Monday, February 28, 2005

What the Hell: Part V

Pharyngula and Chris Clarke made it on DTN. This is so not fair! I left a comment at Moonbat Central giving my blog url. I believe in socialized medicine, fours years of tuition free college education and not prvitizing social security. See What the Hell I-IV for further details.

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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Update: The Darwinian Orthodoxy

I have added 32 more journals - bringing the total to an even 100.

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SHAME, SHAME, SHAME: A Clarification

Let me be clear about what I object to in the previous.
The KMOV reporter mentioned that people had witnessed the man abusing his children and people had witnessed the man abusing his wife. The reporter also mentioned that several of the mans neighbor's were so concerned about his behavior that they were thinking about selling their house and moving. It was in this context that the remark about nobody witnesing the man threatening people with a gun occured. It sounded to me like the previous violent behavior was being trivialized because no gun was involved. The sad reality of the situation is that in cases of domestic violence people end up dead regardless of how often or how many guns are brandished. Violent behavior against women and children is a good predictor of future violent behavior aginst women and children.

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Friday night there was a story on the news about a double homicide, the murder was spoted, chased and died in a car crash. Saturday we found out the real story. It seems there was a divorce and a custody dispute. The-male- reporter for KMOV said something to the effect that no one had ever seen the murderer threaten any one with a gun before, as if this made things more shocking. Depite the fact that a number of people had witnessed the man physically abusing his children. A larger number had witnessed him abusing his wife, but hey, no one had seen him threaten people with a gun! This kinda of statement is why I really don't watch the news anymore (well, that and the fact that Peter Jennings has been reduced to doing stories about UFO's). Accordint to this story on the man was politically connected. One wonders if this is why he was running around free instead of being locked up like he should have been.

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Evil Darwinian Orthodoxy

The ID and Creationist crowd like to argue that we should "teach the controversy" (hence the current abuse of the schoolboard system like we see currently occuring in Kansas. Click on the permanent links for: Redstate Rabble and Thoughts from Kansas for updates). On the other hand, when you ask for evidence of a controversy they like to say that they are kept out of the science journals by the evil Darwinian orthodoxy. On the righthand side of this blog I have posted the names of a wide variety of science journals. Most of them concern anthropology, a few of them concern ecology, biology, genetics, or geology. At any rate, during my time as an undergraduate and graduate student in anthropology I accumulated many articles from all of the journals on the list. There are others, such as "Ecology of Food and Nutrition" or "The Lancet" that occasionally contain articles relating to evolution, but since their main focus is not evolution I left them off the list (but it goes to show that nothing in biology makes sense without evolution). Of course, it goes without saying that since I am not a biologist, ecologist or geologist I have barely scratched the surface of journals relating to evolution. The point of all this is that I didn't see any signs of a creationsim/design vs evolution controversy in any of the journals I used.
For another take on the "Controversy" go toThe Evolution Project and to The Non-Evolution Project.

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House Bill 35 Update

I Recently wrote to my representitve (Michael Corcoran) in the Missouri House expressing my opposition to HB 35. Mr. Cocoran's response was very encouraging. Mr. Corcoran opposes this bill (as well as HB 34, both introduced by Cynthia Davis)and doesn't think the bill will get a hearing before the House Education Committee. According to Corcoran HB 34 probably wont make it out of committee or be debated on the floor. He also mentioned that Ms. Davis owns a religious bookstore in O'Fallon (which I was unaware of).

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Monday, February 21, 2005

Darwin and Natural Selection

Over on the Panda's Thumb I find the following comment"

"The evidence doesn’t support mutation/selection as the all powerful force of evolution. Darwin never subscribed to it. Anyone who’s actually read “The Origin of Species” knows Darwin believed that evolution was driven by the heritability of acquired characters."

Here's what Darwin had to say on natural selection:

"As natural selection acts soley by the preservation of profitable modifications, each new form will tend in a fully stocked country to take the place of, and finally exterminate, its own less improved parent form and other less favoured forms with wich it comes into competition. Thus extinction and natural selection go hand in hand (Origin of Species pg 159)."

"Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply under nature? I think that we shall see that it can act most efficiently. Let the endless number of slight variations and individual differences occuring in our domestic productions, and, in a lesser degree, in those under nature be borne in mind; as well as the strength of the hereditary tendency(Origin of Species pg 87)."

