Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Great Super Bowl Ads

Peter Hartlaub on writes about what he considers the "The 10 best Super Bowl ads of all time". Unfortunately Peter seems unaware of a new technology all the kids are talking about these days, this "YouTube" thingie, so while entertaining, his column misses badly by not providing links to all of the commercials in question. Luckily, Jeff's Home For Teaching The Aged About Technology is here to remedy the lapse. Below the fold, I present Hartlaub's list of all time great Super Bowl ads, complete with videos, in order from #1 to #10. Personally I'd have put the Reebok "Office Linebacker" ad at number two, but Peter forgot to check with me. The nerve! Anyway, hope you enjoy the stroll down memory lane.

Apple Computers "Big Brother" (1984)

Coca Cola "Mean" Joe Green (1979)

e*trade Dancing Monkey (2000)

Terry Tate - Reebok Office Linebacker (2003) "When I Grow Up" (1999)

McDonald's "The Showdown" (1993)

EDS "Cat Herders" (2000)

Tabasco "Exploding Mosquito" (1998)

Xerox (1977)
YouTube doesn't have this one, but you can get to it here.

Budweiser Frogs (1995)


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Perhaps a Frontal Lobotomy WOULD Be The Answer ...

When I was a kid, I had a couple of combination comic book and record sets -- in the back of the comic book would be a 45 record that had voice actors performing an audio play of the issue you were reading. In retrospect it's a strange idea -- the beauty of comics is the silent word on paper, the juxtaposition of images to create the impression of time, the ability of art and words to create in the reader all five senses, and combining that with an audio record is a bit of an abomination.

But hey, I was seven years old at the time, what did I know?

I recently bought a replacement copy from eBay of a Batman record book I had, and there's a truly appalling bit at the end of it. Here's a link to an MP3 recording of the relevant section, but I'll post the transcript below for those who can't get the link. It's definitely better to hear it, though.

Robin (in authentic golly-gee-whiz voice): I sure hope they put the Joker away a good long while for this one!
Batman (in solemn, earnest, Batman-As-Wise-Old-Cop voice): Robin, knowing the cleverness of this artful dodger, who can say for sure? Perhaps a frontal lobotomy would be the answer. If science could operate on this distorted brain, and put it to good use, society would reap a great benefit. Come, Robin. Into the Batmobile, and home!

I want you to take a moment and listen to, or read, that again. Yes, you're hearing correctly.

In a Children's comic book, Batman is advocating that we should give the Joker a FRONTAL LOBOTOMY!!!

I usually frown on the use of multiple exclamation points, but I think it's well deserved in this case.

A frontal. Freaking. Lobotomy.

Batman, in a grave and Very Serious voice, gently tells the children of America that cutting open a man's skull and removing his frontal lobes is jolly good fun and a sure-fire win for society. I think it's worth remembering stuff like this when we get all misty-eyed about the past and how "pure and innocent" we were back then. Folks, we were ripping out chunks of brain from bad guys in children's books!

Jiminy Christmas, I need to go lie down. What a world we live in. And I LIKE Batman!


Got Floaters?

From the "I do not think that means what you think it means" files:

headlines from

I don't know where the headline writer for MSNBC comes from, but in my neck of the woods a "floater" is not something you typically find in someone's eye, and it sure as Hell isn't something I want a doctor shooting with a laser.

Update: With apologies for the delicate sensibilities of my readers (both of them), out here in the country a "floater" is what a man of low birth would call a chunk of human feces that refuses to flush with the rest of its brethren.


Lying (Not) Under Oath

This post is not about the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation and trial currently being conducted in Washington. Frankly, I find it all fairly dull. This is also not a "Republicans Are Liars" post -- what I am about to write applies to any party and any politician, whether it's the Clinton White House or Shrub's.

What this post is about, however, is honesty, and why you have to start legal proceedings against someone before you can get them to speak under oath.

In a column from John Dickinson, writing on about the testimony yesterday of former White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, comes the following comment:

Only moments before Ari's surprise disclosure, I had been trying to figure out what my lede would be for today. I enjoyed seeing Ari have to answer questions under oath, which he never had to do in the White House briefing room. As a reporter, I'd always tried to put him in the witness box, and he always climbed out.

And it made me think -- why don't we make the White House Press Secretary give press conferences under oath? Currently we're pretty much admitting that we know he's lying to us, or (at best) spinning things to such a dizzying degree that the truth can barely stand up. There ought to be some sort of "binding oath" we can apply to government spokespeople without having to go through the entire rigmarole of a full court trial, one that you can actually be fined or jailed for violating just like you were in front of a judge. Call it a "Working Trial Oath" -- make the spokesperson put their hand up and swear to "Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth", and then if they don't, find them in Contempt of Truth.

Granted, you can lie without actually lying, as anyone who's ever watched a Senate hearing can attest to. And if it weren't for some lying, society as we know it would completely fall apart ("Uh, take out the trash? Why, yes, yes I did take the trash out darling ... "). But still, there ought to be some way to get the people who work for us in our government to be forced to tell the truth without having to drag their ass into a courtroom.


Monday, January 29, 2007

When the Blog Went Live

My father-in-law, George Phenix, is a bona fide Character in Texas. Right-hand man to one of the state's greatest senators, owner of countless local newspapers, recent past publisher of "Texas Weekly" (the go-to source for Texas Government news and gossip), and author of the book "When the News Went Live" about how news coverage of the JFK assassination changed the media forever, George is a treasure trove of stories and insight.

He's started his own blog now, and I'd encourage everyone to check it out. The address is and judging by the first post, I think we've got a winner on our hands. Head on over and say "howdy", you surely won't regret it.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Relentless March to Iran Goes On

And the beat goes on:

President Bush kicked off a campaign of escalated rhetoric against Iran during a televised address to the nation on Jan. 10. For months, officials from across the Bush administration have accused Iran of supplying Shiite militias with high-tech explosives and training them to carry out attacks with roadside bombs.

Administration officials have thus far provided little detailed public evidence to support these claims. Officials said that Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador in Baghdad, is planning a news conference for Wednesday during which he will present a dossier of Iran’s efforts to fuel sectarian violence in Iraq.

Is anyone else having flashbacks to Colin Powell in front of the U.N., claiming rock-solid proof of Iraq's possession of WMD?

Look, maybe the Administration and the intelligence agencies really were honestly convinced that Iraq had WMD, and they were just wrong. It happens -- intelligence work is inherently uncertain and sometimes you're going to make mistakes. And maybe Iran really is a huge threat on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons.

