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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Books, A Year in Review - 2009, Part II

Old Book Bindings, from Wikimedia Commons Here is the second part of my review of the books I read in the last year. Part I was an analysis of my reading habits, while this entry will give a brief review for each book.

In year's past, I've made a point to mention my favorite books of the year. The problem this year is that I liked so many of them, that it was hard to weed this list down. Anyway, my favorites from fiction were Anne of Green Gables and Luncheon of the Boating Party. My favorites from nonfiction were Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life (Zimmer is one of my favorite authors), and Death from the Skies.

You can jump directly to the review of any of the books by using the links below.

House of Stairs

I bought this book for my daughter, because I remember liking it so much when I first read it. However, since I hadn't read it since elementary school, I thought I'd read it again to refresh my memory. I still liked it. It's a somewhat dystopian future story, but its focus is on a small group of adolescents, so it doesn't really get into the society at large. Without giving away too much of the plot, these adolescents are trapped in an environment with nothing but stairs as far as they can see in every direction. There's a mysterious machine that gives them food and water, but only when they behave in certain ways.


This is a story about a little girl named Coraline, who feels a bit neglected by her parents. She discovers a mysterious door in their new house that leads to a strange world, much like her own, but populated by people with buttons on their eyes. Her 'other mother' tries to convince her to stay, and Coraline must find a way back to her world.

This book has now been made into a movie. I saw the movie for this before reading the book. As usual, the book was better.

Anne of Green Gables

This book is a classic, having sold over 50 million copies since it was first published in 1908. After reading it, it's clear to see why. The book is about an orphan girl, Anne Shirley (that's Anne with an 'e'), who gets mistakenly delivered to an unwed brother and sister, who had originally requested a boy to help them out on their farm. In short order, the brother and sister take in Anne, and the rest of the book is about her adventures growing up in the small coastal village of Avonlea. The book is more a series of short adventures, without a strong overall plot.

There were several reasons I liked this book. As a father of a 10 year old girl myself, I could definitely put myself in the place of Matthew Cuthbert. It was easy to see the story through his eyes. There were also all the little historical details, such as preparing for an all day trip to town when the town was only a few miles away, or preparing dinner in an era without electricity or gaslines.

Although this book is often thought of now as a children's book, when Lucy Maud Montgomery first wrote it, she intended it for audiences of all ages. I recommend this book to any parent.

Montgomery went on to write several more books about Anne. I may have to find the time to read them.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series

My daughter got me started on this series. Obviously, it's pretty popular - the boxed set of the first three books is currently at #168 in Amazon's best selling list, and a movie based on the first book is coming out in a few months.

The series is about a young man, Percy Jackson, who turns out to be a demigod - the son of a mortal mother and godly father. In the story, the classical Greek gods are real, and still influencing the modern world. And as could be expected (otherwise it wouldn't make for an interesting story), some of the mythical beings are causing problems. Percy and his demigod friends must go on quests to save the day.

I liked this series well enough. It was written from Percy's perspective. Staying true to how a 12 year old would write, the style takes a little getting used to. There's adventure, but the stories are never too serious (a few people do die, but when you're dealing with mythology, and dead people continue existing in the fields of Elysium, death isn't all that tragic).

My 10 year old daughter really liked the series. She even read the final book of the series during the summer. And through the series, she learned quite a bit about mythology that she wouldn't have otherwise. True, these stories are adaptations of the classic myths, but I think it's still a great way to get kids interested in those myths.


This is the third book in the Eragon series. The author, Christopher Paolini, was only 16 when he wrote the first book. Although he originally intended the series to be a trilogy, once he got into the writing of the third book, he realized he needed to split it into two books.

The title character, Eragon, is a young man from a small village in Alagaesia. The region is under control of an evil dictator, Galbatorix. The lands used to be protected by dragon riders, and Galbatorix had even been one of the riders. But, in his ruthless quest for power, he killed every last dragon rider and every last dragon so that he would be supreme in his power.

This series has become very popular - a best seller that spawned a movie adaptation. I think when something like that happens, there's a certain segment of the population that becomes extra critical of the book, and that's what I notice in other reviews I read of this series. Certainly, Eragon isn't the best fantasy series. It doesn't come close to the Lord of the Rings, and some of the plot elements are not very original at all (imagine Star Wars with dragons instead of X-wings). But I think that as long as you keep your expectations reasonable, it's a very enjoyable book. I also very much enjoy the digressions into philosophy and morality. Eragon is growing up in a world with many different peoples, many different philosophies, and many different religions, which leaves him wondering how to make sense of it all. Paolini doesn't overdo these digressions - just enough to be interesting.

I would certainly recommend this series. I'm looking forward to reading the fourth and final book when it's released.


I usually try to avoid learning about a book as much as I can before reading it. I don't want preconceptions or expectations to ruin the story. Usually, that works out pretty well, but this book is a perfect example of how that can go wrong.

About all I knew about this book before starting was that it was a monster book about vampires in high school, and that it was popular enough to have been made into a movie. So, I was expecting a typical fantasy book. About two hundred pages into it (the book's 544 pages long), I remember thinking to myself that the book had a pretty slow start, but I didn't really mind the author laying the groundwork for character development, especially considering that it was a series with far more to follow. About a hundred pages later, I realized that this wasn't just laying the groundwork - this was the plot. This wasn't a fantasy! It was a romance, wrapped up in the guise of fantasy. It's not that I don't occasionally enjoy a romance (I liked Pride and Prejudice), but this was a major letdown when I was expecting something with just a bit more action. And besides, it wasn't particularly enjoyable from a romantic perspective, either. I found a review on Amazon (alert - contains spoilers) that mirrors many of my thoughts on the book. I somewhat agree with that reviewer in calling Bella a Mary Sue. And the vampire, Edward, was hardly likeable - he was a creepy stalker. Perhaps this isn't a traditional romance. Perhaps we're not supposed to want to see the relationship between the two work out, because I know I never found myself hoping that the hero and heroine would still be together by the end of the book.

I watched the movie for this after I'd already read the book. This is one of the rare occurences where the movie is actually better. There were still the problems of the nature of the relationship between the two main characters, but at least the movie stripped down the story to the good parts.

Now, I find myself in a bit of a quandry. I almost always finish a story once I've started it. In fact, I make it a point to do so, so it's very rare that a book's so bad that I put it down. I managed to finish Twilight, but it's part of a series. So now I find myself wondering - should I try to finish out the series, or just quit on it. I suppose I could just watch the movies.

