My father-in-law is in his 80's, and lives by himself out on 5 acres in the adjoining countryside. He's a self-made man with little formal education, but wide life experience and high intelligence, especially of the spatial kind involved in construction. He has few passions, other than raising goats and playing cards, especially pinochle. I have whiled away quite a few hours playing with 'the old goat', as his family affectionately deems him.

He beats me more often than not, and when he gets the cards, he beats me like a drum when we play three-handed (a cutthroat game). Disconcertingly, when he's trying to crush me he refers to me as 'Partner', since I'm typically paired with him when we play four-handed (partnerships). This is such a running joke that his grandkids have taken to referring to the old man as 'Partner', as well.

Well, 'Partner's' latest hand is a rough deal. Previously, he'd had a spot on his lung about two months back that might have been cancerous. A few days ago, following a CAT scan involving iodine (to which he is allergic), he had a respiratory episode and was admitted into Kaiser. While there, the results of the scan came back. While not conclusive, they suggested that whatever it is (now almost certainly cancer) had metastisized to the other lung. Provisionally, he's been diagnosed with Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

The only option known to improve survival rates for NSCLC is surgery to remove the offending tissue. With both lungs apparently affected and in his ninth decade, 'Partner' is obviously not a candidate for such a procedure. Chemotherapy based upon cisplatin offers a modest survival benefit (perhaps as much as a year, on average) in patients in good physical condition, but I don't think the latter describes my 'Partner'. And, even if it did, it's unclear that he would have greater quality of life due to the toxicity. The cure, over the long haul, might be worse that the disease.

So, the focus for treatment is not so much in terms of a cure or in terms of survival, but in terms of managing the quality of life. As I said, it's a tough hand. He's survived open-heart surgery nearly 30 years ago back when it was a far riskier procedure than it is now, and as recently as seven years ago he was sharp enough to master-mind home construction and still strong enough, in his late 70's, to swing a mean hammer. For him, quality of life has always been about his first joy, physical labor. As with everything else, what constitutes 'quality of life' must now change.

In this time of transition, we appreciate your thoughts or, if you're so inclined, your prayers.



(musical cue: Flatt and Scruggs, 'Dueling Banjos')

The lefthanded millionaire says:

He heard the righthander admit to using HGH a few years back. In a second conversation, three years later, the righthander surprised him by changing his story, denying the use of any performance-enhancing drugs.

The righthander’s trainer supplied him, the lefthander, with steroids after an arm injury, which the lefthander injected in himself to no effect. He now regrets that decision, saying that was a ‘lapse of judgement.’

The trainer became angry when the lefthander asked him about the righthander’s steroid use, saying it was supposed to be confidential, but (according to the lefthander) also confirmed the righthander’s use of steroids.

He’s claims he’s coming clean and telling what he knows, because "I have to tell you all the truth. I have to live with myself. And one day I have to give an account to God and not to nobody else of what I've done in my life."

The righthanded millionaire says:

The trainer is lying.

The lefthander is mistaken about multiple conversations, but he’s still a good friend.

I never used steroids, and the only one who used HGH is my wife.

Former President Bush supports me.

Gee, which millionaire should I trust?



This one's a can of corn, but it's irresistible.

There is a legendarily cantankerous retired biology professor named John A. Davidson who is highly skeptical of Darwinian evolution, and he's got his own ideas on how evolution actualy happens. Nothing wrong with that. He blogs about it. Nothing wrong with that. He's created multiple blogs attempting to spark discussion on his alternative views. Nothing wrong with that. Virtually no working scientist reads his blogs or otherwise gives him the time of day, though, most likely because they've concluded he's a crank.

Here's an example of why he seems to have a hard time establishing his credibility. Posting over at ID sympathizer Ftk's place, Davidson makes the following remarks alluding to Darwin's finches:

The Darwinians have no "theory." "Theories" are verified hypotheses. All that has been verified through the most intensive of selection is the generation of intraspecific varieties none of which are incipient species. They don't even test their "theory" any more. The Galapagos finches, as nearly as can be ascertained from field observations, are all one species. Finches are among the easiest of birds to domesticate. The canary is a finch. Why haven't the Darwinians tested that material in the laboratory? I will tell you why. It is summarized in a single word - FEAR. Fear of failure. They have abandoned the experimental method.

Well, that's just ridiculous. Natural selection of finches has been rigorously tested both in the laboratory and the wild. David Lack (1910-1973) provided detailed natural history of Darwin's finches in nature in the 1950's, and a pair of Princeton researchers (Peter and Rosemary Grant) have combined detailed natural history with DNA analysis of patrimony and survivorship in a ongoing research programme that is on its third decade. This is such a well-known fact that it was the basis of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book (Jonathan Weiner's The Beak of the Finch ) and is discussed in Miller and Levine's widely-used high school biology text.

