28 February 2006

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

For your consideration, some questions I had to answer twice -- once in writing and again during a personal interview -- as part of the application process for Legal Permanent Residence in the US of A -- the so-called Green Card.

I watched as our Immigration officer double-checked the list I had already checked off a few months ago. To her credit, we whizzed right through them. I kind of wish we'd examined each a little more closely, though.

First, Have you ever, in or outside the United States, knowingly committed any crime of moral turpitude or a drug-related offense for which you have not been arrested?

Turpitude. Hmm. Just a second. "Turpitude: n. Depravity. Baseness." I think I can answer no to that one. But it all depends. Seems to me that a lot of legal activities that nevertheless offend the Republican Party faithful might fall into that category. Could you be more specific, please?

Have you ever within the past ten years been a prostitute or procured anyone for prostitution, or intend to engage in such activities in the future?

Not that it's any of your business -- my wife's, maybe, certainly not the Department of Homeland Security's, considering prostitution is legal in lots of states -- but no, not in the past anyway. And I have no intention of doing so in the future, although I suppose I can imagine scenarios ... no, sorry. Never mind.

Have you ever engaged in, conspired to engage in, or do you intend to engage in, or have you ever solicited membership or funds for, or have you through any means ever assisted or provided any type of material support to any person or organization that has ever engaged or conspired to engage in ...

Enough, already! Get to the point, before my work permit expires.

... sabotage, kidnapping, political assassination, hijacking or any other form of terrorist activity?

Fair question. No. Quite definitely not.

Do you intend to engage in espionage?

I won't if you won't.

Have you ever been a member of, or in any way affiliated with, the Communist Party or any other totalitarian party?

Are you serious? What if I was? Can I remind you of a little embarrassing episode in American history called the McCarthy trials? And are you aware of the nomination of George Clooney's "Good Night and Good Luck" for best picture of 2006? Does the ACLU know you're still asking this? As for "any other totalitarian party," good thing I'm not a Republican, eh?

Sorry. Just joking.

Did you, during the period from March 23, 1933 to May 8, 1945, in association with either the Nazi Government of Germany or any organization or government associated or allied with the Nazi Government of Germany, ever order, incite, assist or otherwise participate in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin or political opinion?

Officer Wynn, at the Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Charlotte, skipped over this one, apparently assuming that I'm not a war criminal who stumbled across the Fountain of Youth since skipping out of the Nuremburg scene.

Have you ever engaged in genocide, or otherwise ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in the killing of any person because of race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or political opinion?

Huh. That's between me and the International Court of Justice. I know you don't recognize that International Court of Justice, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Have you ever left the United States to avoid being drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces?

I'm confused. I'm a Canadian citizen trying to get into the United States. In what universe could I have been drafted by the U.S. Armed Forces? What's that? I could be drafted even without becoming a U.S. citizen? Wait a second....

And finally, they saved the best for last:

Do you plan to practice polygamy in the United States?

Why, are you interested in making it a threesome? But no, I'm happy with just the one wife, thank you very much. Besides, I'm applying for residency in North Carolina, not Utah.

Incidentally, I was granted permanent residence status on Feb. 27, 2006. Officer Wynn, who conducted the simultaneous interview with my wife and me, seemed more interested in pictures of my wife's wedding dress rather than any arcane details of my potentially sordid personal political history. She was probably embarrassed the first dozen times she ran through those questions, but appears to be used to it now. Just following orders, I guess.

Also, I won't be eligible to vote for three years. So I'll sit out the 2008 presidential election. Drat. But look out, candidates. Come those mid-term elections in 2010, I'll be all over you.

24 February 2006

No sex please .... we're American

Arizona is the scene of the latest affront to common sense to come to my attention (via Making Light via Pharyngula):
PHOENIX -- A Senate committee voted Wednesday to let university and community-college students opt out of required reading assignments they consider personally offensive or pornographic. (Arizona Star, Feb. 16)
This particular misguided committee on higher education acted in response to one student's complaints that "A lot of students are being forced to choose between their personal or religious beliefs and the demands of education."

Imagine that. Reading material that challenges students. Whatever is this world coming to?

It looks like Muslims aren't the only ones who can't handle a little satire. In Arizona, though, the problem isn't cartoons, but curricula. Apparently it's really all about a little book called The Ice Storm, which is a satirical take on, among other things, wife-swapping against the backdrop of the political turmoil of the Watergate years.

Next thing you know, parents will be pulling their kids out of science classes that dare to suggest humans descended from apes. What's that? Oh, right.

