Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nukular Gamble

I like the glasses. Reminds me of my second grade teacher, Miss Wallace. What a crush we all had.

Wonder if Miss Wallace is available to be VP. I know she could cite a few supreme court rulings beside Roe v Wade. And I know she reads a couple of newspapers and a few magazines.

And I've got no problem with John McCain's gambling. I agree with this casino guy.

But come on. Share the codes with the First Dude? That's a risk I wouldn't like.

I've tried to give this wolf thing the benefit of the doubt. But it's hard to imagine that even Cheney would go that far. Sharks are predators too. But do we let anyone shoot sharks from planes? Shoot anything from planes? Maybe a few Taliban, but bears and wolves? This is starting to give me some serious creeps.

Here's what she said in a recent New Yorker profile:

At one point, she said, “We love our polar bears.” She had just got through explaining why she opposed a ban on aerial wolf shooting. In the past decade or so, Alaska’s voters have twice rejected this practice—the chasing and gunning down of wolves from small planes—and on both occasions the state reauthorized it. Now the anti-wolf-shooting crowd had forced a third referendum on the issue, and Palin, who kept a pair of wolf pelts hanging on her office wall, behind a cradle swing for Trig, was keen to see the initiative fail.

“It’s not aerial hunting,” she claimed. “What the state has been engaged in for the past four to six years—and I support—is predator control.” Shoot the wolves, she said, and moose and caribou herds will increase, providing more food for Alaskans. That was the argument: “Let the people who live off those herds not buy and import meat.” In Alaska, a state that is equivalent in size to a fifth of the continental United States and doesn’t have much agriculture, such self-reliance—hunting or fishing to feed yourself and your family—is known as subsistence, and subsistence is widely held by Alaskans to be a fundamental right. “It’s an emotional issue,” Palin said.

You can read the rest of the profile here.

Yeah, it's an emotional issue. I agree with that part.

Like a Republican speechwriter said about her, (from the Washington Post today:

"She's perky, she's spunky," says Republican speechwriter Landon Parvin, who has written for both Presidents Bush. "She has this quality -- in a 1950s comedy, her father would call her 'Button.' "


"This allows her to get away with murder," he says.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Finding a Bottom--Finding a Scapegoat

Okay, I should've put my hard-earned savings in my mattress a year ago. But I didn't. Who's to blame? Pelosi? Frank? Clinton? The usual suspects. The ideological idiots of the GOP? See here and here for that one.

Ronald Reagan? Jimmy Carter, yeah. He's always good for a gratuitous slam.

Nah. I don't blame any of them, or even the Wall Street sharks who were packaging all those bad mortgages and chopping them up into fine granules and mixing them with just enough cocaine to confuse investors. Nah.

Maybe Cavuto's got the answer:

Whoa. Is that who stole my 401K? Minorities!

Cowboy Capitalism

The end of an era.

Sailing Away on the Ark--Vote On this Pressing Issue

The LA Times reports:

Soon after Sarah Palin was elected mayor of the foothill town of Wasilla, Alaska, she startled a local music teacher by insisting in casual conversation that men and dinosaurs coexisted on an Earth created 6,000 years ago -- about 65 million years after scientists say most dinosaurs became extinct -- the teacher said.

After conducting a college band and watching Palin deliver a commencement address to a small group of home-schooled students in June 1997, Wasilla resident Philip Munger said, he asked the young mayor about her religious beliefs.

Palin told him that "dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time," Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said "she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks," recalled Munger, who teaches music at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and has regularly criticized Palin in recent years on his liberal political blog, called Progressive Alaska.

The idea of a "young Earth" -- that God created the Earth about 6,000 years ago, and dinosaurs and humans coexisted early on -- is a popular strain of creationism.

Though in her race for governor she called for faith-based "intelligent design" to be taught along with evolution in Alaska's schools, Gov. Palin has not sought to require it, state educators say.