So, Professor Davidson, while you are free to argue that 'evolutionists' misinterpret the data you collect, you can not argue that they are not testing the claim that natural selection occurs in populations such as Darwin's finches. Only the fact that you are a retired academic long out of touch with mainstream biology can excuse your ignorance of the latter. Here's a thought for you, Professor: try doing a little research before you make a claim that can be easily debunked by a high school biology teacher.


What do I believe? It’s a question that’s been posed to me more than once by sincere believers who happen to be creationists, and who struggle to understand how I could claim to be a Christian---and yet an enthusiastic advocate for evolutionary biology, to which their understanding of the Bible forces them to oppose? Sometimes the whole business is not even put to me as a question, but rides piggyback with invective, as in phrases like ‘this so-called Christian’ or ‘you claim to be a Christian.’

I used to get mad about that, but I’m starting to feel more sympathetic to my sparring partners in the pews, so in the spirit of full disclosure, I thought I would post about the things that I can’t possible prove, but which I believe to be true. I’ll let you decide what label to give me, whether I’m a true believer, a sell-out, a phony or simply batshit crazy.

I believe that there is a realm outside our present universe which is not subject to scientific investigation at the present time. Both within and without that realm there exists a transcendent source of power which is distinct from, yet which interacts with, all of Creation—including humanity, with all our great potential and sorry failings. The intuition of many is to regard this source as a personality, a being which desires relationship with us. This being goes by many names; we can call it God, if you like, as long as we remember that we are naming that which we can neither understand or define.

Now, the fact that there are many names is telling, for, despite the best efforts of many, the sense of relationship is fragmentary, incomplete. Our failings (which is to say our limitations, our lack of understanding) lead thoughtful people to correctly regard the state of belief as both fantastic and incoherent. Our great potential is revealed in our response to the situation, as we seek to more fully explore and understand the parts of the universe which are accessible to us.

From this perspective, the only thing that can feed the possibility of real faith is honest doubt. We can not truly say we believe anything unless we are willing to admit the possibility that we are wrong, and in addition to commit ourselves to the task to investigating every claim by every means at our disposal. As a Christian, I hold certain things as true on faith, but I do not think I should privilege those claims to the point that they are not up for discussion.

Having said that, I believe. I believe that the Bible records experiences that are, in a very real sense, true accounts of interaction between God and humankind. It is filtered through different peoples, in different times and different cultures, and much of the latter is unlikely to be relevant to my present circumstances. That they testify to the possibility of relationship, however, remains mysterious, miraculous and deeply meaningful, and it culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ.

Christians believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s desire for relationship, a human being who embodies God, and who lives in God. The ‘kingdom of God’ at the heart of Jesus’s parables is about the indwelling of God in human life, and the insight that we should live not to serve ourselves, but to serve others, just as God is given to us in the life and death of Jesus. There is much that could be said here about a host of rules and traditions associated with various flavors of Christianity, but it boils down to this: if you believe that Jesus truly manifested the sort of relationship that God desires with humankind, and you desire that relationship, you will attempt as best you can to follow Jesus’s example.

‘As best you can’ is acknowledgment that you can not bridge the gap between yourself and God on your own. Rather, we Christians believe that Jesus has already bridged the gap, perfecting the relationship between God and man through Death and Resurrection. If you believe this (and I do), then you will have begun walking down the path that leads to God, ‘as best you can.’

‘As best you can’, however, means that you must recognize and accept human frailty and not regard any human pronouncement as perfected. Scripture is to be treasured, but not worshiped. Christianity has many traditions, practices that enrich the experience of faith, but we do not pray to tradition. The mistake that many Biblical literalists make is that they confuse mere products of Creation with its source. Authentic faith rests in our relationship with God, not human custom, and so it follows that we can not get hope to get closer to God by demeaning either old ways or new ideas that differ from our own. We can not love our God more by loving our fellow man less.


What’s that? You didn’t realize that we have duties other than teaching? Well, let me set the record straight by giving a ‘fer instance’ about what’s in my box this morning.

1) An attendance audit (12 pages) listing all of the tardies, absences etc. that are on the district computer. I’m asked to review the whole thing for accuracy and then fill in the blanks:

“I, (teacher’s name), verify that the attendance in the following Attendance Audit Report is correct and to the best of my knowledge.”

