Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A creationist fossil

No evolution here!

The academic calendar offers some generous vacation intervals between school terms. I normally try to take advantage of the time to catch up on cleaning and organizing my residence, which looks like an uncurated archive at the end of each semester. I never get as far as I intend, however, because each dig into the stacks of books and papers produces bright, shiny distractions that draw my attention away from the task.

This week I made one of those bemusing discoveries that stops the housework and drives me back to the computer. It's a photocopy of an opinion piece from the October 11, 1981, edition of the Sacramento Bee. (Perhaps you have something similar lying around in your house!) More than twenty-eight years ago I was inspired to preserve this precious piece of prose. Why, pray tell?

It is a deep-frozen example of creationist cant from an engineer—although from Pittsburgh rather than Salem. Creationism keeps disguising itself with new labels in hopes of sneaking into school science classes, but its arguments are predictably familiar and stale.

The item speaks for itself, but I can't resist interpolating a few remarks:
Creationist Claims Evolution Fails The Test Of Science

R.G. Elmendorf is a registered professional engineer and a graduate of Cornell University, who lives near Pittsburgh, Pa. Five years ago, he issued a $5,000 challenge to anyone who could show how evolution can operate in the same world as the second law of thermodynamics. He says he hasn't paid off yet.

By R.G. Elmendof
Special to The Bee

I am one of a few creationists who do not agree with the “two-model” approach to the teaching of origins in public schools, believing that this approach (1) distorts science, (2) misrepresents creation, and (3) is an unnecessary compromise with evolution.

First, within its own very restricted area, science is a valuable tool In the search for truth, but outside this area, science becomes a distorted, subjective and misapplied thing, no longer true science at all and in great danger of generating philosophical and religious opposition. Not everything that scientists think, say and do is science.

A great deal of misunderstanding about this exists that affects the creation/evolution controversy, for example In the promotion of evolution as a scientific fact on Carl Sagan's Cosmos series and in the term creation-science by proponents of the two-model approach incorporated in “balanced treatment legislation.” The whole question of origin is more accurately history, not science, no matter how much scientists like to investigate and speculate about history. After all, what scientist observed the steamy landscape and erupting volcanos of the evolutionary scenario, or the zap-zap of the creation scenario?

Secondly, if origin is not accessible to science, a choice between creation and evolution must be made on a different basis. As a creationist, I believe, by faith, that the universe, the world, the earth and man came about by the purposeful action of a “clockmaker.” An evolutionist believes, also by faith, that matter by itself was able to make the uphill journey from molecules to man, without any clockmaker being required.
Paging William Paley! Someone just found your watch!
These are the only two options on origins. No rational compromise between them exists. It is possible to compare these two faiths about the past in a logical, organized way, using “models” as conceptual frameworks for the ideas incorporated In each, and it is also possible to examine scientific evidences which seem to “fit” one or the other model better. But it is not possible to put either scheme to an actual scientific test. You can't go back and repeat the experiment. Who's to say what actually happened In the past, except by faith in creation or evolution?
Here we have an engineer who is fixated on running experiments (although I'll bet he's never run one since graduating from college). Elmendorf subscribes to a straitjacketed version of science that can scarcely exist outside of a laboratory. It's funny that an engineer doesn't understand field work. He also suffers from a poverty of imagination. While science can be performed in only one way, the question of origins admits of only two models. Either God did it or Darwin did. This false dichotomy is popular among creationists because any perceived flaw in the theory of evolution is then automatically a point in favor of divine creation. (Hallelujah.)
Whether such faith is equivalent to religion Is beyond the scope of this article, but there definitely is an underlying religious construct involved in the creation/evolution controversy. It is futile for creationists to studiously avoid mention of biblical creation, and for evolutionists to hide the fact that evolution is a basic tenet of humanism and other non-theistic religions. The heart of the creation/evolution controversy is the Bible vs. evolution, and everybody knows it.
I guess that proves that secular humanism is a religion. I am definitely falling behind in my non-prayers to non-God.
On the third point, there is a very important distinction between creation and evolution that is not widely recognized. Evolution, in addition to its historical claims about the past, makes the further claim that it is still operating in the present. Creation specifically excludes such a claim, being a once-only phenomenon, now finished.

