Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kearny High School and David Paszkiewicz make the NY Times again

Today's New York Times contains an editorial criticizing the "strange silence in Kearny" in response to David Paszkiewicz's proselytizing in his U.S. History classroom:
The vast majority of Americans deplore such proselytizing in public classrooms. But the truly disturbing aspect of all this, described earlier this month by Times reporter Tina Kelley, is not that one teacher so blatantly crossed the church-state boundary but that so few school officials and community residents seemed bothered by his behavior.
The editorial points out the bravery of Matthew LaClair:
The only reason anyone knows about Mr. Paskiewicz’s behavior is that one student, Matthew LaClair, 16, had the courage to speak up in September. Before doing so, he taped Mr. Paszkiewicz for eight classes because he feared officials would not believe him. He has since received one death threat, lost many friends, and says he can “feel the glares” when he goes to school.
The editorial concludes:

In recent years, the divide between religion and the classroom has been narrowed as conservative courts have ruled in favor of tuition vouchers for religious schools, ruled that religion clubs can meet in public schools and allowed federal money to be spent on computers and other instructional equipment for parochial schools. But even groups like the Rutherford Institute, which provides legal help in religious freedom cases, says that Mr. Paszkiewicz appears to have crossed the line against outright preaching in the public schools.

That he did. While he certainly has the right like anyone in this country to voice and practice his beliefs, he doesn’t have the right to do so while standing in front of a captive audience of students to whom his assertions carry the ring of authority.

The silence among senior school officials is disheartening. Instead of ducking, they should be writing guidelines making it clear that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated in public classrooms.

Until Kearny High School administrators take some real action, this issue won't just go away.

UPDATE: Paul LaClair lays it all out at the KearnyontheWeb forum:
The New York Times quotes me today as saying that we will consider litigation in the proselytizing teacher matter unless Kearny High's students are properly educated regarding Paszkiewicz's anti-scientific mis-statements and the Constitutional separation between church and state. I am opening this topic to explain to the community why we believe this is important.

I hope we all agree in principle that the schools, both public and private, exist to educate our young people. That means teaching them science and enough law so they can function positively as citizens in a democracy. When a teacher mis-states and distorts science and law to such an extent as David Paszkiewicz did (and I suspect has done for quite some time), corrections are mandatory if the school system is to fulfill its educational purposes.

This is especially true when the teacher is popular, as appears to be the case here. The worst possible scenario educationally is that a popular teacher convinces young people that his twisted views of science and the law are true. That also appears to have happened here, judging from student reaction and from the absence of any correction in the past. All the rationalizations aside, the real reason Paszkiewicz is being defended is that some people think his ignorance and his bigotry are acceptable.

I am personally disgusted as a taxpayer, a parent and a citizen that the adminisration in the Kearny school district seems not to care. It is unacceptable that these remarks go uncorrected, especially when so many members of the community and even a fellow teacher (anonymously quoted in The New York Times on December 18) see absolutely nothing wrong with what Paszkiewicz has been doing. This is intellectual poison, I can give it no less strong a term. The only thing worse than no information is misinformation, and this was misinformation.

It is not acceptable that our schools in Kearny are training our young people to be "ignorant and scientifically illiterate," as Dr. Tyson, the astrophysicist who heads the Hayden Planetarium, put it in a letter to The New York Times. That is why Kearny is in the Times again today, and remains in the news. While I truly am reluctant to use the word "stupid," it does come to mind.

Must we really fight with the school board and the administration to ensure that the students receive an education in science, instead of the 2006 equivalent of flat-earth science? Must we have a legal team straighten out the mess Paszkiewicz has made of the students' understanding of the Constitution? This is insanity.

I understand that some people think the issue is resolved, and don't like our continuing to press it. There is a very simple solution, and I address this to the board, the administration and the teacher: admit your mistakes, make appropriate corrections, and let's move on. We've been asking for that for nearly three months now, and obviously these parties have no intention of doing that.

OK, so we'll do this the hard way. We would never have imagined that we would have to fight a bitter battle with this school system to force it to do its job, but apparently that is what will be necessary. I invite concerned citizens to speak up, or to contact us to try to resolve this in an appropriate way, so that the world can say the citizens of Kearny spoke up and demanded a proper resolution.


This post has resulted in the following posted threat, apparently from a Kearny resident who supports Paszkiewicz:
PAUL I NEVER SAY THIS TO ANYBODY ON THIS SITE "BUT FOR YOU I WILL {YOU ARE SCUM AND KEARNY WILL BE SORRY FOR THE DAY YOUR WERE BORN} I HOPE THE NJ BAR SEES THIS FOR WHAT IT REALY IS AND DISBARRS YOU! ALSO YOUR SON WILL PAY THE PRICE FOR YOUR SCAM! HISTORY PROVES ME RIGHT ON THIS JUST ASK THE ****** KIDS!!! ALSO YOU FORGET YOUR IN KEARNY YOU BETTER THINK HARD ABOUT IT IM TALKING ABOUT THE TOWNS HISTORY WITH TROUBLE MAKERS LIKE YOU!!!
Nice. And that's the version that the KearnyontheWeb moderators "edited for content"!

Is there any question who's got the moral high ground in this dispute?

The 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006

Dahlia Lithwick gives a rundown.

Books Read in 2006

I read the following books in 2006. These are the ones I've finished--looks like I didn't do nearly as well as last year.

The links are to Amazon.com, where I've reviewed most of these.
And these are the ones I haven't finished yet--some (Amar, Numbers, Zimmer) I just started, others have been hanging around for a while and I should probably give up on (some of these were started but uncompleted this time last year). The Girard and Lambot book is a beautiful, interesting, and quite expensive book that can be read one short biography at a time.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Creationist finances: Access Research Network

This is the third in a series of posts about the finances of the creationist ministries which were previously reported in Reports of the National Center for Science Education in 2000 in an article by John Cole: the Access Research Network, Answers in Genesis, the Creation Evidences Museum, Creation Illustrated Ministries, Creation Moments, the Creation Research Society, Creation Worldview Ministries, the Institute for Creation Research, the Discovery Institute, and I'll add Walter Brown's Center for Scientific Creation to the list.

I've already commented on Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research.

Access Research Network was originally known as Students for Origins Research, which published a periodical on newsprint called Origins Research, a publication I subscribed to for a number of years and enjoyed reading. The periodical promoted an open-minded approach, avoided ad hominem, and was a cut above most other creationist publications. They printed two letters from me, one about Donald Johansen and Lucy's knee joint in 1989 (vol. 12, no. 2, p. 12) and one titled "Science Education" (I forget the specific subject matter) in 1992 (vol. 14, no. 2, p. 9). Origins Research began publication in 1978 and ceased publication in 1996, replaced by a quarterly journal called Origins & Design. Origins & Design suspended publication in 2001 and was supposed to resume publication online, but has not rematerialized. According to the expanded 2006 edition of Ronald Numbers' The Creationists (p. 550, note 21), C. Davis Weyerhauser of the Weyerhauser paper fortune was the primary benefactor who made Origins & Design possible; after he died in April 1999 the funds dried up. I don't see that reflected in a difference between the 1998 financial data (though I do not have a copy of the Form 990, only the revenue and expense numbers) and the last three years of data.