But there are consequences for being wrong. Your credibility is weakened, especially when you claim absolute confidence and call your case a "slam dunk". Every time thereafter you try to convince people that you know what you're talking about, they're going to be increasingly skeptical. Even if you don't feel lied to, as many (many) Americans do about the case Bush made for going to Iraq in the first place, you have to admit that they were wrong about most of the justifications they gave. Maybe honestly wrong, maybe understandably wrong, but wrong nonetheless. And that naturally makes people less willing to take their word for anything else going forward.

If you then follow up your initial wrong conclusions with ongoing predictions of ever-escalating error ("We'll be greeted as liberators", "Weeks not months", "We know where the WMD are", "Mission Accomplished", "Just a few dead-enders"), people stop believing what you're telling them. That's why it's important to make every effort to be as accurate and honest as possible, because otherwise you're going to find yourself in the position of the Little Boy Who Cried Wolf, with howling packs of wild animals devouring your herd while no one believes your calls for help any more.

Again, I hope I'm wrong and that I am just in Super Conspiracy Mode about Iran, but every new development seems to be adding to the relentless drumbeat for the march to war. We've seen this play before, with the same actors and the same claims. Even if this time it's really truly cross-my-heart true and Iran really is about to get nuclear weapons and really is the greatest threat to the world, I'm going to have a very difficult time believing it.

We have a saying here in Texas: "Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining." Once again we're being asked to buy an umbrella, but I hope you'll pardon me if I listen for the sound of zippers first.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Drive-Through, Country Style

A customer at our local Bertram Post Office ("Proudly Serving All Two Dozen Residents!") apparently got the wrong idea about the new "Drive Through" service:

We're very "can do" out here in the country, and if they won't open the damn drive through window when you need it, by gum we'll make our own!


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Is Empathy Exclusively Christian?

With thanks to "Atheist in a Mini Van" (and a hat-tip to "Unscrewing the Inscrutable"), I bring you this brilliant essay from an eleven year old girl whose teacher asked the class to write a "pop essay" on "What I Want For Christmas". A brief passage:

I take another look around my classroom and notice that Mahmeed is absent-mindedly cleaning underneathe his fingernails with the cap from his pen. Emily is feverishly trying to catch my eye and, having done so, mouthing the words, "I don't celebrate Christmas...I'm Jewish." in a quizzical manner. Jayden is doing what he normally does during such pop essays: he's looking out the window- probably wondering where his parents will get the money for January's rent and feeling guilty for daring to think about a gift. He's pretty sensitive.

What made me write this post profiling the essay, though, is the response of the teacher:

Her teacher wrote this at the end of her essay:
"Possum#1*, thank you for your thoughtful remarks. I don't think you're an atheist but I respect your empathy for your friends. Please see me after class today. A+"

After class, possum#1 said that her teacher told her she couldn't be an atheist because her "ability to care for others feelings isn't an atheist trait." and that her "attitude was very Christian."

I see this a lot, people assuming that certain emotions or morals -- love, caring, tenderness, concern for others -- are the exclusive domain of their own particular faith system. Almost universally, it is assumed that an atheist, who after all doesn't believe in a supreme being who enforces rules, must by the very nature of the universe be incapable of morality. "Why not just go shoot everyone in the face?" is a question I've been asked by believers.

The common atheist response is to say something like "If the only reason you're not shooting me in the face is because you think you're going to get punished for it when you die, then please don't come near me with a gun."

Less whimsically, though, it seems obvious to me that empathy is a universal human trait that faith systems commonly coopt for their own purposes. Most people are capable of understanding that if something hurts them, it's likely to hurt someone else too. That's generally enough to keep them from then going out and doing that to the neighbor. This built-in moral sense, this fundamental understanding that other people are basically like you and you should thus treat them well, is common to virtually every culture in history, including pre-religious ones. It's more commonly expressed as The Golden Rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" -- and it's something we see even in non-human life.

In other words, the empathy comes first, then morality is built on top of it, and finally religion arises to codify and enforce the moral system erected on the foundation of empathy. Religion doesn't "cause" moral behavior, any more than the institution of monogamous marriage "causes" the birth of children. The urge comes built in ("I want to screw"), then morality arises on how to deal with it ("people should be responsible for the children they produce"), and finally religion comes up with a system for ritualizing and enforcing the moral code ("Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Wife"). It's easy to confuse the effect for the cause, but it's a serious mistake to do so. You inevitably end up with something like "(the) ability to care for others feelings isn't an atheist trait".

We are not moral beings because of religion, we are religious beings because of morality. Once you understand that, it's easy to see why this little girl had compassion for her classmates "even though" she's an atheist. The impulse to love and care for each other is not a purely Christian value, and to label it as such is both incorrect and insulting.


More Wasabi For Gojira!

My friend John Hartwell alerted me to a fascinating discovery in Japan of a prehistoric shark being found alive. The individual shark wasn't from prehistoric times, mind you, just the species -- sharks live a long time, but hundreds of millions of years is a bit of a stretch even for them. Here's the photo:

And what follows is our e-mail exchange about the article:

Me: Wow, that's really cool! Thanks for sending it along. Of course, being Japanese they immediately cut it up and made sushi out of it, which is really too bad ...

John: yeah, but it was prehistoric sushi. so it was like they were ingesting the power of Godzilla!

Gojira! Gojira! More wasabe for Gojira!


Monday, January 22, 2007

Closed for Repairs. LOTS of Repairs.

I pass this restaurant every day on the way to work. Note the sign out front:

A number of thoughts spring to mind when considering this sight.

  1. Those must be some hellacious repairs.

  2. If you're going to advertise the sale of your business and broken down building, is the "Closed for Repairs" placard really the ideal spot?

  3. Given the careful, handcrafted, meticulous lettering on the sign (note the clever and whimsical spelling of "Thru" and the delightful way the letters at the end of "repair" jam in close to each other, as if they too are in need of repair -- brilliantly post-modern, don't you think?), I'm shocked they couldn't make a go of the original restaurant.
I wouldn't be surprised if the original menus had "Only closed by the health department once!" proudly splashed across the header.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wherein Our Asses Are In Deep Water

Last weekend, the local news was breathlessly preparing for "The Big Chill: Ice Storm 2007 (dunh dunh DUNH!)". The temperature had started to drop and the rain had been coming down in sheets that morning. Normally we let the horses and donkeys handle weather in their own way -- we have barns for them, but they usually prefer sheltering out in the forest at the back of the property. "The Big Chill" (which, by the way, should win for Worst Weather Slogan ever), however, was a storm of a different stripe, so Annie and I set out around 4 on Saturday afternoon during a break in the rain to lead the donkeys into their barn.

