Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Importance of Faith


From this week's The New Yorker

Me being me, in support of my 2:28 comment at Hedwig's Place. Faith is definitely important.

Amnesty International & Dick Cheney

Well, you know there's been a nerve hit in the White House when George's favorite attack dog is sent out on national TV to feign indignation and horror. We learn in this morning's Times:

''Frankly, I was offended by it,'' Cheney said in the videotaped interview. ''For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously.''

and then Dick tells us:

''Occasionally there are allegations of mistreatment,'' Cheney said. ''But if you trace those back, in nearly every case, it turns out to come from somebody who had been inside and released to their home country and now are peddling lies about how they were treated.''

Like wow, you trace these allegations back and in nearly every case it's a disgruntled former prisoner fomenting discontent by lying about the treatment they received in our custody? No, that's not quite true, Dick, and you should know that. I mean is he really making the case that this is the FIRST time he was made aware of this problem? Please, tell me it isn't so Dick, really. I first learned about trouble from what would be deemed a "credible" source, specifically
U.S. News & World Report, in its article Dodging a peck of trouble on torture. And the credible source in question? Well, dear me, FBI agents. Indeed, FBI agents, in their memos regarding what they were seeing in the "debriefing" of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, questioned the techniques being used by the U.S. interrogators there. They questioned the value of information obtained, and the legality of what it was they were seeing being done to prisoners. Now should we conclude that the White House doesn't read U.S. News & World Report, published by Mortimer Zuckerman, a prominent and well-established Republican? Hmmmmmm ... I guess when U.S. News runs an article about abuse in GTMO that's ok, but when Amnesty International calls the U.S. for it in an international forum that's the time to get one's dander up, ergo Mr. Cheney gets to spew his righteous indignation on national TV.

So we have FBI agents upset over what they saw at GTMO, and then we have the Times, and U.S. News but again, reporting about the rendering of prisoners to other countries. Let's just stick with U.S. News for now, you can read about it in Shipping terrorism suspects overseas to be grilled hard may make a lot of sense, but is it legal?. We won't torture prisoners here, at least not up to the standards exercised in some other countries, and someone in the system deems it appropriate that torture in fact be used on some prisoners, so we outsource the job to Uzbekistan, Egypt, Pakistan, and a few others. Again, Amnesty International makes a stink over this and the White House gets into a tizzy fit, but U.S. News outs it, along with the Times, and they just lay low.

I have to admire the ability to spin like the White House does, and how the likes of Cheney can so effortlessly get out there on the frontline and spin like a Sufi dancer. But it's all horse manure, from an administration that seems intent on fertilizing the entire American landscape with lies and mis-directions. Instead of stepping up to the plate and saying that we have a problem that we're working to correct we lie, and it's any wonder that so many in the world hate us.

Sexual Equality

Courtesy of The Economist. I'm a bit puzzled over why 7 is chosen as meaning equality between the sexes, but whatever, it's interesting to see where the U.S. seems to fall out on this. We tend to think of ourselves here as having a society where it's very equal for women, but out of 58 nations we're #17, not even in the first quintile. I shouldn't think that women in the sciences would be much surprised by this, though all Americans should wonder what it would take to get higher up on the list.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Let's All Noodle!

Believe it or not, these guys are holding catfish which they caught with their bare hands, which on the whole is pretty much what noodling is all about. First, I never had a clue how awesomely UGLY catfish are, second, do the expressions on the faces of these men, which on the whole pale in comparison to the fish themselves, tell us anything about noodlers? I shall ponder this over my morning breakfast, which shall not include catfish.

Want to read more? Of course you do, you know you're curious --- go visit The Economist. Leave it to the Brits to do an article on some of the things that make us special here in the colonies.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Smithsonian Supporting Intelligent

I had to be reminded about this by Hedwig the Owl. I recalled reading something regarding this movie and the Smithsonian briefly yesterday in the Times, Smithsonian to Screen a Movie That Makes a Case Against Evolution, and in the flow of things going on in the day it didn't register to the totality that it should have. What it boils down to is that the Smithsonian has agreed to show a movie, The Privileged Planet, put out by the Discovery Institute , which is pretty much the premier intelligent design supporter in the United States. I shan't get into my position with regard to intelligent design, anyone whose read this blog knows and anyone else can read the copy of the email I sent to the Smithsonian as you see it below. I wasn't sure who should get the email on this, but using Hedwig's blog I can provide this contact page which can be used to send an email such as I sent below. You'll see with this email that I'm providing the addresses of the offices I used, as far as I'm aware these are as good as any:

To: info@si.edu ; smithsmt@palmcoastd.com ; info@sipress.si.edu

Sent: Sunday, May 29, 2005 8:26 PM

Subject: Discovery Institute Screening of The Privileged Planet

I was appalled to read that the Smithsonian has agreed to show The Privileged Planet, a film produced by an anti-evolution organization representing an evolutionary perspective that's anything but scientific.

The Smithsonian has had a worldwide association with scientific integrity and leadership in this country, and by agreeing to show this film it is undermining its status in both areas. If intelligent design could in anyway be considered a valid scientific alternative to evolutionary theory I'd be all for showing The Privileged Planet in the nation's premier scientific venue for the public. Unfortunately intelligent design is not a validated scientific theory, yet the Smithsonian, an institution from which many Americans take their cue for their understanding of science, is indirectly supporting the advancement of a non-scientific alternative to accepted evolutionary theory, and moreover one that panders to religious belief as an explanation for natural phenomena. While the Smithsonian may be explicitly stating that it doesn’t support the views expressed in this movie, its mere association with it provides the impression of endorsement in the minds of many Americans and people throughout the world.

Recent developments have managers of IMAX theaters opting not to show films which mention the scientifically determined age of the Earth, in addition to making mere mention of evolution, because it’s felt that such information would upset certain audiences in various parts of the country and the theaters did not want to invite the controversy. Having the Smithsonian step into this controversy on the side of the individuals who wish to bring into question the theory of evolution, however unintentionally this may be, is a major blow to science in this country.

I urge the Smithsonian to re-consider its support for The Privileged Planet and the Discovery Institute. The support provided to both thus far has done a major disservice to the reputation of the Smithsonian, and is not in keeping with the Smithsonian's heretofore consistent support of legitimate scientific endeavors.

I would also recommending registering your displeasure with your political representatives in DC, specifically your congressional and senatorial reps.

Addendum: Another email address to express your concern to is nhevents@si.edu, the address for the event coordinator at the Smithsonian.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Integrated Gasification Combination Cycle

I addressed IGCC yesterday and I want to touch a bit more on the technology and why I think it's important that we push this. I also want to share what I've done about this so far and if there are any of you out there that may have similar inclinations I encourage you to get involved on some level as well.

As I laid out in yesterday's post, there are definite problems with using coal as an energy source, and unfortunately in this country it's not likely we'll any time soon (and then only if we come up with something like viable fusion power) be able to avoid using it. Of course this isn't just about carbon, however much many of us feel that we're dumping too much of the stuff into the air. It's also about reducing acid rain, smog (which hasn't gone away, which anyone living in LA or Dallas will verify), and mercury emissions. So as I see it we're going to have to live with this stuff for some time, even with its problems, so we sensibly should make the best of it, right?

But here's the problem: The coal industry figures it'll be able to hold off legislation indefinitely that might compel them to go this route, while new coal-fired plants using the older, cheaper technology are built that our kids get to live with for the following forty to fifty years after they're built. That anyone can be so shortsighted in their perspective doesn't surprise me, we've seen it often enough in other places and ways. Here the dollar speaks louder than the better social good, which isn't being done much good with global warming (I'm sorry, it's happening, it's real, and as I sit here on the 26th of May in RI, with a temperature of 52 degrees outside, and rain for the past week, it's more and more real to me all the time) and all the garbage these plants spew into our air.

