Monthly Archives: November 2006


I am really happy to be around for this Thanksgiving. Two years ago I was recovering from major surgery and wondering what life would be like in my future.

Today, we started things off with a visit to a horse ranch in Jamul where Andrea has obtained permission to take the hawks out to try to make a dent in the rabbit population there. We got there about 6:15 AM and the fog was still pretty thick. Between us, we had four Harris’s hawks and three dogs in the field. I think we saw about a dozen rabbits get chased. It must have really been Rabbit Thanksgiving, though, because nobody caught anything, which certainly surprised us.

We then went off to Chula Vista where Andrea boards her horses. A horse Andrea was leading to an exercise ring became uncontrollable and took about five minutes to run around and calm down enough to be caught again. A far more mellow horse of Andrea’s provided a mount for Diane and I to take a short trail ride. Fortunately, we did it all at a walk and there were no nasty surprises along the way.

That, though, did pretty much exhaust me. My stamina is pretty much the one thing that looks to be permanently lowered post-surgery. I had a bit of a nap.

I headed over to Mark’s place around 4 PM for Thanksgiving dinner. Mark went all out in putting together the traditional feast with turkey, gravy, stuffing, bread, and a dessert. Yams were unavailable, so he substituted a batch of sliced carrots cooked in brandy and topped with marshmallows. Brilliant. We made a small dent in the food, then watched a bit of “Ancient Relic”, a German film featuring time travel. Once the plotline became glaringly obvious, we switched over to “Timeline”, another and somewhat more challenging time-travel flick. We also viewed the “Soup Nazi” episode of “Seinfeld” and the “Inside View” documentary about how that episode came about. In that, it was revealed that the real-life soup chef whose character was the basis of the episode had gone off spectacularly on Jerry Seinfeld when Seinfeld insisted on visiting his establishment after the epsiode aired. it seems that not everyone agrees that any publicity is good publicity.

The big difference I’ve seen since my medical troubles back in 2004 is that I am mostly pain-free nowadays. It really makes a difference not to be in some level of pain almost continually. And I am continually grateful to the folks who have gone out of their way to make a place for me in their lives.

Good News from the CA Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court has ruled that web sites are not liable for libellous material on those sites if it was written by a third party. In other words, a plaintiff can go after the libelling party in court, but not the online medium that was used to publish the libel, if there is no relationship between the two.

This is good news on the free speech front. It helps relieve some of the worry I have concerning running web sites that allow commentary by unaffiliated people.

Of course, there will probably be cases where a web site owner tries to pass off inflammatory material as having come from a third party, but I think existing remedies should suffice for that sort of thing.

“Dover” in the Works

Variety briefly notes that Paramount Studios has hired Ron Nyswaner to write a script for “Dover”, a movie based upon the events of the Kitzmiller v. DASD trial last year.

What wasn’t in the Variety article is that Nyswaner was already on the job. He attended the one year reunion of the plaintiffs earlier this month, and seemed to be getting at least a little of the interviewing done there.


I’m currently in Texas. I have a couple of meetings at UT Austin this week, and one with North Texas Skeptics. Texas is looking like it will be an active site for antievolution efforts in the coming year.

I’m also looking into buying some faster hardware for serving pages on PT, AE, TD, and this domain. Folks with experience with FreeBSD and i386 multi-CPU or dual-core CPUs are invited to share information on motherboards that work well.

One Mistake in the Media

The New York Review of Books features an article by Garry Wills, A Country Ruled by Faith, that provides a useful overview of just how pervasive some distinctly odd intermingling of faith and politics has become in the current administration.

However, there was a bit of a hiccup in the original article online:

The Discovery Institute claims that it is a scientific, not a religious, enterprise, but that claim was belied when one of its internal documents was discovered. It promised that the institute would “function as a wedge…[to] split the trunk [of materialism] at its weakest points” and “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.” The institute is mainly funded with evangelical money, and its spokespersons are evangelicals—one, Philip Johnson, says he was inspired by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon to “devote my life to destroying Darwinism.”

Of course, Phillip Johnson didn’t require Rev. Moon to tell him to consider devoting his life to politically advocate having science classrooms preach a narrow religious viewpoint to children. The ID creationist advocate who has spoken of his doing the bidding of Rev. Moon (the fellow who was crowned “King of Peace” in a ceremony attended by a dozen lawmakers or more in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, earlier this year) is actually Discovery Institute Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture Senior Fellow Jonathan Wells, as the revised text indicates:

The Discovery Institute claims that it is a scientific, not a religious, enterprise, but that claim was belied when one of its internal documents was discovered. It promised that the institute would “function as a wedge…[to] split the trunk [of materialism] at its weakest points” and “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.” The institute is mainly funded with evangelical money, and its spokespersons are evangelicals—one, Jonathan Wells, says he was inspired by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon to “devote my life to destroying Darwinism.”

What’s interesting about this is the lack of a display of public response on the part of the Discovery Institute’s “Evolution News and Views” blog, a place where otherwise the smallest and most picayune of errors — and supposed errors — of the media are given prominent and extensive coverage, with a big dollop of aggrieved indignation the usual topping. Did the DI decide that a public response would simply serve to highlight the fact that a Senior Fellow actually was a follower of Moon’s, though the article had confused the identity originally?

Ohio Voters Make Their Choices

I’m watching the election return information on the handy National Public Radio website. And the reports on the race between incumbent ID advocate Deborah Owens-Fink and challenger former Akron mayor Tom Sawyer show, with 262 out of 1005 precincts reporting, that Sawyer currently has 54% of the vote, and Fink has 29%. If this continues in the same vain, I’d say that that is a runaway. The two main candidates in the race are nowhere close to one another in the voter’s preference, and the ID advocate is the one on the losing end of that.