Luncheon of the Boating Party

When I was in elementary school, art class was partly doing projects, but also learning about famous and influential artists and their works. One of my favorite paintings from as far back as I can remember is Luncheon of the Boating Party. So, when I saw this book at the store, I couldn't resist picking it up.

The book is very good. It's historical fiction. The author, Susan Vreeland, did quite a bit of research into Renoir, the story of this particular painting, and all the different people who posed for him in the painting. Obviously, the historical record on one piece of artwork is going to be incomplete, so Vreeland used some artistic license to fill in the gaps. In fact, the story of Alphonsine Fournaise, the principle character besides Renoir, was almost entirely invented by Vreeland.

Vreeland did a wonderful job, not just in telling the story of this painting, but in capturing the spirit of the impressionist movement, and of late 19th century Paris.

There was one shortcoming of the paperback version - there were no color plates of the various works of art discussed in the book. It might be worth buying the hardcover version which did have these pictures, or at least looking up those pictures and printing them out, to keep along with the paperback.

Although it has very little to do with the book, here's a picture of me and my daughter looking at this painting when we were on vacation this past summer.
Jeff & Alex Looking at Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips Collection

Angels and Demons

Dan Brown may be a best selling author, but he doesn't exactly have a stellar reputation among critics (apparently, his latest novel, The Lost Symbol, hasn't been warmly received, either).

Like most people, I was introduced to Dan Brown with the Da Vinci Code. I enjoyed the book. Brown's writing style has a way of sucking you in. Later, as I did some independent research on the claims from the book, I was disappointed to learn just how much of it was made up. I realize it was fiction, but in a genre such as that, it would have been more enjoyable had the conspiracy theory been more believable.

Despite some of the negatives, I liked the Da Vinci Code enough that I wanted to read the book that came before it, Angels and Demons. The biggest problem - they were the same story! Sure, there were a few differences, and a different McGuffin, but the plot lines were extremely similar.

Having learned my lesson with the Da Vinci Code, I was more skeptical of the claims in Angels & Demons. So, from the very beginning, it was difficult to suspend my disbelief. Brown's portrayal of CERN, particularly the spirit of the scientists working there, was horrible. For example, and at the expense of a minor spoiler, after the public learns of the kidnapping of the priests, the scientists at CERN cheered! I know a few PhDs, and while many scientists may not like the institution of religion, few are so callous that they would rejoice at the kidnapping of a fellow human being. Brown just went over the top in his depiction of the conflict of science and religion. In the end, I just had to imagine that all of this was happening in an alternate universe (like in Pullman's His Dark Materials series), because it was too different from reality to be believable, otherwise.

I definitely would not recommend this book. If you've never read anything by Brown and want to see what all the hoopla's about, read the Da Vinci Code (but keep in mind that it's mostly made up). If you've already read that, save your time, because there's not much different between that book and this one. As for me, I'm going to steer clear of The Lost Symbol, because I'm pretty sure it will just be a third retelling of this same plot.

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters

I've already completed a full review of this book.

I highly recommend this book. It was very informative and interesting. The first section of the book was the section I could have done without, but which is probably useful to a fair amount of the population. It dealt with creationism, debunking many creationist arguments, and showing why they're just so silly. The first part also gives a decent overview of some important concepts in evolution, such as cladistics. The second section was where Prothero got to the meat of the book, and began presenting the fossil evidence for evolution.

One common misconception, and one that I myself shared before learning more about evolution, is that fossil evidence is the primary form of evidence that we have for evolution. It's not. One of the things I was struck by when I read On the Origin of Species, was that Darwin only spent two chapters on fossils, while the rest of that book looked at the other evidence that lead Darwin to discover evolution - evidence such as distribution of species, the difficulty in classifying species vs. breeds, comparative anatomy, vestigial features, etc.

But even though fossil evidence wasn't strong in Darwin's time, we've discovered many, many more fossils since then. Prothero does a good job of presenting an overview of some of these fossils. In fact, we have so many fossils now that they couldn't all be covered in a single book, which forces Prothero to be a bit superficial in his coverage of some lineages.

I think this makes a good introduction to evolution. It doesn't cover all the forms of evidence we have to study evolution, but it does cover that form of evidence that seems most real - the remains of all those long dead creatures.

God-or Gorilla

I received this book as a gag gift from my parents. It was published in 1922, and is one long screed against evolution. It was interesting to read. On some topics, you could feel some sympathy for the author, McCann, because we didn't know as much about those topics in his time (such as genetics). There were also points, like the Piltdown hoax, and Haeckel's embryo illustration alterings, that were still fairly fresh back then. Still, McCann made many of the same mistakes as creationists of today. You could see the precursors of 'irreducible complexity', the 'tornado in a junkyard', and many other standard creationist staples. For anyone like me, with an unhealthy interest in creationists, this is an interesting book to read as a historical curiosity. To anybody else, though, I'm afraid the book would be a waste of time.

I am working on a full review to this book. I'm really trying hard to finish it, and have much higher hopes than for my full review of The God Delusion, which never materialized. Considering that there are thousands of reviews for The God Delusion, but I haven't yet seen a single one for God-or Gorilla, I have a bit more motivation to finish this one.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

This was a pretty good book, and I'd recommend it, but I've been spoiled by the science writing of the likes of Carl Zimmer and Frans de Waal. Neil Shubin is certainly a competent writer, and a practicing scientist, so his accounts are first hand, but he's not quite at the same level as those masters.

Shubin did a good job of explaining evolutionary concepts. Given the title of the book, it can be expected that he focused on comparative anatomy, vestigial organs, and contingency in his treatment of evolution, which he did. However, I thought that the way he presented the information would make it easy to misconstrue how evolution works. Rather than clearly showing how, say, humans and goldfish both evolved from a common ancestor, which we would certainly call a fish, Shubin's approach would make it easy to misunderstand that we humans evolved from an animal very much like a goldfish, which we didn't. Still, as long as somebody has a decent understanding of evolution, they shouldn't fall into this trap. I just wouldn't recommend the book as a primer for someone who knows very little about evolution.

One of my favorite parts was actually only tangentially related to evolution. Neil Shubin is the scientist who discovered Tiktaalik Rosea. For anyone unfamiliar with this animal, it's a transitional form between fish and tetrapods, more on the fish side of that transition. It filled in a previous gap in the fossil record, between fully aquatic animals such as Panderichthys and Elginerpeton on the fish side, and semi-terrestrial animals like Acanthostega on the tetrapod side. Shubin devotes a chapter to his expeditions to the arctic to find the fossil. That description of the conditions they had to endure, and how an expedition is actually carried out, was very interesting.

