Monthly Archives: March 2008

Friday Photo: Gloriosa superba


The Glory Lily Gloriosa superba produces these spectacular and odd inverted flowers. I snapped this image over a decade ago in southern India while doing my graduate research. One of the more interesting botanical Latin names, don’t you think? I guess I miss some of these tropical colors!

No one was being expelled here…

… even though corrupting young minds like this should be a punishable offense, not a profitable business venture! Yes, BC Tours is a real business, which, apart from conducting these tours, also sells videos and more at their website.

A question to my students (esp. those who were asking me recently about my views on religion and science): what would you do if one of these kids showed up in your class? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people here on our campus who have been subjected to such a tour – and I am really curious what they think. Of course, the guide here has a very particular notion of how children should learn to think, doesn’t he? Always ask “how do you know” – which is great thing for science students to learn – but then completely dismiss any real scientific explanation because it strays from a literal interpretation of a self-contradictory 2000 year-old collection of stories! What a recipe for life-long learning! One part that really got my goat was where the smarmy guide goes “now fossils are usually rather boring because they are piles of dead things”!! What a horrible way to close off a child’s mind to the true wonders of the real world!

Several years ago when we visited the American Museum of Natural History, our (then) kindergardener daughter couldn’t get enough of fossils after spending 3 entire days wandering among the exhibits, much of it in the Darwin exhibit. So fascinated and thrilled was she by all of it that she’s been a fossil nut ever since – to the extent of demanding a fossil-themed birthday party last year (we obliged, and her friends had a lot of fun digging up and taking home real fossils as party favors)! Tell me – shouldn’t I do everything I can to keep her away from these pious charlatans?

Gay scientists isolate Christian gene

If only things were the other way around…

glumbert – Gay scientists isolate Christian gene

[Hat-tip: Onegoodmove]

Monkey Trials is hot as Mr. Molly bats 300!

My good friend and co-conspirator behind the Central Valley Café Scientifique, Mr. Scott Hatfield, Order of the Molly, is celebrating a blogospheric landmark with his 300th post since launching Monkey Trials, and getting 8000+ hits in the past 3 days because he too jumped into the fray of the Great Good Friday Expulsion, kicking over some slimy rocks to expose the pious frauds behind that propaganda piece.

He will also soon be moderating a discussion here in Fresno between the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics (CVAAS) and New Covenant Church members on April 19, during the weekend-long Apologetics Symposium “In Defense of the Faith”, which will kick off with a debate on “Does God Exist” between Michael Shermer and the despicable Dinesh D’Souza. Scott, of course, thrives in the middle of such sticky wickets, being the terrific (and now quite blogacious) godly evilutionist that he is! He has demonstrated, on the few occasions I’ve seen him in action being mobbed by devout young Christians after some such moderating gig at a local church, as well as when engaging daily with the rowdy atheist throngs on Pharyngula, what real “framing” is about in his thoughtful and respectful way; unlike the NisbetMooney gang who have only talked about it endlessly while telling some of the best science communicators around to shut up! They would do well to shut up for a while themselves, and maybe even learn a little something if they only spend some time studying how Scott communicates.

Well done, indeed, Mr. Molly (the first ever)! Here’s looking forward to the next 300.

Another young girl victim of dumb-and-blind faith

And this time, it was fatal and it happened in America – in the supposedly more “progressive” state of Wisconsin, not in some rural corner of the developing world! Here’s an excerpt from this appalling news story:

An 11-year-old girl died after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical help for a treatable form of diabetes, police said Tuesday.

Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said Madeline Neumann died Sunday.

“She got sicker and sicker until she was dead,” he said.

Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.

The girl’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to “apparently they didn’t have enough faith,” the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing “was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray,” he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.

What century are they living in, again? And in what backward “leader-of-the-free-world” country?

But that’s not all – here’s what local law enforcement did:

Officers went to the home after one of the girl’s relatives in California called police to check on her, Vergin said. She was taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The relative was fearful the girl was “extremely ill, dire,” Vergin said.

The girl has three siblings, ranging in age from 13 to 16, the police chief said.

