myers)

More Koufax nominations!

I’ve got a couple of posts that have been nominated for The 2005 Koufax Awards: Best Post, so I’ve quickly brought them on board here at the new site. Voting isn’t yet open, but here they are:

  • Idiot America. This one is something of a howl of anguish, and it’s really more a lot of quotes from Charles Pierce’s article of the same name in Esquire. If this gets the nomination, credit should go more to Pierce than to me—and that’s OK.
  • Planet of the Hats. This article is probably the best representation for how I actually feel about religion. It’s all metaphor, but if you don’t get it, I won’t be surprised…it means you’re really, really, ummm, devout.
  • The proper reverence due those who have gone before. I have to say, if one of these three gets the nomination, this is the one I’d personally favor. But hey, you’re all supposed to vote for your favorite, and there are about 220 other great choices there, too. Anyway, if you want to understand why I despise creationists of all stripes, this article might help you understand why.

The proper reverence due those who have gone before


Some people might think I’m a rather morbid fellow. Years ago, when I was an undergraduate lackey at the University of Washington and working at the med school, there, I made a wonderful discovery one lunch hour: a bone room. Tucked away in an odd corner of the building was a room full of shelves stacked with cardboard boxes, each one containing the bones of some individual who’d left their remains to science. They’d been thoroughly cleaned and disarticulated, and many had parts sawed apart so you could peer into the sinuses or the hollow spaces for marrow or poke around in the caverns of the cranium. It became my favorite quiet, private place. I could putter about reassembling someone, or just contemplate some scrap of bone for a Yorick moment.

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Planet of the Hats


I know you will not believe me, but I swear it’s true: I’m not of this earth. I fled here years ago because my home planet was driving me crazy. Let me explain.

My home world is very much like this one. It’s populated by billions of bipedal primates, who are just like people here: sometimes foolish, sometimes wise, sometimes hateful, sometimes generous. They are grouped into cities and nations, and sometimes they have wars, and sometimes they cooperate. You really would have a hard time telling our two planets apart, except for one thing.

The hats.

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Idiot America


I love this article.

Ctenotrish sent along a copy of Greetings from Idiot America, by Charles P. Pierce (sorry, but it’s behind a firewall, and you have to pay $2.95 to see it) from the latest Esquire. I don’t think I’ve ever read this magazine before—it’s one of those things with half-naked young ladies draped over the cover, which, strangely enough, isn’t something that usually entices me to pick up a copy—but this one article has all the vigor and passion that most of our media have wrung out of their press, replacing it with tepid timidity and vacuous boosterism for whatever the polls say is most popular today. It begins with a description of a tour of Ken Ham’s new creation science museum in Kentucky, with its dinosaurs wearing saddles and its bland Adam, which we learn is naked but sculpted without a penis, and the train of well-fed Middle American boobs lining up with great earnestness to parade through the patently bogus exhibits.

What is Idiot America?

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Debbie Does Derangement

Oh. My. Nonexistent. God. Debbie Schlussel.

How does anyone take these “conservative commentators” seriously? She read a NYT article that shows a genetic link between Asians and Native Americans, and guess what that means? It was OK for Europeans to displace them from the Americas, because they were invaders, too!

So whom did THEY steal the land from? Somebody else, obviously. Yet, no “Dances With Wolves” and “Into the West” from Hollywood about that.

Well, not obviously: no humans lived here prior to their migrations. And yes, there certainly were territorial struggles between different native groups, but so what? That doesn’t change the fact of who was in possession of the land.

Poor Debbie. People point out the inanity of her position, and it prompts her to ever greater levels of hysteria. Take a look at the ALL CAPS rants she’s put into her comments, or the recent addendum to her post, which just digs the hole a lot deeper.

Yet, there is no proof they were the first here. And even if they were, this is yet more proof that they originated in ASIA. Hello? . . . This is yet more evidence that we did NOT steal THEIR land. It means it was not THEIRS to begin with.

I’ve got this house I own (at least, I’m paying the mortgage on it). I can imagine Debbie Schlussel showing up here, waving a birth certificate for my great, great grandfather from the little town of Westad, Sweden, claiming that this is proof I originated in SCANDINAVIA, and my house is not MINE to begin with. (And hey, “Schlussel”…that sounds GERMAN. What kind of American properties might you suspect she believes she owns?)

Look at the long list of employers who have apparently thought Debbie Schlussel was a competent, authoritative commentator. What a sad state of affairs that anyone takes her seriously. She’s a blithering nutcase.

(via The Sixth International)

ID floats a lead-lined trial balloon

We’re getting signs that the Discovery Institute is going to be shifting their strategy a little bit.

Thoughts from Kansas has an excellent discussion of the subject. Basically, they’re going to embrace more of the actual science, and focus their dispute on finer and finer points. What does this mean? Common descent is now in.

DaveScot on Bill Dembski’s blog (TfK has the link) has a bit of a rant on it—he’s going to kick out anyone who questions the idea of common descent, and goes on and on about how denying common ancestry is a religious idea that goes against all of the scientific evidence, and therefore must be purged if ID is to achieve any status as an actual scientific idea.