In a widely-circulated interview, Matt Damon said of Palin, "I need to know if she really think that dinosaurs were here 4000 years ago. I want to know that, I really do. Because she's gonna have the nuclear codes."

And this from another source more friendly to the 6,000 years argument:

Six Thousand Years:
The Bible says the world is about six thousand years old. How do we arrive at that number?
The Bible provides a complete genealogy from Adam to Jesus. You can go through the genealogies and add up the years. You'll get a total that is just over 4,000 years. Add the 2,000 years since the time of Jesus and you get just over 6,000 years since God created everything.

Is there anything wrong with figuring out the age of the earth this way? No. There is nothing to indicate the genealogies are incomplete. There is nothing to indicate God left anything out. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates in any way that the world is older than 6,000 years old.

The Bible does tell us, however, that the fossils we find could not have been buried before God created Adam. The animals whose bones became fossilized had to have died after God created Adam. That means those fossils must be less than 6,000 yers old. Here's why:

How do we get fossils?

The animal has to first die. That's rather obvious. When did death enter the world? Not until Genesis chapter three when Adam and Eve disobey God. So up until that time neither people nor animals died. So, based on the Bible, there could not be any bones to create fossils until after the fall.

Here's another Biblical reason why the fossils we find could not have been buried before God created Adam:

When we examine fossils, in some of them we see evidence of sickness, disease and cancer. There is evidence of violence and of one animal eating another. So there were some problems. Not everything was good.

Yet, at the end of day six of creation: "God saw all that He made and behold. It was very good." (Genesis 1:31 NASB)

God didn't call His creation just good. He called it very good. A world with sickness, disease, cancer and violence is not good. So, the fossilized bones we now find had to have come from animals that died after God created Adam, and after the fall.


Well, I for one am thrilled that there's scientific evidence to support the theory that man has only been around for 6,000 years. Using the Bible as a science text is one of those great American ideas: everyone is entitled to their own opinion, however, loony. Apparently Palin is a member of a large group of Americans who share this belief.

"A Gallup poll last year showed almost half of Americans believe that humans did not evolve but were created by God in their present form within the last 10,000 years. Three of 10 Republican presidential candidates said in a recent debate that they did not believe in evolution.”

Teaching kids that humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time would be the final nail in the coffin of American scientific education. Just hand over your house keys to the Chinese and the Indians and go sail away on your Ark.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


In only her third nationally televised interview since she was nominated earlier this month — this one on CBS with anchor Katie Couric — Palin was asked what she meant.

“That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land — boundary that we have with — Canada. It– it’s funny that a comment like that was — kind of made to — I don’t know, you know? Reporters,” Palin said, explaining that she had been mocked.

Asked to explain why living near Russia enhances her foreign policy credentials, Palin responded: “Well, it certainly does because our — our next-door neighbors are foreign countries. They’re in the state that I am the executive of.”

Asked whether she had ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians, Palin answered: “We have trade missions back and forth. We — we do– it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is — from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to — to our state.”

And on the economy:

COURIC: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries; allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health-care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the—it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health-care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing. But one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that.

Here's why it matters:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Triple Yikes

And this is from a Conservative columnist.

September 26, 2008, 0:00 a.m.

Palin Problem
She’s out of her league.

By Kathleen Parker

If at one time women were considered heretical for swimming upstream against feminist orthodoxy, they now face condemnation for swimming downstream — away from Sarah Palin.

To express reservations about her qualifications to be vice president — and possibly president — is to risk being labeled anti-woman.

Or, as I am guilty of charging her early critics, supporting only a certain kind of woman.

Some of the passionately feminist critics of Palin who attacked her personally deserved some of the backlash they received. But circumstances have changed since Palin was introduced as just a hockey mom with lipstick — what a difference a financial crisis makes — and a more complicated picture has emerged.

