I recently attended the 'Origins' conference at Cal Tech sponsored by Michael Shermer and the Skeptics Society, along with a little seed money from the Templeton Foundation. PZ has opined that their participation taints the affair some what, and I have to admit that there was a profound difference in the character and utility of the 'debates' sponsored by the latter in the afternoon session as compared to the morning's scientific lectures. It was a weird and unsettling experience, which I will post about soon enough. There were kooks present in the afternoon on both sides of the science-religion divide, as well as a need for better fact-checking.

Anyway, I thought it would be helpful to blog about the various parts of the conference, and I'm hoping to get some of the great minds involved to forward stuff about their presentations which I can then link to in my posts. I had originally intended to attend with a skeptical friend of mine, one of the officers of CVAAS* , but this became impossible for my friend due to other commitments, among them attending and supporting James Randi's lecture at CSU Fresno on Thursday, October 2nd. I had the good fortune to join members of CVAAS in having breakfast with the magician and founder of JREF at the Marie Callender's across the street from CSUF on Thursday morning, and a good time was had by all. Randi was a colorful and engaging personality, and he had a lot of good stories to share about past and present friends and foes of skeptical thinking. A fellow CVAAS member snapped a picture with both of us in it, and I present (in the interest of complete disclosure) a slightly-tweaked version of that below: **

*If you live in the Central Valley of California, why not click on this link and consider checking the organization out?

** It was originally a lot bigger image, Randi was more in the foreground, and I had a flower coming out of my head courtesy of the print on the wall.



As in, 'keep it simple...Scott.' Sorry if I just disappointed any Ace Frehley fans, but as far as this 'Ace' * can tell, the current political climate pretty much reduces to this:

Any commentary I could offer would simply restate the obvious, other than to note that this analysis hails from the blog State of the Union.


Here's the breakdown by electoral votes of states that are pretty much in Obama's hip pocket. He's never ever trailed in any of these states and typically enjoys significant leads in all of the following:


TOTAL: 278 electoral votes

Even if Senator McCain could pull off a sweep of the remaining 'toss-ups' (Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia) that would still leave him with 26 states with only 260 electoral votes. Barring another seismic event on the political landscape, this race is over. Let the hysterical perorations begin.

* It's a family nickname.




We science teachers, we need St. John's Wort, or something. Our scheduled move from out of our trailers at Bullard has been pushed back a week, and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth from my colleagues, a growing sense of frustration and even despair.

Me? I've already channeled my angst into a YouTube video, which you can see here. I've been checking up on the progress of what is amusingly labeled 'modernization' 2-3 times per week, and I was not entirely surprised by the e-mail from administration informing us of the delay. Frankly, I was skeptical about the original move date ('sometime in the second week of October'), so for it to be bumped to 'sometime on the 16th or the 17th' is hardly the stuff of shock.

But it is a concern. We simply can't do meaningful labs in these settings for certain topics, and science without labs isn't really science: it's a set of largely-unconnected concepts and claims. I can honestly say that in some respects this has been one of my best years as a teacher in terms of pacing, classroom management and organization. Experience, and the energy that I've put into things in order to manage the transition to the trailer, have actually been an overall plus for me and until recently I could honestly say that this was my best year of teaching yet.

But what's happening now is that I'm running out of tricks to make the various non-lab things engaging, and it's in a part of the curriculum (chemistry of life) that really calls out for hands-on experience. I can't lecture every day, or expect them to watch videos or do worksheets indefinitely. I'm going to have to get creative if I'm in here much longer in order to avoid losing the kids. Now, don't get me wrong---I'm a creative person by nature, so I will survive. But my colleagues, who haven't been following the progress of their rooms, who've hung their emotional hopes and dreams on the star of the since-abandoned deadline? They are feeling the strain, and the longer they stay in the trailers, the more the tension increases....




I've previously shot off my mouth on a number of occasions about the emptiness of threats by the Discovery Institute and their minions aimed at silencing the opinions of public school teachers who openly assert the compatibility of some forms of religion with evolutionary theory. I wasn't too happy, here and here.

Now comes the rejection, by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, of a suit that alleges something similar at the hands of the University of California Museum of Paleontology 'Understanding Evolution' web site, which (I might add) is one of the best evolution resources for high school teachers out there.

The suit was nominally brought by Jeanne Caldwell, but it is her barrister spouse Larry Caldwell is the real 'brains' behind this line of attack. Happlily, the Court has found "Ms." Caldwell's argument entirely wanting, as you can read in this PDF file.

What a relief! And to think I was living with the prospect of fearful litigation for daring to share facts with students. The Sword of Damocles has been lifted!


Well, I was a busy bee over the weekend. When I came back I had many fires to put out at my school site. The good news is that it appears I may be in my new room by Oct. 15th. The bad news is that the district is pretty much leaning on me to start taking classes once a week to prep for a test to satisfy CLAD.

Never mind that I was hired without CLAD, or that CLAD is not at present legally mandated for anyone previously hired. The district has simply decided that I will take CLAD training on their dime, or else I will be judged insubordinate. I was given two choices:

  • give up several consecutive Saturdays, and receive some modest stipend at the end of the semester
  • attend 8-4 classes for several consecutive Thursdays, for which days the district will pay for subs
Why is the district doing this? Is it because it is likely to make me a more effective teacher? I am frankly skeptical, and my colleagues who have CLAD haven't said much to lead me to believe that this is going to be anything other than a dog-and-pony show to make the district look good. But let's take the district's desire at face-value, and assume that they are just trying to be proactive and raise the quality of their work force. Why, then, am I not being offered any college credit through either option, both of which are being provided through the Tulare (why not Fresno?) County Office of Education rather than an accredited university? This is the equivalent of 12 units of coursework if obtained through a degree program as described here!

I find this especially galling because, for better or worse, I've tried to be a good soldier. I've taught six periods once when asked. I was a seventh-period instructor for two years, teaching a section that most of my other colleagues strive to avoid. I've taught all four of the standards-based courses, including in one year as an emergency fill-in. I've served on the Site Council both as a Rep and as President. I've sponsored student clubs and went to games, plays, etc. voluntarily on a regular basis. I've done inservices for faculty and helped individual colleagues resolve technical problems. In fact, to some of my colleagues I've become a running joke, the 'guy who volunteers.'

Well, to make a long story short I'm going to take the Thursday option because if I lose my Saturdays, what with working a second job already (church choir director) along with my other interests, I think my wife would, um, KILL me. But the downside is that I'm going to have to 'pick up the pieces' every Friday after a sub day for the rest of the semester and it's going to have a negative impact on my curriculum, and thus potentially those precious test scores that my employer places such a premium on could also be affected. If they are, though, will I be cut any slack from a district evaluator if my scores are below the site average, even though my students are effectively being deprived of more than a week's worth of real instructor time because of the administration's desire that all teachers have some sort of progress toward CLAD? Shoot, I doubt it. This is heads they win and tails I lose.

So....I really don't want to be the next administrator who asks me for a favor.