Bottom line, I honestly feel that we have an industry with far too much influence in our political system that is not only focused on its profit margin, but in the course of this emphasis on money is setting us up to screw ourselves and our kids in the future. This is the same industry which manages to get shills like Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) to make statements like:

With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.

Phony science, huh? Well it seems to me that the senator from the great state of Oklahoma is from the Rick Santorum school of science illiterates. Ok, my intention here is not to rail on rightwing ideologues who, unfortunately, along with the president and his minions, are in a position to make policy for this country and frame our response to what more and more is apparent to be a real problem, i.e. how we're fouling our environment without any regard to the future. My real problem here is that the industry has a way of going about addressing this problem, to a great degree mitigating it, and their position would seem to largely be if we're not forced to do it we're not about to. In the meantime, in defiance of just about any other industrialized country on the planet, we're dumping more and more carbon and garbage into the air, gradually changing our environment, quite possibly irreparably. It's something like this that riles me (you may have guessed already, sorry ...), and calls for specific government involvement.

There are times when I feel like a tiny speck in the maelstrom of national affairs, but I know there are things I can go about doing and that's sending letters to my congressional rep and senators, and if you're not up on how to go about getting their addresses here you go: U.S. Senate, and United States House of Representatives- both pages have sections that help you find your representative and a way to go about getting in touch with them. Note: You can normally send email or a letter to your reps, but I'm inclined to think that letters are taken a bit more seriously as those working for the representative appreciate that you took the time to mail the thing, ergo you MUST feel strongly about what you're communicating.

Ok, that said, here's the the letter I sent out three days ago (I sent it to Santorum and Inhofe as well, and it was worded just as you see it here as I wanted to indulge my better nature):

Dear _________________:

As a resident of Rhode Island I am writing to express my concern about the use of coal as a source of energy in this country, and to ask that you consider possible legislation that would encourage the use of a particular technology which has been fully investigated by the U.S. Department of Energy, that would help to reduce the negative byproducts associated with the burning of coal for energy.

The technology I'm referring to is integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), which was recently highlighted in an article in the NY Times ("Dirty Secret: Coal Plants Could Be Much Cleaner" by Kenneth J. Stier, May 22, 2005). You'll also find a great deal of information regarding this technology, which has been around for well over ten years, at the U.S. Department of Energy's web site. Coal-powered plants using this technology are 10% more efficient, use 40% less water, the technology allows for the stripping out of about 50% of the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which cause acid rain and smog, and 95% of the mercury in coal all before combustion at a tenth of the cost of what it takes to scrub smokestack emissions as they leave the power plant. An additional attractive feature to this technology is that it allows for the capture of carbon prior to combustion, i.e. it significantly reduces the release of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.

While the long-term costs of IGCC plants are less, the cost to build them is about 20% above that for a standard coal-fired plant, which as you know presents a problem that could easily sway where an investment is made. In the national interest I believe it would be appropriate for the government to subsidize such plants, and require that new coal-fired plants be built with this technology --- the utilities could build at the cost of a standard plant and in the long-term save money as well as have a far smaller negative affect on the environment. Such a measure goes a long way to help President Bush meet his stated goal of providing cleaner coal-fired power plants to help the country meet its future energy needs.

Clearly the use of coal as a fuel source is unavoidable for the near or foreseeable future. That's not to say that we need to live with the negative consequences of using more coal, and incorporating IGCC technology into new plants would be a significant step in the right direction.


I urge anyone reading this to get involved in some way in this issue. I am convinced we have a problem with global warming that's already started to make significant changes in our environment in many different places (as I go down to turn up the furnace in May ...), and will
continue to make changes that on the whole are not going to be for the better at all. We need to get very serious about doing something or we're going to leave a legacy for our children that we'll regret if we don't do more to try and fix it when we had the chance.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

An Outstanding Blog

You must check out: The Cheerful Oncologist. If this isn't just about the best flippin' blog I ever read (and all the ones posted to the left are all pretty darn good, let there be no mistake of that), I don't know what is. Yep, it's written by an oncologist. The hyperlinks within the blog itself are an entertainment all of their own. The writing is erudite, sensitive, and provides an insight into a world many of us aren't apt to have much access to, in addition to being just plain, flat out interesting. I can't recommend it highly enough.


The following article ran in the NY Times on Sunday, Dirty Secret: Coal Plants Could Be Much Cleaner by Kenneth J. Stier. It's interesting for the simple reason that the burning of coal presently makes up over 50% of our energy production for electricity in this country, a percentage that's more apt to increase than decline, and Stier tells us about a technology that could go a long way towards making this fuel more environmentally friendly.

Coal is so abundant in the U.S. that we actually are able to export it. I recall reading somewhere that our current reserves of coal should be able to last us for the next 200 to 300 years. Clearly coal is no small thing in this country. There are problems with coal, as many of us are well aware, but let me detail some of them:

1. The burning of coal releases more radioactivity in the environment than a nuclear power plant. Turns out you have a small but measurable amount of radioactive material in coal and when burnt it's sent into the environment. While nuclear power plants potentially threaten to release huge amounts of radiation into the environment if their containment systems are breached, safely run nuclear plants release very little radiation into the surrounding environment at all. [I suspect that some may find this surprising, so I refer you to Coal Combustion, a publication put out by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory --- yes, a government site --- where we're told:

Former ORNL researchers J. P. McBride, R. E. Moore, J. P. Witherspoon, and R. E. Blanco made this point in their article "Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants" in the December 8, 1978, issue of Science magazine. They concluded that Americans living near coal-fired power plants are exposed to higher radiation doses than those living near nuclear power plants that meet government regulations. This ironic situation remains true today and is addressed in this article.

Wow, wonders of wonder, huh?]

2. Getting the coal out of the ground is problematic. People potentially die (though I'd much rather be a coalminer in the U.S. than in China), and the local environment is often dirtied by coal digging and its byproducts, or the very destructive process of strip mining.

3. Burning coal is responsible for a large part of the mercury in the environment, specifically in our water. Today today children and pregnant women are warned by the government [mind you, if you visit this site you're blithely informed by the FDA that "...nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury.", like it's something we should normally expect to see and just take for granted --- there's something wrong with this picture] to limit their ingestion of fish to no more than one serving per week because of the mercury levels found in fish.

4. Acid rain is due to pollutants associated with coal and petroleum fired power plants, though you can clearly see which of these two make the great contribution. This, and the equally serious consideration of the amount of carbon dioxide these plants generate, make coal VERY unattractive as an environmentally friendly fuel source.

The article talks about a technology, called "integrated gasification combined cycle" (henceforth IGCC here), which isn't new, that allows coal to be burned but producing significantly less pollution than the standard coal-burning plants currently online. These plants are 10% more efficient, use 40% less water, the technology allows for the stripping out of about 50% of the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which cause acid rain and smog, and 95% of the mercury in coal all before combustion at a tenth of the cost of what it takes to scrub smokestack emissions as they leave the power plant. Moreover, and a very attractive feature to this technology, is that it allows for the capture of carbon prior to combustion, i.e. it significantly reduces the release of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. All of this doesn't entirely make these plants "green", but it is a very significant step in the right direction for a fuel source that we're not in a position to simply ignore given its abundance and the relative ease with which we're able to obtain it.