This is an extremely significant difference, because by making such a claim, evolution brings itself into the here-and-now natural world where science operates. It can therefore be presented as a legitimate scientific hypothesis, which creation cannot do. However, by taking this position, evolution also subjects itself to scientific testing and possible falsification—a criterion of true scientific ideas.
Elmendorf has creationism retiring (undefeated) from the field of battle because it is not subject to scientific testing. His fellow creationists would probably not be willing to cede this point. It's hardly a good way to get creationism into the science classrooms of America.
The bad news for evolution is that the test has already been made, by direct comparison of evolution with well-established scientific laws, and evolution has flunked the test. Evolution claims to be a self-caused, uphill process, but the principle of the second law of thermodynamics is that all processes are downhill. Evolution claims that life can come from non-life, but the law of biogenesis asserts that life comes only from life. Evolution postulates limitless change in living things, but the laws of genetics set absolute limits on such variation.
Were these arguments ever fresh? The “second law” and “biogenesis” and “absolute limits” on variation. These claims were refuted the first time they got trotted out. How many refutations are necessary before creationists give them up? (Sorry: “infinity” is not a number.)
These and other insurmountable scientific barriers flatly preclude evolution happening by natural means in the here-and-now world, and that means that evolution can be said to have been scientifically disproven. This is an embarrassing predicament for evolution, and the problem has the best evolutionist brains in the country trying to find a way around, over, under or through these scientific laws to save evolution from disaster. But whether evolutionists like it or not, it's all over for evolution's claim to be “scientific.” There is then really no justification for creationists to compromise with evolution by propping it up to look alive in public school science classes with the two-model system.
If evolution was already dead and buried back in 1981, then it sure has become a lively zombie. Remember when D. James Kennedy (the late D. James Kennedy) declared the death of evolution? Good times!
Common sense and fair play certainly call for an end to the present exclusive domination of evolution in public school curricula, but In their efforts to achieve this end, I think that the two-model creationists have misled some important points, and I would like to challenge their thinking with the following questions: Why distort science by leaving the question of origins in science class? Science cannot answer the question. Why deny that creation is essentially a religious faith about the past? Historical evolution is the same thing. Why treat evolution as if it were still a worthwhile “scientific” idea? It's already been scientifically tested and falsified.

Perhaps these questions will be answered during the current American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the Arkansas Balanced Treatment Legislation. I hope so, because the creation/evolution controversy involves far more important issues than many people realize. Creation-science? T'aint so. Evolution-science? Impossible.
As we all know, the Arkansas Balanced Treatment law was struck down in 1982 by the famous McLean decision written by Judge Overton. Perhaps Elmendorf felt vindicated by this defeat of the two-models approach. He has not, however, become an icon of anti-evolution. A Google search has little to say about our editorial writer.

Still, “little” is not the same as “none.” Elmendorf apparently divides his time between two forms of crackpottery: creationism and geocentrism.

That's right. When not fighting evolution, R.G. Elmendorf tries to get people to believe that the sun orbits around the earth. He says he'll pay $1,000 to anyone who can prove heliocentricity.

Can flat-earth theory be far behind?

Monday, December 28, 2009

An atavistic "Avatar"

Been there, done that

You may have heard of this legendary computer-animated film in which the protagonist finds himself in a drastically resized body and falls into the hands of those whom he was originally trying to destroy. Once among his erstwhile enemies, he is taught their ways by a winsome lass who wins his sympathy and inspires him to switch sides.

The movie is The Ant Bully and it came out in 2006.

Oh, did you think I was talking about Avatar? I guess I could be.

James Cameron's Avatar is currently raking in box office receipts and capturing the imagination of the movie-viewing public. Cameron got a few bucks from me earlier today. I have to admit that Avatar is very pretty and serves as an excellent example of the state of computer-generated graphics. In that sense, Avatar is a tour de force.

In every other sense, it fails.

Perhaps I was inoculated against truly enjoying Avatar by the premature hype and over-the-top expectations. I was irked when the characters of Bones were drooling with anticipation over seeing the movie. To me, product placement is an irritant and a distraction. Aggressive marketing predisposes me to dislike the product, whatever it may be. It does not whet my appetite.

