World class chess in Dallas, November 30

November 30, 2008

Looking for something to do in Dallas today?

Go see some international, championship chess sponsored by the University of Texas – Dallas’s world-beating chess team.  The UT-Dallas Grand Master Invitational Tournament has round 9 scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m., at the Hilton Garden Inn in Richardson, Texas. These are top-level matches (practice rounds for UT-D’s chess team sometimes affect international rankings), so play should continue for quite a while after the start.

Through the MonRoi site, you can watch the chess matches of the Dallas Tournament live — or at least, animations of the boards showing the moves.  You have to register, but it’s free.

Below the fold, the complete press release with all details, from UT-Dallas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Whiskey and Cigar Day 2008: Churchill and Twain

November 30, 2008

Encore Post:  From 2007; alas, things at the Texas State Board of Education have gotten no better.

Mark Twain, afloat

November 30 is the birthday of Mark Twain (1835), and Winston Churchill (1874).

Twain had a comment on recent actions at the Texas Education Agency:

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.

– Following the Equator; Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar

The Nobel literature committees were slow; Twain did not win a Nobel in Literature; he died in 1910. Churchill did win a Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1953.

Both men were aficionados of good whiskey and good cigars. Both men suffered from depression in old age.

Both men made a living writing, early in their careers as newspaper correspondents. One waged wars of a kind the other campaigned against. Both were sustained by their hope for the human race, against overwhelming evidence that such hope was sadly misplaced.


Both endured fantastic failures that would have killed other people, and both rebounded.

Both men are worth study.

Twain, on prisons versus education: “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” – Speech, November 23, 1900

Churchill on the evil men and nations do:

“No One Would Do Such Things”

“So now the Admiralty wireless whispers through the ether to the tall masts of ships, and captains pace their decks absorbed in thought. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. It is too foolish, too fantastic to be thought of in the twentieth century. Or is it fire and murder leaping out of the darkness at our throats, torpedoes ripping the bellies of half-awakened ships, a sunrise on a vanished naval supremacy, and an island well-guarded hitherto, at last defenceless? No, it is nothing. No one would do such things. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, Liberal principles, the Labour Party, high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong. Such a mistake could only be made once—once for all.”

—1923, recalling the possibility of war between France and Germany after the Agadir Crisis of 1911, in The World Crisis,vol. 1, 1911-1914, pp. 48-49.

Image of Twain aboard ship – origin unknown. Image of Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine.

More on Mark Twain

More on Winston Churchill

Orson Welles, with Dick Cavett, on Churchill, his wit, humor and grace (tip of the old scrub brush to the Churchill Centre):

Obama’s birth certificate: Astrologers bring sound reason

November 30, 2008

Texas Darlin‘ and the bevy of sites who contest the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate need to come up for air once in a while.  When astrologers start using better science, logic and reason than those obsessed with Obama’s birth certificate, it’s time for those so obsessed to change their ways, don’t you think?

See also the six ways the arguments against Obama’s birth certificate fail.

Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla

November 29, 2008

I like this photo of Mark Twain.

November 30 is the anniversary of the birth of Mark Twain, born 1835 (a year of an appearance of Halley’s Comet).  The photo was taken in the spring of 1894 in the laboratory of inventor Nikola Tesla, and originally published to illustrate an article in the legendary Century Magazine, by T.C. Martin called “Tesla’s Oscillator and Other Inventions,” in the April 1895 issue.

Mark Twain, in the laboratory of Nikola Tesla, 1894 - photo in public domain to the best of my knowledge

Mark Twain, in the laboratory of his friend, the inventor Nikola Tesla, 1894 - photo in public domain to the best of my knowledge (See Wikimedia)

Who is that to Twain’s right in the photo?  Tesla?

Molly Ivins and the argument for an immortal soul

November 29, 2008

It struck me today:  Don’t the political events of the past year make a powerful argument that there is an afterlife, and that Molly Ivins is finally taking control of some of the supernatural strings?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pamela Bumsted for sending the link to the Righteous Mothers singing the tribute to Molly Ivins:

The Righteous Mothers, \”Missing Molly Ivins\”

We’ll fight for truth and justice, and have fun.