IGCC would seem to be a no-brainer in terms of where we should be going with coal, right? So what would be the major hold up? Well to start such plants cost about 20% more than standard plants to build, so the short-term financial outlay for them is greater and sometimes that by itself can make the difference between a plant being built or not. The one strong advantage with
these plants is the ability to sequester carbon, reducing our contribution to the carbon we put into the air --- I won't get into how this may help induce global warming, I would prefer to keep this at the level of it logically making sense that if we keep doing this it can't be good for the environment at some point in the future (those of us currently going through a very cold and wet late spring in New England would tend to say the future is now.) But we don't regulate carbon in this country, in fact Congress has specifically avoided anything to do with such regulation given how unpopular it is with the energy industry and any other industry (read "auto" industry) that could be affected by regulating carbon emissions.

Here's where the industry falls out on this (this is taken from the article):

REGARDLESS of the politics of carbon caps, the Energy Department has made it clear that it intends to push the development of integrated gasification combined-cycle technology. Last month, for example, Mark Maddox, a deputy
assistant secretary, said at an industry gathering that the technology "is needed in the mix - needed now."

Some industry leaders are skeptical, to say the least. "We would not want to put all of our eggs in one basket as far as a single technology is concerned," said William Fang, deputy counsel for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association whose members, shareholder-owned utilities, account for three-quarters of the country's generating capacity.

Besides, he added, many of his members think that mandatory carbon controls, in place in much of the world since the Kyoto Protocol came into force in February, can be kept at bay in the United States - possibly indefinitely [emphasis by blogger].

So basically those who make money off of coal are pushing to make sure we never buy into carbon caps in this country, and that we don't employ the technology that's available to us to minimize the pollutants associated with this unavoidable fuel source.

More tomorrow (promise, I already wrote it.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Ok, this doesn't reflect any originality of mine AT ALL --- God, I'm such a copycatter!!!! I happened to see this posted on Hedwig's blog, and I knew I had to have it on MY blog (I feel so cheap ... ), and with the cartoon on Hedwig's blog you're referred to Working for Change, which I proceed to join --- God, again, I'm turning into such a non-militaristic non-conservative. I don't think this means I'm turning quite liberal, but ... well, I haven't a clue what the heck I'm morphing into .... aiyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Oh well, the point's about the cartoon by Tom
Tomorrow, not me. Enjoy. [Don't you think the guy in the light blue suit looks a lot like Rick Santorum? Do you think it's a coincidence? You, or at least I, gotta wonder ...]

I'm sure that this book, Freakonomics [the hyperlink takes you to Amazon, which was the cheapest provider of this book new (which didn't require a membership) and which has a good
customer history, that I found on 5/23 using Best Web Buys, a price bot I rely on for books at a good price] will be interesting given the good press its gotten in the NY Times, The Economist, and just recently in last week's U.S. News & World Report, specifically in The dismal science gets its freak on. Now some head scratching tidbits come out of this article, specifically the following:

Levitt analyzes data like other economists but does so to answer obscure but everyday questions. Does reading to your young child make him smarter? Turns out, no. Why do drug dealers live with their mothers? Like in most corporate structures, only the dealers at the top of the food chain make money. Which is more dangerous, a swimming pool or a gun? Your child is 100 times more likely to drown in your pool than die from your gun.

Now to be honest I hadn't given much thought to drug dealers, but the swimming pool vs. gun thing caught my mind. When we learn about a kid who's killed themselves or someone else from a gun kept in the house there's a visceral sense of how obviously dangerous having a gun in the house is and how there should be a law against having guns in a home with kids in it. But then I never really considered pools, and when you look at it, the family with a pool has a 100 times greater chance of killing their kid than the one with a gun --- so are pool owners negligent such as we seem to believe gun owners are in a very near knee jerk fashion? Mind you, I hate guns, I think they should be outlawed or at least very heavily regulated, but using the argument that guns kill kids in their homes, well that may be true but it's put in something of a different light when you consider it relative to pools. Of course a kid can't take your pool to school and shoot his [alas, it's invariably males doing this sort of thing] friends, but then your kid can invite his or her [here it's just as likely to be male or female, so does this increase the odds over gun deaths from weapons taken from home?] friends over to use the pool when you're not around and potentially harm some one that way, so very likely it all evens out.

Here's the book review done by the Times, Everything He Always Wanted to Know, worth perusal if you think you may be interested. Herein is mentioned an issue Levitt gained some notoriety with some years ago regarding abortion:

A FEW years ago, a young economist named Steven D. Levitt became briefly
notorious for collaborating on a research paper that contained a strikingly novel thesis: abortion curbs crime. What Levitt and his co-author claimed, specifically, was that the sharp drop in the United States crime rate during the 1990's -- commonly attributed to factors like better policing, stiffer gun laws and an aging population -- was in fact largely due to the Roe v. Wade decision two decades earlier. The logic was simple: unwanted children are more likely to grow up to become criminals; legalized abortion leads to less unwantedness; therefore, abortion leads to less crime.

Wow ... unwantedness.

I have to say that this all makes sense, but at the same time find myself squirming a bit over the whole thing. But it's not like anyone's using abortion as a social policy with the specific intent of reducing crime in the streets, this is just an unexpected, and one of the few welcome [I support a woman's right to chose, but I am very uncomfortable with the whole idea of abortion as a way of dealing with an unwanted fetus --- bottom line, my belief in a woman's right to do what she wants with her body trumps my discomfort] side effects of this procedure. Now of course I now have to wonder if a similar reduction in crime was noted when birth control in the U.S., specifically the pill, took off in the sixties. Well, whatever, it surely would be grand if we didn't have to worry about "unwantedness", but that'll be a long time in coming I fear.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I just ran into this excellent article in the New Yorker: Devolution: Why Intelligent Design Isn't by H. Allen Orr. I took the following out of the article inasmuch as I think it gets to the heart of the ID ridiculousness, to wit it has not generated any true original research or "findings" of any sort:

It’s also hard to view it as a real research program. Though people often picture science as a collection of clever theories, scientists are generally staunch pragmatists: to scientists, a good theory is one that inspires new experiments and provides unexpected insights into familiar phenomena. By this standard, Darwinism is one of the best theories in the history of science: it has produced countless important experiments (let’s re-create a natural species in the lab—yes, that’s been done) and sudden insight into once puzzling patterns (that’s why there are no native land mammals on oceanic islands). In the nearly ten years since the publication of Behe’s book, by contrast, I.D. has inspired no nontrivial experiments and has provided no surprising insights into biology. As the years pass, intelligent design looks less and less like the science it claimed to be and more and more like an extended exercise in polemics.

What is it that's so hard for those in Kansas, Delaware, and recently in New York, not to mention my buddy highlighted below, Rick Santorum (Santorum is quoted as informing us that "... intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes." Rick needs to take some science classes, though clearly his lack of appreciation for what's science or not hasn't prevented him from attaining high political office), to understand here regarding what's science and what's not science? If you can't test it, if you can't design experiments to support it, if you can't predict things with it, IT'S NOT SCIENCE. Simply saying, "It's too complex to be explained by evolution, and you can't provide a complete explanation anyway, so therefore God did it" (I'm sorry, an intelligent designer, but I'm simply being reductionist here as any argument for ID has to lead to God) --- back during the times of the Black Death we didn't understand what was going on then, and God was used as an explanation --- fortunately people didn't buy it then, leading us to the Renaissance. But people like Santorum, et al, want to instill a New Age Dark Ages in our schools, but people seem to be buying it this time. Arrrrrrrrghhhh!