Access Research Network has covered other areas besides the creation/evolution debate, involving science, technology, and society. Their website lists "genetic engineering, euthanasia, computer technology, environmental issues, creation/evolution, fetal tissue research, AIDS, and so on" as "controversial topics" of interest. They've been heavily involved in promoting "intelligent design" and have published and promoted the work of ID advocates such as Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, and William Dembski. The ARN board of directors is Dennis Wagner, Mark Hartwig, Steve Meyer, and Paul Nelson.

ARN is a small nonprofit organization headquartered in Colorado Springs with no paid staff.

On to the financial data--first, the 1998 information from John R. Cole's "Money Floods Anti-Evolutionists' Coffers" in Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20(1-2, 2000):64-65:

1998:
Revenue: $59,311
Expenses: $82,548

And the last three years:

2003:
Revenue: $46,674
Expenses: $56,874
Net assets at end of year: $14,624

2004:
Revenue: $136,238
Expenses: $121,828
Net assets at end of year: $29,034

2005:
Revenue: $78,855
Expenses: $82,306
Net assets at end of year: $25,583

ARN is a small organization, so it doesn't take much to result in large fluctuations (on a percentage basis) in revenue and expenses. Their expenses don't include any salaries, and are thus fairly easy to keep low. A few large donations or a popular book or DVD to sell can make a huge difference in annual revenue. In 2005, they made $28,397 of their revenue by selling items such as books and DVDs, $49,211 in donations, and the remainder from interest and book royalties. The largest categories of expense were $36,315 for Internet services (e.g., webhosting), $14,397 for postage and shipping, $12,155 for accounting fees, and $7,300 for office expenses.

You can find ARN's 2003 Form 990 here, their 2004 Form 990 here, and their 2005 Form 990 here.

Their website, www.arn.org, is currently ranked 375,303 on alexa.com. By contrast, the Internet Infidels website is ranked 68,915, despite having comparable revenue. (Consider an end-of-year donation at the Internet Infidels website.)

Creationist finances: Institute for Creation Research

After looking at Answers in Genesis of Kentucky's financial results for 2005, several people have asked whether their decline is unique. (Though, due to my error in reading their 2005 Form 990, we now know that they have not seen a decline.) What I've decided to do in order to answer that question is to make a series of posts about the finances of the creationist ministries which were previously reported in Reports of the National Center for Science Education in 2000 in an article by John Cole: the Access Research Network, Answers in Genesis, the Creation Evidences Museum, Creation Illustrated Ministries, Creation Moments, the Creation Research Society, Creation Worldview Ministries, the Institute for Creation Research, and the Discovery Institute. For good measure, I'll throw in Walter Brown's Center for Scientific Creation. I'll then sum up in a final post. I've already posted about Answers in Genesis, and I'll begin with the Institute for Creation Research since I've already got the numbers handy.

The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) has been around since 1970, when it was founded by Henry Morris and Duane Gish with financial support from Tim LaHaye, through his Christian Heritage College. The ICR became independent from CHC in 1981. It operates a creationism museum and a graduate school in Santee, California, and produces the small monthly publication "Acts & Facts" (among others). The ICR was once the dominant young-earth creationist organization in the United States, but has been overshadowed for years by Answers in Genesis. Founder Henry Morris turned over the reins to his son John in 1995, and Henry Morris died in February of this year. Duane Gish, the noted creationist debater, has greatly reduced his public appearances in his old age (he's nearly 86). John Morris has never been the enthusiastic creationist superstar that his father or Gish were.

The ICR's revenues have remained fairly flat for years--which means they've declined in real terms, after inflation. In John R. Cole's "Money Floods Anti-Evolutionists' Coffers" in Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20(1-2, 2000):64-65, he reported that the ICR's 1998 revenue was $4,167,547 and expenses were $3,997,419.

The last three years of ICR Form 990s at GuideStar.org show little change from 1998:

2003:
Revenue: $4,478,918
Expenses: $4,545,220
Net assets at end of year: $5,285,382
Salaries: $1,973,712 (44.1% of revenue)
($226,854 directors/execs, $1,746,858 other salaries)

2004:
Revenue: $4,245,441
Expenses: $4,453,622
Net assets at end of year: $5,091,069
Salaries: $2,090,231 (49.2% of revenue)
($232,053 directors/execs, $1,858,178 other salaries)

2005:
Revenue: $4,341,000
Expenses: $4,231,885
Net assets at end of year: $5,228,062
Salaries: $2,003,648 (46.2% of revenue)
($306,346 directors/execs, $1,697,302 other salaries)

The ICR seems to be doing OK financially, but they clearly need to keep an eye on their salary expenses. John Morris took a small pay cut in 2005, but the other directors and staff with salaries over $50,000 have been getting regular annual pay raises. Despite Gish's reduced public appearances, his salary has continued to climb, from $78,198 in 2003 to $80,544 in 2004 to $84,969 in 2005.

Here are the specifics of other salaries reported in the Form 990--I've included two contractors, geologist Andrew Snelling (formerly associated with AiG-Australia) and tour leader Mike Riddle, who has worked for ICR, AiG, and other young-earth creationist groups. He appears to have disappeared from the ICR payroll in 2005, which may just mean they paid him less than $50,000.

2003:
Executives/Directors:
John Morris, president: $79,671
Duane Gish, vice president: $78,198
Donald Rohrer, treasurer: $68,985
---
Employees making $50K or more:
Kenneth Cumming, dean of grad school: $73,049
Larry Vardiman, head physics dept: $66,843
Russell Humphreys, research scientist: $66,414
Donald Barber, systems admin: $75,000
Henry Morris III, strategic ministry: $74,984
---
Contractors (not counted in above salary totals):
Andrew Snelling, geology research: $96,960
Mike Riddle, tours: $67,468

2004:
Executives/Directors:
John Morris, president: $82,524
Duane Gish, vice president: $80,544
Donald Rohrer, treasurer: $68,985
---
Employees making $50K or more:
Kenneth Cumming, dean of grad school: $75,240
Larry Vardiman, head physics dept: $68,847
Russell Humphreys, research scientist: $68,407
Donald Barber, systems admin: $77,250
Henry Morris III, strategic ministry: $77,234
---
Contractors (not counted in above salary totals):
Andrew Snelling, geology research: $98,587
Mike Riddle, tours: $79,686

2005:
Executives/Directors:
John Morris, president: $74,915
Duane Gish, vice president: $84,969
Donald Rohrer, treasurer: $71,055
Larry Vardiman, COO: $75,407
---
Employees making $50K or more:
Donald Barber, systems admin: $79,567
Henry Morris III, strategic ministry: $79,551
Kenneth Cumming, dean of grad school: $77,497
Patricia Nason, professor: $72,100
Russell Humphreys, research scientist: $70,459
---
Contractors:
Andrew Snelling, science research: $85,527

Larry Vardiman's ascent to the COO position suggests to me that he's the likely successor to John Morris to run the show.