Cover of Texas Observer Tribute to Molly Ivins edition

Cover of Texas Observer "Tribute to Molly Ivins" edition; click to purchase a copy for your library and edification.

Round-up of Thanksgiving Op-eds

November 27, 2008

Nice round-up of op-eds and other writings in newspapers and other media, on Thanksgiving, at Religion In American History.

I learned a lot.

There’s more.  This one post could be the source for a fun Documents Based Question for practice in an AP class, history or economics — maybe English, too?

Thanksgiving 2008 – Fly your flag today

November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving? Texas had it first. No kidding (unless you count the Vinlanders, who probably were grateful to be out of Greenland, but left no records that they ever actually had a feast to say so — but see the comments in the posts linked at various places).

Last year, Mrs. Bathtub was in the hospital. We sprang her before dinner, but barely.  This year, #2 son is off in the wilds of Wisconsin — the first Turkey Day he’s spent away from home and family.  We empathize with the families the first colonizers left behind.

Still, there will be dinner with the family, thanks for the endurance of storms and trials, reflections on good times past, and hopes for the future.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday, one of the 18 days designated by Congress as a “Fly the flag” day.  It’s been a historic year.  It’s a good day to fly the flag.

So, in keeping with that spirit of remembrance, it’s reprise post stuff mostly, today. If you need more, go here:

Google's Thanksgiving logo, 2007

Here’s the main reprise post, text below (there were some good comments in 2006); Margaritas and nachos do sound good, don’t they?
Patricia Burroughs has the story — you New Englanders are way, way behind.

Palo Duro Canyon in a winter inversion

Palo Duro Canyon during inversion, Winter 2001, site in 1541 of the first Thanksgiving celebration in what would become the United States. Go here:, and here:

Update, 11/27/2006: Great post here, “Top 10 Myths About Thanksgiving.”


Resources for 2007:

Google's 2008 Thanksgiving logo - click here for search on "Thanksgiving"

Google's 2008 Thanksgiving logo - click for search on "Thanksgiving"

6 ways challenges to Obama’s citizenship fail

November 27, 2008

Enough already.  Somebody’s putting LSD into the water conservatives and other wackoes are drinking — that’s the only rational explanation for continued complaints about Barack Obama’s birth eligibility for the presidency.

First, here’s the rational view of the issue, from, “Born in the USA.”

Here are a few of the sites that seem to have lost all touch with reality, and continue to whine that Obama might somehow be ineligible for the presidency:

Conservatives expert advisor Leo C. Denofrio, from his seat at a Caesars Palace poker table

Do you trust your nation's future to this man? - Conservatives' expert advisor Leo C. Denofrio, from his seat at a Caesar's Palace poker table

Weird enough, irrational enough yet?  As odd as these sites are, sometimes the comments get even odder.  It doesn’t help the rationality quotient that so many of these bloggers block out or strike down comments that present an alternative case or rational answers.

And in fact, it’s partly because of Texas Darlin’s anti-rational-comment pose that I put this post up.  Somebody, somewhere, needs to suggest the rational foundations, and inject them into the discussion.

A commenter named Carlyle states the basic case of the birth-certificate-obsessed people (BCOs).  It’s a nutty case, ungrounded in fact or logic, but Texas Darlin’ won’t allow responses.  So, here are some of the things these people are not thinking about as they fold ever-thicker tinfoil hats.

Carlyle said:

But let me back up for a moment and lay out the two great truths. These are the things that are known without doubt and far above speculation.

1. FACT – Obama has never provided admissable auditible citizenship documentation to anybody. No complete birth certificate, no passport, no selective service registration, nothing, zero, nada, zippo. Nobody can produce any of this stuff – not DNC, FEC, DOJ, State SecStates, electors – nobody.