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

This book is a bit of a mixed bag. Some parts are very, very good, while other parts seemed unnecessary. I have to agree with the critics who say that Dawkins hammered too hard on creationists. It's not that I think that creationist arguments are good, or that there's any place for creationism except in mythology, but there's a time and place for everything, and the way Dawkins hammered on creationists was a bit of a distraction. It would be like reading a book on geology, where the author continually hammered on flat earthers. Flat earthers certainly believe silly things just like creationists, but they're simply a distraction from the incredibly interesting true science. I guess that's a bit of an unfair comparison, though - flat earthers are a very fringe group in the modern world, while about half of the U.S. population are creationists. Perhaps there is a need to directly address their misconceptions, but I'm not sure if Dawkins' approach is necessarily the best.

Moving past that, other parts of The Greatest Show on Earth were very good. For example, in the second chapter, Dawkins gradually introduced the reader to natural selection. Starting with artificial breeding by humans, Dawkins likened that to insects breeding flowers. From there, he moved to sexual selection, then how predators can act as breeders for prey by avoiding those prey with the best camouflage or disguises, then how prey can act as breeders for certain animals like anglerfish by choosing those fish with the best lures, and finally to natural selection, how simply by enhanced survival and reproduction, various traits can be selected for. I thought this was an ingeneous way to introduce the concept.

Dawkins also deserves praise for covering so many lines of evidence for evolution. He didn't just discuss the fossils. He covered biogeography, genetics, comparative anatomy, etc. Unfortunately, given the breadth of the topics, it necessarily meant that he couldn't cover any single one in great detail.

I think I would recommend this book, but not necessarily as a primer on evolution for a creationist who'd never studied it before. I think the tone of the book might put them on the defensive, so I think I'd recommend Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. Still, to anyone else, this book does a good job of introducing the many lines of evidence for evolution. And in the parts where Dawkins ignores the creationists, he's great.

Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life

E. coli has been studied so extensively that it is probably the most understood species on the planet. Carl Zimmer, one of my favorite authors, wrote a book about what we know about this organism and how it relates to us. It was extremely fascinating. One of my favorite things about Zimmer's writing style is that he tells stories. He doesn't just relate the facts of what we know. He describes the scientists who discovered it, and the experiments and observations they devised to learn what they did.

Death from the Skies

This is the first book I've read of Phil Plait's, though I've been reading his blog, Bad Astronomy, for quite a while now. I've tended to focus my science reading a bit on biology in recent years, so it was nice to read something from astronomy. Although the title sounds sensationalistic, the book is based on good sound science. It describes possible scenarios that could cause the destruction of the Earth (or at least cause mass extinctions), such as asteroid impacts, or being consumed by an Earth massed black hole. It also discusses the probability of any of these events happening (asteroid - pretty high, given enough time; black hole - not so much). He also goes on to describe the eventual inevitable death of our solar system when the Sun uses up all its nuclear fuel, and even further out, the entropy death of the universe, long after all the stars are gone and even all the black holes have evaporated. He does give some hope - there are possible scenarios that could cause a rebirth of the universe trillions of years from now.

If you've ever read Plait's blog yourself, you'll know of his quirky sense of humor, and his absolute love of science. He keeps the best of those aspects in this book. I definitely recommend this book.

Egyptian Book of the Dead

I've already completed a full review of this book.

To quote from my full review, "[The Egyptian] conception of the afterlife... was a bit different than the Christian one that most people in this country are used to. There wasn't a simple, one time judgment, after which the deceased either went to heaven or hell. The afterlife was more like a parallel world, and the dead would have to know how to get around." The Book of the Dead was their guide to that world.
The book I read contained a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, but it also contained a very extensive introduction. To quote from my full review again, "I enjoyed the book quite a bit, particularly the introduction, which was actually more of a history lesson in ancient Egyptian religion. However, after doing more research on the book, it appears that Budge made several mistakes. This is understandable, of course, considering how much we've learned since Budge performed the translation. However, if one were interested in getting the most accurate picture of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, there are probably better sources out there."

Updated 2010-11-18 I realize this is awfully late to be fixing up an entry, but there were a few mistakes I've been meaning to fix for a while ow, and just finally got around to doing it. Mostly, it was going to entries where I'd put XXXXX in place of names I couldn't remember, and putting in the actual names. I also fixed a handful of typos. And while I was at it, I added the index near the start of the entry.

Friday, November 20, 2009

E-mail Forward - Obama's Reaction to Ft. Hood Shootings

I got another e-mail forwarded to me to research that hasn't yet been covered by Snopes. There is an official statement from one of the parties implicated in the e-mail, but the misleading nature of the e-mail makes people less likely to actually go to that organization.

The e-mail is about Obama's reaction to the recent shootings at Ft. Hood. It claims that Nidal Hassan was an advisor to Obama on homeland security, and that Obama has been quiet in his response to the shootings for this reason. As evidence, the e-mail provides a link to notes from a meeting that lists Hassan as a participant.

For the most part, this e-mail is false or misleading.

The link provided goes to the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI), not the federal government's Department of Homeland Security. The HSPI describes itself as follows.

Founded in 2003, The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) is a nonpartisan “think and do” tank whose mission is to build bridges between theory and practice to advance homeland security through an interdisciplinary approach. By convening domestic and international policymakers and practitioners at all levels of government, the private and non-profit sectors, and academia, HSPI creates innovative strategies and solutions to current and future threats to the nation.

Nidal Hasan is listed in the pdf link, and this is the same Nidal Hasan responsible for killing the people at Fort Hood. However, he is listed as a participant, or in other words, an audience member. The presenters are listed earlier in the pdf, and Hasan is not among them. The HSPI has released a statement on Hasan's connection to the institute (currently available on their homepage). Here is the first paragraph of that statement.

In his capacity as Disaster & Preventive Psychiatry Fellow at the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine, Nidal Hasan registered ("RSVP'd') to attend as an audience member a number of Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) events in the period June 2008 to February 2009. All of these events were open to the public. At no time has Nidal Hasan been affiliated with HSPI or The George Washington University.

So, Hasan was an audience member, or at least RSVP'd, for a meeting on homeland security organized by a university think tank. I think it's disingenuous to try to use that to try to show that Hasan was connected somehow with the president (other than the fact that as commander in chief, Obama was Hasan's boss, though removed by many levels of supervisors).