As we’ve seen and heard more from John McCain’s running mate, it is increasingly clear that Palin is a problem. Quick study or not, she doesn’t know enough about economics and foreign policy to make Americans comfortable with a President Palin should conditions warrant her promotion.

Yes, she recently met and turned several heads of state as the United Nations General Assembly convened in New York. She was gracious, charming and disarming. Men swooned. Pakistan’s president wanted to hug her. (Perhaps Osama bin Laden is dying to meet her?)

And, yes, she has common sense, something we value. And she’s had executive experience as a mayor and a governor, though of relatively small constituencies (about 6,000 and 680,000, respectively).

Finally, Palin’s narrative is fun, inspiring and all-American in that frontier way we seem to admire. When Palin first emerged as John McCain’s running mate, I confess I was delighted. She was the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood — a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother.

Palin didn’t make a mess cracking the glass ceiling. She simply glided through it.

It was fun while it lasted.

Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I’ve been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I’ve also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.

Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood. Cut the verbiage and there’s not much content there. Here’s but one example of many from her interview with Hannity: “Well, there is a danger in allowing some obsessive partisanship to get into the issue that we’re talking about today. And that’s something that John McCain, too, his track record, proving that he can work both sides of the aisle, he can surpass the partisanship that must be surpassed to deal with an issue like this.”

When Couric pointed to polls showing that the financial crisis had boosted Obama’s numbers, Palin blustered wordily: “I’m not looking at poll numbers. What I think Americans at the end of the day are going to be able to go back and look at track records and see who’s more apt to be talking about solutions and wishing for and hoping for solutions for some opportunity to change, and who’s actually done it?”

If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.

If Palin were a man, we’d all be guffawing, just as we do every time Joe Biden tickles the back of his throat with his toes. But because she’s a woman — and the first ever on a Republican presidential ticket — we are reluctant to say what is painfully true.

What to do?

McCain can’t repudiate his choice for running mate. He not only risks the wrath of the GOP’s unforgiving base, but he invites others to second-guess his executive decision-making ability. Barack Obama faces the same problem with Biden.

Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

Do it for your country.

— Kathleen Parker is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Double Yikes

..... confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....

* If you grow up in Hawaii , raised by your grandparents, you're "exotic, different."
* Grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers, a quintessential American story.
* If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
* Name your kids Willow , Trig and Track, you're a maverick.
* Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.
* Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.
* If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district
with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and
Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.
* If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as
the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.
* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters,
all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.
* If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the
heiress the next month, you're a Christian.
* If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.
* If , while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant , you're very responsible.
* If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America 's.
* If you're husband is nicknamed "First Dude", with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated
the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blast Off

Okay, so I know everyone's looking at their 401K, but come on. Shouldn't someone be watching this...


Thursday, September 18, 2008

James Crumley, RIP

My buddy James Crumley died yesterday. A wonderful writer, a great friend, and one-of-a-kind character who made Hunter Thompson seem tame and puritanical. Big hearted man whose The Last Good Kiss is one of the great novels of the 20th century.

We drank some booze together for a year in El Paso. We lost a mattress off the top of our car on some dark back road. (I'll not even try to explain how that happened.) We took a piss in a latrine that ran under the bar at the Kentucky Club in Juarez--that latrine ran out into the street. That urinal/latrine was to spare the drinkers at the bar from walking to the men's room.

We once carried all of Les Standiford's earthly possessions to a new house (or some place), and Jim dropped Les' refrigerator, which because it was Jim and because there were drugs and booze involved struck us all as hilarious and we laughed for half an hour about this poor broken appliance. Then later in the afternoon he dropped a huge box that split open and it was full of ties. Ties! And Crumley yelled, "That fucking Standiford, he has us moving his life collection of ties!" That's when we all decided that Les could move the rest of his stuff.

He was a great funny guy. A man of immense talent and boiling over with passion. He was also one of the best read people I've ever met. He was 68.

