Cancel those Florida vacation plans!

Weep for poor persecuted Kent Hovind. They’ve shut down Dinosaur Adventure Land.

County commissioners showed no sympathy to members of the Creation Science Evangelism ministry who spoke out Thursday night at a commission meeting about the county’s actions.

“Scripture also says ‘Render unto Caesar what Caesar demands.’ And right now, Caesar demands a building permit,” County Commission Chairman Mike Whitehead said.

On the other hand, these guys are criminal con-artists and scum, so hold back those tears.

Legal questions are nothing new for Dinosaur Adventure Land and the leaders of the church group that operates it:

  • In 2004, The Internal Revenue Service raided Hovind’s home and businesses. Agents said Hovind had failed to pay taxes. That case is pending, and federal attorneys declined to comment about it.
  • While the building permit case was in court, the ownership of the theme park was transferred to Stoll, who resides in Washington State, according to court papers. Stoll has been investigated at least twice by federal authorities, court records show.

Last year, the U.S. attorney in Seattle filed a lawsuit against Stoll, charging him with promoting a scheme encouraging people to avoid paying taxes by claiming to be religious entities, according to news reports.

A federal judge ruled against Stoll, ordering him to stop the practices. Stoll said Thursday that he doesn’t recognize the ruling because he was never properly served with court papers.

(via God is for Suckers)

Stromatoveris

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The Cambrian vendobiont S. psygmoglena, gen.sp.nov., composite photo of part and counterpart to show both upper and lower surfaces.

From the pre-Cambrian and early Cambrian, we have a collection of enigmatic fossils: the small shellies appear to be bits and pieces of partially shelled animals; there are trace fossils, the tracks of small, soft-bodied wormlike animals; and there are the very peculiar Edicaran vendobionts, which look like fronds and fans and pleated or quilted sheets. In the Cambrian, of course, we find somewhat more familiar creatures—sure, they’re weird and different, but we can at least tentatively see them as precursors to the modern members of their respective phyla. It’s not surprising, though, that the farther back in time we go, the stranger animals appear, and the more difficult it is to place them in our phylogenies.

So here’s something cool and helpful—it looks like a vendobiont, but it’s been found in the Lower Cambrian fossil beds of Chengjiang. It’s also very well preserved, and has features that suggest affinities to the ctenophores.

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Peter Singer in Salon

These darn philosophers—how dare they make you think, even when you disagree with much of what they say? Peter Singer is one of those infuriating people who sometimes sounds so silly, but still makes a strong case.

He has an interview in Salon—if you don’t want to fuss with their ads, I’ve put an interesting excerpt below the fold. Maybe it’s time for me to get back to vegetarianism…

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MIA

If you’ve been wondering where I am today, I’m dyin’ here, man. I’ve been grading freshman essays and quizzes all day long—my eyes are fiery red orbs and my brain is liquefying, but I’ve only gotten about halfway through the massive pile. This is going to be an agonizing week, I can tell…and it doesn’t help that I’m going to have to pack up in the middle and zoom down to Madison to bring my son home for the summer break (maybe I should make him grade some of these papers…).

It also doesn’t help that I put a trick question on the last quiz, one that was trivial to answer if the students had actually done the reading, but there was no way you’d guess it if you hadn’t, and 90% of the students missed it. Hey, gang, Aldo Leopold was writing about the compass plant—how many times did I tell you to read that chapter of A Sand County Almanac? There will be more questions like that from the readings on the final exam, I guarantee you that.

Now I’m all cranky as well as bleary eyed. I think it’s time for me to tune out until tomorrow, when I’ll hit these stacks of papers again.

Favorite corpses

You know you’ve got an interesting blog post when one of your sentences begins, “Two of my favourite corpses…” It’s got cute pictures of dead things, too.

My favorites were actually collections rather than individuals. One set was in a barn loft owned by my aunt and uncle; apparently, the previous owner of their ranch had gone nuts and slaughtered all of his chickens before committing suicide himself. The dead birds had just been left there (the dead rancher had been carted away; my cousins and I had grisly speculations about what he’d look like if he’d been left there, too), and their bodies had mummified in the dry Eastern Washington climate. You could track the course of the massacre by examining their sad little bodies.

