Well, courtesy of the Sensational Shimmier Herself, I have been tagged for a little random self-disclosure: Here’s the drill:

  • Players start by listing 8 random facts/habits about themselves in a post on their own blog.
  • At the end of the post, players choose 8 other bloggers to be tagged.
  • To keep the game going, those tagged need to write their own blog about their 8 things, and (of course) post these same rules. Rinse and repeat!
  • Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.
  • (OK, while I’m at it, I’m having some troubles with getting my current page of my blog to load up rather than a previous day. If anyone has similar problems, could they please email me at: epigene13@gmail.com)

    Now, some Random Eights:

    #1 I am a sucker for anything with a banana-type flavor, even the artificial banana scent from amyl acetate. "Banana"-flavored moon pies. Banana milk shakes. Even beer with a hint of banana flavoring. However, you should be very cautious about REAL ‘banana beer’: it has a shelf life of a few weeks, at best.

    #2 Speaking of beer and amyl acetate: knowing a little chemistry helps if you want to teach Chemistry. Or Physics. Or Biology. Or Earth Science. Or some combination: since I’ve taught all four of the standards-based courses in California, you might think that I’m a big fan of ‘standards-based reform.’ Well, uh, no, as
    my feelings about NCLB should make clear: the implementation is so bad one receives the distinct impression a lot of those lawmakers want us to fail, to provide more ammunition for voucher schemes and the like. But it’s not just the implementation: it’s the increasingly-detailed standards themselves.Pri

    #3 Prior to becoming a science teacher, I was a full-time musician, which means (sigh) that I was often unemployed, full-time. I’ve worked as a choral musician, keyboard player and have even composed a few things. A version of the first movement of a orchestral suite inspired by the Galapagos can be viewed here. There are three ‘musical’ quotes used as material in this piece: can you pick them out? To hear it, you may need to download Scorch, a free plug-in.

    #4 I essentially have two CD collections: one of Elvis Costello, and one of non-Elvis Costello. I don’t buy that much music, oddly enough: perhaps it’s because I’ve got so much stored between the ears. If I buy something, it’s because I will listen to it over and over again. Elvis qualifies, because Elvis is King.

    #5 Another quirk in this area: I will not put on music on the radio in order to have something to sleep by. My brain, accustomed as it is for looking for tonal relationships, seems to become more alert in such circumstances, rather than less. I’m just ‘wired’ differently from a lot of folks, apparently. Thank god for white noise generators (surf machines)!

    #6 I wasted a few years happily playing cricket in the NCCA (Northern California Cricket Association). Since almost all the clubs were in the S.F. Bay area, every road game from Fresno was an adventure. The Fresno club is, sadly, defunct but while it was active it was a wonderful way to get to meet people from all over the world. And sample their culture: Cucumber-and-butter sandwiches....beer....chicken curry....beer.....bangers and mash....beer....(I detect a theme here)

    #7 Speaking of culture, while I have yet to venture into the Southern Hemisphere, I spent three years living in the Canal Zone (Panama) while my Dad was in the Air Force. This is going to sound bad, but it was amazing to live in a world where everyone had servants, from general to non-com, as everyone could afford them. The Canal Zone and the semi-colonial atmosphere it carried no longer exists, of course: the Panamanian government assumed complete control of the place several years ago. So that’s a lost world of my youth, you might say. The canal still exists, though, one of the great marvels of civilization. I’ve written a little piece based upon my impressions of the canal in operation, here.

    #8 Theistic Evolutionist? NOT! The term implies that there is some sense in which evolution is part of my belief system, which is silly: evolution by natural selection is a fact, not something that I have to take on faith. Rather, I’m a theist within a rather straightforward Christian perspective who happens to also accept the reality of evolution by natural selection as seen in nature, and the plausibility of accounts of origins that invoke evolution. Theistic evolution, properly speaking, is a theological position, not a scientific one: as (I think) Larry Moran has pointed out, it’s often a form of vague creationism. As a scientist, I can’t say anything about whether the supernatural does or does not exist. As a believer, I have no problem affirming that, but I don’t feel any obligation to fit some version of evolution into any particular theological framework. I prefer to think of my approach as one of engagement, rather than doctrinal commitment.

    (Toward that end, I’m a Certified Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church, a member of the American Scientific Affiliation (a fantastic resource for scholarly work on all sides of the creation/evolution locus), and an enthusiastic supporter of the National Center for Science Education.)

    And, now for those who have been tagged! I've tried to put together an 'eight' of bright people who may not see eye-to-eye with me on everything, but whom it would be terrific to have an extended conversation about evolution, creation, and 'all that jazz.' Who knows? Maybe one day I can make something like that a reality. And so, those who are TAGGED... (drum roll please)......Blake, Mark, Brian, Wendee, Stanton, Mandi, Madhu, Samuel! Let the fireworks begin!



    People, if you've been following the intelligent design (ID) movement, you've heard about the bacterial flagellum. This corkscrew-like structure (shown at left) is embedded in the cell walls of bacteria and essentially functions as a rotary motor. The rapidly-spinning motor is connected to an assembly of microtubules (ahem--tiny tubes), and the rotation of this assembly propels the bacteria through the local environment. Pretty cool!
    Now, the bacterial flagellum's remarkable function and complex shape (it has more than twenty distinct components) has not gone unnoticed by ID advocates. The chemist Michael Behe has gone so far as to claim that the flagellum's structure is 'irreducibly complex'. By this, Behe means that the flagellum could not have been produced by natural selection, due to the alleged fact that there are no functional intermediates between the present flagellum structures and simpler arrangements of the proteins that form it. If there is no way that such a structure could've been produced by a series of modifications, ID advocates argue, then the existence of such structures at the molecular level exhibits design, and hence a Designer.
    This particular line of reasoning is so well-known and so widely-accepted by ID advocates that Ken Miller has described it as "the poster child of the modern anti-evolution movement" or, more humorously, as one of the "icons of anti-evolution." Miller's analysis demonstrates, however, that there is abundant evidence for the evolution of flagella.
    A similar feat has now been accomplished for another domain of life! Rather than looking at conventional bacteria, workers have focused on the Archae ('the old ones'), a diverse group of microscopic organisms that often inhabit extreme environments hostile to most other forms of life. As you might imagine, the Archae differ in significant ways from conventional bacteria, both in terms of their genes and their biochemistry. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that they have come up with their own sort of 'flagella', distinct from that of conventional bacteria.
    What is somewhat surprising, however, is what you learn when you compare the genomes of different Archae. Workers have performed such an analysis, described here, that provides powerful evidence that the genes for building 'archaeal flagella' are highly conserved within Domain Archaea, to the extent that a fairly detailed phylogenetic tree showing the relationship between different archaeal species is possible, and that this analysis not only suggests the steps that led to the evolution of the 'archaeal flagella', but point to an event of horizontal gene transfer between two widely-separated lineages. Apparently, there is more than one way to skin the flagellar cat, but in all cases examined evolution by natural selection is up to the task!


    OK, here’s the sort of thing that makes me quietly crazy.

    Teachers, as a group, overwhelmingly are disgusted with NCLB (No Child Left Behind), but we can’t seem to get our most prominent professional organization (the NEA) to do much about it. The NEA wants to ‘fix’ the law, but anyone who has looked at it carefully realizes that no amount of tinkering is going to change the fact that a long series of both arbitrary and complicated benchmarks within the law make an official pronouncement of school failure inevitable for increasing numbers of schools.

    I much prefer this group’s approach. Dump NCLB!