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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Texas Primary Results for SBOE

TEA LogoThe primary elections took place in Texas this past Tuesday. You can find general discussion on it plenty of places (such as here), but most news stories don't spend a lot of time on the State Board of Education (SBOE), if they mention it at all. If you've followed this blog, you'll know that I've discussed the SBOE a few times before. An extreme right-wing faction has pulled some sleazy and dishonest stunts over the past few years, from last minute back door dealings that not all board members were privy to, to trying to inject creationism into science, to trying to change history standards to some alternative reality.

This is a unique year. Normally, only a few of the SBOE seats are on the ballot each year. But because of the recent redistricting here in Texas, all 15 seats are up this year. Although several of the extremists were voted out in recent elections, this is still an opportunity to help expunge the remainder, and the primary is the first step.

The Texas Freedom Network has a very good summary of all the candidates and who won each district, and I'd highly suggest you go take a look. Here's a very short summary.

District Republican nominee Democratic nominee
1 Carlos "Charlie" Garza (Uncontensted, Incumbent, Extreme Right) Martha M. Dominguéz
2 Laurie J. Turner Runoff - Ruben Cortez, Celeste Zepeda Sanchez
3 David Williams (Uncontested) Marisa Perez
4 Dorothy Olmos (Uncontested) Lawrence Allen (Uncontested, Incumbent)
5 Ken Mercer (Incumbent, Extreme Right) Rebecca Bell-Metereau (Uncontested)
6 Donna Bahorich (Uncontested) Traci Jensen
7 David Bradley (Incumbent, Extreme Right) none
8 Barbara Cargill (Incumbent, Extreme Right) Dexter Smith
9 Thomas Ratliff (Incumbent) none
10 Runoff - Tom Maynard, Rebecca Osborne Judy Jennings (Uncontested)
11 Patricia Hardy (Incumbent, Uncontested) none
12 Runoff - Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, Gail Spurlock (Extreme Right) Lois Parrott (Uncontested)
13 S. T. Russell (Uncontested) Mavis Knight (Uncontested, Incumbent)
14 Sue Melton none
15 Marty Rowley (Extreme Right) Steven Schafersman (Uncontested)

So, it's kind of a wash. A few extremists lost in the primaries (Veronica Anzaldua - 1, Randy Stevenson - 9, Jeff Fleece - 10, and incumbent Gail Lowe - 14), but a few others won, including David Bradley who has no Democratic opposition.

With the redistricting, I got put into a new district, so my representative on the SBOE has changed. I'm a little disappointed, because I was looking forward to voting out my previous representative, Gail Lowe, who has been involved in a lot of the shenanigans (though she did redeem herself somewhat in the Science Instructional Materials adoption). But at least now I have the opportunity to vote for Steven Schafersman, though I doubt he'll win given this region's political leanings.

Now it's time to wait and see how the runoffs turn out, and then the real election. I honestly don't care if the Board is made up of Republicans or Democrats, as long as they're not extremists who put their own ideology ahead of our children's educations.

More Info

Here's a humorous take on the SBOE from the Daily Show from a little while back.

Here are a few links to external sites with good information on the recent election.

And here's a list of all the times I've discussed the SBOE or TEA.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tastykake Follow Up

A little while ago, I mentioned that I'd found Tastykakes for sale at the local Walmart down here in Wichita Falls, Texas. Well, now our local Target has them, too.

Tastykakes in Target


So, I know I said in that previous post that I thought that once Tastykakes were available to me all the time, they'd lose that 'exoticness' that made me buy them everytime I went back up north, and that I'd end up eating less of them. Well, they have lost just a bit of that specialness, and I don't buy them all the time, but my daughter really likes them, so we probably buy a pack every month or so. In other words, I may not be gorging myself on Tastykakes, but I'm getting more than I would from trips back home. If you notice in that picture above, there are no more cream filled Koffee Kakes, because we got the last one.

Now, if only the stores would start stocking Utz Potato Chips and the Grandma Utz kettle chips (fried in lard), I'd have all my snack foods covered. Then I'd just need to get them to start stocking scrapple, shoo-fly pie, mustard eggs, sweet lebanon bologna, Taylor Pork Roll....

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Theistic Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Theistic EvolutionI must be getting old - I'm becoming forgetful. Jerry Coyne recently wrote a post titled Does theistic evolution differ from Intelligent Design?. I left a comment on his site, and had already started to write a blog entry expanding on that, when I came across an old entry of mine that said almost exactly what I was planning to write, Difference Between ID Proponents and Theistic Evolutionists. Oh well, since I already have some of this written, I might as well go ahead and post it so as not to waste the effort.

Coyne stated his position right in the introductory paragraph.

My answer is that these two brands of bad science elide seamlessly into one another, with no sharp line to demarcate them. Nevertheless, I don't call people like Francis Collins advocates of ID simply because that term conflates them with the hard-core, get-in-your-school adherents of ID who populate the Discovery Institute. But let us remember that this is a quantitative and not a qualitative difference.