To sum up the ICR--they're not particularly hurting for cash, but they aren't growing, and appear to be stagnating. In real, inflation-adjusted terms, they're not doing as well as they were a decade ago, and they're clearly not the force for creation evangelism they used to be. It appears to me that they are in a long-term decline.

Creation Ministries International gets into the UFO business

A link on the front page of the Creation Ministries International website under the heading "Affiliated sites" says "Alien Intrusion." If you click on it, you are taken to alienintrusion.com, a site promoting a book by Gary Bates titled Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection.

The material on the website is extremely uninformative about what arguments and positions Bates takes in the book. A "Q&A" with Gary Bates begs off on supplying any answers on the grounds that "a one-line answer will not be satisfying because lots of people have already made their minds up without really looking at the evidence," but the promise is made that "The truth is most certainly out there, and it is revealed in my book, but it is probably not what most people think." I translate this as "I'm not going to reveal my position, so that I can get as many UFO believers as possible to buy this book thinking that it will confirm their views."

The reviewers on Amazon.com are more forthcoming--apparently the book is about 75% debunking of the sort that would please skeptics like Philip Klass, Robert Sheaffer, or James Oberg, while the remaining 25% advocates a view that would be more pleasing to Norman Geisler--that UFO phenomena are a product of Satan and demonic influence. In short, Gary Bates seems to be following the path of Clifford Wilson, a Christian (and young-earth creationist) who wrote an excellent debunking of Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods? titled Crash Go the Chariots, which was flawed by its inclusion of religious advocacy. Wilson also did his credibility no good by associating with the most inept of creationists, Rev. Carl Baugh, with whom he participated in running some diploma mills.

If this is the direction that CMI intends to branch out in order to grow its ministries, I'm skeptical of their long-term success. UFOlogy has been in decline for decades, with UFO magazines and conferences falling on hard times, as can be seen in Jim Moseley's Saucer Smear newsletter, an amusing gossip rag of the UFO field read by and contributed to by both believers and skeptics.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Answers in Genesis revenue declines by 50% in 2005

UPDATE (December 30, 2006): Please note that the 2005 Form 990 filing only covers January-June 2005 (as AiG changed to a July-June fiscal year in 2005), so the heading on this post is inaccurate. I've made an embarrassing mistake by failing to notice those dates on the very top of the first page of the Form 990, and I take responsibility for it. I apologize for the error. If you multiply each of the 2005 figures by two, you will get an approximation to the full-year numbers. While this still yields a decline in revenue from seminars, it shows an increase in overall revenue and donations--and an increase in many salaries, as well.

I've just been reviewing the 2005 Form 990 filing from Answers in Genesis of Kentucky, the first one filed since its split from Creation Ministries International in October 2005. (I've previously commented on their 2003 and 2004 Form 990's.) They have seen a huge drop in revenue, which appears to be largely due to a drop in overall donations from the public and decreased attendance at their seminars. They've been spending a lot of money on their creationism museum, and it looks like they are counting on it to be a growing, if not the primary, source of their future revenue. In response to this revenue decline, the senior staff have all taken significant cuts in pay. This drop in revenue is likely not attributable to the CMI split, since that didn't become public knowledge until the end of February 2006.

On to the details...

In 2004, Answers in Genesis of Kentucky (AiG-US) saw $10,423,222 in revenue.

In 2005, their revenue dropped to $5,429,923--a nearly 50% decline.

The specific revenue numbers show that donations dropped from $7,754,247 in 2004 to $3,978,239 in 2005, program service revenue (from seminars and "charter memberships" in their creationism museum) dropped from $629,644 in 2003 to $270,350 in 2004, and gross profits from sales of inventory (sales minus cost of goods sold) dropped from $2,025,619 in 2004 to $1,124,438. This suggests a decline in interest in what Answers in Genesis is selling. The only positive changes in their revenue picture were in sales of non-inventory assets (including securities), where they went from a $12,683 loss in 2004 to an $822 gain in 2005, and in "other revenue," where they went from $12,683 in 2004 to $13,798 in 2005.

To get more specific, AiG-US saw $414,265 in event registrations, $116,403 in "royalties and other revenue," and $98,976 in museum memberships in 2004, and $122,317 in "seminars" (apparently the same as event registrations) and $148,033 in "charter memberships" in 2005, so they have seen an increase in museum membership revenue. In 2005 "royalties" were listed as a separate income item, producing $39,119 in revenue, but it's not clear if that's an increase or a decline without knowing what "other revenue" contributed to the 2004 figure.

This is a reversal from years of growth--revenue from donations in earlier years was $5,189,344 in 2001, $6,066,719 in 2002, $7,240,646 in 2003, and $7,698,294 in 2004 (this is the number reported in the 2005 Form 990; it is $55,953 lower than the above number from the 2004 Form 990).

On the spending side of the ledger, total functional expenses went from $8,320,926 in 2004 to $5,038,225 in 2005. They have, wisely, considerably cut their salary expenses, from $926,837 for officers and directors and $2,852,301 for other salaries in 2004 to $369,068 for officers and directors and $1,918,300 for other salaries in 2005. Ken Ham's salary went from $121,764 in 2004 to $60,000 in 2005; CFO James Hatton's salary went from $81,000 to $42,500; General Counsel John Pence's salary went from $93,115 to $46,500; VP of Museum Operations Mike Zovath's salary went from $90,201 to $42,500; VP of Administration Kathy Ellis's salary went from $86,068 to $39,500; VP of Marketing and Media Dale Mason's salary went from $115,621 to $55,000; VP of Events Outreach Mark Looy's salary went from $85,615 to $42,500; and VP of Ministry Relations Carl Kerby's salary went from $65,112 to $40,568. COO Brandon Vallorani left the organization in September 2004 in events apparently related to the AiG/CMI split (about which I'll write more at a later time), so his 2004 salary of $90,344 did not reappear in 2005's expenses.

Despite this substantial decline in revenue, AiG-US still had an increase in net assets. It wasn't anything close to the $2,102,296 surplus they saw in 2004, but they still took in $391,698 more than they spent, bringing them to $11,673,847 in net assets (assets minus liabilities). They ended 2005 with $17,656,767 in assets (of which $14,311,948 is buildings and land) and $5,982,920 in liabilities. They have a cushion of $1,664,682 in cash and $2,602 in savings at the end of 2005, versus the $2,502,777 in cash and $10,104 in savings at the beginning of the year. Their inventories for sale have increased from $1,165,982 to $1,223,151, so it doesn't look like they're accumulating a huge backlog of unsold items. Their building is funded by a $3,500,000 mortgage from Fifth Third Bank, payable in three annual payments in 2005, 2006, and 2007; they made the first payment in 2005 and had a balance of $2,360,000 at the end of the year.