Ok, I'll stop ranting.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Phantom Professor

A lot of the people I know are academics, so this (for those who may have missed it, the title to this blog is the link), found via Hedwig the Owl's site (congrats on the new job, but again!), has been a fascinating read. If you follow this long enough you'll find the article, hyperlinked to in one of the posts, "outting" the phantom, which she seems to have taken graciously. There's no way to know with certainty why she lost her position, which may or may not have been due to her blog, but she does write well and what she had to write about, SMU and what she encountered there, is worth the time to read.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Rick Santorum: Give Me a Break
Senator Rick Santorum Photo

I suppose on the whole it seems fitting that I should do a piece on Santorum after the one I did on Terri Schiavo. Santorum was one of the prime movers and shakers behind trying to get congress involved in the circus that developed around Terri Schiavo, in fact he brought the whole thing to the level of the theater of the absurd. You don't like something, it doesn't jive with your values or beliefs, legislate that problem away and damn the Constitution and established law. Yep, gotta love it.

The Times did a fairly extensive article on Santorum in this weekend's magazine (The
by Michael Sokolove), in fact Santorum made the cover of the magazine, no small thing. I was up early this morning and I figured I'd make my may through it. Santorum is a devout Catholic who seems drawn to and is increasingly supported by the evangelical Christian right in this country. That alone makes me uncomfortable with the man as anyone who espouses the line that God's laws are being violated is running hard against the Constitution as I see it as I have no clue what God we're talking about. Is it the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, B'hai, Zoroastrian, Hopi, Navaho, Mormon, and on, and on, God? God is not defined in the Constitution, which is a good thing as it affords a level of freedom in this country which allowed it to get past ecumenical differences and grow into a great nation. But Santorum and those supporting him are convinced it's the God of the New Testament that's looking over this country, and it's a Christian line we should all be toeing, so ... well, whatever, that really wasn't what got me ticked regarding Santorum.

So what has me on a Santorum rant? It's the following piece from the article:

Someone else in the audience complained that the local schools were substandard, and Santorum used that as an opportunity to touch a broader theme. ''What's needed,'' he replied, ''is to give parents real control, as opposed to what we have today, the control in the hands of the bureaucrats and the experts.''

God, this torqued me. My experience with parents is that far too many of them don't care what their kid is doing in school. They send little Johnny and Janie off to school and they figure things will get taken care of and that's that. I'm not saying it's the norm, hardly is it that, but there are parents who don't care, and those parents who do care are often as much in the dark about what's to be done with their kids as the teachers are. Teachers aren't necessarily experts in how to teach kids, but they're the ones on the frontline, they're the ones trying to make a go of it, they're the ones dealing with this huge teenage and younger segment of humanity that they're trying to help prepare to step out into a world that's more and more less friendly to people trying to make a living in it. So when it comes to expertise, how in the hell is pushing the education of children off to parents, many of whom are too busy trying to make a living to get truly deeply involved in the education of their children, going to solve the problems associated with schools that are under funded and short staffed? But it sounds good, especially from demagogues, to say something like we need to give you parents control, we need to get the "experts" out of this since they have no clue what they're doing. That's not getting more funds to that school, or addressing why they may be substandard, but it does sound good as it glibly rolls off this man's tongue. And trust me, parents DO have a lot of control over their schools through various organizations tied to those schools, and it's all a matter of getting involved or not.

Maybe I'll make a contribution to the guy running against Santorum next November, even if I don't particularly care for his politics either; maybe he'll at least not be as bad as what's now there.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Terry Schiavo
Theresa Schiavo (Schindler Family/AP/Wide World)

I don't know about you, but I got thoroughly sick of the whole Terry Schiavo thing while it was happening --- which is unfortunate as I think I lost sight of the fact that this was about a human being who deserved far more than what was happening while this was in the news. Who was wrong, the parents or the husband, what was the real issue here as the right and left
went to war over this woman's body? My problem with the whole thing was that I was never sure if I had the full picture on this as first I didn't think it was any of my business, and second it was hard trying to get past all the histrionics thrown out by groups who were using Terry's situation as a stump for their particular issue.

Joan Didion has written an excellent article about Terry Schiavo and this circus which has swirled around her, The Case of Theresa Schiavo, which can be found in The New York Review of Books. She tries to sift through all the information that's available regarding Terry Schiavo and the whole sordid mess she was put into, laying out what it seems we did know and what some have guessed (for instance, there's an assumption that Schiavo had heart failure due to excessive dieting, and while this would have caused the heart failure which put her into a coma, it's not clear that this did it.) It also clarifies some of the players on both sides of this issue at the familial level. I'm not nearly so comfortable with the husband and his motives after reading this, and the parents seem to me to be far more reasonable people than I was somehow led to believe while all this was in the news.

If you're interested in trying to find a reasoned discussion of what went on in this circus that was conducted over the body of a woman who deserved better than how this all played out, I don't think you could get much better than what you're provided in this article.

Friday, May 20, 2005

True Notebooks

I'm sorry to disappoint those of you looking for my immediate follow up on weapons in space --- oh well. Tomorrow --- well, I'm pretty sure tomorrow, we'll just have to see.

I just finished True Notebooks, which of course explains why a picture of the book so prominently displays itself at the start of this post. I need to thank my friend Hedwig the Owl, whose comments on the book [and an example of Hedwig's use of a true notebook herself] are to be found at Living the Scientific Life (or Scientist, Interrupted): The Power of One: comments on "True Notebooks" by Mark Salzman ,for the reminder that the book was out. Salzman is a favorite writer of mine. I remember encountering him first through his movie, Iron & Silk . Now the movie was a bit smarmy, but not in a bad way. Salzman is clearly not a professional actor and his enthusiasm in the movie at times made me want to hit him upside the head. That said, the movie, based on the book he wrote of the same title, was nevertheless touching and I did eventually get caught up enough in his travails and victories to enjoy the ride. It caused me to go out and get the book, which made even a bigger positive impression, and I decided this was someone whose books I'd pay attention to. I proceed to read Lying Awake, The Soloist, and Lost in Place. He has one other book, The Laughing Sutra, which I haven't read but do own --- it's sitting in storage in Maryland with my other books and one day, when we hav4e a place with enough space for my library, I'll get to it.

Before addressing this book, for anyone interested, and I promise that it's interesting to watch, I'd recommend clicking on the following: Summerfest 2001 - An Evening with Mark Salzman. Salzman's an interesting character and this clip of him, provided courtesy of UCTV--University of California Television, makes him seem to be the type of guy you'd enjoy hanging out with if you had the chance. What's amazing watching this is here's a guy whose wife tells him that he doesn't get out enough, yet here you watch him easily interact with and entertain an audience of people.

True Notebooks is about Salzman's experience as a writing teacher for a group of boys who are in prison, nearly all of them in for murder. The quote from Loren Eiseley at the beginning of the book caught me:

...we would assume that what it was we meant

would have been listed in some book set down
beyond the sky's far reaches, if at all
there was a purpose here. but now I think
the purpose lives in us and that we fall

into an error if we do not keep
our own true notebook of the way we came,
how the sleet stung, or how a wandering bird
cried at the window ...

This hit a chord. In some measure blogging does this for me I suppose. Welcome to my own true notebook.

Anyway, I won't get into the particulars of the book, suffice it to say that it's a very good one, I strongly recommend it (as did Hedwig, who thankfully flapped her wings strenuously over it), it makes the case for why notebooks, of one flavor or another, are important in our lives, to help us see into them and maybe help us better see where we're going, and I think that'll do it for this page in my notebook.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Weapons in Space --- Danger, Danger Will

Yesterday the Times ran the following article, Air Force Seeks Bush's Approval for Space Weapons Programs. Now in reality I don't think this should come as any great surprise to anyone who really follows this issue, but then, alas, few of us follow this issue. The reason it doesn't come as a surprise to those who follow it centers on documents released by the Air Force and DoD in the last few years, to wit:

U.S. Space Command Strategic Master Plan FY 06 and Beyond

Joint Doctrine for Space Operations

USAF - Counterspace Operations

If you were wonkish enough, or otherwise paranoid about the military-industrial complex here in the U.S. (if it was good enough for Eisenhower to be paranoid about it, it should be good enough for the rest of us to be!), you'd be up on these voluminous documents which, on the whole, put the average reader to sleep before they got to the scary parts. But being up on the subject in the official DoD circles (well, for as much as unclassified documents allow you to be that "up" on anything in the DoD) you'd be well aware that the Air Force has been moving in this direction for sometime and that eventually they'd be looking for a green light to put together a formal policy which would allow them to start parking weapons in space. Without having to force you to read the above documents (like I'd get very far with that ...), here are some choice tidbits from the Times piece:

"The proposed change would be a substantial shift in American policy. It would almost certainly be opposed by many American allies and potential enemies, who have said it may create an arms race in space."