It's a sad sad day.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Here's a cool video that has nothing to do with books or politics or global warming or No Child Left Behind or evolution. On the other hand, maybe it does:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thank God for Good Teachers

It's one of the saddest and most discouraging things about America in the twenty-first century, that we're still having a debate over the "theory" of evolution versus the Bible's creation story.

I remember clearly back in the 1950's when my Presbyterian minster told the congregation that science and religion didn't have to conflict. It was possible to believe in God and still believe in science. Yet here we are, fifty years later, and there are those who still think that it's either/or. Partisanship gone crazy.

The terrible result is that a generation of kids is led to believe that Evolution is an unproven theory, and therefore subject to dispute. It's not. It is the cornerstone of modern biology.

The story below is about one man's fight against ignorance in the state of Florida. As a teacher myself, I'm awestruck by his commitment, smarts, and good humor in the face of such backward thinking.

Here's one, for instance.

And this for equal time.

The New York Times

August 24, 2008 Sunday

A Teacher on the Front Line As Faith and Science Clash


SECTION: Section A; Column 0; National Desk; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 3685 words


David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote ''Evolution'' in the rectangle of light on the screen.

He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.

''If I do this wrong,'' Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, ''I'll lose him.''

In February, the Florida Department of Education modified its standards to explicitly require, for the first time, the state's public schools to teach evolution, calling it ''the organizing principle of life science.'' Spurred in part by legal rulings against school districts seeking to favor religious versions of natural history, over a dozen other states have also given more emphasis in recent years to what has long been the scientific consensus: that all of the diverse life forms on Earth descended from a common ancestor, through a process of mutation and natural selection, over billions of years.

But in a nation where evangelical Protestantism and other religious traditions stress a literal reading of the biblical description of God's individually creating each species, students often arrive at school fearing that evolution, and perhaps science itself, is hostile to their faith.

Some come armed with ''Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution,'' a document circulated on the Internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Others scrawl their opposition on homework assignments. Many just tune out.

With a mandate to teach evolution but little guidance as to how, science teachers are contriving their own ways to turn a culture war into a lesson plan. How they fare may bear on whether a new generation of Americans embraces scientific evidence alongside religious belief.

''If you see something you don't understand, you have to ask 'why?' or 'how?' '' Mr. Campbell often admonished his students at Ridgeview High School.

Yet their abiding mistrust in evolution, he feared, jeopardized their belief in the basic power of science to explain the natural world -- and their ability to make sense of it themselves.

Passionate on the subject, Mr. Campbell had helped to devise the state's new evolution standards, which will be phased in starting this fall. A former Navy flight instructor not used to pulling his punches, he fought hard for their passage. But with his students this spring, he found himself treading carefully, as he tried to bridge an ideological divide that stretches well beyond his classroom.

A Cartoon and a Challenge

He started with Mickey Mouse.

On the projector, Mr. Campbell placed slides of the cartoon icon: one at his skinny genesis in 1928; one from his 1940 turn as the impish Sorcerer's Apprentice; and another of the rounded, ingratiating charmer of Mouse Club fame.

''How,'' he asked his students, ''has Mickey changed?''

Natives of Disney World's home state, they waved their hands and called out answers.

''His tail gets shorter,'' Bryce volunteered.

''Bigger eyes!'' someone else shouted.

''He looks happier,'' one girl observed. ''And cuter.''

Mr. Campbell smiled. ''Mickey evolved,'' he said. ''And Mickey gets cuter because Walt Disney makes more money that way. That is 'selection.' ''

Later, he would get to the touchier part, about how the minute changes in organisms that drive biological change arise spontaneously, without direction. And how a struggle for existence among naturally varying individuals has helped to generate every species, living and extinct, on the planet.

For now, it was enough that they were listening.

He strode back to the projector, past his menagerie of snakes and baby turtles, and pointed to the word he had written in the beginning of class.