I could probably find more but these two will suffice. Let's examine all three quotations. I interpret the first quote to mean that Darwin did not believe natural selection acting on mutation was the driving force of evolution. Two things could be said about that. First, the concept of mutation, being a term related to genetics was unknown. This gets back to comments I made in a previous post. Darwin was trying to talk about variabilty using archaic and outmoded concepts and trying to create a new vocabulary. Since genes and chromosomes and whatnot had not been discovered yet. For Darwin, variability was casued by a wide variaty of phenomena, including atavism, effects of previous sire, use/disuse of parts, and condition of life (for example, domesticated animals were more variable than wild animals because they were attended to by humans, the concept also had to do with rearing animals in a different environment than what they were accustomed to). So to say that Darwin didn't think mutation/selection "drove' evolution was misleading at best. Second, the crucial idea is that for Darwin natural selection acts on variability (however introduced). "Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should occur in the course of many successive generations. If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and procreating their kind? On the other hand , we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed (Origin of Species pg 87-88)." Later in the same chapter Darwin uses the concept of natural selection to make predictions about speciation and the fossil record (he also uses this idea in a latter chapter on the imperfection of the fossil record). I could pull quite a few other quotes from "The Origin of Species" to prove my point. I could also pull some from "The variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication" and The Descent of Man; and Selection in Relation to Sex" but I think the point is made.

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What the Hell: Part IV

I still have not had much success getting black listed by DTN. They did change their site. They used to have a "contribute information or names" area in the contacts section. No longer there. I think they must have gotten flooded with smart assed requests like mine. One of these days, people are going to wak up to the fact that the nutcases have seized control...
It used to be, when I was a kid, that people like Jesse Helms and Orrin Hatch were considered the extreme fringes of the far right. The current group of conservatives, however, make Helms and Hatch look moderate in comparison.

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Busy Weekend

I still have not made it on DTN's enemies list and I havn't had much time to devote to it this weekend. I have spent most of my time posting comments over at Pharyngula concerning anthropological fraud in Germany. I am working something up to post here but it won't be till Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Mutant Extraterrestrial Squid Have Invaded!!!

And these are their instructions:
Grab the nearest book.
Open the book to page 123.
Find the fifth sentence.
Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you

Okay, to hear is to obey. The book I grabed was James P. Hogan's "Voyage from Yesteryear". The fifth sentence reads:

"Now tell us where this stuff came from."

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What the Hell: Part III

I'm making progress! I received permission to send emails to this address:

Apparently this is the email address for the person in charge of web construction. As I know more I'll post.

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

What the Hell: Part 2

I still have not made it the Horwitz's enemy list. Bummer!

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What The Hell?

I am a liberal, I guess. I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I voted for Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton (twice) Gore, and Kerry! I believe in the Constitution of the United States and because of that belief think it is every citizens duty to try praise the government when it is doing right and to criticize it and try to change it when it is doing wrong! The US government is a human institution, created by and for humans and as such it is subject to the same human failings we all suffer from and those who think otherwise have forgotten their history. I also read banned books, believe in evolution and am for gay rights. Although I would like to see abortions become a thing of the past I am not for taking away a womans right to choose. There are a lot of issues that divide america, some of which I just mentioned. I could also mention some others: class, gender, ethnicity, urban vs rural, religion vs athiest. Over and above that there are "status" (in the anthropological sense) differences that divide us: father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, employee, employer - the list could go on forever. But the one thing that cuts through all these differences and unites us all is that we are all human beings. We are a country of competing, sometimes mutually inconsistant interests and they way we have reconciled those competing claims is through compromise. This is the very essence of the checks and balances on which our government is based. I also believe in social welfare rather than corporate welfare. I believe that the role of the government is to help the PEOPLE. I also believe that the government can help in a more effective fashion the private companies and am against the privatization of any government program. I believe that there are severe challanges ahead for this country and think that history will judge us based on what moral values guided that response. But there are those who would rather tear us apart and smear us based on ideology. There are those who would say anything, no matter how heinous, to keep themselves in power. Even if it means smashing the compromise that made this country "the beacon unto the world". Even if it means villifying their fellow citizens.

So, I say this is the stupidist thing I have ever heard in my life. Rather than face up to the mess that has been created in the last four years and trying to fix it, these people would rather explain the problems America faces by blaming librels? Give me a break. This is theodicy pure and simple, they need an explanation for the evil the perceive in the world so they blame anyone who doesn't agree with them. As I said earlier, we do face challanges, there is evil in the world (as 9/11 proved)but we can't survive these challanges by creating more Abu Gharibs, by creating list of those who arn't ideologically pure to the requisite degree. But if you insist on creating such a list, add my name! Come on! Do it! Pussies, Baawk,Baawk,Bawk!Chickens!