On that note, this week's editorial from Science magazine, on the need to ensure the medical profession has a good grasp of evolutionary theory, is apropos. It's subscription-only, so here's a couple of excerpts:
Although anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and embryology are recognized as basic sciences for medicine, evolutionary biology is not.... In a whole array of clinical and basic science challenges, evolutionary biology is turning out to be crucial. For example, the evolution of antibiotic resistance is widely recognized, but few appreciate how competition among bacteria has shaped chemical weapons and resistance factors in an arms race that has been going on for hundreds of millions of years....

What actions would bring the full power of evolutionary biology to bear on human disease? We suggest three. First, include questions about evolution in medical licensing examinations; this will motivate curriculum committees to incorporate relevant basic science education. Second, ensure evolutionary expertise in agencies that fund biomedical research. Third, incorporate evolution into every relevant high school, undergraduate, and graduate course.
The fact that evolution isn't already included in every relevant high school, undergraduate, and graduate course is testament to the sorry state of affairs that passes for education in America. Let's hope Arizona doesn't make things worse. Image the problems in biology class if a proposed bill that would require "universities and community colleges to provide a student with alternative coursework if the student deems regular coursework to be personally offensive" is passed.

Wake up, Arizona. Get with the program.

23 February 2006

The end of newsprint

This is completely off-topic, but anyone who knows me will recognize the subject matter as something I've been harping about for the past decade: E-paper.

I've long considered the notion of a single-use medium like newsprint to be an egregious waste of a resources. Yes, we can recycle the cellulose of newsprint, but that requires energy, water and more ink. Yes, reading online solves those problems, but even the slimmest laptop fails to replicate the convenience, eye-friendliness and portability of newsprint. If only we had some kind of light-weight, flexible, instantly-erasable medium, we'd be set.

Such technology has been around in prototypical form for a few years. Paper-thin, large-format posters that can be redrawn in a microsecond are available -- for a price. But now, at long last, a tabloid-sized device that could will replace the newspaper is finally at hand.

Readers of the Belgian newspaper De Tijd will be the guinea pigs for the roll-out of the first electronic paper, beginning this April, according to M&C Tech and New Scientist:
De Tijd is providing readers with a portable device that holds a paper-thin screen the size of a newspaper page, filled with millions of black and white microcapsules. When an electrical current with data is sent through the screen, these microcapsules form letters that are as sharp as regular newspaper print. The electronic 'ink' has 16 levels of grey. When readers flip to the next page or choose a specific article, the particles scramble and rearrange. The pliable screens do not flicker and can therefore be read either indoors or outdoors.
The display is the size of two laptops, but needs 100 times less energy than a normal laptop screen. Based on an average use of three hours a day, the battery runs for more than a week. A storage space of 244 mega bytes is sufficient for filing one month of newspapers, plus 30 books, as well as office documents in different formats.
It will cost 400 Euros, but a select group of readers will get them for free and when mass production begins, the price should fall to something more reasonable. I can hardly wait for the technology to make it to this side of the pond.

If this sounds too much like technophilia, well, you're welcome to your cynicism. My prediction: at least one major daily newspaper abandons increasingly expensive newsprint in favor of some version of e-paper by 2012.

22 February 2006

If guns don't kill people...?

The never-ending madness of the cartoon controversy reminds me of what's wrong with the National Rifle Association.

The New York Times' latest attempt to give a voice to moderate Muslims who would rather talk about their problem with the depictions of their No. 1 prophet than burn down embassies in protest lays bare the fundamental problem with the idea that it's not Islam that threatens us, only a few extreme and unrepresentative fundamentalists.

According to reporters Michael Slackman and Hassan M. Fattah
The flare-up over the cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper, has magnified a fault line running through the Middle East, between those who want to engage their communities in a direct, introspective dialogue and those who focus on outside enemies.
They quote a series of Muslim journalists, including Muhammad al-Assadi, who "lamented" that "Muslims had an opportunity to educate the world about the merits of the Prophet Muhammad and the peacefulness of the religion he had come with."

The completely understandable request not to be painted with the brush of extremism is hard to argue with. But I'm going to try. What the moderates are saying, essentially, is it's not our faith that compels people to issue fatwas against cartoonists, it's those who abuse our faith. This evokes the NRA's old bumper-sticker saw that guns don't kill people, people kill people. And therefore, the right to bear arms is absolute.

