Statistics tell the truth; there is no “war on Christians” 2

In the wake of the Nevada graduation speech  tempest, rightwing pundits, like Sean Hannity, are once again declaiming there is a “war on Christianity.”  It’s just a lot of hot air. Christians run afoul of the Constitution and the legal system, not because they are some kind of special group, but because they are simply the loudest and most obtrusive group. In other words, it’s the squeaky wheel  that gets the oil. Suppose we take a sample of 100 individuals representative of the US population. According to the statistics at this site, of that sample, there would be 84 Christians, two Jews, two Muslims and one Buddhist. The rest would presumably be “other,” Hindus, wiccans, pagans, atheists and what have you. Of the Christians, we could expect 52 to be Protestant, 24 to be Catholic and 2 to be Mormons. I’m not sure where eastern Orthodox would fit in. Now, let’s analyze this population sample. Of these 100 individuals, who would be most likely to proselytize, insist their religious practices should be public events, and demand their beliefs achieve primacy in US law and US schools. The Buddhist? Nope. Buddhists are pretty mellow. Ditto Hindus, if you make the possible ...

My thoughts on Nevada valedictory 2

I’m going to add my comments here, rather than clutter up the previous post. In reading over McComb’s speech a few times, I can see why the school officials cut her mike when they did. Right there in paragraph 6, McComb’s subject veers sharply from relatively generic “high-school-girl-grows-up” commentary right into Christian theology, by referring to the Crucifixion and quoting John 10:10. Until that point, her text was more generally about God and how accepting Him filled a gaping hole in her soul. Had she left out reference to Christ’s self-sacrifice, the other religious content — even the quote from Jeremiah — probably would have passed muster. Well, it would have if I had been the one vetting her speech, anyway. While I have my doubts whether McComb did the right thing by defying school officials after agreeing to their editorial control, in some ways she had a good point. The school officials were being overly sensitive in deleting most of the religious references. On the other hand, they probably exercised some good judgment in preventing McComb from espousing definitively Christian theology. In my high school on Long Island, where there was (and probably still is) a sizable Jewish population, ...

Judge for yourselves: Text of Brittany McComb’s valedictory

I figured someone would have the text of the speech online. It just took a while for me to find it. Her speech was printed in the Las Vegas Review Journal on the 20th: Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal Do you remember those blocks? The ones that fit into cut-outs and teach you all the different shapes? The ones you played with before kindergarten, during the good old, no-grades, no-pressure preschool days? I find it funny how easily amused we are as children. Many of us would have sat on the story rug for hours with those blocks, trying to fit the circle into the square cut-out. Thank the Lord for patient teachers. As one of the valedictorians for our senior class, many might assume I caught on to which blocks fit into which cut-outs quickly. But, to be honest, it took me awhile. Up until my freshman year in high school, I continually filled certain voids with shapes that proved often peculiar and always too small. The main shape I wrestled with over the years remains my accomplishments. They defined my self-worth at a young age. I swam competitively throughout junior high and high school. If I took third ...

Like wolves circling the camp fire

Hot on the heels of the media melee about the Nevada valedictorian’s contionabundus interruptus, two conservative legal firms are encouraging the student, Brittany McComb, to file suit against her high school. School officials pulled the plug on McComb’s microphone during her graduation ceremony when she persisted in using her original valedictory, after officials had edited out several references to God, Jesus and Biblical quotations. McComb, a bright, photogenic Christian, quickly became a media “star,” especially on conservative websites, blogs and talk shows. She even appeared on the Fox News talkie, Hannity & Colmes. Both pundits agreed that McComb should have been allowed to speak her mind, with Hannity taking special pleasure in citing the whole affair as an example of the “war on Christianity.” Predictably, those lawyers with an axe to grind came out of their dens to throw their support behind McComb. The first wolf out of the den was Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Florida-based pro-family Liberty Counsel. Staver contends the school violated McComb’s First Amendment rights when it prevented her from speaking about how important Jesus and God were in her life. It’s a tack that Staver has taken before, in 2005. One of Liberty ...

Hard to believe, but you’re mostly empty space 2

That’s what I tell my students each year: matter is mostly empty space. The concept is hard to accept, especially if you have ever hit your head on something, but nonetheless true. As an analogy, I have used a scale model for the hydrogen atom I picked up from somewhere now forgotten. Place an ant on the 50-yard line in a football stadium. The atom represents the proton. The electron is just outside the stadium, in the parking lot. In between electron and proton is space. Now I have a new scale model to use. It’s online, to appeal to the digital generation. The creator has represented the electron as a one-pixel speck on the webpage, and far, far away the proton as a much larger ball.  The distance and sizes of the particles are on the same scale. The model, of course, is not to be taken literally. Atoms are not really miniature versions of solar systems. Electrons are strictly speaking  not little specks traveling in neat little orbits around a spherical proton (or nucleus) that looks like Neptune. That conception (minus the Neptune part) dates back almost 100 years. Time was, scientists did conceive of the atom as ...