"With little public debate, the Pentagon has already spent billions of dollars developing space weapons and preparing plans to deploy them.

"'We haven't reached the point of strafing and bombing from space," Pete Teets,
who stepped down last month as the acting secretary of the Air Force, told a
space warfare symposium last year. "Nonetheless, we are thinking about those


"The Air Force believes "we must establish and maintain space superiority," Gen. Lance Lord, who leads the Air Force Space Command, told Congress recently. "Simply put, it's the American way of fighting." Air Force doctrine defines space superiority as "freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack" in space.

"The mission will require new weapons, new space satellites, new ways of doing
battle and, by some estimates, hundreds of billions of dollars. It faces enormous technological obstacles. And many of the nation's allies object to the idea that space is an American frontier."

I think you get the gist of this.

Interestingly enough in this quarter's issue of the Naval War College Review, an article (Space-based Weapons) by CAPT David C. Hardesty basically provides arguments for why going this route is not in our national interest, that in fact a treaty not to deploy weapons in space, and a treaty discouraging other nations from deploying them, would be much more in the national interest. CAPT Hardesty is a Sailor therefore seen as a Navy shill. In fact his article isn't reflecting anything other than his own beliefs, i.e. he's not a spokesperson for the Navy nor working for a Navy think tank which may in some way reflect Navy thinking. As a Navy kinda
guy Hardesty can be accused of engaging in sour grapes machinations as a move by the Air Force to dominate space would give it a new and "sexy" mission, especially at a time when it's "sexy" programs like the F-22 fighter and the Joint Fighter have been taking hits. Ostensibly a large space presence would also replace what have been traditional Navy missions, to wit: No need for those expensive aircraft carriers if you can simply move a space-based weapon into location and threaten a nation from 100 miles or more in space --- more on this later.

I think it's worth clarifying what a space-based weapon is, inasmuch as even some purported experts seem to blur the lines.

tells us about Jeffrey Lewis' skewering of Baker Spring, a wonk who should know better that works for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative bastion (if it gives you any clue, Rush Limbaugh apparently loves these people) in the DC area that should be more selective about its attack dogs. Anyway, Mr. Spring would have us believe that space is currently weaponized because we send ballistic missiles through it and, therefore, this whole discussion about whether we should have weapons in space is moot inasmuch as we already have them there --- nope, sorry, no prize for that boy. As with many things like this you'll find varying definitions of space-based weapons, but relying on CAPT Hardesty I give you the following:

a "...space-based weapon is a system placed in orbit or deep space that is designed “for destroying, damaging, rendering inoperable, or changing the flight trajectory of space objects, or for damaging objects in the atmosphere or on the ground.”'

It can actually be a bit more complicated than this, with systems such as lasers on the Earth sending their energy to platforms floating in space, but the basics are here. So a ballistic missile is not a space-based weapon, it's merely a weapon that happens to use space to get to where it's trying to go.

Ok, this lays the groundwork for where I want to go with this. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Help Protect the Integrity of Science

If you're curious, and anyone with a concern about science in this country should be, I recommend you visit UCSAction center and see what you can do from there.

Get Ready for Star Wars!

Ok, like I've been totally too serious lately, I mean taking on the Providence school system, getting bent about intelligent designers, like totally losing it over nuclear power, and now I'm pondering the wonders of weapons in space --- Gawd, I need a flippin' vacation. But in the meantime, here's some great video clips to entertain yourself with as you prepare yourself for the coming Star Wars release, I mean even if you aren't preparing you may want to after watching these:

Pink Five

For Love of the Film

Sith Apprentice

[Donald Trump could only wish for these powers, and the dance scene was to die for]

Anakin Dynamite

And then check out whatever else might grab you at Star Wars Fan Film Awards.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


“What a fool believes he sees no wise man has the power to reason away.”—The Doobie Brothers [Thanks to My love affair with the Constitution for the reminder of what this song is saying]

Whaddya Gotta Do For a Job?

I may well be digging a hole for myself here, hell it wouldn't be the first time, but this just got in my caw and I want to share it --- gee, doesn't that just give you the giggles? Oh well ...

For those of you who know me a bit more than a reasonable perusal of this blog would tell the average peruser, I'm a retired naval officer who decided that the best job to go into was teaching. I like teaching and at this point my wife, who's a post-doctoral neurophysiologist, has a career that will require a few moves and some flexibility. Thankfully I got my BS in one of the "hard" sciences --- hard in this case means hard to find people who want to teach it in HS. Being a high school chemistry teacher will give me the flexibility to teach wherever my wife needs to go, and provide some flexible hours for living a life as a couple (it'll also take some hours away as I've come to learn that being a high school science teacher, if you're trying to come close to doing it right, is no easy haul.) I'm in the middle of a job search having just recently, about three weeks ago, completed my certification requirements with Providence College. I've been using the local newspaper, the Providence Journal, to look for jobs. This past Sunday I came upon the following job posting:

EDUCATION Anticipated Vacancies for 2005-2006 School Year HOPE HIGH SCHOOL: Physics, Special Ed. M/M, Special Ed. 230 Day, ROTC, Computer Information Systems, Math, Math/Bilingual, Math/LEP, Biology/Bilingual, Chemistry/LEP, Phys. Ed., Special Ed. Intensive Resource, Special Ed. Inclusion, English, English/Media, Social Studies/Bilingual, Social Studies/LEP, Social Studies, English/Social Studies, Spanish, ESL, Business Education, Dance, Visual Arts, Guidance DISTRICT-WIDE: FULL-TIME AND PART-TIME SPEECH PATHOLOGISTS, Middle School Endorsement, Secondary Special Ed., School Nurse Teachers, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Secondary Math, Spanish Bilingual Special Ed., Early Childhood/Elementary Spanish Bilingual, Latin, Spanish and Italian, Long-Term Substitute Teachers, OCCUPATIONAL THERAPISTS PHYSICAL THERAPISTS Applications may be obtained at the Providence School Department, Office of Human Resources, 797 Westminster Street, Providence, or on our Website at
http://www.providenceschools.org/. Send completed application and resume to Gail B. Hareld, Human Resources Administrator. An Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer

Ok, some background here as it sure and heck would look like Hope HS is looking for a TON of teachers. Why is that? Because Hope is considered a "failing school". It has had a hard time getting its students to perform well on the standardized tests used to determine student achievement and it has a reputation for being a very difficult school for a plethora of reasons. The school has managed to place itself in a situation where it has heightened state intervention, to the degree that there's been a "special master" appointed to oversee the school. In the course of this many teachers have bailed out as, on the whole, the teachers have taken a large share of the blame for the school's performance. This is a complicated issue and it's not really the point of this post, but I wanted to get across the idea that this is a troubled school, in need of many new teachers as its job posting clearly indicates.