One person associated with AiG-US who seems to have done better in 2005 than in 2004 is board member and audit review committee member Tim Dudley. In statement 11 in the 2005 Form 990, it's reported that AiG-US purchased $485,565 in books and literature from New Leaf Publishing, the president of which is Tim Dudley.

You can find AiG-US's 2003 Form 990 here, their 2004 Form 990 here, and their 2005 Form 990 here. Anyone who finds anything else interesting in these, I welcome your comments.

They still make a whole lot more money than the National Center for Science Education, to which I urge readers to make a financial contribution.

Social event during SICB conference

The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) is holding its annual conference in downtown Phoenix next week, from January 3-7 at the Phoenix Convention Center and Hyatt Regency. The conference will include topics of interest to readers of this blog, including the session "Evolution Town Meeting: A Year After the Dover Decision" on the afternoon of Friday, January 5, and the session "Media Workshop: Hey, Wanna Read My Blog?" on Thursday, January 4, which will feature ScienceBloggers P.Z. Myers (Pharyngula), Grrl Scientist (Living the Scientific Life), and John Lynch (stranger fruit).

On the evening of Saturday, January 6, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. (during the SICB business meeting and prior to the SICB evening social event), Kat and I would like to invite readers of this blog and of Science Blogs to a social event at our home, which is near South Mountain, about 15 minutes from downtown. We would like to keep the event somewhat small (Kat has asked me to keep it to about 20 people), so RSVPs are required in order to get directions and specifics. To RSVP, please send an email to sicb at discord.org. If you will be attending the SICB conference, please let me know if you will need a ride or would be able to give others a ride.

UPDATE (January 7, 2007): Several attendees have reported on the event, with photos: Brent Rasmussen, P.Z. Myers, and John Lynch; Grrl Scientist, you're very welcome. Thanks to everyone who attended for the enjoyable company and conversation!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bush administration's suppression of information it didn't like

Talking Points Memo has been collecting examples of information (website content, reports, studies, etc.) that the Bush administration has suppressed because they were somehow contrary to the administration's positions.

The list has become fairly lengthy. Here's what they've got so far:
* In March, the administration announced it would no longer produce the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, which identifies which programs best assist low-income families, while also tracking health insurance coverage and child support.

* In 2005, after a government report showed an increase in terrorism around the world, the administration announced it would stop publishing its annual report on international terrorism.

* After the Bureau of Labor Statistics uncovered discouraging data about factory closings in the U.S., the administration announced it would stop publishing information about factory closings.

* When an annual report called “Budget Information for States” showed the federal government shortchanging states in the midst of fiscal crises, Bush’s Office of Management and Budget announced it was discontinuing the report, which some said was the only source for comprehensive data on state funding from the federal government.

* When Bush’s Department of Education found that charter schools were underperforming, the administration said it would sharply cut back on the information it collects about charter schools.

* The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has to date failed to produce a congressionally-mandated report on climate change that was due in 2004. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has called the failure an "obfuscation."

* The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced plans to close several libraries which were used by researchers and scientists. The agency called its decision a cost-cutting measure, but a 2004 report showed that the facilities actually brought the EPA a $7.5 million surplus annually. (Thanks to Mark B. below.)

* On November 1st, 2001, President Bush issued an executive order limiting the public's access to presidential records. The order undermined the 1978 Presidential Records Act, which required the release of those records after 12 years. Bush's order prevented the release of "68,000 pages of confidential communications between President Ronald Reagan and his advisers," some of whom had positions in the Bush Administration. More here. (Thanks to Roger A. and nitpicker below.) Update: TPMm Reader JP writes in to point out that Bush did the same thing with his papers from the Texas governorship.

* A rule change at the U.S. Geological Survey restricts agency scientists from publishing or discussing research without that information first being screened by higher-ups at the agency. Special screening will be given to "findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed." The scientists at the USGS cover such controversial topics as global warming. Before, studies were released after an anonymous peer review of the research. (Thanks to Alison below.)

* A new policy at the The U.S. Forest Service means the agency no longer will generate environmental impact statements for "its long-term plans for America's national forests and grasslands." It also "no longer will allow the public to appeal on long-term plans for those forests, but instead will invite participation in planning from the outset." (Thanks to libra below.)

* In March 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services took down a six-year-old Web site devoted to substance abuse and treatment information for gays and lesbians, after members of the conservative Family Research Council complained.

* In 2002, HHS removed information from its Web site pertaining to risky sexual behavior among adolescents, condom use and HIV.

* Also in 2002, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission removed from its Web site a document showing that officials found large gaps in a portion of an aging Montana dam. A FERC official said the deletion was for "national security."

* In 2004, the FBI attempted to retroactively classify public information regarding the case of bureau whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, including a series of letters between the Justice Department and several senators.

* In October 2003, the Bush administration banned photographs depicting servicemembers' coffins returning from overseas.

* In December 2002, the administration curtailed funding to the Mass-Layoffs Statistics program, which released monthly data on the number and size of layoffs by U.S. companies. His father attempted to kill the same program in 1992, but Clinton revived it when he assumed the presidency.

* In 2004, the Internal Revenue Service stopped providing data demonstrating the level of its job performance. In 2006, a judge forced the IRS to provide the information.

* Also in 2004, the Federal Communications Commission blocked access to a once-public database of network outages affecting telecommunications service providers. The FCC removed public copies and exempted the information from Freedom of Information Act requests, saying it would "jeopardize national security efforts." Experts ridiculed that notion.

* In 2002, Bush officials intervened to derail the publication of an EPA report on mercury and children's health, which contradicted the administration's position on lowering regulations on certain power plants. The report was eventually leaked by a "frustrated EPA official."

* In 2003, the EPA bowed to White House pressure and deleted the global warming section in its annual "Report on the Environment." The move drew condemnations from Democrats and Republicans alike.

* Also in 2003, the EPA withheld for months key findings from an air pollution report that undercut the White House's "Clear Skies" initiative. Leaked copies were reported in the Washington Post.

* For more than a year, the Interior Department refused to release a 2005 study showing a government subsidy for oil companies was not effective.

* The White House Office of National Drug Policy paid for a 5-year, $43 million study which concluded their anti-drug ad campaigns did not work -- but it refused to release those findings to Congress. (Thanks to skeptic below.)

* In 2006, the Federal Communications Commission ordered destroyed all copies of an unreleased 2004 draft report concluding that media consolidation hurt local TV news coverage, which runs counter to the administration's pro-consolidation stance. (Thanks to Jim Tobias below.)