We found them just over the usually dry creek bed, trying to make their way towards the house. The temperature had dropped to just above freezing and the water surging through the ravine was plenty cold. You know what to say when you're calling a cat -- "Heeeeere kitty kitty kitty!", and if you want a dog to come you can just shout "COME!" and use the dog's name.

With donkeys, not so much.

They're stubborn enough to flip you the bird if you try calling them by name, and "Heeeeere donkey donkey donkey donk" not only sounds ridiculous, but it activates the "Screw you" clause in the Donkey Code of Conduct. Knowing this, Annie had brought along a rubber bowl full of feed, guaranteed to pique the interest of our little herd. We stood across the creek for a few minutes, shaking the bowl enticingly, but the daunting prospect of the rapids was simply too much for the little guys. Apparently donkeys are afraid of running water, which is pretty surprising considering they're willing to fight off coyotes and such. That's still better than horses, who are afraid of everything, but still, kind of disappointing.

So, thwarted by the rapids, we switched to Plan B. I took the bowl and crossed the creek, and led the whole herd all the way around to the back of the property, where there's a little bridge over some culverts for the first part of the creek. We looked a little like a Grand Canyon tour group, minus the fat Americans (well, except for me), with the donkey train winding up, over, and down the rocky inlet.

Eventually (donkeys move really slow when they're of a mind, and apparently near-freezing rain puts them in a mind) we got to where the road that skirts the edge of the hundred acres crosses over the main part of the creek. There was so much water it had overtopped the span, and a very wide, very shallow stream now stood where I'd expected nothing but dry road base. I put on my best "Dances with Donkeys" frame of mind, however, and confidently tried to lure the donkeys across. "See, it's really shallow!" I said cheerfully, splashing about with the water up to my ankles. After much cajoling and enticing with the feed bucket, I got the three full sized donkeys and one of the minis (Sparky, by far the greediest) across the ford. I had to actually dish out some of the feed to keep them pinned to that side while I went back for the other three minis.

About that time Annie showed back up with a donkey halter, figuring we could drag them across if we had to. The photo above shows me huddled with my four brave donkeys, while the three cowards are whimpering on the far shore. Wimps! With Annie to hopefully keep the first four happy, I set off to try and lure Jack, Charity, and Molly (Jack and Sparky's mom) across as well. The temperature had kept on dropping, and it was starting to mist, so I was happy we were about to wrap this little adventure up.

Oh, how foolish are the prideful before their fall! Because as I stood there, bowl under Charity's nose, I heard some splashing behind me. Turning, I saw the four donkeys on the good side of the creek trotting back over to the three cowards. Disaster! Apparently they were bound and determined not to leave their friends behind, and while I generally applaud such noble sentiments, on this particular occasion I was about ready to make some donkey rugs out of the little angels.

Out of food and with now exactly zero donkeys on the right side of the creek, it was time to switch from Kind Humans With Lovely Food mode to Drag Your Ass (literally) Across The River mode. We got the halter on Charity, the young female, and with some pulling and shoving we managed to get her across the creek, which was really rushing through at this point. The other minis love Charity so much they willingly crossed after her, which is good because we only had one halter. Yes, seven donkeys and one halter -- math is hard when you're cold!

Unfortunately the three big donkeys, which had been willing to brave the deadly rapids for some food, were not as excited by the prospect of following Charity. They refused to cross, and frustratingly, so did Molly. Not even the prospect of being with her two sons, Jack and Sparky, was enough to lure her towards us. I swear, mothers today! We finally decided to leave that group where they were while we led Jack and Sparky, with Charity in tow on the halter, back to the barn.

With darkness threatening and storm clouds on the horizon, we hurried back to the last four donkeys, who were milling about on the shore, trying to muster the guts to make the crossing. I had the feeling that would be a long wait, so I set off across the waters. After some wrangling and maneuvering (Molly isn't as halter broken as Charity and the boys), we managed to get her hooked up. All of them were shivering uncontrollably, and I was really glad we were finally going to get them into shelter. I think of donkeys as extremely self-reliant, and they are, but they originally come from Sicily and they don't like the cold weather any more than I do.

Fortunately Jill, Julie, and Cody like Molly more than they like Charity so they willingly followed us across the creek and back towards the barn. I'm not sure how Charity feels about this, it's much like the Britney Spears / Paris Hilton feud ... Trust me, this analogy works, everyone involved really is an ass, after all, just like our herd.

We finally got back to the barn, where warm hay and non-flowing water were waiting. All the donkeys were shivering, so Annie brought out some towels and we rubbed them dry. We'd just gotten the new run-in barn finished the week before, which turned out to be very, very fortunate. As a result they were able to spend the next five days sheltered and safe from freezing rain and rushing torrents, unlike last winter when we had to bring them hay in the lee of some cedar trees.

Taking care of animals in the winter, we'd learned, was a lot harder than the rest of the year. I don't know how people in Montana or Wyoming do it, where temperatures get down into the negative teens. That's just unreal to me. We feel very happy that the new run-in shed and the closed-in main barn were ready for the first big storm, and that our animals made it through no worse for wear.

I do hope, though, that none of them deliberately get their hoochie photographed -- the Britney Spears parallels have to stop at some point!


Friday, January 19, 2007

Religious Moderates and Reason

I apologize for the lack of posting. The bad winter weather here -- or "The Big Chill: Ice Storm 2007 (dunh dunh DUNH!) Extreme Weather Extreme Graphics and Music i.e. DANGER DANGER DANGER!!" would have you call it -- has cut us off from the Internet for the last four days or so. I finally was able to drive in to work yesterday for the first time to get online.

Andrew Sullivan

Sam Harris
I have a lot to catch up on, and will hopefully be making several posts tonight and tomorrow, but for now I'll just point you to this interesting "blogologue" between Andrew Sullivan (a Catholic conservative, Time Magazine blogger, and author of "The Conservative Soul") and Sam Harris (atheist and author of "The End of Faith") about religious moderates and their relationship with reason. It touches on many of the same subjects as the religion/atheism posts I've made here.

A lot of the talk about religion and science or reason focuses on the extremes, the religious fundamentalists who fly planes into buildings or the Jerry Falwells who call down tornadoes on cities who accept that evolution is the best explanation for how life arose on Earth. This blogologue, though, is discussing the religious middle, those who, like Andrew Sullivan, believe that religion and reason are entirely compatible and there is never any need for religion and science or reason to conflict, who draw a distinction between fundamentalists and what Sullivan calls the faith of doubt.