As you can see, the job listing states that you should fill out an application with the
Providence School System. If you go to their site you encounter an eight page application and a list of requirements to simply submit a package that is somewhere off the chart, but then maybe it's me that has unreasonable expectations and experiences. Anyway, I thought the expectations were so unreasonable that I sent the following letter to the Mayor of Providence, the Providence City Council, and my Councilman (the email below was to the councilman):

First, in all fairness, I sent a similar copy of this email to the mayor and the city council. Given that I used the generic address for the council I'm assuming that you may very well find this coming your way anyway, so hopefully I'm beating out the system.

Here's my problem: I'm trying to understand the job application requirements associated with a teaching position here in Providence. Frankly from what I do understand they're off the wall
and I'm trying to understand if my expectations are unreasonable or those of the city are.

I'm a recently certified chemistry teacher (I just completed my teacher certification at Providence College this past April), so I'm in the process of looking for jobs in the Rhode Island area. Yesterday I encountered a job posting in the ProJo asking for teachers for positions at Hope HS. Being a resident of Providence, and living about a mile away from Hope, I'm well aware of why Hope would be looking for as many teachers as this advertisement seems to indicate are needed. The advertisement refers me to:


At the site you can find an eight page application (the average everywhere else is 4 to 6), and then I'm referred to the following site for how to apply for a position:


Here I learn the following:

Teaching Applications must include the following:

-State of Rhode Island teaching certification
-Copy of Praxis or National Teaching Exam
-Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI)background check
-Three (3) current letters of reference
-Original transcripts
-Copy of driver’s license and/or passport and social security card
-Mantoux (PPD) skin test results (tuberculosis)
-Hepatitis vaccine

All applicants who are not currently employed by the Providence School Department must submit an original state and national criminal records check through the Attorney General’s Office, Rhode Island State Police or local police department where they reside.

Department of Attorney General
150 South Main Street
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 274-4400
$29.00 for both

An application packet will not be processed until these documents are obtained. Please refer to Law #16-2-18.1 Criminal Records Review.

Now here's the thing, if you add up the costs for the PPD, hepatitis vaccination, and then the background checks, you're talking about close to $90. So add that to official transcripts, various copies, the time you spend getting the medical things done, and the time you spend putting all this together, you're out of pocket WELL over $100 just to have your application accepted, i.e. just to get in the door. My question is: Is this reasonable? I don't understand why the city of Providence has to put applicants through this much expense just to have their application reviewed. Providence is looking for good teachers to work at Hope HS, how many are going to be dissuaded by the expenditure required to merely have one's application accepted?

I don't question the need for background checks, PPDs, and hepatitis vaccines, but what possible reason can there be for having these things done before one is offered a job? Making the final offer contingent on all these things being satisfactory makes a lot of sense, and the person putting out the money at least has the comfort of knowing the expense will be for a new job in hand. I'd also like to point out that no other school district in Rhode Island that I've done business with at this point (that would be 7 school districts as of today) requires this sort of out-of-pocket expense simply to accept an application for review. Providence may be special, but I'm not sure it's that special.

Your insight on this would be greatly appreciated. I would have CC'd the human resources folks at the Providence school system, but the email addresses they provide at their web page above don't work.


Something I was pondering was if the teachers are required to get a PPD AND a hepatitis vaccine, are the students similarly required? I mean who's the most likely vector for such diseases, students or teachers? Hmmmmm ... well I'm sure that's something else to wonder about during my days of idle contemplation.

Like I said, I may very well have shot my chances of ever getting a job in Providence, but that they should think it's reasonable to have someone lay out over $100 for simply having the privilege of providing an application for their review, well that does seem to push the outer limits. Any ideas on this, dear gentle readers?

Another Goody ...


Another goody by way of Pharyngula, courtesy of Salon.com.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Nuclear Power

An interesting article in yesterday's NY Times, Old Foes Soften to New Reactors. I suppose when the president of the U.S. goes out of the way to push something as being a solution to the country's energy crisis you can expect to see more attention being given to it. It does seem, though, that in the case of nuclear energy a number of concerns have reached a nexus at which the whole nuclear issue is being looked at in a very different light.

If you're going to read the first article, it only makes sense to read the article by Matthew Weld of the Times which ran 7 days ago, When Comes to Replacing Oil Imports, Nuclear Is No Easy Option, Experts Say [be warned, I think the Times content is only free for up to a week after it runs, so after today it may not be available for free]. Bush's contention that nuclear energy allows us to move away from oil is either mis-stated or otherwise disingenuous (I'm sure our president would never mislead us, so it must be the former). Wald informs us that last year we used about 600K barrels of oil a day for electricity production, while our overall daily consumption of oil was 20.5 million gallons. That's somewhere around 3% of our total oil consumption. The following graphic from the Florida and Light company shows that oil contributes a little over 3% to overall electricity production:

[Note: The EIA is the Energy Information Association, a part of the U.S. Dept. of Energy]

So Bush is ostensibly pushing nukes because this will reduce our need for oil to produce electricity, but then this only represents 3% of what we use. I don't know about you but this makes zero sense to me. If we improved the fuel efficiency of our vehicles by 5% across the board wouldn't that save far more fuel, and reduce vice increase deleterious by-products? Hmmmmmm ... I'm puzzled, but I find that this is not unusual when I ponder the inclinations and declarations of G.W.

That said, environmentalists are not looking at nukes to reduce our oil consumption, they know better. What makes them appealing is that they have zero carbon emissions, which means they'd be able to replace coal AND oil, with the emphasis more on the coal-fired plants inasmuch as they make up the majority fossil-fuel source of energy in the U.S. Given G.W's regard, or lack of regard for global warming it would not due for him to make an argument for going nuke to help reduce global warming, but it doesn't stop him from making this argument speciously with regard to oil. You have to love the way this administration works and thinks, and how it must in its heart honestly believe we're all pretty stupid.

The problem with nuclear power plants come down to three things:

1. They're very complex (if we were to get into a more refined definition of this I'd say that they're highly interactive, i.e. many components intersect and are dependent on each other, and tightly coupled, i.e. when something goes bad in one place it's very often rapidly deleterious somewhere else, resulting in potentially catastrophic situations that may be impossible to avert --- the sort of situation for catastrophes that can lead to tens of thousands of deaths and billions in property damages have to be weighed every carefully) and highly dependent on humans doing the right thing when the right thing needs to be done. It would seem that we have had a handle on the complexity, to wit we've only had two big nuclear accidents, at Three Mile Island and at Chernobyl, but this is an industry where safety is not stringently regulated (compare it to the airlines and how safety is overseen there and you'd be amazed at the difference) and where minor accidents occur quite frequently. An argument can be made that we've just been lucky so far, but then the luck in this case has been running for over 25 years in this country so ... who knows?

2. Nuclear energy in a direct comparison to the cost of burning fossil fuel is not a cheaper alternative. Now how you work on the books on this seems to be a matter of where you're coming from as the nuclear industry will tell you that nuclear power is cheaper. But when you factor in that we haven't built a nuke plant in this country in decades, that such plants have always had cost overruns associated with them, the possible economic ramifications of an accident, and ultimately what's to be done with nuclear waste, it's hard to make a strong case that nuclear power is all that cheap. That said, with the price of fuel going up that may well change.

3. You still have the issue of what to do with waste.

We have 103 nuke power plants in this country now, most of them are old and we're getting to the point where even if we don't want to build nukes to combat carbon emissions we have to figure out what we're going to do to replace what energy production we now have. The main argument against nukes is #3. With advance designed nukes there are passive safety features that can be built into the plants that should dramatically reduce the possibility of catastrophic accidents. The cost of nuke power will likely go down as the cost of fossil fuel goes up. But there's still no definitive solution to the nuclear waste problem, and until that's figured out we're definitely putting the cart in front of the horse.