''Evolution has been the focus of a lot of debate in our state this year,'' he said. ''If you read the newspapers, everyone is arguing, 'is it a theory, is it not a theory?' The answer is, we can observe it. We can see it happen, just like you can see it in Mickey.''

Some students were nodding. As the bell rang, Mr. Campbell stood by the door, satisfied. But Bryce, heavyset with blond curls, left with a stage whisper as he slung his knapsack over his shoulder.

''I can see something else, too,'' he said. ''I can see that there's no way I came from an ape.''

Fighting for a Mandate

As recently as three years ago, the guidelines that govern science education in more than a third of American public schools gave exceedingly short shrift to evolution, according to reviews by education experts. Some still do, science advocates contend. Just this summer, religious advocates lobbied successfully for a Louisiana law that protects the right of local schools to teach alternative theories for the origin of species, even though there are none that scientists recognize as valid. The Florida Legislature is expected to reopen debate on a similar bill this fall.

Even states that require teachers to cover the basics of evolution, like natural selection, rarely ask them to explain in any detail how humans, in particular, evolved from earlier life forms. That subject can be especially fraught for young people taught to believe that the basis for moral conduct lies in God's having created man uniquely in his own image.

The poor treatment of evolution in some state education standards may reflect the public's widely held creationist beliefs. In Gallup polls over the last 25 years, nearly half of American adults have consistently said they believe God created all living things in their present form, sometime in the last 10,000 years. But a 2005 defeat in federal court for a school board in Dover, Pa., that sought to cast doubt on evolution gave legal ammunition to evolution proponents on school boards and in statehouses across the country.

In its wake, Ohio removed a requirement that biology classes include ''critical analysis'' of evolution. Efforts to pass bills that implicitly condone the teaching of religious theories for life's origins have failed in at least five states. And as science standards come up for regular review, other states have added material on evolution to student achievement tests, and required teachers to spend more time covering it.

When Florida's last set of science standards came out in 1996, soon after Mr. Campbell took the teaching job at Ridgeview, he studied them in disbelief. Though they included the concept that biological ''changes over time'' occur, the word evolution was not mentioned.

He called his district science supervisor. ''Is this really what they want us to teach for the next 10 years?'' he demanded.

In 2000, when the independent Thomas B. Fordham Foundation evaluated the evolution education standards of all 50 states, Florida was among 12 to receive a grade of F. (Kansas, which drew international attention in 1999 for deleting all mention of evolution and later embracing supernatural theories, received an F-minus.)

Mr. Campbell, 52, who majored in biology while putting himself through Cornell University on a Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship, taught evolution anyway. But like nearly a third of biology teachers across the country, and more in his politically conservative district, he regularly heard from parents voicing complaints.

With no school policy to back him up, he spent less time on the subject than he would have liked. And he bit back his irritation at Teresa Yancey, a biology teacher down the hall who taught a unit she called ''Evolution or NOT.''

Animals do adapt to their environments, Ms. Yancey tells her students, but evolution alone can hardly account for the appearance of wholly different life forms. She leaves it up to them to draw their own conclusions. But when pressed, she tells them, ''I think God did it.''

Mr. Campbell was well aware of her opinion. ''I don't think we have this great massive change over time where we go from fish to amphibians, from monkeys to man,'' she once told him. ''We see lizards with different-shaped tails, we don't see blizzards -- the lizard bird.''

With some approximation of courtesy, Mr. Campbell reminded her that only a tiny fraction of organisms that ever lived had been preserved in fossils. Even so, he informed his own students, scientists have discovered thousands of fossils that provide evidence of one species transitioning into another -- including feathered dinosaurs.

But at the inaugural meeting of the Florida Citizens for Science, which he co-founded in 2005, he vented his frustration. ''The kids are getting hurt,'' Mr. Campbell told teachers and parents. ''We need to do something.''