The full text of the e-mail forward is available below the fold.


Nidal Hasan on Obama's Security Task Force..............

Now we have a little insight into why Obama said to not jump to conclusions about Nidal Hasan and why Congressmen were not briefed before the press leak.

This murdering Muslim Terrorist who killed and wounded the soldiers and civilians at Ft Hood, Texas was an advisor to Obama's Homeland Security team. Look on page 29 of the Homeland Security Institute link below.

I wonder how many more skeletons there are to come out of the cupboard. Who else is there in the government or its numerous advisors or Czars that will harm our country and citizens?

http://www.gwumc.edu/hspi/old/PTTF_ProceedingsReport_05.19.09.pdf     Go to page number 29, scroll down toward the bottom on the Left Column

He is listed under "THINKING ANEW- SECURITY PRIORITIES FOR THE NEXT ADMINISTRATION", as Nidal Hasan, Uniformed Services University School of Medicine (8TH DOWN ON LEFT COLUMN PAGE 29).

Please send this link to everybody on your email list. The world needs to know who Obama really is. This is very scary guys.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Woo Hoo!

Woo Hoo!Carter Signs UAS License Agreement with AAI

Carter Aviation Technologies LLC (Carter) of Wichita Falls, TX is announcing that they have completed negotiations with AAI Corporation, an operating unit of Textron Systems, a Textron Inc. company, of Hunt Valley, MD on an exclusive licensing agreement for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) using Carter's revolutionary Slowed Rotor/Compound (SR/C) Aircraft Technology - a combination of rotorcraft and fixed-wing aerodynamics. The 40-year exclusive agreement covers all UAS programs worldwide.

Read more


Boeing 767It's funny. Once things become routine, we lose our sense of awe at how amazing they actually are. Consider that a hundred years ago, when Wilbur Wright took his first trip to Kittyhawk, it took him 4 days of actually traveling, along with another 3 days of looking for a boat, to make for a full week to get halfway across the country from Ohio to an island off the coast of North Carolina. And that was using rail travel. A little less than a hundred years before that, it took 4 to 6 months to travel halfway across the country going the other way, to get from Missouri to Oregon along the Oregon Trail. Even the Pony Express, which relied on swapping out horses every 10 miles, and running both day and night, took 10 days to deliver a letter from Missouri to California.

Yesterday morning, I woke up and had breakfast with my brother in Pennsylvania. By that evening, I was at home watching TV with my wife and daughter in Texas. And people told me I had a long travel day because I had a layover for a few hours in Charlotte! Air travel is amazing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Crazy E-mail - Cash for Clunkers

CARS LogoI have a bit of a reputation as a skeptic among family and friends, so I end up getting a lot of e-mails forwarded to me just so that I can do the research on them. Usually, a quick visit to Snopes is enough to verify or debunk most, but the latest one I received on the Cash for Clunkers program wasn't covered by Snopes directly, so I had to do some searching on it myself. And as usual with e-mail, it was misleading (some might even say dishonest).

The e-mail argued that taking advantage of the program was a waste of money. Here's the math that's the core of the argument being made in the e-mail:

You traded in a car worth:    $3500
You got a discount of:        $4500
Net so far                   +$1000
But you have to pay:          $1350 in taxes on the $4500
Net so far:                   -$350
And you paid:                 $3000 more than the car was selling for the month before
Net                          -$3350

First, they're making an assumption that your current car is worth $3500. There's no requirement in the CARS program that your car has to be a certain value. In fact, it could be relatively worthless. Here's a list of requirements from the government's CARS site.

  • have been manufactured less than 25 years before the date you trade it in and, in the case of a category 3 vehicle, must also have been manufactured not later than model year 2001
  • have a "new" combined city/highway fuel economy of 18 miles per gallon or less
  • be in drivable condition
  • be continuously insured and registered to the same owner for the full year preceding the trade-in
  • Moving on ot the rebate value, it's actually variable - either $3500 or $4500, depending mostly on the difference in gas mileage between the new car and the trade in.
As far as taxes, Snopes did cover this one (it's addressed on the government's CARS site, as well). http://www.snopes.com/politics/taxes/clunkers.asp

The federal government won't tax you on it, but some states do. Still, it's not nearly as high as $1350. In Maryland, for example, the tax is the standard 6% excise tax, which is $210 if you got the $3500 rebate, or $270 if you got the $4500 rebate.

The inflated prices is something I can't speak to. I didn't find anything on it in 2 minutes of googling, but I didn't want to waste any more time on it. Given the tone of the e-mail and the errors cited for two of the previous figures, I'll go on record as being skeptical. Besides, it's still a case of caveat emptor. Every individual buyer can bargain with every individual dealer. If you think the dealer's trying to charge you too much, don't buy the car. It's as simple as that. (This inflated cost also has nothing to do with a buyer taking advantage of the CARS program. If someone was looking to buy a new car during that period, they had a choice of doing a straight trade in with their old car, or taking the rebate from the CARS program. Either way, the sales price of the car they wanted to buy was the same.)

This e-mail also left out one other source of money for the buyer - the scrap value of their old car. Here's what the CARS site had to say about that.

Do I get any money for my trade in vehicle in addition to the CARS credit?

YES. The law requires your trade-in vehicle be destroyed. The dealer must disclose to you the scrap value of your vehicle. The dealer is entitled to keep up to $50 of the scrap value for administrative fees. You are entitled to negotiate about who keeps the remaining scrap value. For example, you may use that money toward the price of your new car separate from the CARS credit.

So, one figure was a made up number pulled out of thin air (original value of car), another figure was a complete fabrication (tax), a third figure is uncited (inflated price), and another source of money was left out entirely (scrap value). Let's run through the calculation again, with some different numbers, assuming you're trading in a P.O.S. in Maryland. And even though the inflated price is uncited, we'll be generous and assume that it's actually a real phenomenon, and give it a value of $1000 (and remember, this effect would be present whether you performed a straight trade-in or took advantage of the CARS program).

You traded in a car worth:     $500
You got a discount of:        $4500
Net so far                   +$4000
But you have to pay:           $270 in taxes on the $4500
Net so far:                  +$3730
And you paid:                 $1000 more than the car was selling for the month before
Net                          +$2730

So, in that situation, you'd still make out with almost 3 grand. Depending on the value of your trade-in vehicle, and whether car prices were actually inflated or by how much, there were probably cases where using the rebate made sense, and other cases where it didn't, but this e-mail didn't shed any useful light on the subject.