Now that said, I find it interesting that previous steadfast anti-nuke environmentalists are now seriously considering them even with the problem of what to do with the nuclear waste these things generate. Can they seriously believe that reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere trumps any consideration of what to do with the nuclear waste? I personally find that hard to believe, and I've yet to see anything that in anyway supports this. But the fact is that the wind is blowing in the right direction for the nuclear industry at this point, and you can expect to see more and more to be said about this in the coming weeks and months. Something to give some serious consideration to.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Perfect, And They'd Deserve To Get Them, Too ...


Courtesy of Pharyngula

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Class: Where Do You Fall Out?

The Times is running a series of articles on "class" in America. To get some idea of where you stand in the pantheon of American "class", go to:

How Class Works - New York Times

You may possibly find this depressing, but I should think you might at least find it interesting.

Base Closings

I am loosely following these base closing recommendations announced yesterday. The BRAC, which stands for base realignment and closure, process was first kicked in as we're now seeing it back in the early to mid 80's. The idea then was to throttle down on what we were spending on military infrastructure, especially the kind of infrastructure that doesn't serve a necessary function. There was a lot of excess infrastructure from the Cold War, and it was felt that a lot of money would be saved by making it go away --- duh, right? The problem is that the bases tend to be an integral part of the communities in which they sit, so simply making them disappear is no easy thing.

I followed yesterday's NPR coverage of the effect of the recent closing announcement. If the recommendations are carried out as suggested the impact will be especially hard here in New England, with Connecticut losing some 8,000 jobs from the closing of the submarine base in Groton/New London. The politicians were up in arms, Senator Lieberman was especially incensed that Groton should be on the chopping block. Interestingly enough loyalty or an effort to work with the administration didn't seem to carry much weight in the compilation of the closure recommendations, with two cases in point being the recommendations for the sub base and Ellsworth Air Force base in South Dakota. Lieberman has been one of the few democrats to actively try to work with and meet somewhere in the middle with Bush and company, and John Thune, who beat out Tom Daschle, the old democratic majority/minority leader, came into office with the suggestion that his close ties to the president would help to protect Ellsworth, which is the second largest employer in the state of South Dakota. Apparently no one was holding any trump cards when the recommendation list was compiled, but then it's also true that the fat lady hasn't sung on this one yet.

What amazed me, though why it amazed me I don't know given that I was listening to politician rattle one, were the senators specifically who were out there, Lieberman leading the pact, bellowing how the Pentagon planners were making horrible strategic mistakes and were jeopardizing the country. Listening to Thune talk about how moving the B-1 bombers at Ellsworth to wherever it is they're recommended to be sent, is a recipe for attack as now ALL of the nation's B-1 bombers would be located in one spot and thereby more vulnerable, I had to ask myself who he was worried about that had plans to take out all of our B-1 bombers? Lieberman was a bit more emotional, alluding to the historical nature of Groton, and that it was the home of the first U.S. nuclear submarine. Now why any of that would bear on keeping the base is beyond me, but he clearly felt it was important. He also alluded to the fact that since the base is a nuclear facility it'd be expensive to close and clean up, and, therefore, it'd be cheaper to keep it open; I'm sure we should ALL take comfort from that consideration.

One thing I got out of the announcement that took me a bit by surprise was the Groton closure. The Pentagon is clearly sending a message about our submarines. The naval station in Portsmouth, New Hampshire is on the cutting block and it has two submarines, and Groton has about 18. These are all attack submarines (ballistic missile submarines, which carry nuclear weapons, are stationed on the east coast out of Kings Bay, GA). Norfolk, VA, the other location for attack submarines on the east coast, has about 12 submarines stationed there. If Groton and Portsmouth close the submarines homeported in each are not going to be able to simply be shifted into Norfolk, which would never be able to go from 12 to 30 plus submarines. Many of the New England submarines are going to find themselves shifted into the Pacific fleet, on the west coast, Hawaii, and, yes indeed we have a submarine base there, Guam. That sends an interesting geo-political message (though this isn't really the first time it's being sent, as Groton was on the chopping block once before bit managed to get off --- I hadn't be aware, for some odd reason, about the first recommendation to close the place) to the world about where we see our priorities with regard to what we need to be thinking about defending, i.e. the threat of concer is more out of the Pacific than coming out of taditionally European waters.

With Bush's inclination to stick oil refineries on de-activated military bases it'll be interesting to see if Groton becomes a recommended site, along with Portsmouth in New Hampshire, right there on the Maine border, a stone's throw away from the Bush family compound at Kenneybunkport, Maine. My sense is that the residents of the largely bucolic chunks of real estate where these submarines sit won't take kindly to foul looking, and often smelling oil refineries. Submarines are fine, they're largely kept hidden anyway, but you can't do much to hide an oil refinery and all that comes with keeping it running.

Well, such is life. We shall see what makes the final list, and then how communities scramble to accommodate the encroaching realities. The politicians who bemoan the loss of their local military facilities based upon determinations they're hardly in a position to make (I'm sorry Senator Lieberman, but losing a sub base at Groton, CT is not going to undermine the strategic posture of the U.S., but then I guess you know that, too, and can't really afford to say so for attribution), really see the military installations as a jobs program for the local citizens, which is understandable. But then we as taxpayers shouldn't have to be paying for something that the military itself is saying it doesn't want or need, and so those jobs are forfeit to those realities. Those losing jobs from any base closing will be given far more of a helping hand from the government than anyone who lost a mill or factory job, so on the whole I don't feel overly bad about them --- well, heck, at least they can take comfort from the fact that their jobs weren't outsourced to Bangalore, right?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Ruminations: Ya Gotta Love This Place, The U.S. of A.

Pedro Irigonegaray

I got back about 45 mins ago from dropping off Feri at the airport. She's heading to Madison, WI for a "girls' weekend" with her friends Ghazal and Nahal. Ghazal and Nahal are sisters, and Nahal is flying out today as well, arriving at the Madison airport about ten minutes before Feri (timing in life is everything.) Feri has her PhD in neurophysiology, Ghazal is a PhD cosmologist, and Nahal is working on her MS in computer science, and giving serious thought to a PhD (or so I hear.) For all the serious intellectual grrrrrrrrl power running around the three of them, I have no doubt that make up, clothes, food, and a lot of laughing will be a significant part of the weekend, along with movies, a bad habit that Feri had before me and has gotten MUCH worse (yes, I'm the one to blame for that as if ever there was a movie bum your gentle blogger is one of them) after marrying me.

At this point you may be asking yourself, "So who's that handsome devil jabbing his finger in the air, and what does he have to do with your wife flying to Madison, WI?" Well he's Pedro Irigonegaray, of course, and he has nothing to do with my wife and Madison, WI, but he has a lot to do with the evolution hearing in Kansas. He's the lawyer for the evolution side who's giving the Kansas board of education folks, many of whom are anti-evolution, or otherwise ignorant (I'm trying to be polite), a hard time, and apparently being very good at it, bless his soul. I was thinking to myself as I read the Washington Post article on the hearings that this is a great damn country. To think, the Clarence Darrow of the 21st century is some guy originally born in Cuba, with a name like Pedro Irigonegaray. Yes, indeed, this is a great country ... it has its problem, it's far from perfect, but damn it's a great place to live and be a part of --- I love this country!

Science Education in America Part II

I believe most of us take blithely for granted that this, the United States, is one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet. This is a country that thrives on new inventions, where your fortune can be made if you can come up with the right "new thing", and which builds its jobs on the backbone of technological advances that move us forward into a service focused economy.