Nevertheless, I wanted to see Avatar and give the movie an opportunity to entertain me. The visuals are very nice, with spectacularly imaginative flora and fauna for Pandora, the planet on which the action occurs. The gigantic blue natives, the Na'vi, are rather excessively humaniform, but that's okay. Rapacious Earthlings want to mine Pandora for its motherlode of “unobtanium,” which has antigravitational properties. A little trite, yes, and scientifically absurd, but I can suspend my disbelief that much. I sense, however, that I'm getting just a little overextended.

Our hero, a marine named Jake, gets lost in the Pandoran wilds and is rescued by a lovely native named Neytiri. She turns out to be the daughter of her tribe's chieftain. (Of course.) Her mother is the tribe's spiritual leader (naturally) and it is she who decides that Neytiri will be responsible for teaching our hero the ways of the Na'vi tribe. (Wouldn't you know it?) This will cause some trouble with the heir-designate to the leadership of the tribe, Tsu'Tey, a great warrior who is also Neytiri's betrothed. (Oh, please.)

I was instantly bored and restless. Nothing surprised me. Will our hero learn the ways of the tribe? Of course. (At least they spared us a montage.) Will he win grudging respect from the people? Damn right. Will Tsu'Tey continue to resent him and hope he dies? You bet! Does Jake make mistakes that put him in dire straits but still recover and win through? Every time!

I'll grant you that it would be unfortunate for the hero to be put out of commission too early in the movie, but it would be nice if something provided a modicum of suspense. When Jake and Neytiri barely escape an attack from a Leonopteryx, a flying monster the Na'vi refer to as the “Last Shadow” (because its shadow is the last thing you'll ever see), she tells him that her legendary grandfather was the last member of the Na'vi ever to tame one sufficiently to fly upon it. Instantly, you know without a particle of doubt that Jake will be flying one before the movie ends. And, of course, he'll displace Tsu'Tey as Neytiri's fiancĂ©.

At least, I assume so. I walked out right after Neytiri's story about her ancestor and the Last Shadow. I was afraid of dislocating my jaw.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Christmas gift

Even better than an apple on the desk

I confidently predict that this message from a student will be my favorite Christmas present for a good long while. My fellow teachers (especially in math) will understand.
Dr. Z,

I just wanted to take some time to let you know what a wonderful experience this class has been for me. Although I was always a good student, I was never good at math. I wanted nothing to do with it. So you can imagine how much I was dreading taking a Calculus class. In the beginning I was nervous and was not doing that well. But over the course of this semester, I have not only done well in the class, I actually enjoyed it!

I am writing to you because I'm quite overwhelmed by how in one semester I've gone from hating math to actually enjoying it. I considered taking Calculus II with you just because I enjoyed the challenge that Calculus I provided me. I can't actually do that because I have many other units that I must complete before I transfer. You have been one of the best, most organized, approachable, helpful, responsive and, witty teachers I have ever had and I wanted to thank you for a great academic experience.
You are very welcome.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Christmas list

Checked more than twice

In a twenty-four-hour period from the afternoon of Christmas Eve to the afternoon of Christmas Day, I collected the following deep insights and observations from my parents:

Dad: “Why are all women on welfare so fat? They sure don't look like they ever go hungry!”

It's probably because he watches Fox News all the time, where I'm sure there's a rule against showing skinny welfare recipients. This year Dad forgot to mention that the women are always black, too, and many of them drive Cadillacs. (We know about the Cadillacs because Ronald Reagan told us about them years ago.)

Dad: “Her husband certainly isn't much to look at. You'd think she could have done better for herself. Well, I guess ugly people want to get married, too.”

One of our distant cousins was at Christmas Eve mass with her new husband. In the spirit of the holiday, Dad shared his view that the boy wasn't pretty enough for marriage. At least this time he wasn't bad-mouthing the spouse of his most recently married granddaughter. Since the grandson-in-law just helped Dad fix his car, it may be that he has become better looking in Dad's eyes.

Even if I do say so myself, my family is full of lovely people. With rare exceptions, the women are all dark-eyed beauties. The men tend to be presentable and reasonably proportioned. This has become a kind of fetish for Dad, who purports to find ugliness all around him, but I refrain from pointing out that he's not the movie-star-handsome man of his youth anymore. And handsome is as handsome does.

Mom: “Sean Hannity was in Fresno to help the farmers. He did a special show on it.”

