Lookin’ lovely, ladies

Your ornamental function must be your important asset — never mind those degrees and skills and various non-superficial attributes. I can imagine how Sheril must feel, but have never experienced it myself. Strangely, I’ve never met a distinguished stranger and had them compliment my looks or ask after my marriage status.

It’s the Western complement to the burka: women aren’t hidden away overtly, but instead every one is seen as if they’re wearing a beauty queen/cheerleader costume.

I was feeling pretty good about being at the top of the list, until I looked down

Who’s going to the American Humanist meeting in June? I know I am — I’m getting an award, and I felt quite cocky about it. Then I saw all the other people being recognized, and I’m suddenly having one of those “I am not worthy” moments. Yikes. At least it guarantees that we’ll have a really good meeting.

And if that isn’t enough to convince you to show up, I think I’ve talked my wife into going, too. And Skatje is going to be in town.

More Catholic inanity

The pope’s ridicuolus and wrong stance on condoms has led to world-wide outrage, and the Vatican is going to be sent millions of condoms in response. I have an even better idea: if you’re Catholic, leave the church. Why you are following an ignorant, superstitious kook as a moral authority is mystifying to me.

In another weird story of the Catholic persecution complex, look what a Brazilian archbishop has to say:

“The Jews talk about six million people killed. But how many Catholics were victims of the Holocaust? They were 22 million in all,” Archbishop Dadeus Grings, from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, told advertising magazine Press & Advertising.

Hmm. About 3 million Catholics were killed by the Nazi regime in camps…but it wasn’t for being Catholic. It was for being Polish. I don’t know where this mysterious “22 million” number comes from — there were 42 million total civilian casualties in World War II. Is he trying to include every single dead Catholic as a direct victim of the Holocaust? Since by far the largest fraction of the casualties in that war were borne by the Soviet Union, shouldn’t we then be complaining that atheists were the true martyrs? (Not that I would, I think the reasoning of this archbishop is specious.)

Texas BOE roundup

How did Texas screw up public education? It’s complicated. The rational members of the board managed to exclude the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ language, which would have invited an immediate assault by the ignorant on a well-established scientific principle, but at the same time the ignorant members of the school board managed to hammer in several amendments:

analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations in all fields of science by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.

Analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life.

analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell

Superficially, those sound fine — of course we want students to analyze the scientific evidence! The problem is that the creationists are going to come back with a novel definition of ‘scientific’ evidence that treats Intelligent Design as a scientific hypothesis, and they’re going to demand textbooks that include a treatment of all kinds of nonsensical ‘theories’. ID is not scientific. It has no evidence in its favor (pointing out that we lack intermediate fossils showing the evolution of the lesser red-necked Argentinian swamp leech is not evidence that it was designed). But the Discovery Institute does have another bad textbook waiting in the wings for the next round of textbook-buying decisions in Texas.

There are other obvious problems with those additions. High school students are expect to study all sides of scientific evidence? Really? I’ve been in the high schools. Texas students must be truly brilliant if they can master the whole of the scientific literature in a semester-long grade school level introductory course to biology.

Texas students are going to study abiogenesis? Really? How much organic chemistry and biochemistry do they have under their belts before they begin this class? Perhaps this is just an opportunity to use the students’ ignorance of the basics to insert their own ridiculous (and ignorant) claims into the instruction.

Oh, and “complexity of the cell” is a common creationist phrase. Yes, the cell is complex. The response they expect from us is awe and incomprehending acceptance of their claim that it is too complex to have evolved, and must have been designed. Sorry, guys, design is better at producing simplicity, while evolution tends to produce complexity. Evolution already explains how you can get complexity. But they won’t tell the students that.

One further irony: the Houston Chronicle blandly reports that “Scientists from throughout Texas helped shape the new science curriculum standards.” What they don’t bother to mention is that these insertions into the standards were generated in opposition to the input of scientists, in defiance of what the scientific position would propose.

Richard Dawkins’ awesome computer skills baffle Information Theorists of intelligent design

It’s terribly unfair. Not only are the paladins of evolution handsomer, wittier, more charming, and with a deeper grasp of the truth than the orc-like hordes of creationism, but even our ancillary skills are wielded with more effortless panache than our opponents’ primary talents. Here’s a beautiful example: Richard Dawkins, a mere biologist, wrote a clear, simple program in BASIC about thirty years ago that has had the Isaac Newton of Information Theory scratching his head in puzzlement. How did a program running a simple selection algorithm turn a random text string into the specific string “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL” so quickly? He must have cheated! There must be some trick in the code! The poor bewildered ‘experts’ of Design Theory struggled to comprehend, and floundered trying to create a program of equal complexity.

As Ian Musgrave shows, the program is trivial, and even us biologists can whip one out in minutes. Once again, the ID camp shows themselves to be less a research group than a gaggle of stumblebum clowns, with the capacity to embarrass themselves with their own incompetence.

Evolution Bill Quietly Filed In State Senate

Texas is getting all this attention — they’ve got Don McLeroy! Reviews of curricula with creationists chipping away at them word by word! Insanity reigns, and everyone just acts as if it were standard operating procedure!

I think Florida was feeling neglected, so that state slipped in another creationist education bill. It’s like this is a competition for craziest, most ignorant state in the union.

It’s a good try, Florida, and you’ll always have a place in my heart as the home of so many wackaloons, but you’ve got a long ways to go to beat Crazy Ol’ Uncle Don. Don’t feel like you’ve got to try harder, though. You’ve got better things to which to aspire. Why, I’ll always remember sitting down at that beach in Miami when the lovely young brown-skinned lady stood up in front of me, unselfconsciously took her bikini off, and started oiling herself up all over…that’s the most Florida I want you to be, OK?

A little ol’ Texas Poll

Texans need some wise advice. KTBX asks, How do you think science should be taught in Texas schools?.

Evolution only – 34.50%
Creationism only – 16.83%

Combination of both – 48.67%
Total Responses – 600

Those numbers don’t look quite right to me. I’m about to get on a plane and fly to Minneapolis…is there any chance there will be a significant shift by the time I land?

Texas confuses me

I was premature in mentioning the good news from the Texas hearings: the situation is much messier than I thought. The ‘strengths and weaknesses’ amendment lost on points, but the creationists responded with a flurry of new amendments to various pieces of the science standards — most of them look like very nit-picky changes in wording that have deep meaning to creationists, I assume. Science wasn’t murdered by the Texas board, but is only being wounded and made to suffer the torture of a thousand cuts.

The Texas Freedom Network has released a summary statement.

The word “weaknesses” no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms.

Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks.

We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but don’t agree that compromises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy.

What’s truly unfortunate is that we now have to revisit this entire debate in two years when new science textbooks are adopted. Perhaps the Texas legislature can do something to prevent that.

I am no longer confused, just unhappy.