This sort of thinking is patently absurd when it comes to weapons. If it had an once of merit beyond semantics (and even then, if you want to get technical, it's the bullets that do the actually killing), there would be no controls on nuclear bombs, nerve gas or anthrax. Of course, guns kill people.

And yet the NRA continues to push the meme. On the NRA website, for example, one can read about John R. Lott's new book, The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard about Gun Control is Wrong and that "while gun accidents and gun crime are often covered, we rarely see coverage of defensive gun uses."

Among the book's back-cover blurbs is this gem from J. Mark Ramseyer, a Harvard law professor: "The gun ownership might bring social benefits as well as costs is a story we do not often see in the press." (Why the publishers would turn to an academic who specializes in Japanese history to sing the praises of a book on gun control -- the Harvard faculty website says "virtually all of his research involves Japan" -- is beyond me, but I'm not going to get into an ad hominen attack.)

It gets worse. Lott actually claims that widespread gun ownership decreases crime, while lock-up-your-gun safety laws leads to more deaths. His evidence is, to put it mildly, unconvincing, and his been soundly debunked. I'm sure our rabbis, reverends and imams are being less disingenuos when they argue that a faithful society is better off than a secular one, but there is also no evidence to support that claim. Quite the reverse.

To summarize, just as the gun nuts talk up the social benefits of widespread gun ownership to justify widespread ownership, so the moderate Muslims justify their faith by reminding us of all the good things that Islam can do. The fact remains that both organized religion and guns make it a whole lot easier to do a whole lot of damage.

Note that the analogy also works when arguing against blanket bans. While there no rational excuses for anyone not employed by a police force to own a pistol, some guns are very useful. There are thousands of people on this continent, most living north of 60 degrees north latitude, who put food on the table with the help of bolt-action .308 rifles and similar devices. Their dining habits impose much less stress on the environment than those of most vegetarians and involve much less suffering on the part of their dinner than the standard factory farm from where the rest of us derive most of our protein.

That doesn't mean everyone should have a gun. To the contrary, it means what's needed is an appropriate regulatory regime, one that keeps the wrong kinds of weapons out of heavily populated areas, the hands of children, and the arsenals of felons, mercenaries and vigilantes. Which is why the NRA's cherished Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one that says "the right to bear arms shall not be infringed," begins with the less-often-quoted "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state..."

Similarly, the best way to approach religion is not to make it illegal, but to discourage widespread application in the public sphere in favor of the personal, private realm, where it can do the least damage.

For me, that means shedding light on the foibles of organized religion, which the Danish cartoons do quite handily. I recognize this argument will carry little weight among those for whom the idea of a personal faith devoid of a shared community context has no meaning. But we have to start somewhere. If this whole silly affair introduces even a few shards of doubt among the faithful, then perhaps it will have been worth it.

Dog days for psychics

There's a guy who lives a couple of blocks from me who has actually paid for the services of a pet psychic, so I'm not surprised to read this AP story: "Psychics join search for show dog that escaped at New York's Kennedy Airport." It seems that a dozen psychics are helping searchers check cargo buildings for "Vivi."

My friend Pierre, who brought the tale to my attention this morning, asks some cogent questions:
So, I'd like to know ... does having 12 psychics increase the chance of finding Vivi? How would one "interpolate" the predictions to find an "average"? If 6 say the dog is in a building to the north, and 6 say it's to the east, then should the searches look, um, NE? If 10 say meekly that it's there, but 2 say strongly that it's not, who do you listen to? This can be a fun test case...
Indeed it could.

21 February 2006

Proof at last

The Flying Spaghetti Monster, caught live on tape. Watch it here.

(Thanks to Orac.)

19 February 2006

Crichton and Cartoons: Updates

A couple of follow-ups to recent posts:

First, anyone interested in the Mohammed cartoon controversy should spend a few minutes with the editor of the paper that started it all, Flemming Rose. He writes in today's Washington Post that not only was it a good idea, but the net result of the controversy in Denmark has only served to promote cross-cultural understanding and improved relations with the Muslim community. He also reminds less courageous editors in this part of the world that
This was a legitimate news story to cover, and Jyllands-Posten decided to do it by adopting the well-known journalistic principle: Show, don't tell.
Second, it's been a week now since we heard about the elevation of novelist Michael Crichton to the position of (presumably unpaid) presidential adviser on climate change, yet the blogosphere remains strangely quiet. Chris Mooney is still trying to attract attention to the problem, but the best we have so far is a narrow-focus story in the New York Times, a story that leaves out the context I detailed a few days ago.