The full text of the e-mail that prompted this response is available below the fold (slightly corrected for formatting errors).

Subject: Fw: Plausible

Did any of you bite?

The Plan, The Scam, The Man, Don't ya just love it when a plan comes together?

The Scam

Here is what a learned friend had to say about my Democratic Math e-mail. It's even worse apparently than I first thought:

It's way worse than that. Ignore all the gas crap and just look at how the stupid car buyer got taken to the cleaners:

If you traded in a clunker worth $3500, you get $4500 off for an apparent "savings" of $1000.

However, you have to pay taxes on the $4500 come April 15th (something that no auto dealer will tell you). If you are in the 30% tax bracket, you will pay $1350 on that $4500.

So, rather than save $1000, you actually pay an extra $350 to the feds. In addition, you traded in a car that was most likely paid for. Now you have 4 or 5 years of payments on a car that you did not need, that was costing you less to run than the payments that you will now be making.

But wait; it gets even better: you also got ripped off by the dealer. For example, every dealer here in LA was selling the Ford Focus with all the goodies, including A/C, auto transmission, power windows, etc for $12,500 the month before the "cash for clunkers" program started.

When "cash for clunkers" came along, they stopped discounting them and instead sold them at the list price of $15,500. So, you paid $3000 more than you would have the month before... (Honda, Toyota , and Kia played the same list price game that Ford and Chevy did).

So let's do the final tally here:

You traded in a car worth:    $3500
You got a discount of:        $4500
Net so far                   +$1000
But you have to pay:          $1350 in taxes on the $4500
Net so far:                   -$350
And you paid:                 $3000 more than the car was selling for the month before
Net                          -$3350

We could also add in the additional taxes (sales tax, state tax, etc.) on the extra $3000 that you paid for the car, along with the 5 years of interest on the car loan, but let's just stop here.

So who actually made out on the deal? The feds collected taxes on the car along with taxes on the $4500 they "gave" you. The car dealers made an extra $3000 or more on every car they sold along with the kickbacks from the manufacturers and the loan companies. The manufacturers got to dump lots of cars they could not give away the month before. And the poor, stupid consumer got saddled with even more debt that they cannot afford.

Obama and his band of merry men convinced Joe consumer that he was getting $4500 in "free" money from the "government" when in fact, Joe was giving away his $3500 car and paying an additional $3350 for the privilege.

Think this was stupid for those who were crazy enough to swallow this wonderful scheme?

Just wait until we get health care with no additional costs over what most of us now pay for health insurance and the best medical care in the world. Think that scheme might be designed by the same people who came up with Cash for Clunkers?

Regarding that last statement, I think I've already made it clear how I feel about health care.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution

On the Origin of Species - The Ray Comfort EditionWow. Just, wow. I know I've talked about Ray Comfort more times on this blog than is healthy (for example - here, here, here, here, here, and here), but now, not just is he publishing his drivel on his own, making scam websites, or getting followers to put the equivalent of junk mail into books at the book store. Now, he's been published in a blog on the U.S. News and World Report website, and boy is it ignorant.

The background of this article is this. Ray Comfort is publishing two versions of a reprint of Darwin's Origin of Species, along with an introduction in each version. The first version was abridged, and the introduction was made publicly available on the web. After the negative publicity it received, Comfort made his second version unabridged, and supposedly with a modified introduction. To give an idea of the introduction, here's how Comfort himself described it (be forewarned - there are many falsehoods and examples of bad logic in just these two paragraphs*).

This introduction gives the history of evolution, a timeline of Darwin's life, Hitler's undeniable connections to the theory, Darwin's racism, his disdain for women, and his thoughts on the existence of God. It lists the theory's many hoaxes, exposes the unscientific belief that nothing created everything, points to the incredible structure of DNA, and the absence of any species-to-species transitional forms.

It presents a balanced view of Creationism with information on scientists who believed that God created the universe—scientists such as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Nicholas Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Michael Faraday, Louis Pasteur and Johannes Kepler. It uses many original graphics and "is for use in schools, colleges, and prestigious learning institutions." The introduction also contains the entire contents of the popular booklet, "Why Christianity?"

Towards the end of September, Dan Gilgoff posted an entry in his God & Country blog on U.S. News & World Report describing Comfort's book (the first version). After all the feedback Gilgoff got for that entry, he decided to revisit the issue. He set up an online debate between Ray Comfort and Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education. The debate consisted of four posts in total - Comfort's original argument, Scott's original argument, Comfort's response to Scott, and finally, Scott's response to Comfort.

I guess there are several ways I could have addressed this in a blog post, but I've decided to focus on Comfort's second post. That one struck me as so out and out ignorant, that it seemed a ripe target. I encourage you to read Scott's response first, but I thought I could supplement what she already wrote.

Before I get started, I apologize to anyone who truly doesn't understand evolution because they weren't properly educated on it (though I doubt you're publishing books on the subject). Any ire in this commentary is directed purely at Comfort. How someone can have the audacity to publish a reprint of the Origin of Species and write their own introduction, while having such a piss poor understanding of what we actually know about evolution, I just can't comprehend. If you plan to write an introduction to a book, I feel you're under an obligation to at least understand the contents.

So, let's get to it. First, let's get the title and introduction out of the way.

God and Country by Dan Gilgoff

Ray Comfort Responds to Genie Scott on Creationist 'Origin of Species'
November 02, 2009 12:57 PM ET
In the third installment of a debate between creationist Ray Comfort and scientist Eugenie Scott, Comfort defends his new version of Darwin's On the Origin of Species against a critique from Scott. Scott will rebut tomorrow. And just a reminder: Neither God & Country nor U.S. News necessarily endorses their views. -Dan Gilgoff

By Ray Comfort

Okay, moving on...

A major concern of Genie Scott was that the copy of On the Origin of Species sent to her by my publisher was missing "four crucial chapters," as well as Darwin's introduction. She will be pleased to know that the second printing of 170,000 copies (the one that we will give to students) is the entire book. Not one word will be omitted.

On Comfort's blog, he explained the reasoning for the unabridged first version, but it still doesn't make sense. His explanation was basically, 'an unabridged version would have been too expensive to give away, so we printed an abridged version. Now, we've printed an unabridged version to give away.'