As Josh documents, though, they’ve got a long list of ID advocates on the record at the Kansas hearings denying common descent: Angus Menuge, Nancy Bryson, Ed Peltzer, Russell Carlson, Warren Nord, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, Bruce Simat, Charles Thaxton, and Stephen Meyer are all quoted as rejecting it to various degrees, and ironically, Dembski’s blog is titled “Uncommon Descent”. The commenters at that blog are also frantically tossing up quotes from their heroes, such as Dembski’s own “Intelligent design therefore throws common descent itself into question…”—obviously, common descent has been an obstacle to them in the past.

If you’re familiar with DaveScot, though, you’re probably thinking, “DaveScot is a deranged lunatic—he shouldn’t be regarded as a bellwether for the ID movement!” I agree, and given that so many notables in the movement have rejected common descent, he does seem to be an outlier.


Stephen Meyer has an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News today. This is the Stephen Meyer who claims to be one of the “architects of Intelligent Design”, Stephen Meyer the Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Stephen Meyer who, when asked whether he accepted the principle of common descent, said:

I won’t answer that question as a yes or no. I accept the idea of limited common descent. I am skeptical about universal common descent. I do not take it as a principle; it is a theory. And I think the evidence supporting the theory of universal common descent is weak.

Today, though, Meyer declares that ID has no complaint with common ancestry.

The theory does not challenge the idea of evolution defined as change over time, or even common ancestry, but it does dispute Darwin’s idea that the cause of biological change is wholly blind and undirected.

That does sound a little bit like we have a new party line emerging. They are going to accept all of the science except that they are going to insist that there is also an additional guiding force than selection. In order to do that, though, they’re also going to have to find some evidence for this mysterious force, and since they’re still calling it an intelligent directing force, they’re going to have to try harder to back up this specific claim, if they actually plan to carry through and focus on this one point.

Meyer’s op-ed, though, shows no sign of that. Instead, as usual, he falls back on the old argument from incredulity, making the same old analogies and comparing cells to cars and computer programs.

Over the last 25 years, biologists have discovered an exquisite world of nanotechnology within living cells – complex circuits, sliding clamps, energy-generating turbines and miniature machines. For example, bacterial cells are propelled by tiny rotary engines called flagellar motors that rotate at speeds up to 100,000 rpm. These engines look as if they were designed by the Mazda corporation, with many distinct mechanical parts (made of proteins) including rotors, stators, O-rings, bushings, U-joints and drive shafts.

He repeatedly claims that ID is based on scientific evidence, but fails to provide any—saying it “looks like” something designed is not evidence, especially when the basis for that appearance is nothing but overwrought and fallacious metaphors. Sorry, Stephen, you are confusing the computer-generated illustrations of the flagellum, which are all shiny smooth flat and curved surfaces with pseudocolor and ray-traced reflections, with the reality, which consists of coarse-grained polymers and stochastic chemical processes. Mazda may use CAD, but cells do not.

My bold prediction: this strategy can only further marginalize ID. The grassroots that support ID now are largely the same people who supported old-school creationism, who don’t like being told their ancestors were apes, and they’re going to be explicitly cut off by this policy. Bye-bye, base. At the same time, they aren’t going to acquire any new supporters among scientists: focusing on a narrower, more precise set of ideas is usually a good idea, but it will also focus attention on the dearth of evidence supporting it.

I suspect this is a poorly thought-out trial balloon that’s going to thud right into the ground. Expect further backtracking and denials soon.

“Soon” means within a day. The post by DaveScot has been “disappeared” already, and I expect he will be erased from all of the Official Party Photographs soon.

SOTU prognostications

Well, Kevin Drum’s prediction about the State of the Union address is a bit vague and general:

Bush’s theme may well be that he’s right and his critics are wrong; and his vision may well be of a year of partisan trench warfare with congressional Democrats.

But Chris Mooney gets specific:

A while back I blogged about an idea floated by Morton Kondracke: That George W. Bush should try to become the “science” president by emphasizing, in his State of the Union speech, themes of global scientific competitiveness and the need to ensure that the good old USA is leading the pack. Well, it now seems official: According to the Boston Globe, in his speech tonight Bush plans to highlight Norman Augustine, a former Lockheed Martin CEO who “last year led a congressionally mandated National Academies team that issued a report warning that America is ‘on a losing path’ in the global marketplace.” Why are we falling behind? If you believe the NAS, it’s because of inadequate scientific and mathematical training for our high school students, not enough funding of basic scientific research, etc etc.

I won’t be watching it—I have a Cafe Scientifique to attend tonight, and if I want to watch an evil buffoon on TV, I have some Blackadder DVDs—but if Bush tries to claim he’s going to be the Science President, I’m going to laugh and remind everyone that Bush endorses Intelligent Design creationism. I’m also going to remember that he called himself the Education President, and what we got from that was an unfunded demand that everyone teach to the test.