No, actually Carlyle is doing a lot of speculation there (as are other BCOs).  Almost all of these rants are based on speculation, wild speculation far outside of what is known.  The key questions would revolve around what sorts of evidence would be admissible as evidence in a court of law in the U.S.  Very few of these anti-Obama rants ever bother to touch ground on those issues.  The birth certificate issued by the State of Hawaii, posted by the Obama campaign for months, is the legally-admissible document.  The ranters have to ignore that to get on to the rest of their complaints.

Beyond the legally-admissible, there are logical cascades of events to which we can point, which strongly suggest the ranters are truly full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

First, in order to obtain a passport, for one example, one must provide “admissible, auditable citizenship documentation” to the U.S. Department of State. We know Obama has held a passport for many years, so we can be reasonably certain he provided that information originally (Do you have a passport?  How did you get it without a birth certificate?  I got a diplomatic speedy process, and I still had to provide a birth certificate . . .).

Propagandist-and-self-promoter-for-hire Jerome Corsi claims Obama didn’t travel on a U.S. passport, claiming results from an impossible Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. State Department.

Obama’s passport is a matter of record (though privacy laws do not allow release of the passport itself, generally).  Without evidence to the contrary, this presents a rebuttable presumption that Obama is a citizen. Does anyone else have information that the birth certificate Obama gave State was wrong?  Obviously not — the BCOs don’t appear to have been aware such a thing was even required.

Second, one of the things State checked for when I applied for a passport (when I worked in the Senate) was my Selective Service Status.  Hypothetically, they don’t want to grant a passport to someone who is not registered.  Again, under the rules of civil procedure, we have a rebuttable presumption that Obama’s draft registration was fine when he traveled as a student.  If it was fine then, absent a showing from anyone that there was a later event that made the draft registration invalid, we should assume that State did their job.  As a pragmatic matter, the draft ended in the early 1970s, so there could be almost no issue that could have caused Obama’s draft status to change.  It’s pretty clear that his draft registration is valid.

Third, Obama is a lawyer.  In order to get a license to practice law, applicants must provide a certified copy of a birth certificate to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, in order to be eligible to take the bar exam. The National Conference then does a background investigation on all candidates, generally an investigation more thorough than the FBI’s checking for most federal appointees.  In the past, the Conference has reported issues like minor drug use, preventing people from becoming lawyers in several states.  Absent a showing by someone that the National Conference granted special waivers, or a showing of other irregularities, the fact that Obama held a license to practice law presents a rebuttable presumption that his birth certificate is valid exactly as he alleges, and that his draft status is legal. Obviously, the BCOs have no information to indicate any irregularity, since they were unaware of this check.  We should assume, therefore, that Obama has a valid birth certificate and draft registration, since the Illinois Bar got a recommendation from the National Conference of Bar Examiners that Obama was morally fit to be a lawyer.

Fourth, Obama is a U.S. Senator.  As a matter of standard operating procedure, the FBI does a thorough background check on every elected Member of Congress, to certify that they are eligible for top secret clearance, since every member will be seeing national secrets.  Occasionally these checks produce questions, which are usually resolved by the Rules Committee of each house.  There is no record of any proceeding dealing with any irregularity in the background check for Sen. Obama.  This means that there is a rebuttable presumption that the FBI was satisfied with Obama’s citizenship status, as well as his patriotism and ability to keep state secrets.

Furthermore, for members of the Armed Services, Intelligence oversight, and Foreign Relations Committees, there is a more thorough background check by the FBI, since many of these members will be seeing a lot of secrets, and many of them will be talking with foreign dignitaries and visiting foreign nations, and in other ways would have opportunities to pass state secrets to non-allies and even enemies of the U.S.  The simple fact that Obama sat on the Foreign Relations Committee and was, in fact, chairman of the NATO subcommittee (which deals with secrets of many of the allies of the U.S.), creates a fourth rebuttable presumption that Obama’s citizenship status, draft status, patriotism and ability to wave the flag and sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” are above reproach.

Obviously, BCOs don’t have any information to suggest there is any problem with this tougher security clearance, and in fact appear to be wholly unaware that such an investigation had been done, or could be done.