You can find the still-ongoing discussion here, I hope you enjoy it.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What Country is Your State?

From Pharyngula, a gentleman overseas has labeled each US state with a country that has an equivalent GNP. Pretty interesting stuff, particularly that Texas equates to Canada. I'm fairly sure we have them on cow pie production, though. Take that, Canucks!

(click for a larger image)


Iced In

When the temperature in Central Texas drops below forty, the whole state pretty much shuts down. Readers in the midwest and northeast will find the thought of a bunch of boot-wearin' cowboys hunkering down in fear over a little cold snap amusing, but it's serious business in these parts where we don't have snow tires, adequate cold weather clothing, or any idea whatsoever about how to drive on ice. You might as well put a bunch of steers on skates, you'll get the same results as Texans on icy roads and at least you'll fertilize your rink. We got a "blast of Arctic Air", as the incredibly excited weatherman says -- it's never just a front, it's always a "blast" -- on Sunday night, and the temperature got into the mid twenties along with freezing rain.

Unfortunately there's even worse weather coming on Tuesday, so we braved the elements to bring the donkeys and horses in this morning. Getting the donkeys into the barn is a story in itself (coming soon, especially if, as I expect, it'll be too icy to get to work tomorrow like it was today). But while we were out and about I took a few photos and thought I'd share them with you here.


Friday, January 12, 2007

If Laughter Is the Best Medicine ...

If laughter is the best medicine, this guy's the greatest doctor in the world. This is just pure silliness, but I ended up with tears in my eyes laughing along with the extremely bizarre noises coming from this unwitting comedy show participant. A good way to start the weekend!


She Make It So

A friend of mine (Jeff the Evil DM) just posted this video featuring an old gaming friend of his and their band, Warp 11. The name of the song is "She Make It So", and coming from a family where my brothers could point at the exact spot on the screen where the USS Enterprise would appear in the opening credits, this really hits the spot.

I don't usually like rockin' type music like this, but I actually like the song itself, in addition to the obviously cool Star Trek stuff. Thanks for the tip, Jeff!


Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Hawks Are Alive!

Photo: © 2004-2005 Patricia Velte

During our drive back and forth between Austin and Baton Rouge for Christmas, Annie and I saw an unprecedented number of hawks along the highway, perched high on billboards, trees, and telephone poles, keenly alert for prey. We counted something like 14 on the way to Baton Rouge before the light was gone, which we thought was pretty amazing. Annie has a real eye for them, spotting them amid dense stands of wood as well as on far off fence posts, even while she was driving. (I prefer to believe she simply has a sixth sense about them, rather than that she wasn't watching the road. We each have our illusions that get us sanely through the day.)

On the way back, we counted an astounding (to us, anyway) 42 separate hawks! Apparently we were in the middle of their annual winter migration, a little later than usual. I wrote to the Texas Ornithological Society in Houston to see what species of hawk they might be (from photos, I thought maybe they were Cooper's Hawks), but President David Sarkozi said from my description they definitely sounded like Red-Tailed Hawks:

Most of your hawks were likely Red-tailed Hawks. The eastern form
expected on that drive is very light colored. Cooper's are forest
birds and don't spend a lot of time in the open, while Red-tailed
hunt from perches. There is an old adage in Texas birding, all
roadside hawks are red-tailed hawks until proven otherwise.

They're certainly beautiful, majestic, impressive birds. The white plumage on their chests really catches your eye when they're perched, and I can see how if you were on the ground looking up, that would blend right into the cloud cover. Were they there every year, but I never noticed them? Had we not moved out into the country, would we still have been in the right frame of mind to pay attention? I wonder how many other marvelous creatures are in our field of view every day, unnoticed and unremarked, there for us to gaze at, rapt, had we only the courage to look.


Our Coming War With Iran

Part of the President's speech last night has added to my growing worry that he is planning a regional escalation of the Iraq War into Iran:

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

A number of people questioned the appointment of Admiral William J. Fallonto as commander of CENTCOM (the military authority responsible for that part of the world) a couple of weeks ago -- why put a Navy guy in charge of a theater where two separate land wars are already going on? -- but it's starting to make more sense. If we're going to "interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria", it's difficult to see how we're going to do that without going into Iran and Syria. With limited ground forces, a naval and air bombardment of select targets makes the most sense, and for that, you need a Navy guy. Of course, it may simply be that he was the highest ranking officer with relevant experience who was not on record as being against Bush's escalation policy, and there are no Iranian implications.

Another possibility is that Israel is planning direct military action against Iran, and we're positioning our troops to block the Strait of Hormuz in support. That too would make sense of the Admiral's appointment, and has the added "benefit" of keeping our hands clean.

As I've said before, I really, really hope I'm just being paranoid, but it's starting to look increasingly likely that some sort of military action against Iran is inevitable in this President's mind.

Edited to Add: As usual, Glenn Greenwald is way ahead of me on this one. If you don't read Glenn's column, you should -- he's as ferocious a defender of the Constitution as I've ever seen, plus he's lucid and insightful, if sometimes (don't get mad!) a little long winded, something I surely could never be accused of ... dang, how long is this postscript anyway?

Edited again to add: Apparently, I was too late -- we've already (arguably) commited an act of war against Iran, by assaulting the Iranian consulate in the Kurd-controlled area of Iraq.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

Today, January 10, 2007, is the one year anniversary of the first post I made to this blog. Being a male, sticking with anything for an entire year is fairly impressive, so I am going to take the day to bask in the warm glow of my own accomplishment. As my brother-in-law said, the most common Hebert family position is arm akimbo, patting oneself on the back, saying "Damn, I sure am a good person!". So get ready, this is one long patting-myself-on-the-back post. Because damn, I sure am a good person!

Looking back over the archives and the year that's passed, I'm very happy with the decision to start this blog. I've written more words in this past year than I did in the decade before it, and I've rediscovered my love for the art form (can you call writing about peeing "art"?). That was my main, number one goal, to write something every day (or close to it anyway), to see if I still loved it as much as I remembered from the past.

I've never kept a journal of any sort before, and I'm surprised at how much it can deepen your understanding of and appreciation for the everyday events that happen to you. I'm more aware now, I take more notice of the people and things around me. That's been a nice bonus.