Of course, I can’t spare the 2-3 hours it would take to review every item, so I merely glance at it and sign it with the note that I can’t verify every item. Sounds Orwellian? Read on!

2) A notification that a 504 meeting will be held on Thursday for one of my students, with two pages of paperwork that I’m asked to fill out and bring with me when I attend the meeting. Though, (surprise!) the meeting is actually scheduled when I’m teaching, 7th period, so I will just fill it all out and drop in the counselor’s box.

3) A ‘homework request’ for a student who is suspended and who has a rap sheet of disciplinary log entries on the district mainframe that fills two, count ‘em, two screens since the beginning of this school year. Me, I’m glad he’s gone and don’t want him back, but since it’s requested, I’ll just go ahead and attach copies of all the work he hasn’t done in the last four weeks and send it along with an alligator clip. Actually, now that I think about it, this sounds more like Kafka than Orwell. But I digress....

4) An announcement regarding our school site’s new ‘Saturday School’ disciplinary program that goes into effect March 1st, which I am requested to read and explain to my second-period class. That’s actually time well-spent, if the administration follows through with their plan to make students accountable. We’ve been assured this program will not be another ‘Breakfast Club’, and I hope that this is so....

5) A guide on how to establish a new email account, as the district has (without explanation) dumped their old email (Groupwise) just a few days ago, and gone to Outlook Express. Me, I was able to follow the directions and catch up on the email in about five minutes. Many of my technophobic colleagues are doubtless still clueless. Anyway, I was able to go through the backlog of email in about twenty minutes, which is not too bad. Of course, who knows how many emails were lost in the transition between platforms?

6) An attendance sheet from last Friday (I had a funeral to attend), that I must now enter into my computer.

There was also some notes about the activities of ongoing program, plastic bags for the school recycling bins and a flyer from my union (the Fresno Teachers Association) about new, more user-friendly providers of dental care.

Unfortunately, not in my box is my W-2, which apparently the district will have to send out again, which required a phone call to discover. But, as you can see, there’s a good hour’s worth of work in my box today. Is that typical? No, there’s usually only 10-20 minutes of work, but it’s still stuff I have to find time for. Which is why I’m blogging about this near midnight!



A few boxes of various salts finally showed up at our school site today, more than six weeks after virtually all of our chemical stores were improperly removed by individuals employed by the district. Six weeks, now, that we've been attempting to teach a Chemistry course without chemicals.

I will now pause to collect my thoughts.

See, on the one hand I feel relief that at least some of our stores are being replaced. On the other hand, I'm still frustrated that this ever happened, and every attempt to seek accountability for the screwup has led nowhere. No one wants to own up for bad decisions, and no administrator wants to work to develop procedures to prevent this from happening again. And the fact is, our curriculum was harmed, parents and students need to know about this, and someone needs to raise hell about it and not just shrug their shoulders and say, in effect, 'Oh well, that's the district.'


The DEEP Club that I sponsor at my school site will show a short video from HHMI featuring Sean Carroll discussing the historical background of Darwin's discovery of the principle of natural selection, etc. My colleagues at CSU Fresno are doing their part, and of course worldwide all sorts of folk are commemorating Darwin Day.

Here's what I posted about Darwin, over at John Wilkins' place:

"Darwin is a hero of mine, and not just because he was a damned good scientist, and certainly not because he got everything right. I find Darwin heroic not because he held priority on the notion of common descent (which he didn't), but because of a preeminent conscience and powers of concentration which he brought to that topic.

Few prior to Darwin brought comparable energy to any attempt at synthesis within biology (Linnaeus comes to mind), and of those, none focused on the multiple lines of evidence for common descent with the scholarship revealed in Darwin's papers.

Perhaps even more importantly, Darwin privately agonized over the meaning of evolution. He took first his faith, and then his growing doubt rather seriously. He fretted over what effect his ideas might have on his marriage, his friendships, his social standing, his reputation within the scientific community. He was cautious to a fault, but I think this was in part because what he came to call 'one long argument' was a narrative of his own struggle, and I think it is presumptuous of those of us who live in a secular society to imagine that we could understand the full dimension of that struggle. As a Christian who has wrestled with Darwin's thought, I think I have an inkling of what that struggle entails, and that is why, first and foremost, that Darwin is one of my heroes. "

By the way, a person interested in learning more about evolution should check out the Carroll video, which is available on-line here. If you're an educator, you should know that HHMI has given this and other programs away as DVD's, which is a very generous offer. I highly recommend them.