And from the "just when you thought it couldn't get any worse" department, and hot on the heels of Bush's "Addicted to Oil" State of the Union speech, we learn through the Times that the Bush administration will be giving the world's most profitable corporations at least $7 billion in the form of forgiven royalties on oil revenues.
New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government.
Sad, I know. But go back and re-read Fleming Rose's piece. It made my day.

15 February 2006

Why not Crichton for president?

Michael Moore was right. We do live in fictional times. Just how fictional? Well, you know things are bad when a novelist is among the most powerful Americans involved in setting government policy on one of the biggest challenges facing the country.

It's been three days since word came that Fred Barnes' new book on the second Bush presidency contains a reference to a visit between the president and Michael Crichton. Three days is an eternity in the blogosphere. But as Chris Mooney laments, where's the outrage? So I'm doing my little part to turn a tiny spark into a firestorm.

Let's recap Mr. Crichton's accomplishments of late. On 28 September 2005, he appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to discuss climate change at the request of Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe. This is the senator who called the idea that humans are at least partly responsible for a warming world the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Crichton appears to share that sentiment, comparing climate change alarmism to the eugenics movement. Seriously.

Next, just a couple of weeks ago, the
Association of Petroleum Geologists presented its annual award for "notable journalistic achievement in any medium which contributes to public understanding of geology, energy resources, or the technology of oil and gas exploration" to Crichton.

Now we learn, via a review of Barnes fawning new book, Rebel-in-Chief, "
that the president fundamentally doesn't accept the theory of global warming and was reinforced in that belief by a private meeting not with any scientist but rather with novelist Michael Crichton..."

[Update: The relevant excerpt from the book itself (via Tod Gitlin at TPM Cafe):
"Though he didn't say so publicly, Bush is a dissenter on the theory of global warming....He avidly read Michael Crichton's 2004 novel State of Fear, whose villain falsifies scientific studies to justify draconian steps to curb global warming....Early in 2005, political adviser Karl Rove arranged for Crichton to meet with Bush at the White House. They talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement. The visit was not made public for fear of outraging environmentalist s all the more."]
All this attention and praise for a science-fiction author whose last original idea can be found in 1971's Andromeda Strain. It is clear that his newfound authority on climate change is a side-effect of his latest novel, State of Fear. The fact that Crichton grossly misrepresents the science of climatology in that book isn't the point -- although the Real Climate team handily demolished Crichton's attempt to imbue his fantasy with science back in 2004.

No, the point is this: what the hell is a novelist doing testifying before Congress, winning a science journalism award and advising the president? I mean, while you're at it, why not give him the nomination for the Republican ticket in 2008? Then we'd really have a fictional president.

12 February 2006

'Toons. I hate 'toons

Of all the depressingly polarized reactions to the publication in a Danish newspaper of a dozen editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, this one is particularly troubling:
The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, comprising more than 50 states, published on its Web site a statement condemning "the aggressive campaign waged against Islam and its Prophet" by Jyllands-Posten, and officials of the organization said member nations should impose a boycott on Denmark until an apology was offered for the drawings. (The Ledger, Feb. 9)
I will admit that I was holding out hope that an organization representing scientists and a culture that was once the world's guardian of knowledge and wisdom would resist the temptation to demand an apology from a European government for the entirely legal and (given the context) mostly reasonable actions of a private newspaper. No such luck.

But the western mainstream journalism establishment isn't faring much better than the Islamic extremists, all of whom seemed to have turned off their irony meters. Most media outlets have failed to recognize the importance of the context -- the cartoons were published after a children's author working on a book about cross-cultural tolerance complained that he could find no Muslim illustrators willing to dare to supply him with cartoons.

As I pointed out to Tony Burman, Editor in Chief of CBC News in a response to his posted defence of the CBC's decision not to broadcast the cartoons, the fact that the original publication was prompted by self-censorship makes further self-censorship more than a little ironic. He then replied that:
... from our perspective, that wasn't the issue. For us, the question was simply whether or not we needed to show these offensive images to explain the controversy.
Context wasn't the issue? Seems to me that the CBC (and most other North American media, with a few exceptions), decided that avoiding further provocation of extremist violence is more important than comprehensive coverage. I also find the notion that a written description can do justice to an editorial cartoon to be patently absurd, but one argument at a time.