Fifth, since the November 4 election, Sen. Obama has been getting the daily National Security briefiing that President Bush gets.  This briefing includes our nation’s most precious secrets, and cannot be done, even for the president, without the CIA and Homeland Security verifying that the man is who he says he is.

BCOs have no information to overcome the several rebuttable presumptions that Obama’s credentials are in order, evidenced by their total lack of awareness that such procedures even exist.

So, in five ways, we have assurances that Obama is wholly legal and qualified to hold the office of the presidency.  Neither TD’s commenter Carlyle nor any other BCO has any basis to question these federal and state agencies, nor have they suggested any irregularity in any one of these processes which would lead to the irrational conclusion that Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen, or not eligible to be president.

Sixth, Obama posted his birth certificate in June, on-line [archived version here]. Are these people Google impaired?

2. FACT – Against numerous attempts by journalists and courts to ask for such information, Obama has uniformaly resisted. One might even say beligerently so.

One might say that, but one would be prevaricating, belligerently.  As noted above, Obama’s birth certificate is available on-line.  So much for resistance.   So far as we know, every reporter who asked was able to view the actual certificate with it’s stamp of authority from the State of Hawaii.  Such analyses have been done, written about, and posted on-line.  Are they Google AND Yahoo impaired?

Do the BCOs have any serious evidence of any problems that the U.S. State Department, the FBI, the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the State Bar of Illinois, the FBI again, the Rules Committee of the U.S. Senate, the CIA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security missed?  What is their evidence?

We challenge them to be specific.  If they are claiming something like an aged grandmother’s testimony that Obama was born in Kenya, they should have the good sense not to waste the court’s time about such folderol unless unless have a sworn affidavit from the woman, taken down by a court reporter, and corroborating evidence (Corsi did not even bother to get statements, let alone sworn statements under oath, I understand — he’s asking a Supreme Court hearing for inadmissible hearsay).

And Joseph Farah, here’s my challenge to you:  Provide corroboration for your charges, provide affidavits where they would be required, provide evidence of error on the parts of these federal and state agencies, or shut up about it. Even scandal-sheet journalists have some responsibility to at least try to look like they care about accuracy.  Farah owes it to his readers to get things right.  He’s not living up to the duty he owes.

What do they have?

Why must we entertain cargo cultists in their dances?  We have two wars and a crashing economy to fix.  Can we get on with the transition, please?

Barack Obamas birth certificate, showing the states stamp of authenticity, from

Barack Obama's birth certificate, showing the state's stamp of authenticity, from

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Killer county budget: “People will die”

November 27, 2008

How bad is our economic mess?

Ask county officials in Hamilton County, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio).  According to, the website for the Cincinnati Enquirer:

County Administrator Patrick Thompson said Monday that the county may have to slash another $2.3 million from its already bare-bones budget proposed for 2009 because of tumbling sales tax collections and reduced funding from the state.

That means that the county will have to find more cuts on top of the more than $40 million it’s already cut from departmental requests.

The news comes as the county sheriff and other public safety officials say even the current recommendations will devastate their ability to do their jobs.

“It’s downright dangerous,” said Michael Snowden, director of Hamilton County’s Emergency Management Agency. “People will die. It’s as simple as that.”

He was referring to a recommendation to withdraw funding for the Greater Cincinnati Hazmat team, which responds to hazardous material spills.

The budget for 2009 has already been cut $31 million below the budget for 2008, to $241 million total.  Recommendations are already in place to lay off 500 workers.

What to do?

Project lower sales tax revenues.  Already done.

The county previously predicted $65 million, or a 0 percent growth, in sales tax receipts next year. Sales tax revenue typically accounts for about 25 percent of the county’s general fund budget. But because of the credit crunch and bailout fallout, all of which just came to a head in the past few months, spending has plummeted and the holiday shopping picture looks bleak. Thompson asked the board to revise that number to $63.9 million, a decrease of $1.1 million.

Maybe the state government can help out?

He also recommended reducing the amount of local money the county would receive from the state by 5 percent, or $1.2 million, to about $22.8 million because the state is in a similarly tough budget situation and likely won’t be able to fund the county adequately.