I think the blog was funnier when it first started. I suspect in part that's because I had a ready treasure trove of good stories saved up from the past ten years (like Mo75), which I could whip out when I didn't have anything new. After the first six months or so I'd used those all up, slowing the posting pace.

Then, of course, I decided to start talking about religion and politics. I think that was a good decision from a personal standpoint ... Being more real is a good thing, over all, and one of my psychowhatever problems has long been avoidance. So from that perspective, I'm glad I did it. However, I do think there was a price to pay in terms of how funny and relevant to the topic of "A Nerd Living in the Country" the blog is, and that after all is what made me start the whole thing. I'm not quite sure what to do about that. I'll probably try to increase the ratio of fun to serious posts, but not abandon the deeper subjects completely.

I think the most honest post I've made so far was in talking about my dad's death. That's probably the best "real" writing I've done so far, and it still makes me think when I read it.

In terms of humor, my favorite posts are the aforementioned "Mo75", and the more recent "Turkey Pickling" episode. If it still makes me laugh reading it, months later, then I feel pretty good about it.

However, I still think the best, most creative piece I've written so far is the "Oatmeal Festival" travelogue. My favorite bit from that whole slideshow is "No, really. They dive-bombed us with oatmeal. I am not making this up." I'm laughing right now, re-reading it -- how's THAT for hubris!

I thank all of you who have been so supportive over the past year, reading and commenting on this blog. My family, especially my brother Johnny and sister Denise, have been unstinting in their support, and I really appreciate that. My cousin Jill and my Aunt Sharon have also been frequent visitors -- thank you both.

And of course there's Annie, my amazing wife who has taught me more about living, making your dreams a reality, and engaging in the world around you with your whole heart than anyone I've ever known before. I love you, Annie, thank you for believing in me. I don't think either HeroMachine or this blog would have ever happened without you.

Finally, thanks to everyone who's come by to visit, from those whom I've never met like Rob in Indiana to Allen to that hawk guy from Croatia, through to my nephews, nieces, and other brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and in-laws. I appreciate your support, and hope you've had fun reading this Nerd's Country Journal throughout the last twelve months.

I look forward to keeping up the pace of the postings in 2007, and hopefully finding more humor and relevance in every day. Thanks for visiting, and I hope to be engaging enough to keep you around for a while longer.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Words to Pee By

What follows is a direct data-feed of the mind of Jeff from earlier this evening.

I can't believe I'm going to have to stop at Diamond Shamrock to pee. What am I, a woman with a bladder the size of a grape? Real men can hold it for days! Crap, guess I'm not a real man, then, because I'm pulling into the parking space. "Thanks, man," nice of that guy to hold the door for me ... hey wait, a guy shouldn't hold the door for me, that really makes me a woman ... If I didn't have to pee like a polar bear I'd have gone the other way, no time for that, restroom dead ahead, bang open the door, snap the lock, lift the lid, and aaaaaaaaahhhhhh, relief!

Say, that's strange, it sure smells nice in here. Kinda flowery. That's nice. And why does that sign say, "Please do not flush feminine products"? How stupid to put that up in the men's room! Why in the world would a man bring feminine products into the bathroom? Maybe it's some really pushover husband, or maybe it's for dads changing diapers or something ... what a bunch of idiots running this place. Ah well, dew's off the lily pad, time to head on out ...

Snap the lock open, bang through the door, look right, towards the other restroom with the "Men" sign on it ... oh crap. Look at the door I came out of, with the "Women" sign on it ... double crap.

Women, handicapped, and me?
Slink out the door, make no eye contact, back into the truck and off to home, red-faced, completely unsure now, maybe I am a woman ... and do I have to pee again?! Jeezum Pete, maybe I went in the right door after all ...


Monday, January 08, 2007


For some reason, it appears that every blogger feels the need to make posts about their musical preferences. I suspect it's because an awful lot of bloggers grew up reading "Rolling Stone", and now they fancy themselves musicographers. I mean, what the hell, once you're writing day after day of crap on subjects you're only peripherally knowledgeable about anyway, why not throw some musical stylings onto the steaming mess, right?

You will not find those kinds of posts on this blog, because I stopped listening to any new music released after 1978. And I listened to no music in my 9 years of life prior to 1978, either, so I'm pretty much out in the cold on this one.

Oh, I have an iPod, and I like listening to music (and sometimes singing along), but I don't have lists of "The ten most awesomest rock and roll drummers of all time", or detailed treatises ready to trip off my tongue about the sublime ecstasy of the ninth Rush album (did they even have nine albums? How the hell would I know?).

I suspect this is some kind of deep, moral failing, that there's a hole in my soul shaped like a clef that echoes with musical longing. Some people have lyrical hearts and can appreciate the amazing talent cascading out of their musical replay devices with soaring words and deep thoughts. Me, I just like what I like, and tend not to think too much about it, despite having a number of very talented relatives (Adam and Chris and Anna, I'm lookin' at you).

My other theory is that my brother Johnny and my sister Denise stole all the musical talent in the family, so by the time Child Number Seven rolled down the pike (that's me) (and I think referring to my mother's agony of childbirth as "rolling down the pike" is at least a venal sin) there just wasn't so much as a squeaky "C" note left for me. I like this theory, as it enables me to blame my family, which is always satisfying.

Another possibility is that I am very wrong about the existence of the Christian God, and He is smiting me for my blasphemy as a young boy. You see, I was standing in church, singing along to one of the hymns next to my brother Jimmy, who is one of the saintliest, nicest, most giving people in the world. He's really, really great, but let's just say that calling him "Tone deaf" is like claiming Helen Keller was "Visually Challenged". As I said, I was standing right next to him during the song while he was singing, and it just hit me like a Mack truck on the highway of life -- this was, arguably, the very worst rendition of a song I had ever heard. Anywhere. Granted I was only like twelve at the time, but when you're in the presence of an event of cosmic significance, you notice, no matter what your age.

So I did what any twelve year old boy would do -- I started laughing.

Apparently Rush DOES have a Ninth Album
You know what it's like, that uncontrollable urge to giggle in a completely inappropriate place. Maybe it was during a funeral, or at your wedding, but I bet it's happened at least once in church. I tried to stop it, honestly I did, but that only made it worse. I held one hand over my mouth and looked away, recited multiplication tables, pinched my leg, bit my lip, but it was like standing in front of a tsunami with a spaghetti strainer. I cracked up, the muffled guffaws ripping through my tightly clenched jaws and rendering a sound somewhere between an elephant seal's mating bellow and the excited squeals of a hunting weasel. (If you've never had the pleasure of hunting weasels, let me just tell you, it's quite the auditory extravaganza.)