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

My Cousin Vinny, The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, and "Bitch-Slapping" Behe

I just finished watching "My Cousin Vinny" wherein we learn such anthropological tidbits as what "utes" are (that's an anthropology joke for those of you unacquainted with native american tribes).
But what I really want to blog about is Charles Darwin. Today is his birthday. In terms of anthropology, his most important book (next to the Origin of Species) is "The Descent of Man". In it Darwin analyze the variabilty and distribution of the primates and concludes that humans evolved in Africa. A prediction that turned out to be correct.
"The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication" is less well know than either of the two books mentioned above, but is in someways more interesting. I have the two volume edition put out by Johns Hopkins University Press. In the foreword the editor (Harriet Ritvo) says the following:
"As a graduate student from the People's Republic of China told me several years ago, after having participated in a seminar that read excerpts from Variation and the Expression of Emotions, if the leaders of his government knew that Darwin had written such books, he would not be officially admired."

Leaving aside the similarities of the above qoute to some of the stories the creationist tell about Darwin, the forward is similarly derogatory in nature. I think this symptomatic of the way the work is viewed. I, on the other hand, think the book is under appreciated. Bearing in mind that I have justed started on chapter 20, here is a synopsis of the book. The first eleven chapters discuss variability in animals and plants that have been domesticated by humans. Throughout we see Darwin trying to apply the ideas he ennuciated in "the Origin of Species" -namely selection and desent with modification- to the problem of variability in domesticated animals. For example, he tries to determine the the ancestors of most of the species he discusses. For some species, such as dogs, he identifies several ancestors (in modern parlance, they would be considered polyphyletic groupings). For others, such as the chicken and pidgeon he identifies a single ancestor (Gallus bankiva for the former, Columba livia for the later). Darwin then uses selection to explain how, say, Gallus bankiva could have evolved into modern varieties of chickens. Along the way, he draws on osteological traits, coloration, behavior and the results of crossbreeding. Two more examples will suffice to show his approach to explaining variation in domesticated animals. First, he discusses dogs and cats in the same chapter. For dogs he points out that selection for a wide variety of traits led to a proliferation of different "types" of dogs. Cats, on the other hand, didn't appear to exhibit the same variation. Mummified cats from Egypt looked much like their Victorian counterparts. What could explain this difference? He points out that for dogs, with breeders emphasizing pedigree, breeding was highly controlled. Whereas for cats breeding was pretty much at random, due to their behavior - at that of their owners. Using modern terminology, dogs were split into a large number of local populations with little opportunity for gene flow between the populations. Cats, on the other hand pretty much roam freely and have a larger effective breeding population - hence there was a lot of gene flow. Second, one of the more interesting aspects of these chapters is the way he uses skeletal material. For example, when discussing rabbits he collected measuremnts on several different species of rabbits and then scaled those measurements to those of wild rabbits. By that I mean that the wild rabbit is used as the standard of comparison and measurements are expressed relative to that standard. In some cases the discussion approaches modern conceptions of allometry.
The next nine chapters are devoted to inheritance (although we don't get to pangenesis until several chapters before the end), hybridism, crossbreeding,and inbreeding. These, to me, are the most fascinating chapters. In them we see Darwin struggling to make sense of a wide variety of data, and outmoded and flatly wrong concepts (reversion, atavism, effects of previous sire, etc.). Two issues were causing Darwin problems. First, the sheer mass of data, often conflicting, which obscured patterns of variation. Second, it seems to me that there was not a adequate "language" for discussing variability and Darwin was clearly struggling. I think what appeals to me the most about the book is that it is an intellectually honest survey on the nature of variation and I have the impression that Darwin was never satisfied with his conclusion.

On that note, Evolutionblog was the first to report on Bruce Albert's response to Behe's Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. But first, a little history. In "Darwins Black Box" Behe takes several shots at Alberts. On page 115 Behe dismises Alberts' textbook (Molecular Biology of the Cell) as irrelevant to molecular evolution (mainly in the context of the evolution of vesicular transport). Then on page 152 he takes another shot regarding the discussion of metabolic pathways in Alberts' book. I don't know if Alberts' ever responded to Behe on that issue, but clearly Alberts' was angry at the misleading and intellectually dishonest was Behe quoted him in his Times Op=Ed. Pardon my terminolgy but Alberts' applies a gentle "Bitch-slapping" to Behe.