I won't hammer away on this point to try to demonstrate Comfort's dishonesty (if I was, I'd also make a big deal about the plagiarism). That would be an ad hominem. And while it's certainly useful for future reference, demonstrating that Comfort's an unreliable source and that everything he says needs to be questioned, it does nothing to show how he's wrong in the rest of what he's written here.

Scott quoted a famous geneticist, who said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." I would like to drop one word, so that the quote is true. It should read, "Nothing in biology makes sense in the light of evolution." For example, evolution has no explanation as to why and how around 1.4 million species of animals evolved as male and female. No one even goes near explaining how and why each species managed to reproduce (during the millions of years the female was supposedly evolving to maturity) without the right reproductive machinery.

This is idiotic. Again, I apologize to anyone who didn't receive a proper education in evolution, but Comfort has no such excuse. How can he write something so astonishingly stupid, and still claim to understand evolution well enough to write his introduction to Origin of Species.

P.Z. Myers wrote an entry on his blog, Pharyngula, addressing this very argument from Comfort. It shouldn't be hard at all to understand. Evolution is a gradual accumulation of genetic mutations in a population - gradual enough that males and females within the population can still interbreed. Consider this - you are a genetic mutant. I am a genetic mutant. Anyone reading this is a genetic mutant. We all have a handful of mutations that make our DNA slightly different from our parents. Yet none of us worry about not being able to have children because of it. We know that we're similar enough to every other human. It's no different in any other species, or at any other time in history. And as long as we keep on interbreeding, we keep on mixing up those mutations, keeping everyone in the population genetically similar enough to continue interbreeding. (To give a sense of the scale of mutations that can be tolerated and still produce children that can interbreed, mutations that involve the fusion of two chromosomes are so common that they have their own name, Robertsonian Translocations.)

Now, the original evolution of sex is indeed an interesting question, but sex itself doesn't pose any problems to evolution.

Nor does any evolutionary believer adequately address the fact that all those 1.4 million species managed to evolve into maturity together in our lifetime. Nothing we have in creation is half evolved. The cow has a working udder to make drinkable milk. The bee has working apparatus to make edible honey. We don't find a half-evolved cow or bee. None of the 1.4 million species on the Earth has half an eye. All have the necessary functioning equipment, from the brain, to the teeth, to the eye, to limbs, to reproductive necessities. Everything that we see in creation is in full working order—from the sun, to the mixture of the air, to the seasons, to fruit trees and vegetables, to the animal kingdom—from the tiny ant right up to the massive elephant.

Well, I'll take two of the examples Comfort used - the eye and the cow's udder.

I'm reminded here of a good point Dawkins made in his recent book, The Greatest Show on Earth. It's something I've taken for granted for so long that I almost forget that it is a point that needs to be made to those who don't understand it - evolution is not a transformation of adult animals into adult animals. It is an adjustment of the developmental process - of growing up. Nobody expects to find an animal with an eyeball cut in half (or at least that got that way naturally). It's not how our bodies grow. So, if Comfort's naive expectation is that evolution predicts an animal with a right half of an eyeball but not a left, or a front half but not a back, then of course - no, nobody else expects that either. (I would like to think that his expectations aren't that naive, but given his understanding of the evolution of males and females, I wouldn't put anything past him.)

Having said that, here's a diagram of a human eye.

Vertebrae Eye

I would imagine that 'half' of that would be something lacking an iris, cornea, and lens, and maybe even just a pit with photo receptors - something like this.

Patella Eyecup

And guess what. That's an actual eye from a patella snail. Granted, that means it's a mollusc eye, not a vertebrate eye, so it's not exactly representative of what our ancestral eye was like. But it certainly answers the question of the use of half an eye. Regarding Comfort's claim that "None of the 1.4 million species on the Earth has half an eye," if that's not half an eye compared to a full camera type eye, then I don't know what is (more info).

For an even more 'partial' eye, consider echinoderms. They merely have light sensitive spots on their top sides. And from experience snorkeling in the Gulf of Mexico, I can tell you that sand dollars put those spots to good use, burrowing into the sand the instant a shadow falls on top of them.

Comfort also mentioned the cow's udder. This is, of course, a mammary gland, and is homologous to breasts in humans. What udders and breasts share, among other things, are all the indivudal glands (lobules) where the milk is made, ducts to transport that milk, and nipples where the infants can suckle the milk.

When Comfort talks of a 'half-evolved cow' in relation to udders, I would hope that he means a mammary gland lacking in some of those components from a cow's udder or a human's breast. And guess what. Again, we have a living animal showing this very thing - the platypus. Platypuses have the lobules to produce milk, and ducts to transport that to the surface, but the ducts don't all come together at a nipple. To quote the source just linked, "Milk from the mammary glands oozes through the skin along both sides of the mother's belly where it is then sucked up by the young platypuses."

But not only do we see this mature completion in creation; we see it displayed in the fossil record. It reveals that each animal was complete. Historical and present creation stands as a stark testimony to the folly of Darwinian evolution.

There's not much to add to this that I didn't already write above. Comfort's objection only makes sense if he has the naive expectation that evolution means that animals morph directly from one adult form to another, and of course, this isn't what happens.

Darwin was certainly on to something when he said, "Often a cold shudder has run through me, and I have asked myself whether I may have not devoted myself to a fantasy."

Quote mining is a common tactic of creationists, and Comfort is no different. Scott covered this in her response, so there's not much for me to add. When this quote is read in context, it doesn't say nearly the same thing Comfort seems to be implying. Anyway, this is just one more example of Comfort's dishonesty.

My second point is that Scott is happy for students to read the first eight and the last 10 pages of the Introduction, but she doesn't want them to waste their time on the meat in the sandwich. She says that this portion is my weakest, most tasteless of arguments. If that is true, shouldn't she then encourage students to read that portion to prove the weakness of my case? Instead, she says not to read it. I wonder why?

As I'm fond of pointing out in discussions of this sort, the scientific literacy of the average American is horrendous. One in four people thinks the Sun goes around the Earth, and around half of people don't know that electrons are smaller than atoms. And those are simple, uncontroversial topics. Given that, and knowing that around half of Americans also doubt evolution, why would anybody encourage people to read misinformation on the subject?

And it's not just science that people don't understand. Has Comfort ever been to Snopes? Does he realize how gullible people are, and how much more work it takes to debunk myths than it does to create them?