Another was near an abandoned barn near our home in Western Washington. Every fall, hunters and skeet shooters would gather there, and we’d hear shotguns going off all the time. We wouldn’t go near the place in the fall—those guys were crazy, drunk, and reckless. In the spring, though, we’d walk the fields around the barn and survey the skeletal remains of the carnage. Among the broken skeet (and a lot of fully intact discs), we’d find the bones of seagulls and killdeer and sparrows and once even an owl—anything that flew by was a target.

Those experiences did leave me with a rather low impression of Men With Guns.

Bill O’Reilly: Pinhead in rose-colored glasses

Bill O’Reilly is upset that little kids are using profanity, and he has a ludicrously sentimental vision of small town America.

OK. That happens every day, all day in the public schools here in New York City. And I know it happens in Chicago and Los Angeles and Boston and Washington, D.C. In any major urban center. It doesn’t happen in the small towns; it happens in the cities. I live in New York. I’m not gonna have my 6-, 7-, 8-, 9-year-old go to a school where they’re saying that stuff in the hallway and the teacher doesn’t do anything about it. You know, private school, that does not happen.

Oh, brother. I grew up in a small town in the 60s and 70s—Kent, WA, population 14,152 (we lived on the edge of town, right near the city limits sign, and I caught the school bus every day right under that message)—and my fellow children were obscenely profane all the time. I now live in an even smaller place, population just a hair over 5,000, and if you want to hear some hair-raising language, walk by the elementary school playground. Heck, I’ve been startled a few times while walking past the Catholic school yard in town. I don’t have much experience with private schools, but I would be very surprised if human nature was much changed by the imposition of tuition (and, come to think of it, some of the most casually explicit chatterers I remember from the old school days were the most well-off kids).

Here’s what real small town America is like: petty, irrational hatreds, intolerance, and vicious smears of anyone who is the slightest bit different, leavened with far too few more charitable individuals. My daughter and several of her friends have been joining in the “Gay? Fine by me.” campaign—basically, they just express support for people with different sexual preferences in a very low key way. How do you think other fine, upstanding Middle American school kids react?

Today was the second Gay-Day. A bunch of us wore our “gay? fine by me.” T-shirts to school. Funny that the first time people didn’t react, but then they went boom this time. It was the standard moronic bashing. Flicking us off in the hall, calling us fags, asking if we were gay, asking why we liked gay people, saying that gay people should be shot, that they aren’t real people.

Bill O’Reilly, bigoted blowhard that he is, probably thinks that kind of thing is just fine, as long as they don’t use the “f”-word*. Personally, I’d rather see kids cussing like sailors as long as they were tolerant of each other’s differences. I’m afraid, though, that small towns aren’t exactly shining beacons of idealistic American values…those progressive values, no less, that are the antithesis of what O’Reilly promotes.

*Falafel!

That time of year, that tedious job

I mowed my lawn today.

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It’s the first time this year in what will be the coming weekly ritual. I hate it. Every time, I fantasize about never mowing again…let’s rip out this ghastly generic middle-class turf and sow it with wildflowers and the Big Bluestem. This should be prairie, dang it, and it should be flourishing with 8-foot tall grasses. Let it all come back and surround my house with a grassy sea, and bring back the bison to crop it down now and then. We already have a municipal schedule for my part of town—garbage pick up on Monday and Thursday morning, recycling pick up the first Thursday of every month, tornado siren testing the first Wednesday of the month—let’s add another one: bison herd foraging every other Tuesday. We also need a Morris wolf pack (they’d take care of the feral cat problem, and the deer would be put in their place), and I don’t think I’d mind the rabbits digging their warrens in my yard if they were part of a more interesting ecosystem.

No more lawnmowers. No more Roundup (not that I ever use it now), and no more fretting about what the neighbors will think if we don’t go out and shred grass now and then.

Eh, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Uninvention

Our Seed Overlords have asked a question (our answering is entirely voluntary, if you were wondering, and we’re only answering because it is an interesting question): “if you could cause one invention from the last hundred years never to have been made at all, which would it be, and why?

Several of my colleagues here have coughed up answers—Adventures in Ethics and Science (with a particularly appropriate entry),

Afarensis,

Evolgen,

Living the Scientific Life, and

Stranger Fruit—but I’m going to be a little bit contrary and question the question.

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