In one scence, early, in "My Cousin Vinny" Ralph Macchio's character is about to fire Vinny. Vinny pleads for one chance to question a witness. The prosecution's case, he says, is like a brick wall. First a foundation is laid and then new layers are added, each supporting the next. The dimensions fit, he says running his fingers along the length and width of a playing card. However, with a change of perspective (and here he turns the card flat) the bricks are really thin. This is a good description of ID. The dimensions of the the bricks fit and the wall they build seems solid, but if you change the perspective the bricks are revealed as to thin and the whole thing comes crashing down like a house of cards. This is why I could never accept ID. There is too much intellectual dishonesty. Rather than twisting peoples words and criticizing evolution, the promoters of ID should focus on developing a research program and conducting experiments. Darwin did!

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Thursday, February 10, 2005

First Steps

STLtoday - News - St. Louis City / County

Compassionate conservatism in action! Governor Matt Blunt is severly cutting the first steps program. The program is designed to help diabled children (and their families) with education and medical costs. The governor thinks that private insurance should pay the costs for these services. Ignoring the fact that most private insurance carriers don't typically cover the kinds of treatments these children need. I can vouch for this firsthand. My daughter is a special needs child and received services through the special school district. Most insurance sucks when it comes to these kinds of issues. It gets better, the governor thinks that the program is inefficient and wastefull, yet over 90% of the parents involved in the program approve of it and over 200 parents showed up to testify at the House Education Appropriations Committee hearing.
There may be times when the private sector can provide a service in a more efficient and sheaper fashion, however I would not want to place my child in the hands of a person who sole interest is in making a proffit. "I am sorry we have to cut your child's therapy, but, please, don't take it personally, it's only business. We do have an obligation to our stockholders to make a proffit, I'm sure you understand"
My wife was at some kind of leadership training seminar today. One of the speaker spent time discussing Harry Potter. The speaker did not like the Harry potter books as he felt they were "dark" and were making America dark. I would argue that it is not Harry Potter, it is actions like the above that are making America "dark". There is a rampant heartlessnes loose in America and ideological convictions are mindlessly clung to despite the cost they cause in human suffering. Still not convinced? See Here. The House of Representitives approved a bill that would give the Director of Homeland Security virtually unlimited powers. No judge, no lawyer, no court, no Senate committes would have oversite of these powers. The bill was passed by the republican majority (gee isn't that Matt Blunt's party?). Yet Harry Potter is spreading darkness in America! By the way, if you don't feel like following the link here is the text of the bill:

Section 102(c) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 … is amended to read as follows:
“(c) Waiver. —
“(1) In general. — Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.

“(2) No judicial review. — Notwithstanding any other provision of law (statutory or nonstatutory), no court shall have jurisdiction —

“(A) to hear any cause or claim arising from any action undertaken, or any decision made, by the Secretary of Homeland Security pursuant to paragraph (1); or

“(B) to order compensatory, declaratory, injunctive, equitable, or any other relief for damage alleged to arise from any such action or decision.”

You can also go here Bill Would Place Homeland Security Above All Law for background. Kinda scary ain't it?

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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Choose Life License Plates

The Missoure Senate has a bill that would allow "Choose Life" license plates (SB 94). A Google search shows this is happening country wide Choose Life. This is similar to what we are seeing on the Creationism front so I am wondering if both aren't part of a nationwide republican agenda. One wonders what else is on the agenda (besides corporate welfare).

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Whats at Stake

From Red State Rabble concerning revisions to science teaching:
Here are excerpts from their proposed revisions
"Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us. Science does so through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument while maintaining strict empirical standards and healthy skepticism." (Words highlighted in blue are maked for deletion in the revised draft submitted by minority -- all supporters of Intelligent Design Theory)

They go on to explain that:
"The principle change here is to replace a naturalistic definition of science with a traditional definition. The current definition of science is intended to reflect a concept called methodological naturalism, which irrefutably assumes that cause-and-effect laws (as of physics and chemistry) are adequate to account for all phenomena and that teleological or design conceptions of nature are invalid."

What's all the fuss about? Well, all they want to do is take the science out of science classes. If you read their revisions carefully, you'll see that they don't just want an alternative (teleological) explanation for evolution taught in biology. They now challenge the naturalistic explanation for what happens when students add aqueous ammonia to a beaker containing a few drops of aqueous copper sulfate in chemistry class. Maybe, it wasn't the chemical properties that turned the solution blue, maybe it was God or some unknown designer. The danger is that while they didn't win over many members of the science standards writing committee, who, by and large, are scientists and educators, they do have a majority on the board.