* After Bush assumed power in 2001, the Department of Labor removed from its Web site "Don't Work in the Dark -- Know Your Rights," a publication informing women of their workplace rights. (via the National Council for Research on Women)

* The Department of Labor also removed from its Web site roughly two dozen fact sheets on women's workplace issues such as women in management, earning differences between men and women, child care concerns, and minority women in the workplace. (via the National Council for Research on Women)

* In February 2004, the appointed head of the Office of Special Counsel -- created to protect government employees' rights -- ordered removed from a government Web site information on the rights of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals in the public workplace. (via the National Council for Research on Women)

* In early 2001, the Treasury Department stopped producing reports showing how the benefits of tax cuts were distributed by income class. (via the Tax Policy Center, from Paul Krugman)

Trump Mortgage off to a bad start

Trump Mortgage started business this April, with alleged seasoned pro E.J. Ridings appointed to head the organization. Ridings claimed that honesty was one of the differentiators for Trump Mortgage, but it turns out he's misrepresented his experience.

He claimed to be "a top executive at one of Wall Street's most prestigious investment banks," when in fact he was a retail stock broker for Morgan Stanley's Dean Witter Reynolds subsidiary for less than three months, and was only a registered broker for six days of that period. Ridings said he was an "established leader" at a leading New York mortgage boutique, but was only "a relatively minor player" at GuardHill Financial from June 2003 to April 2005, working as an entry-level mortgage originator. Ridings also claimed 15 years of experience in the financial industry, but all that anyone can dig up besides his Dean Witter time (that began in 1998) and his GuardHill position are in documents from the NY State Banking Commission which say he was also a day trader for two years and worked for a year at subprime lender Equity Funding prior to GuardHill. That's a total of less than six years of financial experience.

Ridings claims he also had financial experience in his earlier jobs--running a company that sold nutritional supplements and health drinks, and a cleaning service.

Trump Mortgage has lost six residential mortgage professionals in the last six months, and may not reach $1 billion in residential mortgage originations, despite Ridings predicting that they would hit $3 billion in 2006.

The mortgage business is not a business I'd want to be in right now, as the U.S. housing bubble deflates.

Charitable giving: conservatives vs. liberals, religious vs. secular

Matt S. at The Only Republican in San Francisco quotes from a Scientific American column by Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society to argue that conservatives are more generous than liberals:
Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks argues in Who Really Cares (Basic Books, 2006) that when it comes to charitable giving and volunteering, numerous quantitative measures debunk the myth of "bleeding heart liberals" and "heartless conservatives." Conservatives donate 30 percent more money than liberals (even when controlled for income), give more blood and log more volunteer hours. In general, religious people are more than three times more generous than secularists to all charities, 14 percent more munificent to nonreligious charities and 57 percent more likely than a secularist to help a homeless person. In terms of societal health, charitable givers are 43 percent more likely to say they are "very happy" than nongivers and 25 percent more likely than nongivers to say their health is excellent or very good.
Matt says that, even though he's not religious, he admires people of faith because of their morals, their value for community, and that "they walk the talk when it comes to generosity and tolerance." Further, he concludes, "Faith, ultimately, is about optimism. Perhaps this is why I think it's worth defending."

He's got a point, but Shermer's piece is somewhat more equivocal about the evidence, observing that "Religious social capital leads to charitable generosity and group membership but does comparatively worse than secular social capital for such ills as homicides, STDs, abortions and teen pregnancies."

I don't think there's any disputing the value of community and mutual aid, nor that the secular have had a harder time promoting those values, in part due to the fact that we are fewer in number and widely dispersed. But the nonreligious have made some very dramatic philanthropic contributions which are likely to have a much greater beneficial effect than any church tithing will ever have.

The Best of George W. Bush, 2006

From the Jimmy Kimmel Show.

Gerald Ford dead today at the age of 93

Remember this Dana Carvey bit on Saturday Night Live from 1996?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ed Brayton responds to Krauze and Sternberg

Ed Brayton's detailed dissection of the Sternberg affair (see Ed's post here and Steve Reuland's here) has been responded to by Krauze at the Telic Thoughts intelligent design blog, including a response by Richard Sternberg.

Ed Brayton responds quite ably.

Kodak: Winds of Change

This was allegedly an internal Kodak video that was so popular with employees it has been "released for external viewing." I'm sure I have some Rochester, NY readers who can confirm.

It definitely shows a company willing to acknowledge and poke fun at its past mistakes.




(Hat tip to Dave Palmer on the SKEPTIC mailing list.)

War on Terror: The Board Game

This looks like it might actually be a fun game.

(Via Bruce Schneier's blog.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Seasons Greetings!

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that the United States is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Disclaimer: No trees were harmed in the sending of this message; however, a significant number of electrons were slightly inconvenienced.

(From mlaw.org.)

American financial scandal

Washington Post, Sunday, December 24, 2006; B06

The largest employer in the world announced on Dec. 15 that it lost about $450 billion in fiscal 2006. Its auditor found that its financial statements were unreliable and that its controls were inadequate for the 10th straight year. On top of that, the entity's total liabilities and unfunded commitments rose to about $50 trillion, up from $20 trillion in just six years.

If this announcement related to a private company, the news would have been on the front page of major newspapers. Unfortunately, such was not the case -- even though the entity is the U.S. government.

To put the figures in perspective, $50 trillion is $440,000 per American household and is more than nine times as much as the median household income.

The only way elected officials will be able to make the tough choices necessary to put our nation on a more prudent and sustainable long-term fiscal path is if opinion leaders state the facts and speak the truth to the American people.

The Government Accountability Office is working with the Concord Coalition, the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation and others to help educate the public about the facts in a professional, nonpartisan way. We hope the media and other opinion leaders do their part to save the future for our children and grandchildren.

DAVID M. WALKER

Comptroller General of the United States

Government Accountability Office

Washington

(Hat tip to Sheldon Richman.)

UPDATE: At Cafe Hayek, Robert Cote observes in a comment:

"Total liabilities is a red herring. While I share a deep concern for accounting and deficit, your totalling liabilities without also anticipating revenues is misleading. Besides, a huge component of those liabilities are entitlements; medical and retirement that I know for sure I'll never see. If I'm not going to see any then they aren't ruly liabilities now are they?"

UPDATE (January 17, 2006): Ed Brayton has chimed on on this subject.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Which historical lunatic are you?

I'm Joshua Abraham Norton, the first and only Emperor of the United States of America!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

Like John Wilkins and Afarensis, I got matched with Joshua Norton.

I was glad to make this match, since I've actually been interested enough in him as a historical figure to read his biography (and you can find some references to him on my discord.org web page).

Tagged with a meme

By Einzige...

- Grab the nearest book...
- Name the book and the author...

Florence King, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (I just finished reading it a few days ago).

- Turn to page 123...
- Go to the fifth sentence on the page...
- Copy out the next three sentences and post to your blog...

I might have been attending an expensive private academy instead of a public school; there were only eight of us in the class--the minimum for forming a class--and all of us were girls. We began each class with a pep rally. "Mesdemoiselles, levez-vous!" the teacher would say, and we would rise and sing "La Marseillaise".
[I've dropped the "tag three more folks" part...]

Friday, December 22, 2006

FCC Indecency Rules

Looks like the FCC had a hard day before the U.S. Court of Appeals defending its arbitrary indecency standards, and Susan Crawford points out an example of just how absurd those standards have become in the era of YouTube.