He went on to write in his penultimate paragraph:

If you think that an intelligent god intervened in the process of evolution, especially to ensure the appearance of human beings made in that god's image, then you're advocating intelligent design. If you accept even a little bit of divine tinkering in the evolutionary process, you're not standing on some inclusive middle ground--you are, as P.Z. Myers said, halfway to crazy town.

I understand that both concepts are related, and maybe there is a grey area in between them. But I think there is an important difference between the two positions. To a proponent of theistic evolution (TE), if you take away God, evolution continues to work, you just may not end up with humans. To a proponent of Intelligent Design (ID), if you take away God, evolution is vastly different, without any complex structures. In other words, a TEist accepts all the evidence for evolution, but adds in an extra mechanism on top of it to accommodate their religious belief. An IDist rejects all the evidence for evolution, and invents a mechanism to replace it.

Part of the problem is that ID is so poorly defined. But even someone like Michael Behe, who accepts a bit more of the evidence for evolution, still accepts irreducible complexity, and believes that some features of organisms just couldn't have come about without divine intervention (or alien intervention, if the less honest press releases from the Discovery Institute are to be believed). And if you look at something like the ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, it reads like straight up creationism. Here's a passage from page 22 of that book that I've quoted twice before on this blog.

Instead, fossil types are fully formed and functional when they first appear in the fossil record. For example, we don't find creatures that are partly fish and partly something else, leading gradually, in the dozens of characteristics which they exhibit, to today's fish. Instead, fish have all the characteristics of today's fish from the earliest known fish fossils, reptiles in the record have all the characteristics of present-day reptiles, and so on.

And here's another one from page 25.

There is, however, another possibility science leaves open to us, one based on sound inferences from the experience of our senses. It is the possibility that an intelligent cause made fully-formed and functional creatures, which later left their traces in the rocks.

And as I pointed out in that previous post of mine, what else can you expect of a theist? They see God's intervention in everything, from the weather to diseases to coin tosses. Why would they leave evolution out?

I also disagree with Coyne implying that because the two positions "elide seamlessly into one another, with no sharp line to demarcate them", that they shouldn't be considered as different. The same argument can be made for many things, from colors, to night and day. I'm especially surprised at an evolutionary biologist using this argument*. If you could get in a time machine and see every individual in the lineage from one of our ancestors from 6 million years ago to today, you'd never be able to pick out just exactly when one species transitioned into another. But I don't think anybody would try to argue with the fact that we're a different species than that 6 million year old primate.

So, while TE and ID may be related in that they both see the hand of God influencing the history of life on the planet, there is enough of a distinction between the two positions to merit separate labels.

*Don't take this as an attack on Coyne. I have great respect for the man, read his blog website almost daily, and think his book, Why Evolution Is True, is possibly the best introduction to evolution for people who don't know much about it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dream Act

Support the Dream ActBy now, most people have probably heard of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors). The law is meant to provide a path to citizenship for illegal aliens who came here as minors. Those undocumented immigrants who served in the military or went to college would be granted permanent resident status, and could later follow on to try to become citizens.

I very much like this idea. Children should not be held accountable for the crimes of their parents. And when parents bring their children with them into the country illegally, it is definitely the parents committing the crime. Those children that grow up here know no other way of life but this one. And the DREAM Act was specifically targeting those immigrants who would most likely to become productive members of the economy.

Now, Republican Senator Mark Rubio is touting his own alternative to the DREAM Act, which apparently has some differences from the bill that was put before the Senate in 2009. What I've heard most on the news is that Rubio didn't like that the original DREAM Act provided a direct path to citizenship, while his alternative would only grant them permanent residence status. Now, whether it's a case of Rubio misrepresenting the original DREAM Act or a case of bad reporting, I'm not sure, but the original DREAM Act didn't lead directly to citizenship. I've checked the first place of lazy researchers, Wikipedia, as well as DreamAct.info. The DREAM Act would only grant permanent resident status. (Or maybe I'm just doing my research poorly.)

Personally, I'd like to see something that lead more quickly to citizenship, but limiting it to permanent residency seems like a reasonable compromise to me. It allows those children who grew up and were raised in this country a chance to seek citizenship without the threat of being exported to a country they barely know.

In my life, especially since I've moved to Texas, I've met many people who came to this country illegally. Most of those people I know were brought here by their parents while they were still very young - before they'd even started school. They're every bit as much a product of and a part of American culture as I am. They themselves did nothing wrong. The only difference is that they just happened to be born a little further south than me. Most of those people that I know have since become legal residents or citizens, but it was a more difficult process than it should have been, and they were under constant threat of deportation. In fact, some of them, as elementary school children, would take a packed suitcase with them to immigration hearings about once a year. Had they been deported, they wouldn't have been allowed to return home, so their suitcases were all they would have been able to take with them.

Unfortunately, even permanent residency for people committed enough to serve in the military, or gifted enough to graduate from college, is too much to ask of some Republicans. It's true that some members of the GOP, such as Rubio, are supportive of ways to keep such people in this country, but Boehner has already come out and said that he didn't think even Rubio's watered down version of the law had a chance to be passed due to Republican opposition.