The Dover decision in December of that year dealt a blow to ''intelligent design,'' which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone, and has been widely promoted by religious advocates since the Supreme Court's 1987 ban on creationism in public schools. The federal judge in the case called the doctrine ''creationism re-labeled,'' and found the Dover school board had violated the constitutional separation of church and state by requiring teachers to mention it. The school district paid $1 million in legal costs.

Inspired, the Florida citizens group soon contacted similar groups in other states advocating better teaching of evolution. And in June 2007, when his supervisor invited Mr. Campbell to help draft Florida's new standards, he quickly accepted.

During the next six months, he made the drive to three-day meetings in Orlando and Tallahassee six times. By January 2008 the Board of Education budget had run out. But the 30 teachers on the standards committee paid for their own gasoline to attend their last meeting.

Mr. Campbell quietly rejoiced in their final draft. Under the proposed new standards, high school students could be tested on how fossils and DNA provide evidence for evolution. Florida students would even be expected to learn how their own species fits into the tree of life.

Whether the state's board of education would adopt them, however, was unclear. There were heated objections from some religious organizations and local school boards. In a stormy public comment session, Mr. Campbell defended his fellow writers against complaints that they had not included alternative explanations for life's diversity, like intelligent design.

His attempt at humor came with an edge:

''We also failed to include astrology, alchemy and the concept of the moon being made of green cheese,'' he said. ''Because those aren't science, either.''

The evening of the vote, Mr. Campbell learned by e-mail message from an education official that the words ''scientific theory of'' had been inserted in front of ''evolution'' to appease opponents on the board. Even so, the standards passed by only a 4-to-3 vote.

Mr. Campbell cringed at the wording, which seemed to suggest evolution was a kind of hunch instead of the only accepted scientific explanation for the great variety of life on Earth. But he turned off his computer without scrolling through all of the frustrated replies from other writers. The standards, he thought, were finally in place.

Now he just had to teach.

The Limits of Science

The morning after his Mickey Mouse gambit, he bounced a pink rubber Spalding ball on the classroom's hard linoleum floor.

''Gravity,'' he said. ''I can do this until the end of the semester, and I can only assume that it will work the same way each time.''

He looked around the room. ''Bryce, what is it called when natural laws are suspended -- what do you call it when water changes into wine?''

''Miracle?'' Bryce supplied.

Mr. Campbell nodded. The ball hit the floor again.

''Science explores nature by testing and gathering data,'' he said. ''It can't tell you what's right and wrong. It doesn't address ethics. But it is not anti-religion. Science and religion just ask different questions.''

He grabbed the ball and held it still.

''Can anybody think of a question science can't answer?''

''Is there a God?'' shot back a boy near the window.

''Good,'' said Mr. Campbell, an Anglican who attends church most Sundays. ''Can't test it. Can't prove it, can't disprove it. It's not a question for science.''

Bryce raised his hand.

''But there is scientific proof that there is a God,'' he said. ''Over in Turkey there's a piece of wood from Noah's ark that came out of a glacier.''

Mr. Campbell chose his words carefully.

''If I could prove, tomorrow, that that chunk of wood is not from the ark, is not even 500 years old and not even from the right kind of tree -- would that damage your religious faith at all?''

Bryce thought for a moment.

''No,'' he said.

The room was unusually quiet.

''Faith is not based on science,'' Mr. Campbell said. ''And science is not based on faith. I don't expect you to 'believe' the scientific explanation of evolution that we're going to talk about over the next few weeks.''

''But I do,'' he added, ''expect you to understand it.''

The Lure of T. Rex

Over the next weeks, Mr. Campbell regaled his students with the array of evidence on which evolutionary theory is based. To see how diverse species are related, they studied the embryos of chickens and fish, and the anatomy of horses, cats, seals and bats.

To simulate natural selection, they pretended to be birds picking light-colored moths off tree bark newly darkened by soot.

But the dearth of questions made him uneasy.

''I still don't have a good feeling on how well any of them are internalizing any of this,'' he worried aloud.