UPDATE (June 4, 2007): The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has issued its decision in Fox Television Stations v. the FCC, and the FCC has decisively lost. Adam Thierer points out how the case could pave the way for completely removing the FCC's authority to regulate content for indecency. Susan Crawford reports on the content of the decision in the form of a letter to the FCC.

UPDATE (April 28, 2009): The U.S. Supreme Court has reversed the 2nd Circuit in a 5-4 ruling.

More reasons why checking IDs doesn't enhance airport security

Via Bruce Schneier's blog:

Is this why Chavez called Bush El Diablo?

Critique of tax protester legal claims

Sheldon Richman has a nice three-part series criticizing the legal reasoning of tax protesters who claim they don't have to pay U.S. income tax titled "Beware Income-Tax Casuistry." With any luck, somebody tempted by such nonsense will read it and avoid jail or fines.

UPDATE (December 28, 2006): Sheldon Richman also points out this excellent GWU law professor's website on tax protestor claims.

Staffer for Congressman tries to hire hackers to change grades

Todd Shriber, communications director for Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), tried to hire hackers at attrition.org to change his college GPA for him. He corresponded in email with "Lyger" and "Jericho" (former Phoenix resident Brian Martin, who runs attrition.org), who strung him along and then published the entire email correspondence on their site. To keep things entertaining, they made some odd requests:
From: security curmudgeon (jericho@attrition.org)
To: Todd Shriber (nascar24_08530@yahoo.com)
Date: Wed, 9 Aug 2006 17:30:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: Question for you or other Attrition members

: Wow, I feel dumb now. I honestly cannot rember if there were pigeons on
: campus or not. A lot of crazy squirrels, but I can't remember pigeons.
: Just for my own edification, why do you need to know that? I'll find out
: for you.

Hey, squirrels work fine. First, let's be clear. You are soliciting me to
break the law and hack into a computer across state lines. That is a
federal offense and multiple felonies. Obviously I can't trust anyone and
everyone that mails such a request, you might be an FBI agent, right?

So, I need three things to make this happen:

1. A picture of a squirrel or pigeon on your campus. One close-up, one
with background that shows buildings, a sign, or something to indicate you
are standing on the campus.

2. The information I mentioned so I can find the records once I get into
the database.

3. Some idea of what I get for all my trouble.


When he replied that he no longer lives near his campus (he's in D.C., and attended Texas Christian University), they told him that any old photo of a squirrel would do--and he sent them one.

They ended their trolling by claiming that they had been caught, and that Shriber shouldn't even visit their website anymore:
From: lyger (lyger@attrition.org)
To: Todd Shriber (nascar24_08530@yahoo.com)
Bcc: security curmudgeon (jericho@attrition.org)
Date: Sun, 27 Aug 2006 03:15:31 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: the squirrels are nice here...


On Sat, 26 Aug 2006, Todd Shriber wrote:

": " I'll take a quick look on Saturday and get the changes
": " to you immediately following that. Let me know if it's
": " OK for me to log into that site.

todd... no more.. omfg we are SO busted.. fuck fuck fuck FUCK FUCK
everything was PERFECT until their night noc ran a reverse udp traceroute
back to one of the hosts we had set up after that, straight DOWNHILL.
i've already been called twice by my isp asking about unusual activity,
some other shit about access attempts to a federally monitored system they
have everything in logs including the rot-26 stuff that finally got me
access all goes back to your login sorry i really fucked up BAD

theyre prob gonna end up calling you since they have your info just duck
and run if you can, i'm going deep underground if they ask about me or
attrition we don't know each other you know youre just as guilty and
liable so when they come knocking dont say anything without a lawyer and
when you ask them to put the gun down say it nice because that shit isnt
fun

man dont even visit attrition.org again theyre trying to check web logs
one last email should be ok but we're so fucked sorry

Paul McNamara has covered the story at Network World, and it's summarized at Talking Points Memo. The full email correspondence is up at attrition.org, but their server is having some trouble handling the traffic they're now receiving on this.

UPDATE: Welcome to Todd and/or his colleagues at the U.S. House of Representatives!

Domain Name
house.gov ? (United States Government)
IP Address
143.231.249.# (Information Systems, U.S. House of Representatives)
ISP
Information Systems, U.S. House of Representatives
Location
Continent : North America
Country : United States (Facts)
State : District of Columbia
City : Washington
Lat/Long : 38.8933, -77.0146 (Map)
Distance : 1,975 miles
Language
English (United States)
en-us
Operating System
Microsoft WinXP
Browser
Internet Explorer 6.0
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)
Javascript
version 1.3
Monitor
Resolution : 1024 x 768
Color Depth : 32 bits
Time of Visit
Dec 22 2006 8:55:54 am
Last Page View
Dec 22 2006 8:55:54 am
Visit Length
0 seconds
Page Views
1
Referring URL
http://blogsearch.go...Todd Shriber&ie=UTF8
Search Engine
blogsearch.google.com
Search Words
todd shriber
Visit Entry Page
http://lippard.blogs...n-tries-to-hire.html
Visit Exit Page
http://lippard.blogs...n-tries-to-hire.html


UPDATE: Todd Shriber has been fired.

Redacted Iran op-ed shows Bush administration insanity

As an undergraduate, I read Victor Marchetti and John Marks' book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. Marchetti, a former CIA officer, was forced to redact large portions of the book, and the publisher decided to print the book with a bunch of blank spaces to show where the redactions occurred. This led to a fun game of trying to fill in the blanks. (The only section I tried to fill in--successfully, as this was years after the book was published--was about CIA-operated air transportation companies operating out of Pinal Air Park in Arizona near Marana.)

Now the New York Times has printed an op-ed by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann about Iran using the same strategy--it's filled with black marks indicating the CIA-demanded redactions. This op-ed actually contained no classified information, but the Bush administration applied pressure to the CIA to get them to demand redactions. Leverett and Mann write, in an explanatory preface:
Agency officials told us that they had concluded on their own that the original draft included no classified material, but that they had to bow to the White House.

Indeed, the deleted portions of the original draft reveal no classified material. These passages go into aspects of American-Iranian relations during the Bush administration’s first term that have been publicly discussed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; a former State Department policy planning director, Richard Haass; and a former special envoy to Afghanistan, James Dobbins.

These aspects have been extensively reported in the news media, and one of us, Mr. Leverett, has written about them in The Times and other publications with the explicit permission of the review board.

Leverett and Mann provide citations to other published material which describes the redacted sections, allowing the blanks to be filled in.

The Bush administration's behavior here is simply insane.

UPDATE: The Onion addressed this issue back in 2005.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sachs: Hayek was wrong

Jeffrey Sachs argues that higher taxes and social safety nets produce better results than laissez-faire capitalism.