Why post about Kansas? Consider the following HB 35. The fill text of which is:
To amend chapter 170, RSMo, by adding thereto one new section relating to biology textbooks.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the state of Missouri, as follows:

Section A. Chapter 170, RSMo, is amended by adding thereto one new section, to be known as section 170.032, to read as follows:

170.032. All biology textbooks sold to the public schools of the state of Missouri shall have one or more chapters containing a critical analysis of origins. The chapters shall convey the distinction between data and testable theories of science and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological evolution, the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

I urge you to write your state representive and recommend they vote against this bill. If you don't know your rep go Here . As far as I have been able to determine the Missouri Senate does not have a similar bill.

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Lest You Think It's Just Evolution

From the The Journal Gazette“What we are saying is that God has given us some very specific commands that we are to train our children in the ways of the Lord, not in the ways of the world,” said the Rev. Roger Moran, of Troy, Mo., the resolution’s author and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee.

That means teaching creationism over evolution, that life begins at conception and that homosexuality is immoral, as is sex outside of marriage. But it is more.

“It hits everything, when you realize the reality of life is (that) life was created by God and the entire universe is his creation. Therefore, everything has meaning and reflection on his nature, whether it is math or history or science. Two plus two equals four because God created them that way,” (emphasis mine)said Glen Schultz, who heads the Baptists’ LifeWay curriculum program for church-based schools and home-schoolers

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Teachers Afraid to Teach Evolution

From the New York Times:

Afraid to discuss evolution

By The New York Times News Service

The fights in scattered school districts over whether to teach creationism or its rival, called intelligent design, as alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution may be obscuring a deeper problem: the tendency of many districts to duck controversy by avoiding or soft-pedaling any teaching of evolution at all. Nobody knows the extent of the problem, but an article by Cornelia Dean in The New York Times on Tuesday cites ample evidence that even when evolution is theoretically part of the curriculum, it is often ignored or played down in the classroom.
Some teachers duck the subject, lest they get into trouble with school administrators or fundamentalist parents. Others assign a chapter on evolution for reading but avoid any discussion in the classroom. Still others discuss evolutionary concepts without ever mentioning "the E word" to avoid arousing controversy.

Although most state curriculum standards mandate that evolution be taught, and standardized tests typically include questions on evolution, some teachers apparently assume that evolution is a small enough part of the curriculum that their students can get by without mastering the subject. Those students remain ignorant of one of the bedrock theories underlying modern biology.

In some areas of the country, many biology teachers are themselves believers in creationism. A 1998 doctoral dissertation found that 24 percent of the biology teachers sampled in Louisiana said that creationism had a scientific foundation and that 17 percent were not sure. Several surveys have shown that many teachers give at least some instructional time to creationism or intelligent design out of a sense of fairness.

That serves the students and the nation poorly as they enter an age likely to be dominated by biology.

Apalling! Especially the bit about teaching ID or creationism out of some warped sense of fairness.

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

Speaking of Republicans

On the local level the republican governor of Missouri has announced plans to cut funding for various early childhood learning programs, despite studies that prove these programs substantially reduce future spending on special education programs. It seems to me this is not about government efficiency, nor does it seem that this benefits the people of Missouri in any way. If I had my choice I would rather spend a little now if it meant saving in the future. He also plans on reducing corporate taxes...So maybe this is more about transfering wealth. Phrased another way Democrats prefer welfare for the poor, Republicans prefer welfare for the rich.

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"As you sow, so shall you reap..."

The above quote comes, of course, from the New Testament. I interpret it to mean that if you start something using evil methods (no matter what the intentions are) it will end in evil. A few days ago the Senate voted 60-36 to confirm Alberto Gonzales as the Attorny General of the United States. Despte the torture memos, despite Abu Gharib, despite Guantanamo. While eliminating terrorism is a laudable, and necessary goal, as long as we use torture and inhumane treatment we will never win. Sooner or later someone is going to reap the results of what Alberto Gonzales and the Senate sowed. Unfortunately, it will probably be innocent people who had nothing to do with the above illegal policies.

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Ernst Mayr

Ernst Mayr passed away on Thursday. He was 100 years old and remained active till well into his 90's (publishing several books, for example). Mayr was one of the "founding fathers" of the Modern Synthesis. He also created the concept of allopatric speciation. He was one of the most important figures in evolutionary biology during the last 50 years. His impact could even be felt in anthropology, when, for example, Donald Johansen consulted with Mayr before creating the new species Australopithecus afarensis. Pretty remarkable when you consider that he started out as a Lamarkian! He will be sorely missed.

I would recommend the following books:

Animal Species and their Evolution
The Growth of Biological Thought
Systematics and the Origin of Species

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