WikiMedia’s appropriate pic of the day

April 30, 2008

Well, it woulda been more appropriate in April 25, perhaps — though the species is not a malaria-carrying mosquito.

Still, you gotta love it, Wikimedia’s Picture of the Day for April 30, 2008:


Culex spp., larva, near the surface of a body of water.

This would make a great background for a PowerPoint presentation with just a bit of work, I think. The browns are about the same intensity as the blues and greens. Nice background for a presentation on mosquitoes — outstanding background for slide of a chart on mosquito populations or somesuch.

Warm up for biology class:  Invert the photo, ask kids to explain what it is.

Happy 75th, Willie Nelson

April 30, 2008

He’s on the cover of Texas Monthly looking like the oldest piece of shoe leather south of the Red River (see photo at right — by Platon).  He was featured in the Dallas Morning News last week for “Red Headed Stranger,” the album that broke the country music mold and made him the monument to iconoclasm that he is.  And there’s a new book on  his life from Joe Nick Patoski:  Willie:  An epic life. Texas Monthly cover photo of Willie Nelson, 5-2008

I’ll wager he’s on the road today, ready to make music.

Willie Nelson turns 75 today.

You oughtta check out:

Oklahoma parents speak out against Sally Kern’s unholy bias

April 29, 2008

From a paid advertisement in The Daily Oklahoman:

Bob Lemon's ad

Full text below the fold, should you find it difficult to read this ad on your browser.

Other resources:

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The $7 million dogwood blossom

April 29, 2008

Not perfect — there is a brown spot on it; but beautiful, surpassingly rare, a creature of the serendipity of nature, it is a natural dogwood blossom in Dallas County, Texas:

Dogwood blossom in Dogwood Canyon, Texas


What we came to see – the magical dogwood blossoms.

On April 5 Kathryn and I joined David Hurt and a jovial band of hikers for a trip into Dogwood Canyon in Cedar Hill, Texas. The physical formation of Cedar Hill upon which the city of the same name and several others stand, is one of the highest spots between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. It is an outcropping of chalk, a formation known as the Austin Chalk, that runs from Austin, north nearly to the Oklahoma border.

This rock formation creates a clear physical marker of the boundary between East and West. Dallas is east of the line, Fort Worth, Gateway to the Old West, is 30 miles farther west. On this outcropping is married the plains of the west with the oaks and forests of the east. Within a few miles of the line, the botanical landscape changes, cowboy prairie lands one way, forest lands the other.

On the chalk itself, the soil is thin and alkaline. The alkalinity is a function of the chemical composition of the chalk underneath it.

Dogwoods love the forests of East Texas with their acidic soils. Early spring produces fireworks-like bursts of white dogwood blossoms in the understory of East Texas forests. Dogwoods die out well east of Dallas as the soil changes acidity; driving from Dallas one can count on 30 to 60 miles before finding a dogwood.

Except in Dogwood Canyon. There, where entrepreneur David Hurt originally planned to build a family hideout and getaway, he found a stand of dogwoods defying botanists and the Department of Agriculture’s plant zone maps, blooming furiously in thin alkaline soil atop the Austin Chalk.

(continued below the fold)

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Cubs’ Rick Monday saved the American flag

April 29, 2008

Odds are high that readers of any blog are too young to remember. Heck, I’d forgotten about it until Matthew Tabor reminded me.

April 25, 1976: Rick Monday, center fielder for the Chicago Cubs, saved the U.S. flag.

Rick Monday snatches the U.S. flag from burning

Get the story from Tabor’s blog. He offers credits to

Major League Baseball was kind enough to preserve the story, which you may watch below.


Darwin speaks out, sorta

April 27, 2008

In his on-camera parts in his mockumentary movie “Expelled!” Ben Stein paid a visit to the statue of Charles Darwin in the British Museum (too bad Stein didn’t bother to visit any of the exhibits).

It was a brave move.  Stein, ever the prankster, surely understood that his move would be open to pranking itself.  Sure enough, The Beagle Project sponsored a captioning contest, similar to The New Yorker’s cartoon captioning contests.

Here’s the winner, in a .gif animation from Eclectech:

Ben Stein meets Darwin's statue

See the other entries in the captioning contest at The Beagle Project.

Oooh, and see all the other creativity Stein’s misstep created:

Tip of the old scrub brush (again) to Pharyngula.

Charles Darwin has a blog!

April 27, 2008

No kidding.  See it here.  High-end hosts, at

I gather they have wi-fi in the cafe at the museum from which he posts.

Charles Darwin in the cafe at the British Museum -- photo from 90% True

Charles Darwin sits congenially in the café of the British Museum.  Does he blog with wi-fi?

Huxley and Darwin in the cafe at the British Museum; temporary posts for both of them, during some renovations, it turned out -- update 2015. Photo from Airminded.

