They must be ex-ideas

Allen MacNeill makes an interesting observation: those little eruptions of ID creationism on college campuses, the Idea Centers, all seem to be moribund, and he pronounces the college ID movement dead.

I quite agree. I think Intelligent Design as a whole is a zombie philosophy at this point — it’s dead, its brain is rotting, and it has no glamor or appeal to most people anymore. It’s still shuffling about, and it will continue to get mentioned now and then as people struggle to find some pretense of a non-religious motive for creationism, but really, we’re all just waiting for someone with a metaphorical shotgun to put it down with a metaphorical blast to its metaphorical head.

This is not to say that creationism is dead. It’s still thriving on college campuses. Look at all the openly religious campus organizations, like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and various other faith organizations, and you’ll still find anti-evolution high on their agendas. The ID movement, though, is just a reeking nuisance.

I’m up for an award!

Andrew Sullivan is taking votes for his Moore Award — and I’m on it. This is his prize for “divisive, bitter and intemperate left-wing rhetoric”, named after Michael Moore.

He clearly intends it to be disparaging, but I find it to be a curiously misapplied award. First, it’s named for Michael Moore, who really isn’t that awful — he’s usually right, for one thing. For another, his counterpoint on the right is the Malkin Award, and I’m afraid that if he thinks a deranged harpy on the right is equivalent to a controversial but clearly progressive film maker on the left, his scales are a bit unbalanced.

Second, I’m in competition with Gore Vidal? I am not worthy.

Third, and perhaps similarly, the list of nominees is a real hodge-podge, and hard to take seriously. The only qualifications seem to be that they said something that pissed off conservative Andrew Sullivan, and that they’re nominally lumped together in the fuzzy blur of “The Left”.

Fear us

At last, biologists get some respect from xkcd…and it features cephalopods. Seriously, no other branch of science has anything as wicked cool as the diversity of life to play with.

By the way, the artist reveals his physics bias when he has the cuttlefish crudely zapping their targets with boring old electricity. A much more subtle and powerful strategy would be to use them as vectors for a modified strain of Vibrio that would infect the brains of their victims, causing them to both glow in the dark and have an irresistible desire to close out their bank accounts and mail the contents to me…but no, I have said too much. He almost got me monologuing there.

If you always wanted to be a super-hero…

Rolling Stone has one weird story: The Legend of Master Legend. It’s about people who think they are superheroes, right down to donning costumes and calling their run-down suburban ranch house a secret lair. These people are deluded, all right, but they seem mostly harmless, and the story is written in a tone that doesn’t mock them.

One surprising piece of information is that there are enough of these people around that there are actually hero supply houses for them. One is called Hero Gear, which will make your costume for you (no mass-produced items here, since every super-hero is unique), and ProfessorWidget, who will make all your special gadgets for you.

I get email

The outraged email from creationist fans of Ken Ham and the Creation “Museum” continues apace. Most of it is forgettable and repetitive — I’m usually accused of being against free speech, as if I had somehow barred the doors of that temple of foolishness in Kentucky, or had personally gagged Ken Ham — but this one stands out for it’s opening insult. I am deeply offended. But then I read further, and it seems this poor man is simply incoherent and deeply confused, instead.

Mr. Myers,

I understand that you are creationist – that loves God and real authentic science….right!

Since you so love to spend your time tearing others down (like a coward – that can’t handle an open and honest discussion) – so you can exult yourself as God. I am sure God has a special plan in store for you. You can’t ignore the truth Mr. Myers & most people are not fooling enough to take your DOGMA as “gospel”. You are following right after the Devil himself. I can’t believe that you are so AFRAID to allow others to hear an open and honest debate.

Your type of thinking is exactly the stuff that Adolf Hitler is made of. I hope that end up in better place than him – because he is going to be burning in Hell forever, and ever, and ever.

BTW — Don’t be surprised if you have a lot of challenges ahead of you. You are messing with the Lord God Almighty.

Kind Regards,

<Name deleted to protect the ignorant>

They crack me up every time when they accuse me of being just like Hitler, and then close with some cliched farewell, like “Kind Regards”.

Prospects for science policy

We’re learning more about what Obama is actually going to do in office, and while there are some negatives, right now the positives outweigh them.

Let’s get the bad decisions out of the way first.

Rick Warren, professional homophobe, bigot, and smirking airhead, will be prominently promoted in the invocation at the inauguration. This is a symbolic slap to the face of rationalists and GLBT citizens of our country, and is not a good sign.

The man who will be the Interior Secretary, a position which should be concerned about conservation of the country’s natural resources and which has been typically filled with vultures and exploiters from industry by Republican presidents, is going to be more of the same: Ken Salazar, who will almost certainly promote mining and ranching interests.

Both of those are real disgraces, and it’s not as if Obama was boxed in or lacking alternatives. They’re also incomprehensible. Warren is a sneaky little creep who already got more respect than he deserves by hosting one of the presidential debates, and he’s also a guy who is anti-Democratic policies — you know he did not vote for Obama. So why throw him another bone? Salazar just sounds like a lazy choice, somebody who was picked to appease industry…but he’s not a steward of the environment.

The bads are awful, but I’ve got to say that his good decisions are very, very good.

The director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will be John Holdren of Harvard University, a professor of environmental policy who takes a hard line on global climate change — he was an advisor to Al Gore on the movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

Jane Lubchenko is a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University. She’ll be in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, another key appointment in climate change policy.

Co-chairs of the Council of Advisers on Science and Technology will be Harold Varmus, who won a Nobel for his work on viral oncogenes, and Eric Lander, a very big name in genomics research.

Another Nobel laureate, Steven Chu, will be the Secretary of Energy. Chu has also been outspoken about climate change and is a strong promoter of alternative energy sources.

If these good people are actually listened to by the president, expect to see major improvements in energy policy and biology research, and some serious attention paid to carbon. This is, overall, a net plus for science and a real strike against anti-science in the White House, a huge change from the last 8 years. Salazar is troubling, some people are concerned that NASA will suffer, and sucking up to the odious Rick Warren still makes me wonder what atavistic social policies might be nestled in Obama’s mind, but there is some hope on the horizon, at least. Now if only he could do even better.


It was not an auspicious start to the day. Before we could even leave for my son’s commencement at UW Madison, we had to clear the 6″-8″ of snow that had fallen overnight from our driveway. Then we had to flounder through unplowed roads to the highway. Then we discovered near-blizzard conditions of blowing snow on the road, but we persevered. We told ourselves that it would get better the farther east we went — Minneapolis always has wimpier weather than we do.

Then we got to the freeway…and it got worse. The roads were icy and slick, everyone was limping along at half the speed limit (except the idiot drivers of 18-wheelers, who were howling along at over 70mph in the left lane, stirring up billowing clouds of snow as they passed that would blind us all with a temporary white-out), and scattered all along the road were cars that had spun out and ended up in a ditch. We were held up by multiple car crashes. The final straw was when we pulled over to ask at a gas station about conditions further east, and were told a tale of apocalyptic catastrophe further on, with the freeway in both directions snarled with flipped and smashed cars.

We gave up, and came home. It was just too dangerous.

Now we are Disappointed Monkeys — we have to miss our son’s graduation. It also means he is stuck in dreary, uninteresting, barren Madison for Christmas, since we planned on bringing him back with us.

At least the university will be streaming the 2008 Winter Commencement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so we can watch it, but it’s not the same. If any of you happen to be going to the commencement for your own kids (or perhaps because you’re graduating, too), could you listen for the name Connlann Myers and give a little whoop and holler for us? We’d like to have been there, but we thought that orphanhood would be a really lousy graduation gift.