Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kooks to Earth: "Happy birthday to you, happy..."

This escaped my attention yesterday, but a post on Pharyngula reminds me that yesterday was Earth's birthday. According to English Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656), God created the Earth on October 23, 4004 BC. He based his calculation on an analysis of the chronologies in the Old Testament. And here's the sad part: a very large number of people in the USA and elsewhere continue to believe that this is literally true.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I wish Al Franken were my Senator!

See, this is what we need more of: facts that challenge the made-up fantasy nonsense used by right-wing political hacks to discredit universal health care (or anything else).

Monday, October 12, 2009

How to feed the world!

Sarah Silverman explains how in this video. Not for the feint/faint of heart. I replaced the video with the url because I couldn't get the embedded video to fit in my blog template. Still learning...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Now ABC News makes me cranky

The ABC News website has an article on Ardipithecus, the newly publicized (not really newly discovered) fossil that provides a glimpse into the world of Hominins (bipedal apes, like humans) that existed some four and a half million years ago. She (yes, she's a she, nicknamed "Ardi") is an early biped, but there are some interesting differences between her and the Australopithecines, such as the famous "Lucy," who came a bit later. For example, her feet seem to be more chimp-like with an opposable big toe, and her pelvis, while clearly allowing for bipedality, is not quite like that of Lucy, who was fully bipedal. She lived in a forest ecology, which reinforces the hypothesis that human ancestors were bipedally oriented before, rather than after, they came down out of the trees and entered the open savanna environments of eastern Africa.

So far, so good. The part that makes me cranky is that this article is on ABC News's Technology and Science website, and the article headline reads:
Creationists Say Science and Bible Disprove 'Ardi' Fossil is Evidence of Evolution
The writer, Russell Goldman, sets the tone of the discussion with this:
In the case of "Ardi," the ape-like fossil recently discovered in Ethiopia and already being celebrated as the oldest found relative of modern human beings, the final determination depends on who is doing the talking.

In one camp are evolutionary scientists who last week published and hailed the discovery of an upright walking ape named Ardipithecus ramidus, or "Ardi" for short, who made Ethiopia her home nearly 5 million years ago.

But despite the excitement from the paleontology community, another group of researchers, many of them with advanced degrees in science, are unimpressed by Ardi, who they believe is just another ape -- an ape of indeterminate age, they add, and an ape who cannot be an ancestor of modern man for a range of reasons, including one of singular importance: God created man in one day, and evolution is a fallacy.

Say what? Scientists who have examined these remains for years, meticulously describing everything they can about them, are paired off against people who believe that every word in a set of myths and stories made up by nomadic pastoralists several thousand years ago is literally true? And the "final determination" of the fossil's significance simply depends on which of these groups has the floor? I don't think so.

See, this is what's wrong with America. Every opinion, no matter how loony, is equal in weight to every other opinion, no matter how well supported by, you know, facts and things. I usually refer to this as the Crossfire Model of Argumentation (CMA), after the old CNN talk-news show. A "liberal" and a "conservative" each gave their take on things, nobody was ever challenged to provide evidence, and in the end nothing was ever resolved; it was just entertainment.

CMA is an outcome of hyper-independence training, a component of the enculturation of people in the US. We see it in our classes, where students feel that simply having an opinion is just as good as doing the hard work sometimess necessary to have an informed opinion. On a wider scale, we see it among supporters of the "Birther" movement, who just "know" that President Obama was not born in the US, evidence be damned. We see it in the "Death Panel" movements, whose adherents are just absolutely certain that the health care reform legislation moving oooh sooo slooowly through the process contains provisions that will allow the gummint to kill their grammas.

Goldman's article ends, sadly, not with a debunking of the witless yahoos who think the Earth is 6,000 years old, but with this quote from David Menton, an "acclaimed anatomist and creationist" and a "researcher in residence at Answers in Genesis" (in other words, a total fraud):
"Evolution is supposedly based on science, but the science does not prove what they want it to. Creationism is not based on scientific observation but on God's word. God created everything in six days, and that's it."
When will we, as a nation, grow up?

Friday, October 9, 2009

I'm getting cranky...

The BBC Caribbean website has a forum with comments on the value of creole languages. The questions are:
  • Do you think dialects should be officially recognized?
  • Do you think of them as a language?
  • Should people be encouraged to speak their own dialects?
I wrote a response but it seems as though they are not going to post it. So, here it is:
Regardless of public "opinion," linguists know that creole languages are "real languages"- completely normal examples of this defining human characteristic.

Over 20 years ago, I conducted a literacy project with children on Carriacou, Grenada, which showed that learning to read their English Creole helped them learn to read Standard English. Unfortunately, this research and others like it does not seem to reach the consciousness of education ministers and others who, through public education campaigns, could end the centuries of what amounts to educational malpractice- I could even say child abuse- that has required creole-speaking children throughout the West Indies to struggle with learning a new language system while at the same time adjusting to the many other stresses of schooling.

The very fact that a poll could be asking whether readers think of creoles as languages is a sad and sorry indictment of educational systems that do not really teach people about what it means to be human, and what part language plays in being human. Of course creoles should be official languages, of course people should be encouraged to use them, of course ministries of education should develop linguistically informed policies on their uses in schools, including uses for first literacy.

Anything less should be considered crimes against humanity.
If they ever do post it, I'll let you know.

A dose of irony

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the death of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the young Argentinian physician who in the 1950s linked up with Fidel Castro and helped carry out the Cuban Revolution.

Guevara as prisoner, surrounded by Bolivian soldiers.

On this date in 1967 Che was executed after being captured along with members of his band of Bolivian guerrillas. The young Bolivian soldier who was ordered to do the shooting, and to make it look as though Che was killed in battle rather than sitting wounded in a chair, was named Mario Terán.

Now comes the irony part. A couple of years ago, a team of Cuban physicians working in Bolivia discovered Terán, now an old man, in need of eye surgery. They removed his cataracts, making it possible for him to see again.

So, the man who killed the person who helped establish the beginnings of Cuba's health care system was in turn given back his eyesight by that same health care system. For free.