At least make sure that the public safety offices get funded.

Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis said the cuts will have a “dramatic impact” impact on his department. “In my career in law enforcement, this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said after the meeting about the budget situation. “We’ve got major problems.”

He said he may decide to cease providing security at the county buildings rather than take deputies off the road. If the county closes the Queensgate jail, 84 corrections officers and 25 support personnel would lose their jobs and 450 inmates would be released, said Leis. Because the county’s main jail has long been out of room, the Queensgate jail, meant for only low-level inmates, now also houses some of the more serious offenders, he said. Inmate charges include burglary, robbery and drug abuse.

“We do have violent offenders down there,” Leis said. “They’re not choir boys.”

The county says it can’t afford to staff or maintain the aging jail, which it leases from a corrections company.

By law, the Hamilton County, Ohio, budget needs to be locked in by January 1, 20 days prior to the inauguration of the new president. No one is talking about bail-outs for state and local governments, yet.

What would you do?

Remembering Love Canal, 30 years ago

November 26, 2008

Hell-raising site called Red State Rebels remembers that the Love Canal disaster came to a head 30 years ago, with the evacuation of the homes surrounding the toxic dump site.

Your students probably don’t know about it, and the textbooks will do the story no justice, if they mention it at all.  While this article is written from a biased perspective, it’s a solid recounting of the history — and your AP kids need to read stuff with viewpoints, anyway.

Adeline Levine, a sociologist who wrote a book about Love Canal, described to me the scene she had witnessed exactly 30 years earlier, on Aug. 11, 1978. “It was like a Hitchcock movie,” she said, “where everything looks peaceful and pleasant, but something is slumbering under the ground.”

That “something” was more than 21,000 tons of chemical waste. The mixed brew contained more than 200 different chemicals, many of them toxic. They were dumped into the canal — which was really more of a half-mile-long pond — in the 1940s and 1950s by the Hooker Electrochemical Co. In 1953, the canal was covered with soil and sold to the local school board, and an elementary school and playground were built on the site. A working-class neighborhood sprang up around them.

“The neighborhood looked very pleasant,” says Levine, who was a sociology professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo, in 1978. “There were very nice little homes, nicely kept, with gardens and flowers and fences and kids’ toys, and then there were young people who were rushing out of their homes with bundles and packing up their cars and moving vans.”

Love Canal was in the midst of an all-out panic when Levine arrived; just nine days earlier, the state health commissioner had declared an emergency and recommended that pregnant women and children under the age of two evacuate the neighborhood. A week after that, the state and federal governments agreed to buy out homes next to the canal.

See the entire piece.


Hudson’s Half Moon

November 25, 2008

New Yorkers, Vermonters and Candadians continue to celebrate 400 years since Hudson and Champlain, and 200 years since Robert Fulton brought steam power to the Hudson’s commercial ways.

Tugster: A Waterblog features some nice shots, and a couple of stunning shots, of the reconstruction of Henry Hudson’s ship, Half Moon.  Great stuff for presentations, and he likes to share.

Tugster is an outstanding repository of images of tugboats, ships and other things related to the commerce of Greater New York Harbor, and boats on the water generally.  Tugster’s collection of images should be regular source material for teachers of history, economics, geography and government.

A Waterblog

Stern of Half Moon, Henry Hudson's ship; from Tugster: A Waterblog

Notice how the figurehead frightens even the trees to blazing red.

A Waterblog

Bowsprite of Henry Hudson's Half Moon, via Tugster: A Waterblog

Tugster tells us that Henry Hudson himself is blogging, channeling across 400 years — perhaps tired of duckpins with his crew in the Adirondacks (hello, Rip van Winkel!).  Can your students correspond with Henry Hudson?


Good Interred With Their Bones Dept.: Michael Crichton

November 24, 2008

Author Michael Crichton railing against environmental protection and science he politically disagreed with, at the Smithsonian Institution, about the same time as his Commonwealth Club presentation.