To put a personal face on this issue, here are a couple stories of people who were brought here illegally as children, and then went on to be exactly the types of people you'd want to stay in this country.

  • Jose Godinez-Samperio - Came to the U.S. when 9, Eagle Scout, high school valedictorian, completed college and law school on a full ride, passed the bar exam - not accepted by bar due to lack of immigration papers
  • Daniela Pelaez - Came to U.S. from Colombia when she was 4, high school valedictorian with 6.7 GPA, accepted to Dartmouth - ordered to be deported but received a 2 year reprieve

I really just can't understand the opposition to keeping productive members of society in this country due to the crimes of their parents.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Official Disclaimer

DisclaimerI've had this website for years. It started off as fairly non-controversial, but I slowly drifted into offering my opinions on controversial topics. I try to present my opinions in well reasoned, non-inflammatory essays, but I realize that some people will still find certain topics offensive just by the nature of the topics being discussed.

I've also discussed my job a few times on this site. As I shifted towards discussing more controversial topics, I've tapered off on discussions of my job. But, since this website is moderately popular, I know people are finding it, and making the connection between me and the company I work for.

So, let me just say, all thoughts and opinions on this website are mine alone, and are in no way indicative of those of the company I work for. The company itself has no official policy or position statements on most things I discuss, because they're just not related at all to the type of work we do. As far as co-workers, from the little we've discussed any of these topics (which is very rarely, since they're not relevant to our jobs), I can say that my co-workers and I have a broad range of views and opinions.

So, if you happen to come across this site and you happen to know where I work, don't let my views on these topics influence your opinion of the company I work for.

Friday, May 4, 2012

An Open Letter to a Child on How to Think

The ThinkerI recently received a few comments on this blog from a 12 year old girl. They were in two of my entries on religion, Why I Am an Atheist and The Book of Job. I left her a reply in that second entry, but I think the reply is good enough that I don't want it to get lost in the comments section. So, I'm posting it here in an entry of its own.


Thanks for visiting my site and taking the time to comment. From the first comment you left me, I take it that you're 12 years old. In real life, I'd be very hesitant to discuss issues such as this with someone of your age without knowing how your parents felt about it, since many parents have strong feelings over these issues. But, since you were precocious enough to leave me two comments, I think it's okay to discuss it a bit. However, I'm still not going to attempt to debate this with you, or to push any particular view on you. Rather, I'm going to comment on how to think about the world.

In your life, you're going to meet many people with many different views, from atheists like me to Christians like yourself, along with Christians from different sects with slightly different beliefs, and probably even people from completely different religions, like Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or Jews. We all have conflicting beliefs, so we can't all be right. And it's not just religion. There are all types of claims about the world that people make - whether coffee is good for you or not, whether or not global warming is happening and is a threat to our society, if a special carburetor can give your car 100 mpg, if vaccines can cause autism, or whether the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. You'll need to figure out for yourself which claims are true, which are false, and which ones you just might not be able to know for sure.

So, when thinking about claims about the world or the universe, it's always good to ask, 'How do you know?' It may be literally asking someone, or it may just be asking it in your mind. But the answer should always be better than simply because somebody said so. I tend to think science is the best way to answer questions, so I think the answers should be based on evidence.

And don't be afraid to point that question inwards and ask it of yourself. Once you examine your own beliefs, you'll probably find that much of what you thought you knew actually is true. Good. But you'll probably also find things you thought you knew that were wrong. All the better - because now you're not wrong anymore. Just never be afraid to admit when you're wrong, so that you can correct yourself.

If you're interested in reading more on this, I'm going to give you two links. The first is a letter written by a fairly famous scientist, Richard Dawkins, addressed to his daughter. It's been put it on the Internet, so that anybody can read it that wants to.

Good and Bad Reasons for Believing

This second one was a hypothetical letter written by another scientist, P.Z. Myers, to a girl who was quoted on the Internet (he never actually sent her the letter, since he only found out about her by reading about her on the Internet).

Dear Emma B.

So thank you for visiting my site and taking the time to comment, and thanks for being concerned about me. I'll take my chances on not believing in any gods, but I wish you the best of luck in learning about the world.

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for April 2012

Top 10 ListApril is over, so it's time again for me to go through the server logs and determine which of my pages were most popular last month.

There was one page that hadn't made the list before, What's the Point of Intercessory Prayer?. My Ray Comfort entry just missed the list this month, coming in at 11th. My 2011 entries are starting to gain more traffic. One made the list this month, and a few more were right behind in the top 20.

Overall traffic was normal - down a bit from last month, but still within the range of what it's been for the past year.

Top 10 for April 2012

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - Debt Ceiling - Frustration With Politics
  3. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  4. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  5. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  6. Blog - Letter to Pharmacy about MBT Shoes
  7. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  8. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  9. Blog - Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video
  10. Blog - What's the Point of Intercessory Prayer?

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