Playing it safe may be the only politically viable option for a public broadcaster. But it is sad that so few private media outlets have shown the courage to publish or broadcast the least offensive of the dozen cartoons. Indeed, only one of the 12 is in what I would call bad taste (the turban-as-bomb cartoon). And among the other 11 is an irony-laden drawing of a cartoonist looking over his shoulder in fear.

Instead we're bombarded with repeated claims that all Muslims object to any and all illustrations of Mohammed, a blatant mispresentation of the complexity and variety of Islamic culture. Daniel Engber has a good summary of the difference of opinion within Islam at Slate.

What I object to most is the implied false equivalency of freedom of expression on the one hand and the right to respond to insult with threats and violence on the other. Christopher Hitchens puts it succinctly:
"Civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient."

Speaking of irony, just before the cartoon protests turned deadly, one of my inspirational heroes, Richard Dawkins, laid bare his thoughts on religion in a British Channel 4 documetary called "The Root of All Evil." The network's summary of the two-part film includes this description:
In addition, though religions preach morality, peace and hope, in fact, says Dawkins, they bring intolerance, violence and destruction. The growth of extreme fundamentalism in so many religions across the world not only endangers humanity but, he argues, is in conflict with the trend over thousands of years of history for humanity to progress--– to become more enlightened and more tolerant.
When you think about it, what better proof for Dawkins' case than the death of Muslims in Afghanistan protesting the publication in Demark of a handful of cartoons that explore intolerance?

08 February 2006

NASA meltdown

Today we learn, thanks to the skepticism of blogger Nick Anthis (sort of a U.K. analog of Chris Mooney), that one of George W. Bush's political appointees at NASA's public relations office lied about graduating from university on his résumé. The New York Times reports this morning that George Deutsch has now resigned.

Anthis got curious when he realized that a 24-year-old with no science education was trying to limit media access to NASA PhDs. All it took was one phone call to the alleged alma mater to confirm that Deutsch did not, in fact, graduate.

But that's not the scariest part of the story. As reported back in October, also by the Times and followed up in NASAWatch last week, Deutsch is responsible for writing the following:
"It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."
Deutsch made the comment in an email to a NASA contractor responsible for the agency's website. Apparently, Deutsch didn't want to see any references to the Big Bang without the proviso of "theory" attached. Which in itself isn't a problem, as the Big Bang is, indeed, a theory. (Much in the same way that evolution is a theory, but let's not get into that right now.)

So here we have more evidence of Bush's efforts to slip religion into the public's scientific agenda. How much more of this can America take? The lesson Bush hacks can take away from this is: it's OK for someone with no science training to serve as a PR officer for a scientific organization, interfere with scientific messages, and play secret agent for the Christian right. Just don't get caught lying about your record.

07 February 2006

From star-gazing to whale-watching

Another in an occasional series of great little science stories. Recommended this week is:

"Whale sharks can be identified using astronomical star pattern recognition program."

I just can't resist a story involving the application of the lessons or techniques of one discipline to another. "“This is an example of space technology finding an important application here on Earth," said Dr. Zaven Arzoumanian of the Universities Space Research Association and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. What great name for a scientist, too.

Whale sharks, by the way, are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, meaning the development of a handy biometrics tool could help keep the species around. I wrote a brief overview of whale sharks and their ecology here.

04 February 2006

Who cares what Jesus would drive?

The big news last week from the most dangerous of America's religious windbags is that they can't agree on what to do about climate change. To that, I say, "And a good thing, too."

The knee-jerk reaction among those who have been trying to haul Christians aboard the environmental movement -- desperately, and usually futilely, looking for ways to reinterpret the Biblical directive to "have dominion over the earth" and that sort of thing -- is one of lament. According to the Washington Post, the leadership of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals "will not take a stand on the issue, disappointing environmentalists who had hoped that evangelical Christians would prod the Bush administration to soften its position on global warming."

Bless their hearts, but those environmentalists are wasting their time. Even worse, they're undermining honest efforts to keep religion out of the development of public policy based on sound science. We've got enough troubles with a president that can't keep faith out of his Supreme Court nomination criteria, thank you very much.

That puts me in the somewhat awkward position of agreeing with the 20-odd signers of a letter to the NAE membership urging them not to adopt an official position on climate change. Among those questionable allies are Watergate criminal Charles W. Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; ultra-disciplinarian James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family; the Rev. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries; the Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University; Donald E. Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association; and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition.