One of my news grabbers found an article on environmentalism and religion at a Live Journal site, an answer to a speech by Michael Crichton on environmentalism as religion.  Crichton’s speech was delivered in 2003 to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, a venerable old institution for giving a soap box to doers and thinkers. [Note, April 2015: If that link doesn’t work, find Crichton’s speech here.]

Crichton’s speech started out with promise:

I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.

We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we’re told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems. Every one of us has a sense of the world, and we all know that this sense is in part given to us by what other people and society tell us; in part generated by our emotional state, which we project outward; and in part by our genuine perceptions of reality. In short, our struggle to determine what is true is the struggle to decide which of our perceptions are genuine, and which are false because they are handed down, or sold to us, or generated by our own hopes and fears.

As an example of this challenge, I want to talk today about environmentalism.

The promise was short-lived.

Crichton described his learnings from studying anthropology, including an observation that religions always arise, and cannot be stamped out.  From there he makes an astounding leap, to claim that environmentalism is religion.  From that failed leap, the speech rapidly deteriorates.  He adopts tenets of American Christian and political fundamentalism, rapidly following up with a disavowal of fundamentalism, as if to try to hide what he’s done, or deny it, at least for himself:

So I can tell you some facts. I know you haven’t read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don’t report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn’t carcinogenic and banned it anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die and didn’t give a damn.

I can tell you that second hand smoke is not a health hazard to anyone and never was, and the EPA has always known it. I can tell you that the evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit. I can tell you the percentage the US land area that is taken by urbanization, including cities and roads, is 5%. I can tell you that the Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing. I can tell you that a blue-ribbon panel in Science magazine concluded that there is no known technology that will enable us to halt the rise of carbon dioxide in the 21st century. Not wind, not solar, not even nuclear. The panel concluded a totally new technology-like nuclear fusion-was necessary, otherwise nothing could be done and in the meantime all efforts would be a waste of time. They said that when the UN IPCC reports stated alternative technologies existed that could control greenhouse gases, the UN was wrong.

I can, with a lot of time, give you the factual basis for these views, and I can cite the appropriate journal articles not in whacko magazines, but in the most prestigious science journals, such as Science and Nature. But such references probably won’t impact more than a handful of you, because the beliefs of a religion are not dependent on facts, but rather are matters of faith. Unshakeable belief.

From the promising start of claiming we must be skeptical and carefully sort out what is true from what is not true, he rapidly plunges from the stratosphere into the depths of the ocean of misinformation.  Count the errors:

