Magic for professors

The Little Professor has A Compendium of Professorial Magic that looks useful—I’m going to have to master these.

The list, though, is of low level spells. I think I really need an “Enchant Knowledge” area-effect spell that infuses all of the targets with mastery of the subject matter. It’s probably a ninth-level spell, I’m afraid, and I’m going to have to get more experience before I can handle it. (Knocking over creationists is probably analogous to fending off a kobold raid—tedious hack-and-slash that garners darned little experience, and they don’t even have any loot worth harvesting.)

Jane Fonda as the voice of the conscience they wish they had

Since I mentioned my fondness for Jane Fonda the other day, I think I have to respond to this insane wingnut rant I found via Atrios:

Seeing Jane Fonda Saturday was enough to make me wish the unthinkable: it will take another terror attack on American soil in order to render these left-leaning crazies irrelevant again. Remember how quiet they were after 9/11? No one dared take them seriously. It was the United States against the terrorist world, just like it should be.

It’s time to stand tall, speak loudly and defend America against these enemies like Hanoi Jane.

She’s back. Are we going to let her get away with it….again????

Atrios rightly points out that this so-called patriot is hoping for another terrorist attack so he can have an excuse to silence the left, but I also have to point out that Jane Fonda was exactly correct on the Vietnam War; we should not have been there, we shouldn’t have thrown away tens of thousands of American lives in that futile, destructive effort. Our wingnut friend is doubly wrong in both hoping for more terror and in rejecting the valid anti-war message of the left.

I’ll also mention that one of my colleagues at UMM has linked to some wonderful photos of a memorial to the Iraq war dead at my alma mater, the University of Oregon. I suspect the hysteria of the right is due to the galling tendency of the left to constantly point out how terribly, tragically wrong the jingo-chanting war mongers have been. Why is Mike Gallagher “driven to the bathroom, becoming violently ill, over something [Jane Fonda] said”? It’s not because of what Fonda has said, but because of the horrors he has supported.

No more microcephalics

Zimmer describes some of the more recent work on Flores Man — people are still arguing over whether the fossil is of a peculiarly abnormal human with microcephaly, or whether there was a species of ‘miniaturized’ Homo living on the islands of the Pacific. Trying to establish common characteristics of microcephalics is an interesting project, but it doesn’t answer the question. We need more fossils! Among the good news Carl mentions is the report that more excavations will be underway this year.

Monkey Girl

Oh, but I am dragging this morning. Have you ever done that thing where you start reading a book and you don’t want to put it down, and eventually you realize it’s late and you need to get some sleep, so you go to bed but you can’t sleep anyway so you get up and finish the whole book? And then you get a couple hours of sleep before you have to get up again? And your whole day is like trudging through molasses afterwards? That’s me.

The book is Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Edward Humes, and from the title I think you can guess why I’d find it engrossing. But it’s more than just a copacetic subject, though: this book reads like a novel. Even though I knew how it would turn out, I had to keep going.

It begins with a few science teachers in Dover, Pennsylvania trying to get the school board to approve the purchase of new textbooks and ends with the community trying to resolve the aftermath of Judge Jones’ decision—it’s a retelling of the key events in the Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al. court case, with a few brief digressions to visit places like Kansas. Seriously, it reads like a courtroom thriller, with a ‘crime’ at the beginning, the gradual build-up as events spiral out of everyone’s control, culminating in a courtroom drama complete with revelatory rhetoric, Perry Mason-like traps set in the cross-examination, and last-minute discoveries of crucial pieces of information…and then, finally, a resoundingly unambiguous resolution, a complete victory for the good guys. This could be a movie.