Yeah, I know about that. But why point out that Hannity was there merely to exploit an opportunity? He pandered to the depressed agricultural sector of the Central Valley because its most visible rivals for California's reduced water resources are the Marxist environmentalists of the heavily Democratic Bay Area. (It doesn't take much to be a Marxist these days.) Apparently all of the water in Northern California actually belongs to the farmers and dairymen of the Central Valley. (How clumsy of God to have delivered the water to the wrong part of the state.) The residents of the San Francisco Bay Delta fear that water diversion will allow salt-water intrusion to destroy their ecosystem and fisherman in the Bay Area see their livelihoods threatened by water shortages. But it's nervy of them to want water to preserve their occupations.

MediaWatch: Correcting Sean Hannity from Bruce Tokars on Vimeo.

Dad: “If the EPA isn't controlled, it's going to destroy agriculture in California.”

Environmental standards are terrible. Good thing the Environmental Protection Agency didn't exist in the days when the Kesterson reservoir was being poisoned and Tulare Lake was being sucked dry.

Dad: “Good thing global warming kicked in and saved us from a cold winter!”

Everyone knows that a single winter of exceptional snow and cold suffices to disprove the existence of a long-term warming trend. Dad gets upset when I point out that the climatologists he cites as counterweights to Al Gore (presumably the only source of pro-AGW information; the former vice president holds the IPCC in thrall, you see) agree that the globe is warming. Tim Ball and John Christy accept the existence of the warming trend; they simply argue that it cannot be significantly affected by human activities. (Ball is one of the most prominent scientists with actual credentials featured in Dad's cherished copy of The Great Global Warming Swindle.) No doubt the data indicating that 2009 will be one of the hottest years on record is fraudulent stuff ginned up by the communists in NASA and the UN.

Dad: “Scientists have discovered an extract from tomatoes that can clean cholesterol out of your arteries. It's available in pill form.”

Normally I get my doses of medical woo and pseudoscience from Mom. Nice to see that Dad is pitching in. He gave me a print-out from the Internet promoting a “bioactive, patented extract from ripe tomato that helps the blood flow smoothly.”

They lost me at “bioactive” and “patented.”

By the way, the product's website says that daily consumption of the product is required to maintain its efficacy. Big surprise.

I learn so much on my visits to my parents. Bless you, Mom & Dad, for always being willing to share, but your eldest son has a good reason for the stunned expression on his face.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Clumsily pruning the family tree

Attacking evolution root and branch

I can always rely on Acts & Facts from the Institute for Creation Research to provide me with some wrong-headed diversion. The November 2009 issue was no exception.

ICR makes a fetish of appending academic degrees to the names of the authors in its publications. It's probably supposed to give their articles a veneer of scientific credibility. Brian Thomas, the writer of Did Humans Evolve from “Ardi”? glories in the possession of an M.S. He is featured in Acts & Facts as a science writer—at least, that's what they call him. In this role, he takes on the classification of Ardipithecus ramidus as a likely human ancestor and the unresolved questions that are still being addressed.
Speculation and evolutionary guesswork, not scientific observations, are offered to bridge these gaps. Consistent with this is the broad use of speculative verbiage on the part of the authors. In the eleven papers in Science, the word “probably” appeared about 78 times, and “suggest,” “suggesting,” “suggestive,” or “suggests” were used 117 times, among other terms that are associated with an unsubstantiated story rather than a scientific description.
I find this interesting. The ICR's “science” writer, who holds a master of “science” degree, appears to think that tentative conclusions have no place in scientific publications. What is that degree in? Political science?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kleenex up my nose

A meditation on slings and arrows

Remember Prell? It was a green shampoo “concentrate” that was famous in the seventies for having a viscosity sufficient to slow the descent of a pearl. Surely a ball bearing or mouse dropping would have worked just as well, but for some reason they chose to advertise Prell's gooiness with a pearl. A marketing decision, no doubt.

Prell fell from its pinnacle of popularity as it passed through the hands of various owners who reformulated and repackaged it as “New and improved”—words that almost never mean what they say. Eventually, at some point in the late eighties (as I recall), someone relaunched Prell with a nostalgia campaign: “Original-formula Prell is back and it's better than ever!”

How can the original formula be better than ever? It boggles the mind.