Huxley and Darwin in the cafe at the British Museum; temporary posts for both of them, during some renovations, it turned out — update 2015. Photo from Airminded

In his first post, he complains about the abuse he suffers from Ben Stein’s mockumentary.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula.

Terry Jones and Gordon Brown: One and the same?

April 27, 2008

Who is this guy?

Gordon Brown, a bit younger

Are you sure it’s not the same as this guy, below?

Terry Jones, from BBC publicity photo

Is it possible that England, who thinks it is being led by a fellow named Gordon Brown, of Tony Blair’s Labour Party, is instead being led by Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame?

Terry Jones, with cocoanut orchestra - Broadway

Are they not the same man? Are you sure?

Have you ever seen director Terry Jones and Prime Minister Gordon Brown photographed together?

Joanne Jacobs was so close to the truth! But she missed it.

It would be so unfair. Britain gets a Python. We get . . . something else.

Update, June 16, 2008: Even better comparison of photos here.  I’m having difficulty reading the caption — monitor resolution problems?  Can you read the post and translate it here?

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Heroes of the Underground Railroad

April 26, 2008

How much do you really know about the Underground Railroad, how it worked, and what it meant to slaves in the Americas?

Do you know who Thornton and Ruthie Blackburn were?  Did you know Canada played a key role in the life of the Underground Railroad?

The book is a year old now, and well worth a look: I’VE GOT A HOME IN GLORY LAND, A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad; Karolyn Smardz Frost, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007).

Clear review from the New York Times, and the first chapter of the book so you can test drive it before you buy.

Two-fer:  The author is both an archaeologist (the one who did the dig at the Thorntons’ home in Toronto) and a historian.

This book would be a good one for an honors history course or AP history course for which students are required to read a book.

World malaria politics, every day

April 26, 2008

World Malaria Day passed yesterday (see immediately previous post).  News articles and blog articles educating people about malaria and how to fight it increased modestly.

Now it’s back to the grind.  Malaria is killing hundreds of thousands.  Some people are interested in using those deaths for political gain, to get economic gain, at the expense of the dead and others whose deaths could be prevented.

In order to fight malaria, the world has come around to the tactics of fighting the mosquitoes that transmit it from human to human that were advocated by naturalist and author Rachel Carson, in her book on pesticides and other hydrocarbon chemicals, Silent Spring.

Carson realized that poisoning the air, water and soil could not work to stop disease, ultimately.  She sounded the alarm with her book in 1962.   In the 1950s DDT became ineffective against bedbugs.  By the middle 1960s, resistance and immunity to DDT by malaria-carrying mosquitoes was almost world wide.  The attempt to “eradicate malaria” collapsed when mosquitoes became resistant, coupled with the failure of too many nations to get an anti-malaria program up and running — and the disease came roaring back when the malaria parasites themselves became resistant to the pharmaceuticals used to treat the disease in humans.

New strides against malaria have been made with the creation of new pharmaceutical regimens to kill the parasites in humans, and the adoption of the rigorous, Rachel Carson-advocated programs of integrated pest management to control insects that are a necessary part of the malaria parasites’ life cycle.

Unfortunately, about 6 out of every ten stories done on mosquitoes and malaria in the past year have scoriated Carson as wrong on the science (she was not), and as a “killer of children” despite the millions her work is saving.  There is a big business in spreading false tales about DDT, about malaria, and about Rachel Carson.

Who would do such a thing?  I call your attention to Uganda, where modest use of DDT in Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) was started earlier this month despite lots of loud protests — from businesses.  Tobacco and other big business agriculture interests opposed spraying DDT in homes.  Why?

It’s silly.  But tobacco interests are mad at the World Health Organization for campaigning against cigarette smoking.  To frustrate WHO’s pro-health, anti-tobacco campaign, tobacco companies started attacking WHO for being “soft on malaria” about a decade ago.  The idea was that, if the case could be made that WHO was lacking in credibility, no one would listen to WHO about tobacco.

Tim Lambert and Deltoid have the story summarized, “Taking Aim at Rachel Carson.” Go read it.

In the fight against malaria, the bad guy, the villain, is malaria; malaria’s unwitting henchmen are mosquitoes.  Good science and good information, coupled with consistent governmental action to improve health care, are the good guys.  Rachel Carson is one of the good guys.

When you see a piece that says Rachel Carson is part of the problem, you’ve found a piece written by a tempter, or a dupe, or maybe just someone who isn’t thinking about the issues.  Don’t give money to that person’s organization to promote junk science and political calumny.  Don’t waiver in your resolve against malaria — find another, good charity, to give your money, time and effort to.  The Global Fund is a good group for contributing.  Africa Fighting Malaria spends a lot of time asking bloggers and reporters to write dubious stories against Rachel Carson and environmentalists, and not enough time or effort against malaria.  I do not recommend Africa Fighting Malaria as a recipient of your money.