He glanced over at me, and (exhibiting once again his almost Christ-like forbearance) simply said, "God gave me a croaker, I'm gonna croak!"

I might have zero musical ability, and my brother might be into negative numbers at this point, but he nailed the number one reason people make music and he exults in it -- to express joy, sorrow, hopes, dreams, all of the things that make life worth living.

Hmmm, maybe that's why bloggers write musical posts, come to think of it ...

Nah, they're definitely "Rolling Stone" wannabes. Now if I can just figure out a way to blame one of my other family members for that phenomenon too, I'll be in good shape.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Canyon Finale

OK, I think we're about ready to wrap up this Grand Canyon kerfluffle once and for all. The short version is, the PEER press release is completely misleading about the "gag order", as I covered before. Science magazine apparently will have a write up of all this in a couple of weeks, and the National Parks Traveler site has a great summary as well.

To sum up:

  1. The National Park Service provides in the gift shop at the Grand Canyon a book that espouses the Creationist view of the Canyon's formation, namely that the Earth is only 6,000 years old or so.
  2. After complaints from its own as well as outside scientists, the book was moved from the general science section to the "Inspirational" section, along with some Native American stories about how they believe the Canyon was formed.
  3. PEER issued a press release that pretty much baldly states that the NPS' official position when asked about the age of Grand Canyon was for Park Rangers to say "no comment". It has now been determined that this accusation is completely untrue.
  4. My conclusion is that PEER wrote a deliberately misleading, inflammatory press release to generate political heat which pretty much took me in, at least for a couple of days.

I'll have some closing thoughts at the end, but the final piece to the puzzle I want to pass along is the press release from the National Park Service itself, which they've granted permission to be distributed:

Recently there have been several media and internet reports concerning the National Park Service’s interpretation of the formation of the Grand Canyon.

The National Park Service uses the latest National Academy of Sciences explanation for the geologic formation of the Grand Canyon. Our guidance to the field is contained in NPS Director’s Order # 6 and requires that the interpretive and educational treatment used to explain the natural processes and history of the Earth must be based on the best scientific evidence available, as found in scholarly sources that have stood the test of scientific peer review and criticism.

Therefore, our interpretive talks, way-side exhibits, visitor center films, etc use the following explanation for the age of the geologic features at Grand Canyon. If asked the age of the Grand Canyon, our rangers use the following answer.

The principal consensus among geologists is that the Colorado River basin has developed in the past 40 million years and that the Grand Canyon itself is probably less than five to six million years old. The result of all this erosion is one of the most complete geologic columns on the planet.

The major geologic exposures in Grand Canyon range in age from the 1.7 billion year old Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the Inner Gorge to the 270 million year old Kaibab Limestone on the Rim.

So, why are there news reports that differ from this explanation? Since 2003 the park bookstore has been selling a book that gives a creationism view of the formation of the Grand Canyon, claiming that the canyon is less than six thousand years old. This book is sold in the inspirational section of the bookstore. In this section there are
photographic texts, poetry books, and Native American books (that also give an alternate view of the canyon’s origin).

The park’s bookstore contains scores of text that give the NPS geologic view of the formation of the canyon.

We do not use the “creationism” text in our teaching nor do we endorse its content. However, it is not our place to censure alternate beliefs. Much like your local public library, you will find many alternate beliefs, but not all of these beliefs are used in the school classroom.

It is not our place to tell people what to believe. We recognize that alternate views exist, but we teach the scientific method for the formation of the Grand Canyon.

I hope this explanation helps.

David Barna
Chief of Public Affairs
National Park Service
Washington, DC

Registered Professional Geologist (AIPG #6528)
Licensed Geologist (North Carolina # 129)

My personal preference is that the Park Service sell no book on site claiming an origin for the Canyon that we know scientifically to be untrue. That's bad for science education in general. Furthermore, if they're going to allow in some religious texts, they're going to have to allow in all religious texts that petition for inclusion, and that's going to get unwieldy real, real fast. What if the Pastafarians want to include a book about how the Grand Canyon was formed by the Flying Spaghetti Monster's noodly appendage?

Having said that, if the books are put in a section that's clearly separate from the scientific stuff, and if the NPS employees are instructed to give out the scientifically accurate information during tours and such, I'm not nearly as pissed off as I was when I read the first PEER press release. Well, wait, that's not true -- I am just as pissed off as I was, only now I'm pissed at PEER. Their poorly written, misleading, deliberately inflammatory piece of propaganda put me in a bad spot and took focus away from the real issues. They hurt the efforts of people who are trying to uphold good science education, and that really irritates me.

This will be the last post from me on this subject, since I don't think there's anything left to say at this point. I've learned a lot from this episode, particularly about the need to keep your skeptical senses carefully honed at all times, especially when it comes to information that seems to support your pre-existing prejudices.


Pope John Paul II and the Iraq War

I don't understand why American Catholic Republicans are willing to excommunicate repudiate the likes of John Kerry for his stance on abortion, but not George Bush for his stance on the Iraq War. I understand the opposition to politicians who support abortion by American Catholic Republicans -- the Pope has said abortion is murder and that's pretty much the end of it. But by that exact same reasoning, American Catholics should reject George W. Bush and the prosecution of the Iraq War.

This article from the Houston Catholic Worker makes it pretty clear that Pope John Paul II opposed the Iraq War and considered it a grave sin, in no way a "just war" under Catholic doctrine:

In the weeks and months before the U.S. attacked Iraq, not only the Holy Father, but also one Cardinal and Archbishop after another at the Vatican spoke out against a "preemptive" or "preventive" strike. They declared that the just war theory could not justify such a war. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said that such a "war of aggression" is a crime against peace. Archbishop Renato Martino, who used the same words in calling the possible military intervention a "crime against peace that cries out vengeance before God," also criticized the pressure that the most powerful nations exerted on the less powerful ones on the U.N. Security Council to support the war. The Pope spoke out almost every day against war and in support of diplomatic efforts for peace.

John Paul II sent his personal representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, a friend of the Bush family, to remonstrate with the U.S. President before the war began. Pio Laghi said such a war would be illegal and unjust. The message was clear: God is not on your side if you invade Iraq.

When I hear Catholics defending this President, I have to shake my head in disbelief. The teachings of the Church and of Christ are pretty clear on this point, and I don't understand why a Democrat who supports the right to an abortion should be reviled and opposed, but when it comes to a Republican who wages an unjust war responsible for the deaths of literally tens of thousands of people he gets full-throated, unstinting, uncritical support. It's completely inconsistent and it baffles me.

