Ernie F. enters the blogosphere

Unfortunately, our governor’s views about intelligent design have not endeared him to writers of science blogs. Just what Kentucky needs — negative publicity that reinforces the national impression of Kentuckians as backwoods rubes. The Kentucky Academy of Science in December issued a press release to explain its opposition to teaching intelligent design in the public schools. Fletcher responded with a letter supporting ID and explaining why it should be taught. The text of both documents are at The Panda’s Thumb. Careful readers may find Fletcher’s letter repeats the same arguments about ID that were in his State of the State address in January. In fact, some are verbatim repetitions of that address. I’m not sure what to conclude about the similarities, other than Ernie is just recycling them. Politicians don’t waste words, you know. Right after the address, I drew up a rebuttal to the pro-ID arguments, and submitted them to the LEO. They did nothing with them, so here they are. Ah, the power of self-publication … :: OK, class. For today’s lesson in logic, we are going to analyze this segment of Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s State of the Commonwealth address on Jan 9. How many fallacies in ...

The dangers of digital photography

Back in the days when photographers used something called film to take pictures, the time required to process the negatives and print the positives allowed one to contemplate the wisdom of sharing one’s photographic efforts. Now, the instantaneous nature of digital photography (digital cameras, cell phones, teeny tiny video cameras) seems to have removed contemplation from the equation. Now, we can see images worldwide that probably should never have left the darkroom. Here are two examples. I won’t link them, but a quick Google search will find the pertinent images. (1) Emma Watson, aged 15, British actress of Harry Potter fame, posing with beer bottle in hand. One of her mates probably took the picture, and she could have been clowning around. She probably is not breaking any local laws, but the U.S. media are bound to have a field day with this one, clucking about her being a role model and all. (2) Hapless semi-anonymous Malaysian girl, aged 17, having oral and vaginal sex with her boyfriend. This video now circulating around the internet was shot with a cell phone. Why this girl agreed to the videography defies common sense, since it’s likely this young couple broke local laws ...

In space no one can hear you yell “Fore!” 1

The BBC carried a story tonight about Russian cosmonauts who want to hit a golf ball off the International Space Station. NASA, ever the spoilsport, is cool to the idea. The stunt is apparently yet another effort by the Russian space agency to raise funds. The cosmonauts will use a special golf club provided by Element 21, a golf equipment maker, and a special golf ball equipped with global positioning transmitters, also from Element 21. The goal is to see how far the ball will go. Element 21 gets bragging rights, and the Russians get to one-up the US yet again. One of our astronauts, Alan Shepard, hit a nice drive on the moon in 1971, but the Russian ball will travel millions of miles and be the first golf ball in orbit. NASA says it’s not sure the stunt is safe, and may nix the deal. (Of course, Shepard smuggled his equipment on board Apollo 14 to avoid NASA safety nazis. Who’s to say the Russians won’t try it, too?) A golf ball in the same orbital plane as the ISS could damage the habitat, the NASA guys say. So the cosmonaut has to hit the ball hard enough ...

Those pesky judges — let’s limit their power

Yeah, forget about the system of checks and balances so artfully created by the Founding Fathers. If the judges get to be too “activist” — meaning they do things some legislators do not like — then let’s amend the state constitution to proscribe such activities. That’s just what the GOP in the Kentucky state Senate wanted to do, anyway. Ultimately, they failed in their attempt today. Voting along party lines, the 16 Democratic Senators voted nay, leaving SB 236 supporters one vote shy of the 60 percent needed to pass the bill. We were that close to a constitutional free-for-all. Today’s newspaper was just chock full of happy political news. The state Senate wants to erect a monument of the Ten Commandments on the capitol grounds. The Senate Republicans want to rewrite the state constitution to restrict the powers of the judiciary, especially those pesky judges who think posting religious texts on government property is unconstitutional. The majority leaders pushed the bill, SB 236, through committee, then tried to rush a floor vote Wednesday. The Senate minority leader, Ed Worley, D-Richmond, who had actually voted for the bill in committee, balked. He said senators needed more time to review the ...

Religion and politics, Kentucky style, part 2

The Kentucky Senate yesterday passed, with a sole dissenting vote, a bill to restore a Ten Commandments monument to the Capitol grounds and to permit the display of religious texts in “historical” displays on public property. It seems likely to pass the state House and be signed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher. So Kentucky will once again be pushing the envelope of the meaning of the separation of church and state. Earlier displays of the Commandments had been ruled as unconstitutional by none other than the U.S. Supreme Court. While the local ACLU chapter has not threatened legal action, preferring to wait and see what the displays look like, I expect someone will (and should) challenge the law. So does Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, the only dissenting vote among the 38 senators. “Our track record in Kentucky is not very good with passing bills on the Ten Commandments that withstand judicial scrutiny,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. The monument will recognize the state’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage, according to Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville. That’s a telling remark, as it is clear that the senators have some sort of religious intent in erecting the monument and allowing similar displays in other public buildings, ...

Tangled Bank #48

Tangled Bank is a collection of submissions by science bloggers, and guess what, I’m in it! Check it out at Aetiology.