The strange arguments of IDists 1

This post contains just a few off-the-cuff observations. I hope to develop it into a more elaborate analysis after some more research. Once upon a time, proponents of intelligent design (ID) argued that ID was scientifically based, and with sufficient maturation would develop into a scientific theory as robust as the theory of evolution. Their lobbying against the exclusive teaching of evolution in biology classrooms focused in part on what they called “teach the controversy” — that evolution (in their words) was a controversial theory and not accepted by all biologists. Basically, their arguments centered around ID as science. That was before Dover. US District Court John E. Jones III ruled in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District that ID was in fact not science, but in effect a religious belief. I quote, “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.” (page 43) That Jones was a Bush appointee — no wild liberal he — only rubbed salt in the IDists’ wounds. Following Jones’ fairly detailed fisking of the “ID is science” contention, the ID crowd has adapted a different strategy: equate acceptance of ...

Fletcher flunkies blocking liberal sites on state computers

The Bluegrass Report, one of the best sources for progressive political news in our fair Commonwealth, is apparently not welcome on the state-owned computers in Frankfort. Nor apparently are other liberal sites, according to The Daily Kos. State employees apparently lose their First Amendment rights once they enter their office doors. Shameful, but not all that surprising, considering who’s in office.

Tangled Bank #56

The latest compendium of science bloggers’ biweekly musings is at Centrerion, a Canadian political blog. I’m in there twice this time, since I missed the last Tangled Bank, but of course there are a ton of other posts to read, too.

Nevada graduation brouhaha, part II

As the news coverage of Brittany McComb’s defiance of school authority spreads across the ‘net, I have been able to get a fuller picture of this young woman and a better idea of her motivations. For one thing, it is clear that McComb (pictured at right, Photo by K.M. Cannon, (c) 2006 Las Vegas Review Journal) is deeply religious and devoted to her Lord and Savior. For another, it is also clear that the school administration told her that, if she defied their censoring of her valedictory, they would cut off her mike. I base my conclusions on her own MySpace page and on a report on the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Now the issue with her address is that the officials of Foothill HIgh School of Henderson, Nevada, believed her speech was overly religious, to the point of proselytizing. They edited out several references to God, Jesus and Biblical quotations, fearing that the speech as written would run the school afoul of the separation of church and state (the establishment clause). According to the Review Journal, they advised McComb that if she read her original, unedited speech, they would cut her speech short. If she acknowledged that advice, she was ...

Yet another graduation brouhaha

This tempest is not a local one, but from a school district near Las Vegas, Nevada. Class valedictorian Brittany McComb wanted to thank her Lord and Savior in her speech, but school administrators censored her text. McComb, believing she was protected by the First Amendment, gave the valedictory as she had originally intended, Biblical references and all. The administration cut her mike off partway through the valedictory. As best I can tell from the sketchy news reports about the incident, McComb wanted to witness to her faith. According to the school district’s own rules, such professions are permissible, as reported in the Las Vegas Sun. She was not intending, she says, to proselytize. The administration, for its part, did not want to appear to be favoring any one religion, and tried to censor the controversial parts out. School officials apparently did not consider McCombs to be a particularly spunky individual, or they might have expected her reaction. Church ministers and youth leaders encourage teenagers to speak about their faith, to witness to the unconverted. So McComb had that motivation. She is also a teenager, with the usual adolescent resentment of authority. The school’s decision to censor her text was, in ...

Stephen Hawking — space cadet or wing commander? 2

Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking caused a bit of a stir this week when he suggested during a talk in Hong Kong that humans need to get off the earth and colonize space. “It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species,” Hawking said. “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.” He predicted we will colonize the moon within 20 years and Mars within 40 years, assuming we don’t self-destruct in the meantime. Reactions to Hawking’s rather off-the-cuff remarks have been mixed. Advocates of human space exploration predictably loved the media coverage, while more pessimistic types scoffed at the notion. Actually, Hawking’s notions are not original or even ground-breaking. Even Pres. George W. Bush, in a lame imitation of JFK’s famous 1962 challenge to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, has made human missions to the moon and Mars as a goal of the US space program. NASA developed — on paper anyway — lunar colonies back ...

Ring tones and the meaning of “average” 2

I’ve been off doing other things than blogging this past week, since the Muse has not visited me of late, but this latest Internet fad is just too good to pass up commenting on. To pevent their teachers from hearing their cell phones announce calls and messages, students are downloading a high frequency ringtone (about 17,000 Hertz) that the average adult cannot hear. The news has spread all over the ‘net and the news agencies so I won’t bother reviewing the story. I will gloss on the meaning of “average,” though. The 17kHz (that’s kiloHertz, folks) tone cannot be heard by the average adult, since as we grow older, we lose sensitivity to the higher frequency range of the human ear (20 Hz – 20kHz). But average, by definition, is a measure of the middle of a set of data. So, some adults (like me!) can in fact hear those high frequency tones. (I can also sometimes hear the high frequency whine of TV and computer cathode-ray monitors, which use a high frequency oscillator to “draw” the picture.) So, kiddoes, if you want to be absolutely sure your teacher cannot hear your pesky cell phone, try the “vibrate” feature and ...
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