When he was 5, Mr. Campbell's aunt took him on a trip from his home in Connecticut to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. At the end of the day, she had to pry him away from the Tyrannosaurus rex.

If this didn't hook them, he thought one Wednesday morning, admiring the cast of a T. rex brain case he set on one of the classroom's long, black laboratory tables, nothing would. Carefully, he distributed several other fossils, including two he had collected himself.

He placed particular hope in the jaw of a 34-million-year-old horse ancestor. Through chance, selection and extinction, he had told his class, today's powerfully muscled, shoulder-high horses had evolved from squat dog-sized creatures.

The diminutive jaw, from an early horse that stood about two feet tall, offered proof of how the species had changed over time. And maybe, if they accepted the evolution of Equus caballus, they could begin to contemplate the origin of Homo sapiens.

Mr. Campbell instructed the students to spend three minutes at each station. He watched Bryce and his partner, Allie Farris, look at the illustration of a modern horse jaw he had posted next to the fossil of its Mesohippus ancestor. Hovering, he kicked himself for not acquiring a real one to make the comparison more tangible. But they lingered, well past their time limit. Bryce pointed to the jaw in the picture and held the fossil up to his own mouth.

''It's maybe the size of a dog's jaw or a cat's,'' he said, measuring.

Helooked at Allie. ''That's pretty cool, don't you think?''

After class, Mr. Campbell fed the turtles. It was time for a test, he thought.

'I Don't Believe in This'

Bryce came to Ridgeview as a freshman from a Christian private school where he attended junior high.

At 16, Bryce, whose parents had made sure he read the Bible for an hour each Sunday as a child, no longer went to church. But he did make it to the predawn meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a national Christian sports organization whose mission statement defines the Bible as the ''authoritative Word of God.'' Life had been dark after his father died a year ago, he told the group, but things had been going better recently, and he attributed that to God's help.

When the subject of evolution came up at a recent fellowship meeting, several of the students rolled their eyes.

''I think a big reason evolutionists believe what they believe is they don't want to have to be ruled by God,'' said Josh Rou, 17.

''Evolution is telling you that you're like an animal,'' Bryce agreed. ''That's why people stand strong with Christianity, because it teaches people to lead a good life and not do wrong.''

Doug Daugherty, 17, allowed that he liked science.

''I'll watch the Discovery Channel and say 'Ooh, that's interesting,' '' he said. ''But there's a difference between thinking something is interesting and believing it.''

The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.

''I refuse to answer,'' Bryce wrote. ''I don't believe in this.''

Losing Heart

Mr. Campbell looked at the calendar. Perhaps this semester, he thought, he would skip over the touchy subject of human origins. The new standards, after all, had not gone into effect. ''Maybe I'll just give them the fetal pig dissection,'' he said with a sigh.

It wasn't just Bryce. Many of the students, Mr. Campbell sensed, were not grasping the basic principles of biological evolution. If he forced them to look at themselves in the evolutionary mirror, he risked alienating them entirely.

The discovery that a copy of ''Evolution Exposed,'' published by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, was circulating among the class did not raise his flagging spirits. The book lists each reference to evolution in the biology textbook Mr. Campbell uses and offers an explanation for why it is wrong.

Where the textbook states, for example, that ''Homo sapiens appeared in Africa 200,000 years ago based on fossil and DNA evidence,'' ''Exposed'' counters that ''The fossil evidence of hominids (alleged human ancestors) is extremely limited.'' A pastor at a local church, Mr. Campbell learned, had given a copy of ''Exposed'' to every graduating senior the previous year.

But the next week, at a meeting in Tallahassee where he sorted the new science standards into course descriptions for other teachers, the words he had helped write reverberated in his head.

''Evolution,'' the standards said, ''is the fundamental concept underlying all biology.''

When he got home, he dug out his slide illustrating the nearly exact match between human and chimpanzee chromosomes, and prepared for a contentious class.