Iraq, through her eyes

Today I found a terrific blog written by a 24-year-old Iraqi woman, with the nom d’electronique of River. The link is in my blogroll, Baghdad Burning. River’s prose is frank, touching and largely apolitical. She gives us a glimpse of life in an occupied country, a view that we here in the States never seem to get. Here’s a sample: As it is, people fear the Americans will be here for the next twenty years- unless they are bombed and attacked out of the country. Although many Iraqis support armed resistance in theory, I think that the average Iraqi simply wants to see them go back home in one piece- we feel sorry for them and especially sorry for their families at times. There are moments when you forget the personal affronts- the raids, the checkpoints, the fear of bombing, the detentions, etc. and you can see through it all to the actual person behind the weapons and body armor… On the other hand, you never forget that it’s a foreign occupation and will meet with resistance like all foreign occupations. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice can all swear that American troops will not pull out of the country no ...

It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it

Perhaps you have read about the researchers at the U of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign who have developed a quantum computer that can perform an operation even when it is turned off. The computer takes advantage of a peculiarity of quantum states, so that a result obtained when the computer is off can tell us something about a result obtained when the computer is running. Um, I think I said that right. Well, here’s the thing. The quantum computer is not a machine like we are using now to write this post or read it. When that kind of computer is turned off, it does nothing except occupy space. A quantum computer is much simpler and is designed to operate when a quantum event occurs, like a photon hitting a photodetector. The UIUC team built a rudimentary quantum computer using lasers, mirrors, beam splitters and photodetectors — not exactly an iBook. In fact, the concept of the apparatus reminds me of a plastic, mechanical computer I built as a kid in the ’60s. The Digicomp looked really clunky, but it actually worked.Digicomp mechanical, 3-bit computer, ca. 1968 The UIUC team used photons to operate (or not operate) the computer. Quantum physics says that ...

You can fool the public, but don’t mess with the IRS

Some of our politicians and religious “leaders” may be unclear about the separation of church and state, but the IRS understands it loud and clear. The IRS has, in no uncertain terms, put the kabosh on Christocrat church meddling with elections. After reviewing complaints about tax-exempt organizations’ electioneering during 2004, the IRS found 59, including 37 churches, had infringed IRS regulations. It means that no longer can preachers urge their flocks to vote for candidate X, work for proposition Y, or donate to anything or anyone up for a public vote. Churches or any other non-profit organizations are likewise prohibited from such activities, or they risk the loss of their tax-exempt status. Should make for interesting, more secular elections this year and in ’08, than they were in ’04. The Daily Kos has some details, based on Associated Press reports, but if you want the news directly from the horse’s mouth, check this IRS press release or the actual IRS report (an Adobe PDF file). While the IRS does not name any of the organizations involved, it’s a safe assumption that many of those 37 churches were probably stumping for Bush-Cheney and/or local Republicans. I am now waiting for a ...

Yo’ mama was a virus!

Our ultimate ancestor may have been a virus, according to the intriguing cover article in this month’s Discover magazine. Until recently, viruses were considered to be a latecomer in the scheme of life, a form of opportunistic, quasi-living entity that uses other organisms to reproduce. With the discovery of a comparatively large, more complex virus, named Mimivirus, biologists are now wondering if viruses actually predate the hosts they invade, and sometimes kill. There are three domains of living organisms currently recognized by biology: eukaryotes, which have nuclei in their cells and include plants and animals, bacteria, single-celled organisms which may or may not have nuclei, and archaea, “extremist” microbes without nuclei. Viruses were considered to be more chemical assemblages than biological entities — basically not part of the “tree of life.” Now it seems viruses are more complex and older than previously thought, and may warrant being added as a fourth domain of organisms. Viruses may have also interacted with bacteria and archaea in the dim past to form the first eukaryotes, which eventually evolved into human beings. So, welcome your distant cousin, influenza, to your family tree. Hopefully, it won’t pay you a surprise visit at the next family ...

Stardust melody, verse 2 — join in!

The Stardust comet probe, which just came back from its successful rendezvous with Comet Wild2 in 2004, brought back samples of comet dust for scientists to study. It also brought back samples of interstellar dust — particles from other stars than our Sun. Scientists want to study the interstellar dust particles, but first they have to find them. The Stardust team estimates there should about 45 interstellar grains, each a millionth of a meter in size, in the probe’s tennis-racket-sized capture device. For the team to find just one could take 20 years of searching at high magnification. So, in a new twist to distributed computing (like the SETI@home and Folding@home data analysis projects), the Stardust team wants home-based volunteers to scrutinize high-magnification videos of the capture device for the interstellar dust grains. Successful volunteers will be recognized in published reports as the discovers of the stardust. The only equipment needed to participate is a computer with a web browser. For more details, check this link, or to go directly to the preregistration form, click here. Registrants need to complete a web-based training session before they can join the search team. There are no age restrictions, by the way. Distributing ...

Jurassic Park meets Ollie the Otter

The book and the movie Jurassic Park were all about the nasty reptiles, but many moviegoers might not realize there were mammals around then. Tiny rodent-like animals aren’t particularly dramatic, though. But it seems there were larger mammals abroad in the Jurassic than had been suspected. An international team has uncovered in China a very well preserved fossil of a hitherto unknown species of mammal resembling the modern otter or beaver. The water-dweller has been named Castorocauda lutrasimilis. Castorocauda had a beaver-like tail, strong arms for digging, and sharp teeth specialized for aquatic feeding, similar to the modern river otter. The fossil includes the carbonized remains of the creature’s water-proof underfur and the impressions in the surrounding rock of its outer pelt. It lived during the middle Jurassic, or Mesozoic Era. Exciting news, but still, it’s hard to imagine a scary movie featuring Ollie the Otter. Anyway, it seems he’ll be starring in his own movie, probably without T. rex to upstage him. Details about the find are at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History site. Ollie the OtterDVD: Jurassic ParkBook: Jurassic Park
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