The story has ‘villains’, too, but they aren’t quite as black and evil as you’d expect in a work of fiction—writing an accurate account of a historical event, as Humes has done, usually doesn’t give you much choice in your bad guys. They’re all human and trying to do what they think is honestly right. Unfortunately for them, the overriding message is that the trouble-makers here, the various bad actors in this drama, may be piously sincere, but they’re also astoundingly ignorant. Buckingham, Bonsell, Geesey, Dembski, and most of all, Behe emerge as grossly uninformed clowns who stroll out onto the stage of the courtroom to do the most entertaining pratfalls. The book ought to be mandatory reading for schoolboards across the nation, as a cautionary tale: the bottom line is that the Dover school board members who launched their district on this expensive, damaging journey were completely unqualified to have any say at all in science education, and worse, were completely incurious about trying to find out anything about this theory of evolution they were critizing, or most damaging of all, even about this Intelligent Design idea they were trying to peddle. Like the stories in most crime dramas, what eventually trips up the bad guys is their stupid mistakes, and the clever sleuthing of the heroes.

Oh, yes, there are heroes: the most obvious are Barbara Forrest, who gave meticulous testimony that demolished the creationist case; Nick Matzke, the eager young rascal who dug up the most damning pieces of evidence; and Eric Rothschild, who eviscerated the witnesses for the creationists, exposing their dishonesty and foolishness on the stand. There is a huge amount of sympathy for the people of Dover, in particular the teachers and parents who were watching this farce consume their hometown in a feast of mockery and laughter and waste.

We also meet lots of other characters. The prologue opens with the Reverend Jim Grove, Burt Humburg and Kent Hovind pop up near the end, Irigonegaray and Calvert square off, and Bill O’Reilly and George W. Bush speak up. The blogs even make an appearance; Red State Rabble does a cameo, as does the Panda’s Thumb, and I even appear as a fierce and furious “one-man wrecking crew” offstage. (That was a bit discombobulating. Imagine reading fixedly through a John Grisham novel at 1am and unexpectedly encountering your name in an aside. Really, it broke my attention for a moment and gave me a weirdly meta sensation. You probably won’t have that problem.)

I knew there was a first-rate dramatic story in the Dover trial, and Edward Humes has written it. Now I’m just waiting for the movie.

I’ve been telling you this for how many years?

You really must take a look at this video clip from an HBO special on American Christianity and specifically creationism.

I just got finished watching Alexandra Pelosi’s Friends of God documentary on HBO and was taken aback at what has become an increasing trend among American christianists. This particular part on evangelicals and evolution (and what they teach their children about the science of evolution) was very disturbing. The "secular progressive" War on Christmas has nothing on the evangelical War on Science.

It’s distressing stuff — especially the scenes with the poor kids being brainwashed by that despicable liar, Ken Ham — but seriously, it’s going on everywhere and has been for years. I just gave you a list of creaitionist activities going on here in the progressive, liberal state of Minnesota, and I can tell you that those people will sound exactly like the kooks in the video clip; don’t think creationism is only the domain of backwoods hicks in the South.

Have you looked in your backyard lately? I guarantee you that there is a church near you where Ken Ham and Kent Hovind and Duane Gish are quoted reverently.

The saddest part: there’s a kid in the video who says he wants to grow up to be a biochemist and work for the institute of creation science and win a Nobel. Nope. Never going to happen. He needs to take a long hard look at the status of the gomers who are telling him the Behemoth of the Bible is a dinosaur—they’re lying to him.

The Beagle Project

Here’s a sweet idea: rebuild Darwin’s ship, the Beagle in time for the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth in 2009 (and also the 150 year mark for publication of the Origin).

2009 is the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth, an event which will be celebrated throughout the world. The Beagle Project will rebuild a working replica of HMS Beagle in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, Wales. It will provide the striking icon of Darwin’s achievement around which the celebrations will coalesce, and which is already attracting the attention of TV and film companies on both sides of the Atlantic.

The replica Beagle will recreate the 1831-36 circumnavigation with international crews of aspiring young scientists aboard, following the same course and making similar landfalls to those made by HMS Beagle when Darwin was aboard. The crew will take part in modern sampling, observation and experiments in a range of disciplines: biology, geology, oceanography, physics and meteorology. Their work will be followed in labs and classrooms worldwide through an interactive website. They will also compare the climate and wildlife observations made by Darwin and the crew of the Beagle in the 1830s with conditions today.

They’ve got plans, they’re looking for support, and of course they have a blog.