Steve Gerber, the man who created Howard the Duck and whose courageous battle against Marvel Comics made him the Curt Flood of 1980's comics, has died. Rather poignantly, you can visit his blog, which is filled with tantalizing comments from Gerber about his interests and medical problems (he suffered from pulmonary fibrosis), but the final posts are from Mark Evanier, a personal friend and well-known Kirby scholar.

Gerber's impact on me as a young man, particularly his Howard run with Gene Colan, can not be estimated. Gerber's satire stretched the limits of mainstream comics more than any previous title in my estimation, and the sacrifices that he, Jack Kirby and a handful of others made to retain control of the characters they created made the comics world a better place.

I love comics, and I especially love some of the comics Steve Gerber created. His sly, mocking humor was a wonderful mixture of silliness and penetrating commentary.

I still repeat little phrases from his books. Here's a few I remember, just off-hand:

"Pardon me madam, but it makes me edgy/for my face to feel your wedgie."

"I find that whenever I lend my thews to a cause, they always come back damaged."

(big over-done comic blurb) "Trapped in a world he never made!"

(subversively, when running for President) "My God! He's telling the truth! He'll be dead in a week!"

"Right this very minute, in a galaxy too close for comfort!"

Thanks, Steve.


STAN: Venturing Out Without A Net

Stan writes. I'll comment later! Take it away, Stan:

"Now that the conversation with Scott has ventured tentatively into the region of intangible entites, it seems necessary to think about what type of objects we might expect to come across in such a place of non-sensuality. When we shove off from the shores of Materialism, what is left to find?

So let's start with Materialism, and then, push off.

Materialism blockades the access to transcendentals, and requires, by definition, that all mental objects actually be physically manifested in the meat of the brain. So the mind is by Materialist definition deterministic, or at least partially deterministic, which amounts to the same thing.

Materialism depends upon a blind, predetermined succession of physical brain events occurring, which result in the mind, the will, and language, all of which are physical and predetermined.

"The brain is a meat machine";

Marvin Minsky

“We and all other animals are machines created by our genes. A monkey is a machine that preserves genes up trees"

Richard Dawkins

Since thoughts and speech are predetermined, they are not reflective of any personal volition of the owner. As such, the events have no meaning, either to the owner or the listener, and the results of such thought and speech events should also have no meaning.

If these entities are without meaning, can they produce meaning, or project meaning? How could this be decided?

If the mind has no meaning and projects no meaning, then language has no meaning, and these very words have no meaning. Therefore it is left up to our intuition to determine whether or not meaning could exist, either here or elsewhere.

In fact, we might ask ourselves if the word “meaning” itself has a meaning. If we did, we would be using language. So we must have intuited (and believe) that language has meaning, or the exercise would be futile and a waste of time. And we also must have believed that meaning exists, because we asked if that word had any.

So, since we do believe in meaning, we have, then, intuited that meaning exists and that the word "meaning" has meaning. So meaning, and the "meaning of meaning" are now seen to be valid mental objects, and objects which are not physical in any manner.

The same goes for ideas: we all develop the idea of an idea. It is necessary for invention:

"What is required for all other human inventions is the notion that one can actively, consciously construct new ideas. We take this for granted, but it is not a "natural" development. Three-year-old children have lots of ideas and even make up new ideas. But they do not have the Idea of an Idea that they can construct anew; they do not naturally arrive at the idea that making up new ideas is something people do. The Idea of an Idea is a cultural creation that children have to learn."

"It is only with the Idea of an Idea that we get conscious specific intellectual constructions like democracy, science, the number system, the computer, the birth control pill, and so on. The Idea of an Idea is the generative notion behind the very notion of an invention and is causally necessary for all specific inventions."

George Lakoff is Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he is on the faculty of the Institute of Cognitive Studies.

Of course, an idea is a transcendent mental entity; it is not measurable by any material, natural, empirical method. It is known to exist in ourselves only by introspection; in others only through either communication (a transcendental), or by inference (also a transcendental). The mind states, or brain states, or electrical activity of the brain will never serve to reveal an “idea of an idea”.

These are just starting points for launching into the portion of reality that is accessible only through intuition.

Are these points acceptable? Can we move forward from here?"


Hey, guess what?  Why, Ben Stein's motion picture Expelled (coming to a theatre near you in April!) has made it official:  they are 'joining forces' with the Discovery Institute!  And they've got endorsements by that noted scientist, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, outstanding legal mind Charles Colson, Pulitzer Prize-winning tale-teller Lee Strobel, and feel-good Hollywood darling Michael Medved!

Wow.  With a name like Smuckers, it's got to be good.



This is just fantastic. Watch the video at Deep Sea News, and read their linked post as to how the video was obtained. Really wonderful.