How the Office of Special Counsel got the Sternberg issue so wrong

Steve Reuland at the Panda's Thumb points out how egregiously bad the OSC has become under Special Counsel Scott Bloch, and how that led to its poor handling of the Sternberg affair:
  1. Bloch is a far-right wing activist and a notorious homophobe.
  2. Upon taking office Bloch immediately removed references to sexual orientation discrimination from the OSC website. Bloch has indicated that he will not protect gays from discrimination in contradiction of White House policy.
  3. Bloch is alleged to have used the OSC for partisan political purposes by ignoring claims made against Republicans while vigorously pursuing complaints lodged against Democrats.
  4. Bloch doubled the number of political appointees in the OSC, giving high paying salaries to many of his friends and fellow right-wing activists who have no relevant experience. He has simultaneously eviscerated the OSC’s professional staff, much of whom has either been fired for not relocating on short notice or resigned in frustration.
  5. James McVay, who wrote the preliminary report concerning Sternberg, is one of Bloch’s more controversial political appointees. He has no experience in employment law, whistleblower law, or federal-sector work.
  6. Many hundreds of meritorious cases, which by all accounts should have been investigated, were dismissed without investigation by Bloch’s office. Meanwhile, matters over which OSC has no jurisdiction have been pursued rigorously. (Sound familiar?)
  7. According to the OSC’s own polling, Federal employees are extremely dissatisfied with the work being done by the OSC, and effectively no whistleblowers have received relief as a result of the complaints they filed.
  8. When complaints were made about Bloch’s behavior and mistreatment of the staff, Bloch not only dismissed the complaints, he allegedly retaliated against the people who made them and issued a gag order preventing the OSC staff from speaking to anyone outside of the agency. Ironically, it is precisely this type of retaliation and intimidation of whistleblowers that the OSC is tasked with investigating.
  9. As a result of OSC failing to discharge its duties and taking revenge on aggrieved staff, former staff members and numerous whistleblower protection groups have filed a complaint with the Office of Personnel Management, which has launched an investigation (still on-going, as far as I can tell). Additionally, two Senate committees were forced to hold hearings concerning Bloch’s behavior.

It almost couldn’t get worse. There is a long and sordid history since Bloch took over the OSC of cronyism, political bias, shirking, and unfair treatment of staff. Scott Bloch makes former FEMA director Michael Brown look like a brilliant leader and seasoned professional by comparison.

This explains how the OSC managed to produce an preliminary investigation on the Sternberg affair that is so completely divorced from reality. Put simply, it was a political hatchet job, yet another in a long line of abuses that the OSC has become infamous for. What’s perhaps most telling about all of this is that in spite of having a major backlog in cases, in spite of trying to pare down this backlog by dismissing meritorious cases without investigation, the OSC somehow found the time to investigate a case for which they knew they had no jurisdiction. Amazing, isn’t it? If you are a whistleblower who needs protection, or a gay federal worker who’s been discriminated against, the OSC simply doesn’t have time for you. They’re too busy pursuing cases outside of their jurisdiction in service of the Culture Wars.

Considering that Sternberg should have known that the OSC lacked jurisdiction, it is my belief that the Discovery Institute referred him to Bloch’s office knowing that even though the case was outside the OSC’s purview, even though there were more appropriate venues for handling a legitimate grievance of this kind, Bloch and McVay would dutifully issue a preliminary report that would serve the propaganda purposes of the DI. One even wonders if the DI wrote the report for them.

Reuland has more at the Panda's Thumb.

(The Sternberg affair is described here, here, and here.)

UPDATE (May 7, 2008): The FBI raided Scott Bloch's home and offices yesterday, Tuesday, May 6, 2008, seizing computers and shutting down email service as part of a Justice Department probe.

UPDATE (October 27, 2008): Scott Bloch has been fired.

NY Times: Theater of the Absurd at the TSA

The December 17 New York Times has a great article on airport security, with quotes from Bruce Schneier and Matt Blaze. A few key paragraphs:
The root problem, as some experts see it, is the T.S.A.’s reliance on IDs that are so easily obtained under false pretenses. “It would be wonderful if Osama bin Laden carried a photo ID that listed his occupation of ‘Evildoer,’ ” permitting the authorities to pluck him from a line, Mr. Schneier said. “The problem is, we try to pretend that identity maps to intentionality. But it doesn’t.”
...

WHEN I asked Mr. Schneier of BT Counterpane what he would do if he were appointed leader of the T.S.A., he said he would return to the basic procedures for passenger screening used before the 2001 terrorist attacks, which was designed to do nothing more ambitious than “catch the sloppy and the stupid.”

He said he would also ensure that passengers’ bags fly only if the passenger does, improve emergency response capabilities and do away entirely with ID checks and secret databases and no-fly and selectee lists. He added that he would shift funds into basic investigation and intelligence work, which he believes produces results like the arrests of the London bomb suspects. “Put smart, trained officers in plainclothes, wandering in airports — that is by far the best thing the T.S.A. could do,” he said.

Hat tip: Bruce Schneier's blog.

The Year for Intelligent Design

John Lynch has a summary of the Intelligent Design movement's achievements for 2006, along with a short list of things they failed to achieve in 2006.

Richard Sternberg, false martyr for intelligent design

Ed Brayton reviews the new report to Rep. Mark Souder which argues that Richard Sternberg of the Smithsonian Institution, former editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, was a victim of persecution. The evidence in the report itself fails to support that conclusion, which appears to be politically motivated.

Brayton finds that:

1. What little ill-treatment Sternberg may have gotten (in fact, all of the comments expressing distrust and anger at Sternberg and urging his dismissal were made not to his face, but in private emails that he never saw) was largely self-inflicted, the result not only of his violation of procedures in regard to the Meyer paper, but in regard to several other instances of professional malfeasance and prior examples of poor judgement as PBSW editor.

2. The evidence does not support the conclusion that Sternberg was discriminated against in any material way. At absolute worst, he was greeted with professional mistrust and anger on the part of some of his colleagues, who were upset that his actions in regard to the Meyer paper brought disrepute to the Smithsonian and to them as associates. Disapproval and criticism, of course, are not the same thing as discrimination nor are they a violation of his civil rights.

3. Sternberg has grossly exaggerated several alleged instances of "retaliation" in the early days of the scandal. In particular, he claimed that he had his keys taken away, his access to the Smithsonian's collections taken away, and lost his office space. In reality, the keys and office space were exchanged as part of larger museum changes and he retains the same access today that all others in his position have.

4. The accusations, in particular, against the National Center for Science Education - that they conspired with Smithsonian officials to "publicly smear and discredit" Sternberg - are not only not supported by the evidence in the appendix, they are completely disproven by the emails contained therein.

5. All of that leads to the only possible conclusion: that this is a trumped-up report orchestrated by political allies of the Discovery Institute, particularly Rep. Mark Souder and former (I love saying that) Sen. Rick Santorum. They have put out a report that simply is not supported by the evidence and was designed, intelligently or otherwise, to support the disingenuous PR campaign that includes the attempt to position themselves as victims of discrimination.

Read the details at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. By my reading, the Smithsonian would have been well within its rights to give Sternberg the boot on the basis of his violations of policy and failure to take proper care of museum specimens which he had taken from the collections and was keeping in his office.