  1. Newspapers have been regular carriers of claims that restrictions on DDT are unnecessary.  You won’t find such claims in science journals, in fact — they appear almost without exception in newspapers.  Crichton is wrong about where you’d learn that DDT is harmless.  You can’t learn it from people who know.
  2. DDT is a “probable human carcinogen” listed by every cancer-fighting agency on Earth.  Fortunately for humans, it appears to be weakly carcinogenic.  Recent studies indicate it’s devious in its carcinogenicity, too — it gives cancers not to the people who were exposed, but to their children.  Research into this path is only about a decade old.  Recent studies confirm carcinogenicity in humans.  Carcinogenicity in almost every other animal exposed has been long known.  It is highly unlikely that a compound known to cause cancer in every mammal tested, would not be carcinogenic in humans.  Again, you can’t learn this stuff in science journals.  You’ll have to learn it as dogma from cranks and crackpots.
  3. DDT’s links to the deaths of young birds is rock solid.  The links were clear by 1962, and no study has been done since 1962 to question those conclusions.  In fact, more than 1,000 studies have been done on the links, and published in peer-review journals.  Each one supports Rachel Carson’s conclusions that DDT is deadly to young birds.  The mechanisms are now known by which DDT causes eggshell-thinning, which increases the chick mortality.  Recovery of the bald eagle, osprey, and brown pelican correlate exactly with the decline of DDT in the tissues of the birds.  No scientist who has studied the matter doubts that DDT kills birds.
  4. DDT was banned because it disrupts eco-systems.  In the wild, it is uncontrollable.  Yes, it kills pests.  But it also kills all the pest predators, too.  The pests use reproduction as a survival tool, and outreproduce predators, and even DDT.  An application of DDT, then, kills off the predators that protect an ecosystem from the pests, and the pests come roaring back, unchecked by nature.  The poison is magnified as it rises through the food chain (trophic levels, if you want the science term).  By the time an eagle or predator fish eats, it gets a crippling dose of the stuff.  By the mid-1960s, insects and arachnid pests around the world had begun to show resistance and even immunity to DDT (bedbugs demonstrated resistance by 1950; some are completely immune to DDT; almost all mosquitoes now carry multiple copies of a gene which allows mosquitoes to digest DDT as a nutrient, doing no harm).  The restrictions on DDT had nothing to do with human cancers, but everything to do with saving crops and forests, and the wildlife that lives there.  Crichton pulls an old bait-and-switch when he claims regulators knew DDT “wasn’t carcinogenic and banned it anyway.”  The regulators knew it might be a weak carcinogen, but they did not know it spreads through the environment and lasts almost forever, contaminating even human breast milk for at least six decades after application.  But this was not their concern.  The dangers of carcinogenicity were on top of the concerns about agriculture and forests and prairies.  Regulators acted to save the world we live in, and noted that such action also produced a minor reduction in cancer risk.
  5. DDT use in Africa never reached the nations where most malaria victims die today, at least not by 1972.  The ban on spraying DDT on cotton has nothing to do with malaria rates today, except that contrary to Crichton’s claim, it was the DDT use that aided malaria, not its cessation.  So for Crichton to claim that stopping the use of DDT on U.S. cotton crops led to a rise in malaria in Africa is a stretch of evidence way, way beyond any logical link.  Chaos theory only jokingly suggests the butterfly’s fluttering in Beijing last month affects weather in New York this month.  Boll weevils in the U.S. don’t carry malaria anyway, let alone fly to Africa to infect children there.
  6. Crichton dogmatically insists smoke is not a health hazard to non-smokers.  You won’t find much research to back his claim.  It’s another claim he makes religiously, on belief, not on evidence.  He can tell us second-hand smoke is not dangerous, but he can’t back the claim with evidence.  (Dangers of second-hand smoke have been well known since the 1970s; when Orrin Hatch got the law passed to switch to four, rotating warnings on cigarette packages, the debate was whether to include a fifth warning of second-hand smoke.)
  7. Urbanization figures cited by Crichton are low, and do not consider the damage done by urbanization to non-urban lands.  Low?  In one study, planners looked at Tippecanoe County, Indiana.  Recently, urban land use there rose from 8% to 12% — starting from a baseline larger than Crichton allows.  Crichton might argue that counties in North Dakota lose people, but the pollution and erosion from the urbanization in West LaFayette, Indiana, cannot be offset by relatively stable rural areas 600 miles away (I’m plucking a figure out of my hat), in a completely different watershed, in a completely different airshed, in a completely different climate, in a different economy.  Any soldier  or farmer can tell you that concentrating activities of people in a smaller area multiplies the impacts.  If you have 40 cows roaming over 6 acres, you don’t need to worry so much about where they leave their pies, or the concentration of ammonia in their urine.  If you put those same 40 cows in one small pen, however, you’ve just created a runoff problem, and health problems for the cows and the people who handle them.  Wholly apart from the numbers games, the facts show that urbanization increases the need for green and wild space for the people who move into the citiesTwo different presidential commissions reporting 25 years apart noted the needs, and the needs are only more fierce now (the link is to an article by Charles Jordan, who was one of the commissioners on the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors which reported in 1987, the second of the two studies referred to — see Jordan’s article for full details).
  8. If the Sahara is shrinking, that doesn’t help much.  South of the Sahara, in Niger, an area the size of Luxembourg is lost to desertification every year.  Deserts are advancing in Arizona, California, China (both the Gobi and the Taklamakan), and across the rest of Central Asia to Africa.  If the Sahara is shrinking, that’s probably good.  It’s not enough to suggest that desertification is not a problem, even in North Africa.  Ultimately, it’s not how much land is affected, but rather it is the effects themselves, and how they affect humans.  Desertification — which is defined by international agencies as the degradation of land — affects 16.5 million people in Europe alone.  According to the UN, desertification threatens the lives and livlihoods of about out of every six people on Earth — 1.2 billion people total.  How does the Sahara’s shrinking help them?  Is Crichton just pulling another bait-and-switch?
  9. The total ice on Antarctica is increasing because the waters around the icy continent are warming — “lake effect” increases snowfall when increased evaporation from warmer waters is carried by the air over land.  The rather dramatic increases in ice pack on parts of Antarctica are stark testimony to the ill effects of global warming.
  10. If Crichton is right, and no existing technology will allow us to reduce carbon emissions, then we need to hit the panic button, not the snooze button.