Scott continues, "There are more specimens of 'Ardi' (the newly described Ardipithecus ramidus) than there are of Tyrannosaurus . . . We and modern chimpanzees shared a common ancestor millions of years ago . . . ." But that's another evolutionary "Oops!" if you believe the learned scientists on the Discovery Channel. In a recent two-hour documentary about Ardi, the scientists said, "Ever since Darwin, we have bought into the idea that humans evolved from ancient chimplike creatures. That's because modern chimps seemed to share a lot of anatomy and modern behavior with humans. So the idea that we evolved from something like chimps seemed to make sense. But now, the discovery of Ardipithecus shows that this idea is totally and completely wrong." Did you hear what they said? This idea that we evolved from ancient chimplike creatures is totally and completely wrong.

First of all, Comfort's using the Discovery Channel as a primary source of scientific information. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, the National Geographic Channel, and all those other documentary type channels. But I recognize that they're primarily in business for ratings, and sometimes they lose a bit of accuracy in the process, or over-emphasize certain tentative findings (in fact, my wife and daughter have repeatedly told me to stop yelling at the TV - they can't hear me). The importance of 'Ardi' seems to be a case of the latter.

'Ardi' did not change the fact that we share a common ancestor with chimps & bonobos, nor that this population of animals lived on the order of 6 million years ago. What ardipithecus calls into question is whether that ancestor was more human like or more chimp like. And this argument is mainly about locomotion - whether our common ancestor was bipedal (walked on two legs like us), or was a knuckle walker (like chimps & bonobos). Previously, it was assumed that the common ancestor was a knuckle walker, because all of the great apes besides us are knuckle walkers. It just seems more parsimonious that knuckle walking would have only evolved once. The reason 'Ardi' calls this into question is that ardipithecus was alive not long after the chimp/bonobo lineage diverged from ours, and ardipithecus was bipedal. The discoverers of ardipithecus argue that it's unlikely that our lineage could have evolved such a specialized form of locomotion in such a short amount of time. They point out that orangutans, gorillas, and chimps/bonobos all have slightly different adaptations to knuckle walking, so it is possible that bipedality is the more primitive condition, and all the other great apes evolved knuckle walking independently. (For a non-specialist's opinion, I wouldn't be surprised to see the molecular clocks re-calibrated to push our common ancestor back another million years or two, giving time for our lineage to evolve bipedality, and keeping a parsimonious explanation of knuckle walking. For a more informed opinion, check out Carl Zimmer's blog, The Loom. There are a lot of good comments on that page, too - at least the first half of comments).

So, ardipithecus does not call into question our common ancestry with chimps. It helps us better understand what those ancestors would have been like.

I am aware that it is the learning process of evolutionary "science" to continually discover itself to be wrong. So there can never be a time when believers can claim they have the truth. This is just as well, because each new and believed hypothesis, like the crazy fashions of a superficial teenager, is in time discarded in favor of the new.

This is a tiresome argument - 'science makes us adjust our understanding of the world as new evidence comes to light, therefore nothing we know through science can be known for certain.'

An example I like to use is electrons. Since the time of Benjamin Franklin, we've had to adjust our theories of electrons and atoms. But those changes have been refinements, not complete overhauls that called into question the existence of subatomic particles. It's the same thing with evolution. We know enough now that there aren't going to be any major overhauls, but there will certainly be refinements to our understanding.

Besides, what's the alternative? To pretend that we know everything with certainty in the present, and to never adjust our views with new information?

After addressing my arguments from the portion of the Introduction she doesn't want students to read, Scott says, "More fossils will provide more details, but this outline of human evolution is not in serious doubt among scientists." Hear her own words: "More fossils will provide more details." In other words, they still don't have the undisputed fossils. That's what Darwin lamented 150 years ago! He said that when a skeptic "may ask in vain, 'Where are the numberless transitional links?' " Darwin's answer was that the missing links "may lie buried under the ocean." They are still buried somewhere, 150 years later. Scott said that "human evolution isn't in serious doubt among scientists." But I say, it should be.

There's a little joke about missing links. A creationist points out two fossils, and claims that there's a gap in the fossil record between them, a missing link. When a scientist discovers an intermediate fossil, the creationist responds, 'Well now you've just made the problem worse. Instead of only one gap, now you have two.'

We are lucky to have a fossil record at all. Just consider what it takes for us to find a fossil (this paragraph is summarized from here). When most organisms die, they get eaten and decomposed, and there aren't any recognizable remains. It takes a special set of circumstances for remains to get covered up quickly enough that they don't decompose, but gently enough that they don't get dashed to pieces, and it's even rarer still for this to happen to a nearly complete skeleton/tree/whatever type of organism, and not just bits and pieces. And it's even rarer still for this to happen to soft tissue, and not just hard parts. Then, even if just the right circumstances existed for a fossil to form, we need to be lucky enough to find it once it's been exposed by erosion, but before erosion carries on further and destroys the fossil altogether.

We can be pretty damn sure that we haven't discovered all the fossilized species there are to discover. New species are discovered every year, and that trend doesn't seem to be slowing down. And it's not just that we haven't discovered fossils of every animal that ever lived - we haven't even discovered fossils from all the animals alive today. Another point I'm reminded of from Dawkins' Greatest Show on Earth is the phylum of flatworms known as Platyhelminthes, which includes Turbellaria, tapeworms, and flukes. There are thousands of species of this phylum, and the animals are quite numerous. Yet no fossils of these creatures have ever been found. Obviously, they didn't simply spring into existence recently. The problem is that fossilization is so rare. And if we can't find fossils of all extant species, why should we expect to find fossils of all extinct species?

The final point on this is that the fossil record isn't the only evidence for evolution. In fact, Darwin himself only devoted two chapters in Origin of Species to the fossil record. To quote from my own review of the book, "The rest of Origin of Species is about what he observed in the world around him - how there seem to be clusters of similar species, the difficulties of distinguishing between true species and merely varieties of the same species, the geographical distribution of species, etc." While we know much more from the fossil record in our time than Darwin did in his, we still have strong evidence from other sources such as biogeography, comparative anatomy, and most especially from genetics. If we lived in a world where scavengers were so efficient that nothing ever fossilized, we would still have enough evidence to consider evolution a fact, and to have a pretty good idea of the tree of life.

She also says, "There are splendid fossils of dinosaurs that have feathers and of whales that have legs—and even feet." But she doesn't give me any details of such splendor. Where are they? Instead, she quotes the Bible: "Oh foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not." However, Jeremiah is speaking of Israel's rejection of the message of the Gospel (not Darwinian evolution), something Scott dismisses as "rather heavy-handed evangelism."