Facing the Challenge

''True or false?'' he barked the following week, wearing a tie emblazoned with the DNA double helix. ''Humans evolved from chimpanzees.''

The students stared at him, unsure. ''True,'' some called out.

''False,'' he said, correcting a common misconception. ''But we do share a common ancestor.''

More gently now, he started into the story of how, five or six million years ago, a group of primates in Africa split. Some stayed in the forest and evolved into chimps; others -- our ancestors -- migrated to the grasslands.

On the projector, he placed a picture of the hand of a gibbon, another human cousin. ''There's the opposable thumb,'' he said, wiggling his own. ''But theirs is a longer hand because they live in trees, and their arms are very long.''

Mr. Campbell bent over, walking on the outer part of his foot. He had intended to mimic how arms became shorter and legs became longer. He planned to tell the class how our upright gait, built on a body plan inherited from tree-dwelling primates, made us prone to lower back pain. And how, over the last two million years, our jaws have grown shorter, which is why wisdom teeth so often need to be removed.

But too many hands had gone up.

He answered as fast as he could, his pulse quickening as it had rarely done since his days on his high school debate team.

''If that really happened,'' Allie wanted to know, ''wouldn't you still see things evolving?''

''We do,'' he said. ''But this is happening over millions of years. With humans, if I'm lucky I might see four generations in my lifetime.''

Caitlin Johnson, 15, was next.

''If we had to have evolved from something,'' she wanted to know, ''then whatever we evolved from, where did IT evolve from?''

''It came from earlier primates,'' Mr. Campbell replied.

''And where did those come from?''

''You can trace mammals back 250 million years,'' he said. The first ones, he reminded them, were small, mouselike creatures that lived in the shadow of dinosaurs.

Other students were jumping in.

''Even if we did split off from chimps,'' someone asked, ''how come they stayed the same but we changed?''

''They didn't stay the same,'' Mr. Campbell answered. ''They were smaller, more slender -- they've changed a lot.''

Bryce had been listening, studying the hand of the monkey on the screen .

''How does our hand go from being that long to just a smaller hand?'' he said. ''I don't see how that happens.''

''If a smaller hand is beneficial,'' Mr. Campbell said, ''individuals with small hands will have more children, while those with bigger hands will disappear.''

''But if we came from them, why are they still around?''

''Just because a new population evolves doesn't mean the old one dies out,'' Mr. Campbell said.

Bryce spoke again. This time it wasn't a question.

''So it just doesn't stop,'' he said.

''No,'' said Mr. Campbell. ''If the environment is suitable, a species can go on for a long time.''

''What about us,'' Bryce pursued. ''Are we going to evolve?''

Mr. Campbell stopped, and took a breath.

''Yes,'' he said. ''Unless we go extinct.''

When the bell rang, he knew that he had not convinced Bryce, and perhaps many of the others. But that week, he gave the students an opportunity to answer the questions they had missed on the last test. Grading Bryce's paper later in the quiet of his empty classroom, he saw that this time, the question that asked for evidence of evolutionary change had been answered.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Bone Game

While I'm working in the basement of our home in North Carolina, the dogs usually hang out and sleep on the nearby couches or a pad on the floor. I try to keep my video camera nearby, however, because I never know when one of these little dramas is going to break out.

It's all very Hemingwayesque. Nothing seems to be happening on the surface, but the tension is very strong just below. These dogs are very subtle.

This particular routine is known around our house as "The Bone Game." Maggie (the tri-color on the couch) has a bone that Stella has decided she must have. Maggie knows this and very cagily flaunts her possession and tempts Stella. But Stella knows that Maggie is going to ambush her if she goes for the bone.

It takes 3 minutes for nothing much to happen. I should have been writing the next scene in the new novel, but I couldn't resist capturing this highlight of dog drama.

Just after I switched off the camera, Stella realized Maggie had given up on guarding the bone, and Stella very bravely snuck in and claimed it for herself. After about three more minutes of chewing on it, she lost interest.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008