All this is by way of offering a curmudgeonly rant about how idiots keep messing up things that don't need messing with. As is my usual custom, I caught a cold near the end of fall semester. It's probably from the volume of papers I shuffle while grading the final rounds of quizzes and exams as the term winds down. Cold viruses go tearing through my classes anyway as winter draws nigh, so I get more exposure than usual as finals week approaches. (Would microwaving the exams kill the rhinoviruses on them or simply cause mini-explosions due to the staples?)

The annual fall cold hardly ever immobilizes me. It merely means that I need a big supply of Kleenex in addition to a box of red pens as I correct papers during fall semester's waning days. If the symptoms are bad enough, I dose myself with Sudafed. It works like a champ. And when I say Sudafed, I mean the real stuff that contains pseudoephedrine, not the Sudafed PE crap that contains phenylephrine. It's worthless to me. (Give me real pseudoephedrine, not pseudo-pseudoephedrine!)

Maybe it's different in your state, but in California you can find original-formula Sudafed only behind the pharmacy counter. They have to swipe your driver's license through a reader before selling you any. There's some kind of database that tracks whether you are buying too much pseudoephedrine (whatever “too much” is), because that suggests you're running a meth lab.


While I was in the drugstore getting my Sudafed fix, I paused by the cold remedy section (like most drugstores, my local outfit shamelessly sells tons of worthless homeopathic nostrums and heavily marketed frauds like Airborne—“created by a school teacher,” as if that matters). When my throat is sore, I find that Chloraseptic analgesic sprays or lozenges do the trick. It was time to stock up. To my dismay (you already know where I'm going with this), Chloraseptic is now “new and improved”! (Oh, damn.)

The last time the makers screwed with Chloraseptic, they removed the alcohol content of the spray, significantly reducing its effectiveness in easing sore throats. (The burn! The relief!) It still works and I still use it, but it's tamer than the old-fashioned version. This time they've gone and screwed with the lozenges. “Improved with liquid center.” Oh, good. The lozenges will now last significantly less time as you tuck them in your cheek and suck on them for relief. Instead of staying solid all the way through, they will now suddenly ooze into your mouth as you penetrate to the liquid core. Gag! Hey, if I wanted liquid I'd use the spray!

But those wankers aren't getting me! I switched to Sucrets.

I'm feeling a lot better today (thanks for asking) and I'm off the meds. No more pseudoephedrine and no more sucking on Sucrets. The Kleenex box is back up on the shelf. I can return to a normal (for me) life.

Perhaps I should wash my hair.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Juxtapositional humor

Trailing off in a joke

I don't think of myself as someone who follows the Mark Trail comic strip, although I glance at it when surveying the comics page. Its appeal escapes me and its survival mystifies me. Mark's current adventure involves taking a little boy camping in the woods (not too sure about the wisdom of that) and saving the boy's puppy from poachers who were using it for bait to attract alligators. Oh, and the puppy knocks over a wobbly car jack and traps the little boy under the car.

Note to parents and guardians: Do not let Mark Trail take care of your children or pets.

So now Mark needs to perform yet another rescue. He's desperately hunting for something with which to lift the car and save the little boy. He dashes off to a nearby abandoned store, breaks in, and finds—wait for it—an old jack! (Yay!)

But look at the climactic panel from the strip for December 12, 2009. See the artist's signature bubble? To what exactly is Trail referring when he says “old jack”? This may be the best joke to appear in the Mark Trail strip in quite some time. Is it deliberate? (What do you think?)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Too good to be true

So much for tentacles

Perhaps PZ Myers got too excited too soon. He chortled with delight when Brad DeLong rechristened his blog, changing the title from “Grasping Reality with Both Hands” to “Grasping Reality with All Eight Tentacles.” PZ offered a mild complaint about DeLong's encroachment on Pharyngula's turf, but you could tell he was pleased:
There is much to look forward to in our bright molluscan future.
It was a short-lived future, which has now become simian in nature (or, to be slightly more correct, has reverted to being simian, given that Brad DeLong never denied being a primate before briefly going octopoidal on us). As of today, DeLong's blog carries the banner “Grasping Reality with a Prehensile Tail.”