Of course, this is a commonplace occurrence. When the ID stealth strategies get uncovered and reported to the voters, often the response is to “vote the bums out”. It happened in Kansas in 2000 and in the primaries earlier this year. It happened in Darby, MT in 2004. It happened in Dover, PA last year following the Kitzmiller v. DASD trial. It looks like that may also be the case in Ohio. The race between Sawyer and Fink at this point doesn’t look at all close, but the one in District 8 between incumbent Jim Craig and challenger Deborah Cain is a good deal closer, with Cain at 55% and Craig at 45%. That is still a respectable margin of difference, though.

Update: With all precincts reporting, lopsided wins for pro-science candidates are noted in Districts 4 and 7. Tom Sawyer garnered almost double the number of votes as Deborah Owens-Fink, though his campaign spent about a fourth half of what the Fink campaign did. I guess that there is only so much that savvy marketing can do to conceal a policy of ignorance as good education for students. That seemed also to be the case in the race between pro-science incumbent G.R. “Sam” Schloemer and multi-millionaire challenger John Hritz. The two pro-science candidates in District 3 split the vote, allowing the pick of a group (Citizen USA) that endorsed anti-science advocates Fink and Hritz in other districts, Susan Haverkos, to win with a non-majority of votes (38%) but a 6% lead over the next candidate. Pro-science candidate Deborah Cain in District 8 still leads with 52% of the vote, but that race has not yet been called, I assume to allow counting the absentee ballots. The pro-science candidate, John Bender, is leading so far in District 2.

Fraptorday: Weekly Raptor

Shelby in the mew

Shelby looks hopefully for a tidbit. This is fresh from the mews, taken yesterday with the new camera, new flash, and an old lens. I’ve received some of the photographic gear to replace the stuff that was stolen. The camera is a Nikon D2Xs, and the flash of choice for the camera is the Nikon SB-800. This camera supports older Nikon manual-focus lenses, so to test to see whether it was any easier to focus just using the focusing screen than on the Fuji S2, I pulled out my Micro-Nikkor AIS 105mm f/2.8 lens. It’s been in a drawer for years because the S2 focusing screen was not coincident with where the actual plane of focus for manual focus lenses lay. One could use the “focus confirmation” LED display in the S2 viewfinder, but that was just too much of a hassle.

The Nikon D2Xs does not seem to have that problem. I put the camera in “A” aperture priority mode (the AIS lenses can be used in either aperture-priority automation or manual on the D2Xs), put the lens on, added a plastic diffuser I custom-fit to the lens, and with the SB-800 in the camera hot shoe, I was ready to try things out. Shelby and Rusty have enough experience with me bringing out the photo gear that they had no trouble with my appearance. Shelby especially kept a close eye on things to make sure that if any food was in the offing, he would get it.

As you can see, the combination worked out. I’m just having the D2Xs write JPEG files as output, so what you see is a downsampled crop of the original photo. Even cropped, it was over 2200 pixels wide. I adjusted the tone curve to separate some of the shadow tones, resampled to 560 pixels wide, and applied a light unsharp mask. I think that was at ISO 200 and “flash” white balance, and otherwise things are pretty much in the defaults as Nikon set them. The lens was set to f/11, since at least one report said that the D2Xs sensor is diffraction-limited, and the f/11 seemed to be the smallest aperture that didn’t start to suffer ill effects from diffraction.

PayPerPost terms

There’s a fair amount of buzz about PayPerPost, a service that links up bloggers and advertisers such that a blogger can make a specified amount of money for linking to an advertiser’s product or writing a post about it. Some advertisers have apparently included in their requirements that no mention of PayPerPost appear in such posts for them. This is a bit of an ethical problem, it seems to me. If a blogger is being paid or somehow compensated for their words, the readers should be told somehow. One blogger has set up a category, “Paid Posts”, to handle the job of conflict-of-interest notification.

Beyond the general issues, there are the specifics of the PayPerPost blogger agreement. This strays away from just what falls between PayPerPost and the blogger and into issues of content on the blogger’s site, including what is acceptable from commenters. It’s one thing to say that a blogger has to avoid being a foul-mouthed curmudgeon in order to be paid via PayPerPost, and another to say that a blogger has to adopt PayPerPost’s notions of comment moderation. I’ve put the PayPerPost blogger agreement text below the fold. Obviously, I have not entered into any agreement; part of PayPerPost’s conditions is that the blogger not reveal any communications from PayPerPost that aren’t available through public sources.

Continue reading

Pulling the Trigger on Gunnison Sage Grouse

A report in the Denver Post tells of how politicians in the Department of the Interior have blocked listing of several species as endangered, including the Gunnison sage grouse.

Much of the criticism of the listing decisions was directed at Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald, who the environmental groups say reversed several scientific findings without any biological justification.

MacDonald said in an interview she does not make decisions whether to grant federal protection to a species. That responsibility, she said, belongs to the head of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

She did say it is her job to protect “the public face of the Fish and Wildlife Service” by carefully scrutinizing listing documents.

MacDonald, a hydraulic engineer, was Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs in California under Gov. Pete Wilson, and the blurbs about her appointment at her federal job note that service and her role in helping obtain passage of new provisions to the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) in 1996. I thought it might be useful to find out exactly what she helped pass, but after various searches online I’ve pretty much given up on that. The fact that Wilson is noted for having attempted in 1995 to simply waive the CESA by executive fiat would seem to lessen the likelihood that MacDonald was doing anything to strengthen the CESA back then.

The “public face of the Fish and Wildlife Service” is a curious thing to aim at protecting. It seems to me that biologists doing their job well — and being allowed to do so — is far more likely to make the US FWS service look good than having a hydraulic engineer second-guess things.