“They are still in the home,” he said. “There is no reason to remove them. There is no abuse or signs of abuse that we can see.”

If you are now even more appalled and wondering how and why death is not apparently a sign of abuse, it turns out that such parental neglect, even if fatal, is not considered so bad as long as it is faith-based! Here’s a quote from someone who commented on the above story after looking into the Wisconsin state law:

Unfortunately Wisconsin law won’t hold the parents accountable:

State statute 948.03(6) provides an exemption from the law against failing to act to protect children from bodily harm for what is referred to as ‘Treatment through prayer.’ The statute says: ‘A person is not guilty of an offense under this section solely because he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone for healing in accordance with the religious method of healing … in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.

And another reader posted this follow-up:

Regarding statute 948.03(6), I have just done the research to confirm this for myself. That, together with 48.981(3)(c) and or 448.03(6), explicitly state that it is not considered child abuse nor neglect to rely solely on prayer or cultural practices (The first two) or ‘Christian Science’ (The final one) for healing a child, even to the exclusion of medical means. So, this is probably perfectly legal.

I suggest this would be a very good time to campaign for the state legislature to pass an act removing these exceptions – parents who refuse to provide available medical care for their very ill children should not be trusted with the safety of more, even if they honestly believe their rituals had healing power.

Why do I get the feeling that that police chief’s reaction might have been somewhat different had the parents been conducting “vedic” or “tantric” prayers and chants for the poor child, or holding a havan for her?

Meanwhile, in Oregon, another faithful family killed their 15-month old toddler by denying her the chance of getting antibiotics. At least in that case, prosecutors are reviewing it for legal action because the Oregon legislature threw out laws similar to Wisconsin’s offering the faith-based get-out-of-jail-free card to neglectful parents.

How can a country where people kill their own children through such ignorant barbaric faith in some god feel morally superior to other fundamentalists from other countries with slightly different but equally barbaric faiths?

Could the mulch in your suburban backyard have been absorbing hurricanes instead?

mulch-madness-320x324.jpgAnd wouldn’t that be a better use for that organic matter, in a more global scheme of things? Sure, you can make your landscape look nice, your flowerbeds and shrubbery healthy, and perhaps even more naturalistic, with some good old nature-grown mulch. What could be so bad about that? Well, it kinda depends upon where that mulch is coming from. What if it is made of wood harvested from the cypress forests on the Louisiana coast? The same forests which are probably the best buffers against the next Katrina or Rita? And what if you have no way of knowing if that bag of mulch in the hardware /garden superstore contains any of that valuable Louisiana cypress? This story in Mother Jones sure has given me much to ponder before our next trip to the garden store, which I suspect will come sooner rather than later now given the nice spring we are in the midst of (but I can put any mulch-related bad karma on to my better half’s account since she’s the one with the green thumb!).

This paragraph from the excellent article really rung my irony-meter (and you know how I like that):

After the 1920s, when loggers hacked down the last of the old growth, the timber industry more or less forgot about cypress. With levees newly in place, the Gulf of Mexico crept inland, and the second-generation cypress matured in shallow, brackish water. They grew tall but skinny, making them worthless for lumber—you might get one decent plank out of a whole log—so nobody bothered to cut them. That is, until a housing boom cranked up the demand for landscaping mulch. Between 2000 and 2004, new home construction in Louisiana soared by 56 percent. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, home construction spiked another 26 percent; in addition to mulch surrounding new construction, homeowners replaced mountains of old mulch that were washed away.

So, here’s the development cycle for you: Build new homes along the lovely Gulf coast by clearing some of the forests that keep that coast lovely and protected from hurricane damage; cut down more of that same protective forest to make mulch to make your new homes lovelier; watch all that lovely mulch get washed away along with your home when the next really big hurricane or two come along; and a couple of years later… rinse, and repeat?!!

Ain’t it wonderful how we keep coming up with new ways to unintentionally threaten our own habitats while trying to make them look prettier? O Biophilia where will you lead us next?

And here’s a more sombre picture worth a thousand words…

but was it really worth 4000 lives? Nothing funny about this at all, but what’s it going to take to wipe that smirk off those two faces?