Update: Post edited to replace the word "excommunicate" in the first paragraph with "repudiate" -- as Allen pointed out in the comments, excommunicate has a very specific meaning that does not apply to a non-Catholic, I apologize for the poor initial word choice.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bob Tilton and the Farting Preacher Videos

Sometime in the mid to late 80's, my sister Donna and I used to sit up late at night watching this televangelist, Robert Tilton, come on TV. He was quite a performer, squinting and jumping and shouting, and the things he said -- oh my. We'd laugh so hard my parents would come out of their bedroom to see what in the hell was going on, thinking we were watching Saturday Night Live or David Letterman or possibly doing drugs -- that's the level of unintentional hilarity we're talking about here.

My favorite was when he'd stop his exhortation (I can't really call them sermons) right in the middle and squint up his eyes, holding up his hand and saying "I know Lord, I know, I'm tellin' 'em right now." Then he'd open his eyes, stare earnestly into the camera and say "That was the Lord Jesus Christ talkin' to me just now," as if he'd gotten Divine Call Waiting or something. We also loved it when he'd break into Tongues right in the middle of the telecast.

Jim Carey should've been taking notes, Tilton was that much of a comedic genius. The fact that he was absolutely serious about the whole thing just made it even funnier.

Some years later, while in college, I came into possession of a video tape of Tilton's greatest moments, all dubbed in with farting noises at opportune moments. I thought I would wet myself, I laughed so hard watching them. I'm talking full on, milk-spurting-out-your-nose, fall out of your chair hilarity. It was, no lie, the funniest thing I had ever seen at that point in my life, and mind you, I'd seen myself naked before.

I naturally loaned the tape to Donna in honor of our shared joy watching Tilton years before, and somewhere along the line the tapes were lost. I was heartbroken. But now, thanks to the wonder of the Internet and the glory of YouTube, I have found the videos once more and can share them with you here.

Without further ado, I bring you Robert Tilton, aka "The Farting Preacher". Even without the farting, you can see why we found him so funny. But, as usual, it's better with the farting. It's always better with the farting.



We added a new foster dog yesterday, Mombo (seen here in all his furry glory). He's a bit older than we thought when Annie pulled him from the shelter, and he's very shy. He got sick while in the shelter for a long while, and had to be in isolation which I am sure is no fun at all. We've got him in the house now and he seems pretty comfy. The other dogs have sniffed him up and down and haven't found anything to worry about, which is always a good sign.

It takes a few days or weeks to get a sense of the personality of each dog, but so far Mombo is pretty laid back. Hopefully as he gets more and more comfortable he'll start to open up to us a bit and we can find a good match for him. I sometimes feel like I'm back in my College Admissions Counselor days, trying to find just the right school for just the right kid.

Only, as far as I can tell Mombo's already a lot smarter than some of the high schoolers I interviewed, like the one who asked if Trinity had "a comso ... cosmata ... hair-fixin' school". Yeesh.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Jefferson's Bible

In the fake "backstory" accompanying one of my favorite books of all time, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Goldman fondly remembers an action-packed, swashbuckling book that his father read to him while he was sick as a boy. When his own son becomes ill, Goldman supposedly finds the book and gives it to his son, who is curiously apathetic about it. When pressed, the son replies that the book is long, boring, and pointless. "The Princess Bride is boring and pointless?!" exclaims Goldman, snatching it up. And he realized that his father, upon reading the book to him so long ago, cut out all the boring bits of trivia and history that cluttered the manuscript, leaving just "the good parts".

Goldman decides to "revise" The Princess Bride to include only the "good parts" of the tale, and that is the novel (and later, movie) that I grew to love.

It turns out that some 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson did much the same thing with The New Testament of the Holy Bible.

Jefferson believed that Christ was a great moral teacher, whose wisdom had been corrupted and coopted by the Christian Church over the course of the 1800 years since His birth. He considered the modern church of his time an abomination and a blasphemy, bearing little to no resemblance to the teachings of its founder. And so he set out to strip the New Testament of all claims of supernaturalism or priestly interference, attempting to reconstruct a Bible containing only the actual words and deeds of Christ himself.

He refused to publish it in his lifetime, perhaps from a fear of scandal and perhaps from a sincere conviction that religion is a private matter. Probably, being only human, it was a little bit of both. In any event, after his death the "Jefferson Bible" was bequeathed to his son and eventually published.

It's an interesting read, particularly having grown up with the full-fledged Catholic Bible. From its home page on the web (where you can read Jefferson's attempt in full), here's a bit more on the idea, from a letter Jefferson wrote to a correspondant:

To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed, but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other.

Compared to Jefferson, my own attempts at trying to figure out what to accept of Christ's teachings and what to reject (discussed in an earlier post, here) are laughably inept. Agree or disagree with him, Jefferson was one hell of an intellect.


Et Tu, Nick?

I think it's fair to say that in the Deep South, where I grew up, football is more than just a sport. It's family, friendship, loyalty, roots, passion, religion, money, society, pride, and much, much more. Season tickets in some places are passed on in wills. My brother-in-law, as die-hard a Louisiana State University fan as you'll find anywhere, used to stop the car in Alabama so his kids could go to the bathroom there on their way back to Virginia. "If you're gonna leave it anywhere," he'd say, "leave it on the Crimson Tide." And this is a college educated lawyer we're talking about here. Suffice it to say, lots of people in Louisiana bleed purple and gold, LSU's colors.

Like I said, football is serious business. And in that family business, at least in Louisiana, there is no more revered a figure than Nick Saban. Coach Saban took the LSU Tigers to a national championship after years of disappointment under previous leadership. He restored the program to national prominence and brought pride to a city and school sorely in need of it.

When Saban was deciding whether or not to take the NFL's Miami Dolphins head coaching job two years ago, my family were on tenterhooks. It was Christmas time, but my brother hung on the radio and TV every moment, waiting to hear the decision. When it was announced that Coach was leaving, it felt like a member of the family was disowning his kin. Still, everyone wished him well, sincerely thanked him for the championship he'd done, and sent him on his way with fondness and love.

Until today, I suspect, because Nick Saban just announced he's leaving the Miami Dolphins to take the head coaching job at the University of Alabama, one of LSU's storied and most hated rivals.

I know it's just a business to the guys who are in the business, but damn, that smarts for those to whom it's so, so much more.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Grand Canyon Ungagged!

