Jordan Cliffs Trail

In about 11 hours I will be hiking the Jordan Cliffs Trail in Acadia National Park. I don’t have anything substantial to say right now. I’m just pretty excited.

It looks like this but with snow.

Second-class citizenry

Missouri Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard was hit by a vehicle that lost control in the snow on Christmas day. His partner will not see anything from the state.

Under the rules of the state pension system that covers the Missouri Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation workers, if a trooper dies in the line of duty, his or her spouse is eligible for lifetime survivor benefits.

The yearly benefit is equal to half of the officer’s average salary during the officer’s highest-paid three years as a trooper. For Engelhard, the benefit would have been $28,138 a year.

Engelhard’s partner, Kelly Glossip, was at the hospital when Engelhard was pronounced dead. He mourned with the other troopers – just as they would have mourned for their own wives. The difference is that Missouri condones bigotry, so Glossip will not see any of that pension.

“I’d take 100 Dennis Engelhards. He was an outstanding trooper,” said Capt. Ronald Johnson, head of the Highway Patrol troop that covers St. Louis and surrounding counties. “His lifestyle had no bearing on his career.”

J.D. Salinger

It’s a rare instance that I agree with Boston radio host Howie Carr – and today is one of those instances. His website has a daily poll and he reports the results each weekday. Obviously, the conservative position wins at least 80-20 every time and Carr pretty much is always with that majority. But today was different. The question was “Is ‘Catcher in the Rye’ overrated?”. The numbers were something like 60% “yes”. Carr responded, “No. It can’t be overrated. Don’t judge the book by your high school English teacher, people!” (paraphrased).

He’s absolutely right. Catcher in the Rye is one of the greatest books ever written. Maybe it’s because it’s usually cool to say ‘That’s not cool’ about whatever happens to be really popular – especially if it’s popular for a long time – that drives people to erroneously declare the book overrated. It isn’t. It can’t be.

Personally, this book ranks at the top of my list in a close fight with Animal Farm for the number two spot (All Quiet on the Western Front is my number one). The literary world is far better off with this book than without it.

That’s why it’s so unfortunate to hear that J.D. Salinger has died at 91.


Thought of the day

I suspect that not one person in the history of humanity has ever reached early adolescence and made a conscious decision about what stimuli trigger a little hormonal surge.

~PZ Myers

The French march on the burqa

The French just seem to hate the burqa. A parliament report has recommended a ban of the burqa in certain circumstances.

In the end, the commission called on parliament to adopt a resolution stating that the all-encompassing veil was “contrary to the values of the republic” and proclaiming that “all of France is saying ‘no’ to the full veil”.

The National Assembly resolution would pave the way to legislation making it illegal for anyone to appear with their face covered at state-run institutions and in public transport, for reasons of security.

Women who turn up at the post office or any government building wearing the full veil would be denied services such as a work visa, residency papers or French citizenship, the report said.

It’s obvious this proposal has been inspired in part by fear of Islam, but it seems that there probably is some genuine concern for the equality of women.

I can sympathize with that concern; it’s obvious that the burqa is a tool used to tell women they are inferior. That’s it. Pat Condell goes off on this at some length. And I can sympathize with the need for national security. Where it is relevant, by all means ban the damn thing – at certain points within airports, in banks, etc. But where my sympathy for the French is entirely lost is with the rights and personal liberties of the individual. At no point should a government be allowed to intrude upon the right of any individual to dress in any sort of harmless manner. I hate the burqa as much as the next rational person, but I would hate to see it illegal for someone to freely practice her (or his) belief.

Sarkozy set the tone for the debate in June when he declared the burqa “not welcome” in France and described it as a symbol of women’s “subservience” that cannot be tolerated in a country that considers itself a human rights leader.

It is precisely that: a symbol. And should a woman be forced to wear this symbol by another person, that is a human rights violation. But if the woman chooses to wear an ugly mask, no government has the right to tell her otherwise.

Thought of the day

Joe Biden has a million dollar smile.

Baffling statistic

This is from The Island of Doubt:

So, to recap:

More than 96% of working climatologists say the global mean temperatures are rising, but only 34% of the public believes “Most scientists think global warming is happening.”

How did we let this happen?

Before you answer, note that the public poll, published today by a Yale University group, also found that 47% say global warming is “caused mostly by human activities.” But only a third of them say scientists even believe the planet is warming. So there’s a bunch of Americans out who believe the science of anthropogenic global warming even though they don’t think scientists share their view.