The bottom line for those who care about the separation of church and state should be keeping religion in its place. Now, I recognize that telling a preacher not to stray into matters of science and public policy is a tall order. Limiting Sunday sermons to purely spiritual concerns would probably turn what can be dozy affairs into intellectual anesthesia. But there's a good reason why the IRS isn't supposed to let ministers tell parishoners how to vote. The same logic applies to questions of science.

Far too many people already turn to the pulpit for answers to questions that have nothing to do with matters of faith. If you want some guidance on choosing between the new hybrid Camry and low-emissions diesel Jetta, there are plenty of accurate and honest resources out there assembled by sincere automotive engineers. If you're having problems figuring out whether the U.S. will benefit or suffer from an eight-degree increase in average temperatures over the next century, ask a climatologist. James Dobson is not an expert in global carbon cycles, and there's no reason to expect him to become one any time soon. He's too busy telling you how often to spank your kid.

This is a serious problem, and it's not just evangelicals who are muddying the playing field these days. The theme for next week's Darwin Days celebration at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is "Science and Religion, and why these subjects are not mutually exclusive." Among the alleged highlights is a talk by an "evolutionary theologian" (whatever that is) who will explain "Why Jesus Loves Darwin and You Could Too."

From the flyer announcing the Feb. 7 lecture:
Evolutionary theologian Michael Dowd explores how an understanding of recent discoveries in the sciences can broaden and strengthen our experiences of Ultimate Reality (in a way that theists and atheists can both celebrate!) and open the future to hope. Using simple, easy-to-understand analogies and illustrations, Rev. Dowd shares a deeply inspiring perspective on the coming of age for both religion and science.
Sorry to break it to the faculty at UT, but all the available evidence suggests that science and religion are far from compatible at many levels. I'm not arguing that you can't be both a scientist and a person of religious conviction. First, it's easier on the brain if you try not to believe six impossible things before breakfast. More important are the fundamental differences between the two that defy reconciliation. For one, religion relies on revealed wisdom in the form of scriptures of some sort. Science prefers verifiable facts.

Unless my studies of the great monotheistic texts were sorely lacking, I think it safe to say there's nothing in the Bible or the Koran that tangentially or even metaphorically addresses the possibility of the failure of thermohaline ciruclation, methanogenic positive feedback loops or the Kyoto Protocol. Neither is there any suggestion in the New Testament as to Jesus' inclinations regarding natural selection and other mechanisms of the modern evolutionary synthesis. And even if there were, I'd be very suspicious

Getting back to the evangelicals, here's what the climate-change abstainers had to say in justification of their argument against climbing off the fence: "Bible-believing evangelicals ... disagree about the cause, severity and solutions to the global warming issue." In best rhetorical tradition, that sounds like a reasonable position. It's almost what you'd expect the average climatologist might say.

Almost, but not quite. There is indeed considerable disagreement in scientific circles when it comes to details like severity and solutions. There is, however, little if any disagreement on the cause, with the general consensus being that humans are responsible for at least half the recent global warming trend.

Poor evangelicals. Can't even get it right when they're explaining why they're not qualified to offer advice.

If preachers would stick to religion, we'd all be better off. In the case of climate change, I'd be happy if the NAE issued an official position in favor of the formulation of a federal science policy consistent with the prevailing scientific consensus and leave it at that.

Come to think of it, if they did that, I'd be ecstatic.

03 February 2006

Just testing; do not adjust your set

So, America's on the road to energy independence, eh?

That's the impression GWB's State of the Union speech left us with the other night. Efficient cars, nuclear power and alternative fuels will wean the country off Mid-East oil. Right.

So where's the plan to increase fleet mileage in the American auto industry? What about the tax increases needed to subsidize nuclear's sky-high costs?And the money for alternative fuels research?

Yesterday's New Times story on the reality behind the rhetoric, after dozens of paragraphs of musings and speculations by insiders and outsiders alike, finally gets to the meat at the end:

The Energy Department will begin laying off researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the next week or two because of cuts to its budget.

A veteran researcher said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol. Those are two of the technologies that Mr. Bush cited on Tuesday night as holding the promise to replace part of the nation's oil imports.

The budget for the laboratory, which is just west of Denver, was cut by nearly 15 percent, to $174 million from $202 million, requiring the layoff of about 40 staff members out of a total of 930, said a spokesman, George Douglas. The cut is for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

Still holding out hope that Bush might have actually seen the light, that he might actually understand what he means by "America is addicted to oil"? Then how about the day-after briefing, courtesy of Knight Ridder:

WASHINGTON - One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.

But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are.

We now return you to our regular programming.