So the U.S. has established itself as something of a technological behemoth, yet incredibly we still can't quite get the idea of science right, not understanding what is or is not a "theory" goes to the heart of this problem, and apart from religion, especially when science is in conflict with religion. On top of that we're not so focused on the sciences as we once were, to wit (taken from the editorial by J. W. Moore in The Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 82 No. 6 June 2005):

Undergraduate degrees in science and engineering (S&E) are awarded to a smaller fraction of undergraduates in the U.S. than in other countries.
• The U.S. share of worldwide undergraduate S&E degrees has dropped.
• Annually the U.S. has a smaller share of the worldwide S&E doctoral degrees than both Asia and Europe.
• The proportion of U.S. citizens in U.S. S&E graduate programs has dropped below 50%, and 57% of S&E postdoctoral fellows are foreign-born [Personal note: my PhD touting wife earned her degree in Iran.]
• Since 1980 the number of S&E positions in the U.S. workforce has grown at nearly five times the rate of the workforce as a whole, but the number of S&E degrees is growing less rapidly than the workforce.
• Rapidly increasing retirements from the S&E field imply that, unless more domestic students pursue S&E degrees, the U.S. is likely to experience a major shortage of high-tech talent.
• As a percentage of gross domestic product, U.S. federal funding of basic research in engineering and physical sciences has declined over the past 30 years.

So on the one hand we're the technology leaders of the world, on the other we're unable to define what's science and what's not, and on top of it all we're not producing nearly as many scientists or engineers as we need to to sustain our technology base, which in the end will indeed be responsible for most of the jobs in this country as we go into the future. Don't just take my word for it that we're looking at a problem here, rather take it from some business folks (to see the full report go to Business-Higher Education Forum's A Commitment to America's Future: Responding to the Crisis in Mathematics and Science Education) :

"Increased global competition, lackluster performance in mathematics and science education, and a lack of national focus on renewing its science and technology infrastructure have created a new economic and technological vulnerability as serious as any military or terrorist threat."

Now those are pretty strong words, "... vulnerability as serious as any military or terrorist threat." Wow ... and we can't get a large percentage of the science teachers in this country to get their heads out of their Bibles long enough to figure out what's science and what's faith. Maybe the Department of Homeland Security should be working this one vice the Department of Education --- but hey, this administration has all sorts of faith-based initiatives, maybe they figure that faith will carry us along, creationism or not.

It's interesting how this issue of faith intersecting with science works. I have four Muslim friends who are reasonably observant of their faith, to the extent that one of the women wears a head scarf, and all eat halal, the Islamic equivalent of kosher meat, and all pray the requisite number of times during the course of their day. Two are PhD cosmologists, one of whom works on the cosmic background radiation which is a remnant of the big bang, the other is a cosmologist (I'm sorry, I don't recall what she specifically works on), and the other two are working on their PhDs in different areas of physics. They don't seem to have a problem with the big bang, though I haven't really gotten into a discussion of evolution per se (I did with one, and she didn't indicate there to be a problem.) I know another PhD, this one in biology, who's a Mormon that believes that all of this evolution stuff is hooey and that the big bang didn't happen --- he tends to keep his views to himself, though. Now interestingly enough he is more representative than my Muslim friends of the faith-based conflict with evolution, i.e. the problem, for as much as there is any, come from the Christian community (though I do appreciate that many consider the Church of Latter Day Saints to be more of a sect than a religion, I'll go with the IRS and agree that they're a branch of the Christian faith). I have to wonder, though, how a scientist with a PhD can out of hand completely discount large sweeps of physics and biology, and it's not like he's offering anything to replace it with other than his faith. Now he's entitled to his faith, but faith, last I checked, doesn't do much for curing diseases, feeding the poor (the green revolution, I'm sorry to say, did far more to feed the poor than any church ever did), or come up with the next generation of computer chips.

Ok, I've gone on longer than I likely should have, and I do hope I was able to get the message across. We need more students interested in science if we're to keep this country moving in the direction it needs to go, and doing a better job of it I may add, than those of us who've been there before them. And we need to get God out of the science curriculum if we're not to make ourselves out to look more foolish than we already have. God is God, and God has a place and I completely respect that place and anyone's entitlement to be in that place with God, for however much that's possible --- but God doesn't belong in science books until such time as God allows us to test, measure, and record what God does, at which point we'll all be engaging in science and maybe we'd also have a happier world to boot! And maybe when pigs fly we'll all learn to not eat bacon, or something like that.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Science Education in America

I've been interested in this Kansas school board deliberation regarding changing the science standards for the state and I did some checking out there to see what was being said and I came upon a site called Beliefnet.com. I suppose it would be fair to state that those going to such a site are more inclined towards a religious foundation, i.e. they have religious beliefs that tend to color their thinking, and on the basis of this I suppose I'm not overly surprised by the numbers as you see them here:

Total: 2829
How should evolution and creationism be taught in public schools?
Just evolution should be taught
Both taught as legitimate "theories"
Only creationism

Then I found a table complied by Eugenie Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education (a pro-evolution organization very involved tracking the evolution debate in this country) which enlightens as follows:

Percentage of Teachers Advocating Equal Time for Creationism*

Illinois (1983)


Georgia (1983)


Ohio (1987)


South Dakota (1989)


Pennsylvania (1997)


Louisiana (1999)


National (1989)


My guess is that on the whole this pretty much hasn't changed percentage wise, i.e. about 30% of the teachers out there believe that teaching creationism (note: creationism is far specifically rooted in a biblical interpretation of the origins of man and the species, it questions the age of the Earth putting it at about 10,000 years old, and espouses numerous other beliefs that run contrary to scientific evidence. Intelligent design, which is the focus of the present Kansas debate, is not specifically biblically focused, though many would argue that ID is creationism in a different guise to make it more palatable) is something we should be doing in school. Visiting the NSTA web site, specifically to its Science Teacher magazine, I recalled an article from about a year ago by a professor at the University of Minnesota. He provided the following information:

  • 40 percent of biology teachers in Minnesota spend little or no time teaching evolution (Hessler 2000);
  • Approximately 15 percent of Minnesota’s biology teachers include creationism in their classes;
  • More than 25 percent of Minnesota’s biology teachers believe that creationism has a scientific basis; and
  • One-fifth of Minnesota’s biology teachers are pressured not to teach evolution (Kraemer 1995).

Now this was Minnesota, and the current controversy is in Kansas, and the one before that was Georgia, so we should all take comfort in the fact that this is happening in those "Red" states where the thinking is somehow back there in the previous century, right? Of course you know that that's not right, I mean why would I otherwise ask? Recently in the New York Legislator we find the following, provided courtesy of NCSE Resource:

Equal time for "intelligent design" legislation in New York

Assembly Bill 8036, introduced on May 3, 2005, and referred to the Committee on Education, would require that "all pupils in grades kindergarten through twelve in all public schools in the state ... receive instruction in both theories of intelligent design and evolution."

New York is as blue as a blue state can get, but you still have those out there who think the answer is in the Bible (the person in question here is an assemblyman by the name of Richard Hooker.)

I doubt anyone that knows me would have any question as to where I fall on this issue. Evolution is the ONLY scientific THEORY that explains the origin and development of life. Creationism and Intelligent Design are hypotheses that attempt to do explain the origin of life, but by virtue of their lack of experimentation and their inability to predict anything (God, or the intelligent creator whomever he/she/it may be doesn't seem to be willing to go along with the proof part of this endeavor), they are not theories. They are hypotheses just as valid as my saying that we were all created by Hobbits who rule the universe. My main problem as opposed to the creationists/intelligent design folks is that I don't have a Bible to point to that allows me to say that the Great Hobbit tells us this. The ID/creationist folks will point to issues of complexity or our not being able to explain all aspects of life via evolution, but then we can't explain exactly how gravity works, and a load of many other things either, and it never seems to occur to anyone to have to insert God, or an intelligent designer, into the gaps caused by those unknowns.

Ok, more on this tomorrow.