Information, science, action:  Fighting malaria requires we keep our wits and reason about us, and act.

A Few Resources:

World Malaria Day 2008

April 25, 2008

April 25, 2008, is World Malaria Day. I’ve purchased some bednets thorugh Nothing But Nets to help fight malaria. Educating others about the disease is one of the chief goals, too.

Will you help, please?

See the statement from the World Malaria Day community below; pass it along to someone else.

A Malaria Community Statement –

April 25th is World Malaria Day and also Malaria Awareness Day in the United States. In observance of this day and in recognition of the tremendous opportunities to reduce the burden that malaria imposes on the health of people worldwide, we, the Malaria Community, stand in support of the following statement.

We Have Made Progress

Dynamic new public and private partnerships and renewed commitments to strengthen
longstanding efforts to combat malaria are showing positive results. Global partners include
bilateral, multilateral and U.N. programs, faith-based groups, business coalitions and private
foundations. The single largest U.S.-funded malaria program, the President’s Malaria Initiative
(PMI), has accomplished the following:

  • Indoor residual spraying benefiting more than 17 million people;
  • Procurement and distribution of 5 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets;
  • Procurement of 12.6 million artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) treatments and training of more than 28,000 health workers in use of ACTs; and
  • Procurement of malaria treatment for more than 4 million pregnant women.

Expanding Access to Current Interventions

It is imperative that stakeholders in the fight against malaria maximize global access to existing proven interventions including insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying with insecticides, and effective medications. Through generous donor contributions, access to essential interventions is improving—yielding dramatic successes in places like Ethiopia and Rwanda where malaria infections and deaths have decreased by more than 50 percent. But the availability of interventions is only half the battle. We must find means to expand delivery of proven interventions, strengthen the capacity of partner countries to administer basic interventions at the community level, share best practices across countries, and motivate individuals to protect themselves and their families.

Investing in New Tools

Simultaneously, we must increase investment in developing new, improved technologies for controlling malaria, including effective drugs, insecticides, and vaccines. Resistance to the most commonly prescribed drugs in most countries has been rapidly increasing. Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) must be readily available and affordable, and new therapies must be developed to prevent resistance to ACTs and eventually replace them. The U.S. government’s commitment to expedite the development of highly effective malaria vaccines is needed now, understanding that the process will take significant time and investment. The potential of developing a vaccine of even limited efficacy could have a significant impact on deaths and illness, especially among infants and young children.

Global Problem, Local Solutions

Achieving results will also depend on the effective engagement of national, regional and local governments in the effective deployment of malaria control tools. To guarantee the best use of resources, steps must be taken to ensure that anti-malaria tools, research and investment reach the communities that need them the most, while ensuring that no community is left unsupported. Community-based efforts to deliver malaria prevention and treatment programs must inform the development of the comprehensive global strategy needed so that efforts can be sustained over time. All stakeholders need to be engaged in thoughtful, coordinated planning that brings to bear the best evidence from all levels of efforts to control or eliminate malaria while addressing changes in the epidemiology of the disease.

Note carefully and well that the major organizations fighting malaria neither slam Rachel Carson, whose methods they use to fight malaria today, nor call for a return to wholesale poisoning of Africa and Asia with DDT, but instead urge wise use of resources including an expansion of health care to aid the human victims of malaria.  Malaria is the problem, not science.

World Malaria Day is a logical extension of Earth Day; the two are not in opposition.

More Resources:

Vote today: Committee recommends against graduate creationism degrees

April 24, 2008

Good news:  A subcommittee of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Committee yesterday voted against letting the Institute for Creation Research award graduate degrees in science education because of their rejection of evolution.  The full committee will vote today.

ICR promises to fight it.

Dallas Morning News reporter Terrence Stutz’s report is worth reading.

Citing the group’s teaching of creationism rather than evolution in its science curriculum, Dr. Paredes said it was clear the school would not adequately prepare its graduates to teach the scientific principles now required in Texas public schools.

“Evolution is such a fundamental principle of contemporary science it is hard to imagine how you could cover the various fields of science without giving it [evolution] the proper attention it deserves as a foundation of science,” he said.

“Religious belief is not science. Science and religious belief are surely reconcilable, but they are not the same thing.”

Henry Morris III, chief executive officer of the institute, contended that the school would prepare students to “understand both sides of the scientific perspective, although we do favor the creationist view.”

After the adverse vote from several coordinating board members meeting as a committee, Mr. Morris said the institute may revise its application or take its case to court.

“We will pursue due process,” he told the board. “We will no doubt see you in the future.”

Quiet and educational efforts from Texas Citizens for Science and the Texas Freedom Network probably helped turn the tide on this issue.


Carnival Catch-up: Personal Finance

April 24, 2008

Behind on our carnivaling again . . . alas, not because we’ve been soaking in the tub, either.