This is not really news. But that doesn’t make it any less baffling.

January-February Edition

The January-February edition of Without Apology has finally arrived.

Big thanks to those who contributed. I got two articles from Kaytlyn Gillis and one article from Matthew Doyon. I also had a few photo contributions from Michael Amalfitano. Do check out his work as it is quite good.

I’m sure few have really picked up on it, but I have changed the way I’m going to date the papers. I used to just put the month of publication (i.e., “November 2009”), but I’ve found I tend to get all the copies near the end of the month, so things look outdated pretty quickly. I’ve remedied that by hyphenating things just as I’ve done for the title of this post.

As always, there are some minor issues with the physical copy of the paper. One article had its first couple paragraphs on the front page, but when one turns to where it is continued on page 3, the entire article appears – those first couple paragraphs and all. This isn’t as bad as the first issue where half of an article didn’t appear at all since the reader can at least get the entirety of what was written this time, but it’s still a bit annoying.

There are also a couple minor typos on my part. They both showed up in the Little Spencer article. The worst part is that they are on “too” (spelled “to”) and “it’s” (spelled “its”), two of the words I really hate to see misspelled. Well, so it goes.

Again, a big thanks to Katy, Matt, and Michael for contributing. I hope to have more from you all for the February-March edition.

Oh, How Times Have Changed

By Michael Hawkins

In all my attempts to explain certain things about science, I’ve noticed something: a lot of people just don’t know the general timeline of significant events. These are important things to know, if only so one can at least have a general idea of what’s going on whenever science is discussed. Even more to the point, I would have to imagine a lot of people care where their money is spent. In Europe, for instance, one of the largest scientific collaborations amongst nations, the Large Hadron Collider, has a budget of roughly 9 billion dollars. Most of that is not American money, but regardless, the people who are paying for it ought to know that it is entirely predicated on the notion that the Universe emerged from the Big Bang roughly 13.7 billion years ago. If someone believes instead that the Universe is, say, 6,000 years old, then there is clearly an issue. The predication on which the Large Hadron Collider stands doesn’t make much sense for that person.

So it is with that in mind that I present my own attempt to knock down that sort of ignorance, or at least give a refresher. “BYA” stands for “billion years ago”, with the substitute “M” meaning “million”, and “T” standing in for “thousand”.

13.7 bya – Big Bang
13.0 bya – First galaxies form
10.0 bya – Milky Way forms
4.6 bya – The Sun forms
4.5 bya – Earth forms
3.9 bya – First life appears
3.0 bya – Photosynthesis appears
2.1 bya – Eukaryotic cells appear (you are a eukaryote)
1.0 bya – Multicellular life appears
580 mya – Cambrian explosion, tons of complex arms races evolve
400 mya – Tetrapods evolve
360 mya – Amphibians evolve
230 mya – Dinosaurs evolve
200 mya – Mammals evolve
150 mya – Birds evolve (we would have called them dinosaurs at the time)
65 mya – Big ol’ asteroid. Dinosaurs that can’t fly die out
50 mya – With T-Rex et al gone, mammals diversify
5-7 mya – Great apes, monkeys split (humans are great apes)
2.6 mya – Earliest tool use detected
150 tya – First anatomically apparent humans emerge
30 tya – Last Neanderthals die
15 tya – Wolves domesticated as dogs
11 tya – End of last ice age
5 tya – First preserved written language
3 tya – Egyptians build pyramids. Also praise cats.
476 AD – Fall of Rome
1643 – Newton is born
1743 – Thomas Jefferson is born
1809 – Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln are born (same day)
1999 – Mystery Science Theater 3000 is cancelled
2009 – See evening news

So there you have it. A basic sketch of what has happened over the past 13.7 billion years. While most events, such as the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, don’t tend to be as hurtful as the cancellation of Mystery Science Theater 3000, they are all important.

Finally, the point of the time line I want to really take a moment to point out is with the evolution of humans. The split between us and other modern apes occurred roughly 5-7 million years ago. Emphasis on “other”. There is no taxonomic grouping that separates humans and, say, orangutans on the Family level. Humans, orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees are all Great Apes. Further included in that grouping would be a massive number of extinct species, many of which would resemble early humans in a number of ways. (And by “early”, I mean humans from just 50,000-100,000 years ago.) We are apes, which are first primates which are first mammals which are first vertebrates which are first animals which are first eukaryotes which are first simple replicators which are first the stuff of stars.