As promised, here's the update from PEER on the Grand Canyon Creationist Gag Order Controversy I previously posted about, here and here.

The short answer is, PEER does not claim that a "gag order" has been issued to Park Service employees. Here's the full email response I received from PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, which he kindly granted me permission to reprint in its entirety:


This option is the closest--
Are you simply saying that the NPS hasn't offered an official guideline to its employees as to how they are to answer that question, and not that the official position is to answer "no comment"?

1. Reports from Grand Canyon NP interpretive staff, some of whom have been seeking clarification from their chain-of-command relative to questions about the validity of "young earth claims." The more than three-year hold-up in blocking official guidance on this question is part of this concern.

2. Statements by NPS HQ officials that the creationist view should be given equal time in park materials.

3. The reply from the Grand Canyon superintendent's office to media inquiries on the official park view on the age of the Canyon.

We did not mean to imply that geological information has been deleted from park materials.

Jeff Ruch
Executive Director
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
2000 P Street, NW; Suite 240
Washington, D.C. 20036
(v) (202) 265-7337
Fax (202) 265-4192

So there you have it. I want to reiterate that the fundamental issue of a creationist book being sold in a government run national park store is still one that I find completely unacceptable, and the Park Service has been aware of the issue for three years now. They said they would review the policy, and have not, despite written objections from their own scientific advisers, the administrator of the Grand Canyon itself, and outside agencies.

However, it is not true that the Park Service has instructed any employee to say "no comment" when asked about the age of the Grand Canyon, which is very good news indeed.

Thanks to my brother Johnny and my sister Denise for pointing out that, in the words of the inimitable Inigo Montoya, "I do not think this means what you think it means."

I'll forward this on to Phil from "The Bad Astronomer" (a site I like very much), which was my original source for the report. I apologize to my fives of readers for failing to parse the original press release critically enough; it should have instantly set off my "Skeptic's Antennae". I let previous incidents of interference with sound science from Executive Branch appointees influence my assessment of this particular case, and that's usually a bad idea. Mea culpa.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Bad News from Iraq

My nephew's friend, Dillon Cannon, was shot by a sniper in Iraq on December 30. The latest news is that he made it through surgery alive, but that he will be paralyzed from the waist down, probably for the rest of his life.

Dillon is just 20 years old.

His mom, Patti, has long been one of my sister's best friends in Houston, a kind and wonderful woman. She lost her husband just last year, and now she has to deal with this horrible event with her young son. If you're of a religious bent, please pray for Dillon and his family. If you're not, then send some positive thoughts out there for the men and women who will be helping them cope with his loss, and who helped keep him alive after the shooting.

December 31 marked the sad occasion of the 3,000th American soldier lost in Iraq, along with untold thousands of Iraqi civilians. The casualties -- those living through the violence with wounds ranging from minor to severe, like Dillon -- are much much higher.

I think it's easy, when you're just writing on a blog or in a newspaper, or chatting around the water cooler, to lose sight of the fact that policies have consequences. Politics is more than just flapping your gums at each other, what you choose to either do or not do has real life repercussions on people all over the world, from Baghdad to Washington to Richmond, Texas.

The next time you hear a report on the news about some poor man or woman injured in Iraq, regardless of which side of the political fence you sit on, please take a moment to remember that the report is about a real person, with family and friends who love them. Make sure that whichever position on the war you support, you understand the cost young men and women are paying every day to serve in the armed forces, and honor them whenever you get the chance.

Annie and I will be keeping Dillon in our thoughts, and we're both thankful he made it through alive. We've been lucky, our cousin Mario got through his tour of duty in Afghanistan with no serious injuries, but sadly a lot of folks are not so fortunate.

It seems pitifully, painfully inadequate, but thank you for serving your country, Dillon, and I am so sorry for what you've had to go through. I hope once you get back we're able to somehow help repay you for your sacrifice.


More on the Grand Canyon

At the prompting of my reporter sister and geologist brother, my skeptical antennae finally started quivering over the PEER-reported Grand Canyon story from two posts ago. My sister has an e-mail in to the Grand Canyon park itself asking if they've been told to say "no comment" when asked about the Canyon's age, and I just sent a letter to the PEER contact (reproduced below).

The more I think about it and the more times I re-read the press release, I don't think it says what it looks like it says in regards to the supposed "gag order". The rest of it's true from what I have been able to find out -- the book is for sale, has been for a long time, the park administrator rejected it initially and was overruled by someone up the food chain, and the PR director has not in fact requested any sort of review in the three years since.

However, the most egregious and offensive aspect of the release, the idea that park rangers were being forbidden to talk about the age of the Canyon, doesn't seem to be actually stated in the press release itself. It's easy to come away with that impression, but a more careful reading doesn't really support it. We'll see what PEER has to say about it, assuming they reply at all. Here's the e-mail I just sent.

Ms. Goldberg,

I read your press release of December 28, "HOW OLD IS THE GRAND CANYON? PARK SERVICE WON'T SAY" and commented on it at my blog ( The press release has received wide coverage on other blogs as well, many containing the implication that Park Service employees have been told to answer "no comment" when asked about the age of the Canyon:

From Bad Astronomy: Also, guides at the park are not allowed to answer questions about how old the canyon is, despite scientists' incredibly detailed and intricate knowledge of the formation mechanism, scheme, and history of the canyon.

From DailyKos: Is it true what Mrs. Hoover taught me in 8th grade Earth science about the formation of canyons? National Park Service: No Comment.

However, after re-reading the press release more carefully, I don't see that claim laid out explicitly anywhere. You do say:

"It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is 'no comment.'" In a letter released today, PEER urged the new Director of the National Park Service (NPS), Mary Bomar, to end the stalling tactics, remove the book from sale at the park and allow park interpretive rangers to honestly answer questions from the public about the geologic age of the Grand Canyon.

I think this is what is being read as Park Rangers being told not to give an age, but that's not what you're actually saying there, is it? My questions to you, therefore, are:

1. Is it in fact your contention that Park Service employees have been told not to give an estimate of the age of the Grand Canyon?
2. If that is your contention, what is your source for it?
3. Are you simply saying that the NPS hasn't offered an official guideline to its employees as to how they are to answer that question, and not that the official position is to answer "no comment"?

Thank you for your help clearing up this point of confusion, this is the only point I haven't been able to verify through other means.


Jeff Hebert
Bertram, TX

I pride myself on being a skeptic, and on verifying what I spout off before spouting it off, and I suspect on this one I jumped a little too quickly on that aspect of things. If so, I'll definitely fess up.