Texas teachers, take note of the 149th Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by The Happy Rock. If you can’t find material there to bolster your personal finance curriculum, you need a lot more coffee.  Lots of posts on saving and investing and how to make it work on limited budgets, good stuff for the classroom.  Some are rather curious though — this one, from Squawkfox, suggests women should go around virtually naked in a sense, keeping no important documents or items in their purses.  Where should a lady carry her check book, seriously?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Don’t Mess with Taxes

The inaccuracy and spin go all the way to 11

April 22, 2008

There’s a guy who doesn’t like my comments on his blog, so he’s banned me. Every once in a while I find a headline or link to something, and it takes me over there — and I remember why he doesn’t like my comments.

Rationality and accuracy are barriers to be overcome for some bloggers, and this guy often falls into that category. Today he’s bummed that gay students and their friends and relatives protest bullying of gays with a Day of Silence. Neil Simpson wrote:

The Day of Silence (where schools encourage kids to be completely silent for a day to protest alleged discrimination against gays) is back, and students’ rights are being violated left and right. It is bad enough that they disrupt the learning process for a whole day, but now some schools aren’t permitting students to miss school that day or instituting other requirements.

Okay, that’s enough. I gotta stop the quoting and make corrections. “Where schools encourage kids to be completely silent for a day?” There is no such place. This is a fabrication of someone. Who?

The link in the quoted paragraph goes to Kevin Bussey’s blog; from there we get a link to a story in WorldNet Daily, perhaps the single greatest source of information pollution on the internet.

But read the story — even WND doesn’t claim that schools are supporting the event. WND only decries the fact that schools won’t bully kids into not supporting the anti-bullying campaign (irony drips from every serif of this story . . .).

Gay clubs and the “Day of Silence” have no purpose in schools. The GLBTX propoganda machine just uses the Trojan Horse of being anti-bullying to get them in. It is all part of the drive not just for tolerance, not just for affirmation, but to silence all critics.

But why have sex clubs and school-sponsored protest days just for that? All you need is a simple and thoroughly enforced anti-bullying policy:

If you physically or verbally harass other students on or off school grounds you will have swift and serious consequences. It doesn’t matter if you are bullying because they are gay / straight / fat / thin / smart / dumb / pretty / ugly / etc., or if it is just because you are a mean jerk. Zero tolerance. Training over. Now go to class and learn something.

Bullying is wrong. I would always protect gays if they were being bullied, but that isn’t what this issue is really about. If it was, then the kids who are picked on for all those other reasons should get a special day as well, and schools wouldn’t persecute students who wanted to opt out of this special day.

Just a stand against bullying? Maybe Simpson will take a stand against bullying, you think? Maybe Simpson would urge his friends at the Texas State Board of Education to rejoin the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). Texas pulled out a few months back, protesting the anti-bullying curriculum NASB had put together. The Texas officials — speaking for themselves, not necessarily the people of Texas, let me assure you — said they didn’t like the part that said “don’t bully gays.”

When stuff like that happens, people will on occasion use their First Amendment right to petition and right to assemble and freedom of speech to protest the stupidity. In the immediate case, the protest takes the form of remaining silent.

When gays and the friends of gays don’t speak, it makes the hardcore fundies crazy. The voices in their heads seem so much louder.


San Jacinto Day in the rearview mirror

April 22, 2008

Have I been distracted by work? Here’s one way to tell: Yesterday was San Jacinto Day. And I forgot to note it here.

Fortunately, the celebration is set for April 26 — at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, near LaPorte, Texas. The battle reenactment is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. — be there early to get the benefit of all the exhibits, sideshows, and Texas cooking. (Press release on the celebration below the fold. Note the press release says admission is free, while the story from Houston’s KTRK-13 says there are admission charges.)

San Jacinto Day? April 21 is the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, where Sam Houston and the Texian Army got the drop on Gen. Santa Anna and his much larger force, and in the course of a half-hour put the well-trained Mexican regulars on the run, and won Texas independence.

It’s a time to remember — or puzzle about — the true story of the Yellow Rose of Texas, a woman to whom Texans owe a great deal, or one of the better hoaxes of history. It’s a time to fume over the way Anglo Texians pronounced the J as J in “Jacinto,” distancing Texas from a small part of its Spanish-language heritage.

Unfortunately, it’s also a day most Texas students get smothered with reviews from their teachers for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), the state exam that had just ended last year on this date, and looms in the future this year. Instead of learning Texas history, Texas seventh graders spend this great day reviewing what educators are supposed to teach them. Nuts.

Hey, Texas teachers: Download the teachers’ guide to the Battle of San Jacinto right now — have it ready for next year. The kids need a break to study real history. You know they will need that break next year, too.

The late Hoyt Axton sings “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” with John Hartford and others:

Other resources:

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