If Comfort thinks he's qualified enough to write an introduction to Origin of Species, how can he have the gall to ask Scott to do his research for him. It's not as if either whale or bird evolution are obscure topics.

Scott provided a good link providing information on whale evolution, including intermediate forms between mesonychids and whales. Here's another good source. And if you're willing to go to a library or a bookstore, Carl Zimmer's book, At the Water's Edge devotes the second half to this transition.

For bird evolution, just going to Wikipedia is a good starting point. Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters covers a bit of this evolution, including an excellent illustration, which I've copied below, comparing a pigeon to archaeopteryx (a primitive bird with teeth and claws) and to theropod dinosaurs. In fact, one of the first specimens of archaeopteryx ever found was mistaken for the theropod, Compsognathus. Another good starting point for feathered dinosaurs is the Wikipedia entry on... Feathered Dinosaurs.

Non-avian Dinosaur & Bird Homology
Figure from Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters

These fossils do exist in abundance, and it only takes a cursory Internet search to find information on them. There is no excuse for Comfort to not know of them.

She then encourages doubters to consider museums where "you will find transitional fossils galore." I went to the Smithsonian to see the fossils galore, and they were there—millions of fossils that were evidence of special creation. The Smithsonian didn't have any transitional fossils that proved evolution (staunch believers claim that they have them, but not on display). I also visited the evolution museum in Paris (Grande Galerie de L'Evolution). I took a camera crew, and we spent an hour looking for the evolution exhibit. It didn't have one. All it had were millions of fossils of fully formed animals that God created.

I haven't been to the Grande Galerie de L'Evolution, so I can't speak to it. I have, however, been to the Smithsonian. I didn't see a single exhibit focused solely on evolution, because evolution is woven into every exhibit in the Natural History Museum (well, at least those sections having to do with biology). It would be like going to the Air & Space Museum, and claiming flight was impossible if you didn't happen to see the exhibits dealing with the theory.

I was lucky enough to get to go behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum, and yes, there are many, many more specimens in storage that aren't on public display. But, there are still plenty of transitional forms to be seen in the public areas.

There are so many gaps and holes in the theory of evolution that you could drive a fleet of a thousand fully laden 18-wheelers through them. The irony is that I can see them, and I'm not an expert on the subject of evolution. So, what does that say about the theory's experts, whoever they are? It says (as a wise man once said) that man will believe anything . . . as long as it's not in the Bible.

I think Comfort inadvertently sums it up quite nicely in this paragraph when he wrote, "...and I'm not an expert on the subject of evolution." That's clear from everything he wrote in the previous paragraphs. Following a similar theme to what I've written several times throughout this blog entry, if Comfort knows he's not an expert on evolution, why did he feel qualified to write an introduction to Origin of Species, and why did he feel qualified to write on evolution for U.S. News and World Report?

*The only part of Comfort's description of his introduction that I'll comment on here is the Hitler connection. I've already covered a similar argument in my review of Expelled. Aside from the fact that it's not really true (Hitler tried to justify his hate from whatever sources he could use, but seems to have been most influenced by Martin Luther in this regard) and the odiousness of abusing the memories of Holocaust victims for political purposes, I've always thought it was just a plain stupid argument. It would be like trying to argue that atomic theory isn't true because it lead to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It just doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween Recap 2009

Jack O'LanternI grew up in the country. Halloween for me was getting in the car, and driving around to friends' houses. A few friends lived on streets with enough houses that we could go up and down a bit, but not very much. This also meant that we were never visited by many trick or treaters, nor were the houses I knocked at, so I always got an entire handful of candy at every place I visited, and we always had plenty of left over candy at our house.

As I've gotten older, I've moved into progressively more urban environments, so I've gotten used to the more traditional Halloween. However, nothing prepared me for what to expect in the neighborhood I live in now. Somehow, the neighborhood has acquired a reputation as the place to go for trick or treaters. Our first year in the neighborhood, we were completely unprepared, and ran out of candy very early on. Last year, we did a bit better, but still ran out before the crowds had died down. This year, we were prepared. We started stocking up on candy about two months ago, so that we'd have enough to go around.

We still rationed our candy. For most of the night, we gave out between 2 and 3 pieces per kid. Only after 9:00 did we start to give out a bit more, around half a dozen pieces per kid. We ran out around 9:30.

Anyway, I weighed the candy at the start of the night, to have an idea of how much candy we gave away - 40 lbs. That's a bit of a rough estimate. I didn't subtract the weight of the plastic container, and a few kids we had over divied up the last dregs before we had a chance to give them away, but we also had a few people over who dumped in a few bags of candy after I did the initial weigh in. Anyway, it was a lot of sugar and chocolate.

I have no idea how many kids actually came by, but a family in another house on our street who had bought 1600 pieces of candy (rationed at 2 pieces per kid, i.e. 800 kids worth), ran out at 8:30. So, I'd guess that we had somewhere around a thousand kids come trick or treating at our house.

For the most part, it was fun. We decorated the house up pretty good, hung a plastic monster from a tree branch so that we could drop it on unsuspecting passers-by, and I dressed up like the grim reaper, scaring quite a few older kids and adults.

We did get a few teenagers in less than creative costumes, and around 10:30, when I went to see some friends out to their car and turned the porch light back on, a car immediately pulled up to our house hoping for candy. But, like I said, everything was fun for the most part.

Anyway, in addition to the jack o'lantern picture up above, here are a few more pictures of how we decorated the house. We didn't think to take any the night before in the dark, so these are all from the next morning. They're not quite as spooky, but at least they give a sense of what the house looked like.


Hippy Bus

Hippy Bus

Hippy Bus Michael Meyers

Updated 2009-11-05: Two new pictures added

Hands to Hands Community Fund

Hands to Hands Community FundApparently, the United Way has changed the requirements for organizations receiving funding. This has resulted in several local non-profits having to decline funding from the United Way (see here or here for more info). In an effort to make up the budget shortfalls, a new fundraising organization has been set up, the Hands to Hands Community Fund. If you live in the Wichita Falls area and would like support any of the following organizations, please follow that link.

  • The Arc of Wichita County
  • Camp Fire USA, North Texas Council
  • Child Advocates (CASA)
  • Children’s Aid Society (CAS)
  • Friendly Door Senior Center, Iowa Park
  • Girl Scouts USA of Texas Oklahoma Plains, Inc.
  • Boy Scouts of America, Northwest Texas Council

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