Those are just the factual errors in two paragraphs.  Environmentalism as religion?  Maybe that would be a good idea, if the religion honored accuracy and truth telling, rather than fictional accounts of what is going on on Dear Old Planet Earth.

I enjoyed Michael Crichton’s writing, and I hope his stories inspire kids to work at a life in science.  But, as with Caesar, as Antony noted, the bad stuff people do lives on past them.  Let’s change that for Crichton – kill the bad stuff, keep the good stuff.

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.

William Shakespeare
Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2

Update, April 4, 2013:  American Elephants, a blog that isn’t about elephants, isn’t about their conservation, and in my view, isn’t much about America, either, fell victim to Crichton’s errors, all these months later. Plenty of time to get the story right since 2008, but American Elephants couldn’t do it.  American Elephants is too often an example of the Dunning Kruger effect, alas.

Other sites that still get it wrong, five and six years later:

What should our representatives do?

November 24, 2008

John Florez, writing in Utah’s Deseret News:

It would be even more refreshing to have elected leaders openly declare conflicts of interest without having to be caught or hounded into doing so. Even better would be if they quickly recused themselves where conflicts exist — just because it’s the right thing to do.

It is encouraging to see much of the talk before the state pre-legislative -session talk has included ethics reform and enforcement. That government officials know the public is watching them closely is a gentle and persistent reminder that ethics isn’t going away once the election ended.

Keeping the people’s trust is vital, and that means keeping one’s word. It has been amazing to see the way the administration and Legislature can work together in rapid fashion when they want to accomplish things that a majority of the voters did not want, i.e. soccer stadiums, foreign nuclear waste, vouchers, school district splits, to name a few. If they can do it so quickly for the things we don’t want, they most certainly can work quickly together for the things we do want.

Dear President-elect Obama

November 24, 2008

Good execution of a lesson plan here, at one of my favorite blogs, The Living Classroom — with a lot of possibilities for follow-up.

A citizens plea to President-elect Obama

A citizen's plea to President-elect Obama

This may be the only elementary level classroom in the nation with its own lobbyist.

Never underestimate the power of students united to do good works.

In the Boy Scouts’ merit badge series on citizenship, Scouts are required to write letters to public officials.  This is a good exercise.  Not all students get the full value, but on the chance that answers actually come to the letters, this is a good classroom activity.

Hmmm.  I should use it more.

The value of science

November 24, 2008

Sometimes people go into science and do great work for deeply personal reasons.  Listen to Tim Subashi, a Senior Scientist at Pfizer.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Much more stuff over at Big Think.

Gotta explore the history links there . . . anything you can use in a classroom?

And a gripe about the value of video, fumbled:  A resource like this should be a prime candidate for numerous short videos explaining evolution, to make up for the education you didn’t get in high school.  On a scary note, if you scan for “evolution,” you get intelligent design advocate Deepak Chopra.

Get with it, Big Think.  That’s embarrassing.

Go film P. Z. Myers for a couple of days.  Spend some time with Kenneth Miller.  Go interview Carl Zimmer about writing the books.  Get Andy Ellington’s explanation for the ins and outs of chirality.  With dozens of experts available, you don’t have even one?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pamela Bumsted, Life Hacker, and The Boston Globe.

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