UPDATE: An earlier description of the Sternberg affair may be found here and here.

Cobb County, GA evolution disclaimer case settled

Cobb County's school officials have settled the lawsuit with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and will not place anti-evolution disclaimers on textbooks used in their science classes. It appears that they've chosen to settle rather than suffer a Dover-like defeat in the courtroom.

More at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Eminent domain extortion

Radley Balko describes an outrageous case of eminent domain extortion in Port Chester, NY:

With the blessing of officials from the Village of Port Chester, the Village's chosen developer approached [entrepreneur Bart] Didden and his partner with an offer they couldn't refuse. Because Didden planned to build a CVS on his property--land the developer coveted for a Walgreens--the developer demanded $800,000 from Didden to make him "go away" or ordered Didden to give him an unearned 50 percent stake in the CVS development. If Didden refused, the developer would have the Village of Port Chester condemn the land for his private use. Didden rejected the bold-faced extortion. The very next day the Village of Port Chester condemned Didden's property through eminent domain so it could hand it over to the developer who made the threat.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this extortion under last year's Kelo eminent domain decision. The court ruled that because this is taking place in a "redevelopment zone" they couldn't stop what the Village is doing.

The case will be considered for review by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 5, 2007, and Didden's side is being supported by the Institute for Justice.

By the way, if you are considering any last minute end-of-year charitable donations, I highly recommend giving support to the Institute for Justice. They have received 4-star ratings from Charity Navigator for five years straight, they regularly win critical civil liberties cases in the courts, they do a great job of keeping donors informed of what is being done with their money, they don't continually pester you for more, and they have a strong record of acting in a principled manner. IJ holds regular entrepreneurship workshops, and operates state chapters in Arizona (the first IJ state chapter), Minnesota, and Washington.

Third Colorado evangelical quits for sexual misconduct

This time it's Christopher Beard, an executive staff member at Ted Haggard's New Life Church in Colorado Springs, voluntarily resigning for a past incident of "sexual misconduct."

There's no word on whether this is another gay incident, but it apparently does not involve Haggard or a minor.

The two previous incidents involved Paul Barnes, head of Grace Chapel in Denver, and, of course, Ted Haggard.

(Hat tip: Pharyngula.)

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Letter from Paul LaClair about David Paszkiewicz

I just came across this letter from Paul LaClair at the Observer (Kearny's newspaper) editor's blog site, which corrects some misconceptions that have occurred in some of the reporting and commentary on this issue, as well as point out some additional details about Paszkiewicz and the school administrators' response that have not been reported elsewhere, such as:

* After receiving a reprimand on September 25 in response to Matthew LaClair's initial complaint, Paszkiewicz made a statement in class that implied that the student who complained had misrepresented his words. (I.e., he lied.) At this point, Matthew LaClair requested a meeting with administrators and produced the recordings.

* Subsequent to this, the LaClairs have asked for further corrective action, but none has been forthcoming.

* The school's attorney has been evasive and even suggested that the LaClair's go ahead and sue.

The letter is well worth reading in its entirety. You can find it here.

David Paszkiewicz makes the New York Times

David Paszkiewicz, the U.S. history teacher at Kearny High School in New Jersey who has been using his classroom to spread his religious views and has been defended by his students and fellow residents of Kearny, has now made the New York Times.

The principal is quoted as saying that he is unaware of any previous problems, but there have been comments left at my blog stating that Paszkiewicz has been doing this for many years.

The principal also claims that corrective action was taken--a reprimand was supposedly given back on September 25--but Paszkiewicz's classroom style doesn't appear to have changed much in later classroom recordings (I have heard some samples from September 26, 27, 29, and October 3 and 4).

The New York Times article makes it clear how bad Paszkiewicz has been--even conservative legal groups have no interest in defending him:

Even some legal organizations that often champion the expression of religious beliefs are hesitant to support Mr. Paszkiewicz.

“It’s proselytizing, and the courts have been pretty clear you can’t do that,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a group that provides legal services in religious freedom cases. “You can’t step across the line and proselytize, and that’s what he’s done here.”

The article notes that the LaClairs are considering legal action.

(Also see Pharyngula and Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

Discovery Institute's incredible hypocrisy knows no bounds

The Discovery Institute has been trying to criticize last year's Dover decision on the grounds that Judge Jones followed common judicial practice by copying text from the winning side's Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in setting out the facts of the case in his opinion.

Now, it turns out that the Discovery Institute's David DeWolf, John West, and Casey Luskin (the first two of which are the authors of the critique of Judge Jones just referred to) submitted a paper to the Montana Law Review about the Dover case that was virtually identical to content in the DI's book, Traipsing Into Evolution, published in March 2006. This violated the journal's requirement that all submissions be original content, not previously published elsewhere, and the authors were forced to rewrite and resubmit--after this was brought to the journal's attention by a third party. The DI authors intentionally concealed this information.

More details at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

UPDATE (December 20, 2006): The editor of the Montana Law Review has responded, pointing out facts that absolve the DI folks of any deception.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Steep Cliff--Phoenix Notices of Trustee's Sales

Einzige has posted the latest graph for notices of trustee's sales in Phoenix, and concludes:
It would seem, now, that the question is no longer "Is there a housing bubble?", but "How big is the pop going to be?"
Check it out here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Global state of gay marriage

From the December 2, 2006 issue of The Economist (subscription required for full article):

Gay marriage is legal in Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, and the U.S. (Massachusetts).

Gays have the same rights as married heterosexuals, but only in civil unions or partnerships rather than marriage in Britain, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the U.S. (California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Vermont).

Gays have civil unions or partnerships with lesser rights than heterosexual marriage in Argentina (1 state), Czech Republic, France, Germany (3 states), Hong Kong, Ireland, Luxembourg, and the United States (Hawaii, Maine).

UPDATE (December 18, 2006): Stephen Frug has pointed out that even in U.S. states which have legal gay marriage or legal gay civil unions, they are still not equivalent to marriage, in part because of the U.S. federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed into law by Bill Clinton. As a result of a provision in this law, the spouse of former Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA), the first openly gay federal lawmaker, has been denied his pension benefits.

UPDATE (December 19, 2006): The December 9 issue of The Economist (p. 66) points out that the inclusion of Hong Kong on the list of countries with gay civil unions is a mistake. Hong Kong "is reviewing its laws in this area," but doesn't currently allow them.

Richard Cheese news

From a Richard Cheese email bulletin:
I hope you will please tell your friends in Chicago to listen TONIGHT (Thursday 12/14) to WLUP 97.9 FM's Jonathon Brandmeier radio marathon show...my Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine band will be performing LIVE VIA SATELLITE on The Loop from 9PM-10PM.

And Friday night (tomorrow), our "Christmas In Las Vegas" holiday song will be featured on NBC-TV's "LAS VEGAS" series! Be sure to tune in early at 8:59PM (7:59PM Central) or you'll miss it! It's on during the first five minutes!!!
More Richard Cheese information at www.richardcheese.com.