I sense a running gag.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The unpardonable sin

An insanity plea might work

The collective irrationality of today's right-wing pundits makes it relatively easy to be a comparatively sane conservative. So why are there so few of the latter? I guess there's nothing like the freedom-loving right-wing extremists for enforcing absolute adherence to a rigorous standard. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders tries her best to be an independent voice, but often fails. And, unfortunately, her occasional successes have problems of their own.

Last week, for example, Saunders penned a ridiculous column with whose premise I paradoxically agree. Does that sound weird enough for you? Allow me to explain.

On November 24, 2009, the Chronicle published a Saunders column that took President Obama to task for his stingy application of his pardoning powers. Here she shakes an admonitory finger at the nation's chief executive:
Obama hasn't pardoned a single ex-offender, even though about 1,200 people have asked for pardons because they have turned their lives around, expressed remorse for their crimes and now want to wipe the criminal slate clean of long-past offenses for which they paid the penalty.
That's right. Debra Saunders is a bleeding-heart conservative. It's one of her favorite ways to step to a different drummer while the rest of the right-wing crowd march in lockstep to the tempo of the teabaggers. Her particular concern is the number of nonviolent offenders who are serving disproportionately long sentences for minor crimes. The nation's draconian anti-drug laws have jammed the jails and prisons with people who scarcely deserve to be called criminals. I agree with Saunders that we have an unhealthy penchant for incarceration in this country (USA! Number One!) and that the presidential pardon could help to right some of the injustices.
When you think about it, the pardon petition is the rare Washington exercise that encourages politically unconnected people to petition their president for relief. But like Bush and Clinton before him, Obama seems to be hoarding this power. It's as if Team Obama sees justice as perk, not an equal right.
Yes, indeed. President Obama should get busy commuting some sentences and righting some wrongs. And the friends and political allies of Debra Saunders will rally around him and praise him for his devotion to the principles of justice and fairness.

Yeah. Right.

Now Debra Saunders did not claim that people would cheer such presidential action. To be fair, she actually said, “This is where a number of readers no doubt are talking back to the paper and saying that it's just fine with them if Obama keeps career criminals behind bars, thank you very much.”

Ha, ha, Debra! You jolly joker! She could have been just a little more honest and said something like, “We conservatives would then have Obama for lunch, crunch his bones with our teeth, and spit out the splinters!” The language is just a shade too florid for the gentle Saunders, but it captures the sense of what we know would occur in reality. Right-wing pundits would “Willie Horton” the president in a nanosecond. Teabaggers would demand his impeachment for various imagined crimes (as they are already doing).

The cherry on the Saunders silly sundae was delivered this week, when Debra returned to the topic of executive clemency. On December 3, 2009, the Chronicle ran her column on Mike Huckabee, a candidate in 2008 for the Republican nomination for president and the former governor of Arkansas. Huckabee, you see, was a soft touch for criminals who had “found Jesus” and was quick to give them “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. One of those pardoned criminals is the late Maurice Clemmons, the man accused of ambushing and killing four policemen in Washington state. No doubt Saunders was wishing she had not written her earlier column on the eve of the Clemmons crime spree.
I am especially angry at Huckabee because I support the pardon system. With so many nonviolent, first-time drug offenders serving long federal sentences, there should be more—not zero—sentence commutations from the Obama White House.
I say again that I agree with Saunders in principle, but I also would like to point out a couple of things that she utterly fails to address, stripping her argument of any realistic context:

First, the right wing in American politics is responsible for debasing the level of discourse in this country to such a degree that any measured approach to executive pardons is impossible. There is no doubt—none at all—that every single presidential pardon would be the occasion of screaming, braying, chest-pounding, rending of garments, frothing at the mouth, and scattering of ashes. These are the people who routinely accuse their political opponents of treason, dishonesty, and conspiratorial plans to destroy the nation. Civil discourse is entirely beyond them.

Second, Huckabee is merely one example of the power of clot-minded religion to turn people into credulous simpletons. The Republican Party, in particular, is infested with candidates who think the world was created in six days less than 10,000 years ago or pander to those who do. Huckabee was a member in good standing of this Dark Age fraternity. While his remaining political aspirations, if any, are now dead and gone (and unlikely to experience resurrection), there are still plenty of politicians who give religious dogma priority over rational thought. With Sarah Palin on the scene, backward thinking still has a future.

Pardon me for retching.